There are so many reasons to love evergreen plants, from their unique ability to create all-year-round screening, to how they generously provide a green canopy without the need to sweep it up by the bag-load every autumn. With scientific research into the health benefits of plants even suggesting that the colour green itself may be – at least in part – responsible for their therapeutic effect, these plants that are perpetually in leaf are probably some of the most effective at enhancing our wellbeing. If you, however, have been put off evergreens because you feel they lack autumn colour, these four have-your-cake-and-eat-it plants might just change your mind.
The heavenly bamboo Nandina domestica creates an airy canopy of elegantly divided leaves on evergreen shrubs around 2m tall. With new growth that is flushed with burgundy before maturing to dark green come the autumn, the red and purple shades return with the first frosts to protect the leaves from the cold. Once warm weather returns, as if by magic, the green hues spring back in the leaves as if nothing had happened. Unlike most deciduous plants, the lack of leaf fall means that this cool-weather colour is retained for months rather than just a few weeks, greatly prolonging the show. Add to this the delicate sprays of white flowers come the summer, and the fact that they will never need pruning, and you have a pretty much perfect plant.
The curiously named dog hobble Leucothoe fontanesiana is a sub-shrub of long, arching stems that grow to only 1m tall. Shiny, weeping leaves are complemented by fragrant, lily-of-the-valley type flowers loved by bees. As the temperatures tumble, this US native turns bright scarlet with shades of purple. I think they work best grown on slopes or at the edge of raised beds, so you can appreciate the flowers. No need for pruning with this one either; just remove dead leaves now and then.
If it’s ground cover you want, let me introduce you to beetleweed Galax urceolata. It’s a plant I can’t understand why we don’t see more often. Another US native, this creeping evergreen, with shiny, rounded, heart-shaped leaves, like tiny 15cm lily pads, forms beautiful colonies under trees. Its 35cm-tall spikes of white flowers in the spring are, again, much loved by bees, and in the autumn and winter they turn gorgeous shades of bronzes and reds.
Finally, no list of autumn-coloured evergreens would be complete with Cape Jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides. Native to China and Japan, this glossy-leaved climber blooms throughout the summer with a profusion of powerfully fragrant blossoms that smell like upmarket handcream. Although these are usually trained tightly against walls, they also work wonderfully as ground cover, particularly on steep surfaces, where they flush blood red in the autumn, before turning emerald green again in the spring.
Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek