The Evergreens: Sun Lovers

Hooray for the evergreens! I often get asked while working at Joy Creek Nursery what an evergreen is and which are my favorites. For clarification up front, an evergreen plant is basically one that doesn't seasonally die back. Going dormant or dying back usually happens in winter, a time when a little life in the garden goes a long way. In this post, my intention is to highlight a few of my favorite evergreen plants that love the sun (we shall cover the shade loving evergreens next time). They will be the stars of the garden moving through the next few months of winter into early spring, and as such, deserve a bit of the spotlight. 

Evergreens add structure because they are basically always there, while their counterparts the perennials and annuals come onto the garden stage for brief moments in terms of the gardening year. These year-round super stars are best seen in winter when all else is dormant, a great time to evaluate the garden as a whole. I like to take note if there are gaps where nothing is growing in winter and decide if adding something evergreen would enhance that region year-round. I can also evaluate the location of evergreens to see if there is any logical flow or if they seem randomly placed and correct that as needed. You see, I wish to enjoy my garden year-round, not just in the high summer months when flowers are at their peak. The following evergreen plants are ones that I have had in the garden for enough time to know they are easy, hardy, and beautiful.

 First up in our evergreens for sun section is Ozothamnus hookeri 'Sussex Silver'.

 I don't know a common name for this great fast-growing shrub. It reaches about 6' at maturity, comes from New Zealand, is drought-tolerant and hardy to about zone 7b. Give it well-drained lean soil and it will charm you in full sun.

The silver, white and green combination is so fascinating to me.

My colleague Nathan, a consummate nurseryman and former nursery owner had a few special conifers that he wanted to find homes for. He gave me several wonderful trees including two Cupressus macrocarpa 'Golden Pillar' trees and one C. macrocarpa 'Donard Gold'. I don't know which is which, but they are planted all together for good or for bad. 

Whatever they are, they add a lot of sparkle to the edge of the property. In time they will create a nice feel as you look south towards the neighbor's field.

Here they are!

Arctostaphylos or manzanitas are a genus of evergreen shrubs or small trees native to Western North America. They generally appreciate full sun, lean soil and no summer water. Pictured is Arctostaphylos manzanita 'Saint Helena'. This has been especially fast growing for me. Blooms on arctos are generally white or pink and bloom in late winter, a great source of nourishment for bumble bees and other pollinators. I did a post dedicated entirely to a row of manzanitas in my old neighborhood, that can be revisited here.

Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Sentinel' - a newly planted shrub in the gravel garden. As these age, dark rich red-brown exfoliating bark adds to their appeal.

This was purchased at work last year, however I am not certain it was labeled correctly. It had a tag marked 'Sentinel' - any arcto aficionados out there? UPDATE: Evan Bean of the blog Practical Plant Geek has identified it as A. 'John Dourley', a smaller spreading arcto. Thank you Evan! I have several other arctos, but we must move along. Trust me, if you can meet its cultural requirements, arctos are some of the most beautiful evergreen shrubs you can grow for full sun. Kinnickinnick or Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is another in this genus, it's a groundcover, commonly grown in public spaces.

The genus cistus is another wonderful source for evergreen shrubs. Here, Cistus crispus, a groundcover begins to put on new growth. Coming from the Mediterranean, cistus have a scent reminiscent of resin, kind of earthy and have single flowers, either pink or white. Oregon State University Department of Horticulture has trialed cistus for Western Oregon and has very helpful information. You can read the results here.

More typical of cistus, this much larger Cistus 'Blanche' will eventually reach 5 - 6' tall with lovely large white flowers. These plants don't seem like they would be evergreen but they are. They also like lean, well-drained soil and full sun. Tough plants for those outer edges of the garden, or mixed into the border. This plant is about 2 years old.

 Flowers of Cistus monspeliensis this summer. This beauty will eventually reach 6' high by 4' wide. As with the arctos, I have many other cistus in the garden, but will save the complete list for another day when they are more mature.

 Dianthus or carnations are another unexpected evergreen plant. They function for me as a groundcover. Here, three white-flowered Dianthus hispanicus grace the edge of a gravel path. The flowers come on in spring and these are especially delicious. They have a scent of sweet jasmine mixed with cloves - very difficult to describe. One of my favorite dianthus. Once the blooms are spent, I shear them back and they are green grassy evergreen mounds for the rest of the year.

Dianthus 'Frostfire', a throw away from a nursery I worked at.

This unusual little mound is Dianthus simulans. It has not bloomed for me but who cares! It's a tiny rock garden plant loving great drainage and full sun, as do most dianthus. 

Teucrium or germander is next up. Pictured is the silvery species of Teucrium fruticans. Teucriums are great substitutes for boxwoods - in other words they take well to pruning. They were once used as hedges in knot gardens and in my opinion, are sorely underused. This one was a half price plant purchased years ago. It struggled along until I brought it here. It died completely to the ground this past winter (it is normally evergreen, so dying back is bad), so I took it for dead. It regrew with vigor this growing season and is better than ever.

Another germander species: on the left are four Teucrium chamaedrys. These finished blooming ages ago and I could have pruned them back, however I enjoy the frothy translucent nature of the new growth, so I leave them. 


 Another unexpected evergreen is native Armeria maritima. This cultivar, 'Victor Reiter' is among my favorites of the armerias or sea thrifts. The foliage is quite tiny and holds up well given full sun and great drainage. They are relatively tough plants (think maritima - by the seashore) and easy care. As with the dianthus, I shear the flowers once spent and I get periodic blooms throughout the rest of the growing season. The green foliage, however, is really why I grow it. Slowly spreading and lovely, I highly recommend sea thrift to be tucked into any garden with some sun.

Another great and varied genus is Hebe. There are so many, it's mind numbing. They hail from New Zealand and have a multitude of cultural requirements. Most grown in cultivation are small shrubs for full sun, but that is a generalization. Many for us in our Mediterranean climate of Western Oregon are hardy, however they are borderline for anyone in zone 7 or colder. Some don't make it through the winter, but I find a few are especially hardy for me. This is Hebe 'Red Edge', a tiny 20" high or so, perfect for the edge of a path. Once established the hebes I have in my garden are drought tolerant. Some I recommend for my region are H. 'Quicksilver', H. pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii', H. 'Karo Golden Esk', H. species (from Western Hills Nursery) among others. 

Callunas and Ericas - heathers and heaths - are so varied in size, flower color and foliage color. This is Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination'. I *love* this plant. It is about 18" tall and has silver foliage year-round. Easy, no compost but sun and well-drained soil are all I give it.

Another shot of it after the blooms have faded.

Another fantastic genus is Ceanothus or California lilac. I have several, including this C. 'Italian Skies' variety. Three of these grace the base of my deck. Although they are hardy plants for our area, they were newly planted and I lost one last winter. Too bad because I have three in a row, the replacement will take time to catch up. I think had they all been established, I might not have lost one. This one had also been damaged by the winter and was heavily pruned, otherwise it would likely be twice as large by now. It sill looks scraggly in this photo, but it has since grown out to be a lovely shrub with dark foliage and a good shape.

They love well-drained, lean soil in full sun. Blooming in spring, they attract all manner of bees and other pollinators - when a ceanothus is in full bloom you can hear it before you see it. Most are native to the West Coast (primarily California), so take note and don't overwater, especially in summer. They will live longer and thank you for it. Other species I have are Ceanothus cuneatus 'Adair Village', Ceanothus cuneatus 'Blue Sierra', Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans', and several of the prostrate Ceanothus gloriosus 'Point Reyes' underneath an Oregon white oak.

 Grasses! Here among other plants in the center of the photo are a couple blue fescue or Festuca 'Beyond Blue', one of my very favorites because it looks so good in winter.

 Here it can be seen dotted throughout the gravel garden directly below the deck. These grasses show up beautifully in our dull wet winters and add a little something special, especially if their neighbors are perennials and are dormant. During the summer these blue grasses seem to blend in.

More grasses! There are many from which to choose, here is a sampling of carex species, they were seedlings in the gravel at work that instead of throwing out with the weeds I collected and planted. They are reliable grasses for me.

The cats love them too. I want to point out the shrub in the middle/left of this photo, Olearia lineata 'Dartonii'. Another New Zealand shrub adapted to our wet winters and dry summers.

It is said to reach 12' tall and I believe it. This one is 3 years old. Willow-like in its narrow leaves, it just sort of blends in without being a solid mass. Light and airy, I have four in my dry gravel garden and they take all kinds of abuse. I had one in the old garden and I regularly found myself cutting it back as it was too close to a path and I did not give it enough room. No matter, the foliage makes for fantastic bouquets.

One of my most anticipated trees, Quercus hypoleucoides or silver oak. It will eventually reach 30', has silver undersides to the leaves so when it flutters in the breezes you get flashes of silver against a soft green. It is native to the Southwestern U.S., likes well-drained soil and once established is drought tolerant. Ours is planted at the top of south sloping hill in pretty much full sun and has grown significantly since planting it this spring. If you have room for one, plant it. I found mine at Gossler Farms Nursery in Eugene, Oregon (they have mail-order), and locally Xera Plants I learned also grows them.

I love New Zealand and Australian plants! Leptospermum commonly known as tea tree, is another fantastic genus. Here, Leptospermum lanigerum 'Silver Form' is seen in bloom. The flowers are not why I love them, it's the foliage (but these are sweet little flowers). About a 6' high shrub for full sun and well-drained soil, it takes well to pruning.

Brachyglottis greyi, formerly known as Senecio greyi, also known as daisy bush. The yellow flowers are nothing to write home about, but this foliage. Soft, edged in silver and sturdy. Eventually 4' high or so, it's borderline hardy for us. Truthfully I am surprised it survived last winter. I think it did because it's in full sun, lean soil that is extremely well-drained. In wet cold clay I'm sure it would have met its maker.

Atriplex halimus or sea orach or salt bush. I purchased a tiny 4" pot from Garden Fever last fall and wow, let's just say I may have to move this giant that is currently at about 4' high. Apparently it's a plant used as a food source, and was an important one in the Mediterranean basin at one point in history. I may have to try some in my salad. It might get moved to an area where it can grow as it likes, but for now it's against our home in full hot sun and is just loving it. It's a beautiful plant, one I had not been familiar with.

Don't forget the yuccas! Evergreen, spiky and wonderful. This will eventually form a trunk and continue to slowly grow. I love the structure of these, they never falter, always look the same, they are my solution to agaves which I love but seem to kill. I also have a very small Yucca rostrata and a Y. recurvifolia as well as a couple Y. angustissima var. kanabensis.

There you have it, a selection of some of my favorite evergreen plants that will especially shine in winter but look great all year. These sun loving plants are all pretty tough, too. You may have noticed a theme - they all appreciate lean, well-drained soil. I also fertilize nothing. Actually, the only plants that get any fertilizer in my garden are the veggies and a couple clematis - and what they get is organic. I'd rather build healthy soil than feed plants artificially, it makes for a healthier and happier garden and gardener overall. Another theme is that they are adapted to our Mediterranean climate in the Pacific Northwest, that is to say wet winters and hot dry summers. I don't know of any of these that require supplemental water in summer once established, actually, many of them loathe extra water. Just make sure their soil is well-drained. I add crushed quarter-ten gravel to my soil in this area.

Some of these genera deserve single blog posts of their own. Cistus, hebes, arctostaphylos, leptospermum are just a few. When they all get settled in and mature, I will feature individual genera in the future.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you for reading and happy gardening one and all! 


  1. Have you found any Leucadendrons that are hardy in your area? I think that may be the only genus I didn't see in this fabulously informative post, which I intend to bookmark for future reference. Because we don't get a real winter (no freezes or snow), I tend to shy away from deciduous plants, trying to avoid gaps at any point during the year so I rely heavily on evergreens. I love that Cistus crispus (who can resist that name!) and will have to see if I can find it locally. I also think I "need" some more Hebes. However, I do find that I'm beginning to run out of room, especially for larger specimens, unless or until I tackle my hideous back slope.

    1. Ooo, Leucadendrons,I imagine if there are hardy ones for our climate that Loree grows them. I'll have to ask. The Cistus crispus is pretty cool, if you can't find one let me know. We have a bunch at Joy Creek (actually, all cistus are half price online) - but I can certainly ship one out to you as a friend. And yes, you need more Hebes - there are so many little ones that can be tucked in here and there, so easy to find a spot!

    2. Nope, there is not a single Leucadendron that’s hardy for us. So sad!! They’re also notoriously hard to grow in containers here too, so we’re just left to do without. That said I’ve grown a few as annuals, when I’ve found them on the cheap or felt daring.

      There’s lots of good here Tamara...thanks for highlighting some favorites!

    3. I had a feeling, Loree. Too bad, Leucadendrons are so cool.

  2. A evergreen lovers paradise.

  3. You have so many different ones! I'll definitely use this for future reference.

    1. I'm glad you found it useful! Can't wait to see some blog post from you someday soon, Mindy!! :)

  4. First of all, I´m really impressed about what you achieved in such a short time with this large garden, better call it a small estate, lol. Evergreens are essential in every garden especial in wintertime, they are the backbone of our gardens.

    1. Thank you Janneke! OK, the Chickadee Garden Estates, how about that? Hee hee...yes, you get it, evergreens are so essential, aren't they? What are some great ones you use in your European climate?

  5. You know I love my evergreens. Great selections here! That arcto with the questionable ID looks more like 'John Dourley', to me. The carex looks too upright, and maybe with too wide of leaves, to be Carex comans. It might just be that they're too young to take on the typical comans growth habit, or a different form from what I'm used to. It could be one of the other bronze sedges, too, like flagellifera, testacea, or tenuiculmis, or a hybrid with comans. Sadly, my Leptospermum lanigerum 'Silver Form' is barely hanging on by a few small sprigs after last winter. The snow bending it over while frozen must have damaged the stems too much. I hope yours continues to do well. I think I'll replace mine with another Lepto. namadgiensis. That one is rock solid in our climate.

    1. Aaah, John Dourley, of course. No wonder it's so small. OK, I'll need to move it then - thank you for the i.d.

      That carex, yes - we have so many at Joy Creek that who knows what's crossed with whom and what babies were made. I think testacea or tenuiculmis sound spot-on. I'm sorry about your lepto, that's too bad! I have two that amazingly did well last winter. I'm going to seek out namadgiensis...Xera, perhaps? Thank you for your input, Evan! I always value it a lot. Cheers!

  6. Incredible treat to watch your garden take shape. Amazing plant choices, and I'm taking notes on so many, such as the dianthus, e.g., the smaller stuff! I am so out of space! Thanks for letting us live "big" vicariously through your garden.

    1. Thank you Denise! That dianthus - oh my gosh, it would love your garden. Very cool. Probably easy to tuck into your space, or in a pot, maybe?

      Oh, yes, we're living large in this garden and hopefully also making spaces for the little things like that dianthus so they don't get lost! Large has challenges, to be sure ;)


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