Broadleaf evergreen shrubs add beauty, interest to home landscapes

The first rains came this week and I’m already kicking myself for not completing my fall clean-up. I’ve never completed the clean-up before the rains come, but my intentions are always good. As I whack back the fading perennials and dig up the soggy annuals, my mind wanders from the splendor of fall to the simplicity of winter. There is a hushed beauty in crisp clean garden beds that are stripped of their fluff and reduced to their very essence.

Here in western Oregon we don’t have to look at bare stems and evergreens in the cold wet months. There are many wonderful broadleaf evergreen shrubs that add beauty and interest to our winter gardens.

We also have a few deciduous shrubs that flower before they leaf out, bringing both vibrant and muted colors to winter landscapes.

From my sunroom, I see my English garden where two Pink Dawn Viburnums spring fourth in delicate buds starting in late November. They are joined by the soft whirls of buff-colored seed heads that hang on my clematis and the green and burgundy leaves of the Bergenia. A dwarf Pieris ‘Prelude’ sits under the Dawn Viburnum. Its flowers bud later in the winter, bright white against the dark green leaves. Looking out the opposite sunroom window, I view my Italian garden. The Southern Magnolia spreads its branches out like protective wings over Winter Flowering Daphne and variegated Pieris.

I tuck purple, white and gold pansies in some of the pots in my garden. Those flowers add so much cheer on bleak rainy mornings. I also plant them around the Hellebores to create colorful vignettes. Heather is a mainstay for brightening up my front garden in the cold months. The pink and white flowered shrubs remind me of soft clouds of color. I also enjoy crocus and early daffodils. I’m always watching for the first bulb to bloom in February. It’s such a treat to see them.

My all-time favorite shrub for winter color is the Sasanqua Camellia, also known as the Winter Flowering Camellia. I love Sasanqua camellias because they bloom lightly all winter long, rather than in one big burst of blooms like their spring flowering Japanese cousins, whose flowers end up in one big, rotting pile on the ground under the shrub after a hard rain. Sasanqua camellia blooms range from snowy white to crimson red, in single and double forms.

The nectar in their delicate flowers is also food for Rufus hummingbirds. Standing outside a friend’s door one January afternoon, I watched with delight as a hummingbird industriously bounced from flower to flower. Even when Camellias aren’t in bloom, they are beautiful shrubs. They have shiny dark green leaves that glisten in our wet weather, and are bothered by few pests, so their leaves seldom have that tattered look of some of their more tasty garden mates.

Sasanqua Camellias come in weeping and upright forms. I love to use the weeping varieties to pour over a rock in a natural garden or to train on an attractive trellis. The upright forms can make a more natural screen in combination with other shade loving shrubs. I have a Camellias sasanqua ‘Chansonette’ on a trellis that I enjoy seeing from the living room window. Its hot pink flowers sparkle against the shiny green foliage.

Back to my garden woes: I haven’t cleaned up the garden. I still have a bag of 50 daffodils to plant and it’s raining, so I don’t want to play outside. What’s a gardener to do?

Ann Nickerson has lived and practiced landscape design in Tualatin Valley since 1993. You can contact her online at or by phone at 503-846-1352.

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