Top 10 Evergreen Shrubs for Small Gardens

Evergreen shrubs are the backbone of the garden, creating long lasting structure. These hardworking shrubs provide valuable winter colour when other plants have faded. But many of our garden favourites are unmanageable in a small garden, quickly outgrowing the space available.

Top 10 Evergreen Shrubs for Small Gardens

Evergreen shrubs are the backbone of the garden, creating long lasting structure. These hardworking shrubs provide valuable winter colour when other plants have faded. But many of our garden favourites are unmanageable in a small garden, quickly outgrowing the space available.

It's no surprise to learn that UK gardens have shrunk over the years, with many new homes having very small plots, or garden at all. So what if you only have a tiny garden? Or maybe just a balcony?

Well, don't despair! Plant breeders have responded by developing compact varieties. Many will flourish in a patio pot or narrow border, taking up a fraction of their space of their parent species. Most small evergreen shrubs are hardy and low maintenance, making them undemanding and easy to grow.

So whether you are searching for flamboyant flowers or fabulous foliage, check out our top 10 small evergreen shrubs to find the perfect match for your garden.


1. Pieris 'Little Heath'

Pieris is an acid loving shrub, but if your soil doesn't suit, it makes a fine container plant too. Pieris 'Little Heath' has been bred for a tight, bushy habit that forms an eye-catching rounded evergreen shrub. The variegated foliage creates a superb focal point, but there is lots of seasonal interest to be had too. Young foliage at the shoot tips emerges pink, and the cream, bell-shaped flowers dangle in clusters from March to May. With a height and spread of just 60cm (24"), this small evergreen shrub is perfect for sun or a lightly shaded spot!


2. Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is at its best in the depths of winter and early spring when the spidery white flowers release the most exquisite honeyed fragrance.

The perfume is powerful, so plant it close to the house where you can enjoy it every time you pass. The nectar rich flowers and glossy, black berries which follow will always attract wildlife, making a great choice for encouraging nature into your garden. This is one of the most compact of the Sarcococcas, growing to just 1m (3') in height and spread!


3. Dwarf Rhododendrons

It's easy to dismiss Rhododendrons for their large size, but breeders have now developed a huge number of dwarf varieties. Dwarf Rhododendrons remain neat and compact but still produce the eye-popping blooms that make these acid loving evergreen shrubs so dazzling in springtime. They make fabulous small evergreens for pots!

Rhododendron fastigiatum 'Blue Steel' is one of the smallest at just 60cm (24") height and spread, but if you have a larger container to spare then opt for the shocking pink 'Amoena' to make a bold spring display!


4. Nandina domestica 'Fire Power'

For a bit of extra seasonal change, opt for a small semi-evergreen shrub like Nandina domestica 'Fire Power'. This dwarf variety grows to just 45cm (18") tall by 60cm (24") spread. Semi-evergreens retain some of their foliage over winter, particularly in milder locations, but also offer some of the autumn foliage changes seen in deciduous plants.

Nandina is famed for its colour changes with new foliage emerging gold, before ageing to green. In autumn it transforms to rich shades of red and mahogany. Add to this a fine display of starry white blooms and glossy red berries in summer, and you have a small shrub for all seasons!


5. Euonymus

Few shrubs can beat Euonymus for providing constant, robust, evergreen colour, and aside from an annual increase in size, they remain virtually unchanged throughout the year. Many boast bright, glossy foliage that provide a splash of gold like spreading Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold' and Euonymus fortunei 'Blonde Beauty'. For a more subtle and elegant variegation, try Euonymus fortunei 'Harlequin' which boasts an irregular cream margin to each dark green leaf. These small shrubs reach no more than 1m (3') in height and spread, making useful ground cover, or a handsome evergreen container plant.


6. Dwarf Conifers

Dwarf conifers have fallen from fashion since the twee rockeries of the 1970's - but don't dismiss these hardworking plants. They are the ultimate low maintenance evergreen plants needing virtually no extra care once established. Their diversity of colour, texture, shape and form is astonishing! Try Thuja occidentalis 'Tiny Tim' in containers either side of a doorway. With a naturally rounded habit it makes a great alternative to traditional Box topiary.

Cryptomeria are useful for providing evergreen seasonal colour, turning bronze in autumn and returning to green by summer.

For a more rugged appearance, look to dwarf Pines for their needle-like foliage. If you prefer to stick to a more traditional conical shape then Platycladus orientalis 'Aurea Nana' is hard to beat.


7. Hebe

Hebe's come in all shapes, colours and sizes, making them some of the best small evergreen shrubs for sun, especially on free draining soils. There are plenty of varieties measuring in at less than 1m (3') height and spread.

Hebe 'Silver Queen' boasts colourful variegated foliage and mauve flower spikes. For a more elegant variegation, try Hebe 'Starlight' with is narrow, silvery leaf margins and coordinating white blooms. Don't forget the value of winter colour – Hebe 'Sweet Kim' pale gold with bright pink stem tips during the coldest months.

With their nectar-rich flower spikes in summer, these small evergreen shrubs are perfect for attracting bees and butterflies to the garden too.


8. Mahonia 'Soft Caress'

Mahonia certainly isn't the first evergreen shrub that you would think of for a smaller garden – especially with those spiky stems! That's what makes Mahonia 'Soft Caress' so different. This is the first spine-free, dwarf Mahonia reaching just 120cm (4') height and spread.

The foliage is slender and elegant, reminiscent of Bamboo, but when the golden flower spikes appear, there can be no mistaking its species! The sweetly fragrant blooms appear in autumn, just when the fading garden needs a splash of colour. A superb small evergreen shrub for sun or semi-shade!


9. Daphne

No list of small evergreen shrubs would be complete without the beautiful Daphne! The richly perfumed flowers are a treat for the senses from spring right through to autumn.

Daphne 'Eternal Fragrance' and Daphne x transatlantica 'Pink Fragrance' both flower on new growth, so the flowers just keep coming. With a compact growth habit, reaching less than 1m (3') in height and spread, these glamorous evergreens are perfect for a container or border next to a well-used seating area.


10. Leucothoe

Now here's one for the gardener who likes something different! Leucothoe is rarely seen in UK gardens as it enjoys a rich, acid soil – but it is just as happy in a container of ericaeous compost. This is the perfect small evergreen shrub for shade, bringing interest to those difficult, dark areas of tShe garden.

Boasting colourful stems tips as the new growth emerges, and later in autumn the leaves turn to vibrant autumnal shades. Racemes of white, urn-shaped flowers cascade from its stems in spring. Try Leucothoe axillaris 'Little Flames' for a dynamic blaze of colour. For a more subtle display look to the gentle variegated tones of Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Whitewater'.

So there you have it – our pick of the best small evergreen shrubs for UK gardens! Tiny plots needn't lack year round interest. By incorporating just a few small evergreen shrubs in borders and containers, you can keep your garden looking fresh and colourful throughout the year.

If you have more space to spare then check out our Top 10 Evergreen Shrubs.

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

Written by: Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.


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