Boxwood's dense foliage, tolerance for trimming and maximum growth to 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide make them good choices for hedging, screens, topiary and marking off beds with parterres. If it's emerald color you're after, consider slow-growing 'Suffruticosa' English boxwood, shown here. Or, for variegated leaves, go with Elegans boxwood, which features small, white-margined evergreen leaves and tiny, star-shaped flowers.
Boxwoods prefers partial shade, but can tolerate full sun if they kept sufficiently moist. Well-drained soil is a must.
Heathers bring compact delicacy that is deceivingly tolerant of tramplings. Shown here, the leaves of 'Spring Cream' become white-tipped in spring, when they are joined by long-lasting white flowers that are irresistable to bees. For more color options, go with the robust and low-maintenance 'Gold Haze' heathers, whose short spikes of white flowers are set against a background of pale yellow leaves.
Grow heathers on a moist, but free-draining sunny bank, where they'll grow to 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
The small but vivid lavender-blue flowers are the main attraction of 'Worcester Gold' bluebeard. They stand out against a dense mound of warm yellow, deciduous foliage. Plant 'Worcester Gold' bluebeard in well-drained soil where it will receive full sun, and watch it grow to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
California lilac, also known as Ceanothus x delileanus 'Gloire de Versailles', is a fast-growing, bushy, deciduous shrub that produces loose bunches of scented, powder blue flowers. It will reach 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide when grown in full sun and well-drained soil.
The useful, low-growing evergreen blueblossom forms a natural mound of glossy foliage and, in late spring, produces an abundance of fluffy, pale to dark blue flowers. With a preference for full sun and well-drained soil, and a maximum growth of 3 feet tall and 8 feet wide, it is the perfect shrub for the front of a border or a sunny bank.
Rock and Sun Roses
The crinkled, dark pink flowers of purple rock rose, shown here, stand out dramatically. If you like your blooms more demure, go with the large white flowers of 'Decumbens.' For a similar look from a different species, go with sun roses. 'Wisley Primrose' carpets the space with evergreen, gray-green foliage and saucer-shaped, pale yellow flowers.
Drought-tolerant and evergreen, rock and sun roses prefer a sunny site and well-drained soil, and can be grown to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They can thrive in a rock garden or on a sunny bank. One thing to know before selecting rock roses for your garden: their crepe paper-looking flowers are, sadly, short lived.
Bush Morning Glory
With its silky, silvery leaves and stems, the bush morning glory is an asset even before its delicate white flowers which emerge from pink buds in late spring. Plant in a sunny, well-drained area where it can grow to 24 inches tall and 36 inches wide. In colder areas, grow bush morning glory in a pot and move into a sunroom or greenhouse over winter.
Evergreen cotoneasters offer color and texture year-round, make excellent ground cover and are at their best in fall when their berries develop. C. dammeri is vigorous and spreading with long arching stems and small white flowers; 'Gnom' cotoneaster is its smaller sibling. Cotoneaster horizontalis, shown here, also does well trained against a wall, where it can grow to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Cotoneasters love full or partial sun and well-drained soil.
Shown here, rose Daphne (also called ruby glow) is a low-growing, evergreen shrub with trailing branches, leathery green leaves and dense clusters of scented pink flowers in late spring. For variety, consider planting the 'Aureomarginata,' with its fragrant winter blooms and variegated leaves, instead. But be careful where you plant daphnes. They like full or partial sun and well-drained soil, but they can't bear transplanting. Leave them in place and watch them grow to 12 inches tall, to 3 feet wide.
Wintercreeper is a great choice for rough and rugged needs: it's evergreen, it tolerates poor soil and full sun and it can be good ground cover or fan-trained against a wall if supported. The white margins of 'Emerald Gaiety' wintercreepers' bright green leaves go pink-ish in winter. Plant it in well-drained soil; expect it to grow to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
If you like variety in your garden, consider planting 'John Tomlinson' Mediterranean spurge. This striking evergreen shrub produces gray-green leaves one year, and large, long-lasting heads of bright, yellow-green flowers the next. Plant Mediterranean spurge in full sun and well-drained soil to help it reach its full potential: 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Adaptable shrubs, hebes will grow in a wide range of garden situations, from a mixed border to a ground cover setting. Most hebes thrive in full to partial sun and well-drained to moist soil, but one area where the varieties differ is in growing potential: check labels to ensure that you choose a hebe that will stay compact if you want it to, at 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide, or one that will expand to 4 feet in both height and width.
Shown here, the dense 'James Stirling' hebe has small white flowers and flat-lying golden leaves that look especially attractive in winter. 'Great Orme,' on the other hand, sports glossy, dark green leaves and spikes of deep pink flowers which fade to white. For even more color, go for 'Red Edge,' which has gray-green leaves with narrow red margins and lilac-blue flowers.
For the lowest-maintenance hebes, go with hebe macrantha or 'Pagei.' Both have bright leaves and white flowers, need little or no pruning and can be grown in a rock garden.
Junipers are hardy spreading conifers, tolerant of a wide range of well-drained soils and sunny growing conditions. They tend to form dense mats and need a little pruning.
Shown here, the golden pfitzer juniper boasts tiered yellow foliage and grows taller than other junipers, to 36 inches. Blue Carpet juniper, by comparison, stays low - 12 inches - making its fragrant, fast-growing, needle-like aromatic leaves an excellent choice for ground cover. The dwarf species Japanese garden juniper also has needle-like, bluish-green leaves, and small brown or black cones. It grows best in a sunny, open position, succeeding easily as ground cover.
While some herbs can be used in the kitchen, almost all herbs excel at freshening the air, both in the garden and when clipped and brought inside, while also providing an array of pastel and occasionally brighter colors.
Lavender, shown here, has narrow, attractive leaves and fragrant purple flowers that rise up from long stalks. Lavenders prefer warm conditions, with full sun and well-drained soil, and suit a variety of situations, from a shrub border to a rock garden, or a container. Consider pairing lavender with rosemary, another tough evergreen that thrives in hot sun and well-drained soil.
For a pretty addition to a sunny rock garden or container, 'Kent Beauty' oregano has smooth aromatic leaves and summertime clusters of pale pink flowers. Oreganos look lovely paired with sages, whose textural evergreen leaves provide great contrast. Consider the wrinkled, wooly, gray-green leaves of the mound-forming Jerusalem sage or the small purple-blue flowers and frosty-looking stems of the 'Blue Spire' Rusian Sage.
Honeysuckles sweetens up their surrounds. Shown here, the 'Baggesen's Gold' Boxleaf Honeysuckle brightens up a border or makes an attractive hedge with its long arching shoots, masses of tiny bright yellow leaves and small yellow-green flowers. With its wide-spreading habit, the evergreen shrubby honeysuckle makes a good ground cover with its dark green leaves and tiny, creamy-white flowers. While most honeysuckles prefer full sun and well-drained soil, be sure to check lables as their growing habits vary considerably, from 24 inches to 5 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide.
'Reflexa' is an unusual creeping variety of Norway spruce with red-brown bark and dark green needle-like leaves. The long trailing branches form a dense spreading carpet, making this an excellent conifer for ground cover. It needs a sunny position with well-drained to moist soil to thrive. While it will only grow to 6 inches tall, its spread can go on and on.
Thick branches form the evergreen 'Mops' mugo pine, which bear dark green needles and brown cones, into appealing round shapes up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide that resemble clouds when planted in groups. 'Mops' grows best in a sunny position with well-drained soil, and suits a rock garden or large container.
Shrubby cinquefoils are compact, bushy, deciduous plants whose long flowering season makes them ideal for a mixed border or a low hedge. 'Goldfinger,' shown here, is covered in large, rich yellow flowers, from late spring to fall. Another varietal, 'Abbotswood,' bears small white flowers against a background of dark blue-green leaves. Grow shrubby cinquefoils in full sun and well-drained soil to reach their full potential of 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide.
Commonly thought of as taller trees, some cherries suit areas with less vertical space just fine. 'Zabeliana' cherry laurel, shown here, is an evergreen ground cover which shines in spring when long spikes of fragrant white flowers appear. Red, cherry-like fruits, which later turn black, follow. For a slightly taller option, to 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide, consider the purple-leaf sand cherry. Valued for its foliage and flowers, this ornamental is a slow-growing, deciduous shrub with glossy oval leaves that mature to a rich purple-red, and that are nicely complemented by delicate white flowers and dark purple fruit. Plant these cherries in full sun and well-drained to moist soil.
A reliable plant that needs partial shade and well-drained or moist acidic soil to thrive, evergreen rhododendrons provide dense walls of color year-round. 'Golden Torch,' shown here, is popular for its flowers, which emerge as salmon-pink buds and open to funnel-shaped, pale creamy-yellow blooms. 'Kure-no-yuki,' a dwarf at 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, produces clusters of pure white flowers in mid-spring.
Shrub roses are a wildly varied lot, with flowers that come in a number of colors, sizes and petal densities. Most shrub roses suit a mixed border, provided they get full sun and well-drained or moist soil.
Wildeve, shown here (also known as 'Ausbonny'), has apricot-flushed pink fragrant blooms, which sit atop long, arching stems. By comparison, the small pink flowers of 'The Fairy' have a lavender tint. The demure Pearl Drift shrub rose, or 'Leggab,' has lightly scented, pale pink flowers that stand out against a background of glossy dark green leaves.
For a pop of color over a long season, go with the orange-red blooms of 'Anna Ford, which last through summer and fall. 'Golden Wings' gives more color variety, with fragrant, pale yellow flowers from summer to fall and bright green hips, or fruits, after that.
The robustness of this winter-flowering evergreen makes it a useful shrub for difficult sites: it will tolerate dry shade and air pollution, and needs very little attention. 'Purple stem' sweet box has slender, tapered dark green leaves and is prized for its highly fragrant white flowers. When planted in partial or full shade and well-drained or moist soil, it will reach 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
The compact, semievergreen Burkwood Viburnum 'Anne Russell,' pictured here, produces clusters of intensely fragrant white flowers from mid- to late spring; plant it close to a seating area or pathway, in full or partial sun and well-drained or moist soil, to make the most of its scent. For an evergreen alternative, consider the David Viburnum, which whose dark green oval leaves give way to small white blooms in late spring. Both viburnums will grow up to 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall.
Woodland plants in the wild, 'La Grave' periwinkles bear pretty, star-shaped lavender-blue flowers and evergreen foliage. At only up to 8 inches tall, periwinkle makes attractive ground cover that can spread indefinitely; it can be invasive and may need to be cut back regularly. Grow in full sun or partial sun, and well-drained or moist soil.
A dramatic architectural plant, yuccas suit hot, dry sites. 'Bright Edge' yucca has leaves with broad yellow margins and produces stems of bell-shaped white flowers. Grow it in full sun and well-drained soil, and watch it develop to 30 inches tall and 5 feet wide.