Evergreens needn’t be green. Many of them are variegated and these create a pattern of light and shade, although you do need to use them sparingly or they’ll dazzle you a little too much. The paler parts of the foliage, sometimes cream or yellow, don’t produce chlorophyll so variegated plants often survive well in shadier places. The golden rule with variegation is to blend the colours. White and green foliage tends to jar against yellow and green so it’s best to segregate them.
• Green and yellow foliage lights up darker areas of the garden. Medium-sized shrub Eleagnus submacrophylla ‘Limelight’ has sage-green leaves splashed in gold and tiny, highly fragrant flowers in late autumn. You can get the same strident variegation with a much smaller evergreen, Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald n Gold’, and this bushy, slow-growing shrub will eventually reach 3m (10ft) if left. It can be grown as a wall shrub. Or, use variegated Persian ivy Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ to clothe a wall, although this non-clinging ivy will need supporting wires. Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’, one of the toughest evergreens of all, has green leaves dotted in yellow. You can add more dazzle with orange-trumpeted, bright-yellow daffodils like ‘Jetfire’. Or calm things down using pale-pink winter heathers and silver-leaved deadnettles such as the pink-flowered lamium, ‘Beacon Silver’.
• Cooler cream and green variegated plants are subtler and daintier and there’s a euonymus called ‘Emerald Gaiety’ that bears white-edged green leaves. This makes a fine front-of-border edging to soften a path. Pick up the same blend of milk white and sage green with the self-clinging English ivy Hedera helix ‘Glacier’. Ivies can be grown on upright poles covered with netting, on fences, or up walls, but some ivies won’t climb so refer to a specialist such as Fibrex Nurseries. You could also use variegated Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Queen’. This tall conical shrub, which can reach over 2m (6 1/2ft), casts a silvery spell in winter light.
All the forms of P. tennuifolia have crinkled evergreen foliage and ‘Tom Thumb’ has green foliage, but the new growth emerges black to create a lovely contrast. Add a frill of the black, strappy grass Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ to complete the look.
New growth is often brighter and the very readily available Photinia fraseri ‘Red Robin’ produces bright red shoots above high-gloss green foliage. Use it as a specimen shrub, or create a hedge, but trim it back in summer to encourage a flush of young growth. There’s also a new berberis with vivid-red foliage, named ‘Admiration’, well worth seeking out. You’ll get a similar flush of sunset red with heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, but this does best when grown in pots in colder gardens. Create a bright contrast using miniature blue bulbs such as muscari, scilla and Anemone blanda. Or add a golden touch using conifer Pinus mugo ‘Carsten's Wintergold’. This produces golden needles once the temperatures drop.
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