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Evergreen Shrubs and Their Best Companion Plants

Avid gardener and former nurserywoman Julie Lane-Gay offers this advice for combining conifers with other plants in a garden:

Small evergreen shrubs are happy to mingle with other plants, often blending as well with ferns as with tulips. Their needles offer a great background and contrast to a huge range of other foliage types.

Heathers and heaths make great matches for dwarf conifers.

Heathers and heaths make great matches for dwarf conifers.

My favorite combiner is a smaller clematis scrambling its way around these beauties, such as Clematis texensis ‘Princess Diana’ cloaking ‘Blue Star’ juniper and C. ‘Gazelle’ adorning the needles of ‘Gentsch White’ Canadian hemlock. Two rules: plant the clematis about 18 inches from the base of the conifer and ensure the mature size of the climber would not smother the conifer (or any adjacent neighbors, for that matter).

Heaths and heathers are common companions to evergreen shrubs and they can do very well together. I love white-flowered heath gracing the more upright gray pines. Again, be sure not to crowd the base.

In woodland areas, ferns such as hart’s tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) and maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) blend winsomely with the Siberian and Hinoki cypresses. For deep shade, mix in some big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) or sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) for a great mélange of textures.

Where winter appeal is especially important, low-growing evergreen shrubs look terrific alongside hellebores, grasses and the early snowdrops and crocus.