Here's our top native evergreen shrubs. They will bring you year-round interest and add structure to your garden. They're great for wildlife too as they support large numbers of insects - perfect for feeding chicks and encouraging birds such as tits, warblers and sparrows.
Grow evergreen shrubs as specimen plants or in combination with other species in a mixed border or hedge.
Box, Buxus sempervirens
A large shrub, this plant has smooth, green, oblong shaped leaves which are around 1-2.5cm long. The small flowers are green and both male and female flowers grow on the same plant. The fruit holds small, black seeds and is green, before ripening to brown, and rounded in shape with three apparent points.
It's a dense shrub and provides cover for birds, invertebrates and mammals, while the flowers are visited by pollinating insects during the spring. Native to the UK, box grows well in calcareous soil and shade, so can grow under tall trees.
Butcher’s broom, Ruscus aculeatus
This species is an evergreen subshrub and has green, flattened, linear leaf-like structures with a pointed spike at the end. The ‘leaves’ are actually cladodes, which are flattened continuations of the plant stem. Butcher’s broom flowers, which are green with three sepals and petals, grow on the cladodes between January to April.
This plant produces bright red, rounded berries, which are eaten by birds, such as thrushes. Native to Britain it grows well in calcareous soil and can be used as an ancient woodland indicator.
Gorse, Ulex europaeus
Gorse is a native shrub in the pea and bean family. Its shoots are modified into dense, dark green thorns that replace its leaves in adult plants. Gorse has a long flowering season. From March to May and often into late summer you'll be dazzled by its bright yellow flowers that have a distinctive coconut-like fragrance.
This shrub thrives in poor, dry acid soils, but it tends to be suitable for any well drained soil in a sunny position where it can grow up to 2m tall. Its dense structure means it can provide an important refuge for birds and invertebrates. Its long flowering period makes it a fantastic food source for insects.
Holly, Ilex aquifolium
Holly can be found growing in the countryside across the UK and provides many benefits for wildlife. It has glossy, dark green leaves which usually has spikes or an undulating leaf margin, though variegated cultivars are available. Older holly leaves found higher up the plant are less spiny and more regularly shaped.
From late spring holly produces clusters of white flowers but the male and female flowers are located on separate plants. Bright red, round berries appear on pollinated female plants in autumn, and this festive image has long been connected with Christmas. Holly can grow in various conditions so it is a great choice for any garden.
Birds benefit from the dense cover holly provides throughout the year, either to build their nest in during spring or as a winter shelter. The autumn harvest of berries attracts blackbirds, mistle thrushes and song thrushes as well as migrant species like fieldfare and redwing. Holly also provides a food source for the caterpillars of the holly blue butterfly, holly tortrix moth, double-striped pug moth and yellow-barred brindle moth.
Wild privet, Ligustrum vulgare
Leaves of this plant are oblong, with smooth edges and have a shiny appearance. Flowering around June privet produces white flowers which have four petals. Black berries then develop, which form part of the diet of various bird species. Privet is an important food source for many moth caterpillars, including the privet hawk-moth and the lilac beauty moth.
This UK native has become naturalised in various areas and grows well in calcareous soils. Hedges are often formed out of privet but if the shrub is constantly pruned to create a neat attractive feature then flowers and fruit often do not form and this reduces the wildlife value of the plant.
Yew, Taxus baccata
Yew is native to Britain and is a popular species for topiary (clipping shrubs into ornamental shapes). It is a long-lived species, with some specimens being around 1000 years old. Leaves are linear in shape and around 3cm long with a pointed end. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants, with the male flower being yellow-light brown and rounded in shape, while the female flowers are green and very small. A red fleshly layer, called an aril, surrounds the seed produced by this plant.
The fruits are, like holly berries, an important food source for birds as well as mammals like dormice. Yew may also be used as a foodplant by caterpillars of the satin beauty moth, which is more common in southern parts of England and Wales. Yew is tolerant to shade and severe weather, such as strong winds, so it is a good plant to fill areas of the garden where other species may not flourish.