Updated Monday, December 24, 2012 at 09:21 AM
EVERGREENS HAVE been revered since ancient times as symbols of steadfastness, regeneration and the continuity of life. I guess the depths of winter have always stirred a need for reassurance that light and leafiness will return to the world.
While we appreciate holly's bright berries, and the fresh, resinous scent of pine and cedar boughs, the Romans considered holly sacred, and the Druids used it, along with ivy, to ward off evil spirits.
We may deck our homes with wreaths, garlands and fir trees for the holidays, but that doesn't mean we need to grow them in our gardens. Who wants heavy, dark plants casting shadows over the scant 8 ½ hours of daylight granted us at this time of year?
Many evergreens have been downsized so they don't outgrow their welcome in urban and suburban gardens. Pint-size shrubs with gold-drenched leaves, coral-tipped needles or ruby-toned foliage clothe the garden in winter without dominating or darkening it. Some are small enough to grow in containers on the porch or tuck into the front of the border for year-round appeal.
Euonymus fortunei 'Interbolwi,' aka Blondy, is about as sun-splashed as a shrub can get. The leaves have narrow green margins just wide enough to show off the golden leaves and stems. Bred in Europe, Blondy is hardy, has a low, mounded shape up to 24 inches high and foliage that holds its brilliant color year-round.
A compact bronze Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Pygmaea Aurescens') has the same appealing shaggy texture as our native conifers, at a fraction of the size. It tops out at 2 feet high, shading yellow-bronze in spring and green in summer, then morphs to a coppery-brown in winter.
Silver lining pyracantha (Pyracantha x 'Cadvar') is the shrub to plant this spring so you'll have plenty of its shimmery foliage to deck the halls next Christmas. It grows about 3 feet tall, with spring flowers followed by berries in fall to feed the birds. But the show starts in autumn, when its silvery and white variegated foliage turns bronze and pink, and carries on its vibrant color scheme through winter.
How about a petite golden holly bush? Ilex crenata 'Drops of Gold' works as a hedge or in a container, it tops out at 3 feet, and the glossy little leaves are so golden-yellow they seem to reflect sunlight even on gray days.
With a name like Razzleberri fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense 'Monraz') you'd expect a focal-point shrub. And you'll get it with this striking plant that looks as if it'd be deciduous but keeps its pretty burgundy leaves all year. Its tousled little hot-pink flowers come on in spring and repeat bloom through the seasons. Plant loropetalum in a sheltered spot away from cold winds; it can be a little tender but well worth trying for its unique coloration and spreading shape.
Thujopsis dolobrata 'Nana' is a slow-growing, mounding dwarf version of the Japanese elkhorn cedar. Its sprays of flat, antler-shaped foliage are deep green, patterned with white, and when grown in full sun the foliage is touched with shades of orange and olive.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.
Euonymus fortunei 'Interbolwi' (Blondy)
GREAT PLANT PICKS
Thujopsis dolobrata 'Nana'
Loropetalum chinense 'Monraz'
Silver lining pyracantha
Bronze Hinoki cypress
Ilex crenata 'Drops of Gold'