A well thought-out garden will contain a variety of plant types. Evergreen shrubs play an important role in the structure of the garden. Finding shrubs that stay small can be a challenge. Broad-leaved evergreen shrubs scattered throughout the landscape will give it uniformity. They hold the garden together in winter and create a backdrop for other plants.
English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is one of the better known broad-leaved evergreen shrubs. The mistake often made is planting the wrong variety. A full sized box can grow 6 feet tall or more. The true dwarf boxwood (Buxus sempervirens "Suffruticosa") is easily kept at 3 feet or less. Dwarf boxwood can also be sculpted into small topiaries and can be grown in containers. A newer variety "Graham Blandy" is a tall, narrow shrub great used as an accent plant.
Azalea is an evergreen woodland shrub. It is best grown in shade or partial shade. There are deciduous and evergreen azaleas, so check the label. A good choice is "Gumpo White" or "Gumpo Pink." These shrubs are easily kept at 1-2 feet and equal width. A common mistake is buying larger azaleas and trying to keep them small by pruning too much. This intense pruning will result in a lack of flowers, in many varieties.
Dwarf skimmia is an often overlooked shrub. The simple white flower clusters in summer are not spectacular. blooms are not spectacular. When a male and female skimmia are planted together the female will develop bright red ornamental berries in the fall. What is most important though are the thick evergreen leaves and the tidy appearance. Skimmia is a 3-foot-tall shrub that does well in the shade. It is as wide as it is tall so it fills the space below larger shrubs well.
Sweet box (Sarcococca) is one of the most fragrant small shrubs. The branches are lined with elongated thick glossy leaflets. Sweet box has an elegant exotic appearance and requires a shady position. The small white flowers appear along the leaf axles in February. The blooms are hardly noticeable but the gardenia-like perfume will fill the entire garden. Red or black ornamental berries follow close behind the flowers. This is a shrub that is attractive all year long.
Hebes are fast becoming very popular landscape shrubs. They are very small, ranging from 1 to 3 feet tall. Many are better for warm climates but a number of hebes can handle a moderate cold period. These are drought-tolerant, sun-loving shrubs that require good drainage.
Choose evergreen hebes that are hardy to your region. Some of the hardiest are the boxleaf hebes. Hebes produce attractive spikes of white, purple, pink or red flowers in the summer months. The leaves may be green, red tinged or variegated and come in different sizes and shapes.
Though not known for their showy flowers, the box-leaf honeysuckles (Lonicera nitida) are good small shrubs. They have an irregular growth habit and will require pruning to keep them tight. They are tough enough to plant in a hot, dry location. A popular variety is "Baggeson's Gold" with tiny chartreuse leaves. There are also deep green and variegated varieties. In landscape situations, box honeysuckle rarely produces flowers and berries.
For dry, sunny locations rosemary (Rosmarinus) makes a superb small evergreen shrub. The attractive blue flowers appear during the winter. The added benefit of this landscape shrub is the potential culinary use for the foliage. Rosemary can be grown year round in milder climates but will need winter protection in cold climates. It can be grown in containers and brought inside during the coldest months. This shrub will not tolerate wet feet and must have good draining soil.