20+ Plants That Will Create a Strong Foliage Foundation

Unsung heroes of the garden, these evergreens are the sturdy yeomen upon which many a garden scene is built. Their contributions are often quite subtle— providing much-needed, but easy-to-overlook year-round structure. They also provide an all-important frame for other (often more engaging) plant partners that come to the fore during the growing season—the more showy plants that we count on to deliver a flurry of color and blooms.

It’s not uncommon for background plants of this type to be dismissed as ho-hum or pedestrian, but they’re not all “Steady as she goes!” No, these plants are so much more: for example, many have additional merits, such as showy foliage, decorative berries, or blooms that are a magnet for hummingbirds. And when paired with perfect partners, these seemingly everyday plants shine with unexpected virtue, proving once again that a planting vignette’s success rests on the combined effect of the selected individuals, making them stronger together than each alone.

To add a bit of verve to your garden beds, explore the eGardenGo site, where you'll find creative planting combination ideas that incorporate these fabulous foliage shrubs. Shown below is a small, representative sample from the myriad of possibilities. To discover even more options, search our database for "evergreen" + "shrub" + "structure", narrowing the choices even further by inputting your USDA growing zone and any appropriate tags to describe the cultural conditions of your site. Then click through on any resulting plant and get ideas of what to plant with it.



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Arctostaphylos x 'Sunset'

Sunset Manzanita

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9

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Aucuba japonica 'Rozannie'

Rozanne Japanese Aucuba

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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Buxus sempervirens 'Aureovariegata'

Variegated Boxwood

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'

Edging Boxwood
Dwarf Boxwood

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8

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Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka'

Autumn Camellia

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Filtered Sun, Part Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9

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Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Duke Gardens'

Duke Gardens Japanese Plum Yew

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata'

Upright Japanese Plum Yew

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis'

Gracilis Slender Hinoki Cypress

Type: Conifer, Tree
Exposure: Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Choisya ternata 'Sundance'

Sundance Mexican Orange

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

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Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon'

Black Dragon Japanese Cedar

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Daphne odora 'Zuiko Nishiki'

winter daphne

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Shade, Part Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

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Fatsia Japonica

Japanese Aralia

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

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Hebe pinguifolia 'Sutherlandii'

Sutherland hebe

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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Juniperus scopulorum 'Blue Arrow'

Blue Arrow Juniper

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Lonicera pileata

box-leaf honeysuckle

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Full Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade, Part Shade, Filtered Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Mahonia x media 'Marvel'

Marvel Mahonia

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Nandina domestica 'Gulf Stream'

Compact Heavenly Bamboo

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Pieris japonica 'Little Heath'

Little Heath Lily of the Valley

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Pittosporum tobira 'Tall and Tough'

Japanese mock-orange

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10

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Podocarpus lawrencei 'Blue Gem'

Blue Mountain Plum-Pine

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9

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Polystichum munitum

Western Sword Fern

Type: Fern, Groundcover
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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Prunus laurocerasus 'Mount Vernon'

Dwarf English Laurel

Type: Groundcover, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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Rhododendron pachysanthum

Rhododendron species

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9

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Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis

Dwarf Sweet Box

Type: Groundcover, Shrub
Exposure: Part Shade, Full Shade, Full Shade, Morning Sun, Open Shade, Deep Shade
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9

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Thuja occidentalis 'Degroot's Spire'

Compact Columnar Arborvitae

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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Tsuga canadensis 'Bennett'

Bennett Canadian Hemlock

Type: Conifer, Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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Viburnum davidii

David's Viburnum

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 7, 8, 9

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Published January 28, 2022


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