Few things are as cheery in a winter landscape as a shrub with glossy green leaves among the bare branches, especially if it is also loaded with berries. Holly is a Christmas standard, of course, but there are other varieties for both shade and sun. Look for varieties that won't outgrow your space and that have preferences that suit your own soil and patterns of sun and shade.
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The word holly, for most people, brings to mind an image of the classic English holly, Ilex aquifolium, a conical tree that grows up to 20 feet tall. Shrubby hollies may be found, however, and the blue hollies, Ilex x meserveae, hybrids of I. aquifolium and I. rugosa, are particularly ornamental. These include the cultivars 'Blue Angel,' 'Blue Boy' and 'Blue Princess' and have the added advantage of being hardier than English holly, to USDA Zone 5. They prefer moist, slightly acid soil in full sun but will take some shade. Berries are produced on female plants only and, for best display, there should be a male shrub within 300 feet. The flowers are insignificant.
Pyracanthas, also known as firethorns, are spiny shrubs with showy clusters of white flowers and orange to red fruit in the fall. The hardiest, to Zone 5, is P. coccinea, a tough, tall shrub that may reach 20 feet if trained against a wall. The red-orange fruit is a favourite of birds, especially cedar waxwings. It is fast-growing, tolerant of drought and adaptable to a wide variety of soil conditions.
Cotoneaster (pronounced koh-tohn-ee-ASTER) is a large genus with many fine ornamentals, mainly evergreen or semideciduous, from flat ground covers to shrubs up to 15 feet high. All are tolerant of poor soil and drought. The flowers are small and pinkish, but there are so many of them that they make a nice spring show. Berries are orange-red to red. One of the most useful is the rock spray cotoneaster, C. microphyllus. Hardy to Zone 5, it grows 2 to 3 feet high and up to 6 feet wide. Leaves are very small on gracefully arching branches. For the best shape, do not prune cotoneaster.
In shady beds, Skimmia japonica will provide reliable greenery with a bonus of red berries in the fall. As with hollies, the berries are borne on female plants only, but male plants have larger and more fragrant flowers. These are compact, dense shrubs that grow slowly to 5 feet but may be kept lower by pruning. As with many shade plants, they prefer acid, moist soil.
Another plant for part to full shade, the evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, is one of the most attractive shrubs available for Zone 7 and up.. The branches with their small glossy leaves are often used in flower arrangements, and the shiny black berries are both edible and delicious. New growth is bronze-coloured, and the small white flowers are similar in shape to heather blossoms. A native of the West Coast, it prefers slightly acid soil and combines well with rhododendrons, azaleas and ferns. When established, it will take some drought.
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