Answer: Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) has dark, lustrous leaves that are used in cooking; branches make great holiday wreaths or as filler in flower arrangements. Our native bay tree (Umbellularia californica) is much slower-growing. Strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo, or the variety Arbutus 'Marina') have a dense growth habit, a profusion of pretty, small white flowers, bright orange fruit that attracts birds, and a beautiful mahogany trunk that resembles our native and closely related Madrone (Arbutus menziesii).
If you want the look of a weeping willow, some smaller evergreens include African sumac (Rhus lancea), and Peppermint gum (Eucalyptus nicholii). Chilean mayten (Maytenus boaria) is a similar willow-like evergreen.
Two of the most successful evergreens to provide privacy and a sense of enclosure are Shiny xylosma (Xylosma congestum) and Mock orange (Pittosporum tobira, also available in a variegated form). Both grow very easily with no special care, can be trained as small trees or trimmed as formal hedges, or simply allowed to grow naturally into large, graceful shrubs. Xylosma in particular is very drought and heat-tolerant, and Pittosporum has white flowers that smell like orange blossoms (hence the common name). Red-tip Photinia (Photinia 'Fraseri') is very popular for the bright red spring growth.
Hollies (Ilex species) have shiny leaves that stand out in the garden in the winter, and of course have bright red berries that are traditional holiday decorations. Variegated English holly (Ilex aquifolium 'Variegata') is the most familiar, but you need a male and a female plant for reliable berry production. Other varieties are available that set fruit without cross-pollination. Hollies prefer regular watering, shade from the hottest sun, and occasional feeding with an "acid-type" fertilizer. They make an excellent background shrub on a north-facing wall.
There are lots of other plants with winter berries. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) comes in many selected forms that vary primarily in how tall they get. Cold nights cause the leaves to turn bright red, just as the berries turn bright orange. The many species of Cotoneaster and Pyracantha have berries that vary from orange-red to the color of cranberries. These range from low ground-covering shrubs to large, dramatic background shrubs. Our native Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is sometimes called Christmas berry because of the profusion of bright red fruit in the winter.This slow grower prefers very infrequent summer irrigation once established.
This covers just a fraction of the useful evergreen shrubs. For more ideas, visit your local garden center.
Best wishes with your landscape!
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