When you look out your window, what do you see? In winter, many of us have a view of a dreary, blah, landscape, with nothing to draw the eye. Great gardens grab our attention throughout every season of the year. Now is the perfect time to evaluate your outside space and make plans to add some beauty and interest to lift your spirits through each season by planting a year round garden.
Accept the challenge to create a garden with year-round interest and you will discover lots of possibilities to make your garden more appealing. It’s not just about adding flowers. Options to add interest include: color, blossoms, variegated foliage, texture, shape, fragrance, sound, movement, garden structures and focal points.
Here are a few tips and suggestions for each season of the year…
It’s the most neglected and, perhaps, the most important season of the year to add appeal in the garden! Start your redesign in the winter, when the bare bones of the garden are exposed. In winter, evergreen trees and shrubs and hardscapes take center stage. Think about creating a foundation of evergreen plants to soften the perimeter of the house and accent pathways, walls, fences, arbors and other garden art.
Evergreen shrubs can also add pop with colorful berries or foliage. Add shrubs like Pyracantha ‘Fire Thorn’, which can be espaliered against the house or a wall and features brilliant red, orange or yellow berries from fall through the winter. American holly (Ilex opaca) offers cheerful red berries and food and cover for birds. (Watching colorful birds in the winter will certainly add interest to the garden!). Nandina ‘Fire Power’ or ‘Flirt’ provides vivid foliage that can soften the areas around walkways and structures.
Many deciduous trees are terrific additions to the winter garden because of their captivating structure, color and bark. Look for trees like Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), a small tree grown primarily for its corkscrew branch pattern. Weeping redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) offers a dramatic cascading shape. River birch (Betula nigra) and crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) have interesting exfoliating bark, and the bark of coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’) provides vivid coral color and is a striking focal point in the winter garden.
Yes, you can have blooming flowers in the winter as well! Nothing is more southern than the camellia, and this evergreen plant provides weeks of gorgeous blooms. The Camellia sasanqua produces flowers from October through December. ‘Yuletide’ camellia (Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’) comes alive with gorgeous red flowers just in time for the holidays. The Camellia japonica begins blooming as early as January and can last well into April. A favorite is the pink and fragrant Camellia japonica ‘Kramer’s Supreme.’
My favorite winter-blooming evergreen perennial is Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus). It surprises me each January or February with a profusion of small, bell-shaped, nodding blossoms in a variety of colors that will last for months. Pair Lenten rose with evergreen, autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) for a stunning look. Other winter-bloomers are winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) and winter Daphne (Daphne odora).
Winter is the best time to strategically place focal points in the garden – bird baths, birdhouses, sculptures, benches, arbors, etc. – so you have something of interest to see outside each window of your house.
Most of us have already focused our attention on springtime and planted some tried-and-true favorites like azalea, dogwood and redbud. If you plan carefully, you can have spring blooms from early March through May! Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) starts the show in late winter through mid-March with colors from yellow to copper to red. Early spring-blooming bulbs also welcome the season. (Next autumn, be sure to plant some daffodils, crocus, tulips and other favorite bulbs.) Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is a small evergreen tree with lovely star-shaped flowers in early spring. Every garden needs a few Japanese maples, with bright spring foliage more stunning than flowers!
We all have a love affair with hydrangeas. Research the various varieties for blooming times and you can have hydrangeas blooming in spring and into the summer. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has foliage that turns a beautiful bronze color in the fall. Leave the blooms on the stems to dry and fade, to offer more fall and winter interest. Fragrance and variegated color can be added with roses like the shrub rose, ‘Scentimental,’ with burgundy and creamy white swirls.
As summer heat and humidity take over, we often feel tired and spent. So does your garden! It is a challenge to keep the garden looking fresh in the summer. A great option is to plant a pollinator garden in a sunny spot. Most pollinator plants (those that attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies) thrive and bloom in the heat and will keep performing through the fall. Not only will you get stunning flowers and fragrance but will enjoy the sound and movement of birds and butterflies flitting between your plants! Consider adding cosmos, Bachelor button, aster, zinnia, coneflower, gaillardia, coreopsis, bee balm, dill, Mexican sunflower, fennel, marigolds and sage.
You can also punch up your summer garden by potting up containers. Pots can be placed wherever you need a spot of color or a focal point. Adding a water feature will provide a soothing, relaxing sound, as well as attract birds and other critters to the garden. You can choose something as simple as a small tabletop fountain or as large as a Koi pond with waterfall. Add comfortable seating nearby so you can enjoy the sound and movement of the water. Make sure you add shade trees, awnings and table umbrellas so everyone can enjoy being outside in the garden in the summer.
As summer heat fades, the beauty of the fall is captured by the colorful leaves of deciduous trees. Plant a few trees that will give you spectacular fall color. One of the more interesting tree selections is the maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba), with elegant, fan-shaped leaves that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. (Make sure you get the male variety because the female ginkgo produces a fruit with a foul odor!) Red maple (Acer rubrum ‘October Glory’) is a fantastic addition to any landscape – fast-growing, with stunning red/orange foliage in the fall. You can’t go wrong planting one or more Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). You will not only get gorgeous fall color but the shape of the tree will give added appeal in the winter.
It can seem overwhelming to create a garden with four-season interest, but you can start by changing just one thing each season that will add some sparkle to your garden. Whatever appeals to you and makes you happy is the perfect solution!