Designing A Four-Season Garden

I don't know about you, but I like a garden that changes throughout the seasons. I find the suburban plantings that only use evergreens for "year-round interest" boring. A certain percentage of the plants in my garden are evergreens, but I don't overplant. Like the old mantra says, "everything is good in moderation." The key is learning the right combination of different plant types to display not only variety and originality, but also emphasize the seasons. For instance, if it snows in your area, you might consider planting shrubs and trees with interesting winter forms, such as Contorted Hazel or Weeping Willow.

I find that the traditional vegetable garden can look extremely flat and bare in winter when nothing is growing, so I've started planting fruiting shrubs such as Goji Berries and Blueberries to add not only height, but also fall color and fruit. That way I get multiple uses from a single spot in the garden. I've also been toying around with the idea of allowing climbers, such as clematis, to scramble through my shrubs and provide some color at a time when the shrubs themselves don't have any special interest. That way I get four seasons of enjoyment in a fairly small space (Blueberries and Goji Berries both take up roughly a 5 x 5 foot area).

Another way to provide seasonal interest is the idea of layering, or "sandwiching", plants into a fairly small area. For instance, in just 6 square feet I could plant Daffodils and Crocus for early spring interest, a low-growing groundcover such as a variety of Strawberry (remember, multiple uses!), fall flowering bulbs like Autumn Crocus (Colchicum autumnale), and a variety of Japanese Anemone. That gives you three seasons of interest in a tiny space. I could also (in my area) plant an evergreen such rosemary or lavender to add a structural element along with a delicious fragrance.

You also want to consider what effect your climate will have on the design. Do you get excessive winter rainfall? Are your summers humid or arid? How about the temperatures? What is the warmest and coldest it usually reaches in your area?

All of these questions can play a useful role in developing a four-season garden. If you get excessive winter rain like I do, you could plant Salix alba 'Vitellina' to provide some winter color in the form of bright yellow twigs. I also have a spot in my yard that is fairly sandy, so I plant natives and grasses that are acclimated to the spot.

One often overlooked possibility is designing for frost. In my area, the air is extremely humid. That causes masses of hoar frost to develop on every surface. By planting grasses, roses that bear hips (fruit), and late-blooming asters, I can create a garden that is as beautiful at the first frost as it is in the spring.

Selecting plants that have multiple seasons of interest can help you truly create a four-season garden. I'm still experimenting with fall and winter plant ideas because that's when my garden seems to fade away and lose interest until spring. Every year it gets better!

How about you? Do you have a particular time of year in your garden that seems to lack interest? I'd love to discuss this topic further in the comments below (I could have written all day on designing for seasonal interest!). 🙂

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About Travis

Hi there! I'm Travis and have been gardening for over 10 years now at my home in Ruston, Louisiana. I currently run a garden consulting business and enjoy experimenting with new plants and techniques in my own garden. My goal is to help everyone by providing advice based on experience and enabling people to garden confidently. My greatest passion: connecting with the younger generations (including my own) and helping them see gardening for what it truly is.