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Garden Design: Seasonal Interest

5 min read | Dec 13, 2012 | Plants  Resources 

Imagine this: The heat of the summer is starting to dwindle and cool evenings are slowly creeping in the area. Summer flowering plants are starting to lose their color but this is only a prelude to the phenomenal fall color we are about to see in our landscapes. In addition to the beautiful fall color of most hardwood trees, this is the time of year when some flowering plants begin to start their fall displays as well.

Beginning in late summer and continuing into the fall, a bright yellow begins to pop in the landscape. That bright yellow is Solidago, a hardy, drought tolerant perennial with long racemes of yellow flowers. When Solidago (pictured above) is planted in full sun, prepare yourself for late season color! Solidago ‘Fireworks’ is a new dense flowering cultivar that has proven to be very hardy with a great floral display. Another late season flowering perennial is Epatorium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed). Joe Pye Weed (pictured below, right) is a great flowering perennial with purple flowers atop tall spikes. Joe Pye Weed is very versatile in that it is drought resistant and can also thrive in low boggy areas. The flowers of both plants can be used as fillers in cut flower arrangements.

There are some woody plants that begin to show their seasonal attributes in the fall also.  An interesting gr
oup of plants are Chokeberries. Aronia prunifolia (pictured below, left) is a purple chokeberry that develops a bright orange foliage color which is contrasted nicely by deep purple berries. Chokeberries are native to our region, making them a nice selection for landscapes. In addition, birds enjoy their fruit, so these large shrubs attract a diversity of fluttering wildlife!


Once the fall color is gone what are we left with?
When it’s cold outside the last thing most people think about is their landscape. Many people like to stay inside where it’s warm. If you are one of these people, you are missing out as our climate has many plants that provide interest even in the coldest months of the year. For many people, when they think of interest in the landscape they think of flowers; their color, height, texture, etc. Although, there are many other things to consider. For instance, when trees drop their leaves they begin to reveal many different attributes equally as interesting (bark color, texture, patterns, berries, etc.). Whether it is floral color or fruit bearing trees, every season in our climate provides some type of interest.


Brrrr, Chill!

Even though our winters are rather mild, we do experience very cold nights that can range in the upper teens and low twenties. Freezing temperatures for two or three consecutive nights can have detrimental effects on most plants. Despite the cold temperatures, there are still many plants that continue to offer great winter interest. Ilex verticillata, commonly know as Winterberry, drops its leaves in the fall but the remaining twigs are covered in bright red berries that are beautiful. A specific cultivar is ‘Red Sprite.’ ‘Red Sprite’ (pictured to the right) is a dwarf compact cultivar that reaches only 4’ tall and wide and works well in small spaces.

Stepping down in height from the Winterberry is an evergreen perennial called Hellebore. Hellebore is a winter flowering perennial that has floral colors from reds, pinks to whites. With dense dark green foliage, Hellebore is a great perennial for mass planting. Taking things down to the ground level, ajuga is an evergreen ground cover that would be a great contrast in color to the Winterberry. Ajuga has purple-green foliage in the growing season and changes to a deep purple in the coldest months of winter.

Of Trees and Such
The three previous plants would make a great planting arrangement in a small garden area, but let’s take a look at a few larger plants that will provide a greater impact in the landscape. Even though the following trees are deciduous, we have to consider what qualities they provide: Weeping elms and cherry trees. Weeping trees have a wonderful cascading quality, which is even more greatly emphasized during the winter months. Specifically, weeping cherry trees make a powerful statement by showing off their silvery bark that reflects the winter sun and long, graceful branches that reach all the way to the ground.

Other trees that offer seasonal interest are Coral Bark Japanese Maples and Red Twig Dogwoods, as they reveal bright pinks and reds during the winter months. Both of these trees require a couple of hours of direct sun to truly bring out their colors. Though, in the summer too much sun can scorch their leaves so be careful when planting. There is a happy medium that must be found to bring out their colors; the best advice is to keep the trees out of the direct afternoon sun.
When the weather starts to warm up, the plants all seem to wake up and begin to show signs of life. There is a small window of time just before spring when nothing really seems to be happening in the landscape. Two plants can offer an engulfing fragrance during this lag time: Daphne odora and Sarcococca confusa (pictured to the left) (the Sarcococca is commonly referred to as Sweetbox). The fragrance from these plants is a sweet, citrus-like scent that can be very consuming. I have even heard the fragrance referred to as smelling like Froot Loops Cereal! These plants are best used near entrances to the home where they will be passed regularly. Both species are dwarf plants so they may also be used in large containers for a couple years. Great drainage is required for both species once they are planted in the landscape.

All in all, once the warm seasons are gone there is still plenty of interest in the landscape; We cannot always count on floral color. The coral color of the Coral Bark Maple cannot be matched by any flower color. The silver, cascading branches of weeping cherry trees cannot be replicated. When we begin to look into the details of our plants, so many different qualities can be enjoyed. When planting in your landscape think about all four seasons and the attributes of your plants.

Happy Gardening!
Bobby C.
FairviewGreenhouses & GardenCenter