First, a strong focus has to be put on the cycle of life of different plants to get a successful four-season garden (and thereby get a beautiful winter garden). You don’t want to design only for winter, but instead a planting plan needs to be a flow of color and texture through the year. The flow could even be thought of as a loop without a real beginning and end. This is accomplished by combining perennial flowers and grasses that grow, bloom and go dormant at different times throughout the year.
Planting an area that incorporates, or even welcomes, how plants change their character by looking different from season to season runs totally contrary to most landscape designs. Typically, you have one or two plants (usually a shrubs or evergreens) that is used in a pattern or line and then basically looks the same the entire year. When you start to break from that way of designing landscapes, the actual planting plan becomes more important as well as a knowledge for a wide variety of plants and how/when they change from month to month.
The planting plan is so critical because you need multiple plants growing and blooming within the same space in an orchestrated way. Most budgets can't support installing potted size plants, so you need to purchase bulbs, seeds, plugs as well as potted size plants to get the desired effect. You want to buy them from organic nurseries and vendors so that they are healthy as well. Most landscaping projects settle for plants that are one-size-fits-all and can be picked up on sale at Home Depot.
Seasonal Chart Diagram
The Seasonal Chart Diagram is a tool that helps to visualize how each plant will change throuhgout the year as well as if it will have winter interest. I use them for every project even if the focus isn't entirely on a four-season design. It can really make decisions about plant combinations easier when you "see" different life cycle of each plant with all the others. The "GREEN" shows when foliage is interesting but has not yet bloomed. The "PURPLE" shows when the plant will be in bloom or at its peak color and fullness. The "SALMON" shows when the plants are interesting after the bloom has gone or when it seed heads.
Plants to Plant
Bulbs are for the early spring and need to be placed in an area to get plenty of sunlight as soon as days start to warm up. This is fairly easy because the trees don't have leaves yet. Even in areas that will be heavily shaded by summer, they can still have tulips in early spring. You can literally plant things like crocus, tulips and irises adjacent to each other for an early spring display and still have space for grasses and perennials for summer color and your winter garden delight.
With so much activity going on in one space, you need an eye for detail to layout the plants so they are compatible and not competitive, to determine the number of plants you need, where to source them and (most important!!!) how to arrange them to expresses a sense of art, nature and beauty for spring, summer and after.
If you want to create a more ecologically, beautiful landscape with native plants and winter interest, feel free to contact us about your project.
Want More Winter Interest, check out these links:
Beauty in the After, the Series
Winter Gardening: Beauty in the After