As a landscape designer, one of the most important aspects of my job is to make sure a landscape design looks beautiful at any time of year (yes, even during a Guelph winter). While that may sound complex, it really just comes down to a bit of planning and a whole lot of falling in love with different types of plants.
Starting Your 4 Season Journey
One of the easiest ways to get started with planting 4 season colour in your landscape is to make monthly visits to the garden centre. We shop with our eyes first and it’s easiest to get a clear vision of what we want when we can see what is in bloom. Focus in on frequent flyers you notice—plants that seem to always be in bloom or offering visual interest, month after month. These will be plants that will have visual interest in your landscape for longer than just a couple of weeks and will make excellent additions to keeping your garden exciting for multiple seasons.
Another good place to get started would be to talk to a landscape designer. We spend years honing our craft and learning all about different plants and when they offer interest. We’d be happy to chat with you about what plants to focus in on, but we’re also happy to help implement it into your landscape. During a spring planting visit, we take it upon ourselves to build in summer colour. During summer renovations, we can take a look at what you have and make suggestions of what might be missing to ensure your landscape is always in season.
Tips for Planting for 4 Season Interest
Layer. While it may look nice to have everything perfectly even, few things in life ever follow that rule—and especially not Mother Nature. For the most visual interest, layer in plants of tall, medium, and small heights to engage the eye and mimic nature. Your tall piece should naturally be your focal point while your medium and small pieces play more of a supporting role. For added visual appeal, do your best to ensure they each capture at least 3 seasons—for example, pair a tall Japanese maple (fall colour) with spirea (spring and fall colour) and daylilies (summer colour) for a full season of interest.
Make 30% of your landscape evergreen. In our famously cold Guelph winters, when all else fails, I’m always glad we have evergreens. They’re tough, they’re hardy, and they’re always in season—even in February and March when the snow’s starting to melt and everything just looks “blah”. They also add a great contrasting texture to deciduous plants without overshadowing them.
Use ornamental grasses. Warm season grasses, like maiden grass and switchgrass, are great for adding colour and texture that lasts well into the winter. They come up late, giving the tulips and daffodils shine in spring, then they burst into life with unique visual interest.
Plant bulbs to extend your season. Fall-planted bulbs, like snowdrops and crocus, are fantastic because you get them in the ground before the frost and they’re ready to go as soon as they can break through the soil! This gives you added colour as early as March!
Use plants with 2-3 season appeal, especially if you only have a small space to work with. Viburnum, for example, offers spring flowers, berries in summer, and fantastic fall colour. Voila! Just one plant and 3 seasons are covered—all you need now is an evergreen. This is a great way to make the most of the space you have and prevents the need to overflow the garden to ensure all-season interest.
Use different textures. Our brains interpret textures as distinctly as they interpret colours. Use different leaf shapes and formations to still offer captivating interest without colour!
Plants for 4 Season Colour
Just to get you started, here are some of our top suggestions for each season to get your garden growing all season—or, rather, seasons—long!
For fall interest, you’ll be looking for those perfect plants to bid farewell to summer and start the transition to winter.
- Mums – classic blooms with fantastic texture and plenty of colour options.
- Limelight Hydrangea – its lime green flowers fade to pink in the fall!
- Dwarf Burning Bush – offers billows of fiery red autumn foliage and unique, winged branches.
- Sugar Maple – Shimmering sunset-toned fall foliage that will make you want to put your hand on your heart and start belting out ‘Oh, Canada’.
For winter interest, of course, you’ll be looking at evergreens, but those aren’t the only things that can beautify when the mercury drops.
- Dogwood – offers slender, red branches that look beautiful against the snow.
- Blue Holly – its evergreen foliage and red berries leave a beautiful impression 365 days of the year.
- Morning Light Maiden Grass – its elegant foliage peeks through the snow and adds texture to winter garden beds.
- Blue Star Juniper – offers pretty blue tones for all-season groundcover.
- Dwarf Serbian Spruce – adds medium-height texture and a delightful blue tinge that looks great every day of the year.
For spring interest, you’ll want to kick things up a notch after seeing a whole lot of white for months on end.
- Montmorency Tart Cherry – abundant spring blooms that fade into red cherries.
- Daffodils – a sunny burst of yellow to welcome warmer weather.
- Lilacs – panicles of white, pink or purple flowers and a signature fragrance.
For summer interest, you won’t need to try very hard—nature seems to really take things into its own hands in this season—but these plants offer some amazing interest you won’t want to miss.
- Goldenrod – profuse, golden yellow blooms that pollinators can’t resist.
- Astilbe – colourful, fluffy-looking flower plumes.
- Hosta – perfect for filling in shady spots with big, beautiful foliage.
- Lavender – elegant in the garden and beautiful freshly cut in a vase.
- Oriental Lily – bold shapes, bold colours, and bold patterns—perfect for summer.
One of the best parts of my job is helping folks choose where to place these plants, what to pair them with, and how to arrange them for maximum impact. For the true four-season effect, I recommend a landscaping consultation with one of our pros at Royal City Nursery. Call us today, or visit us our garden centre in Guelph for more awesome all-season garden ideas.