Designing A Year Round Garden

One goal of the garden designer is to create interest in the garden year round. In the spring and summer it’s the colorful flowers of the perennials, annuals and flowering trees and shrubs. Autumn provides the garden with brilliant colorful foliage while in the winter the berries, evergreens and bark color provide color. Also important in the winter is the form and shape of trees and shrubs.


In spring, most plants are still pale green with new growth and annuals still a month away. As a result, the early border generally consists of splashes of colorful bulbs and a few perennials against a backdrop of green foliage and brown earth. Spring bulbs are extremely important to the early garden as they offer some the earliest flowers of all spring plants. Some bulbs will last until the more perennials begin to bloom in May and June. Most early perennials are suitable for the shady or part shady garden as they take advantage of the sun until the deciduous trees develop their foliage.

Some common, early blooming perennials include iris which ranges in color from white to yellow to purple and in size from a few inches to 4 feet.  Green, however, is still the dominant color in the landscape during spring and early summer so be sure to choose a few plants for their foliage as well. Hosta grows in a wide variety of greens, from blue-green to yellow-green. They are the perfect backdrop plant for the spring flowers.  Since early blooming perennial are generally short lived and often lose their lush foliage (poppies & lupine in particular) annuals and later season perennials should be ready to take over for them in the garden.


In mid-summer the perennial border is at its peak with a wide variety of sun-loving flowers in bloom. Included in this are long lasting spring bloomers and, towards the end of summer, some signs of the later blooming flowers as well. With the mid-summer flowers, it is important to choose wisely. Choose flowers which will work well with your favorite annuals.  Annuals are at their peak during the mid-summer months.  Fully leafed out shrubs can serve as a wonderful back drop to the garden and the yet to bloom perennials act as great filler giving the garden as lush look. 

Perennial and annuals are the focus of the mid-season garden as there’s no competition with shrubs and bulbs, the majority of which have finished blooming and the fall foliage is still a few months away.  Whereas the early border consists of those flowers which are suitable for the shade and woodland garden, the mid-season border contains sun loving perennials.  Many of these perennials have been cultivated from the wildflower prairies of the mid-west.


After the colorful summer flowers comes a third wave of blooms to brighten up the garden. Though there is the occasional pink flower the colors in the garden become shades of yellow, orange and purple. Mixed among these flowers are the annuals which are planted in the spring and continue to bloom until the first frost with conscientious deadheading. Later in the season, the flowers, especially those of the sedum and black-eyed Susan are wonderful, even as the flowers fade. Their flowers become brown and rust colored seed heads which fit in perfectly with the colorful fall foliage of the surrounding trees.  Like mid-season perennials, these flowers generally prefer a sunny location. The foliage of the late season perennial is attractive on its own. 

Because they flower so late in the season their foliage serves as a green backdrop to the rest of the flowers though the summer.  Once the blooms of these flowers fade deciding whether to cut them back or not up to the individual.  Some perennials will collapse to the ground anyways while others will remain standing though the winter with their showy seed heads creating off season interest in the garden.


Once the fall garden display end evergreens, bark and shape help create interest in the garden in winter. Evergreens planted throughout the garden will ensure your garden always has color. Add to these shrubs which form berries for the winter. Holly, ciborium, winterberry and pyracantha all provide colorful berries throughout the winter. They also provide food for wildlife. Trees such as birch and ironwood are as beautiful without foliage as they as with due to their striking form. Another plant feature to consider when design your garden is its bark. Red twig dogwood, for instance, can brighten up a winter garden with its colorful bark.

With some forethought and careful planning gardens can offer something during every season.

Related Articles: Flowers Gardens, Perennials, Annuals