Landscape Plants For Year-Round Beauty

Landscape ShrubGraham Rice has given us a new way to look at landscapes. His book, Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers For Multi-Season Beauty poses an interesting question or two. Why, when designing our border gardens and landscape plantings, do we focus on short-lived flowers? Sure those flowering plants give us beautiful blossoms for a few weeks each year, but what about the rest of the time? Rice urges us to think long term. He wants us to consider plants that have something to offer year ’round. He asks us to consider all of a plant’s various attractions when we plan our gardens.

Consider the deciduous honeysuckle vine. In the spring, it’s loaded with flaring, fragrant flowers. These flowers aren’t only a source of scent and beauty, they attract hummingbirds and insects, mostly moths, which then attract other birds. In that sense, those soothing songs you hear in the evening, as well as those alarm clock calls in the morning, are owed to the honeysuckle. Once the flowers are gone, and they can last a long time,the honeysuckle’s lush foliage cascading over tall fences and arbors is a source of soothing green color and shade. Come fall, some honeysuckle varieties — Grahamn Thomas, Scentsation — produce clusters of beautiful scarlet berries (some varieties sport blue berries) that are a joy to behold and another source of food for birds.

The honeysuckle fits perfectly into Rice’s thinking. He wants us to consider every aspect of the plant when planning to place them in our garden. He wants us first to think of seasonal values, plants that host spring flowers and fall fruits, or spring shoots and summer flowers, or winter twigs and summer foilage; or spring flowers, fall foliage color and winter bark. In other words, think of your plants in all seasons.

Winter twigs? Rice cites the bare, brilliant yellow stems of some willows that later yield yellow catkins in the spring. Bark as beauty? Look at the exfoliated pattern of bark on the deciduous camellia, or Stewartia pseudocamellia, otherwise known as the Japanese Stewartia. The bark sheds as the tree grows older leaving an almost expressionistic painting of shapes and colors. The tree also hosts blossoms in the spring and rich foliage in the summer that turns yellow, orange, red, and even purple in the fall for an impressive show. The tree also holds late clusters of brilliant berries that can remain, depending on conditions, once it leaves have fallen. In other words, it’s beautiful year around. In Plant Natural’s hometown of Bozeman, the mountain ash is a perfect example of a tree that’s beautiful much of the year, with its dark rippled bark, flaming fall displays and bright heavy clusters of berries (yes, it can be a lot of work cleaning up after but it’s also hardy to zone 3).

When it comes to planning and enjoying gardens, Rice wants us to see everything and at all times of the year. Here’s the list of the visual components he provides that we should consider:

  • Bark
  • Winterstems
  • Winter and spring foliage rosettes (those with cluster of leaves in such plants as kale and Menconopsis napaulensis or satin poppy presented even after killing frost
  • New spring shoots pushing through the soil
  • Fresh, unfurling foliage
  • Summer foliage
  • Evergreen foliage
  • Fall foliage color
  • Flowers
  • Fruit

Rice goes on to list some 500 garden plants with multiple season beauty, everything from variegated abelia to the beautiful deciduous shub weigela. Not all of them are easy to grow. But the challenge, and the rewards, are various. What Rice does, to his credit, is to get us to look at our gardens in every season and see them in their entirety, right down to the finest detail.That change of vision makes the book worthwhile all by itself.

BONUS! Here’s the link to the University of Connecticut’s Database of Trees, Shrubs and Vines. With it you can discover just about everything you need to know about certain landscape plants you might be considering. A valuable resource. Thanks to them for creating it.

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