Calendar of Color

Men laying new hardwood flooring

September heralds the beginning of cooler fall weather and more enjoyable time spent outdoors. We quickly forget hot, humid, buggy summertime once the awesome display of autumn foliage unique to the eastern region of the United States arrives. With Thanksgiving and Christmas cheer just around the corner, its hard to imagine the bleak weather of January and February, when bare tree branches, empty flower beds and a faded lawn will add to the dreary feeling of deep winter.

Many people ignore their landscape in the winter, assuming that once summer flowers fade and the leaves die away, there is nothing interesting in the garden. While the spring and summer gardens can be most stunning, packed and ready to burst with herbaceous perennials, annuals, flowering trees and shrubs, your garden can be equally as dramatic in late fall and winter. If youve ever been surprised by a brightly flowering tree in chilly January or admired a vibrant cluster of daffodils in dismal February, you know that four-season gardening is achievable.

Against the stark backdrop of winter, there is an abundant selection of plants that will add dimension to your garden through all four seasons. With a little planning today, your yard can be colorful and interesting during the entire year.

Garden designers talk about the bones of the garden. Just like a human body, the garden is supported by a skeleton year in and year out. Decide if the bones of your garden will be a stone wall, an evergreen backdrop or distinctive edging. Installing the skeleton in your landscape is the first step towards a truly interesting and inspiring year-round garden landscape.

When choosing plants for the garden, remember that flowers alone dont make a garden appealing. Select plants with a variety of desirable characteristics, such as flowers, foliage, bark, berries, shape and structure. Consider these varied attributes and you can assemble a collection of trees, shrubs, vines and flowers that will add to the appearance of your garden all year long.


Lenten rose
(Helleborus orientalis)

Bearsfoot hellebore
(Helleborus foetidus)


Daffodils and narcissus

Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)

Primrose (Primula sp.)

Thrift (Phlox subulata)

Reticulate iris (Iris reticulata)

Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)

(Sanguinaria canadensis)

The blueberry bush is a perfect choice for year-round interest. This rewarding shrub has lovely white flowers in the spring, edible blueberries in the summer and brilliant red foliage in the fall. In the winter, its red stems and distinctive shape are a lovely addition to your garden. Likewise, the flowering dogwood tree is a true four-season plant. It blooms early in the spring with a gorgeous abundance of flowers, in the summer its light green foliage is very attractive, the fall brings brilliant red berries that will attract birds, and in the winter it has a striking shape and lovely bark color that will stand out on cloudy, gray mornings.

An interesting winter garden will contain both deciduous (plants that lose their leaves in fall) and evergreen (plants that stay green all year long) trees, shrubs, vines and ornamentals. A deciduous plant with architectural value, such as Harry Lauders walking stick (Corylus avellana Contorta), supplies a striking silhouette in the landscape. Since deciduous plants wont have leaves to hide their shape, prune carefully and consider both the natural structure of the plant and the finished appearance before you begin cutting. The bark of river birch, red and yellow twig dogwood and paper bark maple provide interesting winter features in the landscape, and youll be rewarded with flowers and shade later in the year. Ornamental grasses and hydrangeas are excellent examples of deciduous plants that maintain an elegant presence and structure through late fall and winter, then return to center stage during the spring and summer.

Evergreen trees and shrubs provide pleasing contrast to the starkness of winter. Popular conifers such as arborvitae, pines, cypress and juniper are excellent choices. Hollies not only stay green and glossy all year, but their berries attract birds and other wildlife to your yard. Traditional Southern evergreens, such as mountain laurel, Indian hawthorn, nandina, azalea, rhododendron and acuba, are no-nonsense performers in the yearround landscape. While these may serve as backdrops in the landscape during the spring and summer months, they can be the mainstay of your garden in the winter months.


(Chimonanthus praecox)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.)

Winter jasmine
(Jasminum nudiflorum)

Winter honeysuckle
(Lonicera fragrantissima)

Flowering quince
(Chaenomeles japonica)

Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)

Leatherleaf mahonia
(Mahonia bealei)

Camellia (Camellia japonica)

Oakleaf hydrangea
(Hydrangea quercifolia)

Ninebark (Clethra acuminata)

(Edgeworthia chrysantha)

Yellow or red twig dogwood (Cornus sp.)

Carolina Jessamine
(Gelsemium sempervirens)

All of the hollies

One of the most striking small trees in winter is the witch hazel, which will flower in January or February, with brilliant color ranging from electric yellow to sizzling orange. The American Redbud (cercis canadensis) brightens the wooded canopy first, with its unusual purple flowers, and then shades the landscape with heart shaped leaves throughout the summer. Flowering vines, such as Carolina Jessamine and winter honeysuckle, brighten up even the coldest winter days.

There are many winter blooming perennial flowers, shrubs and vines that will brighten up the garden from December through March, and provide structure and interest throughout the year. A very popular winter blooming perennial for the shade is the Lenten rose (hellebores orientalis), which sometimes blooms as early as December and keeps its flowers until early summer. Mix in some evergreen ferns and youll have beautiful foliage. Enjoy winter Daphnes fragrance in mid-winter, planted near a doorway or walkway. Camellias bloom in a variety of colors, from deep red to pink and white, and their evergreen foliage remains beautiful throughout the year.

Your flowerbeds can be colorful all winter long if you plant springflowering bulbs in the fall. These can be planted among your perennial and annual flowers. The earliest bloomers are snowdrops, crocus, winter aconite, iris reticulata and grape hyacinth. Plant the bulbs before you plant annuals such as violas, pansies, ornamental kales and cabbages, and youll have gorgeous blooms from fall through spring. Also, by adding cool-weather loving annuals to the garden, it is possible to have flowers all winter long. Pansies and mums will thrive even through a light frost. If frost is expected, cover them with newspapers for protection.

Enhance your garden by adding a few of these cold-weather stars to your yard. Plants that will complement the landscape 365 days a year will provide you an interesting, exciting environment. Plant now and you can enjoy the garden this winter and each season throughout the year.


Pansies (Viola)

Johnny-jump-up (Viola tricolor)

(Anthirrhinum majus)

Ornamental cabbage
(Brassica oleracea)

(Dianthos purpurea)

(Digitalis sp.)

(Asteraceae sp.)

Stock (Matthiolla sp.)

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