Achieving colour beyond summer

“How can I achieve colour all year round?” is a question I get asked a lot by clients. And the key to addressing this is in the planning and design of the garden whilst meeting the needs and preferences of the customer.

It’s absolutely possible to have colour in the garden throughout the year and to extend the seasons of interest. If you think about the four seasons of the year and how they flow seamlessly into each other, this is the same with the plants in our gardens. They have their best moments at different times of year, so grab our interest in different ways.

We are currently in the midst of summer as I write this, and today is a particular scorcher! The borders are filled with colour and with all different shapes and sizes of plants, showing off and attracting admiring glances from ourselves and the pollinators.

To keep these admiring glances across the 12 months of a year it’s important to first create structure in a garden. Start with shrubs and trees. A combination of evergreen and deciduous will mean there is strong structure and backbone to the garden. When the herbaceous perennials of spring and summer have died back, the shrubs and trees keep you entertained throughout the rest of the year with their interesting shapes, textures and flowers of their own.

In amongst the structural shrubs and trees we find little gems that have a year round interest of their own like Cornus alba sibirica, famed for its beautiful foliage in summer and autumn before it sheds its leaves to reveal a crimson coloured bark. Liquidambar styracifolia is a gorgeous tree with rich red and orange leaves in autumn (often confused with an Acer due its similar shaped maple looking palmate foliage.) In Autumn it’s time to plant perennial shrubs and trees as well as spring flowering bulbs (think tulips and daffodils.) And for plants that are on show in Autumn you might consider having Nerine’s, Astrantias, Michaelmas daisies and Verbena bonariensis in your plan as these can carry on flowering until the first frosts. Other Autumn favourites are the evergreen grasses like Carex elata aurea which keep structure at the front and mid border as well as Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ which looks like a plant Willy Wonka would have made with its amazing purple berries. Berberis thunbergii is another Autumn great with stunning wine coloured foliage and fabulous orange flowers.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’

For winter and spring flowering shrubs, we can also add Acer palmatum ‘Sango- kaku’ with its coral red bark (hence the reference to ‘sango’ meaning coral in Japanese) and the weeping form of Prunus shirotae for its stunning shape and beautiful white flowers in spring. If you’re a fan of yellow in the garden then Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’ or the highly fragranced witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis x intermedia pallida, are both great shrubs with vibrant yellow flowers in winter and spring.

Hamamelis mollis x intermedia ‘Pallida’

Spring and summer bring an abundance of choice with bulbs and perennials spoiling us with what’s on offer. From Alliums to Zantedeschia we really can work our way through from A-Z.

Structuring a garden border by height (low at the front, medium height mid border and taller plants to the back) is a good way of being able to see what’s on show. Timing of flowering and colour palette are other considerations. Not all gardens want or have the traditional border and this is where a garden designer’s vision and creativity as well as plant knowledge is hugely beneficial. Helping create a design for a space that meets the functional needs of the client, whilst ensuring the best plants are included to maintain interest all year round.

The list of plants is of course endless which it’s why it’s useful to think about your own likes and dislikes when it comes to colours and shapes of trees and shrubs as a good starting point. Also, do you prefer shrubs to retain their foliage all year round or do you prefer a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants? Style of garden will also influence how much colour and what type of colour you place into the garden. A cottage garden with high volume herbaceous borders is going to look and feel different to a modern, minimalistic style of garden with a simplified colour palette and a selective number of plants.

The key to achieving colour all year round is to plan. Understand what is going to look best and when. As a garden designer I will work with you to ascertain what you want to achieve from your garden, your preferences on style and colour and from there I will apply a planting strategy which pulls it altogether with rhythm, balance and interest to make it work.

For a garden design consultation please get in touch with me, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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