Like a mysterious beauty a great garden never reveals its charms all at once. Instead, it shows its different sides a little at a time, season by season. An ever-changing color palette--perhaps soft pastels in spring, followed by a cheerful summer mix of yellows and whites, then fiery foliage in fall--heightens its allure.
A garden of such enduring beauty takes careful planning. Freeland Tanner of Napa, California, who designed the St. Helena, California, garden pictured on these pages, compares its creation to staging a play "Certain actors are always onstage as the drama unfolds, but the bit players shine as they come and go."
Tanner began this all-seasons garden by building good "bones"--arbors and patios define the spaces, and an undulating stone wall provides a handsome backdrop. Beds and borders are precisely orchestrated to shine in all seasons. Each is composed of a series of vignettes--groups of plants with compatible textures, shapes, and colors. To link these vignettes, Tanner used "blending plants" in neutral colors such as silver and gray.
Foliage is as important as flowers in this garden. "Flowers play their part, but they don't last," Tanner explains. "Colored foliage can be just as eye-catching, and it usually spans the seasons. I use it to stimulate and create color combinations. The flowers are icing on the cake." By producing waves of color that require no deadheading, foliage also makes a garden easier to maintain. These plants are particularly important for autumn color. When plants such as barberry, grapevine, ornamental grasses, and smoke bush are in their full glory, they create a garden's final drama of the year.
Fall is the best time to plan and plant a garden for all-season interest--it's the best time to choose trees and shrubs for fall color as well as to plant hardy trees, shrubs, and perennials. Use the design tips and plant selections here to stage your own year-round play
CREATE A SERIES OF VIGNETTES. Use groups of two, three, or four different kinds of plants with compatible textures, shapes, and colors.
Tanner's design tips for an all-seasons garden
TAKE INSPIRATION FROM NATURE. Study natural plant communities for ideas. Plant low growers in drifts of three, five, or more, set close enough together so they rub shoulders when mature. Interrupt the drifts with exclamation points-'Yellow Wave' New Zealand flax amid drifts of 'Primrose Heron' golden lamb's ears and catmint (Nepeta faassenii), for instance.
BORROW COLOR PALETTES. When choosing foliage and flower colors, take cues from indoor fabric colors, wall colors, and paintings.
MIX AND MATCH COLORS. Treat foliage and flower colors like paint swatches. Take a leaf or flower from one plant and hold it next to other plants to determine if they combine well.
DESIGN COLOR ECHOES. Repeat the same color two or three times within a vignette, in flowers, stems, or foliage. A yellow color echo might include zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'), 'Pretoria' canna, ground-hugging golden oregano, and spots of golden thyme. Other color echoes: Phlomis fruticosa with 'Yellow Wave' New Zealand flax, 'Stella d'Oro' daylily, and golden oregano, or Geranium cantabrigiense with 'Rose Glow' Japanese barberry.
USE TRANSITIONAL COLORS. Plant silver or gray foliage to link two or more vignettes that feature different color themes. For example, Tanner might use silver artemisia to link a yellow bed of 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies and 'Primrose Heron' golden lamb's ears with a purple bed of 'Dark Delight' New Zealand flax and catmint, Other blending plants: silver-leafed lamb's ears, 'Dutch Mill' lavender, silver thyme, or silver-leafed sunrose.
PLAY WITH BACKGROUND PLANTS. When planted behind catmint, dark-foliaged 'Palace Purple' heuchera makes the catmint's lavender-blue flowers stand out. On the other hand, brightly colored variegated ribbon grass planted behind catmint backlights the catmint and makes its flowers recede.
BRIGHTEN DARK CORNERS. To bring light to dark corners of the garden, use white and yellow flowers, and plants with gray, white, yellow, or variegated foliage.
CHOOSE LONG-SEASON BLOOMERS. Shrubs and perennials that bloom repeatedly--cape plumbago, Jerusalem sage, Flower Carpet roses, and repeat-blooming daylilies like 'Stella d'Oro'--give you the biggest bang for your buck.
INTEGRATE TRANSLUCENT FOLIAGE. Choose some plants whose petals or leaves let light through. Grapevines, Japanese maples, ornamental grasses, and smoke trees are examples.
The best color-makers for California gardens
* FOR FALL COLOR (foliage color, unless noted)
TREES: Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, Eastern redbud, floss silk tree (flowers), flowering dogwood, ginkgo, Japanese maple, liquidambar, ornamental pear, Persian parrotia, persimmon, scarlet oak, sour gum.
SHRUBS: Japanese barberry, oakleaf hydrangea, smoke tree, winged euonymus.
VINES: Grape, Parthenocissus.
* FOR WINTER OR SPRING FLOWERS
TREES: Acacia baileyana 'Purpurea', crabapple, dogwood, locust (Robinia ambigua 'Idahoensis' or R. a. 'Purple Robe'), magnolia, orchid tree, Prunus (flowering cherry, flowering peach, flowering plum), redbud, Tabebuia chrysotricha.
SHRUBS: Azalea, blue hibiscus, cassia, ceanothus, Coleonema pulchrum 'Sunset Gold' (foliage and flowers), datura, heath, jasmine, lavender, princess flower, rockrose, rhododendron, rosemary, salvia, santolina (foliage and flowers), tea tree, viburnum, weigela.
GROUND COVERS: Ajuga (foliage and flowers), ceanothus 'Carmel Creeper'.
VINES, CLIMBERS: Clematis, Hardenbergia, rose (especially Cl. Cecile Brunner' or Lady Banks'), wisteria.
*FOR SUMMER FLOWERS
TREES: Chinese fringe tree, jacaranda.
SHRUBS: Butterfly bush, Caesalpinia, fuchsia, gardenia, glorybower, hebe, hydrangea, Justicia, spiraea.
GROUND COVERS: Catmint, ceanothus, gazania, lantana, scaevola, verbena.
VINES: Bougainvillea, bower vine, cup-of-gold vine, Distictis, Guinea gold vine, honeysuckle, passion vine.
* FOR A LONG SEASON OF BLOOM
TREES: Chitalpa tashkentensis, coral tree.
SHRUBS: Cape plumbago, escallonia, flowering maple, germander, hibiscus, oleander, salvia, shrub roses, tree mallow.
VINES: Mandevilla, potato vine, violet trumpet vine.
PERENNIALS: Alstroemeria, aster, begonia, blanket flower, brachycome, campanula, coreopsis, cranesbill, daylily, dianthus, diascia, gaura, Jerusalem sage, Nemesia fruticans, Origanum, penstemon, purple coneflower, Rudbeckia, Russian sage, Santa Barbara daisy, scabiosa, silene, statice, summer phlox, Tagetes lemmonii.
* FOR BEAUTIFUL FOLIAGE ANYTIME
TREES: Bronze loquat, Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', purple-leafed plum, Royal Purple' smoke tree, variegated dogwood, variegated Japanese maples.
SHRUBS: Juniper, mirror plant, silverberry Spiraea bumalda 'Goldflame', S. b. 'Limemound'.
GROUND COVERS AND VINES: Actinidia kolomikta Euonymus fortunei.
PERENNIALS. GRAY, GRAY-GREEN, WHITE: Artemisia, crown pink, dead nettle, ground morning glory, hosta, Helichrysum petiolare, lamb's ears, lungwort, Russian sage, silver spear, snow-in-summer, thyme, verbascum, yarrow. BRONZE, RED, PURPLE: Ajuga, canna, Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Purpurea', Heuchera, sedum. YELLOW, GOLD: Bacopa 'Olympic Gold', golden oregano, golden thyme, Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight', hosta.
GRASSES AND GRASSLIKE PLANTS: Blue oat grass, Bowles' golden grass, eulalia grass, fairy wand, feather grass, feather reed grass, fescue, New Zealand flax, fountain grass, Hesperaloe parviflora, Japanese blood grass, Muhlenbergia, red-hot poker, ribbon grass, society garlic, sotol, tufted hair grass.
fall and winter
Left: At the height of fall color, the garden glows with fiery red 'Rose Glow' Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), deep purple grape (Vitis vinifera 'Purpurea'), and yellow and orange crape myrtle. Above: 'Yellow Wave' New Zealand flax mingles with 'Rose Glow' Japanese barberry. Below left: The tawny foliage and seed heads of Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' create a significant presence in the garden even though the plant is dormant. Below right: Purple grape leaves are highlighted against a soft-toned stucco post.
Spring and summer
Left: 'Stella d'Oro' daylily blooms on and off through summer. Below left: 'Yellow wave' New Zealand flax echoes the yellow of Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa). Behind the flax are Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' and 'Big Ears' lamb's ears. Right: Campanula poscharskyana mingles with 'Plum Delight' loropetalum in front of a terra-cotta urn. Yellow cape fuchsia grows at the back, and evergreen clematis climbs the fence. Small pot holds New Zealand flax and Santa Barbara daisy.
Elements of an all-seasons garden Fall Spring
A. TREES AND SHRUBS FOR FALL COLOR
Even a single tree and a few shrubs with foliage that turns autumnal hues can brighten a garden in October and November.
B. VINES, SHRUBS, AND PERENNIALS THAT COME AND GO WITH THE SEASONS
Mix plants that peak in each of the growing seasons--spring, summer, and fall--so there's always something flowering. Choose compatible flower colors.
C. EVERGREENS FOR YEAR-ROUND INTEREST
Choose trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses that maintain beautiful foliage texture and color all year. Mix low-growing evergreens among flowering perennials.