Landscaping Guidelines – Tips for Success in Every Season

While Amateur Landscaping did give some good ideas, I think it could have been expanded on for better overall information. Here are some guidelines to follow to ensure success in your landscape design in every season.

One of my favorite garden designers, Connie Cross, uses a method of landscape design called the “pyramid” method. If you imagine a pyramid you know that the top is very small and the base is very large. She uses various types of plants for each level of the pyramid to create a complete garden. So you might only use one plant in the top level, but fifty from the very bottom category. This will help us ensure a wide variety of plants for a full, multi-dimensional landscape. The only other thing then to be sure consider in plant selection is year-round appeal.

It is important when landscaping to plan a garden for year-round appeal so that every season has successful elements. This is easy to do with just a little bit of careful thought. You want to try to select plants at each level of the pyramid that will give you more than one season of beauty, or fill a particular need in your garden. For example, an excellent choice for the fourth tier of the pyramid “evergreen shrubs” might be the Mountain Laurel because it provides interest for more than one season; evergreen foliage provides color during the winter, bright flower buds and colored foliage growth in spring and beautiful blooms that are on display from summer through autumn. Let’s examine each level of the pyramid to get a better idea how to use landscaping guidelines that will produce season after season of beauty in our garden.

The top tier in our landscape design is the large shade trees. Most yards and houses already have these large foundational shade trees in place so chances are you won’t be adding any. There are, however, some things to consider if your house is a new addition with no shade trees. First consider the full size growth of the tree; you don’t want to plant a tree too close to the house only to have to chop it down in 20 years or suffer foundation damage from the roots. Also, make sure you find out what upkeep or maintenance will be part of this tree. Does it drop leaves every fall that you’ll need to rake? Does it have sticky sap that might get on your car? A large tree is a lifetime investment so do your homework and plan long term before you plant.

The second level in our landscape design that will give us success is evergreen trees. These can range anywhere in size from 6′ to 50′ or more these are trees that will provide a backdrop upon which to build the rest of your garden. While pine trees and other conifers come immediately to mind, do not think you’ll be limited to these in your selection. Other evergreen trees include the Strawberry Tree, Hollies that grow over 10′, and Magnolias. These in addition to pines, cedar and spruce among other conifers.

The next tier in the pyramid of our landscape design is deciduous under story trees and large shrubs. Choose carefully shrubs that provide multi-seasonal interest for a successful landscape design. This means shrubs like the Dogwood with bright red or gold bark showing clearly during the winter months, or like “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick” with fantastically twisted limbs and branches. Other considerations might be maples, with flaming fall color or a stately birch with gorgeous bark to keep the winter garden interesting.

We then want to consider evergreen shrubs in our garden landscape design. One of the keys to success is to wisely choose evergreens that won’t look like a dingy hedge in front of a law office, but rather will compliment and fill in a multi-dimensional landscape. Holly, Cypress, the previously mentioned Mountain Laurel, Azaleas and Rhododendrons are just a few of the many shrubs that have interest to offer more than one season of your garden. That is what will bring you success in your design!

Next let’s look at deciduous shrubs in our garden landscape design. It is possible for deciduous plants that may loose their leaves in the winter, to still provide year-round interest. As with the large shrub and under story tree level think about things like the plants silhouette and bark or other interesting features. Sometimes a bush will drop it’s leaves in the winter, but keep that special touch of interest with beautiful berries such as Chokeberries, Barberries, or Winterberries.

The middle tier in the successful landscape design is using perennials. I personally love using perennials in my garden because I feel like I’m getting more plant for my money. While annuals have to be replanted each year (unless they reseed themselves) a perennials lives for more than one year and so you can continue to enjoy it. In the garden it is important to remember however that most perennials do not reach full size the first year and so need room to grow. That’s where the other levels of the pyramid fill in the gaps and make our garden design a landscape success! Choose perennials that you enjoy, and that will provide more than one season of interest. Some have beautiful foliage color on new growth or in the fall, some have berries or seedpods that hold interest during the winter, and most offered in catalogs and nurseries have beautiful blooms at some point during the year. Try to mix-and-match your perennials so that something is always in bloom in your garden.

An often neglected, but very important layer of successful landscape design for our garden is the use of ground covers. I used to think ground cover plants were only something you used if you didn’t want a lawn but I have since learned that many ground covers are suitable for use in and around the other plants in your garden to give everything that final “finished” look. It is much like putting a tree skirt around the bottom of your Christmas tree. Choose ground covers that are suitable for the soil condition and that are generally non-invasive. Some of my favorites included creeping thyme or creeping phlox, both of which are perennial and generally evergreen.

Another level to include in successful landscaping is bulbs. There are so many things you can do with bulbs without sacrificing room in your garden reserved for other plants. Layer a dozen or more bulbs in between two summer blooming perennials like hostas, daylilies or Echinacea and by the time your larger plants have come out of their winter dormant period your bulbs will have bloomed and faded providing you with many seasons of color in the same garden space.

The next important level is sometimes a forgotten part of garden landscaping; the use of climbing vines. Vines are a fantastic way to give your garden height and increase the amount of plants you can have in even a very small garden space. One of my favorite ways to use vines in the garden is to plant a trellis with vegetables such as beans, snap peas or squash. In this way I’m not taking up a huge amount of space, but my garden is productive as well as beautiful. Other favorite climbers include flowering vines like honeysuckle, roses or clematis.

The last layer to consider for successful landscape design is the plant category of annuals. Now remember, with each level you might be adding a larger number, but often the plants are smaller so the look remains balanced. Annuals are fantastic for filling in around the larger shrubs and perennials, especially before they’ve had a chance to grow to full size, which for some plants can take several years. I prefer to choose annuals that self-sow and reseed themselves so I won’t have to replant every year. Snapdragons, violas, alyssum, and bluebonnets are some of my personal favorites that I’ve had success with in my personal garden. Be aware that with self seeding annuals sometimes the new plants won’t look exactly like the parent plants, and you may have some spring up in unplanned places, but to me that’s half the fun!

Future articles will examine each of these layers in detail, giving examples of plants with multi-season interest to consider in your garden landscape. Subscribe to my content to stay informed of future articles!

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