The Four Seasons Garden Landscape

There are many gardens which are superb in the spring, with glorious spring bulbs and early blossoming trees. There are other gardens which have magnificent borders in the summer, full of rich and thick planting of flowering perennials. There are fall gardens, with breathtaking foliage colours. Gardens that delight the eye in winter are less common, but they do exist – gardens designed as Japanese gardens with gravel and water used as art forms. The perfect garden landscape, however, will have interest in it throughout all four seasons of the year.

No individual plant is likely to have look its best in every season; a glorious early flowering almond tree in springtime will fade into the background for the rest of the year. It is the grouping together of plants, each of which will be at its peak at a different season, that gives a four season garden. When choosing a plant, therefore, it is important to consider all its attributes, its size, leaf colour and form, its bark or stems, and its texture.

In planting for four seasons, you are trying to provide a succession of plants, preferably against a backdrop of evergreen shrubs or hedges. The aim from late spring to early autumn is that when the flowering of one plant is over, another will start to blossom. This landscaping idea can be applied to a bed or border in the garden or to the whole garden.


In winter, there is very little that will be flowering, so trees and bushes that are evergreen become the prominent feature. This is the season in which well-shaped yews, box hedging and holly bushes reign supreme. Ivies, which go unnoticed for much of the year, become prominent as climbers. Deciduous trees with beautiful bark are less striking, but lend a deep charm to the winter landscape. Silver birches, paper-bark maples, eucalyptus (if you are in a temperate zone) all have beautiful winter bark. The tortuosa willows and hazels with their twisted winding branches are hardly noticed in summer but stand as modern sculpture in a winter garden. A splash of colour is given in late winter by flowering winter jasmine and japonica, both of which can flower in freezing conditions.


Spring is early blossom time, with cherries, almonds, and magnolias in full flower. Even more than the flowering trees, carpets of spring flowering bulbs herald the awakening year. The many hours planting these in November are richly repaid, and bulbs spread and naturalise in short grass very easily. Great sweeps of yellow winter aconite and snowdrops are followed by rich carpets of many coloured crocuses and the little purple and yellow iris reticulata. Once they are dying down, the daffodils and narcissus follow.
As the bulbs finish their season, the flowering shrubs are bursting out in full vigour, the azaleas, forsythias, and camellias, to be followed by lilacs and viburnum.


In summer, the bushes and trees fade into the background and, as such, provide a valuable foil to the rich flowering of the beds and borders which will last from early summer well into the autumn. Early flowering perennials give the first bursts of colour. As the year progresses, annual flowers grow, not only to fill gaps in the beds but as cut flowers for the house. Repeat flowering roses can fill a whole garden and climb over trellises and up walls for six months if they are chosen carefully. The problem in summer is not finding the plants, but choosing which plants to buy when there are so many thousands available. Care has to be taken that the effect does not become too overwhelming. This is where it might be helpful to keep to a colour scheme, above all, avoiding a clash of 'hot' colours, the vivid reds and oranges, with cooler yellows and blues.


The autumnal colours are a feast for the eyes, but only if you have taken care in choosing trees and shrubs, red oaks, the acers, many of the cornus family, that have spectacular foliage in the autumn. The autumn perennials, the chrysanthemums in particular, will continue to flower until stopped by the first hard frost of winter. Purple leaved kale is a valuable addition to the flower bed for autumn. It can grow amidst the brightly coloured perennials and annuals throughout the summer, reach its full bushy splendour in early autumn and stand throughout the winter.

As the autumn leaves fall, carpeting the ground underneath, we begin to see the winter landscape return – the evergreens take over once more.