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Landscaping Back Yards for 4-Season Interest

The Best Back Yards Have Something to Offer in Each of the Four Seasons


Snow drops photo. Use this bulb for leg 1 of 4-season interest: springtime.

Snowdrops herald springtime.

David Beaulieu

Have you noticed that we are demanding more and more out of our landscapes? Having long-blooming perennials is a nice start, but it's no longer enough. For the upscale, this perfectionism may take the form of outdoor kitchens with all the amenities of home, or, perhaps, large in-ground swimming pools with jacuzzis built right into them. For the average person, the trend is toward something a bit more modest: namely, landscaping back yards with an eye to four-season interest.

Modest, yes; unimportant, no. Since we use our properties year-round, why shouldn't there be something to catch our attention at any time of year, even in the dead of winter? Something to gladden our hearts and put a twinkle in our eyes, so that our back yards continually delight us? That is the goal of landscaping back yards for 4-season interest.

In this article I discuss using trees and shrubs to achieve 4-season interest. Of course, conifers immediately come to mind, since they are noted for keeping more or less the same appearance throughout the four seasons. But in this article, my focus will be on other kinds of trees and shrubs.

Specifically, I'll be discussing how to select trees and shrubs in such a way that, as soon as one plant is done putting on a show, you'll have a different plant picking up the slack and strutting its stuff. In selecting plants for landscaping back yards for 4-season interest, there are two key points to keep in mind:

  1. You must discover when particular plants put on their best show.
  2. And, based on this knowledge, you must aim for a planting plan that is "staggered." That is, make sure your back yard doesn't end up with a plethora of high-performers for the spring and summer displays, for instance, while quite neglecting the fall and winter displays. Instead, distribute the beauty across the four seasons, as equally as possible.

Landscaping back yards for 4-season interest begins by drawing a landscape plan. Trees and shrubs simply take up too much space for you to plant them haphazardly, unless your property is very large. For smaller properties, it is better to allocate space for trees and shrubs in a methodical and disciplined manner, so that they don't end up outgrowing their homes and causing you problems.

Consequently, tree and shrub selection must take into consideration the mature sizes of the plants. Other practical issues must also be addressed, such as the zone in which you live and the sun and soil requirements for the trees and shrubs that you have in mind.

Once you've researched the practical issues, you can give free rein to your more creative side. Again, the idea is to distribute the color that trees and shrubs offer across the four seasons, as equally as possible, so as to achieve year-round interest. For more information on how landscape designers think of color, please consult my article on color theory.

But color is only one of the pieces of the puzzle. As I discuss in Landscape Design for Beginners, there are other elements in landscape design which you should use to your advantage. Of particular note for our purposes here is the element known as "form." Since your choices for color are more limited in winter than in the other seasons, you'll have to pay more attention to form, as we'll see on Page 2, where I'll provide you with access to resources that will aid you in landscaping back yards for 4-season interest.....

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