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Ten Great Plants for Four-season Color!

Want in on a secret that can make your garden look terrific?  Here it is:  plant for four-season color.  It’s all about looking at the big year ’round picture.  Don’t simply focus on what’s in bloom at any given time.  Plan before you plant so there are trees, shrubs and flowers creating an impact twelve months of the year.

Roxann’s garden

The garden shown above is the handiwork of Roxann, one of the veteran gardeners in Tagawa’s Perennials Department.  During a recent class at Tagawa’s, Roxann listed some of her favorite plants for on-going color in spring, summer and fall, and “winter interest” during the coldest months of the year.  Most of the plants listed below are based on her suggestions.

Options for spring

I’ll start with bearded iris because they remind me of my dear grandmother, an immigrant from Sweden.  She grew a huge bed of iris in her north Boulder garden… not to sell, as she did with berries, apples and eggs.  She grew them because they’re so beautiful.  It was one of the few luxuries she granted herself.

The iris pictured above is called “Batik” for obvious reasons.  Iris can be planted already growing in pots, which you’ll find in Tagawa’s Perennials Department.  They’re also sold as rhizomes, a tuber-like structure.  Plant the rhizomes where they’ll get full sun and just barely cover them with soil.  Water them well and wait for the magic the following May.  And feel free to imagine  my grandmother smiling with approval.

The Mountains & Plains Iris Society holds its annual rhizome sale at Tagawa’s in July– for 2019, this fundraiser plant sale is Saturday, July 13, 9 am to 3 pm.  It’s a great chance to buy some out-of-the-ordinary varieties at an excellent price, and get expert advice in the bargain.

Some of the most beloved types of flowers in spring are the bulbs, especially the traditional varieties like daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinths.  They’re so easy to grow, even for beginning gardeners.

But Tagawa’s also sells bulbs of less traditional varieties that are well worth planting.

Crown Imperial Fritillaria at Tagawa Gardens Denver

Consider some fritillaria (shown above), or snow drops, pasque flowers or ornamental onions.  The Tagawa bulb display in fall will tantalize and inspire you.  Get the kids involved and take on a little bulb garden as a family project.  Follow the planting directions that come with the bulbs, and share the anticipation of waiting for spring.

If intense purple is your color, Roxann recommends Corsican violets. 

These sweet, old-fashioned flowers are much tougher than they look.  They start blooming in late spring and will continue showing off until fall.

Corsican violets grow to 6-8″ tall and wide.  They do best in full sun to partial shade, moderate moisture to fairly dry.  Stunning in rock gardens but eye-catching in beds, too.  Love ’em!

Summer bloomers

Ask Roxann to name one of her all-time favorite summer flowering perennials and you’re likely to hear  Joe Pye Weed.”  

Eupatorium blooms at Tagawa Gardens Denver

Joe Pye Weed varieties come in short, medium or tall… but it’s the tall plants that have won Roxann’s heart.

At 7′ tall and 4′ wide, they can dominate the back of a bed.  Their fragrant pink plumes emerge in late summer and last well into fall.  Leave them standing once the weather turns cold.  Joe Pye Weed gives a lot of interest to the winter landscape.  It prefers full sun to part shade with normal to moist soil. Pollinators love it!

I share Roxann’s enthusiasm for Red Birds in a Tree.  It’s a beautiful plant and a conversation piece all in one!

The flowers on Red Birds live up to their name, looking just like tiny cardinals.  Red Birds grows to be 36″ tall and 20″ wide.  It blooms from early summer well into fall.  It does best in full sun to light shade and prefers moderate to dry conditions.  It’s a huge hummingbird magnet, so be sure to plant them where you can enjoy the show! 

Rozanne is a geranium of a different sort.  It’s part of a group of hardy geraniums that belong in every garden.

Also known as “Cranesbill,” hardy geraniums start blooming in early summer and soldier on all summer long.  Rozanne’s intensely blue flowers have tiny white eyes.  The plants grow in a mounding shape, 18″ tall by 20″ wide.  They prefer full sun to part shade, and moderate to dry conditions.  I give mine a haircut mid-summer, and they bounce right back with more flowers.

Summer into fall

One of the undeniable stars of the late summer and fall garden is Sweet Autumn Clematis.  

Sweet autumn clematis at Tagawa Gardens Denver

This vigorous vining plant will be covered with tiny white fragrant flowers by late summer.  Sweet Autumn’s woody vines can grow up to 20′ and should be given the support of a trellis or allowed to drape down a wall.  It does best in full sun to part shade with average to evenly moist soil.

Sweet Autumn blooms on new wood, meaning wood that has grown that season.  It should be pruned back fairly close to the ground every spring. Roxann recommends cutting it back no later than April first.  Sweet Autumn is truly a stunner!

Roxanne says another gem for fall is goldenrod.  This plant takes a while to come into its full glory, but the rich colors of these yellow-gold plumes shout “autumn,” and are well worth waiting for.

Goldenrod varies in size from 20″ tall by 15″ wide up to 3′ tall and 4′ wide.  It prefers average to slightly moist soil and full to part sun.

I’m especially fond of goldenrod because my honey bees love it.  After so many other bee-friendly plants have faded for the season, goldenrod still offers rich nectar.  If my “girls” like a plant, odds are I like it, too.

Summer into fall… fall into winter

Red Osier Dogwood truly is a plant for all seasons.  This multi-stemmed shrub starts its show in spring by putting out clusters of small white flowers at the tips of its red branches.  White berries appear in summer, but it’s in the fall and winter that all of the “red twigs” are in their glory.

The leaves of red twigs turn a brilliant red as autumn approaches. Once the leaves drop for the season, the twigs that remain are a shiny rich brick red.

Like many other plants discussed here, red twigs come in a variety of sizes from as small as 4′ by 4′ to as large as 10′ by 10′.  Red twig dogwoods prefer sun to part shade and soil that is dry to slightly moist.  This is a head-turning shrub viewed against a background of fresh snow.  Stunning!

Roxann is a big fan of ornamental grasses.  They can add so much dimension to any garden.  One that she recommends (and that I would love to add to my garden) is Blue Oat grass.

This beautiful mounding grass has thin and graceful steel blue blades.  A mature plant measures about 2′ tall and 2′ wide.  Add to that foot-long stems holding the tan wispy seed heads and you have a lovely display.  Blue Oat grass holds it soft color from the time it emerges in early summer through fall and well into winter.

Blue Oat grass requires full sun.  No shade, please.  It does best with dry to average soil conditions.  It should be cut back hard in late winter, ready to perform all over again.

In summary….

There are so many wonderful perennials, shrubs and trees that can give richness and color to our gardens year ’round.  These are just a few or Roxann’s favorites (and mine!)

Come see our staff at Tagawa’s.  Take advantage of their years of gardening in Colorado.  Bring pictures of your landscape.  With just a bit of planning, you’ll find great ways to make your garden both colorful and interesting twelve months a year!