Imagine stepping into your yard (no matter the time of year), greeted by a mesmerizing tapestry of colors, scents and textures. A garden that defies the boundaries of seasons, leaving you in awe of nature’s ever-changing beauty. If you’ve ever longed for four-season landscape, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, I’ll share my secrets to designing a garden that never fails to amaze… no matter the time of year or where you live.
I’m a professional designer and have been teaching home gardeners all over the world how to do this in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course since 2020.
From the initial planning stages to the careful selection of plants with multi-season interest, I explain it all.
Let’s get started!
What is a Four-Season Landscape?
A four-season landscape looks beautiful and interesting in every season… from spring to winter (and everything in between).
In spring, colorful flowers bloom as the birds sing.
Come summer, lush green plants thrive as butterflies flutter.
By fall, leaves change color and create a cozy atmosphere.
And even in winter, evergreen plants and berries bring a touch of life to the garden.
So, a four-season landscape means you’ll have something lovely to see and enjoy all year round!
Benefits of a Four-Season Landscape
Having an all-season landscape will make your outdoor space even more enjoyable. Here are some of the benefits:
- Spending more time outdoors, enjoying your property.
- Plantings provide food and habitat for wildlife year-round.
- Changing colors and focal points throughout the seasons makes it feel new and fresh.
- Multi-season beauty, which increases property value an average of 9.1% (source).
A four-season landscape is a wonderful investment that will bring you joy, connect you with nature and enhance the curb appeal of your home. It keeps your property interesting all the time. This means you’ll use (and appreciate) your landscape more often throughout the year.
Whether it’s the vibrant colors of blooming flowers in spring, the buzzing activity of birds and pollinators in summer, the cozy atmosphere created by autumn foliage or the evergreen beauty in winter… there’s always something to enjoy.
Four-season gardens are often also wildlife-friendly. They provide a welcoming environment for birds, pollinators and Mother Nature to thrive.
By incorporating natives, you can create a safe haven for beneficial creatures. This enhances biodiversity, fostering a more sustainable ecosystem.
One of the coolest things about a four-season landscape is that your garden can change as the seasons unfold. With proper planning (like I teach in my my course) you’ll learn exactly how to select plants and design elements that shine throughout the year.
A well-maintained four-season garden can also increase your property value. A thoughtfully designed garden adds curb appeal and makes your home more attractive to potential buyers. It showcases your attention to detail and the care you’ve put into your property. It also increases the potential for outdoor enjoyment throughout the year. More usable space, by the way, also contributes to the value of your home.
In fact, is his 2018 research titled “The Effect of Landscape Plants on Perceived Home Value,” horticulturist Alex X. Niemiera found that a well-landscaped home had a 5.5% – 12.7% price advantage over a home with no landscaping.
Planning Your Four-Season Landscape
Effective planning is the key to success in any endeavor and designing a four-season landscape is no exception. Four season landscapes have a lot of moving parts, so planning is essential.
By investing time and energy in the planning stage, you can create a landscape that seamlessly transitions from season to season.
But how do you get started in planning your landscape? By designing an actual landscape plan.
I would suggest hiring a landscape designer to create a plan for you at this stage. But, you can also DIY this step if you’re ambitious and willing to learn.
Either way, I’ve created my Plant Perfect Activity Book to help you with this process. It takes you through the landscape design process in a fun and engaging way so it doesn’t become too overwhelming.
👉️ If you plan to hire a landscape designer, this book will help you develop a strong vision to discuss with your designer.
👉️ If you plan to DIY your own plan, this book guides you through each and every step, even designing a plan.
**NEW** The Plant Perfect Activity Book is a functional & fun way to plan and plant for your peace and privacy with a landscape that compliments your style. This is a PHYSICAL 8.5″ x 11″ Coil-Bound Activity Book that will be mailed to you.
$40.00 (Digital or Physical)
You get a small “sneak peak” of Plant Perfect in the article, Design a Garden Layout: A Step by Step Guide to Planning Your Dream Landscape. But, I’d highly recommend grabbing a copy of the whole thing so you don’t miss any important steps!
The Structure and Bones of Your Landscape
When designing your landscape plan, there are two major elements in creating structure and bones in your landscape:
- Laying out your hardscaping
- Selecting winter-interest plants
Let’s dive into each of these!
Lay Out Your Hardscaping
Your hardscaping will hold your entire landscape together, even if there are no plants (or if nothing is blooming). That’s why hardscaping is so essential in a four-season landscape.
Hardscaping includes all of the permanent, intentional pieces of your landscape. These are elements like patios, pathways, arbors, gazebos, pergolas, focal points and other structures. Strategically placed rocks and boulders can also add structure and winter interest.
The term hardscaping also refers to the types of materials that you’ll choose… whether that’s stone, wood, concrete, iron, brick, etc. This is where it gets fun! You’ll start making decisions that will make your landscape uniquely you.
And, if you’re wondering what types of hardscaping to use, check out my article on Garden Styles. It will show you many different styles and how to achieve them using my sliding scale for hardscaping elements and color.
By starting with the hardscaping and structural elements, you’ll ensure that your yard has that “base” foundation. This will tie everything together and make it look great all year round.
Select Winter-Interest Plants
Many people will stop at the hardscaping, then get straight to planting. But, you need both hardscaping and strong, structural plants to make your four-season landscape work.
So, the next important consideration for the structure and bones of your landscape is to select plants for winter interest. This includes
- Evergreens & conifers. This includes structural plants (mostly trees and shrubs) that keep their foliage year-round.
- Plants with winter interest. This includes plants with exceptional bark, branching patterns, berries, seedheads, dried grasses
So let’s talk about some plants with winter interest.
Evergreens & Conifers
The most obvious winter-interest plants are evergreens. This means that the plants will keep their foliage (and color) all year long. So, they don’t drop their leaves in the winter months. Evergreens are so important in 4-season landscaping.
Some of my favorite evergreens are conifers (like pine trees) and other shrubs like boxwood, yew and holly.
You may also want to consider evergreens with colorful foliage. While most evergreens are, well, green… they are not all the “same” color green. Try mixing dark greens with light greens.
You can also choose an evergreen with bright yellow/chartreuse foliage like the Gold Mop Cypress or Golden Globe Arborvitae.
Junipers, like Moon Glow or Blue Star have a beautiful green-blue color.
By adding some colorful evergreens, you’ll be able to design a gorgeous 4-season landscape that is beautiful and colorful, even in winter!
In fact, I teach the entire process in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. In the course, we take a deep dive into winter structure and interest, along with choosing plants for all seasons.
Use my design framework to confidently design a beautiful, colorful garden that looks great in EVERY season. FINALLY understand how plants work together and the framework that makes it easy as ABC.
COST: $159/mo for 3 months or
$397 when you pay in full (Save $80!)
Need more ideas? Here are several articles on my website with evergreen advice and plant suggestions:
- Evergreen Shrubs – the Most Important Part of Your Mixed Border
- 5-6 Foot Evergreen Shrubs For Your Landscape
- Narrow Evergreen Trees For Year-Round Privacy In Small Yards
Other Winter-Interest Plants
Beyond evergreen trees and shrubs, you can also choose plants with structural interest for the winter months. The trick is finding plants that have beautiful features for winter.
Some elements to consider are:
- Peeling/unusual bark
- Beautiful, structural branching
- Plants with winter berries
- Seed pods, seedheads
- Ornamental grasses or sedges
Some plants have gorgeous bark that can be a real highlight or focal point in your 4-season landscape. Think about whether the bark is smooth, coarse, peeling, colored or unusual in any way.
Other winter-interest plants have beautiful branching patterns that shine in a winter scene. I especially like weeping trees for notable winter interest.
Some winter-interest plants to try are: red/yellow-twig dogwood, coral bark maple, paperbark maple, river birch, white birch and weeping Norway spruce.
I think that many gardeners will discount the benefits of other parts of the plant for winter. These would be things like berries, seed pods and seed heads from spent plants.
And lastly, I always recommend incorporating grasses (for sun) and sedges (for shade). Ornamental grasses and sedges add movement and life to your garden. In addition to providing protection for wildlife, they add drama and beauty to your winter landscape.
Many grasses will bleach out in the winter, which would look fantastic against a backdrop of deep, dark evergreens. Lots of grasses also have interesting seed heads that add more beauty to your winter landscape while feeding the birds!
When you plan, you can incorporate these textural elements so you have even MORE winter interest. You’ll find more examples in my article about using plant texture in your garden.
Once your structure and bones are in place, you can start choosing plants for the other seasons. I’ll show you how I do this, next.
Choose a Variety of Plant Types
One of the keys to designing a 4-season landscape is to choose a variety of plant types. When you’re trying to achieve color and interest in every single season, you can’t just select one or two plants.
The best way I’ve found to accomplish this is to choose a variety of different plant types, then mix these plants together in your borders. This starts with the Garden Pyramid.
When using the garden pyramid, you need to start at the tippy top with some structure with trees and evergreen shrubs. As you work down the pyramid you can include more and more of each type of planting. The layers of the garden pyramid (from most plants to least plants) is:
- Bulbs, Herbs & Annuals
- Vines & Groundcovers
- Plants, Flowers & Grasses
- Deciduous Shrubs
- Evergreen Shrubs
- Shade, Evergreen & Ornamental Trees
As you can see, the pyramid explains the types of plants that you should incorporate into your 4-season landscape. It also tells you approximately how many of each plant type you’ll need (in comparison to the other types of plants).
Mixing all of these layers up in your garden will give you that “magazine” garden look.
Create Layers of Plants
Now that you know you need a variety of plant types in your 4-season landscape, let’s learn how to layer these plants to increase seasonal interest.
When you create layers of plants, you’ll have a lot of different plants that will play different roles in your 4-season masterpiece. This layered landscape is the foundation for ensuring there’s something blooming (or interesting to look at) no matter the time of year.
You can even orchestrate your garden so that it CHANGES with the seasons!
In my article about Landscape Layering, I provide an overview of how this all works. But, here’s a basic run-down of what each layer means and what its for:
- Layer 1: Ornamental Trees: Every yard, no matter how big or small, needs at least one ornamental tree to add structure to your landscape.
- Layer 2: Evergreen Shrubs: Evergreen shrubs unite the trees in your yard into a harmonious landscape.
- Layer 3: Perennial Deciduous Shrubs: Perennial shrubs add balance to your landscape. They often have multi-season interest and long bloom periods.
- Layer 4: Perennial Plants and Flowers: From late spring through summer and into early fall, these take the spotlight in a mixed border.
- Layer 5: Groundcovers, Vines and Grasses: An often overlooked element, vines and groundcovers are the finishing touch… linking the garden’s layers together.
I also have a free Master the Mixed Border Guide. This 8-step process and checklist will immediately improve your landscape layering skills.
If you’ve ever drooled over glossy magazine articles, awe-inspiring Instagram feeds or curated Pinterest boards of gorgeous gardens and wondered, “how’d they do that?” you are going to love learning about landscape layering. It’s a powerful tool!
Select Plants with Multi-Season Interest
The next step is to select as many plants as possible for your landscape that have MULTIPLE seasons of interest. Honestly, if you don’t plan with multi-season interest in mind, you will have a very hard time achieving a 4-season landscape on a small property.
This is especially important if you have a smaller property. You’ll need to be very selective about your plant choices because you won’t have the space to choose all individual plants for each season.
So, try to find plants that have at least two seasons of interest; preferably 3 or 4. That way, your plants are working double, triple or even quadruple duty in your landscape.
Yes… this takes a bit of research and planning. But I know you can do it!
Multi-Season Interest Plants Suggestions for a Four-Season Landscape
I know multi-season interest is a little confusing, so how about an example?
One of my favorite small trees for multi-season interest is the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora).
Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry
The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry is a small, native tree and a fantastic example of a plant with multi-season interest. Here’s why:
- In the spring, it has white flowers that bloom on the branches before the foliage fills out.
- In the summer, it’s loaded with delicious berries that also attract birds
- In the fall, the foliage turns a fiery orange-red in the landscape.
- In the winter, the branching structure is really interesting. I love how the snow nestles into the nooks and crannies of the branches. The smooth, gray bark also looks beautiful against the white snow.
As you can see, this small tree has a whopping 4 SEASONS OF INTEREST! Not bad, right?
Some other plants I’d suggest for multi-season interest are:
Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)
Spring, summer and fall interest (3 seasons). It flowers in spring, with blue-green foliage taking center stage in summer. In the fall, the foliage turns red and orange!
Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla splendens)
Spring, summer and fall interest (3 seasons). The variety Firefly Nightglow has yellow trumpet like flowers in late spring through early summer and its striking burgundy foliage in spring and summer turns red in the fall.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Spring, summer and fall interest (3 seasons). The variety Sugar Shack® has unique spikey (and fragrant) white flowers in mid-late summer that produce red, ball-shaped fruit. Its glossy green foliage also turns burgundy foliage in fall.
There are honestly so many plants that have multi-season interest. It’s just a matter of researching the right ones for your conditions and climate.
If you take my Design Your 4-Season Garden course, you’ll also get access to my personal plants database that has over 200 plants that I love to use for multi-season interest.
Know When Your Plants Bloom
When I was a beginner gardener, I thought that “seasonal plants” were plants that bloomed all year round– in every season– all the time. I now know that this was wishful thinking… at best.
The truth is that plants bloom at certain times of year. Perennials can bloom anywhere from 2-8 weeks on average (yes, that’s it). While some plants bloom longer than others, most perennials you will use in your design will have a “season” of blooming.
In your four-season landscape, you need to learn and account for each plant’s bloom period. That way, you can select plants that can be the star of the show at different times of the year.
You can do this in two ways:
- By researching your plants before you plant them.
- By observing your plants over the course of several seasons.
Either way absolutely works. But, it’s much quicker to do your research first and learn about the plants you’re including in your new landscape.
Select Long Blooming Plants
When trying to do so much in a small amount of space, it’s best to select plants with multi-season interest. The second-best option is to select long blooming plants.
So now that you know the bloom times of your plants, select the ones that bloom the longest!
These are the plants that will give you “bang for your buck.”
If you’re stumped on which plants to choose, these are the longest blooming perennials in my own garden (I tracked them all year for you).
Combine Plants That Bloom at the Same Time
Now create groupings of your long-blooming plants that have a specific season of interest.
In other words, make an effort to combine plants that bloom at/around the same time. Throughout the year, you’ll have different areas of your landscape that have really strong interest and beauty in that season.
Or, if you take my Design Your 4-Season Garden course I’ll show you how to pack multiple seasons of interest into the same space!
Extend Bloom Time with Sequential Bloomers
My next tip is to try to find multiple varieties of a plant that you really love. Oftentimes you’ll find that they can overlap in bloom times and essentially extend the season of blooms for that plant. It makes it look like the plant is blooming for a way longer period of time than it should!
For example, the Cornus Florida dogwood tree blooms for about three weeks in May. Just as the white or pink flowers give way to the tree’s foliage, the Kousa dogwood blooms for the entire month of June. By adding both of these dogwood trees to your seasonal grouping, you’ll basically double the bloom period.
This is called sequential blooming. Pretty cool, right?
I do this with alliums in my own garden… so they bloom one after another and continue the color for longer periods of time.
For more examples of this concept, check out my article about creating seasonal flower and plant groupings.
Fill in with Annuals
Unlike perennials, annuals will continuously bloom throughout the entire season. So, if you’re ok with the little extra maintenance of having to re-plant them every single year and fertilize them throughout the season, annuals can be a great way to create continuous color and carry your 4-season landscape through the lower points of the season.
Enroll in the Design Your 4-Season Garden Course
We’ve covered a lot in this article about landscaping for 4-season interest.
I’ll be honest, the first time I tried to do this, it took me 6 years to complete. And I have a background in design which definitely gave me a bit of an edge over the “average” homeowner.
I won’t lie; this is a difficult concept to master. And impulse buying every dying plant on the clearance rack will never magically create your four-season dream landscape 😩. One of my students said,
“Landscape design is really hard. It was way harder than I even thought it would be, and I expected it to be hard. The lighting, the soil, working around what you already have combined with each plant and its size, light requirements….it’s just a lot. It absolutely requires a course and I was surprised that I never found one until I found yours.” -Melissa P. (check out her garden here)
So, now you know the secret to designing a 4-season landscape: having a framework and a process to follow!
If you want to fast-track your success and get your dream garden quickly (unlike me), enroll in my Design Your 4-Season Garden course. I’ll show you my entire step-by-step process and 4-Season Garden Design Framework that prevents bloom gaps for a seamless and beautiful landscape that looks great every single day.
In the course, we use my printable garden planner kit worksheets to keep track of seasonal bloom times and color schemes, so your garden will look great all year long!
Designing a four-season landscape that looks great all year starts with the structure and bones of your garden. So, create a garden plan and focus on hardscaping as well as evergreens and plants for winter interest. Next, choose a variety of plant types using the Garden pyramid as your guide. Then, arrange these plants into layers to create that beautiful mixed border look you’ve been dreaming about.
The key to a landscape that changes throughout the season is to select plants with multi-season interest. Then, fill in with seasonal plant groupings and extend bloom times with my bloom sequencing tips. Fill in with annuals to keep the color coming all year long.
Whew! That’s a lot of steps!
And there are actually a lot more, like planting for your conditions… combining plants into gorgeous vignettes understanding plant form and texture… and nailing your color scheme.
More Garden Design Posts You’ll Love
- What is a Rain Garden and How to Build One in Your YardRain gardens are specialized gardens composed of native shrubs, perennial and flowers. In this article, you’ll learn all of the considerations for building your first rain garden.
- Design a Four-Season Landscape: An Expert Guide to Year-Round Garden BeautyWhether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, your garden can always look its best. Find out how in this four-season landscape design guide.
- Types of Landscape Professionals: Which is Best for Your Next Project?Learn about the various types of landscape professionals; their roles, services offered, qualifications and costs so you can make an informed decision on which expert(s) to hire for your next landscape project.
- 13 Landscape Design Trends That Will Takeover Gardens This YearStay in the loop! From 80s retro vibes to all-black statements, you’ll be surprised by this year’s landscape design trends!
What Blooms with What?
Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!