? A Major Plant ? Shrubs ? Perennials ? Herbs ? What makes a four-season plant

When people look at my garden they are often intimidated because I have thousands of plants living happily in a smallish space. But what most visitors don?t realize is that this lush profusion is based on having essential plants in the right place. It?s like providing a framework on which to hang your whole garden planting plan.

We all have prejudices and this list is my taste. These plants, however, will grow in most parts of the country.? They are tough and they are gorgeous. If you planted nothing but those on this list you would have a lovely little garden and be on your way to adding masses of new plants to go with them.

I?ve broken the list down into categories to make the idea easier?


These should always be put in first: A native tree well placed is the first thing you want to have:

  • In southern Ontario Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioica) is a graceful very straight tall 30M) tree; or Sourwood (Oxydendrun spp) with lily-of-the-valley blooms and huge shiny leaves.
  • In British Columbia the native dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is magnificent;
  • On the prairies the good old Western larch (Larix occidentalis) which grows to 25M or a non-native such as Amur maple (Acer ginnala) which is unbelievably tough and a good four season tree.


The next layer: shrubs, placed relatively close to a tree enough to make a statement but not close enough to mess up root systems. They will act as screening plants will give some privacy and blot out anything you hate in your surroundings.

  • I?m crazy about Serviceberry or Shadbush (Amelanchier spp) it grows to 6.3M, with four seasons of interest (blooms, berries, autumn colour and striated bark).
  • Viburnum plicatum ?Summer Snowflake? white lace cap blooms is another superb must-have plant which blooms from June to Sept.
  • Japanese maples (Acer palmatum spp) come in every size, colour and need; if you can?t plant them then move quickly on to elders (Sambucus spp) which have deeply cut leaves and come in gold (?Aurea’); black (?Black Lace?) and good old green. A bird magnet.


Move the eye down to the 1.3M level and plant tall perennials such as

  • Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium spp) which is a butterfly magnet and grows anywhere from 1M to 4M depending on which species. It?s got huge pink umbrels on the top (yup just like umbrellas). There?s a smaller cultivar called E. rugosum ?Chocolate? which has purple leaves and white autumn blooms.
  • Bowman?s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is an eastern native I love. It grows to 1M and should be whacked back to rebloom.
  • For great spring bloom: Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica): bright blue flowers
  • For a gorgeous edging plant go no further than the Japanese hedge grass, Hakonecholoa macra
  • ?Aureola? which needs to be whacked down in spring but requires nothing else.
  • A shady spot cries out for Hosta ?June? it has bluish edges on the chartreuse interior, 38cm with violet flowers.


All gardens need them and if you can?t grow them in the ground get them into large containers:

  • rosemary and lavender will overwinter indoors.

Make a basic list of your own favourite colours and textures and give your own garden a solid framework for future plants. It won?t cost a fortune and will pay off in longevity.

What makes a good four-season plant?

???? Good spring blooms
???? berries and wonderful leaf shape in summer
???? autumn flame
???? and a shape and bark that make it a wonder in winter.

For basic plants, always try to find native plants to start with. They are tough, will grow in your area and when cultivated varieties wimp out they?ll be carrying on.

And think about these plants in layers. Don?t think about putting in plants on a sheerly vertical framework. Consider the largest tree down to the ground covers you are putting them in with every part of the horizontal space in your head.