A little adventurous thinking and practical advice can lift seasonless spaces to Himalayan heights, says landscape garden design guru, Barry Burrows…
Received wisdom for planting in developments and in high specification houses is invariably that the garden has to be considered seasonless. This is mainly due to the clipped nature of the majority of plants commonly used, and their evergreen qualities. The end result of this is to produce landscapes that have a decided lack of variety in style and composition, looking pretty much the same in summer as in winter.
Intelligent use of planting can create a unique planting scheme particular to that location, and designed to complement the architecture and interior style. All this requires is a knowledge of soil, micro climate, aspect and plant species, but a little adventurous thinking and professional advice can see any scheme raise its head above the norm and lift the overall impression of the buildings around it.
There are several reliable plants that can deliver over the year with changing displays of colour, texture or scent, to provide relief from the usual evergreen formality and lack of movement.
For structure, there is no better large shrub than Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’. Often referred to as the ’Wedding Cake Tree’, this striking variegated plant has a distinctive layered branch structure that creates a strong textural motif whether in leaf or not. All it needs is a well-drained and sunny spot to create a stunning centrepiece to any garden.
Scent in the seasonless garden
Scent, at any time of the year, is a powerful addition to an outside space, but if you are selling in January you may think that there are no options open to you apart from vases of cut flowers in the house. One plant we use produces the most fabulous scent in mid-winter, so as you sweetest scents found in horticulture.
Daphne odora is a low, mound shaped evergreen shrub that originates from the Himalayas. In late January, the small clusters of pink florets produce the most captivating scent, which always catches people by surprise as most do not realise that this evergreen dome is creating the effect. It should be positioned close to a door, and preferably in a spot that will catch the low winter sun, helping it to produce the most intense aroma.
One important factor that we always try to include in gardens, and the smaller they are, the greater it’s importance, is the use of seasonality. In a confined space, a plant that can give you more than one season of interest is a prized addition, so the consideration of a plant’s appearance across all seasons should be a factor when deciding on what to include in a garden such as a modest courtyard or roof terrace. Plant doyen, the late Christopher Lloyd, used to cut branches off his Witch- hazel to bring indoors for the scent.
The plant that is first among equals in this context is Amalanchier lamarkii. A small to medium sized tree, this will give you pink buds and pinkish white blossom in early spring, black inedible fruits in summer and glowing autumn effects. Three seasons of interest from one plant!
Another small tree that flowers spectacularly in January, with small nut-like fruits in summer and autumn colour is the Witch-hazel. Bearing the latin name Hamamelis, these gorgeous plants have scent, colour and can stay relatively small with judicious pruning. Plant doyen, the late Christopher Lloyd, used to cut branches off his Witch-hazel to bring indoors for the scent, which is a good indication of it’s durability. (If you are looking for best scented variety, then Hamamelis mollis is the species to search out).
Seasonality can only be rarely achieved with one plant, but a succession of plants in the same space can fill the year with colour and effect that is an improvement on any amount of clipped box hedging. One simple combination is to use is a grass like Miscanthus sinensis or Panicum virgatum, both of which grow quickly in spring to produce an impressive plume. Autumn will see flowering stalks, and both grasses have good golden red colour and remain upright throughout the winter. These grasses both need cutting to the ground in March, but if interplanted with Allium bulbs like Christophii or ‘Mount Everest’, the portion of the year when the grass is cut down is filled with drama and colour courtesy of the arresting blooms of the Allium.
The key words for creating an eye catching planting display are seasonality, succession and combination. If this is to the forefront during the design process, then the planting will succeed in its purpose and the house will be ￼Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’
Barry Burrows is Managing Director of Bartholomew Landscaping