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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

With spring in the air its hard to resist picking up just about every flower in the garden center and taking them home with you, and I am the last person to tell you to fight that urge. What I am suggesting is that you put some thought into you selections, and think the year round when purchasing plants.

Think back to winter, not such a long time ago, and remember what the your garden looked like then. On those cold, rainy days when you looked out your window were you, greeted by a garden full of colorful foliage and fantastic shapes, or was it rather dull, uninteresting, and empty looking? If it was the latter, it is you who I am addressing. Winter is when a great landscape proves its true worth. Spring and summer we can fill our yards with fantastic flowers, and blooming plants easily. If we have chosen only herbaceous perennials, and deciduous plants then we will find that as soon as the fall arrives and cold weather returns, these plants will disappear into dormancy, once again leaving the winter garden bare.

Herbaceous perennials are those that die to the ground completely in cold weather. Shasta Daisy, Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia), Delphinium, Columbine, etc, are just a few. During the growing season these plants are quite useful for their beautiful flowers. In the winter they will retreat into the earth where their roots remain alive, but the tops, above ground, die away. Deciduous shrubs and trees are those that drop their leaves in the fall and winter. These include Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia), Burning bush (Euonymus alata), Barberry (Berberis), etc. These are valuable plants with beautiful flowers or colorful foliage. We just don’t want to fill the garden up with these plants exclusively.

The term, foundation plant, expresses part of what we are discussing. These foundation plants are the anchors in our garden that seasonal color might be worked into. In an imaginary border in the shade we might include Dwarf Rhododendron, Lily-of-the-Valley shrub (pieris species), or Camellias as foundation shrubs. These plants are evergreen, and set the backdrop for smaller shrublets or flowers. I like to use Lily-turf ‘Silver Sunproof’ (Liriope) in the corners or around rocks. A one-foot tall, ornamental, evergreen grass has soft looking leaves edged in silver, providing a colorful note in both summer and winter. In amongst the evergreens we can include the herbaceous perennials, or annuals, we like. These would include Columbine, impatiens, begonias, campanula, etc. When these plants are asleep in the winter, the foundation plants provide interest.

Using plants with colorful foliage is another way to provide interest all year. Take a rock wall for example. You want something to spill over and down the wall. Trailing Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is often used. Instead of using only its green foliage, work in some Mother lode juniper (Juniperus “Mother Lode’). Growing only six inches tall, it will creep over the wall providing a bright yellow color that turns plum in the winter. One of the most beautiful of all cascading plants is the Prostrate Blue Spruce (Picea pungens glauca ‘Prostrata’). Related to the Colorado spruce tree it grows about one to two feet tall and tumbles over the wall with a bright blue year round color. Now your wall has interest all year.

Spring is a time for flowers. Just keep in mind the changing seasons, and think back to winter. With a little planning we can provide ourselves with cheerfulness and beauty the year round.

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