Garden Life: Four lively seasons should be gardener’s goal




Because I keep a garden journal, I’m often reminded of certain garden principles and personal garden tenets that I might forget over time. For example, in the beginning of May I looked back through journal entries from past springs and find this entry.

“The arrival of spring means I will find many opportunities to shop for plants. Don’t forget to consider each season when adding new plants to beds and borders. Impulsively buying every flowering perennial you fall in love with in spring, will leave you with boring bed partners come summer, autumn and winter.”

To sum up these thoughts I added a reminder on the first page of my journal where I keep a running list of Garden Goals. “A garden with four seasons of interest is your No. 1 garden goal. Include a selection of specimen trees and shrubs, perennials and groundcovers.” These comments add one more dimension to my life as a gardener. That’s what I get for writing down what I think.

Journal reminders have always worked for me. The concept of planting a sequence of bloom has helped me create a garden I can enjoy year-round. The implementation of planting a sequence of bloom is rather simple. Beginning in spring, the cheerful daffodils flower in bright creams and yellows. Soon after, the flowering Japanese cherries burst into bloom. When their blossoms fade, shrubby viburnums sport handsome, layered flower clusters. By planting the proper selection of trees, shrubs and perennials, the process continues with waves of color and interest from one plant to the next throughout the gardening year.

Columbine blooms are enchanting

One of the first perennials to flower in my shady beds behind the sun room is the columbine (Aquilegia spp.). They open in shades of pale pink, blue and dusky purple as well as white, cream, red and yellow. The columbine flower is an intricate piece of work. Up to 3 inches across, with sepals and petals in contrasting colors, the flowers float high above the foliage with backward projecting, nectar bearing spurs. Some liken them to a butterfly. Some to a hummingbird or woodland fairy.

The common name, Columbine, means “dove-like” in Latin. There is even a group of hybrids called the Songbird series with larger flowers on more compact plants. There is also a group with fatter, rounder flowers called bumblebees. ‘Red Hobbit’ has fiery red, semi-pendant flowers with white corollas. This one is also known as Danish Dwarf. It’s obvious the columbine has done much to stir the imagination of gardeners.

As well as the flowers, I love the columbine for their intricately scalloped leaves. The foliage looks best if cut back to a few inches when flowers finish for the season. Last year I added several new columbines with variegated foliage. They display lacy, mottled yellow and green leaves with hints of brownish purple on the stems and leaf edges. Plant these together with one of the cocoa leaved geraniums or a reddish purple heuchera for color and contrast.

The first time I saw the climbing hydrangea on the entry wall outside of Portland Nursery, I knew I had to have one for my own garden. As so often happens, I immediately went into “plant desire blackout”. I had to have it for my own, bought it, brought it home and planted it in a small planting nook next to my back door.

Although I read the tag and looked up information on the plant in several resource books, I somehow failed to register any of the plants faults. What I liked was the plants 6-10 inch wide, white lace cap flower clusters and the interest of the intricate pattern of deep brown stems against a wall throughout the winter season.

What I ignored was the biggest fact of all; the plants ultimate size of 30 feet. In its third year, this plant was doing so well that I was forced to realize it really would reach its full potential. At the rate it was growing, it would have completely covered the house and swallowed the chimney before I reached retirement.

As hard as it is to do in real life, make yourself take one moment of honest appraisal before any large plant purchase. Do you have the space and the conditions to grow this plant well? Will it affect the quality of other well loved plantings? If it doesn’t fit into your personal garden scheme, be content seeing it in other gardens or in beautiful picture books.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at