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Top 10 Picks for Sustainable All-Season Gardens

Winter seems a distant memory in the midst of spring’s explosion of color, but wouldn’t it be nice if your garden brought you as much joy in the cold months as it does in the summer? Why not plant blooms in the spring that will beat cabin fever in February?  At Architectural Gardens we love selecting plants for four season gardens as well as for sustainability. Here are our top picks for perennials and shrubs that will jazz up your yard no matter the weather.

Wild Indigo – Baptisia australis Wild Indigo – Baptisia australis

You may have seen the deep purple Wild Indigo spikes blooming in the garden right now. Its tall flower clusters juxtapose well with the bulbous peonies in our garden. A beautiful, low maintenance plant, it’s a favorite in spring as well as a focal point in winter. The decorative black seed pods persist all winter long and make a rattling sound when you brush by them on a winter walk. The flowers of this Maryland native are also used as a natural source for blue dye and if you’re still not convinced that this is an all-around great plant, Baptisia is also effective in soil remediation as it fixes nitrogen in the soil. A mature plant can get as tall as five feet, making it big enough to be an eye catcher and subtle enough to blend into the bed.

Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

How many plants do you know will bloom for you in February? A winter compliment to the Wild Indigo seed pods is the striking yellow flowers of a Witch Hazel shrub. The intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ hybrid blooms late in the winter and will get you through February and March while you are waiting for your bulbs to come up. Witch Hazel blossoms are unique yellow mop tops that blanket the shrub in an explosion of color and fragrance. In addition to being an odiferous pick-me-up in late winter, the leaves of this marvelous plant gives you fall hues of yellow and orange. Plant Witch Hazel in your garden to support your local butterfly population, the larva of the beautiful bugs love to feed on it.

Wood Spurge—Euphorbia amygdaloides Wood Spurge—Euphorbia amygdaloides

Euphorbia is the unexpected evergreen. It may look like a fragile perennial, but it keeps its green leaves through the winter and will bloom for you come spring. Plant Wood Spurge for those finicky shady spots of your garden or to contrast the bright blossoms of your winter flowering Witch Hazel. This plant blooms in mid to late spring, with subtle chartreuse blossoms creating a tapestry of gradient color. Wood Spurge only gets about three feet tall and spreads easily. Another great plant for feeding butterfly larva, Wood Spurge will support your backyard ecosystem while filling in your winter garden.

Raulston Allspice – Calycanthus x raulstoniiRaulston Allspice – Calycanthus x raulstonii

If you are looking for something to compliment the yellow in your Euphorbia blossoms this spring, try planting a Raulson Allspice. Pictured is the Calycanthus hybrid a cross of the native species  and a Chinese counterpart. This hybrid has a deeper red wine colored flower. Interestingly enough, the blossoms of this cultivar actually have a wine-like smell to them. Calycanthus grows fast and can get as tall as eight feet, but pruning after it flowers will keep it smaller if desired. If you remove the old flowers people will be admiring your awesome blossoms all summer long.

Wild Red Columbine – Aquilegia canadensisWild Red Columbine – Aquilegia canadensis

Looking for a touch of the wilderness in your garden this spring? Check out Wild Red Columbine. You may have seen this variety growing as a wild flower in woody, rocky areas of the mountains, but it’s delicate foliage and intricate flowers fit right into the suburbs too.  Wild looking red and yellow bell shaped blossoms  are a perfect partner for a purple flowering plant, as seen in the photos from our garden, where we’ve planted it with Salvia. This is also a great plant for your wildlife habitat, since the nectar of these flowers attracts hummingbirds.

Red Chokeberry – Aronia  arbutifoliaRed Chokeberry – Aronia  arbutifolia

While winter blooms are unique and summer interest is abundant, some plants put on their most magnificent show in the fall. The Red Chokeberry is prime example.  An early bloomer with subtle small white flowers, you may not notice this shrub in the landscape until it shows its fantastic red, orange and yellow colors in the fall. This performance is accompanied by deep blue berries that persist through the winter. Chokeberry is not only a magnificent Maryland native, but edible as well. Recent studies show that Chokeberries are very high in antioxidants.  Often planted in hedges, this plant can get as tall as 10 feet with a 5-foot spread.  If you are looking to expand your edible perennial garden, a hedge of Chokeberries may be the plant for you.

Virginia Sweetspire— Itea  virginicaVirginia Sweetspire— Itea  virginica

Rain gardens are one of the best ways to live sustainably in our marshy state of Maryland and Itea is a great plant to plant for those boggy conditions. Virginia Sweetspire is one of those wonderful plants that gives you blooms in the spring and color in the fall. Getting as high as six feet tall, this shrub explodes with fragrant drooping blossoms in late spring and ignites with deep red and purple foliage in the fall.


Bald Cypress – Taxodium distichum


Bald Cypress – Taxodium distichum

If you have some space and are looking for something larger in your rain water bog, a Bald Cypress may be just what you want. This unique conifer looks like no other tree with bright green, feather like needles that display a cascade of orange in fall. In winter, the Bald Cypress shows its red, brown and silver exfoliating bark.  These trees get pretty big, sometimes topping off at 75’ tall, but if you have the space, this is an out-of-the-ordinary selection for the suburban landscape.


Dwarf Witch Alder – Fothergilla gardeniiDwarf Witch Alder – Fothergilla gardenii

Dwarf Witch Adler seems to have it all figured out by making a show of it when the other plants are still asleep. This plant will be the first to bloom in spring and the last to show its fall foliage. Witch Alder is a perfect native perennial for the impatient spring gardener, but will also keep you intrigued during the longing last days before winter. The dwarf varieties grow to about four feet and could do well as a lower growing companion to the Virginia Sweetspire, offering lighter hues of reds and yellows at the end of the season. Dwarf Witch Adler is a very low maintenance shrub, relatively pest free, and requires almost no pruning. This plant can do no wrong.

Oakleaf Hydrangea – Hydrangea quercifoliaOakleaf Hydrangea – Hydrangea quercifolia

Oakleaf Hydrangea is one of those plants you can spot going 60mph down the highway. Whether you notice the erect flower panicles in summer, popping out in every direction like white fireworks, or the rich colors of red and purple leaves that paint the fall landscape, this is a standout shrub. Even in winter the rust colored flower heads are prominent in the garden, dried and displayed atop naked brown branches. The Oakleaf Hydrangea brightens up the understory of any garden with its year-round performance. One of the few hydrangeas native to North America, the Oakleaf Hydrangea is an amazing specimen plant for your native flower garden.

About Missy Jones

Missy Jones, owner of Architectural Gardens, is a Master Watershed Steward in Anne Arundel County. Since growing up on the Severn River watershed, her passion is to help save the bay and educate homeowners about conservation landscaping, thus reducing the negative impact of stormwater runoff. Landscaping is in her blood: Missy’s father owned a landscaping company in the Annapolis area and she’s been gardening ever since she learned to walk. Call Missy for a consult, 800.280.2103, and let’s get started.
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2 Responses to Top 10 Picks for Sustainable All-Season Gardens

  1. Burt Johnson says:

    Excellent blog. I want to be on your mailing list.

  2. Rick Kissel says:

    Hi, Missy — my first time to your site — beautifully done and very informative.

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