Marin Master Gardeners
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Marin Master Gardeners

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With planning, gardens can be colorful every season

June 16, 2018
Dot Zanotti Ingels

Year-round garden color can be a somewhat elusive ideal. Marin may not be known for dramatic changes of season, but Marin gardeners know that our outdoor spaces do go through seasonal changes. We tend to be outside as much as possible year-round, so it is good to know that with a little planning, your garden can be welcoming, colorful and productive all year long. Whether you stage your garden show in grand spaces, a modest suburban yard or a collection of containers on a deck or patio, you can always have something to pick or a lovely view out your window between raindrops.

Spring is easy. The days get longer, the sun gets warmer and the whole of Marin seems to be abloom in the fresh color show associated with the season. Nurseries start brimming with plant choices and nurturing them is relatively easy. Spring displays are enhanced by flowering fruit trees, dogwoods and spring bulbs. Even the evergreen hedge plants seem to want to get into the act as they sprout new growth in reds and shades of yellow-green. Will you plant perennials or summer bulbs that will come back year after year? Will you start annuals that you can enjoy for the one season? For me, it is a mix of both.

Summer brings with it the fullest and most vibrant range of colors. Fruit trees trade their blossoms for gorgeous fruits. There is a virtual smorgasbord of choices for planting. Will you plant a monochromatic scheme or, like me, welcome any vibrant hue you can find? Alstroemerias, also known as Peruvian lilies, are a spring-into-summer blooming perennial that light up the garden for months. Remember that green is a color, too. Welcome plants that put on a total show in greens such as hostas or plants with variegated leaves. Plants in tones of burgundy or gray can make your color show pop.

Many summer-flowering plants go on blooming through late summer and into autumn, particularly if they are kept deadheaded. If you allow some of your annuals or perennials to go to seed they bring their own beauty in the garden or be picked for the house. The fall berries are gorgeous as are branches of fall leaves. Autumn is also the perfect time to supplement with some fall stars such as chrysanthemums.

There are different approaches you can take to seasonal planting. You can certainly do a garden clean up and then allow it to dwindle to a bare framework as you start planning next year’s display. Or you can devise a plan that incorporates options for late fall or winter color. Few of us want to spend wet, cold days working in the garden. But we may want to spend some time bundled outside in the fresh air or continue to enjoy the view outside our windows.

Plans for winter garden color begins with planning for some shrubs or maybe conifers as permanent features of you space. During the peak growing season your annuals or perennials will integrate with these features and when the season is over they will remain as good bones for your winter garden. The deciduous plantings, such as Japanese maples or figs, are pretty with or without their leaves. Since you generally stick closer to the house during the winter you can plant simply right around the front of borders or pathways. Camellias come in so many beautiful colors and petal styles and make a gorgeous late-winter show. Azaleas fill in colorfully, as well. Primroses, pansies and violas planted in the border or in well-placed pots provide bright winter color in our temperate climate.

Think of your garden as a year-round palette. Paint it liberally with colorful life.

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