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A Garden for All Seasons

Timing is everything. Or so the expression goes. In a way, it’s true. We rely on precise timing for almost everything in today’s fast paced world. However, the preeminent timekeepers of our planet were punctual long before man had ever conceived of the clock. Yes, our common garden plants have been budding, blooming, and bearing fruit right on time for eons. So with that in mind, we submit that it’s high-time to incorporate their splendid promptness into our garden plans.

Why should we do such a thing? Well, reflect on how many times we’ve lamented the shorted-lived glory of the crabapple. When in bloom, there are no trees that can match its display. Two weeks later, we may consider chopping them down. If only there were an answer to this perplexing mystery of how to make our gardens beautiful all the time!

A blooming Japanese tree lilac
The Japanese tree lilac blooms at a very convenient time.

Ah, but there is a solution to this riddle. If we simply add the fourth dimension (i.e. time), our landscape canvas and our plant palette can take on a whole new depth. We’re free to explore not only the spaces of our gardens, but we can also begin to welcome the changes that the passage of time brings to these spaces. For the remainder of this article let’s examine some practical ways we can do this in Midwest landscapes.


June is here, and truth be told, it’s a month that seems boring by comparison. It’s preceded by the blooming of the magnolias, tulips, crabapples, and lilacs in April and May – not to mention the hostas, daylilies, and coneflowers which follow in July. It’s also (on average), the rainiest month in Iowa. How can we save this month from its own drabness and pull ourselves out of our post-spring letdown?

Try the Japanese tree lilac. June is when this prolific bloomer is at its peak. The creamy white flowers have a pleasant fragrance that differs from that of the common lilac. Don’t have room for a tree? Try the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year: False Indigo. This North American native is very tolerant of poor soils and has beautiful purple flowers that appear at the end of May and continue on into mid-June.

Late Summer

Another oft-overlooked time period is late summer before the maples and ashes put on their bright autumnal colors. Naturally, most plants are starting to gear down and harden off, but this is just when many of our ornamental grasses are starting to bloom. Maiden grass has outstanding wispy flowers in late summer. And little bluestem will even begin to show its beautiful red and purple fall foliage with flowers still on the plant!

The fruit on the prairie fire crab dazzles in the snow.


Even winter can be beautiful with a few well chosen plants. Plants that have decorative bark such as the paperbark maple and ninebark oftentimes look their best only after they’ve lost their foliage. The prairiefire crabapple will retain its fruit into the winter, and this creates a dazzling show when lightly frosted with snow. And not to be overlooked, the vernal witchhazel actually blooms at the end of winter to harken the spring.

Yes, it is possible to have a garden for all seasons. All that’s required is a little knowledge and planning, and you too will look forward to the change of each season. So stop by the nursery, and we’ll be happy to show you how you can incorporate these and many other plants into your all-seasons garden.