How to design a garden for all seasons

A garden room is a significant investment, so design your garden in such a way that you want to spend time there all year round and get as much pleasure from it as possible.

The key to designing a really good garden is to plan for all the seasons, utilising structural elements  as well as selecting plants that give lasting value to make the best of it all year round.

garden design including Norwegian Log outdoor room

Add structure – with plants

Trees are the backbone of any garden and even where space is at a premium there is usually room for at least one. Here I have chosen Betula utilis jacquemontii ‘Snow Queen’ – favoured for its slender form, suited to smaller gardens and the white bark developing earlier than other Himalayan Birch. It will grow to a height and spread of 7 x 3.5 metres in 20 years.

You could also try Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ – the ornamental pear tree is perfect for all seasons.

Next think about shrubs. Foliage is the pivot on which a garden turns, providing leaves for emphasis and framing more seasonal planting. Choose evergreen stalwarts – for example Holly, Pyracantha, Euonymus. A regular pattern of clipped evergreens like Box or Yew around the garden will hold everything together. Box balls, set at regular intervals, may not even be seen in summer when everything else has filled out, but in winter they’ll bring order and rhythm.

Add structure – with features

Water adds another dimension to the garden – bringing in this life giving element which brings us pleasure at the same time as attracting more wildlife into the garden.

I have included a simple corten steel water bowl which acts as a focal point. Any garden will benefit from a feature to act as a focal point. If your style of garden is modern this could be a sculpture, if traditional an urn or feature pot might be appropriate. Whatever the season and whatever the weather, a well-placed ornament will attract attention and interest. This comes into its own in the winter months.

Combining hard and soft landscaping

In this garden I have combined the structure provided by the Silver Birch and the architectural element of the boundary fence – the vertical white trunks contrasting with the horizontal slats of the dark painted wood.  Fences can be used as a support for evergreen, climbing plants to give all year interest. One of the best climbers for a sheltered, sunny spot is the star jasmine, Tracheleospermum Jasminoides (here used along the side of the cabin). Truly a star, with highly fragrant, delicate, white flowers in summer, its autumn and winter foliage gives it all year interest.

Create interest

The colour of your paving and the way it is laid can provide a strong design direction for the entire garden. For instance, grey or white stone laid in a random pattern will set the scene for a French country look. Black or silver paving organised in a regular design will form the perfect backdrop to a sleek and modern scheme, while golden stone arranged in a mixed pattern creates an English country feel.

In this design I have used long rectangular stone paving slabs which have a contemporary feel, contrasted with more rustic stone chippings and informal ground cover plants woven between them. The layout creates a sense of journey to the cabin.

Don’t stint on seating space

When planning your garden, if you’re thinking of having a table, consider the space and allow enough room for each person to be able to sit comfortably and pull out their chair without hitting anything. And remember, you’ll also need room to walk around the table with everyone seated. It takes up much more space than you might think!

Don’t forget the lights

Garden design including outdoor room at sunset

Don’t underestimate how important it is to create atmosphere in your garden. Use lighting for dramatic impact. Subtle outdoor lights extend the feeling of space in addition to being practical. Adding outdoor lighting along paths and walkways can help to define the edges of a path and also illuminate any flowers that are planted next to them. The key thing to remember is that a little goes a long way and remember that darkness can also be used to good effect to conceal any less attractive areas!

Planting for year round interest

For all year interest ornamental grasses are hard to beat. The small neat tussocks of Festuca Glauca for example, grown in groups, will provide attractive blocks of blue, contrasting well with summer flowering plants, such as Geraniums. The graceful Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is very easy to grow in most situations and although it looks good most of the year is particularly impressive in the autumn when it can produce feathery flower plumes.

Spring bulbs reassure us that summer is on its way! From snowdrops in February to crocuses in March, tulips in April and May to alliums in June, these provide a succession of flowers. Buy in bulk to provide a good display. They look best in swathes. Just throw them on the ground and plant where they fall.

Summer colour is much easier, but think about maintenance and watering – especially whilst you are on holiday.

For Autumn include late-flowering perennials  – Echinaceas, asters, verbena bonariensis andJapanese anemones will start to come through in July and still be going strong until the first frosts. when you plant, spread them out, interweaving them with other perennials and the bulbs to create a tapestry effect. Dahlias are enjoying a comeback and will flower their socks off until the first frosts if you continue to pick and dead head them.

For winter, invest in a couple of winter-flowering plants near the front door that you’ll see daily. Hebes are examples of plants that look good all year round. Sarcococca confusa, also known as Sweet Box or Christmas Box grows well in shade and has highly and sweetly scented creamy white winter flowers which makes it a pleasing addition to a garden in the colder months.   Sarcococca has dark green evergreen leaves and dark berries which follow the winter flowers. It can be clipped into topiary shapes as an alternative to common box (Buxus sempervirens).

Garden design showing outdoor room in winter


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