Horticulture Magazine

18 Plants Chosen For Year-Round Interest

Green Ostrya carpinifolia

While many people associate a peak garden display with the summer months, there’s no reason you can’t extend the intrigue all year round.

With property prices continuing to increase, living space at a premium and remote working growing in popularity, many people are looking to expand the dimensions of their home by migrating outside more often.

A garden which is just as inviting in the colder months of the calendar as the warmer ones is integral to maximising the space available to you and creating an area that’s hospitable even when the mercury drops.

It’s entirely possible to possess a garden that offers attraction right through the year, but it will require a little more forethought and effort than one which only sparkles for a season or two. It’s highly likely that you’ll need to reimagine your current landscaping efforts and remove the plants which aren’t conducive to your vision of year-round interest, since these will only occupy valuable space without offering any appeal in winter.

Then, it’s important to consider incorporating some sense of structure in your garden, since trees, shrubs and hedges can provide texture and height to draw the eye when the colours aren’t popping quite as vividly as at other times of the year.

Finally, the choice of the plants you opt for themselves are obviously of paramount importance. Selecting a mixture of different species which blossom during different seasons is key to ensuring that there is always a splash of vibrancy in your back yard whatever the month, while colourful grasses and shrubs maintain a base layer of activity right through the year.

To give you some inspiration for the selection, here’s a handful of plants which lend themselves well to a year-round display.

Acer griseum

peeling bark of acer griseum
Peeling bark aficionados eat your heart out

Trees are a great choice for adding texture to your garden, but the paperbark maple (or acer griseum) brings far more than just a sense of structure.

For one thing, its sizable leaves are an attraction in themselves, especially when they take on a red wine tint during autumn, while the winged fruit which cluster on the branches for much of summer are another point in the plus column.

But it’s the peeling bark of acer griseum which really sets heads turning and tongues wagging, so place one or two next a pathway for best results.

Amelanchier lamarckii

white Amelanchier lamarckii flowers
Another diminutive tree that’s perfect for smaller spaces

Also known as Juneberry, Amelanchier lamarckii is another tree that will add plenty of pizzazz to a back garden. Its plentiful black berries will attract birds by the bucketloads during the summer months, but it’s in spring where this humble tree really shines.

That’s due to the brilliance of its dainty and delicate white flower blossoms, while the yellows, oranges and browns of its autumn leaves are another treat for the eyes later in the year.

Carex ‘Evergold’

clump of carex grass
All that’s gold doesn’t always glitter

While trees are essential for bringing height to your back yard, grasses are just as important for establishing intrigue at floor level. Carex – otherwise known as Japanese sedge – is an excellent option for the job, since it comes with a variety of different forms and features.

‘Evergold’ is particularly eye-catching right round the year, since its long, thin leaves have green fringes and a bold yellow stripe right down the middle. Hardy enough to stay resilient whatever the weather.

Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’

red stems and green leaves of cornus plant
Brilliant red stems will brighten up your garden in any season

Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is primarily favoured for the striking scarlet colour of its stems, which maintain their brilliance even in the dead of winter when all around them has faded. However, that’s not to say they’re a one-season wonder.

The variegated leaves are an intense green in the summer, turning a rusty red later in the year, while the small white blossoms (and the berries which accompany them) are a true delight in late spring and early summer.

Crab apples

small crab apples on a branch
As environmentally beneficial as it is ornamentally attractive

Another tree on the smaller side, crab apples can be fitted into a corner of the garden to bring in a host of biodiversity benefits alongside their obvious aesthetic advantages.

In springtime, the clusters of pink or white blossoms (depending on the species) are truly breath-taking in their splendour, while the gentle fading of their leaves as the year wears on is an attractive transformation, too.

Meanwhile, the tiny fruit which clings to the branches in summer is easier on the eye than the tongue, but can be made more palatable when turned into jams, jellies or liqueurs.

Fatsia japonica

large leaves of fatsia japonica
There’s something unmistakably exotic about this hardy plant

As the name suggests, Fatsia Japonica (or Japanese aralia) originally comes from the Far East – but despite its almost tropical appearance, it’s perfectly at home in the Great British climate, too.

It can even survive a dusting of snow, provided you give it a helping hand by wiping its leaves clean after the fact. And you’ll want to do so as well, since it’s the fantastic, leather-like foliage of the plant which contains all of its appeal.

It generally grows to around six feet in height (though it can climb higher), so keep that in mind when choosing a spot to plant it.

Festuca glauca

a large clump of blue fescue grass
Evergreen doesn’t have to mean green

When most of us think of the term “evergreen”, we probably think of the dark green colour of a fir or pine tree. However, you shouldn’t restrict yourself to this single hue, especially if you’re looking to introduce year-round intrigue to your back yard.

Festuca glauca, or blue fescue grass, is perfect for adding some variety to your garden’s palette through its spindly blue stems which thrive right through the year, whatever the elements throw at it. Ideal for adding interest to your ground cover.

Hornbeam

a large hornbeam hedge
As impressive with leaves as without

Carpinus betulus – aka Hornbeam – lends itself perfectly to creating some privacy in your garden as a screening hedge. During the summer months, it boasts an abundance of bright green leaves that will block out prying eyes and rays of sunshine with equal effectiveness.

If you wish to maintain the foliage into the winter, it’s possible to do so – simply trim it back and the Hornbeam will devote its energies to the survival of its now coppery coating.

However, an untrimmed Hornbeam will shed all of its leaves in winter, but the intricate nature of its branches makes for a pleasing sight in their own right – especially when backlit.

Hydrangea quercifolia

white blooms of hydrangea quercifolia
Impressive longevity for a hydrangea

Although hydrangea quercifolia won’t retain its attractive qualities throughout the calendar year, it makes an impressive fist of it.

Its beautifully white cone-shaped blossoms come out in midsummer and last for a surprisingly long stretch into autumn, while its distinctive leaves (reminiscent of those found on an oak tree) will take on a kaleidoscope of colours such as orange, red and purple before finally succumbing to gravity in winter.

Lavender ‘Grosso’

a large purple field of grosso lavender
Purple blossoms on a silvery background – what’s not to like?

Lavender is famous for its biodiversity-encouraging qualities, and during the height of summer, these plants are invariably awash with bees and other pollinators.

However, the ‘Grosso’ variety – or Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’, to give it its full name – has other attractive qualities too. Specifically, the plant carries an interesting hue to its foliage, with its silvery-grey offering a superb canvas for the purple blooms to play upon. The leaves last right through winter, too.

Mahonia ‘Soft caress’

mahonia 'soft caress' in a garden
Elegant but resilient

The delicacy of the stems, foliage and flowers of Mahonia belie its durability. Capable of growing in almost any type of soil, receiving any kind of sun exposure and withstanding the worst that winter can throw at it, Mahonia is a popular evergreen choice throughout the country.

But while the more ostentatious ‘Charity’ variety might steal most of the acclaim and attention, ‘Soft Caress’ is a more understated alternative which is truly beautiful in bloom and leaf.

Nandina domestica

green and red Nandina domestica shrub
Fiery foliage to take the breath away

Nandina domestica does carry gorgeous starry white flowers in summertime, but it’s the changing colours of its foliage which are the real star of this show. The leaves emerge in a rich salmon pink in spring, before deepening into green in the height of summer. But wait, there’s more!

As autumn sets in, the foliage takes on more fiery tints and hues, as pictured in the image above. The show doesn’t stop in the winter months, either, while the profound red of the berries adds interesting highlights to the spectacle.

Phlomis russeliana

yellow upright Phlomis russeliana blooms
Striking points of interest above other grasses and seedheads

Phlomis russeliana, otherwise known as Jerusalem sage, are great when interspersed with daintier specimens, since their robust stems and leaves will offer a pleasing contrast, as well as strangling the space for weeds and pests.

They remain proud and upright right through winter, but it’s in spring and summer that they really come into their own. That’s due to the pale yellow flowers which slowly unfurl from their seedheads, then collapse back in on themselves in attractive globes.

Photinia ‘Red robin’

photinia red robin shrubs
Redder than any redbreast you’ll see in winter

Photinia can take the form of either trees or shrubs, but ‘Red robin’ is firmly in the latter camp, growing to a maximum height of around four metres over the course of its decades-long lifespan.

Its glossy leaves begin life as a dark red in spring, at which point they are accompanied by sparse but stunning creamy white blossoms. However, as the year wears on, the leaves ripen to a rich dark green, a colour they will maintain right through the year.

Rosa glauca

pink rosa glauca flowers with dark foliage
A rose with foliage as fetching as its flowers

By and large, roses are not renowned for the longevity of their flowering patterns – and by and large, rosa glauca is no different to its brethren in that respect.

What sets this species apart, however, is the intrigue that it carries even when not in bloom.

With a grey-blue top surface and an almost crimson undercarriage, the leaves are a sight to behold as they shimmer and shift in the breeze.

Don’t forget the rosehips, either, which follow hot on the heels of the flowers but last for far longer.

Stachys byzantina

Stachys Byzantine
Sturdy stachys will never let you down

Also known as lamb’s ear, stachys byzantina provide interest in terms of both their foliage and their flowers. The former manifests itself in a furry mat of leaves with erect stems emerging from them, while the latter take the form of brilliant spikes of pink, purple or white blooms in spring and summer.

Plus, they’re not only easy on the eye, but incredibly soft to the touch, adding tactile to visual pleasure.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

chinese star jasmine blooms
Chinese star jasmine is a horticultural highlight you can depend upon

More commonly known as Chinese star jasmine, this evergreen climber is almost unique among its peers in that it can be trained to span a whole trellis, fence or wall with relative ease, thus providing stimulation to a flat surface right through the year.

That’s due to the fact that its green foliage will take on a redder hue in the autumn, while the fragility of its white flowers adds an irresistible beauty in spring and summer.

Witch hazel

yellow witch hazel blossoms on a branch up close
Something witchy this way comes

At its peak, witch hazel might just be among the most striking specimens in your garden. With thin yellow petals splitting out from a dark red stamen, the flower looks as enchanting as its smells.

Best of all, it will begin to bloom in late winter and early spring, long before the rest of your garden has come to life. In autumn, its leaves turn a dusty red as well, further adding to its allure.

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