Adding color to your landscape can produce many benefits for you and the surrounding environment. Blossoms excite the senses and are a visual delight and those plants are hard at work, too. Pollinators receive abundant sustenance from flowers, the resulting seeds and fruit feed people and wildlife, natural flower nectar is the best food for hummingbirds and blooms are the foundation for filling bee hives with honey.
The big box store ads or a visit to the garden center promises a glow of dazzling plants that is hard to resist, but how do you triumph over challenges in creating technicolor vegetation in a practical way? Deer and rabbits can devour your new plants as soon as you put them out. Tender plants from the greenhouse sometimes perish in a late frost. Colorful annuals need to be purchased, replanted every year and require high levels of care. No wonder pre-assembled hanging baskets stocked with mature flowers that just require watering are so popular with many consumers – almost no work involved!
The good news is that introducing enduring color to a landscape is easier than you think. Here is what I have learned through decades of experience of putting plants in the ground:
- Bigger is Better. Vegetation that gets big has a fighting chance against being eaten and damaged by wildlife and other forces of nature. Pick robust plants that don’t require unsightly fencing or other burdensome protection on a permanent basis. A few large stature trees and shrubs can easily produce bolder sights than dozens or even hundreds of diminutive plants. Flowering crabs, standard/semi-dwarf fruit trees, magnolia trees (yes, we can grow them here), pagoda dogwood, ninebark varieties, lilacs, wisteria vine, serviceberry and forsythia are just a few that work well.
- Perennials are a Bargain. Permanent plants are often a better choice instead of the time consuming cultivation of annuals whose lifespan is only a few brief months in our climate. Use hardy flora, that once planted, returns year after year and provides four season interest with little care. Herbaceous plants like Rudbeckia varieties (Brown/Black Eyed Susan) seeded over large areas, Rattle Snake Master, Eupatorium rugosum and daffodils are some of my go to flowering plants that resist deer and rabbit damage and need little care after establishment.
- Provide Protection. It seems that the most colorful plants are the ones most likely to be eaten by critters. I find temporary defense methods are essential on almost all projects until shrubs and trees are tall enough that deer can’t reach the growing point of the plant and bark and stems are thick enough to thwart rabbits, mice and voles. Protection might include fencing up to 6 feet high and fine mesh or wrap on the lower stem.
- Green is a Color. Have you noticed that black and white photography is popular again? Infinite shades that occur between black and white bring out details not seen in color pictures. The same is true of plants where texture and various hues of green can be both stunning and calming. Plants that persist in demanding landscapes often do not flower for the entire growing season. You can investigate other desirable attributes like leaf shape, showy fruits/seed pods, bark pattern, branch structure and fall color.
- Find the Secret Blooms. There is wonder in identifying flowers that are often overlooked. You may have noticed the catkins (male flowers) on hazelnuts, but the female flower that is responsible for the nut that flavors your coffee and that is in chocolate coated candy is about the size of a pencil point! Wild ginger has an exquisite blossom that is rarely seen by passersby because it is hidden beneath it’s leaves. Witch hazel varieties either flower in dreary November or brutally cold February.
- Bring Color Inside. Many flowering woody plants can be forced to bloom. Snip branches during the late winter months, bring them indoors and place in water. Experiment and see what species produces the best flowers. There are many sources on-line for the specifics of doing this.
Colorful foliage that anchors your property to the surrounding environment can be rewarding in many ways. It fits with a sustainable landscape mission to create benefits for the owner of the property, prosperity for the community and abundance for the planet. If you need help creating an inspiring design for where you live, feel free to contact me, Tom Girolamo.