More than a one season wonder

By Andy McIndoe

Plants with more than one season of interest are the most valuable in any garden.

So many of the shrubs and perennials we love are one hit wonders: two or three weeks of flowers, then it is all over until next year. Those that bloom, then produce fruits, autumn foliage colour or winter stems contribute so much more. These are the plants that really work to earn their keep, and the more you have in a garden, the more interesting and colourful it becomes.

We all love our spring blossom trees, but those flowers are a fragile, brief adornment. Prunus ‘Shirotae’ is a lovely sight in early to mid-spring when clusters of fragrant, fluttering white blooms hang from the branches.

Prunus Shirotae in Spring

It is at its peak for just a week before the petals fall like confetti, but the show is not completely over. After the plain green foliage of summer this beauty puts on a superb autumn display as the foliage turns to rich orange-gold. In a good year the colour lasts for a couple of weeks before the leaves fall. Where space allows the branches to spread this is a lovely tree to plant for shade. Plant two, one each side of a pathway and they grow together to form an arch.

Prunus 'Shirotae' in Autumn

The crab apples are never the most spectacular for autumn leaf colour, but their blossom is usually longer-lasting and more weather resistant. Most produce attractive fruits that may last well into winter. Malus hupehensis, the Himalayan crab, is a healthy tree, larger than most. The dark green foliage remains in good condition throughout the season. In spring the tree is a cloud of single white scented blossom; in autumn the small scarlet apple fruits are attractive against the foliage and often remain well after the leaves have fallen.

Malus hupehensis in Spring
Malus hupehensis in Autumn

The flowering dogwoods are some of the most beautiful flowering shrubs and small trees in early summer. Butterfly bracts grace the branches for several weeks, growing in size and beauty by the day.Most are white in flower, a few pink. Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’ is one of the loveliest, with rich pink flowers held above the horizontal branches. It has a graceful habit and is wide, rather than tall in habit.In autumn the foliage turns from green to flame red; a spectacular sight and one of the showiest character for fall foliage.

Cornus Miss Satomi in Summer
Cornus Miss Satomi in Autumn

Witch hazels are known for their curious spidery blooms that decorate the bare stems in winter. One of their main attraction is the wonderful spicy perfume which fills the air around the plants when in bloom. However their showiest season is autumn when the leaves colour richly.

Hamamelis in Winter

Red and orange-flowered varieties usually colour in similar shades, whereas the yellows, such as Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ have striking gold autumn colour. They like fertile neutral to acid soil that is reasonably moist for best results.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida' in Autumn

Cornus grown for their stem colour are also stars of the winter garden. Most are at their best when hard pruned in early spring to encourage strong, upright shoots that ripen to give the most vibrant stems the following winter. They take up little space in summer, then fill out to produce a good clump of foliage by early autumn.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ may be pale green as the stems grow, but in autumn the leaves turn to gold-orange, lasting well before the foliage falls to reveal vibrant orange winter stems. This is one of the best winter stem subjects for drier soils.

Cornus Midwinter Fire in Autumn
Cornus Midwinter Fire in Winter

The Japanese maples are really plants that delight in all seasons. Even when the leaves fall their elegant branch silhouettes are attractive through the winter months. There is a variety to suit all any garden, even the smallest. The compact Acer palmatum ‘Jerre Schwartz’ has a bushy growth habit and grows slowly. It is perfect for a pot of soil based compost and will probably reach only 1.2m (4ft) in height in ten years. The small leaves are beautiful shades of fresh green and salmon when they appear in spring.

Acer palmatum 'Jerre Schwartz' in Summer

They retain notes of orange and red through summer and then colour superbly in autumn. The leaves persist longer than other varieties, their small size means that they are less likely to be blown away by autumn winds.

Acer palmatum 'Jerre Schwartz' in Autumn

These are just a few examples of trees and shrubs that excel in more than one season, there are plenty more; perennials too. Good ones include: Euphorbia grifithii ‘Fireglow’, various geraniums, hostas and rodgersias.

Andy McIndoe

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