All plants have their seasonal moment to shine. Spring flowering trees bring stunning display after the long, cold months of winter. Hardy perennials and shrubs have four to six week windows of bloom before they fade into the background. Annuals flower their buds off all summer, but with chilly weather they are done. By fall, the foliage of many woody plants will become the focal point with blazing shades of brilliant red, orange and yellow. In any garden size or type, the best landscape designs balance the strengths of all selections with perfect timing to bring four seasons of striking color and texture contrasts.
A handful of options make it easy to create a next-level garden! These showstoppers pop, elevating any landscape to look professionally designed.
Jaw-dropping spring blooms will surprise and delight you when they reappear at summer’s end.
Magnolia x lillifolia
Part of the Little Girl Series: ‘Ann’, ‘Betty’, ‘Jane’, ‘Judy’, ‘Pinkie’, ‘Randy’, ‘Ricki’ and ‘Susan’, hybrid magnolias developed at the National Arboretum in the 1950s. Plants are best grown in moist, organically rich, acidic, well-drained loams in full sun to part shade and protected from high winds. A late-blooming magnolia less apt to suffer frost damage in spring, these beauties are hardy to zone 4. Our established 'Ann' grows very happily without any assistance from us and reblooms reliably every fall. They grow 10’–15’ tall and 8’–12’ wide.
You’ll be stopped in your tracks on a winter day when brilliant red berries catch your eye.
A profusion of striking bright red berries will stop you in your tracks on your winter hike and provide food for overwintering birds. Use as foundation color, for a natural hedge, or in a shrub border for a showstopping display. An early-flowering male pollenizer such as Jim Dandy Winterberry is required for berry set.
Silver foliage always makes a great contrast to most other surrounding plants, which easily gives a landscape an intentional and striking design. Most grow best in full sun, but Brunnera offers a shade-tolerant silver for your understory garden.
Artemisia ‘Powice Castle’
Beautiful ferny, silvery-gray foliage makes an excellent addition to borders and landscapes. A perfect color and texture contrast to flowering perennials, ornamental grasses, and woody plants.
This relative of the artichoke has edible roots and stalks, but you won’t want to eat them because they are too pretty! Their large, spiny gray-green leaves are quite ornamental, especially in urns. Excellent for no-till organic gardens where the soil needs to be broken up by vigorous roots. This is a super cool, must-have plant.
Native to the Mediterranean, this ancient cultivar was treasured in Greek, Roman and Persian cuisines. It remained popular during medieval and early modern European times and was common in Colonial American gardens. Although the cardoon lost popularly in the 19th century, it continues today as a regional favorite in France, Spain and Italy where about 100 metric tons of cardoons are grown annually. The cardoon is used to flavor liqueurs and incorporated into cheese production, and is also used for cooking oils, feedstock and as a source of biodiesel fuel in Europe
If you do want to eat the stalks, here's a recipe!
Foliage of the cultivars 'Jack Frost' and 'Silver Heart' is intricately washed with a striking silver, crackle-like finish. Dark green leaves are heavily frosted which allows only the green veining to show through. From mid to late spring, baby blue, blossoms that resemble forget-me-not are held in clusters over the shimmering foliage that brightens shady areas in borders or woodland settings or as a groundcover. A beautiful addition to the shade garden.
Artemisia stellariana 'Silver Brocade'
Woolly, thick white foliage makes an excellent contrast plant. Grows to 12" high and 24" across, and will cascade along rock edging.
Large, heavily textured leaves persist through winter on huge shrubs that bloom and then produce deep purple berries. This is a must-have shrub for anyone with enough space to plant one.
Viburnum rhytidophylloides 'Allegheny'
This great shurb adds incredible textured contrast with leathery, dark green foliage that makes a great hedge, screen or windbreak. It can also be used as a single accent specimen. Large clusters of fragrant white spring flowers are followed by showy red fruit that matures to black. Remains evergreen in temperatures above 0° F; deciduous elsewhere.
HUGE foliage on gigantic plants gives your shade garden a tropical jungle feel.
Hosta (Skaggs 2008)
This giant grows an incredible 4' high x 9' wide in a semi-upright habit and might just be the largest of all hostas. Huge, dark green leaves with deep veins form a massive upright clump. Individual leaves measure an amazing 25” wide by 28” long. Pale lavender flowers start early and continue for nearly two months. An excellent specimen!
How about a truly unique specimen with extreme wow power?
Juniperus chinensis 'Old Gold'
With a blend of green, yellow and gold foliage, 'Old Gold' juniper will grow happily in full to part sun. Not just the average evergreen, the 'Old Gold' performs just as its name implies, with a gold-hued accent to its evergreen nature. And pruned into a sculptural pompom form, It's sure to bring interest, especially when the white snow adds its contrasting color to the surrounding browns and grays of the gold-toned evergreen. 'Old Gold' Juniper has a low growing, dense nature with spreading branches and elegantly drooping tips. It has a slower growth rate than some other evergreens and can live up to 30 years. In pompom form, these shrubs make excellent container specimen plantings for entryways. Super. Cool.
And finally, a shot of finely textured bright golden yellow growing under taller plants makes things pop off the garden floor and draws the eye from across the landscape. Here are two options — one for dry sun and one for moist or boggy shade.
Round, green leaves create a low-growing mat with small yellow flowers. 'Aurea' is a bright chartreuse selection that spreads rapidly in moist locations, and also make fantastic trailing foliage plants in hanging baskets and containers. Will grow in sun or shade, but requires more moisture in sunnier locations.
Sedum reflexum 'Angelina'
Thin, spiny golden-yellow foliage radiates around central stem and is tinged russet orange at ends in cooler weather. Makes a great cascading foliage in containers and along wall edges. Nice color contrast.