Four Season Interest for the Small Yard

Many people believe that four season interest means that they’re limited to evergreens but that’s not always the case! There are several plants that offer year round interest, especially in winter, through their unique bark and/or berries. Here are a few of our favorites.

  1. Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is a unique, multi-stemmed specimen plant which can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. In spring, the glossy green leaves emerge and remain attractive throughout the season. The distinct (and fragrant!) creamy white flowers bloom late in the summer/early fall when few other woody ornamentals are blooming. The flowers have a jasmine-like scent which last several weeks and are a good late-season nectar source for butterflies. As if the flowers weren’t exceptional enough on their own, the most stunning trait of Heptacodium are the small, inconspicuous fruits that are surrounded by a persistent calyx. These turn a bright red/magenta color that result in another eye-catching display late in the season and last another 4 to 5 weeks into late fall. Even during our long winters, this plant looks great! It has an interesting branching form with light brown exfoliating bark. A true multi-seasonal plant that will have your neighbors talking!
  2. Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is a small horizontally spreading tree or large shrub (depending on who you ask)! The unusual features of the witch hazel family make them excellent choices for adventurous gardeners. Many people know of the Common Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and appreciate its late fall bloom and shade tolerance, but for an even more unique choice – go Vernal! It is one of the earliest shrubs to flower in spring, the flowers range from yellow to orangey-red in color with four strap-like petals that curl inward on chilly days. This is actually an adaptive mechanism to protect them from freezing. In fall, the attractive oval-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow/orange and the woody fruit capsules split in half to disperse the seeds. Another impressive spectacle, if you are lucky enough to witness it – the seeds are forced or shot-out of the seed pod to a distance of 30 feet! The seeds are happily eaten by turkeys and grouse.
  3. Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic’) this is one of my favorite underutilized shrubs! Dainty white flower clusters in spring and nice dark green leaves through summer. The common name is in reference to the tart (and very astringent) berries! The fruits contain about 3X MORE ANTIOXIDANTS than blueberries and can make tasty jams and jellies. Fall color is wonderful, ranging from bright orange to reddish-purple. The fruits form in clusters that cover the plant and persist into January, offering nice winter interest – they are some of the last fruits the birds will take! Aronia can withstand a wide range of soils, including wet soils making them a good choice for rain gardens as well.

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