FARGO — Well friends, another growing season is in the past, and we’ll soon be turning the calendar page to another year.

Speaking of calendars, did you hear about the guy who stole a calendar from the department store? He got 12 months.

If you relish your yard, flower gardens and landscape, there’s a way to enjoy their natural beauty year-round, and for nearly six months of the year we needn’t lift a finger to weed, water or work. How can we have this magical yard? By embracing a new trend in landscaping.

The idea is simple: develop landscapes and flower beds that provide four seasons of year-round beauty. Yes, even snow-covered beauty in winter.

And because the active work of planting and care is mostly accomplished May through October, we can relax and enjoy the remaining six months of beauty work-free.

Plumelike seed heads on ornamental grasses add interest to winter landscapes. David Samson / The Forum
Plumelike seed heads on ornamental grasses add interest to winter landscapes. David Samson / The Forum

A movement has gained steam during the past decade to create four seasons of beauty in our landscapes and flower gardens, including the depths of a snow-covered winter. How can a landscape or flower garden possibly look great in the middle of a Midwestern winter? By planning for it.

A leader in this worldwide landscape revolution is Piet Oudolf, a Dutch plantsman who has spearheaded what’s being called the New Perennial Movement. A key part of his work, which has been featured in many countries, including New York’s High Line and Chicago’s Millennium Park, is to develop an appreciation of how plants look in every season, and then select them accordingly.

Oudolf teaches that a landscape or flower garden should be designed to have a life throughout the year, not just in spring and summer. “For the winter, you want a moment in the garden to be quiet. There’s so much to do in the summer, with keeping up with the plants and enjoying looking at them, but sometimes it’s too much. In the winter the garden is peaceful and the beauty is quiet, even with snow.”

Is your yard and landscape attractive when you look out the window in late December? How do we create a landscape garden to enjoy all four seasons?

  • Begin by broadening our concept of beauty to include more than just summertime’s flowers and greenery. Plants can be beautiful after blooming with interesting seed heads, unique shapes and attractive dried stems.
  • Expand our thinking to appreciate the many shades of brown, which are pretty in autumn, and create nice contrast against winter snow.
  • Winter landscape beauty is about shape, texture and interesting plant form.
  • Trees and shrubs with unique or colorful bark form the backbone of an interesting winter landscape garden, such as birch, dogwood and Euonymus burning bush.
  • Evergreen trees and shrubs are naturals for winter beauty, but combine them with deciduous woody plants for contrast, instead of designing with all evergreens. Combine upright, columnar shapes with rounded forms for diversity and interest.
  • Include tall perennial flowers that retain stiff stems and interesting seed heads through winter, such as Echinacea coneflower, Joe-pye weed and Russian sage. Such perennials will be attractive above the snowline during much of winter.
  • Leave most perennial tops intact during winter, instead of clear-cutting in fall. Besides being attractive against the crisp snow, tops left in place increase winter survival of most perennial types.
  • Ornamental grasses add four-season beauty to any landscape. Allow the tops to remain through winter and cut back in early spring.
  • Plant shrubs with winter features, such as the dried flower heads of hydrangea or the persistent bright red fruit of viburnum.
  • Benches, arbors and garden sculptures acquire unique beauty when viewed with snow cover.

Imagine sitting at your window and viewing the quiet peace of a garden landscape that’s even pretty in late December. Winter will no longer be the great forgotten season in the garden.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at kinzlerd@casscountynd.gov or call 701-241-5707.