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The Four-Season Garden at Greenbank Farm

Program Contact: Loren Imes
(360) 639-6059 • loren.imes@wsu.edu

The entry area for the Education Garden was re-designed in 2021 and installed in 2022 to be an inviting space that encourages people to gather and to explore the rest of the gardens.

The primary goal was to create an aesthetically pleasing design with four-season interest. A four-season garden shows diverse characteristics of plants throughout the year, with variety in such features as flowering, foliage, fruit, seed pods, structural appeal, and much more. In a four-season garden, there is always something interesting going on!

A secondary goal was to use plants that are relatively low maintenance and drought tolerant. These characteristics are increasingly critical to preservation of scarce water resources. An irrigation system provides moisture to plants during our dry summers.

More generally, the design adheres to the same underlying principles that guide the rest of the Education Garden, namely, to provide horticultural education through signage and living examples of sustainable gardening and wildlife support.

Our design process illustrates key steps for a four-season garden.  

  1. Assess environment. We began by examining the space in terms of soil, sun exposure, climate, and aesthetic environment. The red backdrop of the existing cottage created a focal point for contrast and balance. 
  2. Determine plant options. We created a spreadsheet of potential plants that met our key requirements, in this case, low maintenance in sun to part shade with seasonally dry and windy conditions. Each potential plant was characterized for its water and light needs, bloom time, seasonal color (flowers, leaves, stems), growth pattern, size, and evergreen versus deciduous. 
  3. Choose and install plants. A series of drawings helped us map the placement of selected plants so that colors and textures would repeat throughout the garden and something interesting would be happening each season. For example, Yellow Twig Dogwoods planted below the sign on the cottage wall create dramatic yellow lines in winter, while the Japanese Snowbell and Eddie’s White Wonder Dogwood trees have showy white blossoms in the spring.

Resources on four-season gardening include: 

  • Great Plant Picks – navigate to Seasonal Plantings in the Helpful Lists  
  • The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Case Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color, by Susan A. Roth, Rodale Press, 1994 
  • A Year Full of Flowers: Gardening for All Seasons, by Sarah Raven, Bloomsbury, 2021
Plants in the Garden

The chart shows how each plant in our four-season garden contributes seasonal interest. 

PLANT  SPRING  SUMMER  FALL  WINTER 
Admiration Japanese Barberry  Brilliant coral-red leaves with yellow margins  Brilliant coral-red leaves with yellow margins  Brilliant scarlet foliage  Branch structure 
American Gold Rush Black-Eyed Susan  Green foliage  Yellow flowers with dark center  Green foliage  Seed heads 
Autumn Stonecrop ‘Matrona’  Green foliage emerging  Star-like pink flowers  Mauve-pink, then chestnut-brown flowers  Seed heads 
Bellflower  Green foliage  Lavender blue flowers  Green foliage  Green foliage 
Bergenia  Pink clusters  Green foliage  Green foliage  Green foliage 
Chief Joseph Pine  Green foliage  Green foliage  Gold foliage  Bright golden needles 
Cushion Spurge  Showy golden yellow flowers  Green foliage  Green foliage  Green foliage 
Daffodil  Yellow flowers       
Eddie’s White Wonder Dogwood  Showy white flowers  Green foliage  Red foliage  Layered branch pattern 
Goldsturm Black-Eyed Susan  Dark green foliage  Yellow flowers with dark center  Dark green foliage  Seed heads 
Japanese Snowbell  White flowers  Dark green foliage  Brilliant yellow foliage   
Little Lemon Goldenrod  Abundant yellow panicles  Abundant yellow panicles  Abundant yellow panicles   
Lungwort  Silver-green foliage  Silver-green foliage  Silver-green foliage  Silver-green foliage 
Maple  Green foliage  Green foliage  Red foliage   Branch structure 
Mountain Fire Andromeda (Pieris)  White, hanging bell-shaped flowers  Green foliage  Green foliage  Red foliage 
Rhododendron  Peak bloom  Green foliage  Green foliage  Green foliage 
Springwood White Winter Heather  Massed creamy white flowers  Green foliage  Green foliage  Massed creamy white flowers 
Starburst Mountain Laurel  Green foliage  Burgundy flower, white center  Green foliage  Green foliage 
Starshine Aster  Lime green foliage  White daisy-like flowers  White daisy-like flowers   
SunSparkler® Lime Twister Sedum  Two-tone lime green foliage  Pink flowers  Pink flowers  Two-tone lime green foliage 
SunSparkler® Wildfire Sedum  Red foliage  Ruby-red flowers hot pink edges  Ruby-red flowers hot pink edges  Red foliage 
Yellow Twig Dogwood  White flower clusters on green foliage  Green foliage   Green foliage  Bright yellow vertical branches 

 

Garden Bonus Feature!

Capped stumpAn intriguing element in this part of the Education Garden – unrelated to the four-season design – is the capped stump located to the right of the large Douglas fir on the north edge of the planting area. The stump is all that remains of a dead tree, but the stump itself has continued to grow and has healed over completely. Note the “cap” on top of the stump.

How is it possible that a dead tree would grow a bark cap and heal itself? Douglas firs are able to produce root grafts, where the root systems of two trees come into contact and grow together. These two trees – the live one and the “dead” stump – have become one organism. The stump cannot produce a new tree but can continue to increase in size over the years.

For more detail on this amazing phenomenon, see https://vancouverislandbigtrees.blogspot.com/2013/04/douglas-fir-stumps-healed-by-helpful.html