At one time, this grassy area between two houses was a wasted opportunity. Then the homeowners hit the trifecta: They created privacy, attracted birds, and gave themselves a pretty view 365 days a year. The solution was to replace most of the lawn with a four-season mixed border of shrubs, grasses, flowers, and small trees.
Good to Know: This border is low maintenance. Fall leaves are left in place as mulch (less raking). As the leaves break down, they feed the soil (less fertilizing) and help it hold moisture (less watering). Plants are tightly spaced for quick privacy (less weeding). The only real maintenance is cutting back grasses in spring and occasionally pruning trees and shrubs for shape. And even then, the cuttings are scattered as mulch around the bed (less cleanup).
- Yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’), Zones 2–8
- Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), Zones 5–8
- Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium paludosum), annual
- Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens), Zones 5–9
- Burgundy celosia (Celosia argentea), annual
- Autumn Joy sedum (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’), Zones 3–10
- Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’), Zones 4–8
- Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), Zones 3–9
- Seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), Zones 5–9
- Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), Zones 5–9
- Dwarf blue spruce (Picea pungens), Zones 2–8
- Aster (Aster novae-angliae), Zones 4–8
- Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Zones 5–9
- Paperbark maple (Acer griseum), Zones 4–8
- Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana ‘Wate’s Golden’), Zones 4–9
- Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), annual
‘Limelight’ hydrangea is an easy-going cultivar with lime-tinted flowers maturing to pink and eventually buff. It takes more sun and less water than most other hydrangeas, making it the perfect choice for this low-care border.
Sedum is synonymous with drought-tolerance because the fleshy, succulent leaves hold moisture for later use. ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum is one of the standard bearers of fall. It blends in with other plants until late summer when the blooms appear. Flowers appear white in bud, then open pink and mature to an attractive rust hue in fall.
Blackfoot daisy, also known as melampodium, is a tough annual topped by small golden yellow blooms from late spring to first frost. The attractive mounding shape needs no pruning, and the flowers need no deadheading.
Asters are old-time fall favorites that make adaptable, easy-care perennial additions to the border. They sail along in relative obscurity until putting on a spectacular flower show in late summer or early fall. Tip: Because they peak in just one season, use asters and mums as accent plants, surrounded by companions that can carry interest at other times of the year.
Ornamental grasses need little care. They can take dry weather and seldom need fertilizer. Grasses add movement to a garden, with wispy seedheads that sway in the breeze. Many also provide height, color, and architectural interest in fall and winter, when it’s needed most.
In addition to flowers, this border also boasts berries from such plants as purple beautyberry and yellow-twig dogwood. The clusters of fruit on purple beautyberry (pictured) are hard to ignore, thanks to their plum-crazy color.
Summersweet offers a double dose of delight—fragrant bell-shape flowers in late summer, golden yellow foliage in midfall. Although the species can grow 8 feet tall (great for privacy), there are shorter cultivars, some with pink flowers.
Forming narrow, upright clumps and reaching just 3 feet tall, switchgrass fills the middle ground between short and tall ornamental grasses. The green blades turn yellow in fall and tan in winter, offering welcome eye appeal.
View the slideshow below to see this privacy garden in all four seasons!
The spring border offers vivid hues of blue-gray from dwarf blue spruce and chartreuse from compact barberry. Brightly colored pansies are joined by small blackfoot daisy plants, which will eventually grow to replace the cool-season pansies.
By late summer, the blackfoot daisies are in full splendor. ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas and a seven-son flower tree add their large white blooms to the scene.
Rust-colored foliage from a golden larch and ‘Wate’s Golden’ pine mix nicely with coppery hues of grasses and yellow foliage of summersweet. Asters, sedum, blackfoot daisy, and hydrangea continue to flower.
The border gives the forgotten gardening season a reason to be remembered. Evergreens frosted with snow bring privacy and beauty. Tan grasses inject another color into the setting.