Garden Design Elements: Seasonal-shift

I find it very confusing to be in a garden where plants are blooming everywhere you look and there is no place to rest your eyes without seeing something else that screams out to be seen or if you do stop and look at one bloom you have this feeling that you are missing something or not looking at the right plant as if all the flowers you aren’t looking at are tapping you on the shoulder and shouting “Look at me!” “No, look over here at me.” “Look here, too!”

It’s like one long, run-on sentence with no commas.

It might seem exhilarating to be in a garden like that, and for the first few moments it is. But then when you leave the garden and finally have a chance to think about it, reflect back on how it was, you remember it as exhausting, overwhelming, with too much going on at once.

It is like leaving a loud, crowded party where everyone is shouting to be heard over the music. You breathe a sigh of relief after making your way through the crowd and finally stepping out into the fresh air. You can breath again, hear again, speak in a normal voice again.

I enjoy a garden more when every border isn't competing for attention at the same time. I like it when one border’s season ends and its blooms begin to fade, the focal point shifts to another border that is appropriate for the next season. The borders complement one another, taking turns at being the focal point. This draws me back to the garden over and over again, because I know there will be something new to see each time I visit.

When you visit a garden with borders that are designed to peak in different seasons and not all be the focal point at once, you sense there is a freshness to the garden, no matter when you visit. Your gaze is drawn to a particular border that is in its season, without distractions from everywhere else.

I call this design element “seasonal-shift”.

This shift of focus from one border to another does not mean that a border must melt into the green of the garden when it isn’t its season. It will still have blooms and interest, but it won’t be a loud presence when it isn’t its season.

I also realize that this design element may not always work in a garden that is so small that it is basically one border. There the challenge is how to keep one border looking fresh throughout all seasons.

But in a larger garden, in my suburban garden, there is room for multiple borders that each have their own season, their own time to be the focal point.

I’ve just reviewed the plans for my backyard garden design and believe that my garden designer has captured this element of seasonal shift. Some borders will be prominent in the spring, others in summer, yet another in fall. The whole garden won’t shout at once.

I like that. I look forward to the focal point of the garden shifting as the seasons change, to “listening” to each border in its season.

Seasonal-shift. A surprise sixth element of garden design that I’m happy to have in my garden to go with the other five elements of garden design I wrote about earlier:

Wanderability, Placeness, Well-Plotted, Gardimacy, and Hortiful.


  1. I was wondering what you meant by Seasonal Shift, Carol, and you have explained it clearly and concisely. The very well designed gardens we saw in England used this concept very well. It will be so pleasureable for you to direct your attention to the different beds as their time in the spotlight rolls around. In my own garden, I want every bed to have interest all the time, but the truth is that some are more spring oriented, some summer, some fall and a few spots are full of winter interest, especially if there is morning frost.

    You are reinventing the wheel of garden design, and lingo! :-)

  2. What a wonderful concept. We're often told to have various flowers in beds to make sure there's blooms all the year through yet I've never thought about using different beds for different seasons. A much less chaotic way of designing. Thanks for the insight!

  3. You never cease to give us thoughts to ponder when it comes to gardening....

  4. I'd never thought of this term before, Carol, but certainly it's a great tip. I realize now the perfect example of this is our Master Gardeners' Idea Garden, where I've been volunteering this summer. Every time I go, there is something new to see--just as one part fades, another plant comes into bloom. Now if I can only learn from the talented designers of this garden and apply it to my own!

  5. I've done what Frances has done, tried to keep the interest going in all of the beds throughout the seasons, although the nanoprairie definitely is a summer and fall garden, while most of the woodland garden is a spring garden. Hmmm, so maybe my garden does have seasonal shift?

  6. I really like this idea. I have two main beds in my backyard (plus the vegetables), and one is basically a spring garden, the other more fall and winter. I was just thinking the spring side needs a little punch of color this time of year -- but maybe, just a little. Great post.

  7. Seasonal shift~that's a great design notion! The issue is can I do it! Must think about this and see what can be moved to stop the competition among beds and borders. gail

  8. I do try to have several things blooming year round in the garden but in the tropics we tend to use foliage to make up for the lack of flowers. Sounds like the shift made you a bit giddy.

  9. You have such a way with words! I keep a one page list, divided into 12 spots. It's just a chart I fill in -- what looks good each month. I'm not nearly as good at it as you are. I wish you would make speeches to garden clubs to reinforce this idea! Thanks so much,

  10. This is such a thoughtful post and explanation of this need for our gardens. I have a friend who has a spring garden in front of the house, a summer garden to the side, and his vegetable and fruit gardens in back on his small urban lot. No time for or interest in lawn.

  11. I, too, look forward to the "seasonal shift". The idea of season central gardens like Gertrude Jekyll suggested were always something that tempted me.... a spring garden is the closest I've ever come (and by accident!)