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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
“I drifted into a summer-nap under the hot shade of July, serenaded by a cicadae lullaby, to drowsy-warm dreams of distant thunder.” – Terri Guillemets
Come July you may be tempted by that hammock in the shade, swaying gently in the breeze… now is the time you can comfortably sit back for a moment and enjoy the fruits of your labor. But remember, there are still plenty of things to do in your garden – Don’t snooze for too long!
- Remember the Basics: If it ever stops raining, July brings with it some of the hottest days of summer so don’t forget to thoroughly water your container and vegetable gardens. If you have travel plans, ask a friend to water for you – the worst feeling is coming back from a great trip to find your beloved plants have all wilted due to neglect.
- Don’t Forget Deadheading: If you take some time to remove and prune off spent blooms, the plant can use that energy for more flower production versus seed. Deadheading encourages your perennials to rebloom, extending their bloom time and providing a more attractive display overall.
- Take Garden Walks: We are so lucky in Madison and Dane County to have gorgeous gardens overflowing with inspiration at our fingertips! Bring your sketchbook or camera along and document plant combinations that work, interesting cultivars that you may find, cool wildlife sightings, etc. The UW Arboretum, Allen Centennial Gardens and Olbrich Botanical Gardens are all great places to find a huge variety of unique gardens that could apply to your home landscape.
- Speaking of Garden Walks: This weekend is Olbrich’s Home & Garden Tour! It is a great opportunity to get into exceptional gardens that normally wouldn’t be open to the public. Avant Gardening is proud to be a sponsor of this fun event. For more information, visit: olbrich.org/events/homegardentour.cfm
- Harvest Your Garden Bounty: Many fruits and vegetables ripen up this month! Be sure to get in your garden to start picking and preserving your harvest – try making some jams, salsa or pasta sauce to use up multiple different kinds of veggies. You can also plant a second round of vegetables to harvest in fall, consider: arugula, broccoli, chard, kale, lettuce, spinach, radish, carrots or green beans.
“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.” – James Dent
The first snow of the year can be a thing of beauty. By the 15th snowfall however, we start to get real sick of white everywhere. Enter the Redtwig Dogwood! As the name implies this shrub boasts some very colorful stems that look great against the snow and add a pop of color to an otherwise stark winter landscape.
Arctic Sun™ dogwood is a dwarf suckering shrub, a compact version of the popular ‘Winter Flame’ redtwig dogwood. The Dutch plant breeder of ‘Winter Flame’, Andre van Nijnatten, introduced this fantastic dogwood with smaller-stature that is perfect for small space gardening and residential landscapes. The beautiful stems are yellow with red tips that appear as a coral shade when massed together and best stem color occurs on new, youngest twigs. Bring some of the outdoors in this over the winter season by using these uniquely colored stems as cut accents in holiday arrangements!
Dogwoods are wonderful native, deer resistant, multi-seasonal shrubs with creamy white flat-topped flower clusters in late spring, that give way to whitish/blue drupes in late summer and golden yellow to peachy orange fall color. The flowers umbel shape offers an excellent landing pad for many butterflies, while the fruits are quite attractive to a wide variety of birds. In fact, American Robin, Cedar Waxwings, Purple Finch, Red-Eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager and Wood Thrush all use dogwoods as a source of food, cover and nesting.
Soap! Dye! Baskets! – Oh my! Did you know that dogwood seed contains 45% of a non-drying oil that is used in soap making? A blue-green dye can also be obtained from the fruit, and the flexible young stems can be used in basketry.
Common Name: Arctic Sun™ Bloodtwig Dogwood
Scientific Name: Cornus sanquinea ‘Cato’ P.P. #19,892
Height: 3-4’ Spread: 3-4’
Bloom Time: May to June
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Part Shade
Sick of Wisconsin Winters yet? We decided that this week we are feeling the need to dream of summer.
Just pretend it’s a beautiful, warm July day… you’re out on your patio, sipping some lemonade, birds are chirping, flowers are nodding in the warm breeze…. How about we take you back to the 2015 Olbrich Botanical Garden’s Home Garden Tour?
For a little while, let’s forget about the cold and the snow… Let’s enjoy some lovely summer weather and look at a gorgeous garden.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) are both examples of native plant species in this bird & butterfly friendly landscape.
Meandering natural flagstone stepper pathway entices visitors throughout the garden. A small rain garden with native plantings, catches grey-water from the roof and slowly infiltrates it back into the aquifer.
This lovely arbor invites visitors to wander throughout the garden. A natural Chilton flagstone pathway provides an informal way to access the perennial garden beds and various intimate garden spaces.
To see more images of this garden, check out our Houzz Project Profile: Craftsman Small-Space Gardening
Our climate can be crazy! From freezing rain to temperatures in the 40’s in January… it’s difficult to predict what it’s going to do next! With the recent freezing rain and the need to spread sand (and salt in most cases) we thought we’d share a list of plants that are salt tolerant.
Excess salt in the soil upsets a plant’s ability to move water and results in desiccation and, for some plants, eventually death. Aerial salt spray leaves particles on the leaves, stems, and buds and when the water evaporates causes plant disfigurement and/or death.
Although no salt is good – these plants are usually tough enough to withstand it. Plants that evolved in the presence of high saline environments (think seaside) have tolerance to these environments. When planning for areas with potential of high salt damage (near roads, driveways, and sidewalks) consider using some of the plants listed below that demonstrate these tolerances.
Salt Tolerant Plants
- Aesculus hippocastanum (Horsechestnut)
- Amelanchier spp. (Serviceberry)
- Aronia melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry)
- Celtis occidentalis (Hackberry)
- Chioanthus virginicus (White Fringetree)
- Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo)
- Gleditsia triacanthos (Honeylocust)
- Gymnocladus dioicus (Kentucky Coffeetree)
- Ilex glabra (Inkberry)
- Ilex verticillata (Winterberry)
- Juniperus chinensis (Chinese Juniper)
- Juniperus communis (Common Juniper)
- Juniperus horizontalis (Creeping Juniper)
- Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar)
- Larix decidua (Common Larch)
- Picea pungens (Colorado Spruce)
- Prunus serotina (Black Cherry)
- Quercus alba (White Oak)
- Quercus bicolor (Swamp White Oak)
- Quercus macrocarpa (Bur Oak)
- Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac)
- Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
- Symphoricarpos albus (Snowberry)
- Syringa reticulata (Japanese Tree Lilac)
- Syringa vulgaris (Common Lilac)
- Taxodium distichum (Baldcypress)
- Ulmus americana ‘Valley Forge’ (American Elm)
- Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum)
- Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw Viburnum)
- Yucca filamentosa (Adam’s Needle)
- Yucca glauca (Soapweed)
Local trade shows and expos can be awkward and intimidating! Do you get anxious wandering through a huge exposition hall lined with booth after booth of unfamiliar companies… New expo visitors can be hesitant for numerous reasons. Do any of the following situations below apply to you?
- Just bought a new house and have no idea where to start…
- Feel like if you stop and talk you will be pressured into a hard sale…
- Just not sure what/how to ask questions to get valuable information…
With the Madison Home Show fresh in our memory and the NARI Remodeling Expo coming up this weekend, we decided to create a list of intelligent and important questions for you to ask your local landscaper before you hire them to work at your property.
These questions are not only important to make sure you will be working with a qualified, reputable landscaping company – but will also get the conversation going about your potential project and help you determine if they are the right company for you!
Here are 5 Questions we’d recommend asking – with answers from Tim Stenzel, one of our Landscape Architects at Avant Gardening & Landscaping.
1. What is your background in the field?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Conservation Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY. After graduate school, I spent several years working in and around Chicago and the North Shore communities.
2. How long has your company been in business?
We are proud to be celebrating our 32nd Year in Business! As our name implies, Avant Gardening and Landscaping has been at the forefront of the gardening and landscaping industry in Madison and Dane County since 1985. We couldn’t do it without our loyal clients and dedicated team.
3. Do you hire Registered Landscape Architects?
Yes! Having a registered landscape architect on staff is very important for the health, safety and welfare of our clients. We have 3 Licensed Landscape Architects, which is quite a few for our small office! Liza Lightfoot, Dan Schmitt & Tim Stenzel are all very talented and have experience working on complicated projects. Read more about them on our staff page.
4. Where does the bulk of your work come from?
Most of our work comes from Loyal Existing Clients coming back to complete another phase of their project or continuing to work with our maintenance team in their gardens. A large majority of brand new clients come from Existing Client Referrals. We also receive quite a few referrals from local businesses and public gardens (such as Allen Centennial Garden and Olbrich Botanical Gardens), our website & Google, and the Wisconsin Public Television Garden Expo.
If the company answers with Yellow Pages, or doesn’t know where their work comes from, this is a red flag… It tells you that the contractor is either new, inexperienced, a low-baller in the industry or simply doesn’t get many referrals…
5. What are the most unique services your company provides?
- Avant offers a very successful organic lawn care program using compost topdressing, compost teas, and lawn aerating.
- We use a lot of natural stone in our patio, wall and walkway installations. This is becoming less common in our industry. We use eco-sensitive practices whenever possible and believe in sourcing local raw materials, such as natural stone, which means there is less processing of materials which ultimately creates more waste water.
- We make our own soil blends! We recycle whenever possible and take all of the plant debris from jobsites and turn it continually throughout the year, once it breaks down into fine organic matter we mix it into our planting bed mix – the outcome is a very fertile soil mix that is periodically tested by UW Soils lab to ensure high quality.
6. What is your company’s philosophy?
Our philosophy has always been to see ourselves as stewards of the environment. We believe in living by example, Avant’s office grounds are landscaped in a naturalistic style that attracts a diversity of birds, pollinators and butterflies. We’ve recently become an official Monarch Waystation! We also have a small pond that we keep open and functioning through the long winter months because it is an important water source for wildlife.
We hope this blog posts helps you prepare for the next home show or expo you visit! Speaking of… don’t forget to visit us this weekend! Stop by Avant Gardening & Landscaping’s booth #409 at the NARI Madison Remodeling Expo Jan. 20-22. For more information check out http://www.nariexpo.com/
Many Wisconsin gardeners believe four-season interest means they’re limited to evergreens, but there are many other options! The three plants listed below are top favorites because they have either unique berries, bark or other interesting element in the winter – and they’re not evergreens!
1. Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) has glossy leaves that emerge and remain attractive all season. Fragrant flowers bloom late in the season, followed by small fruits surrounded by a bright red/magenta calyx produces a late fall display. Light brown exfoliating bark adds winter interest.
Zone: 5 to 9 Height: 15-20 feet Spread: 8-10 feet Attracts: Hummingbirds
2. Vernal Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) is an early-flowering shrub. The orange-red flowers have strap-like petals that curl inward on chilly days (an adaptive mechanism to protect from freezing). The oval-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow/orange in fall and often hang on through winter.
Zone: 4 to 8 Height: 6-10 feet Spread: 8-15 feet Tolerate: Deer, Erosion, Clay Soil
3. Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic’) exhibits white flower clusters in spring and dark green leaves through summer. The astringent berries contain about 3X MORE ANTIOXIDANTS than blueberries! Excellent fall color ranges from bright orange to reddish-purple. Fruit clusters persist into January.
Zone: 3 to 8 Height: 3-6 feet Spread: 4-7 feet Suggested Use: Natural, Rain Garden
Do you have a large Dogwood, Viburnum or other suckering plant that is outgrowing its space? Dormant pruning maybe your solution!
What is dormant pruning?
Well what does “dormant” mean exactly… with regards to a plant or bud, “dormant” means: alive but not actively growing. Think of it like a hibernation period for plants, their normal functions are suspended or slowed down in the winter time.
Dormant pruning is strategic pruning (or trimming) that is done during a plant’s dormancy period – winter or early spring, before the buds break. The plant is pruned aggressively, reducing its overall size by thinning out the canes, removing dead, diseased and crossing branches.
Why is dormant pruning important?
Dormant pruning is a great practice to increase the overall health of your landscape. Pruning in general helps you control the size of a plant, growth pattern, and helps rejuvenate old overgrown plants.
Although the snow and bitterly cold wind chills might make you just want to hibernate as well… dormant pruning is typically the best time to prune plants. You are able to see the overall branch structure more easily, and the insects and disease-causing organisms are not active during this time of year.
What about trimming large trees?
Mature trees are especially important to ONLY dormant prune to prevent the spread of diseases. Various insects and diseases are attracted to fresh, open ‘bleeding’ cuts on trees. One prime example is with Oak trees. They should only be pruned after October 15th, but if possible it is best if they are dormant pruned when the picnic beetle is definitely not active. Oak Wilt is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. Picnic beetles are attracted to mats of the oak wilt fungus in infected trees, they pick up spores of the fungus on their bodies, and then carry the spores to healthy trees. The beetles are attracted to trees that have been recently wounded poorly timed pruning, and sometimes wind or storm damage.
What cannot be dormant pruned?
Evergreens, however, do not respond well to this type of pruning. Generally evergreens require very little pruning, especially since they are slower growing, but if necessary this should be done later in the spring or summer.
“The wise gardener anticipates June in January.” ~Author Unknown
Most of us in Madison, Wisconsin have already gone into hibernation – the below zero landscape outside and frigid wind chills make us cozy up inside and dream of spring (only venturing out if absolutely necessary!) But there are still plenty of things to keep us gardeners busy!
1. Take Down Your Holiday Tree
This is a task always dreaded in my family – but why not make it a positive experience by recycling it in your garden? Place your dried-out tree next to bird feeders and your feathery friends are sure to appreciate the added shelter and cover.
2. Appreciate Winter Landscape Beauty
You don’t even need to go outside for this one! Just by gazing out your window you can enjoy the twinkle of a fresh snowfall, finely textured plants frozen into lace, and seed heads with snowy caps. Ornamental Grasses (especially Panicum), Echinacea, Echinops, Liatris and Rudbeckia all provide great winter interest.
3. Water The Flowers Birds!
Bird watching can really help Wisconsin gardeners make it through the long winter season. Consider investing in a heated birdbath, even more so than food, birds need clean, open water for bathing and drinking. Now these birdbaths can even be solar powered!
4. Evaluate Your Garden’s “Bones”
The monochromatic setting can help you see the structure of your garden. Now is a good time to take notes and sketch on photographs of your landscape, think about where additional evergreens could be sited or how pretty an arbor and bench might be – perhaps some outdoor lighting accents to make the long nights less dark and depressing!
5. Take a Trip!
If you can’t escape to a tropical paradise, think about visiting a local substitute! Check out a conservatory like the Bolz Conservatory at Olbrich Botanical Gardens – a stroll through the warm, moist air on a sunny day is sure to make you forget about the inches of snow just on the other side of the glass! For more information: http://olbrich.org/gardens/conservatory.cfm
Nothing. Ha- Just kidding! We design of course!
As the temperatures in our Wisconsin landscape get bitterly cold, our skilled team of Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers remain available for design and master planning projects during the winter months. We can help you with that rain garden, retaining wall, outdoor landscape lighting or just some curb appeal that you’ve been putting off.
Beat the rush! It’s best to get started now if you want something done in spring!
We develop creative solutions for residential landscapes and commercial landscape projects in a wide range of aesthetic styles.
Which landscape styles speak to you?
- A woven tapestry of colors and textures of the New American Garden style
- Clean and simple elegance of Contemporary Minimalism
- Informal beauty of Prairie-Inspired Landscapes and Gravel Gardens
- Tranquility of Wisconsin Woodland Gardens
- Asymmetrical balance and harmony of Japanese-Style Landscapes
- Geometric, formal symmetry of Classic Traditional Landscapes
From smaller-scale garden design to landscape master planning, our team can help you visualize the Wisconsin landscape of your dreams. It is our responsive and immediate attention to the needs of our client that sets us apart from our competition.
How Does the Process Start?
Our iterative design process begins with a consultation. One of our experienced designers will meet with you to discuss your project. Yes, even when it’s snowing!
Things you may want to consider ahead of time:
- How do you want to use your outdoor space?
- What is your ultimate goal?
- Do you want space for entertaining?
- Would you like a place where children can play?
- Are there views that you want to enhance or screen?
- What is your comfortable level of garden maintenance?
- What is your budget and timeline?
Contact the Avant Design Team today! Send us an email to or give us a call at 608-838-2054. You can also reach out to us via our website’s
Contact Form to schedule a meeting.
PLUS – It’s fun to dream of spring when the it’s SO COLD out!