Year round color is an elusive goal in climates with hard winters unless the focus is directed to something other than plants. Conifers, of course, have twelve months of color but so do walls, structures, and furnishings.


Curved and painted concrete wall outside kitchen and living room; gravel floor;  Jinko (Los Angeles); 4/5/15

Curved and painted concrete wall outside kitchen and living room

How much color you want in your landscape depends on how daring you are. When I was in California this past spring, I dined at a home where the owners were redesigning their back yard. In the process, they had built a stucco (we could do concrete) seat wall that was painted bright orange.

Color in shade: Painted wall with mirror; Little and Lewis; 8/02

Blue wall with mirrors and other artwork at Little and Lewis studio

If orange is not your color, what about a bright blue wall? Any color would brighten shade but if you add mirrors, to catch light and reflections, and some comfortable chairs, everyone will be drawn outside in good weather and in bad weather, the wall will cheer you up.

Dark bronze horse sculptures need pale yellow stucco wall as background; CBG;  8/24/10

Dark bronze horse sculptures need pale yellow stucco wall as background

Perhaps you want some color but not an entire wall. You could build a small wall panel, paint it a soft pastel that you like, and place some artwork or sculpture in front of it that you will see year round through your windows.


You can add year round color to your landscape more easily and with less expense by purchasing or making colorful structures. Since you will see them through your windows, I suggest coordinating the color with the colors you used in your home’s interior as well as the colors of the plants in your landscape.

Painted obelisk with Lychnis coronaria and roses'; color echo; Nat'l Arboretum (D.C.); 6/2/14

Painted obelisk with Lychnis coronaria and roses in National Arboretum garden last summer

I love obelisks for their triangular shape. Metal ones can sometimes be purchased in bright colors but if the color is one not to your liking, there is always spray paint. Wooden ones, of course, need more maintenance, particularly if you plan to leave them outside during the winter, but they do have more presence.

Ribbon "door" to pergola; Walton; Hudson; 6/12/10

Ribbon “door” to pergola

I’m a big fan of pergolas and they can be painted any color. There are no horticultural police that demand they be white, gray, or black. A very creative homeowner in Hudson, Ohio has a pergola facing her conifer and vegetable gardens. At either end, she hung a series of ribbons as a flexible door to emphasize the perception of entering a space.

Arbors are similar to pergolas but can be short or long and made out of virtually any material. I was particularly struck by the beauty of a metal one painted an aqua blue. It was situated on a piece of land near one of the Michigan lakes and can be seen from within the house all year round.

Gazebo with blue curtains and cushions at end of path; color;  PPA-Ada Hofman Garden (Aquatic Botanic Garden)-Enschede; 8/9/12

Gazebo with blue curtains and cushions

Do you have a gazebo that is seen from the house? You could add colorful curtains to give it year round charm. Many families have sheds in their back yards to house tools and furniture but most of them are quite undistinguished. There are an unlimited number of color schemes that could be used to perk up a shed. 


Colorful metal sculpture; color echo: sculpture and Hemerocallis; Bedrock Gardens (Jill Nooney - Maine); 7/9/12

Colorful metal sculpture sculpture by Jill Nooney in her Maine garden

Colorful sculptures will always be welcome in landscapes. They can correspond with the colors in the garden and then lift your spirits during the rest of the year. 

18405 front inner walk bed: Geranium psilostemon, Papaver orientale 'Perry's White', turquoise pot'; 6/9/09

My turquoise pot in June

Let us not forgot the importance of containers or tables and chairs. I have a turquoise pot in my garden that I never fill because I want viewers to see the pot, not the plants that could be in it. It is more visible in the late fall, winter, and early spring when most of the plants around it have gone dormant.

Back garden view from porch: Hibiscus 'Plum Crazy', Lobelia siphilitica; pink chairs'; Savin; 8/12/15

Hot pink chairs from which to view the garden

One of my clients loves hot colors so she painted her antique chairs hot pink. During the growing season, the garden is a riot of hot pink, violet, and orange. They could be left out as reminders of past glories and glories yet to come.


Finally we get to plants. Remember that conifers are evergreen or evercolor. Many remain the same color but some do have a different winter color. For instance, Microbiota decussata (Siberian Cypress) changes to a plum purple for the winter. So do several junipers. The conifer family is enormous so keep in mind that conifers can be blue, yellow, variegated with white or yellow, or varying shades of green. Sprinkled around the landscape, they can be the backbone of your garden and will keep you looking out the windows.