The Joy of Seasonal “Emblems” in our Gardens

What do I mean by a Seasonal Emblem?

Think tulips in spring.

Sunflowers in summer.

Chrysanthemums in fall,

and holly with bright red berries in winter.

Seasonal emblems can be universal, but they can also be entirely personal and place-dependent.

Here at Maplehurst, there is the pink magnolia blossom in spring, the tall trumpet lilies in summer, the dahlias in fall, and the coral berries of the ‘Wintergold’ shrubs in, yes, winter. When I lived in Florida, summer was for the bright foliage of caladiums and winter was for orange blossom.

An emblem of a season is a snapshot, an image, and a powerful distillation of the season itself. It is not the plant that blooms and blooms from spring till frost.

Emblems are more ephemeral than that.


I’ve been reading a book by Kelly Norris called New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden.

This book has been helpful for me because it emphasizes the ecological function of plants rather than their ornamental attributes.

If you are like me, you design your garden or imagine new planting possibilities by thinking of favorite blooms and much-loved colors. But Norris is challenging me–indeed my own garden has been challenging me–to think more about year-round function.

Instead of asking myself, what color flower do I want here? I am learning to ask questions like,

What plant will cover the soil and shade out weeds in this bed?

What plants will provide long-lasting structure?

What plant will shoot up quickly in spring in order to out-compete the weeds before fading away to let the summer perennials take over?

But as critical as such questions are, it is also important to ask ourselves:

What will greet me in spring when the long winter is finally over?

What says summer to me?

And what will I anticipate all summer long before it finally emerges in the fall?


In other words, in our search for plants that look great all year round, we must not neglect the “emblems” of each season.

As Norris puts it,

A garden without these seasonal pacesetters can lack rhythm and start to look more like the mass-produced landscapes of the commercial world than the kinds of lovingly crafted creations better suited for home.

What sets the pace in your garden?

What are the emblems you love best?

Explore all our Black Barn Garden Library posts here.


Posted on

February 22, 2021

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