Your patio and its landscaping are an extension of your indoor living area. Therefore, they justify the thought needed to make this outdoor room as attractive as possible.
Ideally, its best to start by sketching out a rough plan for your patio/garden area and trying to stick with it. Look at the overall color scheme you are going to install (or already have) so you dont have a jarring mix of bushes or trees in the yellow, variegated and blue families.
Short evergreen shrubs anchor the patios perimeter and give you green lushness in the winter. Add fragrance to the evergreen attribute with winter-hardy gardenias (Kleims Hardy or Chuck Hayes), add color with either dwarf gumpo, regular azaleas or rhododendrons, to mention a few bushes.
Other evergreen choices are needled conifers, many of which have yellow or chartreuse-yellow bred into them. A focal point of a gold thread cypress or yellow-edged hinoiki cypress, with their fresh now hues, can be very exciting and add color year around. Plus, evergreen plantings are very low maintenance.
Select plants that grow taller if you want a privacy screen: aucuba (6), Knockout Rose Blushing (disease-free 5 bush which will bloom from May to November), privet, and legustrum are a few examples. Boxwood is also a handsome shrub for edging, and comes in a wide choice of heights, colors and growth rates.
A small deciduous flowering tree like a crepe myrtle, Japanese holly (no prickles), laceleaf Japanese maple or dogwood gives your patio some shade and height, if desired.
Remember to add plants that will give you beautiful color in the fall, like a compact burning bush (Euonymus alatus Rudy Hoog, 3-5 tall x 3-5 wide). For winter interest, install a plant that has colorful berries for the birds (holly) and holds snow. Tall, perennial plume grass looks handsome throughout the cold weather.
With your evergreen bones planted, now comes the fun part (if you like gardening) … namely, flowers! If you decide you want flowers (perennials, bulbs or annuals), put the short ones near the patio, getting taller as you go further back. With flower color, it is best to plant large groupings together for color mass (7 to 11 each). Plant flowers which will bloom throughout spring, summer and fall for year-round color. And leave room for an access path if your garden is particularly wide.
Nancy Burns is owner of Garden Ideas, and president of the Belle Haven Garden Club. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.329.1899.