Landscaping a yard often seems like a monumental task, but simplifying the process is not difficult. A mix of foliage color and texture, combined with height differences will quickly add interest to the garden. The garden framework can be set by planting trees initially, then following with shrubs and perennials.
Conifers provide a strong design structure in the landscape. A good rule of thumb is that at least one third of the ornamental plants in a garden should be evergreen.
Cryptomeria japonica "Elegans" is a gorgeous evergreen tree that makes a good background for other plants. Elegans has a broadly pyramidal form with lush, almost fern like delicate foliage. This tree develops an attractive reddish flush during the winter. The rest of the year it is dark green with slight silvery highlights. This is a good selection for a center focal point tree. It will grow up to 20 feet tall, and is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 8.
Picea pungens "Globosa" (Dwarf Blue Spruce) is silvery blue in color, making it a great foil for other plants with purple or dark green foliage. It grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, and is hardy in zones 3 through 8. Globosa works well a a mid-size shrub selection, planted next to other trees 10 to 20 feet tall.
Juniperus x pfitzeriana "Gold Coast" is a hybrid juniper variety with a needle color of bright yellow. The yellow coloration shades to paler green from the top of the plant down. The combination of shades makes this juniper blend well with other green trees and shrubs, and yet attractively contrast with them as well. It grows a modest 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Gold Coast is hardy in zones 4 through 9.
Deciduous trees add seasonal interest, provide shade in some cases, and look spectacular interplanted with other different colored shrubs.
Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple) has a number of varying forms and sizes. Taller varieties such as "Sango Kaku" and "Bloodgood" look good planted near taller coniferous trees. Weeping Japanese maple types only grow 4 to 6 feet tall on average, and can be planted with other small- and mid-sized shrubs such as dwarf spruce. These maples are some of the most widely adapted and overwhelmingly attractive trees for beginning gardeners to grow. Hardiness varies depending on variety, with most cultivars able to grow in zones 5 through 9.
Berberis thunbergii (Barberry) has a number of attractive variations. "Bagatelle" is dense and rounded, growing 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Leaf color is dark purple. "Aurea Nana" and "Gold Nugget" have a color that can only be described as screaming yellow, and grow 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Barberries of this size are used as a foreground shrub, planted in front of taller trees and shrubs. Most barberries are hardy in zones 5 through 9.
Cotinus coggygria (Purple Smoke Bush) is a good tall- to mid-sized shrub that responds well to pruning. Although it will reach 8 feet in height, a regular shearing in spring can maintain it at 4 to 6 feet. Pruning also promotes lush new foliage, which is a rich purple in color. Cotinus is hardy in zones 5 through 9.
Perennials should be mixed for foliage contrast and color. Evergreens such as creeping thyme and saxifrage make excellent ground covers, and have the advantage of fine foliage and delicate flowers. Taller perennials such as purple cone flowers and asters add late season color when they begin to bloom in mid summer to early fall. All of these perennial types are easy to grow and hardy in zones 4 through 8. Perennials should always be installed last, as their ultimate ornamental life is quite short compared to trees and shrubs, with flowering only happening a few weeks out of the year. As the garden matures, more perennial plants can be added.