Finally, why write off the yard in fall and winter? Increasingly, ambitious landscapers crave what Beaulieu calls "four-season interest." In all but the most inhospitable climates, it's possible to preserve at least some aesthetic appeal in the yard 365 days a year.
He suggests planting some early-flowering shrubs that will brighten up the landscape in March and April. Add a long-blooming tree to spark up the show in summer, then bring in some fall-foliage superstars, like the American maple or the even hotter Japanese maple, which takes on gorgeous maroon and crimson finery in the autumn.
And for winter, the most challenging of seasons for any gardener, go with deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees that have unusual branching patterns. A real eye-catcher is the oddly named Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, a contorted, corkscrewy tree that looks like an outtake from Edward Scissorhands. "It's really bizarre, so twisted and gnarled," says Beaulieu. "But when its leaves are gone in winter, it looks great."
Faced with all these wonderful ideas, you may think to yourself, Who's got time to pull this off? But according to Reeves, we could all profit by spending more time in the yard.
"Gardening is therapeutic," he says. "When you've had a bad day at work, it's one of the best ways to recharge. Get something to drink, go see what happened to the tomatoes and pansies that day. Pull a weed or two. So many things are out of control in our lives; you can have more control in the garden."
Toro Super Blower Vac 51591. Unless you've got a lot of real estate to cover, electric-powered blowers are a good choice because they're generally quieter - and, of course, cleaner - than gas units. This one has an easy changeover from blower to vacuum mode. $80 at Lowe's
Clint’s Dandy Digger. If your back protests every time you pull a weed, treat yourself to this simple panacea. $10-$50 depending on handle length, (360) 681-0101, www.clintsdandydigger.com
Troy-Bilt 6.5hp Chipper Shredder Vac Self Propelled Model. A three-in-one unit with vacuum nozzle, chipper chute, and shredder. It also has a 3-inch chipping capacity, and holds 3-bushel bags of material. About $750 at Lowe’s or at www.amazon.com
Felco Hand Pruner. From the forged aluminum alloy handles to the wire-cutting notch on most models, this is the industry standard. $25-$65, (425) 488-3263, www.felcousa.com or www.amazon.com
What to plant? When to plant it? Here’s a list of books to help veteran gardeners and budding beginners — whatever the region.
- Complete Idiot’s Guide to Landscaping (Alpha, $19), illustrated by Joel M. Lerner
- Georgia Gardener’s Guide (Cool Springs Press, $25), by Walter Reeves
- The New England Gardener's Book of Lists (Taylor Trade Publishing, $18), by Karan Davis Cutler
- Pat Welsh's Southern California Gardening: A Month-by-Month Guide (Chronicle Books, LLC, $30), by Pat Welsh
- Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guides: Cold Climate Gardening (Houghton Mifflin Company, $14), by Rebecca Atwater Briccetti
- Texas Gardening the Natural Way: The Complete Handbook (University of Texas Press, $35), by Howard Garrett