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Year-Round Gardens Delight in All Seasons

Natural landscaping or more formal designs can provide color and interesting textures for fall and winter enjoyment

'TOO many people think the garden season ends with Labor Day,'' Susan Dumaine tells visitors. The tone of her voice and barely perceptible shake of the head hints at the impatience she feels with a mind-set locked into believing that gardening is a spring and summertime activity only, ``when it should be year round, even in New England.'' She offers her own 30-year-old garden on the outskirts of greater Boston as evidence.

The paramount need, she notes, is to educate people about year-round gardens, and to this end she occasionally opens her garden to the public, as she has on this day. In nearby Brookline, Diane Dalton feels the same way, which is why her garden is also on a tour sponsored by the Arnold Arboretum, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, New England Wild Flower Society, Wellesley College, and Worcester County Horticultural Society.

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The purpose of the tour is to raise funds for the Children's Volunteer Symposium in February 1994, designed to refine teaching skills in horticulture.

The Dumaine and Dalton gardens represent a contrast in styles. Both are heavily wooded but where Mrs. Dumaine has maintained a natural look, managing the woodland rather than changing it, Mrs. Dalton has cut occasional openings in the tree cover, where the sun streams through unimpeded and more formal landscapes take hold. But the effect on visitors is the same: gardens that rest and refresh, whatever the season.

In the year-round garden, hardy perennials - both woody ones and the soft herbacious types - predominate, though there's often room for flowering annuals to be inserted each spring. While flowers may steal the show in spring and summer, fall foliage offers eye appeal not to be overlooked.

The great English gardener Gertrude Jekyll, whose 150th birthday will be marked on both sides of the Atlantic this November 29, taught generations of gardeners to delight in the various shades and textures of green. Dumaine is no exception. ``What's so exciting is seeing what green really is,'' she says pointing to the sedums and other plants covering a rocky outcrop in her garden. The same appreciation of green is obvious in Dalton's garden, where hostas of every type and tint make up the dominant shady ground cover.

And then there are the seed pods. ``Don't rush out with pruning shears and remove every dead flower head,'' Dumaine cautions. ``Check first. If the seed pod develops into a thing of beauty, then leave it on. That way your plants do double duty.'' And, she notes, seed pods ``generally stay attractive a lot longer than the original flowers did.'' In her own garden she points to the ``dolls eyes'' seeds of the white baneberry plant, the deep scarlet pods of jack-in-the-pulpit, and the dogwood fruits that, depending on species, come in shades of red, white, and blue.

AS in the forests of New England, fall is a peak color period in the year-round garden. ``Leaf color generally starts from the top and works its way down,'' Dumaine notes. ``We start by looking up,'' she says, ``and in the end we're looking down at the bushes and the ground covers,'' and the enjoyment of fall's leaf parade stretches over several weeks.

Ornamental grasses, which have grown in popularity in North American in recent years, have their own unique contributions to make to the year-round garden, Dalton points out. They come into their own several weeks before the trees turn color and continue long after the leaves have fallen. Dalton appreciates them for their soft architectural form, subtly varying rust colors, ``and the way the wind plays with them in wonderful, wonderful ways.''

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When the ornamental grasses have succumbed to the harsher elements of winter and only a few hardy seed pods remain to provide color, the overall shape and style of the garden becomes important. In Dalton's view, the varying heights of trees and shrubs in relation to each other can be immensely pleasing, especially when viewed against a snowy background. And then there is the color and texture of bark, overlooked for most of the year but starkly visible in winter.

The fetterbush, for example, displays red stems all winter long, and the golden birch tree, among others, boasts a bronze, speckled bark that peels and curls into attractive forms. Even the sycamore, also known as the London plain tree, sheds some of its bark to provide a pleasing patchwork look to the trunk and branches.

The year-round garden should be close to the house. While the cutting garden and the vegetable plot can be left to enjoy the sun behind the garage or another out-of-the-way place, in winter, the year-round garden should be appreciated from the comfort of the living room.

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