Garden Tour: Three-Part Harmony | Midwest Living

Garden Tour: Three-Part Harmony

Inspired by music, an Ohio designer composed a rhythmic sequence of plantings that hits all the right notes from early spring through frost.
  • Three-season garden

    Fragrant blossoms spill from crabapple trees in the spring garden of Ohio garden designer Bobbie Schwartz. Bobbie, an accomplished soprano, draws correlations between gardening and music to create three-season interest utilizing a plant's height, shape, color, foliage and texture, as well as the flower. "There's an artistry to putting it all together," says Bobbie, who has sung with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and has performed in Carnegie Hall and Europe.


  • High notes of spring

    Tulips provide color and shape repetition. Creeping phlox and rockcress 'Spring Charm' (front) blanket the stone edging with purple. 

    "You want to create a rhythm in the garden using color, size and shape," Bobbie says. "Think about any musical composition in which the orchestration is a melding of different instruments, tempi and ranges. Instead of those elements, I combine plants in the garden, choosing some to create crescendos and decrescendos, others to speed up here and slow down there." Tall plants or large groupings create the top of the crescendo while short or one-of-a-kind plants form the bottom of the decrescendo. 

    See more of Bobbie's spring favorites ahead.


  • Summer snowflake

    Nodding bell-shape flowers (Leucojum aestivum) on 9- to 14-inch stalks bloom all of April in Bobbie’s garden. “This is an underused but wonderful bulb,” she says. “It thrives in wet spots, accepts shade or sun, and naturalizes beautifully.” 

  • Tulip

    Bobbie plants both species and hybrid tulips, such as this graceful lily-flowering ‘Mariette’. To offset the fact that many hybrid tulips die like annuals, Bobbie plants new varieties each year in similar hues to ensure a compatible, ongoing mix.  

  • Anemone

    Six-inch white, blue or pink anemones (Anemone blanda) act as a skirt for taller bulbs. “They’re terribly underused,” Bobbie says. “The more you plant, the better.” Deer- and rabbit-resistant, these tiny bulbs prefer well-drained soil and full sun or light shade.

  • Cushion spurge

    This no-fuss plant (Euphorbia polychroma) offers different appeal each season. “It’s a favorite because it blooms early with bright yellow flowers, adds nice mounding contrast in summer and turns red in fall,” Bobbie says. Site this hardworking beauty in full sun or partial shade.

  • Hellebore

    Shade-loving ‘Red Racer’ (pictured) is considered a winner for its color and upfacing bloom. ‘Green Corsican’ and ‘Blue Lady’ are also notable performers. But Bobbie singles out sturdy, early-rising ‘Cinnamon Snow’ as her all-time favorite. This hybrid sports gorgeous blushed white flowers and even beats crocus as the first to bloom. 

  • Trillium

    This vigorous, clump-forming woodland native retains attractive leaves once its white flowers have faded. “It’s a much tougher plant than I would have ever guessed,” Bobbie says. “It even thrives in shady areas that don’t get much moisture.” 

  • Hits of summer

    A wave of various coneflowers creates movement by drawing attention to the repeated colors and shapes. See more of Bobbie's favorite summer plants on the following slides.

  • Sea holly

    Bobbie favors the thistlelike flower form and steel-blue color of sea holly blooms, particularly the variety ‘Blue Cap’ (shown). “It is a terrific plant for hot, dry, well-drained sites,” she says. “The plant adds interesting texture to the garden, too.” 

  • Culver's root

    This perennial’s unique form and 5-foot height stirs intrigue. “It has a different shape, almost like a candelabra, and the whorled leaves around the stem are unusual,” Bobbie says. White or pale purple blooms last midsummer to early fall. Plant in full sun or partial shade.

  • Clematis

    “I love the whole clematis family,” Bobbie says. “I let them grow on fences, up trellises and in shrubs and trees. Clematis integrifolias don’t have twiners; I let them crawl on the ground.” Though most clematis need full sun, partial shade works for ‘Comtesse de Bouchard’ (shown), a reliable climber with nonstop 3- to 4-inch flowers that bloom from June to September. 

  • Heuchera

    Nine to 12 months of attractive foliage launched heuchera to the top of Bobbie’s plant list. "I'm a big fan of Heuchera villosa," she says. "They're tough and very drought-resistant. 'Georgia Peach' (shown) and 'Southern Comfort' have been two of the best for me. The colors are just amazing."

  • Japanese painted fern

    Highlighted with silver or maroon markings, this elegant fern grows 1–3 feet to brighten shady spots. 

  • Perennial geranium

    One of the longest bloomers, hardy geraniums tolerate various soil types and can take full sun or partial shade. Bobbie considers 'Azure Rush' (shown) and 'Rozanne' top choices because they bloom into fall.

  • Overflowing window box

    A window box overflows with tall purple angelonia, pink pentas, verbena 'Homestead Purple', sweet potato vine, calibrachoa 'Sweet Tart' and creeping Jenny 'Aurea'. 

  • Fall’s grand finale

    Ornamental grass 'All Gold', creeping Jenny 'Aurea' and juniper 'Eternal Gold' carry bold yellow through the garden. The next slides show more of Bonnie's favorite fall plants.

  • Heucherella

    A cross between heuchera and Tiarella, this easy-care groundcover jazzes up shady spots with strong leaf color spring to fall. The ‘Stoplight’ variety (shown) is one of many colors available.

  • Helenium

    Sun-loving flowers add orange and yellow hues from summer through late fall. Bobbie’s favorite is ‘Short and Sassy’ (shown), a compact, 12- to 18-inch dwarf that provides profuse blooms.

  • Toad lily

    “This plant is gorgeous, but you’ll need a big clump for impact because the orchidlike flowers are relatively small,” Bobbie says. Grow in partial shade. 

  • Yellow corydalis

    There are so many positives about this low-maintenance plant, including that it can grow 1–3 feet in part sun or shade, is deer resistant, blooms spring through fall, attracts birds and has lush foliage. 

  • Fountaingrass

    Graceful sprays distinguish this ornamental grass, which is particularly attractive from midsummer until frost when its soft plumes turn white, pink or red (depending on variety). Selections range from 1 to 5 feet tall. Plant in full sun or light shade. Be aware that this perennial can vigorously self-seed. 

  • Flowering tobacco

    Wonderfully fragrant, this sun-loving annual (Nicotiana sylvestris) can reach 5 feet with clusters of white trumpet-shape flowers. 

  • Fall-blooming anemone

    Fall-blooming anemone

    A happy addition to the autumn garden, anemones bear cheery poppylike flowers from late summer until frost. Plants prefer light shade, but tolerate full sun given sufficient moisture. Some grow to 5 feet, but many are shorter like this 18-inch ‘Pretty Lady Emily’ that Bobbie mixes with fall chrysanthemums.

  • Sedum 'T Rex'

    This sedum ages to a red-orange and retains strong stems.

  • Years of fine-tuning

    Structuring Bobbie's garden for three full seasonal acts has involved 32 years of fine-tuning. When she and husband Niki purchased their 1924 French Norman house in Shaker Heights, it was one of 29 homes registered as historic landmarks in a prestigious planned community. Though the house was architecturally impressive, the landscaping consisted of foundation plantings pruned into severe box and ball shapes and a backyard bed of black plastic covered with white rock.

    Everything except a magnolia, an azalea, two crabapples and some evergreen Pieris japonica shrubs came out, and Bobbie began a more expressive composition.

    She continues to improvise. “A lot of companies send me plants to trial, so I am often looking for a way to squeeze another one in,” says Bobbie, who keeps a database of the more than 3,000 plants she’s grown on the property. “I often walk around with a confused look, a plant in one hand and a shovel in the other. But eventually I’ll find a spot.”

    Whether a plant gets to keep that spot is the question. In Bobbie’s garden, every plant gets to audition, but only top performers get invited back. 

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