Considering my outdoor landscape and making some changes wasn’t an official New Year’s resolution of mine. But it’s the one I’ve kept. I’ve thought about outdoor containers for decks, patios and walkways, maybe building an arbor and a trellis or two, and of course, making my lawn more water wise or getting rid of it completely. Now I’m ready to think about adding a flower garden or maybe a border along the fence or against the hedge.
Where to start? What’s to consider even before you start to think about where your flower bed might go?
I’d recommend horticulturist James C. Schmidt’s article “Designing A Flower Garden” (PDF) over at the University of Illinois’ extension service site. Schmidt suggests you ask yourself some basic questions, including your reasons for wanting to plant a flower bed — for spring color? year-round beauty? to attract hummingbirds and other pollinators? — and how much time you’ll have to take care of it. The piece also addresses getting your soil ready and choosing the best plants for your area. Go check it out.
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Then comes design. I knew I was more interested in a less formal, natural-looking flower garden, possibly bordered by set stone. At first I thought I’d just cut a box out of what’s left of the lawn and plant it. This would not only add interest but get rid of even more water-thirsty grass. But it wasn’t that simple.
It was kindly suggested to me (I won’t mention my wife’s name) that a box was dull and I should consider something of an oval or crescent or give it the curved shape of some exotic island. I began to think of the bed as an island, with a welcoming cove. The shape was more conducive to the natural look I was shooting for. When I began to consider how and from where the plot would be viewed, I knew which direction that cove would be on. It would face the kitchen window and the deck from where we could sit and admire it.
This is where graph paper comes in handy. Designing your flower garden on graph paper can be quite a bit of fun. And it’s a lot easier to erase plantings from the page or starting over with a fresh sheet of paper than it is to dig up something you’ve carefully transplanted. There are various aps and programs online, some of them free, that help you design your garden on screen.
The garden bed would be in direct sun most of the time, even if that land it was on tilts a little north. Did I want my tallest plants in the center surrounded by shorter plants? Did I want the taller plants in the back, away from the side facing the deck and kitchen window?
Eventually, after drawing several diagrams, I decided that it would be a little bit of both. Putting the big plants in back and moving towards the viewing area with progressively smaller plants seems reasonable. But it also, I ‘m told (again without mentioning my wife’s name) it could be boring. She’s right. My latest drawing contains pockets of large and small in different places.
The “big-in-the-back” method is commonly seen in border gardens. Some people like its “marching soldier” resemblance. It gives the effect of a flower parade coming your way, especially when smaller, wider plants are put forward. But then, often dictated by posts of shade and sunlight, mixing plants of various sizes can also be attractive. And, as my wife says, more interesting.
I’ve decided on a cluster of smaller plants at the point where the fence and hedge come together and provide some shade. Considering the light, I’ll be choosing plants accordingly. Here’s a good general guide to border planting, even if it does keep to the traditional, big-in-back method.
My main consideration in choosing plants for both my bed and border will be their water consumption. What plants will give me the look I want, and that includes flowers, without requiring a lot of water? Is it possible to have color in the late summer, when conditions are at their driest. I’ll take any advice, including pictures, from your flower beds.