Are you creating a new garden or revamping an existing one? Planning is everything so you are not distracted when those garden centers open this spring. After a long winter you will want one of everything. Don’t be tempted. Decide what your final goal is. What is the final picture you are imagining? You want to create a harmonious, pleasing garden that draws your eye gradually from one bed to the next. This blog is rather long as I hope to provide you with lots of timely gardening tips. If you are looking for inspiration you might consider attending some of the Open Garden Days by The Garden Conservancy in your area. My garden is open on June 4th. I have also included links to many plants and places to order from.
When choosing new plants be sure to read the tags carefully. A plant that thrives in a rock garden will not survive in an area that is often wet. Know your growing zone. If you love a plant that has a very different growing zone it might mean you need to consider trying it as an annual or putting it in a container. Watch your garden area carefully to determine what direction your beds will be facing: South, Southwest etc. Consider whether you want a plant to have showy flowers, foliage or attractive seed heads.
Perennials return year after year while annuals are typically one and done although some will self seed. A perfect example of this is Verbena Bonariensis. It is an annual here in my Zone 5b garden but it vigorously self seeds. Be careful what you plant or you might be pulling it out for years to come. I found this out with Bee Balm which was quickly taking over every bed. So sad, since I love it.
Perennials and shrubs are typically the foundation of most gardens. Plan on a variety of leaf shapes as well as flower shapes to provide interest and encourage different types of pollinators. Plant in drifts of color to gently draw the eye around. I am a huge fan of the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyll who paid great attention to detail and loved planting drifts of color. She saw a garden not as merely a collection of plants but as a work of art.
I love Daylilies, okay maybe a bit obsessed with them but they provide color all season if you plant early, mid-season and late blooming varieties.
Consider mixing vegetables in among your beds. They smell great and not everything needs to flower. Curly Parsley and a various types of Basil: purple basil or thai basil for instance. Variety!
Try different color combinations. If you are color challenged look at a color wheel. Do you prefer pastels or brights? Do you like colors opposite each other like yellow and purple or next to each other. Strive for harmonious color. Experiment till you find something appealing. Find your style, maybe it’s a Japanese themed garden. Yes there are plants that work for that too!
You want to plant so you have a succession of blooms where one plant is immediately followed by another. One single plant cannot accomplish this task. You need to have a mixed garden including trees, shrubs, climbing plants, perennials, annuals and bulbs. Plant different varieties i.e. early-mid-late tulips for example. Peonies bloom next and then consider bulbs like Alliums that bloom after the Tulips and Daffodils but still in late spring. They last a long time and you can leave them up for interest even after their color fades. Plan so when your Daffodils fade that another plant will cover those dying leaves.
Are you looking to attract pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and birds? Research what will draw them in or talk to a professional. Hummingbirds like plants that they can get their ‘noses’ into like Crocosmia. Butterflies love flat surfaces to land on like coneflowers.
“Milkweed (Asclepias) flowers provide weeks fo nectar for Monarch Butterflies. This crucial plants what butterflies rely on exclusively for the first life stages: the females lay their eggs on it, and the caterpillars much on it for nutrition and protection (the plants noxious chemical compounds make the caterpillars taste repugnant to predators). It’s a symbiotic relationship: the nectar nourishes and gives energy to the butterfly, and the butterfly pollinates the milkweed. This important plant not only services Monarchs, it also benefits other pollinators and beneficial insects such as honeybees.” (from Gardenista.com)
Some plants have longer bloom time than others. One Rose might bloom and be done another will re-bloom all summer. Consider a rose that produces Hips to extend the season.
Do you want a cutting garden? Certain plants make great cut flowers, others not so much although they might look great in the garden. Decide what you want from your garden and then plan, prepare the soil then plant.
Now is the time to evaluate what worked last year and what you might want to change. Avoid planting 1 plant here and 1 there. Plants look better in groups or at least 3. Odd numbers not only work in interior design but also in the garden. Just like in interior design form and texture are as important as color when planning for a balanced garden. To be fair, I sometimes will buy 1 of something just to see if it will grow in my garden where I think I want it before I invest in more.
Often it is just a try and try again. Just because the water, sun and soil are right it doesn’t always ensure a positive outcome. I have no luck with Larkspur, Lavender or Hollyhocks for example and just when I think I’ve got it the way I want the squirrels, rabbits, voles or deer think differently. Best laid plans!
Consider a birdbath to provide water for not only the birds but the bees and butterflies.
Many gardening catalogs do the work for you if you aren’t comfortable selecting plants yourself. They sell plants by collection so this couldn’t be easier. The work has been done for you. (See Colorblends for Tulip collections; See White Flower Farm for Hosta collections, container collections and others.)
A simple way to plan your beds is to start with a basic plan of putting taller plants in the back, then middle then low and ground covers. Stake plants early that need it and remember don’t plant too close. I find it takes 3 years for a plant to come into its own. Allow for that space or you will constantly be pulling things out as they get too crowded and overgrown. As plants or shrubs grow fill in the gaps but don’t feel you must stick to the tall-middle-low design. Coleus add great pops of summer color and you can always pop them in containers for height. Experiment, mix it up. Adjust your color palette till you like it.
Don’t forget about shrubs and grasses. Remember you will see your garden in the winter too. Consider evergreens, arbors, sculpture etc. Provide some winter interest. Inkberry shrub is an evergreen and a better option than Boxwood which in recent years has been plagued with issues. Shrubs provide structure and a solid background to the garden. Foliage in a variety of shapes lends elegance to your garden and unifies the overall cohesiveness of a space. An evergreen shrub might be the major anchor plant in a bed while the surrounding plants play a supporting role. Some shrubs are evergreen and as it says, will stay green all year around while others are deciduous and lose their leaves in the winter. Provide a mix of both. Here’s a link to my blog on Shrubs.
Each bed should really be a nice balance of shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals and even trees. Even my annual cutting bed is bordered by shrubs and grasses. This is usually where I grow my Tulips then transition to Dahlias, (sources for Dahlias: Old House Gardens and Swan Island Dahlias) Zinnias and a few containers filled with Parsley and Tomatoes.
If you love to cook grow your own herbs. Think about where you place them so they are convenient to grab for cooking. I grow basil, chives, thyme, tarragon, and parsley in containers. Rosemary and oregano go in the ground. I like to have herbs all winter so I freeze chives, tarragon, parsley and thyme and make pesto with all the basil we haven’t eaten by late fall. Margaret Roach on her blog describes different methods to freeze herbs. A Way to Garden
Gardens go all the way till winter here in Connecticut so plan your calendar for bloom from April thru late fall. This might include Muscari, Daffodils and Tulips to Iris, Peonies, Bleeding Hearts and Roses and Azaleas onto Yarrow, Coneflowers, Dahlias, Asters and Black Eyed Susan, Astilbe, Agastache and of course Hydrangeas.
Do you have issues with deer? There are many plants that are deer resistant, but when hungry they’ll eat anything if you don’t have a fence. Personally, rabbits and voles are the most common predators in my garden. Bears wander thru but don’t usually stop.
I always consider foliage when selecting shrubs.
Amsonia turns a gorgeous gold in fall as does Spirea Ogon. Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves turn a vibrant red. Kousa Dogwood starts with white flowers in spring then red berry fruits in September and October with the leaves transitioning to a lovely rust. Red Twig Dogwood provides interest all year. When the foliage is gone you are left all winter with bright red branches lighting up the snow. Evergreens come in many colors too. Mix it up and change up shapes too.
Grasses too change all season and I love them! In the last few years I have added more and more to my gardens and leave most standing all winter and cut them back in early spring before the new growth starts. They span the entire color wheel.
Fill in any holes that develop with containers filled with annuals which bloom long and vibrant all summer vs. perennials which typically bloom once.
Your goal should be to have a succession of blooms so pollen and nectar are available all season, especially in early spring when it can be hard for pollinators to come by food from other sources. The bright colors of early spring will attract them.
If in doubt, plan to visit local gardens, attend the Open Days from The Garden Conservancy in your area. They are all a wealth of ideas.
I have provided links to many of the plants mentioned to help you see what they look like. You can also check out the Proven Winners website to see plants and their description. I have no affiliation with any company or garden center.
Places I like in NW Connecticut: Old Farm Nursery; White Flower Farm; Fall Village Flower Farm; Litchfield Nursery
Ideas for Spring: Source for spring bulbs: John Scheepers
Snowdrops, Fritillaria, Muscari, Tulips, Narcissus, Pussy Willow, Lilacs, Camassia, Peonies, Iris, Phlox (spring and summer), Salvia, Viburnum, Dogwood
Ideas for Summer:
Roses, Daylilies, Daisies, Dahlias, Yarrow, Astilbe, Grasses, Hosta, Catmint (my personal favorite), Penstemon, Lilies, Coneflowers, Zinnias, Hydrangeas (choose multiple varieties so they bloom at different times), Clethra, Clematis, Black-Eyed Susans
Ideas for Fall:
Asters, Anemone, Hydrangeas, Goldenrod, Russian Sage, Sedum, Callicarpa (Beautyberry), Sunflowers
I will gladly answers any questions that I can. I could go on forever. If there is something you want me to write more about just drop it in the comments.
Gardeners are forever learning so you will find me constantly reading new books and magazines on the subject. I have included below some references you might find helpful in your gardening journey:
A Way to Garden by Margaret Roach
DIRR’S Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs by Michael Dirr
Right Plant, Right Place by Nicola Ferguson
Are you interested in travel: See Why do we Travel?