Flowerbed Design

I hope that you had had the opportunity and time to view my outlining your flower beds and understand the need for proper planning and outlining prior to actually designing the contents of your flowerbeds. If you are ready, let’s move onto the flowerbed design.
When considering a new flowerbed or overhauling an old one, gardeners first thought is usually to run to the garden center and buy the plants/shrubs. After all, that is really the fun part. I know…that is usually my first thought. Once the new plants are scattered on the lawn or in the garage, we tend to move onto the outlining of the flowerbed (deciding on the shape and size), digging the flowerbed and of course amending the soil. Ahhh…but there is more to consider.

10 Elements to Consider

There are always new trends in gardening and every gardening magazine seems to have their own opinion on how best to design a flowerbed. On this page I will give you my basic elements to consider for your next flowerbed design…at least the ones that I follow. But, before I start remember one thing…ok two things: start off with what you can handle and you really can’t make a mistake. Plants are transportable and designs can be changed. Before you delve into the ‘blooming’ part of the process and not including the digging, amending the soil and edging, let’s discuss the style of your home. What has the style of your home got to do with flowerbed design? Lots. Read on…

Basic Element 1: Style of Location

Even before you contemplate your plant purchase or start scribbling down a design on paper, step outside your house and take a look: what is the style of you home? Ranch? Traditional? Country? Modern? Your landscaping should reflect the style of your house. After having said that, I did see a ‘country garden’ in back of a very modern square box house. The gardens did look out of place with respect to the style of the house, but nevertheless were beautiful. Once the style is decided, try not to mix up the style, meaning don’t mix a formal garden (structured and straight lines) with a country flower garden (flowing freely and curved )…unless you have plenty of space and can use garden separators (like hedging, arbors or a tree line). Also, once you have determined your style choosing your plants is so much easier. My house is a single level bungalow and ergo my flowerbed gardens have a country free flowing theme.

Basic Element 2: Size

A common misstep for many gardeners is designing a flowerbed that is too narrow (unless it’s a strip border, like along a driveway). Ergo, when designing your flowerbeds, I use a good rule of thumb: A flowerbed should be designed twice the depth as its tallest plant. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
That being said, try to keep your flowerbeds in the 5 to 6 feet deep range. If you need to create a deeper flowerbed, try adding some stepping stones so that you are not compacting the soil as you work with your plants or shrubs. I find that adding stepping stones also helps after a rainfall when the soil is saturated and you need to get to that background/anchor shrub.

Basic Element 3: Growth and Height

Before you run to the garden center to purchase your new favorite plants or shrubs, take the time to consider their mature size and their growth habit. Many a gardener has been surprised by the all too quick growth of some shrubs. So, whether you plant for the edge of a pond or against a fence, size does matter. For example: The Joe Pye Weed or the Butterfly Bush can both start off as smaller perennials when first planted, but boy do they grow in size and it doesn’t take very long either. Yes, they are planted at the back of the flowerbed garden (called background shrubs/plants). Plant smaller shrubs like spreading evergreens, carpet roses along the front or sides.

Basic Element: 4 Color Contrast and Harmony

When designing/deciding on plant color, any loved color can be used. Just make sure the colors flow seamlessly from flowerbed to flowerbed or even within a single flowerbed. For example: colors that are close on the color wheel harmonize quite nicely. Red, orange and yellow are warm colors, while blue, green and purple are cool colors. Warm colors are opposite to the cool colors on the color wheel. See my Selecting Plants Page for more information on choosing flower colors. At times transition or blending colors are needed. I use transition plants with silver, white like the annual Dusty Miller, the perennial Artemisia Silver Brocade or the pretty dainty annual Alyssum.
However, with every suggested rule of flowerbed color planning there comes an individual’s choice. For example: I planted contrast colors right beside each other; the orange Calendula’s alongside the Sedum Dragon’s Blood. When not in bloom, the Sedum acts as a succulent ground cover and when in bloom the contrast is striking. I like it!

Basic Element 5: Texture

Consider the use of different plant textures and shapes when designing, like the velvety Lamb’s Ear, or the Palm Sedges for a graceful sway in the wind. Even planting the Ligularia Othello with its large leaves and tropical flowers adds contrast.

Basic Element 6: Using Shrubbery

I am a believer in including shrubs in a garden design. Use shrubs, some flowering, some with leaf changing color and some with variegated leaves offer added color. Such shrubs are: dwarf shrubs like the Korean Lilac, which has beautiful foliage once the blooming is done and the Weigela Florida Variegated or the Euonymus Emerald Gold . Again, this is just another variety to include in your flowerbeds. Mix it up!

Basic Element 7: Bloom Time

Besides choosing the plants for your garden design theme, consideration should be given to the bloom time. Everyone will enjoy seeing color in your flowerbed gardens from spring until the first frost. For instance: try planting for a blooming sequence for every season. Spring for bulbs or the Leopards Bane with it’s bright yellow daisy-like blooms, or the Welchs Reward Iris, brilliant yellow and deep purple flowers or the Salvia Eveline with tall spikes of lavender blue flowers. Summer bloomers are multiple in numbers, check out my site index for a list, as are the fall bloomers.

Basic Element 8: Mix it Up

I prefer to be a bit of a rebel in gardening circles when it comes to height in the garden. Don’t be afraid to mix heights; I have smaller plants tucked in amongst the middle size plants. This gives the garden its fullness and depth. However, in most cases it is suggested to plant in garden levels or tiers, like a wedding cake. You can achieve this by plant selection (short, medium, tall) or by mounding the soil higher. Layering works well too especially for planting on top of your spring bulbs.

Basic Element 9: Include fragrance

I happen to love walking past my Foxi Pavement Rose and smell the sweet fragrance that emits from every bloom. And then there is the Dwarf Korean Lilac shrub, a re-bloomer or rubbing the leaves of the Lemon Balm. So many fragrant annuals and perennials to choose from…one of my favorite is still the sweet smell of the Monarda, always reminding me of my favorite tea, Earl Grey.

Basic Element 10: Attract Wildlife

Attract wildlife and birds to your flowerbeds. And I don’t mean deer and rabbits…unless you really want to. When we still had our larger pond we were lucky or not (the poop droppings on the rocks) to have the male and female Wood Ducks swimming in our pond for a few days every spring. To attract the birds, provide them with water or sand bird baths, feeders and bird houses. Nothing is more enjoyable than watching the Solitary Sandpiper bobbing it’s head up and down at the pond’s edge or the Red Throated Hummingbirds hovering over the tubular blooms of the Salvia Lady In Red.

Other Flowerbed Design Ideas

That’s not to say that you want to encourage mildew to develop, but I do plant close together, except where the plant require more space for circulation like the annual Gazania (always read the tags).I plan for fillers. Why not consider planting more of the succulents like Sedum Angelina or Hens and Chicks. They are low maintenance and great fillers for those empty spots. Try planning for a natural look.
If you are like me and have a water feature, make sure to include pond edging plants. A favorite for me is the Quick Fire Hardy Hydrangea. Eventually this shrub will hang beautifully alongside the pond’s edge. I also planted the Virgina Creeper Vine. This vine meanders through the stones, dipping its ends in the water. And let’s not forget about the Arctic Blue Willow. Wispy long blue-green branches that will hang softly over the waterfall. All this softens the pond’s stone edge. The same goes for a water feature in a container. Plant water plants that grow tall and wispy like Palm Sedges. Plan for containers.
Please don’t discount using container planters if you have a large flowerbed. Containers are not just for small gardens, patios and balconies! I tuck planters into my flowerbeds wherever I have a bare spot. Sometimes a shrub is under performing and needs a little hiding or an area that takes a little longer in the spring to get going.

Other Garden Design Tips

Create focal/conversation points in your gardens like a sun dial, a specimen plant or a sculpture. Use lighting (low voltage if you can) within your flowerbeds. We have a low voltage light shining up at the larger evergreen. Makes for great evening shadows and gives the tree a prominent nighttime presence. I also have a low voltage light shining up at the Siberian Larch as well as the lilac tree. This brings the eye to the very back of the garden/property. Our back trees are staggered back toward our garden house.

If you create paths within your flowerbeds, make your paths wide enough and use some color (we use the red bark mulch). Nothing is worse than narrow walkways. Makes a person hurry through your garden instead of capturing every last fragrant, beautiful bloom.
Create smaller vignettes (rooms)(if you have the space) within your flowerbeds and gardens. Then place a conversation piece or focal points within the room like a bench, bistro set, birdbath or any garden sculpture. The rooms become a pleasant place to sit and ponder life or just view your garden masterpiece. A very important design tip to remember…plant in clusters, rather than in rows and within the clusters insert small gazing globes. The birds just love to sit and peck at their own image and I get to see the garden’s reflection.

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