Designing Flower Gardens

If all flower gardens have one thing in common, namely beautiful flowering plants, what is it that makes one garden more attractive than another? In almost every case, the best have strong underlying designs or structures.

The act of designing can be as simple as seeing a flower you like and deciding on the best place to plant it, or as complex as spending many hours poring over garden books, catalogs, and web sites to select plants, then drawing a detailed plan for where they will go. The latter method can be deeply satisfying, but entails hours of work. Let’s look as some possible ways to design a flower garden.

Year-Round Plant Buying

The simplest way, and a method many gardeners do not even think of as designing, is to visit nurseries and purchase plants in bloom that appeal to you. If your thought pattern is simply “That’s pretty. I want one,” you are only buying flowers. If you think “that yellow would look very nice under the purple-leaf smoke bush”, you are designing.

By visiting nurseries on a regular basis, perhaps every month, and buying plants that are in bloom then, and that will fit harmoniously into your garden, you will eventually have a garden that has something in bloom all through the growing season. If each of those purchases are carefully selected to fit in the garden, you will have a beautifully-designed garden that pleases you and your visitors. This type of design grows naturally and incrementally over the years, becoming more full and rich as time goes by.

Planning on Paper

A more controlled approach to designing flower gardens includes the step of planning. Planning usually involves mapping what you have, then adding plants to that map to make a flower garden on paper. It involves researching plants to find out what will bloom at the same time, how tall they will grow, and whether they will thrive in your garden. At its best, it also involves consideration of the colors, textures, and forms of the plants.

A design begins with a map, or plot plan, of your garden as it exists. This map is used as a canvas on which to paint patios, beds, paths, and trees. The actual “painting” is done on tracing paper laid over the map. This allows you to sketch and discard, to play with ideas and try many combinations.

Begin with rough ideas—a flower bed here, a private sitting area there. Before selecting plants, rough in the type of plant you want in a place and list its qualities. For example, you might want a patio tree to shade a small sitting area outside the master bedroom. It should be fairly small and open, perhaps with flowers in the spring, and not messy—there shouldn’t be any fruit to stain the patio.

The end result of planning is a garden plan or design, drawn to scale. Coupled with your imagination, the plan shows you what your flower garden will look like. It also becomes a shopping list for plants, and a blueprint for placing them in the garden.

Flower Beds and Borders

Beds and borders are parts of your garden devoted to flowers. A bed is surrounded by lawn or some other walking surface, and can be viewed from all sides. A border is bounded on one or more sides by a hedge, wall, or fence. It can only be viewed from one side.

An annual bed or border is dedicated to annual flowers. Annuals grow vigorously and bloom freely for the entire growing season. In mild-winter regions, annual borders can be planted twice a year—March or April with summer annuals, and again in September or October with winter annuals. In colder winter areas, where winter annuals will not survive the winter, annual beds are planted after the last spring frost and die with the first fall frost.

Annual beds are usually covered with flowers all season. Annuals bloom more freely than perennials, and for a longer period. Not needing to store up food for next year, they expend all their energy in making flowers.

Perennial beds (and borders) last for many years. The plants are usually taller than annuals,and are only in bloom for a part of the season. A well-designed perennial border changes from one color scheme to another as the growing season progresses, and different plants come into bloom. There are fewer flowers at any one time than in an annual bed, but there are usually enough to satisfy.

Mixed Borders

This catch-all phrase includes all the different ways plants can be mixed. Some perennial flowers planted at the front of an azalea border might be considered a mixed border. Or a mixed border might be a perennial border with a few roses or crape myrtles included.

Other types of flower gardens might include rock gardens, in which small flowering plants grow among rocks; alpine gardens, which are dedicated to plants that grow above timberline on mountain tops; cactus gardens, composed of desert plants; rose gardens that contain only roses; and many others.