Designing Perennial Gardens

Planning a perennial border is essentially different from planning any other type of garden because the element of time is so vital. While all gardens change with the seasons, perennial garden change their nature dramatically. It’s possible to have a yellow-and-white garden in the spring, a hot red-and-orange garden in the summer, and a soft earth-tone garden with deep blue highlights in the fall—all in the same place. The spring garden might be low and subdued and the summer garden head-high.

This fourth dimension of time makes perennial gardening more complicated as well as more rewarding than other types of garden design. One doesn’t just design a garden, but designs separate early spring, late spring, summer, and fall gardens, then interlaces them in space and time to make pleasing transitions from one to the other. The transformation of a perennial garden from one week to the next can give great pleasure as new color combinations unfold with the season.

Perennial gardens are not as floriferous as rose gardens or annual beds. Only part of the plants are in bloom at any one time. While an annual bed might be so covered with blossoms that you can’t find the foliage for most of the summer, perennial gardens are more subdued. They aren’t lacking in color, but that color is always seen against a backdrop of foliage, rather than hiding the foliage. Perennial gardeners might say that annual flower displays are vulgar and over-done, and that perennial gardens have just the right amount of blossom.

Most people think of perennial borders when they think of perennial gardens, but these versatile plants can be used in many different garden settings. They can form a woodland garden, a rock garden, be arranged in containers, or tucked into a shrub border or rose garden.