Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
June, 2008
Regional Report

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My garden is abloom with bulbs but it lacks pizzazz the rest of the season.

Planning Perennial Pizzazz

My small perennial bed has looked okay over the past few years, but it doesn't knock your socks off. The problem is that when planting time comes around, I never remember exactly which plants are not placed right. By the time they come on strong, it's too late to transplant. So I have a new plan. I'm going to take photos at the beginning of each month. This way, I will have at my fingertips next winter the photos and my notes so I can improve my design.

Designing a perennial garden can be overwhelming if you've never attempted it before. Trying to put all the colors, sizes, shapes, and textures in some sort of integrated plan can send some gardeners into a panic. But it can be done if you start out with some order in mind and then follow simple steps to the finish. Best of all, things can always be moved around if you find you don't like some combination.

Decide on Point of View
The first step is to determine the point from which you will be viewing the garden. Is it along a walkway, do you want to see it from your living room window, do you want to enjoy it from your patio? You can certainly design it for viewing from all sides as with an island bed, but this is a bit harder to do than designing for viewing from one side like a perennial border.

Garden Style
Once you know the viewing points, figure out what type of style you want. Formal gardens are usually accompanied by lots of hardscape (expensive), and are symmetrical with large blocks of color. They are usually tidy and clipped.

Informal gardens, however, follow the natural terrain with smooth flowing, asymmetrical lines, with plants in clumps, waves, or patches without rows or pattern. Colors are usually more mixed, and emphasis is placed on textures and patterns as well as flower color. These gardens are ideal for mixing perennials with annuals, bulbs, small shrubs, roses, herbs, and even vegetables.

Sketch the Site
The next step in the process is to sketch your site. Measure it and put it on large-squared graph paper. Once you have the garden drawn, it is time to begin selecting the plants, the most fun part of the process. As you tour other gardens, always keep a notebook with you. Record favorite plants, great combinations, and attractive textures. There's absolutely no reason you can't benefit from other gardeners' good choices.

Choose Your Plants
Start your list. There are plenty of sources in the library and on the Internet to help you with size, exposure, bloom time, and flower color. Plug your favorite plants into these charts, then start drawing them on your graph paper garden, and before you know it, you will be ready to purchase and plant! Also choose some neutral annuals to fill in holes, hide fading bulb foliage, and give you all-season color.

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