Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2010
Regional Report

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A garden hose is a great tool for designing the best layout for a new flower bed.

Planning a New Color Bed

My best gardens grow in my mind's eye. When I envision a planting bed and think through what might look good, I can do a lot of gardening without lifting a finger. The result of all this imagination is that a lot of not-so-good initial ideas get vetoed and I eventually end up with something worth the effort that I'm about to expend to make it happen.

I highly recommend a little thinking, planning, and "what-if"-ing prior to purchasing and planting a new ornamental bed. We all make plenty of horticultural mistakes in our gardening lives but we sure can minimize them by some well informed planning and forethought.

Two things that I think need more pre-plant consideration are blooming season and color combinations. Consider the following.

When choosing your palate of plants consider when they bloom or if they offer colorful foliage during the hot summer months when blooms are scarce. Make sure and include plants for spring, summer, fall, and even winter interest. Spring is a breeze, but most plants that look great in the garden center in spring when everyone has gardening fever won't look like much in summer, fall, and winter. Fall is okay with a decent group of blooming plants. Summer is challenging, and winter is pretty sparse when it comes to interesting perennial options.

Include a few evergreen shrubs to provide a backdrop for perennial foliage and flowers, or to add some winter life to the bed. A few annuals here and there can also provide additional color and interest in winter or whenever your perennials are between bloom periods. Ornamental grasses are especially nice for providing texture and drawing attention to colorful flowers in front of them. Include colorful foliage also to add stark contrast and to provide color in the heat of summer when many plants bloom less prolifically or stop blooming completely.

Now far be it from me to encumber your plans with mind-numbing concerns over whether your plant's bloom colors are complementary or not, whether colors are primary, secondary or tertiary, use of analogous colors, whether chosen colors are warm or cool, and selections of triads. Such thinking can leave a sane gardener curled up in the fetal position afraid to go outside!

While the use of color theory is fine in places where the climate and plant palate allows for such navel-gazing introspection, here in the Lower South a good color in summer is anything on a living plant!

In all fairness, it is worthwhile to at least take a look at a color wheel and realize that choosing flower colors that are on opposite sides of the wheel is a generally good idea. These colors are called complementary and create pleasing combinations.

Resist the urge to select a lot of colors, perhaps with each plant in a different color, all mixed together in a planting bed, unless you are going to be viewing the bed from really close. If you view a bed with flowers of various colors all mixed together from a distance the colors all end up mixing together in to a confusing mass. If you are planting a bed to be viewed from some distance plant in large masses of the same color. This provides a beautiful display as drifts of color stand our nicely in a large planting.

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