Gardening Tips

Planning a perennial garden

Quick Facts
  • Plan a flower garden on paper first to avoid costly errors.
  • Before a plan is developed, choose the garden location and note soil and exposure conditions.
  • Flower beds are easier to maintain when they are no deeper than 4 feet when viewed from one side or no deeper than 8 feet when viewed from two or more sides.
  • Add organic matter to improve drainage and aeration.
  • Consider shade tolerance, plant height, color and variety when selecting plants.

Locate a flower garden in an area with ample sunlight for different varieties of flowers to grow and be visible from a picture window, patio or other vantage point. It also is best to have some kind of background—a fence, wall, shrub or hedge. The flower garden should fit into the total landscape of the property.

Size, Shape and Design

There are no set rules to determine the size and shape of the flower bed. If a formal effect is desired, the outline of the beds should be in straight lines (such as paralleling a fence) and symmetrical in shape. Informal effects are obtained with "free-flow" outlines and asymmetrical shapes.

A carefully planned flower garden can avoid costly errors. Mistakes on paper are easy to correct. Before the plan is prepared, choose the garden location. Note the soil conditions, exposure to sunlight and points from which it will be viewed. The primary consideration when deciding the size of an area should be based upon the amount of time and energy one will be able to devote to the garden. A small, neatly maintained garden is better than a larger, poorly kept one. While size depends on the space available, from a Practical standpoint flower beds are easier to maintain when they are no deeper than 4 feet if accessible from only one side, or no deeper than 8 feet if accessible from at least two sides.

A simple method for laying out a flower bed is to make a sketch on graph paper, assigning the squares a given scale (i.e., one square: 6 inches). Then proceed as follows:

  • Locate structures, such as fences, walls, walks, etc.
  • Locate existing shrubs, trees and other permanent plants--these can be used for reference points in laying out the design;
  • Sketch lightly (in soft pencil) the desired outline of the bed or beds;
  • Determine the number of squares between reference points and bed outline;
  • Measure corresponding distances on the ground and outline the bed area with string (in free-flow or curved edges, use a garden hose for temporary outline);
  • Use plan to mark locations of plants.

    Soil Preparation

    A good flower garden cannot be grown in poor soil. Most important are the subsoil drainage and aeration. Add organic matter (peat, leaf mold, etc.) to help hold water in a sandy soil and to open up a clay soil. Generally, about 2 inches of peat will help a clay soil. Thoroughly mix the organic matter into the soil by spading or rototilling. The best time to prepare soil in a flower bed is in the fall. If organic matter is spaded in the fall and the soil is left loose and lumpy, freezing and thawing during winter will break down the clods into a mellow, workable soil by spring.

    To determine soil needs contact your local Cooperative Extension county office for soil test information.

    Selecting Plants

    Follow these principles to obtain the best results:

    • Select plants suitable to the site; i.e., sunloving versus shade-tolerant.
    • Choose plants according to height to provide variety. Place taller plants toward the back of the border (or in the center in gardens viewed from two or more sides).
    • Choose sufficient variety to obtain continuous color throughout the season but avoid so many types that a hodgepodge effect is created.
    • Use the same variety in groups and repeat the groups in several areas in the garden.
    • Use groupings of the same color for effectiveness. Except for edging, do not plant flowers in rows in flower gardens.
    • Define the flower bed with one or more low growing "edging" plant types.
    • Use tall spike-like plants and those with stark white or brilliant color to accent an area of the garden.

    Avoid overuse. Remember, accents in a garden are like spices in foods--a little goes a long way, and too much destroys the effect. Binley’s carries a large selection of all types of locally hardy perennials. Stop in and see our selection and if you are unsure of what to use, please ask, we’ll be glad to help.

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