Gardening columnist Vicki Mather talks about planning your garden.
Before you start planning your garden, consider a few basics steps that will help get your plants off to a good start.
Before you choose your plants, you have to decide what kind of lighting your garden gets. You cannot skip this step. If it is a shady spot, you can’t plant roses there. If it’s sunny now, please be sure to look up and around. If the area in question is under a tree that will be filling out with leaves in the summer, will those leaves turn a winter sun area into a summer shade spot? When you go shopping, you will need to look for plants that will thrive in the area in which you will be planting them. Remember, the right plant for the right place!
Once you have in mind the type of plant you need, your choices will be smarter ones. The last thing you want to do is open a catalog without some kind of plan, or else you will order only with your heart and not your head. That can be dangerous to successful garden design and to your credit card limit.
With every garden design, you need to choose three heights of plants: low, medium and tall. The tall ones go in the back; the shortest in the front so that you can see them.
Then you want to think about color. I prefer pink and purple. No matter what I do, I end up buying those colors, which is good because they look really beautiful together. Red is OK, but it tends to disappear in my shady garden. Yellow also are OK, but I use them sparingly because they tend to overwhelm in great numbers.
However, yellow, orange and white are great together; they look so happy and cheerful -- but they can be a bit garish with all my pinks. So pick a complementary color palate and stick to it.
Today I drew a rough sketch of my garden. Then I opened up my catalogs and went shopping. I looked for border plants, tall back-of-the-border specimens and, of course, some fun stuff for the middle. I looked for complementary colors and plants that would thrive in the light that each area of my border receives. I looked for plants that bloom at different times of the growing season so that not everything is flowering at once.
I know I will use blue ageratum and alyssum as front of the border plants. Those I can grow from seed or find locally. I have also chosen some free-flowering border dahlias from Dutch bulbs. They look spectacular in the catalog, with flowers 4 inches in diameter and will do well in sun or part shade. I also adore the colors of pink and salmon. They will help the dark purple of my other plants pop!
I’m also looking at liatris and lupines to use as back-of-the-border plants. They will grow to be about 36 inches to 48 inches tall and come in a variety of pink and purple colors. I also like the straight-up structure of them; I can’t use round and bushy all the time. I want to mix up shape and structure a bit.
I have astrantia, which forms a large bushy clump, and it has been a major part of the structure of my garden. The foliage is lacy and the flowers are lovely. But to be honest, I’m bored with them. I’m going to pull all of them out this spring. I deserve a plant that gives me more vibrant color. So what am I planting instead? I’m going to try a tall delphinium called pink sensation and alpha wedding phlox. Both get to be about 24 inches tall. Hmmm, maybe not the phlox, because I think it is a bunny target. I suspect that the phlox that keeps mysteriously disappearing over the years has done so with help from the evil rabbits that live in my woods.
My mother says her plant reseeds obnoxiously and never comes back as the original (hybrid) color. So I guess that’s three good reasons right there to try something else.
I could order stachys hummelo. I have no idea what it is, other than the description in the Bluestone catalog: “This Betony has dark green foliage in a basal mound. It is unusual in that it has a wealth of rose-lavender spikes on short stalks all summer that are very decorative and last a long time as a cut flower. Performs like a Salvia, and deer will leave it alone.”
It will get to be 18 inches to 24 inches tall, which is the height I want, so I think it’s worth trying. I like experimenting with new plants and varieties each year. I’m also going to try echinacea purpurea "Double Decker," an especially interesting-looking and gloriously pink coneflower. In addition, for some autumn color, I found two varieties of Chrysanthemum rubellum: "Clara Curtis" and "Mary Stoker," which will echo beautifully the pink and salmon in the dahlias I chose.
I’m shopping from a couple catalogs, comparing and contrasting prices. I’ve listed them here so that you can look them up online, or call for a catalog. They all have online and print catalogs available.
www.bluestoneperennials.com or (800) 852-5243
www.dutchgardens.com or (800) 944-2250
www.dutchbulbs.com (vanBourgondien) or (800) 622-9997
www.SpringHillNursery.com (513) 354-1509
www.parkseed.com (800) 845-3369
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