Plan Your Plantings for All-Season Beauty

Year-round garden beauty takes a little planning and effort.
By Caleb Melchior
April 2009
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BORDER BEAUTY: The Missouri Botanical Garden often plants grasses in their mixed perennial borders to give long-season appeal.
Caleb Melchior
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Many people think season-long garden beauty is an impossible dream. In reality, it’s not impossible at all. It just takes planning and effort.

We’ve all heard so much complaining about our climate here in the central United States that we expect disappointment from the outset of our gardening careers. “Nothing,” you say with a sigh as you sit in the air-conditioned comfort of your living room, fanning yourself with your favorite issue of CAPPER’S, “could tolerate this heat.” And your gardening friends agree. The fuchsias, nemisias and osteospermums and other garden delights seem to prove your complaint. They stopped blooming weeks ago, as soon as the sun began to turn up the heat.   

However, despite the climate, you can have a beautiful garden with continual flowering throughout most of the year – even in the Midwest. And you can do it without endless hours of garden work, a millionaire’s pocketbook or a hired staff of 20.

Here are some practices that will make your garden a place of beauty with something interesting to see year-round.

 

Plant in layers

The more plants you have, the greater the potential for accompanying bloom. Simply planting tons of plants won’t guarantee a pleasing scene, though. Instead, the intelligent way to jam your garden beds with flowers is to plant in layers.

Layered gardens usually incorporate all sorts of plants – small trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs. For example, in the center of a small, partially shaded garden bed, you could plant a native dogwood for spring color. Beneath the dogwood, you could plant clumps of hosta for season-long foliage, bleeding hearts for spring blooms, and perennial begonias for autumn color.

At the edges of the bed, add perennial geraniums, which bloom in early summer, and Japanese anemones, which will provide autumn beauty. Leave spots of bare earth throughout, and fill those spots each year with New Guinea impatiens, which will keep the show going throughout the summer. For the final layer, beneath the perennials, plant hardy cyclamen, snowdrops, crocus and tulips for spring color.

 

Consider foliage and character

Few plants bloom for more than several weeks at a time. Then, for the remainder of the gardening season, you’re left with the plant itself – stalks, leaves and berries. Are they interesting enough to merit planting in their own right? Is the shape of the plant itself – bushy, mounding, spiky – pleasing?

Choose plants with interesting shapes and leaves, and place them together with contrasting shapes and forms so your garden is attractive even when there isn’t much in bloom. 

 

Keep bloom season in mind

If you want year-round flowering, plant for year-round flowering.

Plant a good number of plants that will look their best in every season. If you already have a large quantity of plants that bloom in August, choose some that will bloom earlier in the summer.

Plant those that flower at the same time together so that different areas of the garden come in and out of bloom at the same time.

If you’ve got a big bunch of gorgeous aconites and lobelias glowering together in a mass of scarlet and deep purple, no one will notice the past-their-prime daylilies nearby. However, if you intersperse them – a daylily here, a lobelia there, another gone-over daylily, then another lobelia – everybody will notice the past-flowering plants. A big bright spot of bloom will attract attention and lead the eye away from other, less pleasing sights.

 

Plant for all the senses

Consider all five senses as you choose plants.

Scatter scented plants throughout the garden so that when you come upon them, you’ll be lavished by the sudden burst of smell.

Have you ever tried planting things for taste? People, especially children, love to pick fruit. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are all easy to grow. They require no spraying, and they don’t take up much space.

Also, consider what you will hear as you walk through the garden. Ask yourself if there are pleasing things to touch. And, of course, make sure your garden is beautiful and colorful to the eye.

Planting for all five senses will broaden your enjoyment of the garden in a way you never imagined possible.

 

Groom your plants

Removal of faded, wilted or otherwise unattractive plant material will help keep your garden looking nice throughout the year. These practices also help keep your plants vigorous and healthy – another necessity for garden glory – because when you remove faded flowers and leaves, you stimulate the plant to produce more of them, thus boosting bloom production. And who doesn’t want more flowers?   

You can have a glorious garden with something lovely and interesting to see, smell, taste, touch and feel throughout the seasons of the year.

Creating a garden will take effort – both mental and physical – but it will be worth it. No other investment will bring such a great return of happiness to you as the planting and cultivation of a garden – especially a garden that tantalizes the senses all year long.


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