Five Steps to Great Perennial Flower Garden Design

There are two ways to go about perennial flower garden design – the hard way or the easy way. I don’t have to tell you about the hard way, if you’re a gardener and you’re not happy with how your garden looks, you’ve already discovered that way. I’m here to tell you about the easy way.

The Easy Way to Design Perennial Gardens

Your Critical Garden Point of View

Decide where you’re going to look at the garden the most. This is the point of view. In other words, you’re looking at the front of the garden.
This isn’t as obvious as you might think. For example, if you have a garden that runs along the front of your house between the house and the road, is the front of the garden where you see it or where those on the road see it? Are you designing the garden for you to see or to enhance the look of your house the way others see your house?
Got your point of view? Have a front of the garden and a back of the garden? Great.

Getting the Garden Shape

Designers say to lay it out on paper. As close to scale as possible. Yeah right. I don’t know one in an hundred gardeners that actually do it that way.
I design mine by going to the garden and looking at where I want a garden. Then if I’m really being creative, I get out a garden hose or two and lay the hose where I want the garden I make the curves smooth enough to be able to mow around.
I make it bigger than I think I need because small gardens look “small” when seen from a distance. I’ve seen way too many dots on a lawn called gardens to get excited; just make them a lot bigger than you think you need (you’ll fill it)

Numbers of Plants

Get the rough area of this garden. Let’s say it’s 100 square feet in size. A mature perennial will take approximately 2 square feet (roughly- on average – for planning purposes only) so we’re going to require 50 plants to fill this area.

Divide the number of plants by three. In our case, this is 16 or so. We now go to the garden shop and buy 16 spring blooming perennials, 16 summer blooming perennials and 16 fall blooming perennials. And 2 of your favorites to make up the 50. 🙂

In this way, your perennial garden now has equal parts of spring, summer and fall blooming plants to ensure you’re going to get blooms all season long.

Arranging the plants

Here’s where we get the artistic part of perennial flower garden design. And where many folks have problems. Reality is that the combinations you pick because of what you like are going to be different than what I would pick – so no two people are going to have the same garden look. And no two gardens have the same microclimate and soils so the differences start to add up. We each do our best with what we pick. (The really good news is that if we don’t like our design, we can move the plants around or get new ones)

  • Spread the spring bloomers equally around the garden area. Do not bunch them all into one spot. You’re going to find many of them are short so they’re going to wind up towards the front. Physically put the plants and pots in place before you plant
  • Tall plants to the back – that’ why you need to know where you’re looking at the garden.
  • Spread the summer bloomers equally around the garden.
  • Spread the fall bloomers equally around the garden.
  • You now have a series of pots sitting around the garden. Make sure each of the bloom times is equally distributed through the garden.

perennial flower garden design

Plant them.

You’ve just built a perennial flower garden design that will be in bloom all summer long.

The Last Step

The last step in this process is going to take you the rest of your life.
And you’ll seldom get it right but when you do – for that one brief moment of summer pleasure, it’s all worthwhile.
I’m talking about plant combinations and color combinations. Each of us likes our own colors and combinations. The system above will give you a riot of color all summer long but if you’re looking for specific color combinations, then you start with those colors (not the full color spectrum) and you work from there. That’s not the easy part – that’s the challenging part that we all work towards.

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