Mary may have preferred her flowers to look like “pretty maids all in a row” in the nursery rhyme “Mary Mary Quite Contrary,” but Mother Nature rarely does. If you desire a natural look in your garden, take your cues from nature. Not only are wildflowers scattered across the landscape, the presence of natural elements such as old stumps, logs and stone enhance their overall beauty. To create a natural garden, you must let go of any notions of straight rows and perfectly placed flowers.
View the gardening area from several angles to get a feel for the natural terrain of the landscape. Take note of rocks or stones, the texture of the soil and the native plants already in the area. Although you can certainly add your own flowers, consider incorporating some of the natural flora of the area.
Sketch a layout of the desired garden. Many choose geometric shapes such as squares, circles or rectangles for the border of the garden bed, but these can look forced and unnatural. Soften the edges by using curves whenever possible.
Make a list of both annual and perennial flowers you would like to grow. Pay attention to the growing conditions and time of bloom for each flower. Choose flowers that bloom in succession to add color throughout the summer. Consider the size, shape and predominant color of each plant. Include a variety of textures in foliage. Contrast large showy leaves or blooms with smaller ones. Select plants that will grow well in your soil and in the available light.
Review the list and decide how many of the flowers you can reasonably plant in the garden area. Most gardeners produce lists with at least twice as many plants as their space will allow. Narrow your list down and keep only your favorites. Overcrowding plants not only detracts from their beauty, it risks their health as well. Plants need space to grow without competing for nutrients with other plants, and they need adequate air circulation to fend off disease.
Place your seedlings in the area before you begin planting. Rearrange plants until you find the look and feel you prefer. When arranging several seedlings of the same flower, group them in odd numbers, such as three or five. Even numbers appear artificial, while uneven numbers look like part of nature. Stand back and view your garden from several angles before making the decision to plant them.
Include stones, logs or old stumps in your garden. Brightly colored flowers tucked between stones, or flowing over logs, mimic the work of nature. Add bird feeders, butterfly feeders or birdbaths to invite winged visitors to the flowerbed. Wildlife adds both movement and beauty and enhances the natural elements of the garden.