Perennial Garden Design

Perennial Garden Design image by Marci Degman

Overview

Few want to redo their flowerbeds every year. Perennials are hardy plants that die back in the winter and return again the following year. Many perennials can be divided in the fall or will drop seed, providing the gardener with even more plants. A great way to keep the garden interesting is to plant perennials that bloom at different intervals. There are plant choices for every season of the year. Whether you are in a temperate climate or a desert region, or if you experience extreme winters, there are perennials you can plant.

Planning

The first thing to consider when designing a perennial bed is the light conditions. There are perennials for shade, partial shade and full sun. Perennials also come in many different heights. Beds next to a building will have the tallest flowers in the back and shortest in the front. A bed out in the open can be equally interesting from both directions. Plant the tallest flowers in the center and lower plants on either side. Consider the color palette. You may want an all white garden, a mix of all colors or just a few well-coordinated shades. A hot garden will have bright yellow, orange and red, and a cool garden will have lavender, pink and white. Foliage color and texture will also add a lot to the perennial garden. There are many shades of green to blue foliage as well as red, yellow and near black. Evergreen ferns or small evergreen shrubs blended in with the flowers will give the bed some stability. You can also place perennials under trees and shrubs or plant them in containers.

Preparation

Perennials are small and have a shallow root system. This means it is possible to provide perfect soil conditions for them. Incorporate organic amendments into the existing soil. This may include composted manure, rotted leaves or even purchased planting medium. Organic amendments and fertilizers release nutrients slowly rather than all at once like chemical fertilizers do. Organic amendments also improve the soil texture and help it retain moisture. Most plants respond well when grown in loose, nutritious and well-draining soil. To enhance your perennial beds, each year topdress them with 2 inches of compost. If you choose commercial fertilizers, use a moderate dose when planting and apply again in the fall after the plants have stopped blooming.

Early-Season Perennials

Early perennials include hardy bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus. Try some of the less common spring bulbs like trillium, snowdrop and fritillaria to set your garden apart. Some of the earliest perennial plants are primrose, coral bells and bergenia. Since there are fewer perennials blooming from March through May, it is a good idea to spread them equally throughout the garden. Bulbs can be tucked into small spaces between other perennials, taking up very little space. Most of the early perennials are smaller and work well in front of beds or in patches under trees and shrubs.

Midseason Perennials

Designing perennials for midsummer is easy, as the assortment of plants for this period is the best. This time period is from June through July, when many flowering shrubs and roses are also at their best. Include penstemon, carnation, delphinium, bleeding heart and campanula. Herbs such as garden sage and lavender also produce attractive flowers and can be incorporated into the perennial garden. Even though spring and fall are the best planting periods, summer is the best time to see perennials in bloom at your local nursery.

Late-Season Perennials

Late summer is from August through the first frost. New gardens can become dull by this time unless some late flowers are added. Some of the best for this period are cape fuchsia (Phygelius), russian sage, salvia, Japanese anemone, bee balm and echinacea. Since the early flowers will be finished blooming, it is possible to design an entirely different color palette for late summer.

Winter Perennials

A perennial garden is not complete without winter-blooming plants. One of the toughest and most reliable winter perennials is the hellebore. The foliage is evergreen in many regions, so it adds interest all summer as well. The flowers bloom from late December to February and hang on until spring. Hellebores come in an array of colors and different foliage types. They are true shade perennials and handle dry conditions under conifers very well.

Keywords: perennials, flowers, flower bed, compost, manure

About this Author

Marci Degman has been a landscape designer and horticulture writer since 1997. She has an Associate of Applied Science in landscape technology and landscape design from Portland Community College. Degman writes a newspaper column for the "Hillsboro Argus" and radio tips for KUIK. Her teaching experience for Portland Community College has set the pace for her to write online instructional articles.

Photo by: Marci Degman