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Adventures in gardening: garden design

In my garden: 'Touch of Class' Hybrid Tea Rose

In my garden: 'Touch of Class' Hybrid Tea Rose

By Suzanne Leonard
Weather Broadcaster
Friday, July 5, 2013, 12:44 PM

July is a spectacular month in the garden. All of our hard work in pruning, planting, dividing, adding compost and mulch, creating planters, treating for bug damage – not to mention lots of weeding – has paid off. Gardens are lush with bushy growth and lots of colourful blooms, a beautiful backdrop which makes this the perfect time of year for outdoor living. Extremes of heat, humidity, heavy rain or long dry spells can make July and August stressful for plants, so it may not be the ideal time for planting. On the other hand, if you’ve had a busy spring and haven’t had time to plant, or if you’re now on summer vacation, this may be the perfect time for you. Just keep in mind that new plants will need a bit of extra attention and watering at this time of year. These basic garden design principles will help whether you’re creating a flowerbed or garden from scratch or enhancing an existing one.

In my garden: Achillea 'Anthea', Yarrow

In my garden: Achillea 'Anthea', Yarrow

Garden Design – the ‘big picture’
Being at your local nursery surrounded by hundreds of beautiful plants can be exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. You can’t help but be tempted to pick up all sorts of different flowers, ornamental grasses, shrubs and so on – but will these be the right choices for your space? That’s why it’s important to plan your planting, before you start shopping. Start with the ‘big picture’ and ask yourself ‘what will I be using the garden for’ – does it need to include areas for entertaining, lounging, kids playing, vegetable garden, reading nook, garden shed, yoga or exercise platform, bbq, fire pit, hammock, bench, water feature or other items? The first step is creating a ‘wish list’ of those areas that you need or want, then follow these steps:

  • look at your available space and figure out which items on your wish list are the most important.
  • draw the shape of your garden on a sheet of paper or with a computer. Start with a blank area then fill it in starting with the most important items on your wish list to make a basic design. Incorporate existing features if you wish to keep them.
  • budget is a big consideration at this stage – think about how much time and money you are prepared to invest in this process. You may want to consult with a professional landscape designer to assist with your dream plan. Or you may want to do it all yourself, creating a master plan that you can install over several seasons. Consulting the experts at your local nursery can help you refine your plan as you go along.
  • walk around your garden with your new design and mark it out to see if it works. Garden hoses and electrical cords are very useful, you can spread them out to mark the edge of new flowerbeds or patio spaces, and use other readily available items (eg, a pot or recycling box) to mark out other features. Continue to tweak your design until you have a general plan that satisfies your needs, desires and budget.


  • When figuring out what goes where in your garden, think about the light in each spot – for example, decide if you want your hammock or bench to be in a shady spot for reading and snoozing, or in a sunny spot.
  • If you’re incorporating a water feature make sure it’s close enough to sitting and entertaining areas so you’ll be able to hear and enjoy it.
  • If you’re incorporating a bbq or fire pit pick a spot that isn’t a fire hazard but also one that’s not in the way and that won’t smoke out your guests or family by being too close.
  • Consider all the angles. In other words, what will this garden look like from different spots within the garden, is the view aesthetically pleasing from all angles?

I love to live outdoors as much as possible and the various areas in my garden allow me to do that. Lorraine Mennen at pathwaystoperennials.com was a huge help to me in guiding my original garden design, and I continue the gardening adventure with changes and enhancements every year. With the proper garden design that suits your lifestyle you can create your own fabulous outdoor ‘rooms’ and living space - Lorraine’s book ‘Garden Great Rooms, Extending Your Living Space Outdoors’ may provide some inspiration.

In my garden: Filipendula 'Flore Pleno', Meadowsweet

In my garden: Filipendula 'Flore Pleno', Meadowsweet

Garden Design – filling in the flowerbeds
Creating a design that’s truly what you want can be a lengthy process but it’s certainly time well spent, and you and your family will be able to reap the rewards with endless hours of enjoyment. At this stage, whether you are creating one or multiple flowerbeds from scratch or enhancing an existing one, the process is essentially the same. Use these simple steps to figure out how many plants you will need:

  • calculate the area of your planting space. For example, a flowerbed that’s 3’ deep and 20’ long is 60 square feet. Now what? Here’s a fantastic design pointer I got from Lorraine Mennen (see above tip) - allow 2 square feet for each perennial and 5 square feet for each shrub. 60 square feet divided by 2 means I’ll need 30 perennials for this space. Are you with me so far?
  • you want your space to look good in all three growing seasons – spring, summer and fall - so divide 30 by 3, which makes 10. This means you need 10 perennials for each of those three seasons.
  • you want plant in clumps of uneven numbers for a natural look, clumps of 3, 5 or 7. With a flower bed this size a clump of 3 plants would be appropriate. Now you’ll need to pick 3 different varieties for each season, and buy 3-4 plants of each variety – making a total of 10 perennials for each season.
  • to recap, this means you’ll have 3 different spring varieties (3-4 plants of each variety), 3 different summer varieties and 3 different fall varieties. That makes a total of about 30 plants on your shopping list – and lots of colour and interest in your garden from spring through fall. Leave seed heads, berries and ornamental grasses in place and you’ll have visual interest right through winter too.

In my garden: Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Weed

In my garden: Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Weed

Garden Design – so many choices!
I love spending time at my local garden centre but will readily admit to getting that ‘exhilarated yet overwhelmed’ feeling at times. I NEVER go without a list, even if it’s just a quick scribble to remind me which spot needs filling in – this helps ensure I don’t pick up a gorgeous sun perennial when what I really needed was a shrub suitable for shade. Poor choices – it happens to us all! On the other hand, impulse buys can yield great results. No matter how much you read and learn there are always new things you’ll discover – and trying them out is one of gardening’s many pleasures. Sourcing out a neat plant you’ve heard about and having it take off in your garden is another. This Asclepias Tuberosa or Butterfly Weed is a recent discovery for me. Two years ago I decided I needed orange in my garden, it’s such a great colour and this low maintenance summer bloomer is perfect. One clump of three small plants became three large clumps this year, after I spread around the abundant seed pods. Browse the garden centre, check out books and websites - colour is one of many considerations when making your plant choices:

  • colour – decide which colours and colour combinations you like.
  • shape – think about which foliage and flower shapes are pleasing to you.
  • height – choose shorter plants for the front of beds and taller varieties towards the back.
  • sun/shade – choose the right plants for the light you have so they’ll flourish.
  • season – you want varieties from all seasons in order to have continuous interest.
  • soil – last but definitely not least, it is the foundation of your garden. Prepare it properly before you plant anything as discussed in this earlier column. When making your final choices keep in mind that some plants do better in clay soils or sandy soils.

In my Dad’s garden: Clematis

In my Dad’s garden: Clematis

July ‘to do list’

  • Be inspired to enhance existing flowerbeds or create new ones, and use these design tips to help you make the right choices. Creating a new garden is a great adventure, a wonderful opportunity to try new things – above all, have fun with it!
  • As the weather heats up be particularly careful to water new plantings to help them get established.
  • Continue deadheading to prolong blooms.
  • Prune as needed to control or reshape vigorous growth.
  • Stake up tall plants that start to flop and those that get knocked about by wind and storms.
  • Watch for signs of heat stress and water as needed. A general rule of thumb is 2.5cm/1” of water per week for the garden, top that up if it doesn’t rain enough or if there’s a hot spell. Remember it’s best to water early in the morning or later in the evening in order to minimize water loss due to evaporation. It’s always best to water deeply and infrequently rather than a daily sprinkle, in order to promote strong roots.
  • Before you leave on vacation arrange for a neighbour to water when the weather doesn’t provide the necessary rain, and remember to get weeds and bugs under control so you don’t return to damaged plants.

I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions and will be incorporating them into future columns. So please be sure to add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast so you’ll know the best time to work and play in your garden.

I’ll join you again next month with ideas for an August garden. In the meantime, the outdoors is always beckoning - what are you waiting for? Happy gardening adventures!

Gardening is an exercise in optimism. Sometimes, it is a triumph of hope over experience.
- Marina Schinz

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