you love the natural or native appearance, a perennial garden is not a maintenance free
garden, but it does require less work, yields more return for your efforts
and will bloom year after year. Second, a well designed perennial garden does
not require a degree in horticulture or years of experience. A good garden
design starts with thinking about what you like and want to accomplish, and most
importantly - remembering that your garden is an evolving project and that a
perennial garden will take 2 to 4 years to mature.
* Choose your garden location before designing it;
work with the land, not against it.
* Consider sun, wind, soil type, soil
amendments and water.
* Plan the area to scale on paper.
* Consider the
amount of time needed to maintain the garden.
* If needed, add organic matter
to improve soil aeration and drainage - incorporate organic matter 12 inches
deep. A general recommendation is 3 cubic yards of organic matter to every 1,000
* Make a list of the plants you like and group them by color,
texture and form. Also chart them by season of bloom. Consider both flowers and
* Narrow perennial designs are not as effective as wider ones. A 3:1
ratio is a good rule of the green thumb - 1 foot wide for every 3 feet in
* Use plants in clumps. Place like plants in groups of three, five or
seven (odd numbers) of each type to increase the effect of color and
* Repeat groups of the same plant type two or three times throughout
the space, to give it unity.
* Use tall plants at the back of a one-sided
garden or in the middle of an island bed.
* Complement tall plants by
gradually placing shorter plants towards the outer perimeter, ending with low
border plants at the edge of the bed. Bring an occasional plant forward from
their height line to increase variation.
* Use various colors, textures and
forms to add interest to the garden.
* Consider bloom time and interesting
foliage to create a succession of color and interest throughout the season.
Complement perennials with annuals and bulbs for bright focal points and accents
during low bloom periods.
* Leave room for plant growth and allow for
individual plant growth habits. In general, plant tall perennials 18 to 36
inches apart, intermediates 12 to 18 inches apart, and dwarfs 6 to 12 inches
apart. Don't place plants in straight rows -- use a scattered or triangular
spacing so one mass blends into another.
* Plant perennials so they can
become established before dormancy and the onset of winter.
* The most
important consideration in selecting plants for a perennial garden is to group
them according to their environmental and cultural requirements. A
drought-tolerant plant may not thrive in moist conditions.
When you have your basic garden plan, mark out the
proposed areas for planting and examine them from every angle - from different
parts of the garden and the various viewing areas - consider the garden in terms
of interlinking shapes rather than flowers and