Garden Topics: Designing Your First Perennial Garden

Perennial GardenIt seems that every few days we have new homeowners /new gardeners, seeking guidance on the design and establishment of their first perennial gardens. It is not as difficult as one would think, but proceeding in an organized manner certainly helps insure success.

So how does one begin in a few short steps? The first tip is to draw the general plan out on paper. You don’t have to make it fancy, and you don’t have to really include every plant but you should to include the general scheme of what you desire. Drawing it out really does help you in the long run, using graph paper and drawing to scale is highly recommended.

  • Determine the point from where you’re going to view the garden. This point-of-view allows you to plan to put the taller plants at the back of the garden.  
  • Do you want your garden to bloom heavily in the spring, in the summer, in the fall or a little bit all season long?  This decision determines which plants you choose, and where they are to be planted.  
  • Is your garden a sunny garden or a shady garden? The rule of thumb here in the Pittsburgh area is if your garden gets sunshine between 10 am and 2 pm, you have a sunny garden.  That’s a full 4 hours of hot sunshine and it will likely get sun on either side of that as well. If your garden doesn’t get sun between those hours then you may have a part-shade garden (sunshine at either end of those hours but no mid-day sunshine).  Or you might have a shade-garden with all day dappled sunshine, or sun only in the early morning before 10 or in the evening after 6. To be honest, information on this is rather theoretical - there’s a lot of overlap between the classes of sunny, part-sun, and shade gardens.  

    There’s no hard and fast answer because it depends on the garden, the plants you like, and the conditions in the garden. Ask us about the new inexpensive “Sun Stick” to solve this problem. Also, do experiment, try a sun-loving plant in shady spot; you might be pleasantly surprised. You’re involved in the “process” of gardening. You get to change and adjust from year to year seeking the look that’s “just right” for you.
  • Pick the plants that bloom at the time you want color - and make sure they’re the plants that will survive in your sun and moisture -conditions.     
  • The trick to having a garden that blooms throughout the year is to pick an equal amount of plants that flower each season. So if your garden is going to have 30 plants in it, you may want 10 from each of the spring, summer and fall-blooming periods. The second trick here is to space them equally through the garden.  Don’t clump all your spring bloomers in one spot and your fall bloomers in another.  Mix them all up.

Summation: A perennial garden is constantly changing. Plants grow up and expand. Some plants die. You keep those you really like, and remove those you dislike.  A perennial garden doesn’t stay the same from year to year (even weather changes the way flowers look or how long they last). Perennial gardening is not a plant- it-and-forget-it proposition, and that’s part of the enjoyment.  


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