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flower garden design help

Sabattus, ME

I need help with finding plants and design ideas for our new flower area along the front of our home. We live in zone 5 - Maine - and I am looking for a mix of annuals & perennials. Any suggestions or site to visit for ideas?

Thank you

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

It's always hard to give ideas, planting plans and even layout when you don't know the person, their personality, how much knowledge they have about caring for a garden /flower beds, and most important, how much time you can give to looking after the area you are planning to give to flowering plants as in perennials & annuals,
But I can give you tips on how to get started.

First of all, take a nice clear picture of the outside of your house including the area you want to use as flower bed/s. This picture needs stuck onto a board, cover the pic with tracing paper (I use greaseproof baking paper as it's stronger).
On the left side of the board, stick white writing paper and use this as a PLANT list On the right side another bit of paper to use as a TO DO list.

The to do list will be things like cutting the shape of the bed IF it's in the lawn, or building foot paths, having hard landscapes things like low walls, lights, archways, AND it should include anything you MUST save like, water pipes, drains, electrics, telephone wires, TV cables and how much space you require to be able to paint or maintain the property each year while a flower bed in in place.

I like to include the colour of material used for pathways, Kids crayons are great for this, take note for wood pained structures, seating areas and the colour off AND and the materials like stone, wood, metal. I give you all this and it sounds like a lot of things to do before you start BUT, it's cheaper in the end as bursting a water pipe is costly, forgetting you need a pathway for a wheelbarrow or hose pipe fixtures / self watering, are things that look messy IF added and left on show AFTER the garden has been laid out to perfection, it also gives you ideas of costing, hard landscape is not always something you can find fundings for to do all in one go BUT, if well planned out, it can be done in stages as you save or do other things first as time and money permit. AS you lay the paths or structures out, I use the garden hose to lay down on the ground for the shape or curves I want, IF your planning a tall structure, use a tall garden cane or piece of wood stuck into the soil, go back inside the house and look out the windows, see IF you are happy where the path leads, the archway sits, or where a garden seat might sit better, last thing you don't want is to have to alter the path or stuff because it leads right where you want a shade tree to be planted later on. looking outside is as important as looking from the outside towards the hose.

Always remember you can alter your planting of flowers but once you have committed to building a rose arch say, you really dont want to have to saw it all up because it's in the wrong place and you forgot there was drain outlets to consider at that point so take your time, as you make the list on the right side of the board, you draw them on the tracing paper, it will allow you to scale the sizes of structures and easy to erase IF your not happy.

By the way, you don't have to have an art's degree for this planning out, a squiggly circle gives you a tree or a small one represents a shrub, for tallish perennials like
Delphiniums I just draw about 6-8 stems and a few tiny circles down the stems for flowers, at that stage you would add 3-5 delphiniums to the bed and the colour, add this to planting list on the left side paper. Always try to plant perennials in odd number in blocks of 3-5-7 as this gives a far more natural effect than one tall stem and next to a tiny little plant that cant be seen. It will tell you on the label how far apart to give the plants space but for me, I like beds to be filled therefore I cut about 2 inches off the given planting apart distance.

As your plan takes shape, you will walk around your neighbourhood looking at what plants you like and the name, colour ect, take pictures to remind you what you want to look for while adding that idea to your plan for visiting the plant store.

Other places to walk around are any local parks gardens, they give ideas what grows well next to other plants, remembering that foliage is as important as flower colours, for instance I like to plant large leaf Hosta's with cream or white edging to their leaves and next to that I want maybe a cream coloured fox glove behind, both have large leaf but the texture of greenery are different but the cream coloured flowers on the foxgloves makes you want to look beyond the Hosta as you pass by, both showing some cream colour and fresh greenery, I'm not suggesting these are your choice of colours or type of plants, but I'm letting you know there is more to a nice flowerbed than just the flowers when their short season is in force and the greenery is left behind, for weeks months as you need to allow most perennials to die down before cutting off the dead foliage, it's also nice to be able to enjoy both foliage AND flowers. You dont have to have a red rose and another red flowering plant, you can have red or deep pink flowering plant and a pale pink plant that has RED foliage next tp the rose, the red flowers AND the red foliage help you to move along to planting say purple flowers with cream next to it, just play about and look at pictures of planted borders.

Other places for ideas are any Botanical Gardens, or large private houses open their gardens to the public here in UK so maybe there are places like that for your area, they give you plant names, size, temp required, colour of flowers and WHEN they flower, look at the sun or shade it is sat in, behind, in front for more light or what, a camera is invalid at this stage of a plan.

Go to local library, there are loads of books there for beginners, pictures of beds already made and probably the time of year the pic was taken to let you know how it could look when in full bloom.

Book stores are great, I visit USA (Florida) each year as the sunshine shortens our winters, I love the book store where you can sit with pen / paper and drink a coffee while searching through the books there. Remember books on gardening are quite expensive so look in second-hand book stores, but the other books from stores and library will allow you to find a book or 2 and are written in a language for beginners not all the technical lingo some give and you need a degree just to get past the first page ha, ha, ha.

Now to lastly mention your planting ideas, you need to find out by searching for your flowers, IF they will grow in your zone, on this site there are so many new gardeners that forget this and they wonder where they are going wrong as the plants die on there new garden, we have all done that, so all plant labels tell you most info you need, size (tall) wide (spread, how much the plant will spread out after a few years) then how much light / sun / shade etc it requires, soil type is very important too as some plants require an acidic soil so you may have to amend the soil to suit their needs, BUT dont try grow acid soil loving plants next to a plant that likes a humus rich soil in the same bed.

All this seems like a lot of work but honestly, it's so much fun too, you will learn more about plants you like by searching books for planting schemes, plant that you want and what suits your soil.
Once you decide to make a plan or you just want to stick a few plants in a pot or bed for now, you would be well advised to buy a very cheep soil testing kit from a garden store, this will allow you to amend the soil, the soil PH can be different in various different areas of the same garden.
I find the best thing to enrich your soil is once you have the beds laid out, dug out all the weeds the next stage is apply as much humus as you can lay your hands on, a 6 inch layer or more, laid on top of the bed then dug in as you go a long will make your garden soil burst with goodness as the humus allows air into the soil, it helps to hold on to moisture as you water it, the moisture stays long enough for the plant roots to drink it up before it drains away, it also helps give nutrients to the plants and ALL plants like some form of nutrients. I have to admit, my best type of humus is horse manure, well rotted, most or all stables allow you to take away as much as you want for free, BUT, please dont lay it on top of the soil where any plants are unless it's well rotted, that is free from smell, when you pick up a lump in your hands it should crumble between your fingers and thumb, then you know it's ready.
You can lay fresh manure INTO the bed by trenching, that is dig out trench 2 spades deep, lay 6 inch or more of the fresh horse or animal manure into the bottom of the trench and then cover the trench with the soil you removed, the manure will still rot down and most plant roots wont have large enough roots to be burned by the fresh humus in contact with them but by the time the plants get there roots down the manure will be fine. as time goes on and you need to re-dig the borders the humus will be spread even further and as you dig, you will notice how easy the soil is to dig and manage.

Hope all this helps you out, do remember all those garden shows you see on TV really DON'T make a garden in a day or two, there's all the planning to do, a whole team of knowledgeable people to make the garden come to fruition, the cash spent to make the gardens and all the plantings that are eventually lost because the owners dont know how to care for the plants.
PLEASE believe me, take your time, IF you want some colour this year, fill pots with plants and continue to make your very own garden plans come true bit by bit.

Too large an area is hard to look after, to water, care for the plants, when your still trying to make structures, but if you can wait till the work is done and you have all in place, you will get so much satisfaction because all the mistakes were made on paper and you corrected them without spending a penny.
Have fun, take care, a garden is like our children, they grow with us, thank the Lord we don't give birth too teenagers, LOL, we start with tiny tots and help them grow as we grow, we mature and gain experience, the same applies to a garden, take time to have fun, draw on the plan the colours of the flowers you want and sit back to dream. By the way, the best time for planting is early spring next year OR end of summer this year IF you have everything prepared for that, I would use the rest of this year to plant and search for your needs and over winter months send off for all the new plant catalogues, nursery's and plant lists from all the breeders, these can be obtained on line, winter is when the have got all the new items ready to get sales for early spring.
The catalogues give lots of ideas and huge amount of info IF you make sure the plants will suit your zone as catalogues are general sales and not for a specific zone, it's up to you to read IF they will grow in zone 5. Some could well take your zone IF you can give winter protection either by a mulch or fleece bought at garden store but that's a long way off for now. Do get back IF you want more info but I feel this long read may be more than enough for now. Take good care.
Best of luck and Kindest Regards. WeeNel.

Clarksville, TN(Zone 6b)

You might try the Landscaping Forum here:

The Garden Showcase also has some ideas. It's one of the tabs at the very top of the page.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

beelady13 ~ Once you purchase plants you like, try setting the pots in your garden area for at least a few days and move them around to see which combinations appeal to you the most before planting them.

I also like to use Bluestone Perennials Plantfinder (the link is below) to get ideas for what types of plants suit your tastes and conditions. There's no obligation to buy anything and it's a fantastic source of perennial and shrub info. It's also lots of fun. Just put in your info...Zone, sun/shade, soil, plant height, etc. You can search over and over, changing the requirements each time.

You can then purchase either the same or similar varieties wherever you want. Local nurseries & home centers can be great sources and also let you look at plenty of varieties.

Bluestone starts having sales in Spring and about mid-May puts everything on half-price clearance.

Home centers (and sometimes nurseries) generally start discounting their plants in late Summer (or earlier for annuals) and I've gotten some beautiful healthy plants in large pots for very reasonable prices.

Note:(Bluestone was, for many years, one of the top 5 nurseries in DG GardenWatchdog. They're still a very good nursery, but their new pots and pricing...1 plant instead of 3...has disappointed many people so their ratings aren't quite as good.

This message was edited Jul 11, 2013 11:47 AM

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

Tons of good info above:
Take pictures of the area.
Indicate north, or some idea of how much sun vs shade the area will get.
Measure the area.

Post this info for more specific help with garden design.

Sabattus, ME

Thanks for the advice! I will post a photo of what I am dealing with along with some idea I have :)

Stamford, CT(Zone 6b)

I have only a few bits of advice. First, the advice you have been given (above) is invaluable.

Keep in mind that perennials generally bloom only once a year with some exception of a few re-bloomers while annuals generally bloom all summer long. There are a number of gardeners from the state of Maine on Dave's Garden. Perhaps you will find gardeners from your locale who have posted with their experiences so that you have some idea of what does best in your zone. There are a number of wonderful plants that utilize the winter temperatures to produce wonderful foliage and blooms.

Sabattus, ME

Thanks everyone!

I took the advice above and posted my question in the beginner landscape forum. Posted pics, too :)

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