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How To Use All The Plants In Your Garden Design

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How To Use All The Plants In Your Garden Design

Gorgeous gardens come in all different forms. We’ve seen amazing all-bulb gardens, annual plantings, wildflower areas, prairie-style gardens, you name it. But probably our most favorite style of garden design is the one where all types of plants are used. Why? Because it’s infinitely interesting, amazingly long-lived, and unbelievably season-spanning.

Using bulbs, flowering perennials, annuals, vines, evergreens, and edible plants in one garden may sound overwhelming, but it needn’t be. Think of it as a fantastic adventure where all manner of surprises are popping up throughout the year. To prove it, we’re going to show you how to create a garden like this, and we’ve included a sample design for you!

What Plants to Use

Use them all. We’re serious. As long as you are using plants that thrive together and in the available sunlight and growing conditions you have, use them all. Work from this list and go to town:

  • Bulbs: Well, of course bulbs would be at the top of our list, wouldn’t they? You can plant a variety of flowering bulbs that bloom from late winter all the way through the summer and into the fall. There is always a surprise coming up through the soil, and the ensuing withering foliage is hidden by all of your other plant types.
  • Flowering Perennials: You’ll get more long-lived bloom from perennials, which typically flower for a full season or more. Plan varieties with spring, summer, and fall bloom periods.
  • Shrubs and Trees: You must include shrubs and trees, especially evergreen varieties. They are the backbone of the garden and will add structure during the winter season when few other plants are shining.
  • Vines: Vines add valuable vertical interest to a garden of any size, but really add value to small gardens where real estate is at a premium. Think trellises, arbors, along fences, or on sides of buildings.
  • Edible Plants: There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t include edible plants in this garden. In fact, we wrote a blog post about that, too (of course we did)—check it out here. You can add herbs, fruit trees, vegetables, and greens.
  • Annuals: Colorful annuals are amazing fill plants and perfect for borders and any container plantings you want to add in. May we suggest Dahlias or Caladiums?

Okay, How Do I Do This?

First, we want you to consider a garden like this a work in progress. Most gardens are, but this one can be a multi-year plan where you add to it and keep redefining it. We love this approach because it keeps the project from being overwhelming. You can refer to our sample design here, and then use these steps that start with the largest plants first:

  1. Plan a focal point. This could be a large plant like a tree, or it could be a fountain, a sculpture, or large container planting. If you have no focal point, then your eye simply doesn’t know where to go first.
  2. Plan where your shrubs and trees go. This is important, because these are large plants that are more difficult to plant later without disturbing surrounding, smaller plantings. Remember, not everything needs to flower, so aim for some well-placed evergreen trees and shrubs.
  3. Identify your vertical opportunities. Do you have a fence in the back of the border? What about an exterior garage/shed/house wall? How about the entrance to the garden—any room for a welcoming arbor? These are all prime spots for vines, flowering or evergreen. 
  4. Add groups of flowering perennials. Definitely plan for three seasons of perennials and if you live in a milder climate, add in a fourth season of bloom. Identify at least two flowering perennials per season and that should be enough interest until the next season arrives.
  5. Fill in with flowering bulbs. Bulbs can be tucked in anywhere, but do keep in mind their mature size, if they tend to naturalize or spread, and if they need any supports.
  6. Fill in more with edibles. Edible plants can be trees, vines, shrubs, groundcovers, bushes, or fill plants. Whatever season you’re in, take a look at your open and available space and choose edible plants for those areas. Lettuces and chard can be border plants, herbs can fill in here and there, fruit trees can be focal points, and tomatoes and squashes can scramble up support trellises. All of your edibles don’t need to be in this garden, but some certainly can.
  7. Finish with annuals. This one’s easy-peasy. Your favorite seasonal annuals can go into any space where there’s a void, all along a pathway, at the front of the border, or in containers.

Pro Tip: There’s a lot going on in a garden like this because it includes all the things. To avoid chaos, stick to a color scheme and plan sweeps of color and groups of plantings.

Our Sample Design

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  • Jenny Peterson