Planning a Perennial Garden

Tips for planning a perennial garden. The best exposure for most perennial flowers. Preparing the soil for the plants. Choosing the right types of perennials for your garden plan.

The first herbaceous border planted in Britain is still thriving today at Biddulph Grange.

Full sun is the preferred exposure for the kind of long borders depicted above as this is what the vast majority of perennial plants enjoy.  That said, you can turn whatever outdoor space you have into a stunning perennial garden no matter the exposure. You'll just have a smaller plant palette to choose from.

A great many perennials will thrive and bloom reliably, if not profusely,  in part sun locations.  A relatively small percentage will even tolerate shade.


Hedges, Water Features, and the Importance of Focal Points

Soil Prep:

Most perennials need good drainage and nutritious, moisture retentive soil in order to grow and bloom lushly.

Dig in plenty of organic compost prior to installing the plants.

As you can see from the pictures on this page, even the most professionally planned perennial garden does not stand alone.  It relies heavily on its setting to succeed.

It needs a structure within which to exist.  A backdrop against which to pose.  A stage upon which to set.

Tall, clipped hedges, wooden fences, and stone or brick walls all make excellent backdrops for perennial gardens.

In the garden above, artistically clipped box contributes structure and year-round interest.  Walking paths laid out on an axis and leading to a focal point (the fountain), create a formal feeling.  The neatly trimmed strips of lawn used as bed edging emphasize the formality of the garden.

In a less formal setting, low maintenance dwarf liriope could stand in for the turf.

A fountain, no matter its size, is always a desirable feature in a garden as it brings in the cooling look and refreshing sound of water.  However, anything that draws the eye--from an antique garden bench to a pretty birdbath--can serve as a focal point.


Planning a Perennial Garden of Many Colors

This is the most commonly seen kind of perennial garden and it is a plant collectors dream! Given enough space, you can work in all of your favorite varieties.

I know this type of border has a casual, unplanned look, but you really need a good eye for composition to avoid a hodgepodge effect.

Here are some tips to help you keep this style of planting pleasing:

  1. Adhere to the perennial garden tradition of planting in layers with the shortest plants in front, tallest in back, and the thigh-high species in the middle.  This creates an orderly look.
  2. Install all plants in groups of 5-7.  Nothing looks more jumbled than one of this and one of that dotted around a flower border.
  3. To unify the design, repeat groups of like plants throughout the planting at regular intervals.
  4. Use silver foliage as a color break between hues that don't harmonize with one another.  Repeated drifts of white flowers can also be used to lighten a too-colorful border and prevent it  becoming too raucous.
  5. Give yourself time to work out the best combinations.  As the plants mature, you'll see what is working and what isn't.  If a plant does not play well with its neighbors, dig it up and move it.  As long as you keep new transplants moist and shaded, they will recover quickly.


Using a Limited Color Scheme

Pink English roses, gray leaved perennials, and green boxwood create a beautiful planting.

Planning a perennial garden using just three or four colors is much easier for a beginner and, as you can see from the image above, the effect can be just as stunning.

This garden, laid out in the round, consists of just three colors: pink, white/gray, and green.

The pink flowers used here are David Austin roses.  The gray foliage is probably that of ArtemisiaSantolina or lamb's ear would work just as well.

The low green hedge making up the parterre in the center is Buxus.  The white flowers filling the open spaces in the design may be those of the annual sweet alyssum.

The same garden from a different perspective.

The roses will flush most heavily in spring and repeat throughout the growing season.  In fall, their lacquered red hips will change the color scheme but keep the show going.

Pink peonies could be substituted for some or all of the rose bushes.  Their red fall foliage would provide even more color.


Planning a Perennial Garden Around a Single Species

900 Dahlias flourish in the Dahlia Walk at Biddulph Grange.

Most perennial gardens contain a wide variety of plants, but this does not have to be the case.  A distinctive border can consist of a single plant species.  The Dahlia Walk at Biddulph Grange is a beautiful example of this.

Sheared hedges have been used to create bays in which the 900 individually-staked plants grow.

A closer view of one of the bays in the Dahlia Walk.

Dwarf varieties are situated closest to the path while tall types are placed in back against the "wall".

The different heights, colors, and flower forms are what make this scheme work so well.

A similar effect could be achieved with a different plant.  Coneflowers, for example, or daylilies.


Different Types of Perennial Gardens:

Formal French Garden

French Country Gardens

An All White Garden

Cottage Garden Ideas

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