How to Plan and Design a Flower Garden

The Flower Garden

The flower garden can be an expression not only of your own growing skills, but also of taste and gardening sense. The form our gardens take, and the plants we choose to grow, all reflect our personal preferences and dislikes. And it is this as much as anything else that makes gardens so interesting, and each one individual no matter how similar the plots.

The kitchen garden is governed by practical matters, but in the flower garden the only considerations are aesthetic (given that soil and site suit the plants). The problem that many gardeners face is an inherited garden one designed and planted to the taste of the previous owner, but probably not what you would choose yourself if you were starting from scratch.

flower-garden If you are creating a new garden, give careful consideration to the form of the flower garden, merging your interest in particular groups of plants with the need for a pleasing garden as a whole. But even if you are taking over an established garden, much can be done to create the right ‘feel’, and to provide a ‘complete’ garden – one that incorporates colour throughout the year, a contrast in shape and form, and flowers for fragrance and for cutting for the home.


Framework Plants

Trees, hedges and climbers all give an impression of permanence, and are key plants around which many other garden features can be designed. Evergreens and hedges in particular are an essential part of most gardens, and besides possessing beauty in their own right, provide a natural setting for many of the more colourful subjects.

Hedges and Screens

There are many excellent hedging plants, some with attractive foliage, others that make ideal informal flowering hedges. Whichever is chosen, it’s worth bearing in mind that a hedge provides shelter as well as beauty; careful positioning in an exposed garden can make all the difference when it comes to growing some of the less robust plants. So always consider hedges in relation to the other plants you intend to grow.


Not only do these provide interesting contrasts of foliage texture and colour throughout the year, they also act as a splendid foil for many deciduous shrubs such as hamamelis, Jasminum nudiflorum, mahonia, forsythia and daphne, to mention just winter and spring subjects.

As hedges need regular clipping, some such as lonicera and privet quite often, it may be worth considering a less formal type of screen.

Laurels, aucubas and various conifers are obvious candidates, but there are many more. Golden conifers can look particularly effective, and two good ones are Chamaecyparis lawsoniana and C. l. ‘Lutea’. Among the golden yews, Taxus baccata ‘Elegantissima’ and T. b. ‘Semperaurea’ are both excellent plants.

Although screens of this type make an excellent framework within which to plant the rest of the flower garden, you must have the space to use this treatment. There should be sufficient room to have a border at least 2.4m (8ft) wide around the garden  or at least along one or more sides of the property.


Unless you have enough ground to form a small arboretum, trees must of necessity be regarded as background or framework plants.

Because trees are so important, they should be chosen carefully and positioned strategically. It is the trees and climbers that will provide the vertical dimension and offer contrast. If there are established trees in the garden, try to make use of them, as nothing gives a greater sense of maturity.

If new trees are being planted, however, it is usually best to settle for those of small stature, and to choose ‘multiple merit’ subjects. The flowering crabs (Malus) should be high on the list: they provide a mass of blossom early in the year, when it is most welcome, and a heavy crop of bright red or yellow berries in autumn. Some even have the additional merit of attractive purple foliage to hold attention throughout the summer. Typical of the group is ‘Profusion’, which has clusters of wine-red flowers up to 4cm (1-1/2in) across, and coppery-crimson young leaves. Autumn produces masses of dark red fruits. For yellow fruits, try ‘Golden Hornet’, as the small round fruit lasts well into winter.

Another group of trees that must receive consideration are the Prunus species. The Japanese cherries are particularly popular, providing masses of blossom in spring. ‘Kanzan’ is widely planted,. and has distinctive stiffly upright-spreading branches and large double pink flowers.

Don’t overlook the merits of attractive shape and ornamental foliage. Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’, for instance, has real ‘architectural’ merit and is a tree of great beauty when in leaf.


There are many small gardens where the potential growing space on the walls is greater than the ground area available. This space should never be wasted; climbers not only increase the range of plants that we can grow in our gardens, they also screen what can otherwise be rather bleak walls and fences. Although some, such as wisteria, are planted with the long-term in mind, there are many that will grow rapidly and soon produce a feeling of maturity.

In Britain we do not make as much use of ‘third dimension’ as they do in continental countries. We could make far more use of our walls and fences, poles and pergolas, to grow thereon climbing roses, a wisteria perhaps, honeysuckles (Lonicera ), cotoneasters, pyracanthas, or even various coloured ivies (Hedera). There are dozens of varieties of ivy nowadays, and a very ornamental one is ‘Gold Heart’, which has green leaves splashed with gold in the centre.

Ivies, Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), and the climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) are all self-clinging.

Other excellent plants to grow against a wall include the yellow winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) and the white summer-flowering J. officinale. The latter is very fragrant, but needs a sheltered spot if grown in cold northern gardens.

Clematis in great variety and Japanese quinces (cultivars of Chaenomeles speciosa and C. x superba) are also lovely plants with which to clothe garden walls and pergolas.


Flower Garden Design

flower-garden-zinnias Whichever plants we choose to grow, they must be displayed well if they are to look their best. There is no merit in having a choice alpine plant unless it is placed in a position where it can be seen and appreciated; and it doesn’t make sense to interplant wallflowers with hyacinths, as they will be lost. Also, why position two fragrant plants together when the perfume can be spread around the garden?

On the other hand, it is the plant associations that can make a garden distinctive. Don’t be too rigid in your thinking; break a ‘rule’ if you think it will work  but be prepared to learn by your mistakes if it doesn’t.

Shrub Borders

Borders of shrubs are easy to maintain if one uses low-growing plants beneath the shrubs to cover the ground and suppress the weeds. There are many ground-cover plants, including ivies (green, silver or gold variegated), bergenia and pulmonaria.

Mixed borders can be most attractive. The shrub border need not be restricted to shrubs and ground-cover plants. Be prepared to make the most of available space by planting lilies between the shrubs, and daffodils and low-growing herbaceous plants such as catmint (Nepeta) and dwarf Michaelmas daisies.

The idea of a mixed border may be extended almost indefinitely with a skilful association of herbaceous plants and shrubs. Red hot pokers (Kniphofia), lupins, paeonies, rudbeckias, irises, heleniums, erigerons, aquilegias, Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida), and more, associate well with shrubs.

Annuals can be used to brighten up dull patches in a shrub border, or to fill in gaps until newly-planted shrubs become established.

Hardy annuals such as godetia, clarkia, larkspur, nigella, and Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas), can be used effectively; or half-hardy plants such as antirrhinums, petunias and African and French marigolds (Tagetes erecta and T. patula) can be bedded out.


Shrub roses rest happily in a shrub or mixed border, but the Hybrid Tea and Floribunda types are almost always afforded beds of their own. For garden decoration, however, the Floribunda type is best, as they flower almost continuously from July until October.

The problem with rose beds is that they are no objects of beauty from November until the end of June. In large gardens there used to be a separate rose garden where one sat in summer and enjoyed the roses. But in a small garden where the roses are in full view from the sitting-room window all the time, most people like to grow other plants among them.

The fervent rose lover will frown upon this, of course, and not allow any other plant to compete with his beloved roses. But if we have no ambitions about winning prizes at flower shows, we can grow many plants in happy association with our roses. Pansies and violas go well with them; so do dwarf perennials such as aubrieta, Alyssum saxatile, arabis and bergenia, and all the early-flowering bulbs like snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), crocuses, muscari, chionodoxas, daffodils and scillas.

Forget-me-nots (Myosotis ), London pride (Saxifraga umbrosa), polyanthus (Primula polyantha), primroses (Primula vulgaris), lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), honesty (Lunaria annua), dwarf campanulas, ajugas, dwarf geraniums such as G. endressii, Phlox subulata, intermediate irises, and dianthus, are a few of the flowers we can grow to bring colour to the bed in spring until the roses begin to bloom.

Objectors would say that with these plants growing in the bed it is not possible to feed the roses properly. But by using soluble fertilizers and foliar feeds, it is perfectly possible to grow good roses. One must remember, however, to water such beds or borders early and generously in dry spells and to begin watering even as early as May if we run into a period of, say, two weeks with little or no rain.

Herbaceous Borders

Herbaceous plants are, of course, the mainstay of any garden. For a long time, the traditional border had to be backed by a wall, fence or hedge  ‘to give it background’. But nowadays we know better and grow our herbaceous plants in free-standing beds.

First, many plants grown in a border against a wall or fence tend to stretch towards the light and become tall and thin, and therefore need staking. Grown in a free-standing bed in the open garden, they will need support only if they are in a very exposed windy position.

Then, if the free-standing bed is not more than about 1.5m (5ft) wide, we can tend it from all sides for staking, tying, hoeing and removing dead flowers without having to trample on the flower bed.

Also, in a free-standing flower bed, we can plant those subjects that like a little shade behind taller plants. With a bit of trial and error we can find a spot where each of our plants will be happy.

Anyone who is not in a hurry can fill a garden with perennial hardy herbaceous plants in two years by raising them from seed. If two or three friends club together and buy perhaps two dozen packets of perennial flower seeds, they can raise hundreds of plants to grow between them. There are many to choose from -Lupins, hollyhocks (Althaea rosea), coreopsis, gaillardias and delphiniums are just a few.


Special Use Plants

Whatever the design of the flower garden, there are certain groups of plants that can almost always be incorporated into the scheme of things. Bulbs, for instance, have so many uses that it is hard to imagine a garden where some of them would not add interest, while annuals and biennials are often neglected in many established gardens although they can contribute much in the way of colour.

Flowers can be appreciated in the home as well as in the garden, and it seems a pity not to grow suitable kinds for cutting. If they have fragrance, so much the better; and we can find fragrance in all kinds of plants, from bulbs and small alpines to large shrubs.


Although the prices of some bulbs, notably hyacinths and tulips, have risen considerably in recent years, there are still many bulbs that are a worthwhile investment.

Some daffodils are particularly suitable for naturalizing, and these should increase over the years. Some good ones are the trumpet-type ‘Rembrandt’ (yellow) and ‘Mount Hood’ (white); small-cupped ‘Red Rascal’ (yellow and red) and ‘Semper Avanti’ (white and red); double ‘Irene Copeland’ (yellow); and Jonquil-type ‘Suzy’ (red and yellow).

Daffodils grow in nature on the lower slopes of mountains and in spring and early summer receive abundant moisture at the roots. This moisture is the key to success with daffodils, and indeed all the smaller bulbs. They need plenty of water from the time the flowers fade until the foliage begins to die down. Giving the foliage two or three applications of a foliar feed at two-week intervals helps to build up the young offset bulbs to flowering size quickly.

Of the small bulbs, chionodoxas, scillas, crocuses, muscari and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) usually increase if cared for properly.

Tulips, on the other hand, do not increase very much, although large-flowered Darwin Hybrid cultivars such as ‘Apeldoorn’ (vivid scarlet), ‘Golden Apeldoom’ (yellow), and ‘My Lady’ (coral red), may be lifted and replanted to flower again the following year. The cultivars of Tulipa kaufmanniana and hybrids of T. greigii and T. fosteriana often acclimatize themselves and flourish for years in a garden if the conditions suit them.

Tulips grow naturally in the Middle East, where they receive a hot summer baking, so they tend to do best in a light, quick-draining soil.

Cut-Flower Plants

Many gardeners cannot bring themselves to cut flowers from their beds or borders, and devote a small part of the vegetable plot just for cut flowers. This is an excellent idea, and need not take up very much space. Half a dozen paeonies, a few of the blue Scabiosa caucasica


Roses-as-Cut-Flowers ‘Clive Greaves’, some pyrethrums and a few early-flowering chrysanthemums, and dahlias, would give a fairly steady supply of flowers from early summer until the coming of the frosts.

Daffodils and tulips give welcome flowers in spring, and for May one can plant wallflowers, to be followed by sweet Williams and Dutch irises in June. Gladioli, too, will provide a supply of cut flowers from August onwards. If gladiolus corms are planted at intervals of ten days from late March until mid-May a succession of flowers will be produced right into autumn.

Annuals also provide plenty of flowers for cutting, and ‘everlasting’ flowers are always rewarding to grow. There are a surprising number to choose from.

Fragrant Plants and Flowers

Anyone who has planted night scented stock (Matthiola bicornis) outside their window and enjoyed the heady fragrance as it wafts through the house on a summer evening, will need no convincing of the merit of planting fragrant plants.

Annuals and Biennials

Few people appreciate what wonderful dividends can be realized from the investment of a pound or two in seeds of annuals and biennials.

It is difficult to find any other plants that will transform a bare patch of ground into such a riot of colour in so short a time.

They are of especial use in a newly-constructed garden, but certainly merit inclusion at any time.

Choice is a matter of personal preference, but don’t overlook godetia, alyssum (Lobularia maritima, but usually listed as Alyssum maritimum), clarkia, cosmea, larkspur; linaria, linum or lavatera, among the hardy kinds. In a heated greenhouse one can raise petunias, zinnias, ageratum, verbena, annual rudbeckia, and African and French marigolds, for planting out at the end of May.

In a small well-prepared seedbed, you can sow biennials in May or early June. Try pansies and violas, wallflowers, Siberian wallflowers (Erysimum x allionii, usually listed as Cheiranthus allionii), sweet Williams, forget-me-nots, foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea ), double daisies (Bellis perennis), and honesty.


06. September 2010 by admin
Categories: Garden Types, Gardening Ideas | Tags: , | Comments Off on How to Plan and Design a Flower Garden


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