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Designing Perennial Plantings

While beds and pots of annuals may be replanted with ease, perennial plantings may live for many years and, therefore, require some planning. Flower beds are usually highly visible and should work well into the total landscape design. Otherwise, large areas of the landscape may be bare part of the year.

Many perennials, like annuals, are effective in mass when they are in bloom, but because of their seasonality, they are better viewed as small clumps of color and texture to accent other plants. You can often build a design to support or accent a favorite plant or group of plants. Use small evergreen shrubs, flowering trees, or such hard features as a fence, stone, bench, birdbath, or garden art to enhance a flower garden and "carry" it through all the seasons.

One of the easiest design "tricks" is to interplant groups of flowers that have contrasting shapes. For example, daylilies can have their large flowers set off well by the spikes of blue salvia and the round flowers of yarrow. The large leaves of canna and sword-like form of iris plants have a dramatic effect when used in groups among other less bold plants.

A natural way to begin planting perennials is to create islands of flowers in an open lawn, but because such beds are easily viewed from many sides, they often require high maintenance to keep them attractive.

Border plantings along a wall, fence, or hedge can soften the transition of landscape structures into the rest of the landscape or can create alleys of color. Rectangular beds lend themselves to a border planting where space is restrictive. When planting a perennial border against a hedge, fence, or wall, leave a little space between it and its backdrop. This allows for better air circulation, more light penetration, and ease of maintenance from the rear of the bed. Perennial borders often are 6 to 8 feet wide, allowing adequate space for at least a combination of six or more species, front to back, yielding a continual bloom.

To prevent turfgrass from growing into the perennial bed and becoming unsightly, use some form of broad edging or separating strip. Bricks laid flat, flagstone, bare ground, or a heavy layer of mulch such as wood chips or bark will help keep out grass.

Perennials may be grouped according to color, intermixing plants that bloom at different intervals for a continual display. Early bulbs may be planted with spring yarrow and iris, which usually fade before daylilies and canna begin their season of color. Fall sunflowers and ornamental grasses complete the season. Select plants that have not only attractive long-lived blooms, but those that have attractive foliage.

Plant height is a major consideration. In border plantings, the tallest plants are usually placed towards the rear to serve as a backdrop with a few moved forward to prevent monotony in the design. In island plantings, they are placed towards the center. Fall-blooming perennials are usually the tallest, making them the best backdrop or accent plants. Most of the middle height perennial plants are summer bloomers and may occupy the majority of the middle space. Spring-blooming perennials are primarily short plants; place them toward the front. Emerging foliage and flowers of later blooming plants can help hide the fading foliage of earlier flowers. Narrow beds with excessively tall plants are usually not effective displays. Whether for borders or island beds, keep the width of a planting about twice the height of the tallest plant.

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A flower garden with raised beds.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens, Insects-Ornamental Plants December 1, 2021

A grant from Coast Electric will allow for a renovation of the Mississippi State University Crosby Arboretum’s pollinator garden. Pat Drackett, director of the arboretum, said the pollinator garden was established in 2001 as the Explorers’ Garden. It is a 3,000-square-foot space with a variety of native and other plants that helps teach visitors how to create havens for pollinators.

Frost on a plant.
Filed Under: Lawn and Garden, Flower Gardens, Trees November 30, 2021

It’s hard to believe we will be closing out another year at the end of the month. If you’ve followed our monthly garden checklist, we know it’s been a busy year for you! Staying on top of the chores in your yard and garden is quite the undertaking, but isn’t it rewarding? To wrap up the year, here are a few things to take care of:

A head of cabbage grows in a garden.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens November 29, 2021

Even though I still have tomatoes and peppers producing in my home garden, I know these summer vegetables are on borrowed time. While I like being able to harvest tomatoes on Thanksgiving, it’s the time of year to appreciate the great cool-season vegetables we can grow.

A yellow bloom.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens November 22, 2021

This Thanksgiving week, I’m recovering from a particularly nasty infection in my leg. I’m not looking for sympathy, but it has given me the opportunity to think about what I’m thankful for in the garden and landscape.

This past weekend, the weather was glorious on the Coast, and I hobbled through my garden, which I hadn’t seen for a week.

Red, yellow and red flowers bloom in a raised bed.
Filed Under: Flower Gardens November 15, 2021

When leaves fall and landscapes begin to look bare for winter, it can be easy to think it’s time to stay indoors. But fall is the ideal time for a variety of landscape chores. One job for chilly weather is planting and preparing for spring-flowering bulbs. This is an optimistic chore, as you get to prepare for blooms and beauty months away.

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Portrait of Dr. Gary R. Bachman
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