Assess Your Plants
In addition to making a list of the plants you want to include in your garden, also note those you have already. Think carefully before removing trees and large shrubs because these will take the longest to replace if you subsequently regret your decision. You may find that a hedge or shrubs are sheltering the garden from prevailing winds, or a tree could be masking an ugly view or neighbor's house. Remember, too, that you can easily move clumps of perennials and bulbs or split them into smaller groups.
Shrubby shelter belt
The shrubs surrounding this patio shelter it from wind, and provide shade and privacy. When deciding whether to keep or remove large plants, try to visualize the garden without them, or cut them back first to see the effect.
Plan the Structure First
First, mark out your bed or border with nontoxic spray paint, sand from a bottle or a hose. Then make a rough paper plan by scaling down the length and width of the bed to, say, 1 inch on paper to 10 inches on the ground, or 1 inch to 20 inches. Then start plotting areas for the main structural plants, such as shrubs and trees. Check their heights and spreads to ensure they will have space to grow where you want them. Then draw circles with diameters that represent the spread of each plant on your paper plan. Alternatively, draw circles with sand from a bottle or nontoxic spray paint, marking the positions of the plants on the actual bed.
The next step is to plan the planting around these large specimens. Make sure perennials are a good distance from the central stems of trees and shrubs; spring bulbs that flower before the canopies open can be planted closer.
When planning a tree in a border, take note of its spread, which will affect the light and water available to plants beneath it. The light leaf cover of this maple allows dense planting below.
Stairway to Heaven
To create this beautiful landscape, plant the shrubs first, and fill in between them with perennials and grasses. Plants that require good drainage are squeezed between large boulders.
Specimen trees and shrubs look great as individual statements, but bulbs and perennials have greater impact when planted en masse. Bulbs are best planted in large groups of 10 or more if you have space weave them between later-flowering plants. Perennials work well in swathes of five or more. You can achieve a naturalistic design by interlocking sausage-shaped groups together, or for a modern look, plant in more regimental square or rectangular shapes. You can also add rhythm and continuity to your design by repeating the same plants throughout the garden, and try combining contrasting leaf shapes as well as flower colors for a rich, textured look.
Although the predominant color in this border is green, the bold groups of perennials with contrasting leaf shapes and forms more than compensate for the limited color palette.
Choosing a Color Theme
Skillful garden designers are adept at matching colors to create harmonious planting displays, and by applying their methods, you can create similar effects. For a bright bold display, choose hot colors, such as canary yellow, fuchsia pink, red, and orange, or try cool blues, mauves, purples, and white to imbue your design with a mellow mood. Alternatively, mix the two schemes, placing blue next to yellow, or purple with red, to achieve a more balanced effect, but avoid too many different hues or your design will look disjointed and messy. Another option is to limit the palette to just one or two colors for an elegant mono- or duotone scheme.
This blue and white design of grasses, daisies, bergenia and euphorbia has a tranquil effect.
Red tulips and yellow wallflowers toned down with blue forget-me-nots create a bright, exciting design to herald spring.