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A New Garden

Transform an awkward patio edge into an attractive new garden bed.

Master gardener Paul James has installed a new flagstone patio but isn't happy with how the stone edge abruptly stops and drops to a grassy area. This is an excellent opportunity to create a new planting bed. He demonstrates how to create a smooth transition from the patio to the rest of the yard by planting a new garden bed.

Bed preparation

The first step is to define the border by using a garden spade. By creating the border first, you can get a good sense of the bed's overall shape and establish its outer edge.

Remove the turf between the bed edges. You could use an herbicide to get rid of the grass, but in this small-sized area, it's easier to just dig it up. Cut into the soil at a depth of about two inches. By doing so, you'll remove the grass roots so they won't grow back.

Before moving on, loosen the subsoil with a garden fork. Stab the fork deep into the soil and rock it back and forth. This process opens up the soil so that water, nutrients and oxygen can penetrate the root zone of the plants.

Planting a tree

The tree James has chosen to use in his new bed is a Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa). This Asian beauty blooms about one month after native Cornus florida. It grows about 20 to 30 feet tall and is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

To plant, dig a saucer-shaped hole, loosen the sides with a garden fork, and set the tree in the hole. Check to make sure that the tree is planted at the proper depth. To finish, verify that it's positioned straight and backfill the hole with soil.

"When planting a tree, I recommend that you leave roughly one-third of the rootball above the soil level. If you plant a tree too deeply, you can smother it." Now, in this case, roughly half of the rootball is above ground. James plans to raise the soil level of the garden bed, so when completed, the tree will be planted at the right depth.

Laying the stone foundation

To define the border of the garden, James brings in various sizes of limestone. He uses large stones to define the bed's outer edge. When placing large boulders such as these, take your time because they can be heavy and you'll only want to move them once.

James uses mid-sized stones to create a mini-garden within the bed itself and then scatters smaller stones here and there for effect. The garden area is backfilled, using excavated soil from the tree hole in combination with an improved planting mix. In this case, James made his own planting mix of composted pine bark, sand and soil. With that done, he double-checks the planting depth of the dogwood.

Planting perennials

Since this spot is shady, James incorporates the following shade-loving plants. Before planting anything in the ground, he places the plants in their pots on top of the soil until reaching the desired garden look.

  • Astilbe 'Deutschland' is one variety that produces white flowers. Astilbe grows about two feet tall and requires moist soil. Avoid planting this shade-loving perennial in full sun. Hardy to USDA Zone 6, possibly Zone 5 with protection.

  • Autumn fern can grow quite large in ideal conditions. The new foliage emerges in a bronze color and eventually turns green. Semi-evergreen to USDA Zone 3.

  • Heuchera 'Plum Pudding', also known as coral bells, adds silvery purple foliage to the shade garden. USDA Zone 3.

  • This bleeding heart (Dicentra) has interesting white, heart-shaped flowers. USDA Zone 2.

  • Hosta 'Big Daddy' is a large-sized selection that features crinkled blue leaves. USDA Zone 3.

  • Lenten rose (Helleborus) is one of the first shade-loving perennials to bloom in the spring. During the rest of the year, it has attractive, dark-green foliage. USDA Zone 3.

  • Columbine (Aquilegia) has fine-textured foliage complemented by dangling flowers atop slender stems. USDA Zone 3.

  • Caladium is a tropical tuberous rhizome that's typically grown as an annual for the shade. This selection offers red and green foliage, but caladiums come in a variety of colors, including white, green, pink, red and multicolor.

  • Brunnera 'Jack Frost' offers frosted, heart-shaped foliage with green veining, making it a bright addition to the shade garden. Delicate blue flowers appear in spring. USDA Zone 4.

    The final touch

    To complete the bed, add a two-inch layer of mulch and water well. "Of course, this is a brand new garden, which means it looks a tad sparse, but it's nevertheless nice-looking," says James. "In time, the plants will increase in size and fill in the bare spots."

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