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Publication: Garden Guides
Designing a Perennial Garden

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                 GardenGuides Newsletter 
                      May 2, 2006

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* Use only soilless planting mixes — free of weeds, diseases 
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* If the basket does dry out excessively, place the whole 
pot in a bath full of water for an hour to reabsorb needed 

* In hot, windy conditions, set pots in well-protected areas 
out of the afternoon sun. Take pots down in extreme wind to 
prevent damage. 
* During hot and sunny periods, some plants may require 
watering two to three times daily. 

* Frequent watering leaches out soil nutrients more quickly. 
This requires adding water-soluble fertilizer every couple 
of weeks. 
* Water abundantly until water runs from the bottom of the 
pot. This helps prevent a buildup of excess mineral salts. 

* Fertilizers higher in phosphorous (middle number) such as 
1:2:1 are better for flowering plants. 
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Designing a Perennial Garden
By Terry L. Yockey

Like many people, I've always admired the architecture of 
Frank Lloyd Wright. When Mr. Wright was commissioned to 
design a home, he would go to the new site and just sit for 
days and absorb his surroundings. After that, he could 
design a home that was part of its environment. When you 
make that big decision to create a new perennial garden, 
try the same philosophy. Design your garden to fit its 
surroundings. Spend time in your yard at all times of the 
day. Take notes about where the sun falls and where is the 
most comfortable place to sit.

Next start noticing other people's yards and gardens. If you 
see a planting you like, jot down the specifics such as 
color, plants, heights and shapes. If you can't identify all 
the plants, do the best you can. You can always call the 
nursery or the extension office and ask them to help ident-
ify the mystery plant. If you find the perfect garden--take 
notes or even carry a camera in case you see that perfect 

When you have a tentative plan, its time to get some graph 
paper or a garden program for you computer, and put it down 
on paper. There aren't any steadfast rules in designing a 
garden, so draw what pleases you. A good way to find the 
right shape is to put a garden hose outside where your new 
garden will be. Move it around until it looks exactly as 
you envisioned. Try curving the edges to create a more 
natural look. When you are satisfied, sift powdered lime-
stone alongside the hose to mark the curves, and transfer 
the shape to your drawing.


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When you start adding the plants to your sketch, stick to 
scale. Check the descriptions in books and catalogs to see 
how wide the plant can be expected to grow. Use the scale 
to determine how to space the plants in your drawing. 

When choosing the flowers for your perennial bed, remember 
to mix shapes and sizes, as well as colors. Don't be afraid 
to put a few mid-sized plants--especially those with 
delicate foliage--among the low plants in front. Astilbe and 
coreopsis both have finely textured leaves that won't hide 
the plants growing behind.

A well-designed bed has waves of changing color. If you plan 
your garden carefully, you will have something blooming 
spring through fall. Since most perennials flower for a 
limited time, the trick is to fill the bed with plants that 
have different bloom periods. You can start with the bulbs 
of spring and end with fall mums. There are a few long 
blooming perennials such as the daylily 'Stella de Oro," 
which will flower for four months or more. 


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Colorful, attractive foliage helps keep the garden interest-
ing all season. 'Silver queen' artemisia, 'Palace purple' 
coral bells, lady's mantle, hosta, and 'Autumn joy' sedum 
are all good foliage plants. I like to repeat my favorite 
plants over and over. It's especially important when you 
have smaller gardens to have at least one unifying element. 

Once you are sure you have the right design, you need to 
develop a budget. If you're on a tight budget, buy perenn-
ials that grow quickly and are easily divided. Another 
alternative is to grow plants from seed, which is must less 
expensive. On the negative side, the plants will take a few 
more years to fill in. 

Don't let the idea of a new garden intimidate you--but don't 
get overly ambitious, either. If you start with a manageable 
size, you can always add on next year (and the year after 
that , and the year after that.....).

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