Designing a Perennial Garden, Part I
Terry L. Yockey
When I started gardening 25 years ago, I pretty much "winged it." That is not to say that I didn't read every gardening book I could lay my hands on, because I did. I think my main problem was that most of the garden advice in those days was given by British gardeners who really didn't seem to have a clue what gardening in our climate was all about.
Hey, I did okay, but I
am here to say that if I had just paid a little attention to some of the basics
of garden design--I would have saved myself a lot of time and money along the
Like many gardeners my
first mistake was thinking "the more the merrier" when choosing
perennials for my garden. In my
enthusiasm to try many different plants, I wound up with a very busy patchwork
effect in my garden. I've since
learned to use one color repetitively throughout my plantings so the eye is
drawn from one end of the garden to the other.
The best way to do this is to plant in drifts of at least three of each
flower. For example, one of my
favorite flowers is the yellow-gold
'Goldsturm' so I have
used it in large swaths throughout my garden with other yellows such as
Yarrow 'Coronation Gold' and Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'.
color is so important, your new garden design should start with a color scheme.
This is not as intimidating as it sounds. All you need to find a scheme you like
is a color wheel just like the one we all learned in elementary school (remember
Roy G. Biv?).
Let's try a
complementary color scheme first. Say
you pick yellow--directly across the color wheel is purple its complementary
color. In my opinion, this is one
of the best pairings you can have in the garden.
First, because yellow and purple are found in many of the finest annuals
and perennials and second, each color seems to make the other look just that
You can also use
a split-complementary harmony, which is a bit like cheating.
Rather then going directly across the color wheel from a primary color,
you choose one of the colors to the left or right of the one opposite. If you have a bright red monarda, instead of being restricted
to only green you have the option of using either a blue or a yellow flower.
The second color harmony is an analogous harmony.
In this color scheme, you would choose two colors next to each other on
the wheel. Complementary color
pairings can be a little brash; with an analogous color scheme, you will not
have such a noticeable contrast because these colors are much closer in
temperature. Blues and violets are
cool, yellows and oranges warm and by using an analogous scheme, you create a
more soothing combination.
hot orange of asclepias (butterfly weed) leaps out at you when used in a
complementary pairing with the deep blue of 'Sunny Border Blue' veronica.
Pair it instead with the warm yellow of coreopsis and it recedes,
becoming part of the whole garden picture.
last color harmony is the monochromatic. Monochromatic borders, especially those
in cooler colors, make a small garden seem larger because the eye is not
interrupted by other conflicting colors. This doesn't mean that your garden
has to be all the same color choice. If
you choose to plant in a monochromatic scheme you can use the main color as well
as all its close hues, for example, a red garden could also include pink, and
where does white come in? White serves as a buffer between colors that might ordinarily
not coexist peacefully. It blends
especially well with tints which are mixtures of white and another color (pink
an accent, white has a brightening effect and is a good choice for the shade
garden where it will light up a dark corner which otherwise might go unnoticed.
Whichever colors or
harmony you decide to use for your new garden, don't feel that you have to be
restricted to only plants in those shades. Even the great garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll, pointed out
the dangers of "clinging too
closely to a theme." So, if
you see a new flower that you absolutely love, harmony or no harmony--buy it!
On the other hand, if you just like planting what you want--where
you want--that's okay too. After
all, it is your garden, so plant what makes you happy!
to Orange Armeria Helianthus
Heliopsis Geranium Iris crestata Oenothera (sundrops) Physostegia (obedient
plant) Saponaria Thermopsis
White Iris crestata Polemonium (Jacob's
or Gray to Blue Foliage Baptisia (false
sempervirens (blue oat grass) Schizachyrium
scoparium (little bluestem)
or Gray to Blue Foliage
sempervirens (blue oat grass)
scoparium (little bluestem)
Back to the Articles
The Plant Guide
[Home Page] [Site Map]