University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Spring Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

For a successful summer flower garden, "plan before you plant" should be your motto.  Take advantage of this lull before outdoor planting time to map out your garden and determine what plants you need to buy.

Planning before you purchase is particularly important when flower bulbs and annuals will be sharing the limelight--and color schemes--with your perennials.  Before you pick up a hoe or plant a bulb or annual, you should have a garden design in mind.  However, time is running short, especially if you plan to purchase from mail order nurseries.

Take a tip from the pros and start with a diagram of your garden.  Packaged landscape kits are available by mail order or from home garden stores, or make your own.  Draw a rough aerial-view sketch of the shape of your yard and the location of your planting areas.  Specific measurements and drawn-to-scale renderings are not necessary.

Include all your trees, shrubs, and planters on your layout.  Note the blooming season and color of your perennials.  Now for the creative part.  Cut out garden magazine and catalog pictures of the bulbs, annuals, and bedding plants that appeal to you and move them around on your layout until you find an arrangement you like.

Experiment with different groupings and locations before you make your shopping list.  This preview can inspire creative combinations that you might not have envisioned at the bulb bins or store shelves.  Don't forget to review any photographs or notes that you made when appraising your garden last summer.

Color is another important consideration.  Plants should fit in with the existing color schemes in perennial and landscape plantings, as well as complement foundations and fences.  For maximum effect, think about how the colors of the plants will blend or contrast with their surroundings.

For example, deep red geraniums or red salvia would be lost against a redwood fence or red brick wall while white or pink geraniums will stand out.  As a rule of thumb, select more dramatic colors such as purple or magenta against a white or light-colored background.  Peach or pink are ideal choices for planting near dark surfaces.

Colors also can create moods and affect emotions.  Bright colors such as red, orange, and yellow are "warm" colors, evoking feelings of warmth and excitement.  Choose yellow marigolds or scarlet dianthus, for example, for the entrance of a home.

Cooler colors include blue, lavender, green, and peach.  These can be used to create a more relaxing and serene mood.  If you spend a lot of time in your backyard, for instance, plant a patio garden using pansies in rose shades with blue violas and blue ageratum--all soothing shades.

Consider dramatic color combinations to give your garden beds a distinctive look.  Instead of something as ordinary as red and white, choose orange and blue or light pink and green color combinations.

Whatever you decide, contact mail order companies and visit local garden centers, specialty nurseries, and other outlets soon.  The selection of annuals and colorful summer flowering bulbs, including dahlias, lilies, gladioli, and begonias, is best early in the season.

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