Continuing and Distance Education

PSS 096 Perennial Garden Design

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Dept Plant and Soil Science (656-2630), 212 Jeffords, UVM, Burlington VT 05405 (best, quickest response)

Three credits 

Due Dates: See Blackboard course site
Tests and exercise may be turned in any time prior to the due dates. Late submissions after these dates will be accepted at the discretion of the instructor.  Plan for the unexpected (illness, computer crash, power outage, lost textbook, etc). 

Meetings: none scheduled, optional consultations with instructor; online course

Book required:  The Perennial Gardener’s Design Primer, Stephanie Cohen and Nancy Ondra, Storey Publ., softcover. (available from bookstores and online, and in Kindle format).

What It’s About:

Knowing perennial flower is only the beginning.  Knowing how to combine perennials and do so well (or at least pleasing to you and sustainably so they will last with the least care) is the main objective of this online course.  This may seem intimidating with all the thousands of choices blooming at all different times of the season, but this design process really is fun, and there are many options you’ll be exposed to in this course.  Keep in mind gardens change with time, and are ongoing projects subject to change with plant growth and your desires, so don’t worry about getting it “right” the first time.  There really is no right, just many options that will work well, just with different results.

How It Works: 

Prior knowledge of perennials, either from experience or other courses, is not required but is useful.  Whether you have this prior knowledge or not, a good photo book or more on perennials, or some catalogs, may prove useful in addition to the plants from the course book.  The internet too is a great resource.  My website ( may be a good starting point for plants, articles, and links to useful sites.

 Using the course book, and the accompanying online quizzes (open book), you’ll be exposed to the basics of design, approaches, many ideas for combinations and a simple process you’ll actually use.  Next you’ll learn some uses of perennials, both aesthetic and functional, with some plants for each.  Lastly, you’ll incorporate what you’ve learned into a perennial bed design project. It may be helpful to look over the quiz questions prior to reading the appropriate chapters in order to have the key concepts they cover in mind.  Pre and post quizzes are for fun, not credit, and to give you and me an idea of your knowledge at that point.

 As this course shouldn’t consume all waking hours, and is just an introduction, we’ll keep the project design focused to just a garden bed (with minimal requirements linked elsewhere) and not a whole property or landscape.  You can use an existing site and situation, or make up one.  You’ll choose whether to establish a new bed, expand one, or renovate one, following tips in the respective book chapters on these.  You can choose a “theme” or use from those in the book, or other.  Plants can be those from the book, or others and other cultivars found elsewhere.  The goal, and what you will be graded on, is a design that works functionally (appropriate for the site, right number of plants) and aesthetically (not whether I like it, but rather that it incorporates basic design principles you’ll learn).  Emails with questions as you develop your plan with the instructor are encouraged, and consultations can be arranged to discuss ideas and drafts. There are no time limits, rather you proceed at your own pace in this course.

 You should find that this course will take some time, but it should be fun so time should pass quickly; you should learn some new plants and lots of new ideas and approaches to design; and you should end up with a ready-to-plant
plan for yourself or even another that will be pleasing and successful.


Grades will be determined on a 10 point standard scale, ie 90-100=A, 80-89=B, etc.  Within each letter, grades will be split, such as 90-92=A-, 93-97=A, 98-100=A+.  Quizzes will be taken online (open book), with automatic grading (once your quiz is submitted you'll get the score and this will be your grade), and the design plan will be graded manually as shown below.

Quizzes (3, 100 points each)        300 points
Plan considerations                      100 points
Appropriate plants for use, site      100 points
Plan (plant placement, design)       300 points

TOTAL                                         800 points

"If today you care only for pinks and roses and other prim garden flows, next year you will also admire the wild convolvulus on the old fence and the winter stalks of the sunflower." -- Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1858-1954, generally considered the Father of Horticulture
"A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust."-- Gertrude Jekyll, influential British garden designer, 1943-1932

return to Perry's Perennial Pages | UVM Plant and Soil Science Department