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THE CONTINUOUS-BLOOM SYSTEM
In this chapter, we're going to jump right into my continuous-bloom system. If you need advice about where to put your garden, information about basic principles of garden design, or suggestions of favorite plant combinations, you might want to read through chapters 2 through 6 before actually filling out your own Blueprint. But if you already have some experience with plants, I invite you to plunge right in! I believe you will quickly discover why my system constitutes a giant step forward in perennial garden design.
Have you ever set out with enthusiasm and confidence to design a flower bed for that special spot, then ended up pulling your hair out a few hours later with pages of disconnected notes and dog-eared catalogs but no cohesive plan? My system puts you in the driver's seat by keeping track of all the cumbersome details so you can concentrate your energy on creativity. When I teach workshops, there are always long moments of silence as people digest the essentials of my technique, then pencils suddenly begin to fly, designs emerge, and enthusiasm is everywhere. I hope this chapter gives you that same sense of excitement and confidence about creating your own garden designs.
1 HOW MANY PLANTS?
5 EASY STEPS
To begin developing your garden Blueprint, you must first figure out how many short, medium, and tall plants you'll need to fill your new perennial bed. Most perennial design techniques instruct you to choose what type of plants to use first, so my technique departs significantly from the norm at this point. By doing it my way, you know exactly how many of which height plant you need to select, thus avoiding the situation where you've fallen in love with and committed yourself to a bunch of plants that won't work in your flower bed. As you'll see in chapter 3, this method also allows you to change your mind infinitely during the selection process — something that with other methods is cumbersome and irritating at best.
The following simple drawings and calculations are designed to make it easy to generate a plant list that contains the right proportion of short, medium, and tall plants whose bloom times are balanced over the season.
Draw your bed to scale on graph paper as shown in the example below. You can purchase a pad of graph paper or make copies of the samples provided on page 216. Make each square equal to 1 foot.
Divide the bed into three parts (for short, medium, and tall plants). You can draw straight or wavy lines. These divisions do not indicate plant placement in your final garden — this step just establishes a rough proportion of short, medium, and tall plants. Setting aside about half the bed for medium-height plants is a safe bet, but you can try various ratios if you feel adventure-some. If your bed is less than 5 feet deep, you should consider just dividing it into two parts (for short and medium plants; see page 26).
Use the formula to see how many plants of each height you need. Begin by counting up the number of squares each for short, medium, and tall plants on your graph paper drawing. (Count partial squares as a half square.) Enter your figures in the "Number of Squares" column. Divide by the figure in the "Plant Spacing Adjuster" column, which accounts for the spacing between plants. Enter the results in the "Target Quantities" column. Round up to the next whole number if necessary. This formula allows for about 15-inch spacing for short and medium plants and 17 inches for tall plants. This is tighter than is usually recommended, because I prefer to plant close together. When you get to the actual planting step, some plants should be placed closer or farther apart than this. (See pages 52–53.)
If you prefer not to use graph paper, you can skip steps 1 and 2 and use the alternate method described on page 198 in the appendix.
Transfer the target quantities for short, medium, and tall plants to the boxes at the top of the Blueprint Form (example below).
Use the Plant Palette (beginning on page 106) as your reference to choose plants according to their bloom time. The Plant Palette is conveniently organized to present all the recommended plants that bloom in each season on a pair of facing pages. This lets you stay focused and shows you all the choices on one page so you don't have to flip around and try to remember what you're looking for. The shaded boxes indicating bloom data are particularly useful here, as you can see at a glance where you will have blooms and gaps even within the subseason itself.
As you're working with the Plant Palette, if you need more information about any given plant or if you want to look at a photo of it, just look it up in the alphabetical Flower Catalog (beginning on page 120). As you fill in the Blueprint, watch for gaps in the bloom schedule and keep checking across each row to be sure you haven't chosen clashing colors, because these are the plants that will be blooming at about the same time.
The rest of the book covers in more detail how to use the Plant Palette and Flower Catalog, as well as offers design principles and basic techniques for caring for your garden throughout the year.
2 GETTING STARTED ON YOUR BLUEPRINT
If you've ever fumbled back and forth among piles of garden books and catalogs looking for photos, heights, and bloom times, you'll appreciate the concise and complete information in the Plant Palette and Flower Catalog. These tools are the precious result of many years' experience. They list about 200 low-maintenance plants that work best with my dense planting system. I've selected them over the course of my years of designing more than 100 gardens and planting more than 8,000 plants. In the Plant Palette, each season has its own section, which corresponds to a row on the Blueprint; the plants are further grouped into columns according to their height. The ideal candidate for the Plant Palette is a plant with these qualities:
* Attractive flower
* Hardy at least to Zone 5 or lower
* Long-lived plant
* Good foliage (or foliage that can easily be hidden if unattractive)
* Long bloom time
* Ability to survive close planting
* Readily available at retail
* Adapted to sun or part-sun conditions
* Grows well in ordinary garden soil and moisture conditions
* Not invasive
Obviously, only a few plants meet all of these criteria, so the list of 200 was created by weighing a lot of pros and cons.
The Flower Catalog contains detailed information and photos of each plant in the Plant Palette. I apologize for forcing scientific plant names on you, but common names are not accurate enough to identify specific plants. For example, there are dozens of plants called "sage" or "bellflower." When I started learning the scientific names, I did a whole lot of flipping back and forth between index entries, and so I created an Index of Common Plant Names (page 207) to make your job easier.
QUANTITIES OF EACH PLANT
As you select plants, you also choose quantities. You might use just one or two of each variety of plant. All the books tell you not to do this, but it works with my system of densely planted beds (as long as they are not too big) and gives you maximum variety, especially if your space is limited.
If your bed is large (say, more than about 16 feet long), you might prefer to use masses of three to seven plants. A very large bed made of single specimen plants usually looks fractured and too busy. Massing allows the eye to rest on clumps of plants instead of individuals.
As you work on your design, periodically add up the number of plants you've tentatively chosen. Jot this provisional total in the blank space at the top of the column to the right of the column title and compare it to the number you wote in the box to the left of the column title (the "target number of plants"). I usually do preliminary totals like this several times during the course of designing a garden. You needn't match the target number exactly; just try to stay in the right ballpark.
3 APPROACHES TO DEVELOPING THE BLUEPRINT
With so many choices, it can be hard to know where to start. Just browsing through the Flower Catalog or the Plant Palette for inspiration is a great way to begin. The Flower Catalog has the advantage of offering photos of each flower and detailed horticultural information, while the Plant Palette gives you all the plants that bloom at once on a single page (but with abbreviated information and no photos), so each resource has its pluses and minuses. A number of different design approaches have worked for me. Choosing one of the following can help focus your efforts. Whichever approach you choose, the design process is one of trial and error, choosing and erasing. (You will find basic plant design choices in chapter 3.)
WORK WITH WHAT YOU KNOW AND LIKE
Start with a favorite combination of flowers that bloom together and build the rest of the garden around them. To carry out this approach, think of a favorite flower and look it up in the Plant Palette. This gets you on the page that lists all the other plants that bloom at the same time. For example, you might start by writing in 3 delphiniums and 5 Asiatic hybrid lilies on the Blueprint form in the row labeled "Midsummer." Next, choose a few complementary plants that also bloom in midsummer. Finally, choose the rest of the plants that bloom during the other months to create a continuously blooming garden.
CHOOSE TEAM PLAYERS
Base your design on plants that mix well with others and bloom for a long time. Even if you don't use this as your starting point, be sure to include some good team players, such as solitary clematis (Clematis integrifolia) and patrinia (Patrinia gibbosa), in your design. Plants like these help sustain the bed before and after the superstars like delphiniums and peonies have their burst of glory.
This way of working might sound ridiculous, but it actually works. Since the goal is a continuously blooming garden, you can start by simply choosing one plant from each category of the Plant Palette for each empty box in the Blueprint. Continue choosing plants this way until you've reached the target quantity for each height. Check across the rows to be sure you haven't chosen clashing colors within each month, and be sure to include some plants that provide good structure and good foliage.
USE YOUR FAVORITE CATALOG
This approach substitutes your favorite catalog for the Plant Palette. Most plant catalogs contain all the information you need about height, bloom time, and color (although the bloom data is usually not as specific as that in the Plant Palette). When you're done filling in the Blueprint, you can simply order the plants from the catalog. This approach requires more experience as the plants are not prescreened for ease of growing and tolerance for close planting as are those in the Plant Palette.
You don't have to copy every bit of information onto the Blueprint — just write the minimum you need. For example, I might write "Campanula 'White Clips'" or "Campanula 'White Clips' – Midsummer +" to remind me that it blooms beyond its bloom category (midsummer). Sometimes I note the plant height if it is especially tall or short. If you have trouble remembering colors, you can write the plant names using erasable colored pencils.
You are well on your way to creating your own garden! You have determined the size of your garden (page 10), then used the formula on page 11 to calculate how many plants of each height you need, and finally, you have used the Plant Palette and Flower Catalog as references for your plant choices. Your Blueprint is now ready to take along to the nursery or garden center to help you purchase your plants.
Before you leap in and start designing, however, you'll want to decide on the best size and shape for your garden (chapter 2) and consider some suggestions on designing with flowers (chapter 3). In addition, study the detailed plans and photos of the five actual gardens in part 2, which can be used as a starting point for your own design. This book is filled with suggestions to help you design and plant a garden that can bring you joy throughout the seasons and for years to come.
BEAUTIFUL PLANS LEAD TO BEAUTIFUL GARDENS
Since gardening is a creative endeavor, doesn't all this planning out ahead defeat the purpose? The temptation to rush in without a plan is often overwhelming. Like everybody else, I sometimes succumb to the lure of lovely plants at the nursery and drag home my prizes with no idea where to put them. New holes are hastily dug, and the beautiful new plants disappear in the mishmash.
Why do gardeners so resist the task of planning? In my case, I suffer from the delusion that I know and understand my yard. I think I don't need to plan because great gardening ideas will spontaneously arise in a beautiful creative process. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, my mind zeroes in on details and I tend to miss the big picture. I think of adding or subtracting little things in corners and empty spots. Unless I make a special effort to be objective, my imagination is constrained by existing patterns born of habit, not inspiration. In this chapter, I'll help you see the big picture by taking an objective look at three important components of a successful garden: its site, its size and shape, and the condition of its soil.
1 THE IDEAL SITE
If you're about to create a brand new garden, your first consideration is where to place it. This is a time for a thoughtful, objective look at your surroundings and how you want them to work for you. Step back and try to see your property as a stranger would. Ask yourself some basic questions about the site and your design objectives.
WHO IS THE GARDEN FOR?
This might seem obvious, but confusion on this point leads to mediocre landscaping that pleases no one. Ask yourself, is the garden a treat for myself, or do I want to dress up my yard for neighbors or friends? Will my family enjoy looking at or working in the garden? Am I trying to impress someone else or to create something uniquely mine? For example, a screen of tall perennials can be enjoyed from both sides, giving privacy during prime outdoor activity months while also offering the neighbors something nice to look at.
HOW CAN I TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE APPROACH?
What stands out when you drive up to your house? Most of us come and go by car, yet we often ignore this view when planning gardens. Putting a garden where you'll see it every time you pull in or out of the driveway can be very satisfying.
ARE THERE UGLY FEATURES I SHOULD MINIMIZE?
Don't let existing structures hobble your imagination. The temptation to simply embellish a strong element like a telephone pole or the side of a driveway may be powerful. But doing so just emphasizes an ugly feature and accentuates a line that probably works against a good composition. Sometimes the best way to handle an unattractive feature is to create beauty nearby to light up your yard and steal attention away from less desirable features.
WILL I BE ABLE TO ENJOY THE GARDEN FROM INSIDE?
My favorite perennial bed lies directly opposite the kitchen window where I see it constantly. I used to stare out at a boring picket fence and strip of grass; now I'm energized by a constantly changing flower scene. Avoid the common mistake of locating a beautiful perennial bed along the foundation where it's invisible from inside the house. Ask yourself, "How often will I see a garden if I put it here?" Walk around inside your house noticing which windows you use most often. But avoid "wishing" yourself into different habits by putting the new garden outside a room where you think you should spend more time, like a little-used formal dining room. If you have to make a special effort to sit down and look at your garden, it can become a joy-killer, like a closet full of new clothes that will only fit when you lose a few pounds.
Excerpted from "The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden"
Copyright © 2009 Lee Schneller.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: AN INVITATION TO SUCCEED,
One: The Continuous-Bloom System,
How Many Plants?,
5 Easy Steps,
Getting Started on Your Blueprint,
Approaches to Developing the Blueprint,
Two: Beautiful Plans Lead to Beautiful Gardens,
The Ideal Site,
A Case for Raised Beds,
Deciding on Shape and Size,
Preparing the Soil,
Three: Designing with Plants,
Combinations that Rock!,
Never Underestimate the Power of Good Foliage,
Gain Variety through Plant Height and Flower Shape,
Don't Fight the Site,
The Secret to Earliest Spring Color: Bulbs,
Four: Shopping for Plants,
Tips for Buying Plants,
When You Get Home,
Five: Getting Your Plants into the Ground,
Decide on Plant Placement,
Understanding Plant Habits,
Put Plant Habits to Work,
Critique the Layout,
An Alternate Method: Paper Layouts,
Six: Planting Your Continuous-Bloom Garden,
In Defense of Densely Planted Beds,
Amending Your Soil,
After You Plant,
Getting Bulbs into the Ground,
Ensuring Bloom in Future Springs,
Seven: Improving an Existing Bed,
Working Existing Plants into Your Blueprint,
Eight: Enjoying and Maintaining Your Garden,
The Importance of Watering,
Flowers and Deadheading,
Preparing for Winter,
PART TWO: SUCCESSFUL CONTINUOUSLY BLOOMING GARDENS: FIVE CASE STUDIES,
Garden One: Soothing Blue for Summer Cool,
Garden Two: An Exuberant Welcome at the Front Door,
Garden Three: An Oasis of Color (In a Sea of Asphalt),
Garden Four: Splashes of Color Adorn the Dooryard,
Garden Five: A Rock Garden with Pizzazz,
PART THREE: THE PLANT PALETTE,
PART FOUR: THE FLOWER CATALOG,