Designing a flower bed for all seasons

I’m like a kid in a candy store when spring comes and the garden centers are open. All too often I bring home a flowering plant that catches my eye and put it in the ground without thinking of how it will look in the grand scheme of things.

Martha Smith is an Extension horticulture educator at the University of Illinois. She says most of us have lots of blooms in the spring, but summer and fall can be a little sparse. The best way to plan for visual interest through the year is by having a theme for your garden.

"Maybe a prairie planting or a cottage garden to accent your property. Maybe you want to attract hummingbirds. Your design goal will strongly influence your plant choices," says Smith. "It’s going to help you stay focused, and it’s going to prevent you from getting into what I call that hodge-podge zone where it’s just a mix."

Be sure to include foliage color in your overall design because it can pull the garden through when nothing else is blooming.

Think outside the box beyond annuals and perennials, and add small woody ornamentals to the garden such as crabapples and serviceberries. They have flowers in spring, fruit in summer, and colorful leaves in the fall.

How you arrange the plantings also makes a difference.

"One rule that seems to be easy to follow – short plants in the front, tall plants in the back. So design for mature height and width. Another general statement to help guide your plant selection is group plants with similar needs. Put sun-loving plants in a sun garden, put shade plants in a shade garden," she says. "Think about the needs and what that garden is going to supply."

Even winter can have some visual appeal when you don’t cut back the dried flowers and ornamental grasses.