While spring seems far in the future, spring flowers are on their way.
Experienced gardeners know these beautiful gardens are not accidents. Planning for beauty is essential. Plan and plant those flowers this fall for a show-stopping, talk-of-the-neighborhood garden next spring.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty when designing spring gardens is that you are designing blind. What that means is, you have to design and envision the garden in your mind. This is particularly true of bulbs. Taking these dried, onion looking balls and dropping them in the soil and expecting them to bloom seems somewhat incomprehensible.
The best advice I can give to any garden designer is to make a shopping list. You would never try to build a building just by going to the store and buying the materials you like. You need the kind and amounts of lumber to build walls and roofs, and you need shingles, siding and other materials to complete an attractive, structurally sound building.
Unfortunately, many gardeners just buy what looks good to them the day they are in the nursery. While they might look good when you buy them, you need a variety of sizes, colors and textures and different bloom times to keep a flower bed interesting.
The book "Temple Square Gardening" describes four basic elements of blind designing of flower beds by relating them to parts of your body. The four elements are as follows:
1. Start with your skeletal flowers. Like the skeleton of your body, the skeletal flowers provide the framework or support for the design of the bed. Skeletal flowers are dominant and four characteristics make a specific flower stand out in the bed.
Flowers take on dominance from their height or spread, their bright colors or their prominent position in the bed. Plant these flowers along a curved line you lay out in the center of the bed or in an informal radiating pattern from the center of a bed. Skeletal flowers comprise 10-20 percent of the total number of flowers in the beds.
Skeletal spring flowers can include delphiniums, for their dominant height, bleeding hearts for their dominant spread, and bright red tulips for their dominant color or any of many other flowers in the center of the beds to give them a dominant position.
2. Tendon flowers are the next group. These connect the skeleton with the flesh flowers. Tendon flowers are less dominant than skeletal plants. They might be shorter or narrower, have more subdued colors and will not be planted in the center of the bed or directly along the configuration line. Plan for 10-20 percent of the flowers as tendon flowers.
The definition of a tendon flower depends on the skeletal flower it is combined with. When combined with delphinium, foxglove becomes a tendon flower. When combined with the shorter snapdragons, the foxglove predominates and becomes the skeletal flower. Tulips, daffodils or other shorter or less brightly colored bulbs also work well as tendon flowers.
3. Just as your flesh gives you beauty and form, the flesh flowers do the same in the beds. These comprise 60-80 percent of the plants for your beds. Flesh flowers are not dominant. They are shorter and smaller and are usually lighter or more passive colors.
The most common flesh plant for spring gardens are pansies. They come in myriad colors and sizes, some with faces and some without. They are tough, cold-hardy plants that are planted with the bulbs in the fall and survive the winter to put on their show in the spring.
While the kinds of flesh plants that will survive the winter are not as extensive as the summer choices, we still have many others to add to the list. I will cover these flesh plants as well as additional plant choices in a future column.
4. Sparkle flowers are a few highly contrasting or brighter flowers that add interest to the garden. They are scattered about like a few wildflowers in a grassy meadow. These are counted with the flesh flowers and usually comprise about 5 percent of the total number of flowers. Plant these in odd numbered groupings of three, five or seven plants.
Bulbs make our spring beds very showy but most bulbs are temporary, meaning they do not last for the entire season. Plan for half the flowers planted in the beds to be bulbs and half to be longer-lasting winter annual or perennial flowers. Note the bloom season as there are early, mid-season and late tulips, daffodils and several other bulbs.
While making a plan might take time, it is the easiest and best way to get the right kinds and the right number of plants for your garden.
Garden tips and events
Thanksgiving Point classes
Spectacular Spring Flower Bed Designs Tuesdays, Sept. 9, 16 and 30, at 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. or 6:-8:30 p.m.
Creating Fabulous Fall Color in the Landscape Sept. 9, 16, 30 at 2-4:30 p.m.
Backyard gardening workshops Saturday. Choose from 20 different classes on a variety of gardening subjects.
For information and registration on Thanksgiving Point classes, call 801-768-7443 or go online to www.thanksgivingpoint.com and follow the links through education.
Temple Square Gardening, published by Eagle Gate Publishing, a division of Deseret Book, is available at local bookstores.