How shall we begin? I could give you a botany lesson…. DON’T RUN AWAY! I promise I won’t do it! Instead of cramming your head full of theory, let’s look at some practical things you can actually do something with. To create a gorgeous flower garden, you don’t need a bunch of terminology at your fingertips – but you do need some advice on flowers, what to expect from them, and how to create a design that will gladden your heart. Let’s go!
Annual, Biennial, Perennial
Yes, it is terminology, but it has a practical use for you. Let’s take a look.
Only lives for one year at maximum and sometimes less. Grows, flowers, sets seed and dies.
Practical Implications: With such a short lifespan to do so much in, most annuals are way more colourful and floriferous than biennials or perennials. If you want hectic seasonal colour, this is the way to go! Replant new ones to suit the season when your current crop of flowers gets tired.
You can also prolong the lifespan of annuals by preventing them from making seeds. Your annual flowers want to fulfil their purpose, and their purpose is to provide for the next generation. Deadheading tells your annuals that they haven’t achieved what they set out to do. So how do they react? They try again!
Of course, this won’t work indefinitely. Summer annuals are meant for summer conditions, and they won’t keep through the winter, but you can get more bang for your buck this way. In the end, let them seed. With luck, your garden will give you free flower seedlings later on.
You guessed it! These guys live for about two years. Unfortunately, most of them won’t flower in the first year, but they will flower in the second.
Practical Implications: Don’t let the wait for biennials to flower put you off! The time you wait for those blooms is worth it! Think about Foxgloves, for example. You can’t beat them for sheer wow factor, and since they self-seed in the right conditions, you could get lucky with naturally staggered flowering that means you get to enjoy them every single year. Meanwhile, you might want to interplant them with a few annuals so that you get colour while you wait. Taller varieties of Ageratum might fit the bill.
Perennials will live for 3 years or more, and they can be “perpetual” bloomers, flowering in flushes all or most of the year, or seasonal bloomers that have a special time to flower.
Practical Implications: Perennials aren’t immortal, but they do last a long time. Since everything from colourful garden plants like Achillea to gigantic trees are perennials, you will need to do a little homework. What’s the expected lifespan? What’s the flowering time? Do they have a dormant period when they’re hiding under the ground like Echinacea? The answers to these questions will help you with your garden planning.
There are several things people are considering here. We could look at the shapes of the flowers themselves, but really, a picture paints a thousand words, so why bother with explaining what you can already see? What’s of more practical use is “growth habit” the shape and size of the plant itself – and as a result, the way in which it will display its flowers.
Tall, Medium, Short
There are a bunch of things to consider here, starting with the look you want to create. It’s pretty obvious that garden beds with different heights of flowers are going to look more effective than a flat meadow of flowers all the same height. Personally, I love a mixed-up bed with tall, short, and medium-sized flowering plants with different flower shapes and colours all creating a patchwork of colour together. Those with more formal ambitions will want to plant tall flowers at the back of beds and shorter ones in front.
Short, or compact flowers like Alyssum are especially popular because they make a nice finishing touch without being overbearing. For example, you can plant them at the edges of perennial beds, under roses, or along pathways.
Tall flowers, on the other hand, do require thoughtful placement. But they reward you with an unmissable display of out-there blooms. Your only concern will be rough weather conditions which might send them sprawling if they aren’t staked.
As a rule of thumb (and there are always exceptions) choose short and medium-sized flowers for containers and small beds. You can even make mini gardens. For instance, I love to have Alysum cascading over the edges of pots with a bright, colourful centerpiece like Petunias.
Growth Habit (Plant Shape)
You may have picked up on some growth-habit related words here. “Cascading” is one. “Mound-forming,” “bushy,” and “upright” are among the others. While the words are self-explanatory, the practical implications will include issues like spacing between other plants as well as overall aesthetics. When choosing flowering plants for your garden, consider the shape of the plants you want to incorporate in your garden design as well as height , flower form, and colour.
Get Down to Basics. What do You Want From Flowers?
Here are a few of the main things you will want to keep in mind when choosing flowers for your garden. Decide what you need, and then look for plants that will fit your requirements rather than getting a bunch of flower seeds and then trying to get your garden to fit them.
- Flowering Time
- Sowing and flowering season
- Shape and size of flowers
- Shape of plant
- Sun or shade preference
Perennials are the backbone of your garden. Plan their layout extra carefully. Annuals are the showgirls – use them where you want masses of high impact colour. I also like adding pops of colour between perennials or as an edging to perennial beds. Biennials shouldn’t be forgotten along the way, but intersperse them with annuals to get the best of both worlds.
Mass plantings of one type of flower can look hugely effective, but I think they work best in big gardens. In mass plantings, all your flowers will be in their prime at exactly the same time. It looks AMAZING, but after that, you’re left with a long wait before the next planting is ready to bloom. To get a succession of colour, it’s best to plant seedlings in little groups interspersed with plants that will flower a little earlier or later. That’s just my two cents, though.
The aesthetics are up to you. Colour-code for a formal design, or create a crazy patchwork of colour with drifts of different types, shapes, and shades. Mix them, match them, or mass plant them and enjoy the rewards. Along the way, you’ll learn more about what does well in your garden, which flowers you enjoyed most, and which of your ideas worked best for you. Have fun!
Take me to the Seeds of Plenty – Flowers