My favorite part of planning my flower gardens is looking through seed catalogs at the new varieties. The cover of this season's second Burpee Gardening Catalog features a colorful mix of Echinacea, commonly called Purple Cone Flower. The description of the new varieties is as exciting as the idea of a garden full of these beauties: "you get bursts of pink, purple, wine, yellow, cream, and orange. A range of delightful bloom forms, too, some with full upright petals and others displaying spooned or recurved petals. Makes a showy planting for a carnival of color." What gardener can remain unmoved by the idea of favorite flowers in new and interesting colors and shapes?
Before I start filling out order forms, though, I need a good plan in place so that I can prepare the beds in which the new plants will live. I've found samples in nearly every home living magazine's March issues. My personal favorite place to find plans is at the Better Homes and Gardens web site. The plans are free, all that is required is to sign up to be a member of the site. Their plans range from cottage style to formal. The plans are detailed with garden layouts and plant lists.
This year I would like to yank out a bunch of over-grown azaleas, between the base of my front porch and the walkway, and replace them with a mixed cottage garden of annuals and perennials. I have two favorite azaleas I am going to keep and prune a bit to regain their pretty shapes. These azaleas bloom in a lovely shade of salmon. I want to highlight that color with early-spring blooming plants and coordinate the later-blooming plants so they are set off by the slightly rosy-tinted evergreen leaves of the azaleas.
Everyone can follow the basic steps to planting a flower bed and customize the rest of the steps to suit individual tastes and specific locations.
Step 1: Examine Your Chosen Site for Sun Exposure
Unlike most vegetables, many flowers can be planted in semi to deep shaded areas. During early spring my front walk is in full sun for about 2-1/2 hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Once the large box elder tree to the west of the walk leafs out, part of the walk is in light shade and part is in medium shade after about 9:00 a.m. The azaleas do well in these conditions and any other plants I choose to put there need to be adaptable to them also.
Step 2: Sketch Out Your Proposed Plan
Take some measurements and draw a basic shape to your garden within the confines of available or designated space. Be sure to include any existing plantings. My front walk garden is approximately 15' long by 3' deep. The walkway curves out away from the porch, the porch itself is about 2-1/2' above ground level and has a 30" railing. I know I want to keep most of the plants shorter than the bottom of the railing so I can watch my grandson play in the front yard while I sip tea in my big wicker rocker. Knowing all these things about my proposed garden site leads to:
Step 3: Investigate the Growth Habits of Your Chosen Flowers
I know I want year-round interest in the front walk garden. I also want simplicity of maintenance and cohesiveness in the color scheme. Since we use the porch and the yard immediately surrounding it as a spot to rest from the day's busyness, I'm choosing soothing colors: whites, blues, soft pinks, and of course, the salmon of the azaleas. When looking in seed and plant catalogs, always locate the symbol key. Those symbols next to the flower names let you know how much sun exposure the plant needs, how tall (and sometimes how wide) the plant grows, and when it will bloom. If you are shopping for plants at a department store, check the tag included with the pot for growth habits.
Step 4: Prepare Your Bed for the Plants
If you are starting your bed from scratch, you will need to mark the outline of the bed and dig and/or till the area to prepare it for planting. Next you can add some compost to loosen clay soil or for water retention in more sandy soil. An important note: if your soil is wet, you should wait for it to dry out before you till it. If you want an edging for your garden, you should put it in at this time. I have old bricks that I use as a barrier to lawn mower wheels in a few of my beds.
Step 5: Follow Your Plan and Set Out Your Plants
Before you actually dig holes for your plants, set them in the arrangement you drew on paper. Adjust the spacing as needed, always keeping in mind how wide the plants will grow. It is very tempting to fill the bed with little pots of plants for quick color. Resist this urge! It is not good for the plants to be planted too close. You don't want to add more work later by having to pull out crowded plants.
Once you are satisfied with the spacing, dig the hole as deep as the root ball and about twice as wide. Place the plant in the center of the hole and fill it with soil, firming as you fill. Mulch the garden to help with water retention once you're finished planting. Water immediately and check each day for a few days to see if the plants need water. Once they become established, you can cut back to weekly or bi-weekly water depending upon rainfall.
Get ready, get set, get gardening...oops! It snowed again this past weekend and we have had a chilly week. But remember, only 23 more days till the first day of Spring!! And now that bonus gardening tip I promised last week:
Economical Seed Tape from Bonnie Winters at Ink It Blog:
Here's how to make your own tapes: Mix a thick flour water paste - you'll probably have to measure out 1/4 cup of flour and add water slowly until it gets to be a pasty consistency - not too thick, but not runny. (One gardener I saw recommended using Elmer's glue instead of the flour paste, but I think I prefer the flour).
Tear off a three foot length of toilet tissue and cut it into one inch wide strips. Lay the strips on a flat surface next to a yardstick. Follow the directions on the seed packet for spacing and place a small dot of the flour/water glue at the proper intervals. Dip a toothpick into the "glue" and pick up a seed, placing it on the glue dot on the toilet tissue. Allow the strip to dry thoroughly before rolling the tape. Store in an envelope until ready to plant.
Aft er the danger of frost is past, just dig the furrow, unroll the strip and cover with the proper amount of soil. The flour paste and paper will degrade, leaving the seeds to germinate in beautiful properly spaced, even rows.
A note from Patricia: This works with most vegetable and flower seeds. Some flowers, such as Nasturtium, don't like to be transplanted. They must be planted directly in the ground where you want them to grow. Also, if you try this with larger, harder seeds, such as Moonflower or Okra, they will take longer to germinate that those that are pretreated with water or nicked with knife before planting. Several sites I visited used newspaper strips instead of toilet tissue. Since I receive 7 newspapers a week, I have plenty so that is what I am using to make my seed tapes.