University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Summer News Article

GIVE YOUR GARDEN A MAKEOVER

Dr. Leonard Perry, UVM Extension Professor

As the growing season begins to wind down, it's time to take a good look at your landscaping to see what changes and additions you will want to make next year.  Perhaps your flower garden is looking a little overgrown.  Or you want to add more color or new plants to give an old bed more pizzazz.

Start by taking a long walk around your property.  Take notes as to what you like and dislike, and where you think improvements could be made.  Are there trees or plants that you want to keep for sentimental reasons, such as a sapling you planted when you first moved in or a rose bush from your great-grandmother, for example?

Then grab a piece of graph paper, a pencil, and a comfortable outdoor chair and start sketching out the layout of your yard, including the location of your house and garage, as well as any permanent outbuildings, fences, and shrubs and trees.  Add the flowerbeds and gardens, paying more attention to their shape and size than the actual plants they contain for now.  If you plan to expand a bed or change its shape, make sure your plan reflects those changes instead of the size and design of the existing beds.

Once you have completed your map of your property, use tracing paper or an overlay to mark those items that will remain, such as a garden path or large tree.  Try to be as accurate as possible as this map will form the basis of your new layout.

Next, track the movement of the sun in your garden for a full day, keeping track of how much sun and shade each area receives.  This information will help you determine what plants could benefit from a move and where new ones should go.  It also will come in handy when you need to decide where the best place is to put a bench or picnic table.

Now it's time to add the plants to your drawing, starting with the large plants or clumps you want to keep.  It's easier to plan around these existing plants than to add them later.  Rather than listing individual varieties of plants, you may find it easier to look at the whole picture if you use colored pencils instead to indicate patches of various colors within each bed. Don't include anything you plan to move or eliminate.

Once this preliminary inventory of plants is finished, assess what you have and what you need to add in terms of color and height or shape.  Keep the rules of proportion in mind as you start to play around with plants, as well as the growth requirements (light, soil pH, hardiness zone) for various plants.

For an attractive planting, the height of the tallest plants should equal approximately half the width of the bed.  You also will want to repeat one element of design, such as color, to give the bed balance and strong visual appeal.

Low-growing plants like hostas and coleus work well near the front of borders, hostas preferring shade and coleus, full sun.  Taller plants like lupines, gladioli, delphiniums, or hollyhocks make ideal backdrops for the beds.  In addition to blooming plants, consider ornamental grasses and plants with interesting foliage.

For a succession of color, you will need to think about bloom times for the flowers that you want to include.  Many gardeners supplement their perennial plantings with annuals, including fall mums that add color to the garden once most of the other plants have stopped flowering for the season.

If you have trouble visualizing what your new garden will look like, or just need a second opinion, consult with the experts at your local garden center or ask a garden-loving friend to take a look at your plan--and your existing landscape--to offer suggestions.  Or you can cut pictures out of gardening catalogs and magazines and use these to create a garden on paper.

When planning your garden, don't forget to include garden accents like a birdbath, sundial, or bench.  Do you want to add night lighting?  If you like music, consider adding some outdoor speakers that are hooked to your stereo inside.  You also might want to designate places for potted or container plants that you can replace with other containers as the season progresses and the various varieties stop blooming.

Although this is the time for planning changes to your landscape, some of the work can, and in fact, should be done in late summer, such as dividing overcrowded perennials or planting spring- and summer-flowering bulbs.  Finally, be sure to check out end-of-season sales for good deals on benches, stepping stones, and other garden hardware for your newly designed landscape


Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles