University of Vermont Extension System
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Perennial Flower Garden Design (OH 67)

Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor

Flower garden design can be considered from two perspectives-- the design qualities of the perennials, and the design principles which utilize the design qualities of the individual plants.

 Design Qualities of Plants

I. Size

1. most dominant feature, one chosen for first when selecting plants

2. consider scale to landscape, proportion in placing to other plants and elements

3. balance original plant size with growth rate and mature height desired
example: low, small foamflowers in front of taller, larger hostas

II. Form and Line

1. next most dominant plant quality, pick plants for next

2. includes upright or spreading, mounded, rounded, vase-shaped, columnar

3. especially important for perennials with flowers only 3 weeks average

4. line is whether plant is more vertical (strong element) or horizontal (pleasing, soothing, less jarring), rounded or mounded is between

example: upright yuccas against a low stone wall

III. Texture

1. consider overall and individual leaf textures

2. fine from finely cut leaves, small leaves, light colored leaves, open habit of growth; less visually strong element, tends to "recede" adding effect of distance; emphasize color and form

3. coarse from large leaves, bright colored leaves, dense habit; strong visual element, tends to "advance"; can use for accent or emphasis; tend to overpower color and form; tropical effect

4. also important with perennials as usually this is seen not flower color

example: fine texture of small baby's breath flowers interplanted among asiatic lilies with coarse texture from larger leaves, flowers and brighter colors

IV. Color

1. of leaves and flowers

2. creates moods: warm colors (red, orange, yellow) are more exciting and dominant than cool colors (blue, green, purple) which are more calm, soothing

3. changes as flowers (even leaves) come, age and pass

4. primary: red, yellow, blue; secondary: orange, green, purple; combine 2 primary to get secondary eg red and yellow give orange

5. combine adjacent colors on color wheel for less dramatic effect, unity (eg green and purple)--analagous color scheme

6. combine colors separated by another (eg red and yellow, orange and purple--opposite on color wheel) for more dramatic effect and contrast-- use sparingly to avoid "busy" effect--complementary color scheme

7. for primary or secondary colors, "value" or light reflected determines shade if blackish or tint if whitish, eg for blue, navy is shade and baby blue is tint; using one color with shades and tints is monochromatic color scheme

8. each combination of plants represents one color scheme; whole garden can be one scheme for more dramatic effect

Principles of Design

 I. Scale and Proportion

II. Variety

III. Repetition or Sequence

IV. Balance

V. Emphasis

Return to Perry's Perennial Consumer Page

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. Lawrence Forcier, Director, UVM Extension System, Burlington, Vermont. University of Vermont Extension System and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating, offer education and employment to everyone, without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, and marital or familial status.

Last reviewed 2/19/98