10 Steps to Easy-Care Beds and Borders
Eco-friendly plants save gardening effort
Garden beds and borders, artfully filled with a colorful tapestry of flowers and foliage, are very much back in vogue. But unlike the traditional perennial beds and borders, which were labor intensive and peaked mainly in spring, today’s garden plots are filled with eco-friendly plants designed to perform better, require less care and offer year-long interest. Typically, they combine tough, flowering perennials with hardy shrubs, bulbs, grasses and other foliage plants, with a new twist on the look emerging each season.
Here are 10 simple tips and tricks to keep in mind when creating eco-friendly garden beds and borders:
- Select eco-friendly, low maintenance plants. Investing in low maintenance plants that are drought tolerant and require no harsh chemicals to perform will pay for themselves ten times over.
- Create a framework. Shrubs are often thought of as stand-alone plants, but when interspersed throughout a bed or border, they add “framework” and structure. Shrubs are available in a variety of sizes
and shapes, foliage types, bloom time and colors and much more. Visit urbanext.illinois.edu/shrubselector/ for helpful information selecting shrubs for your home.
- Spread the love. To create season-long color, select flowers that last for long periods of time and then add in more seasonal color and spread these long bloomers throughout the garden. For instance, in most areas of the country, Salvia “May Night” sends out 12-inch purple/blue blooms starting in early spring and continues to bloom all summer long. Flower Carpet, the original “eco rose” blooms from late June through October and comes in a variety of colors. Garden writer Doug Oster’s favorite long-bloomers is Corydalis “Canary Feathers,” which is filled with bright yellow blooms from April until October.
Space these long-bloomers throughout your beds and then fill the areas in between with more partial-season bloomers such as spring-blooming bulbs and early summer blooming Siberian iris, Oriental poppies and peonies; low-maintenance mid-to-late summer bloomers include daylilies (the Stella-type rebloom for even longer color), phlox paniculata (Volcano phlox is a great option because it reblooms if deadheaded), achillea, campanula, coreopsis, asters and hardy mums. And don’t forget the silver! Silvery-blue artemisia comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and adds a constant neutral tone to any garden, blending with almost any other color.
- Don’t underestimate the power of white. White can be used to break up otherwise clashing colors and helps to soften harsh edges. Try combining white-variegated or white-blooming plants with contrasting shapes, like Volcano® phlox or Snow Storm agapanthus (the only agapanthus to survive the Dallas Arboretum’s heat). White blooms often show up even in the dark and as an added bonus many, such as flowering tobacco, brugmansia and moonflower are quite fragrant in the evening air.
- Create a backdrop. “A tall flowering hedge at the back creates a canvas for the rest of your ‘art,’ ” says Anthony Tesselaar. He suggests Fairy Magnolia® Blush, with its dark-green, compact foliage and masses of russet-colored buds followed by heavenly scented, spring flowers. Limited space? Use a few pieces of ornamental fencing material to create your backdrop.
- Make it mow-friendly. When creating new beds, stay away from sharp angles and tight corners. Straight lines or broad curves look best and are easy to keep mowed. One of the easiest ways to plan (and test mow-ability) for new beds is to lay out a garden hose to form your border, making certain the curves are smooth and gradual enough to mow around easily.
- Choose a range of heights. “Go tall in back; medium in the middle and low in the front,” says Tesselaar. “But don’t line them up like a school photo. Think of overlapping drifts.”
- Include evergreens, ornamental grasses and foliage plants for year-round color and texture. “Festival Burgundy cordyline, for instance, has become a favorite for warm-climate gardeners with its cascading mass of grass-like, bright-burgundy leaves spouting from a short central base,” says Tesselaar. Ornamental grasses add color and texture all year long, as do a variety of evergreens.
- Select plants with strong form and color. “One or two kinds are enough, and repeat them throughout the border,” says Tesselaar. “For instance, try the tall, broad-leaved, colorfully foliaged Tropicanna cannas for season-long interest and a dramatic effect that looks great in any combination of plants.”
- And finally, never underestimate the value of mulch! Applying mulch is ultimately the most important time-saving and labor-saving measure you can take. Regardless of the type of mulch used, it helps to hold in moisture and discourages weeds. Organic materials include grass clippings, shredded leaves, pine needles, shredded bark, wood chips and newspaper. As a bonus, organic mulches enrich the soil as they decompose. Inorganic options range from black plastic and landscape fabric to stones and gravel.
Information on the plants shown here can be found at tesselaar.com.
10 Steps to Easy-Care Beds and Borders