I will admit to my fair share of fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants garden design. Just give me a cart at a garden center and I’ll emerge with enough plants to fill an SUV, a happy smile and not the vaguest idea of what I’m going to do with them. But (and here’s an ugly truth) I have also had a fair number of those plants languish in pots while I wandered around wringing my hands and wondering what should go where.

When I decided to add a new garden bed last year, I decided to take a different approach.

Planning! What a concept!

Gladiolus callianthus 'Murielae' and castor bean2

The new bed is 4′ x 40′ and extends along the north side of the potager. Last fall I ordered up a truckload of leaf mulch that we layered over newspaper. Nature did a good bit of work over the winter breaking down the newspaper, smothering out the grass (and weeds) and improving the hard, clay soil underneath.

In the meantime, I went shopping—this time by catalog and with graph paper and pencil. I selected plants I liked, printed them out on a color printer with their vital stats (height/bloom dates, requirements) and created a collage on a pin board.

A butterfly bush anchors one end of the bed. I added a pieris ‘Dorothy Wycoff’ in more-or-less the middle and a fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’ at the other end. Tall plants I started from seed included castor bean (ricinus communis) and Mexican sunflowers (tithonia rotundiflora) purchased from Botanical Interests. I wanted colors we could enjoy at night, so I added a generous number of white gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ and white physosegia ‘Miss Manners’ purchased from Brent and Becky’s.

coreopsis and tickseed in July2

Accent colors are reds and yellows from Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’, Tradescantia ‘Blue & Gold’ and assorted butterfly weeds and coreopsis that I allowed myself to pick up at the garden center on a whim.

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana'

Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’

Not everything came out according to plan. For example, the gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’ were advertised as reaching 12″ to 24″. They are easily more than 36″ tall and continue to grow and push out more and more white flowers on long, sturdy stems, so I’m not complaining. But they are in front of the ‘Hot Lips’, so placement could be better. And although I like the Mexican sunflowers well enough, they are mostly foliage topped by small orangish flowers. Mammoth sunflowers would have given me more bang for the buck.

But hey, there’s always next year.

And speaking of next year, I have a whole new border to plan over the coming winter. The graph paper and pencil approach worked well enough that I’ll do it again. It also gave me a gardening project for those long, cold winter days.


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