IN THIS GUIDE
- Top Design Tips for New Flower Gardens
- 1) Think Holistically About Flowers and Garden Design
- 2) Observe Carefully and Choose the Right Plants for the Right Places
- 3) Choose Flowers for Blooms Over as Much of the Year as Possible
- Flowers with Functions: Integrating Flowers into Garden Design
- 4) Companion Planting in an Annual Vegetable Plot
- 5) Perennial Beds or Borders With Flowers, Vegetables and Herbs
- 6) Fruit Tree Guilds and Forest Gardens
- 7) Wildflower Meadows and Other Habitats
- 8) Rain Gardens or Pond / Wetland Gardens
- Choosing a Location For a Flower Garden
- 9) Tips for Flower Gardens in Full Sun
- 10) Tips for Flower Gardens in Partial / Dappled Shade
- 11) Soil Types and Soil Characteristics
- 12) Raised Bed Flower Gardens
- 13) Container Flower Gardens and Vertical Gardens
- Stylistic Choices in a Flower Garden
- 14) Design By Garden Type
- 15) Follow Moods and Themes
- 16) Consider Your Bed or Border Shape
- 17) Embrace Colour and Form
- Combining Different Flowering Plants
If you are thinking about creating a new flower garden, there are many things to think about.
In this article, we cover a range of ideas and designs to help you make decisions that will benefit your space for years to come.
All gardens should have flowers, not only for visual appeal but to bring in wildlife, and deliver a range of other benefits.
But it can be difficult to know where to begin when considering which flowers to grow, and where to grow them.
In this guide, we’ve brought together some key ideas which will help you create a flower garden that you can really be proud of.
Read on to find out our top tips, ideas and design suggestions:
Top Design Tips for New Flower Gardens
First things first, it’s crucial to make sure that you are thinking about your flower garden in the right way.
Of course, it’s important that your flower garden look good, but aesthetics are not the only consideration.
No matter what type of flower garden you wish to create, and no matter where it is to be created, here are three important things to bear in mind as you make your choices:
1) Think Holistically About Flowers and Garden Design
Many gardeners will start with flowers they like, and work from there to create their gardens.
But to create a truly abundant and beautiful garden that will stand the test of time, it is important to work from broader patterns to the finer details.
Consider specific individual plants but also the bigger picture.
It is a very good idea to learn how flowers will work with other plants and with wildlife, and how flowers can be integrated into a harmonious design for the whole of your garden.
By thinking holistically about the process, we can find ways to add flowers in a garden which aid the function and improve the utility – as well as the appearance – of a space.
2) Observe Carefully and Choose the Right Plants for the Right Places
New gardeners sometimes fall into the trap of choosing plants based on aesthetic preferences.
However, new flowers for a garden should always be chosen with the specific characteristics of the garden in mind, choosing the right plants for the right places is the key component for success in any garden.
Before you even begin to think about choosing particular flowers, you should spend some time observing the space, and thinking about the climate, microclimate conditions, soil – and any other characteristics of the garden in question.
Matching up plants with the location and its characteristics is one of the most important jobs in a healthy organic garden.
Choosing the right places to grow the flowers in your space is also essential.
Again, this is often a case of matching up the requirements of the plants with the conditions which can be provided.
3) Choose Flowers for Blooms Over as Much of the Year as Possible
Most flowering plants fulfil key functions in the garden while in bloom.
When they flower, they not only look their best, but also attract a range of beneficial wildlife to the space.
Whatever other decisions you make about which flowers you grow and how and where you grow them, it is a good idea to make choices that mean you have flowers in bloom in your garden over as long a period as possible.
This means thinking carefully about when different flowering plants are in bloom, and also ensuring that you aim for as much diversity as possible, in each month, and over the course of the year.
Flowers with Functions: Integrating Flowers into Garden Design
Flowering plants can also have a range of functions in garden design.
By considering the functional benefits that different flowering plants can provide, we can find numerous ways to integrate them into our gardens.
4) Companion Planting in an Annual Vegetable Plot
One of the first interesting ways to integrate flowers into your garden is as companion plants in an area for annual food production.
Both annual and perennial flowering plants can be extremely beneficial as companion plants for annual fruit and vegetable crops.
Flowers can, of course, attract bees and other pollinators.
They can also attract predatory species which help keep pest numbers down and can potentially repel, confuse or distract pest species. [source]
It is also worthwhile remembering that a number of flowers can be edible in their own right.
They can also provide other yields and be used in a range of ways (for beauty products for example) within your home.
5) Perennial Beds or Borders With Flowers, Vegetables and Herbs
When planning a food-producing garden, it is also important to consider the potential of perennial food production.
Perennial beds and borders do not need to be flowers alone. Integrating ornamental planting with edible plants is a great way to create diversity and abundance.
Flowers can also serve as companion plants within a perennial plant context and the flowers too can benefit from the various other plants included in such as scheme.
Many herbaceous perennial flowering plants usually thought of as ornamentals can work well alongside interesting perennial vegetables and herbs.
Those perennial vegetables and herbs can themselves be ornamental and may also be attractive flowering plants.
Creating perennial planting schemes can be a great low-maintenance choice.
Perennial schemes sequester more carbon, keep the soil healthy and of course, they’re also great for the wildlife which shares your garden.
6) Fruit Tree Guilds and Forest Gardens
Of course, abundant perennial planting schemes need not only include herbaceous perennials, but also a range of trees and shrubs.
Fruit trees and fruiting shrubs are excellent choices for many gardens.
In order to achieve the best possible yields from fruit trees and fruit bushes, it is a good idea to create guilds, or diverse polycultures of beneficial plants around them – including plenty of flowers. [source]
A fruit tree guild will usually include flowering plants to bring in pollinators early in the season and while the blossoms are out – and to attract wildlife to reduce problems with pests throughout the year.
Some other flowers will also work well as companion plants for fruit trees due to their dynamic accumulation, or because they are good at providing ground cover or suppressing competitive grass growth.
Extend the idea of a fruit tree guild and you can create a forest garden, or food forest – a syntropic ecosystem with layered planting.
Again, flowers play crucial roles within the different layers in a forest garden scheme.
7) Wildflower Meadows and Other Habitats
The ways in which flowers are planted together can bring many benefits through the ways in which they bring wildlife into a space, and provide for and protect that wildlife once it arrives.
As well as integrating flowers into food-producing systems, as mentioned above, flowers should also serve as the backbone for a wildlife-friendly garden.
One of the most common types of flower gardens are wildflower meadows.
Both annual and perennial types of wildflower meadow are a great way to protect endangered species and attract wildlife to your space. [source]
Flower gardens can help fill a number of ecological niches.
As well as creating a meadow habitat, a flower garden might also include marginal pond planting, or a bog garden or wetland area, for example.
Flowers might also serve as the under-storey in a natural woodland garden setting.
8) Rain Gardens or Pond / Wetland Gardens
As well as playing a role in food production and wildlife attraction, flowers in your garden might also be used in schemes designed to manage water more effectively.
Rain gardens, for example, often include a range of flowering plants, which can cope with saturation in wet weather, and drier periods in the summer months.
More damp tolerant flowers are placed at the base of a basin dug for a rain garden, with other flowering plants around the sides of the depression, and drought-tolerant wildflowers around the outer sides.
A flower garden might also be placed in and around the water to improve the function of a wildlife pond, or used in vegetated swales, for example, which help direct water to where it is needed, away from where it is not wanted, or which keep water around in the plants and soil in your garden.
Choosing a Location For a Flower Garden
Once you have thought about how flowers can be useful in your garden and how they can be integrated into an overall design, you should be one step closer to choosing your plants.
However, before you dive straight in and start making your plant choices, you need to determine the exact characteristics of the area or areas where flowers will be grown.
Will you be growing flowers in the ground? Will the site be sunny or shaded? What will be soil be like? Will you be growing in raised beds, or containers? How much space is available?
9) Tips for Flower Gardens in Full Sun
Many flowers can thrive in full sun, and you will have an amazing choice of plants, no matter what other characteristics you are dealing with on the site.
However, when designing a flower garden for full sun, it is important to remember that areas in full sun can get very warm in summer, and may be more exposed in winter.
One of their key characteristics is that they will tend to dry out more quickly, so it is important to bear this in mind.
Choose plants that like the heat, and which can cope with the drier conditions that are likely to prevail.
10) Tips for Flower Gardens in Partial / Dappled Shade
Not all flowers will enjoy full sun conditions, of course, and there are plenty of excellent flowering plants to consider for a garden in partial or dappled shade.
Some can even cope with more deeply shaded conditions.
When choosing flowers for shade, be sure to think about what kind of shade you are dealing with. Some plants prefer damp shade, while others are better suited to dry shade conditions.
Aesthetically, some of the best choices for flowers to grow in shade include plants with white or pale flowers, which stand out well in lower light conditions.
Plants with variegated foliage can also work well, and choosing varied plant form and textures can be important.
11) Soil Types and Soil Characteristics
A flower garden for one type of soil (clay soil, for example) will look very different to a flower garden for another (such as free-draining sand, for instance).
As well as thinking about the sunlight and shade, exposure and water characteristics, it is important to understand your soil when planning a flower garden.
Be sure to choose flowers which are appropriate for the soil type and its properties, and for your soil pH.
If you have acidic soil, or alkaline soil, it is best to avoid amending it too heavily.
Instead, simply choose flowering plants which are suited to the soil conditions where you live.
12) Raised Bed Flower Gardens
If you do wish to grow flowers which are not particularly suited to your soil in your garden – rather than amending the soil, it is better to consider creating your flower garden in raised beds or containers.
Growing flowers in raised beds can bring a range of benefits. Raised beds can make things easier to tend, and may require less weeding. [source]
They can bring flowers level with seating height in an outdoors living area, or enhance the view from a window, for example.
Raised beds can come in a range of shapes and sizes, and can play an important role in determining the look and feel of a space.
13) Container Flower Gardens and Vertical Gardens
Those who are short on space can still create stunning flower gardens.
Even if you do not have any space to grow in the ground, growing in containers and in vertical gardens means that you can still have a colourful, abundant, beautiful space.
As long as you choose the right containers for the flowers you wish to grow, you can still include a wide range of plants in the smallest of spaces.
Growing flowers in pots on shelving, placing them in hanging containers, or in planting pockets within a structure affixed to a wall or fence can help you make the most of your space.
Remember, there are plenty of reclaimed materials you could use for such a project.
Stylistic Choices in a Flower Garden
Once you have considered the practicalities, thinking about flowers, their needs, and the roles they can play in your garden as a whole, there are still a range of decisions to make when creating a flower garden.
14) Design By Garden Type
One thing to think about, when it comes to aesthetics and style, is the type of garden you wish to create. Flower gardens can be created to establish a certain type of garden.
For example, you might want to create:
- An English cottage garden.
- A woodland garden.
- An alpine garden or rockery.
- A Mediterranean style garden.
- Meadow planting.
- Prairie style planting.
- A formal cutting flower garden.
And these ideas are just the beginning.
There are of course plenty of other garden types to consider, no matter where you live, and no matter how much space you have available.
15) Follow Moods and Themes
Stylistically, you may also find it helpful to think about what mood or theme you wish to evoke through your layout and plant choices.
For example, you might want your flower garden to be:
- Rustic and naturalistic.
- Calming and tranquil.
- Vibrant and energizing.
- Classic and traditional.
- Sleek and contemporary.
Think about whether you would like your plant choices to fit within a certain theme or to evoke a certain atmosphere.
16) Consider Your Bed or Border Shape
Another key choice that can make a big difference to the look and feel of a flower garden is the size and shape of any beds or borders.
Many gardeners make the mistake of thinking that flower beds and borders need to fit around the edges of the space.
But sometimes, it can be useful to think outside the box, and bring flowers out to position them front and centre in the space.
Remember, beds and borders can be created in any shape.
Think about whether you want to stick to straight lines and hard angles, or make the space more natural and relaxed with curved shapes and flowing lines.
Beds can certainly be square or rectangular, but they can also be circular, or have irregular, curving or wavy shapes.
A mandala garden is beautiful way to bring artistry to a space – creating circular and flower-shaped designs picked out in different flowers and forms, for example.
When thinking about the space used for beds or borders, it can also be helpful to think in three dimensions.
You might create a spiral form bed for flowers and herbs, for example, which rises up towards the centre.
You might stack raised beds in a range of forms, or, as mentioned above, create vertical gardens in a range of different ways.
17) Embrace Colour and Form
Flower colours and the forms of different plants all add together to create the stylistic look and feel you are going for.
Even when aesthetics are not the primary consideration, colours can be important.
Remember that certain flower types and flower colours will be more attractive to bees and other wildlife than others.
For example, bees will tend to be preferentially attracted to purple or blue flowers. [source]
Think about how colours can create different moods in your garden – cool and calming blues and greens, and hot and vibrant pinks and reds, for example.
If you want a calming vibe, stick to a few colours. If you want something more uplifting, don’t be afraid to clash and combine a range of hues.
Think about adding colours in drifts rather than placing individual plants and creating too frenetic a polka-dot style scheme.
Combining Different Flowering Plants
There are of course many things to learn about combining different plants in your garden, both for function and aesthetics.
As long as you keep these basics in mind, and consider all the different ideas mentioned above, you should find it easier to create the flower garden you have been dreaming about.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.