Take the Guesswork Out of Grouping Garden Flowers

The intricacies of landscape design can leave gardeners wondering about what flowers go well together as is evident in the article, Basic Principles of Landscape Design, by the University of Florida. Experts in landscape design look for plants with compatible height, texture, width, color and shape. Those same experts are often aided by landscape design software that shows options available within the USDA planting zone. Using the computer software, they can reposition the plant images to achieve the ultimate flower garden layout before buying the first plant. Many gardeners, especially first time gardeners, do not have that luxury to figure out what plants work well together. You can take the guesswork out of grouping garden flowers by limiting your selection to a single plant variety.

Ornamental grass
Short ornamental grass, like variegated liriope, is a favorite of mine because it requires no care. Once the root system is established, which may be as early as the second year in the soil, rainfall alone can keep it going. Liriope (Liriope muscari), also called lilyturf, grows less than 2 feet tall and spreads 1 to 2 feet. Added bonus-lilyturf sends up spears of purple, blue or white blooms in late summer. Other short ornamental grass options, which are cold hardy to USDA planting zone 4, include Indian rice grass (Achnatherum hymenoides), sand love grass (Eragrostis trichodes) or autumn moorgrass (Sesleria autumnalis).

Bulbs or Tubers
Daffodils (Narcissus), crocus (Crocus) and tulips (Tulipa) are popular bulb-based plants that shoot up in early to late spring. With blooms suitable for flower arrangements, these easy-to-grow flowers return year after year to add color to your landscape design. Other bulb options include the highly scented hyacinth (Hyacinthus hybrids) and lilies (Lilium). Bulbs are typically spherical in shape while tubers are fat, underground stems. Iris (Iris hybrids) is an example of a tuber. Other tubers that bloom in the summer include canna (Cannaceae) and dahlia (Dahlia variabilis).

Annual flowers
Planting annuals is a wonderful way to not only try different flower varieties, but to try different colors to see what you like best. Over the years, I have planted impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), marigolds (Tagetes spp.), petunia (Petunia x hybrida), pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) or sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima). Each of these annual flowers offers a unique color to the garden landscape but I really like impatiens the best. They grow quickly, creating a carpet of color. With any of the referenced annual flowers, choose a single color or plant groupings, each of a different color but still of the same variety. For impatiens, I planted a large grouping of lavender impatiens along side coral impatiens. The colors did not look as good together as I expected so the following year, I selected different colors though one color would have looked fine. The annual flowers listed are common varieties available from local garden centers at planting time, which may be late spring.

Perennial flowers
My landscape design includes areas of just perennial flowers on one variety. I am fond of chrysanthemums (Dendranthema spp. and hybrids) that provide outstanding color in the fall. For shade, choose astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii) to create a sea of waving plumes in pink, white, red or purple. I planted three astilbe plants years ago and this self-seeding perennial flower has provided dozens of new plants in the flower garden. Scabiosa (Scabiosa columbaria), also called pincushion, blooms from late spring into early fall, providing a constant source for cuttings for floral arrangements.

Ornamental grass, bulbs, tubers and perennial flowers return year after year. As these plants mature, their base expands. This maturation allows splitting of the underground portion of the plant every three to five years. As a cost saving measure, set out a few plants with a plan to divide them in a few years to increase the area of your ornamental grass garden or flower garden.