Gardening is often described as an art and a science. And while this statement suggests a degree of nuance to gardening, it is also quite literally true. For instance, fall is by far the best time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials in Georgia. Science. How to arrange them as you plant, however, is art absolutely. There are landscape design principles used to create an aesthetic garden space: color, form, and balance are a few. Those gifted with artistic talent use these by instinct. I lack that gift. And those instincts. My lowest grade in school was art. Truly.
Designing my backyard is a hobby, but it is a challenge; I think and plan and agonize, and after that I still rearrange most of it the following year. So, when I come across advice that makes using those design principles a little easier, I use it. But of course, just like in other forms of art there are many styles of gardens. My preferred garden style is a cottage garden aesthetic (please read as obnoxiously floral). So predictably, all of my favorite strategies are also justification for planting more flowers. And I do plant a lot of flowers, but for different effects in the garden.
Plant more flowers for color
This past year our 50-square-foot iris bed bloomed in February. This meant we were able to enjoy the delicate blooms for almost a week before a hard frost decimated the flowers. That particular cultivar is probably not the best choice for us, but they are from my husband’s great-grandmother’s garden, so they are permanent residents. I love our hand-me-down flowers, but, I really want more than a week from such a significant portion of our backyard blooms. To achieve this and keep our pass-alongs, I’m using a design strategy suggested by David Culp in “The Layered Garden”. He recommends stretching the season of your favorite flowers by planting cultivars with different bloom times.
This method won’t do much for annuals which tend to bloom throughout a season, but this is great strategy for perennials and flowering shrubs. In the case of irises, there are multiple ornamental species and thousands (yes, thousands) of different cultivars. Some bloom early, but others may not bloom in our area until May. I am slowly mixing in new irises with mid and late bloom times, with the hope I’ll have something blooming in that particular section of the garden from February to May.
Blooms are the easiest way to work with color in a design. I’m being very choosy about the colors I’m selecting though. Extending the time span of peak bloom will add more color overall, but I want that color to belong to a broader color palette. The later blooming irises will be blooming at the same time as other spring flowers: euphorbia, peonies, foxglove. I know each individual bloom will bring me joy. But, I want the combination of spring pastels and new-leaf green to be breathtaking; for that moment in spring when more of my landscape will be blooming than at any other time in the year, for it to feel like I’ve stepped into a garden from one of my favorite childhood books: into the secret garden, or the outskirts of Avonlea, or the Shire. Having a longer bloom season will refine and further define that spring palette, and let me hold onto that particular moment in the garden year a little longer.