101 Things: At Home

If the idea of longer, warmer days has you reaching for the tongs, it’s time to get your grilling game on before the season is in full swing.



By Linda Cobb | More Content Now

When you garden on the same plot of land for years, it’s easy to get yourself into a nice comfortable rut.

Sometimes you can’t even see that your flower bed is old and tired. The plantings may be thin, weak or just plain worn out. Just because you’ve done it this way for years doesn’t mean you can’t change things up now.

Now is the perfect time to think about ripping out a whole bed or even half of one. Be brave and get out the paper, pencils, mail-order catalogs, ideas and garden magazines, and start to think change.

This is something I did recently. After 20 years, the long perennial bed needed a makeover. The biggest mistake of my horticultural career was planting mint in this bed, and 20 years later, it is still there. But all of the plants had gotten old and tired, and there was not any theme or cohesiveness to the bed anymore.

The first step to the process is deciding how large the bed will be. My bed was easy because it is a self-contained bed of only one size. We removed every plant and potted the ones I wanted to keep. We returned the keepers to the new bed and tossed the old, no longer viable ones. Then we added a layer of compost and mushroom compost to the bed. The soil was already rich and loose, but after the compost and mushroom compost were added, we tilled it up.

If you are creating a bed from scratch, you will need to remove the grass by renting a grass-removal machine or you can dig it up. Hardware stores usually rent these machines.

If your bed has hard red clay, you will need to resort to drastic measures. This is the most important step you can take to renovating or creating a new flower bed.

The standard soil amendment steps are hard red clay, sand (any kind of sand) and peat moss. Now I know you cannot measure this, but you can guess at it easily.

After you scatter theses ingredients on your soil, till it to about 8 to 10 inches. This will leave you with perfect garden soil suitable for growing ornamental shrubs, vegetables, perennials and annuals.
The next steps require thinking and planning. This is where I get out about 20 pieces of bamboo in all sizes. I use the bamboo to plan out my bed by laying the pieces down in the bed to designate planting pockets. This gives me a real visual idea of what it will look like.

While doing this, I keep in mind how big the plants get and how many plants fit in the pocket.

While I am planning out my bed, using these visual techniques, I will take that time to decide what plants go in the bed. Assuming this is a full-sun bed, I like to start out the positioning of my key plants such as phlox, Joe Pye weed, roses, cone flower and rudbeckia, paying attention to what plants bloom in what season.

After positioning my canes throughout my bed to indicate the location of each group of plants, then I will add to it some larger shrubs or trees, such as forest pansy or any large hydrangeas including limelight, a full-sun hydrangea. Maybe I might want to add a tall pole with a clematis on it. These plants are my base plants.

Next, I will plan to add some annuals to run through the bed randomly. For this, you can select what is available at the local nursery when the season arrives, or you can plan, buy seed and grow your own, like larkspur and Queen Anne’s lace. I usually dot them through the bed like a stream in a curved line. This way you have total control of your flower bed, enabling you to always be prepared. For early March interest, you should plant a few Lenten roses or hellebores.

Add to the current bed some daffodil bulbs scattered in groups throughout the planting bed. This way, when it is spring, there will be something to look forward to before any of the garden wakes up. Also it would be wise to plant some tulip bulbs here and there. This is always planted in the fall, so make a note on your calendar to order bulbs in July or August and plant them out in October. There is always the giant allium, globemaster, which blooms in April and May. Add to that some of the ornamental tall lilies that will bloom in the summer months of June and July. All of this needs to be planned ahead on a calendar, plotted, ordered and dug in.