Maybe you spend all weekend
gardening; maybe, like most people, your garden gets somewhat less attention than
youd like. The perennial bed looks a bit overgrown or nearly empty when its
not peak bloomtime. Shrub beds seem to need pruning and fertilizing, and one bush never
looks quite as good as the rest, so youre always doing something to it. Annuals must
be replanted, and lets not even talk about the lawns needs. These travails
seldom daunt the gardener, but wouldnt it be nice to have an area you can just
If you plan before you plant, keep the design simple, and use
plants with opposite seasonal attractions, you can have just such an area in your garden.
Choose a spot you see all the time, one with a low profile that doesnt lend itself
to mowing or hedging. It could be the devils strip between the sidewalk
and the street, the circular bed around the lamppost, or the bed next to the front door
that everyone passes. Planting a pair of compatible plants en masse can also bring
lots of color to a relatively small space. When you choose hardy species with moderate
growth habits, many common garden chores never make your list.
The combinations you can consider are endless, but the most
effective include bulbs underneath low-growing, spreading shrubs, clumping or vining
groundcovers. The bulbs can be planted in colorful groups, sprinkled throughout, or as a
defining border around their companions.
Evergreen shrubs like dwarf junipers, sasanqua, euonymous, or
cotoneaster will rise about two feet above the soil when mature. Green and dense, their
foliage shades weeds and boasts flowers or berries in winter. Add color and flowers in
summer by underplanting the bed with amaryllis or lilies, with tall spires reaching a foot
or more above the shrubs.
Clumping ground covers spread by developing offsets, so there are
more of them each year as the clump grows. Liriope may be solid green or striped with
white and blooms each spring, while the ever-popular mondo grass (also known as
monkeygrass) creates a dark green mat. Fill the gaps with a host of daffodils; their
leaves will shade the soil in the first years, and later the clumps will hide them.
The vining ground covers, like Asian jasmine, English ivy and
Algerian ivy, will creep and crawl all over the bed. Since they hug the ground so well and
dont bloom, use nearly leafless bulbs to dot the bed with fall color (surprise
lilies, or spider lilies) or surround them with a ring of early-spring crocus or
snowdrops. Or do both.
Let the calendar be your guide to maintaining these combination
plantings. In late fall or winter, prune evergreens and clean up and add mulch around them
and the clumping ground covers. If any insects or leaf problems were present last year,
use this time to spray dormant oil. Once growth gets going in spring, tip prune vining
plants to encourage dense plants where you want them. Root the trimmings if you need more
plants. If your bulbs bloom in spring, fertilize the whole bed after theyre done.
Summers main task is simply watering to keep roots working and new growth coming.
And fall means mulch; the colder the weather where you live, the more youll use.
Remember these simple rules: the plants will be in place for
years, so dig or till the soil well and consider adding a sprinkler or soaker hose. Spend
a bit more time and remove all the grass and weeds currently growing there. Move the
shrubs around while still in their pots to see where they look best, then put the bulbs
where you want color. Once youve planted, use a pre-emerge weed preventer so buried
weed seeds dont get started. Keep the bed watered until well established, fertilize
once a year after the bulbs bloom, and enjoy.
Use the unplanted, sometimes unkempt, spaces around your
garden to grow combinations of low growing plants and bulbs. Start with good soil, smart
plant selections, and an eye toward the future when you wont be mowing, the weeds
wont be growing, and flowers will welcome you home.