Now that we’ve had a brief hint of cooler weather, it’s time to think about fall and how we can use this time in the garden to prepare for spring. Once the temperatures drop and we get some rain, it will be the perfect time to start planning a new landscape project.
Preparing and creating new flower beds now can actually save you money. You can buy and put in smaller, less expensive plants this fall, letting them overwinter and get well established before spring. This enables them to develop strong root systems so you can enjoy bigger, hardier plants when they begin to grow in the spring.
So where do you start?
Do you have a sore spot — some section of your garden that needs a little pick-me-up? Or do you have a bed with thirsty plants that didn’t make it through the summer that you want to transform into a xeric bed? Or are you ready for a little hardscape – an extended patio, a shed or a little garden room?
Once you determine what improvements you want to make, it’s time to start planning.
The first question to ask yourself is: What’s my style? Is it English cottage garden, native Southwestern, Asian contemporary, xeric, formal or informal? What are your favorite colors? Do you like a muted peaceful pastel garden or are hot, tropical colors your preference? What is the architectural style of your house and my existing garden? Do you want to do something new to complement it or do you want some contrast?
If you’re working on a garden room or new hardscape – ask yourself how you want to use the space and what you will need to make it functional and attractive. How will it fit into the existing landscape and be a natural extension?
Next, do a little homework. Watch the sun rise and set over your yard. How many hours of sun does your project area get? Knowing when and where you have sun and shade will determine what kind of plants you can use or where you might want to put a new seating area. You’ll want to group like plants based on their water needs – if you want to create a drought-tolerant new bed, make sure all of the plants you put in it have the same water needs.
Follow a few basic rules, add a little inspiration and you can transform your yard into a fresh and inviting landscape.
Tips to designing a beautiful garden:
There are a lot of design elements to consider when creating a landscape bed.
First, think focal. The first step is to stand back and look at the space. Close your eyes and picture what you’d like it to be. What is your vision? Then think about what would make a great focal point in that space. A focal point attracts the eye and creates interest. It focuses the attention of the person passing by or looking at your garden. A focal point can be a beautiful tree, a statue, a birdbath, a bench – anything different that adds interest to your landscape.
As you begin to think of plants, harmony is your goal. You want the plant colors in your bed to complement or contrast each other. Colors either next to each other or across from each other on the color wheel make great combinations.
Complementary: Colors directly across from each other on the color wheel, like red and green, yellow and violet, and blue and orange. These are dramatic colors that create a bold landscape..
Adjacent: This refers to the two or three colors next to each other, such as red, red-orange and orange. Or yellow-green, green and blue-green. These are harmonious colors.
Monochromatic: This refers to a single color family with various hues or intensities. This creates combinations of subtle differences.
Primary: Red, yellow and blue. All other colors are made of these.
Secondary: Orange, green and violet
Tertiary: These are blends of primary and secondary colors; for example, yellow-orange or blue-violet. They help make the transition from primary to secondary colors.
Polychromatic: A bold mix of colors used together in a confetti fashion.
Neutral: White, gray, silver
In addition to color, texture and variegation are also important. So that your leaves aren’t all the same green, consider combining silvery-leaved plants with lime greens to help them each stand out in their own right. Variegated plants add interest and help brighten up shady areas. The texture of our native agaves, yuccas and cacti work wonderfully with soft shapes and delicate blooms or fuzzy leaves.
Height and shape are also key. A desirable combination in a bed might include some height to anchor the ends of a bed, some larger foundation plants like evergreen shrubs and then layers of slightly smaller perennials annuals or ground cover for the front of the bed. Do your homework when planting – consider how large the plants will be at full size, not the size they are when you bring them home. This will ensure that plants in front of a border don’t tower over the plants behind them. If the nursery tag on the plant doesn’t have this information, you can research the plant name online and get all the data you need to know. Most local nurseries are diligent about including all the necessary growing information. Big box stores sometimes get unlabeled plants from far away that aren’t appropriate for our growing conditions. I shop almost exclusively at our wonderful local nurseries because my pet peeve is finding big box garden center plants labeled simply – “Perennial.”
It’s also important to consider the size and style of your yard and home so your new project matches in scope and scale.
Add movement or fragrance to the garden. We are fortunate to have a large number of pretty, xeric grasses native to Central Texas. You can also include fragrant plants, or night blooming plants to enjoy alongside a patio space or seating area.
Now that you’ve thought about your vision for the project, start defining the space. Sketch it out to scale on paper and include existing structures or elements like large trees. Then “draw” the boundaries of what you want to create on the ground, using a garden hose or spray paint to outline the bed or patio and ponder it for a while. Do you like the shape? Is it in the right place? Is it big enough? Too big?
Consider the other elements you might want or need to include, like irrigation, lighting, a water feature, and work inclusion of those elements into your timeline. Sprinklers need to go in when beds are laid out but not planted to avoid having to tear out plants for sprinkler heads or lighting wires.
Creating a new garden space can freshen up your landscape and increase your curb appeal and your home’s value. New beds and new plants can bring peace and serenity to your garden or they can brighten and liven up your entertaining areas.
As you consider new projects for the fall, remember to think xeric and look for native or drought tolerant plants that can survive our brutal summers. Think about landscape designs that use less lawn and more hardy plants. Using quality soils and environmentally friendly products and materials will also reward you with healthy, thriving plants once your project is complete.