What is your perfect garden?
Maybe you love manicured lawns, sculpted boxwood rows or cleverly cut yews. Does an arbor with trailing wisteria or lunch-plate sized clematis make your heart beat a little faster, or are you more about heritage climbing rose varieties? How about a lush mix of perennials and annuals or a classic cottage cutting garden?
As the pandemic clearly taught many of us, spending time at home and enjoying the landscape in our own backyards is – and has always been – a way to entertain, relax and improve a home’s value.
If you’re still trying to figure out your best garden borders, plots or foundation plantings consider what you love, how you want to use the space, and what newer trends pique your interest. Then get started!
Andrew Eckhoff, general manager at Bountiful Acres in Buckingham Township, said this year is big for pink tones. They are being paired with lavender and deeper jewel tone colors for drama and interest in gardens, beds, borders, hanging baskets and containers.
Other plants grown mainly for their foliage are also attractive and in demand this season.
Coleus are great to pop in empty spaces in the garden or containers. they can also be stunning used alone with a single type, or in mixed plantings.
“Coleus is always very popular for leaf color and texture,” Eckhoff said.
Look for coleus in new colors, color combinations and check plant tags for sun exposure, as many newer varieties are bred to better tolerate full and partial sun conditions.
“Lime colored Sweet potato vine and golden creeping Jenny are popular, too,” in garden-complimenting hanging baskets and containers.
When it comes to old-fashioned favorites, newer impatiens varieties are bred to tolerate more sunshine, and they have bigger, more interesting foliage and flowering habits.
“Sunpatiens is a variety of New Guinea impatiens which tolerates the hot sun better” than older varieties, Eckhoff explained.
A versatile option, Sunpatiens and other shade-partial New Guinea impatiens types can be used in bedding, borders, containers and hanging baskets.
From traditional annuals to perennials and small shrubs, planting a mix creates layered interest and a more diverse blend of plant types, creating visual delight.
“Incorporating native perennials is a more upfront investment but once they are planted, these plants are there for at least a couple of years,” said Margaret Pickhoff, a commercial horticulture educator in the Bucks County office of Penn State Extension in Wrightstown Township.
Borders, as the name suggests, are a line, curve or edging of plantings. They may serve to mark a boundary for flower beds, create definition in a lawn or landscape or add texture and color to hardscape surfaces like stone walls, pavers or fencing.
“I’m seeing a lot of mixed borders, and there are some really good examples to be seen in some of our local public gardens in Bucks County,” Pickhoff noted.
Pickhoff recommends incorporating different textures using grasses and foliage plants in the landscape.
Woody shrubs and taller perennials and grasses can create a foundation at the back of garden beds.
After foundation plants are established, create interest by filling in with annuals to complete a garden design.
Because annuals won’t last more than a season, you can try, and explore, newer types and varieties, as well as different colors and textures from year to year.
Using shrubs and gardens can become an intentional haven for small wildlife creatures, birds and beneficial insects.
“The science shows there is a lot of benefit to having different layers and plantings, to provide housing and sources of food for birds and wildlife.
“If you want to attract birds, create spaces where they can hunt and rest,” Pickhoff said.
Your gardening hobby can create positive ecological benefits, too, as it supports birds, wildlife and beneficial insects.
“People are interested in bringing interesting wildlife, birds and beneficial insects to keep the pest insects in check in their garden,” she explained.
Veranda.com suggests trying a “wild earthy mix” in garden beds by incorporating edibles with flowers.
This mixed approach will also attract more pollinators to various parts of the landscape, the website said. And planting certain types of flowers, like strongly scented marigolds, or potent herbs like oregano or sage, can gently repel some pests from your prized tomatoes or tender eggplant seedlings.
As more awareness drives a return to tilling the soil for sustenance, vegetable gardens are thriving in many backyard landscapes.
If you don’t have the room to grow large crops like corn, pumpkins or squash take heart.
You can still enjoy home grown vegetables using smaller plots, trellising (or growing vining plants like beans, pickles and pumpkins vertically) or sourcing container friendly varieties.
Keep container sizes and mature plant heights in mind when planning a productive container garden.
“With growing container vegetables, the size of the container has to be considered,” Pickhoff explained.
That means planting for the mature plant to develop and accommodating depth and soil volume requirements.
Shallow rooted types along with short life-cycle plants like lettuces or spinach are easy to grow in containers.
Consider salad greens and lettuces, which can use a shallow container, even one 4-inches” deep, Pickhoff said.
Root vegetables grown in containers can be a bit more challenging, as they require deep containers to develop properly.
“For plants like tomatoes and eggplants, use a larger container so the container doesn’t tip over and [to allow] for root development,” she said.
“Herbs, vegetables and organic gardening continues to be a big [trend] including buying plants that are organic and growing them in organic materials,” Eckhoff explained.
For vegetables that require staking or support consider specific types and varieties, and set the supports when planting, Pickhoff advises.
“Doing the stakes or a tomato cage when the plant is small is much easier than wrangling a large tomato plant,” onto a stake or into a cage for support, she said.
Container growing vegetables can be an option for those without a lot of sunshine, too.
“All vegetable plants prefer full sun. Finding the sunniest spot you can offers the best shot of that crop surviving and thriving,” Pickhoff explained.
Keep in mind containers will dry out faster than plants set in the ground, and hot dry days may require a twice daily watering.
Plan to water at least daily during hot summer stretches, and check containers often.
“When you prepare the container, incorporate a slow release fertilizer into the potting mix. Since you’re watering more often, those nutrients are leached out of the potting mix faster, so you need to fertilize with a water soluble product” more often, she said.
Look for hybrid vegetable crops, often tagged “container friendly.”
These seeds and plants are bred specifically to be grown – and flourish – in small spaces.
Some seed companies are developing crop varieties that are shorter and more compact for growing in containers, according to Pickhoff.
The compact plant habit makes it easier to successfully plant in containers.
Look for those varieties when you shop, order online or work with a landscape and garden design professional.