Quick Color for Summer

Even if your yard is shady, don't give up--we can still show you how to install a distinctive border.

We installed this 36-foot-long x 15-foot-deep informal flower border just last spring, but by summer's end it was full of color and life. The layers of vibrant blooms attracted bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, which made frequent air raids on the numerous flowers. The companion foliage plants also helped add texture and form to this magical garden spot.

Before any plants were purchased, we had to choose the proper site. We selected a location that received lots of sun throughout the day. This gave us the opportunity to try many different sun-loving plants. If your yard is shady, don't be discouraged--you can still have a great border. Plants such as caladiums, coleus, impatiens, hostas, and ferns put on a show even in low-light conditions.

Soil preparation was the hardest part of the entire project, but nothing promotes healthy plant growth better than loose, cultivated soil. First, we sprayed the area with a nonselective herbicide. Ten days later, a rear-tine tiller was used to mix the dead plant matter into the compacted existing red clay. Then we mixed two pickup truckloads of leaf mold and 25 bags of a clay soil conditioner into the existing soil. If you have clay soil, use Perma Till or Profile to help improve drainage and reduce compaction.

After a few hours of tilling, raking, and removing rocks, the earth was finally loose. Using a hard rake, we pushed soil toward the center of the bed, crowning it in the middle to force rainwater to drain to the outside edges. Then we covered the entire area with a couple of inches of pine straw.

Next, three 8-foot-tall cedar posts were evenly spaced in the border. We put flower-filled hanging baskets on two of them and placed colorful bottles on the limbs of the third post to make a bottle tree; its glassy ornaments gleam in the garden throughout the seasons. The hanging baskets and bottle tree give the border much needed vertical interest.

 

We installed a few tall perennials and annuals in the center and back of the border and sprinkled a little controlled-release fertilizer under each plant. Ornamental maiden grass (Miscanthus sp.) and fountain grass (Pennisetum sp.) add attractive mounding forms to the border. Three 'Tropicanna' cannas were also included for their striking foliage and bright flowers.

Don't think you have to use only flowers in a border. Trees and shrubs give year-round structure. We opted for bridal wreath spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia) and a dwarf chartreuse barberry (Berberis thunbergii). We chose the spiraea for its white, early-spring blooms and the barberry for its glowing green leaves. A small chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) placed on the back side will produce blue summer flowers.

Once the taller plants were in place, it was time to pick a few flowering annuals. Two flats of orange cosmos and white narrow-leaf zinnias were set out on the front side of the border. We used seven 'Gold Mound' lantana plants in the middle. We also set out three variegated lantanas. They didn't bloom quite as well, but the yellow- and green-marbled foliage was quite attractive.

Friends gave us plenty of gift plants, including a few sprigs of white coneflower, yellow columbine, Louisiana iris, and some hot pink dianthus for the open areas. After each planting, the garden was watered thoroughly. Always water bedding plants immediately after setting them out. We soaked the border three or four times a week the first two weeks, then reduced watering to twice a week.

We spent every other day observing the new plantings and hand weeding. As summer heated up and the plants became established, we fed the border with a water-soluble liquid fertilizer, and the plants quickly grew together.

All the hard work and soil preparation paid off in this over-the-summer success. Many of the plants were showy well into the fall, and each year the border will take on different looks as the seasonal plantings change.