Garden Editor Steve Bender gives tips on how to prepare your beds and pick the right plants to fill your yard with surefire color all summer long.
Being a Garden Editor at Southern Living is like being a rock star without all the fame, fortune, and collagen. Readers expect your garden to be fabulous. When it isn’t, they fall into a depression deeper than the creases on Keith Richards’s face.
Therefore, when a large patch of grass in front of my house fortuitously died last winter, I took advantage of the free labor joyfully supplied by my teenage son, Brian. We laid a new stone walk between the front door and side yard and flanked it with beds of spectacular flowers. In all, I invested about 250 bucks―but hey, anything for our readers.
Thanks to bulldozers driving all over the yard years ago, my soil was harder than watching Katie Couric do the news. Tillers just bounce off compacted clay, so to loosen the ground, I had to go old school. I stuck my garden fork into the prospective bed, stomped on it with enough force to cave in a mine shaft below (sorry about that, guys), pulled back on the handle, and turned over and pulverized the soil. I did this once for every square foot of my 300-square-foot garden. Fun like this should be shared.
To further loosen and enrich the soil, Brian and I spread composted cow manure, soil conditioner, and builder’s sand over the beds using 1 (40-pound) bag of each for every 4 feet of bed. We also sprinkled slow-release fertilizer over the beds at the rate recommended on the package. Finally, I used the fork to dig in everything and then switched to a hard rake to smooth and level the beds.
Time To Plant
Yellow and purple look good together, so I chose primarily yellow/golden/chartreuse annuals for one side of the path and purple/magenta ones for the other. It turned out great. Here are some of my star plants. You can buy and grow them throughout the South.
- ‘Serena Purple’ angelonia: The best annual, period. Spikes of purplish-blue flowers, resembling snapdragons, appear continuously until a hard freeze in fall. Grows 15 to 18 inches tall, tolerates drought, and doesn’t need cutting back or deadheading. Plant in sun.
- ‘Shock Wave Purple’ petunia: A prostrate, almost vining petunia featuring hundreds of gaudy magenta blooms. One plant spreads 4 feet. Flowers nonstop until late summer and tolerates drought. Doesn’t like being cut back. Plant in sun.
- Persian shield: Striking foliage plant resembling coleus. Variegated, iridescent leaves are pink and silver above, bright purple underneath. Grows 4 feet tall. Plant in sun or part sun.
- ‘Classic’ narrow-leaf zinnia: Dozens of small yellow, golden, or orange blooms smother this 1-foot-tall plant all summer. Doesn’t need deadheading and tolerates drought. Plant in sun or part sun.
- ‘Golden Moon’ wishbone flower: Golden blooms with burgundy centers appear from spring through fall. Grows 10 inches tall. Plant in shade or light shade.
- Dwarf yellow croton: Variegated yellow-and-green, narrow, twisted leaves. Grows slowly to 1 foot tall. Plant in sun or part sun.
- ‘Alabama Sunset’ coleus: Shrubby plant grows 3 feet tall. Raspberry-colored leaves with gold centers. Plant in sun or part sun.