As spring unfolds, does your landscape suffer from a case of the blahs? Have a sad, skinny line of shrubs hovering nakedly against your house? Embarrassed by boring beds full of holes?

If you envy your neighbor’s lush layers of color and texture and want an HGTV-worthy landscape, follow these tips about layering to transform your garden space.

Well-balanced landscape beds include depth, diversity, complementary plants and a well-planned combination of colors, shapes, textures and sizes. While considering all these elements may seem daunting, a few basics of landscape design will help you get started.

Follow this basic formula for balanced beds.

Consider your bed size

When designing landscapes, I find many beds simply not deep enough or filled with overgrown plants hogging all the space. Before you start making a plant list, assess your space. Make sure to allow room for plants to grow to mature size. Always believe dimensions on the tag. Even if it’s in a cute little nursery pot now, it will grow, and you won’t want to move it when it’s bursting out of its space. Once you’ve planted, be patient. Avid gardeners design by this adage: The first year, plants sleep, the second year, they creep, and the third year, they leap. If your new landscape grows slowly, don’t rip everything out the second season. Patience not your strong suit? Buy larger plants to start.

Group plants

Just like taking a group photograph, against your house you’ll want taller, substantial plants in the back, medium-sized plants in the middle and short ones in front. You can garden vertically if you have a large, empty wall or fence perfect for a beautiful vine as a background.

If your bed is in the middle of the yard, simply place the larger plants in the center and work your way outward. Full-grown plants and trees shouldn’t be too close to your house or obscure your windows or walkways as the bed matures.

Cluster plants in groups or drifts instead of straight lines to keep it interesting. Think 3D. Repeat colors or plant types throughout the bed to bring cohesion and unity to the space. Resist the urge to plant one of everything, instead focusing on grouping similar items to add drama. Consider different plants of the same color, or multiple varieties with like textures or leaves.

Mix it up

Evergreen shrubs provide year-round color and texture in the back of beds or along a fence or house. Called foundation plants, these shrubs form the bones or backdrop for other plants, adding dimension and depth. When other plants like perennials have gone dormant for the winter, these plants will continue to thrive and bring life to the garden.

Anchor plants create a framework in the design space, much like a picture frame provides the context for a painting. These can be taller or more substantial shrubs or trees — think of them as embracing the bed or providing visual weight to establish balance in a symmetrical or asymmetrical bed.

Perennial color adds seasonal interest to perk up your design base. Plants that go through dormancy but return in the spring offer a variety of hues and textures, painting a rolling flower show with brushstrokes of color through the seasons. Bulbs that return year after year bring form and textural diversity as well as visual impact.

Annuals are the icing on the cake. While creating bed basics requires more thought and planning, annuals give you permission to run amok. With an endless array of colors, shapes and sizes, you can weave annuals through the front of the garden bed in drifts and clumps to punctuate the space. And easy-on-the-wallet prices mean annuals can be switched out from season to season to highlight different colors and styles.

Sometimes you can mix up the formula when different plants fit into different categories. For example, perennial yellow bells grow much larger than many evergreen shrubs, so they can be anchors or provide a taller layer behind the evergreen shrubs. It’s all about relativity and how plants play off one another.

Go for seasonal color

You’ll also want to take into account the seasons in which your plant selections will put on their best show. Ideally, several different plants will provide focus for your garden throughout the year. For example, daffodil bulbs and Japanese flowering quince are early spring bloomers. Salvias and lantanas flower all summer long. And grasses, fall asters and copper canyon daisies shine in the muted glow of autumn.

When planting any bed, group plants with like water needs together and use a thick layer of mulch to help keep in moisture and minimize weeds. And even xeric plants will need a little extra water to get established in the first few months after planting.


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