Flower Bed Design Tips and Ideas
Annual bedding plants are the perfect choice for adding splashes of vibrant seasonal color in your landscape. Below are design tips and ideas to help get your creative juices flowing so you can wow your friends and neighbors. 

What is a seasonal flower garden?
A seasonal flower garden, or flower bed, is a garden bed that can be changed from season to season using annual bedding plants and/or other types of plants. In case you're new to gardening, "annual plants" are those which typically live for only one season; either during the cool season or the warm season.

What purpose do seasonal flower beds serve in the garden?
With a wide selection of plant varieties and flower colors available, you can change your color scheme in your landscape from season to season. You can plant begonias, impatiens, marigolds and zinnias during the warm season, and pansies and other cool season annuals to provide a bounty of color during the cool season.

Why a design?
Carefully matching plants to the site and carefully selecting good companion plants (for mixed flowerbeds) are important. If you ignore these imperatives, your results will likely be disappointing. On the other hand, if you take a little time to carefully design your flower beds the results can be truly spectacular!

Remember, in most cases, there is more than one way to arrange plants in the flower bed, and that many of the "rules" of design were made to be broken. What's most important is that your annual flowerbeds look and feel good to you.

Location is important
You can plant a flower bed anywhere on your property, However, most importantly, you want to plant flowerbeds where you and others can see them! I often plant flowerbeds to accentuate entryways, such as the front door of the home or at the end of a drive or walkway. I also use annual flowers to border landscape beds, sidewalks, or pathways, around mailboxes, or near patios, porches or other outdoor sitting or living areas where they will be enjoyed while relaxing outdoors.

Choosing plants

Match plants to the sun
Break this rule at your own peril...or the peril of your plants. Before designing your flower bed, make sure to choose plants that will thrive in the amount of sunlight the flower bed will receive during a day.

Size matters
Select sizes of plants that fit the scale of your flower bed. Avoid planting large- or wide-growing plants in a tiny flower bed. Also, keep height and width in mind. Height is important, because you don't want to hide low-growing plants with tall ones. Depending on from what angle the flower bed will be viewed, use taller plants as a background or centerpiece for low-growing plants.

Soil and moisture requirements
Generally speaking, and with the exception of a few annual plants, such as Portulaca, which prefer life on the dry side, most annual bedding plants prefer a fertile, loose, moist, but well-drained soil. In order to achieve these optimum growing conditions it is best to create a "raised' or "mounded" flower bed.

Color Combinations
Color gardens usually involve the use of annual or perennial flowers or foliage plants that have a long flowering season and serve to draw attention or create a mood.

Mono-variety - If you're one who doesn't have the time to be choosy, this is the perfect flower garden for you. It simply involves choosing a single variety/cultivar of plant and using whatever number of these it will take to fill the flower bed. Mono-variety gardens are great for a solid pop of color.

Mono-color - The next of simple designs is what I call the mono-color design. These designs can use several different types of plants in various shades of the same color. For example, you might choose purple, as seen in the photo below. Since no plants are identical in color, you'll end up with an array of purple shades that are very appealing to the eye. 

You can use mono-color designs to set a mood. White, blue and pink shades are very soothing while yellow, orange and red shades are hot and exciting. When putting together a mono-color design you'll want to make sure that the various types of plants in the garden share similar needs for sun, soil type and moisture.

Bi-color - These designs use two colors, such as the flower bed below which used blue and white, which also includes violet, lavender and silver shades. There are as many ways to combine color as there are gardeners planting flower gardens. If you are happy with the colors you've used, then other opinions don't really matter. However, there are some rules of thumb that can help you put together good color combinations.

Colors tend to come in two different categories: hot colors and cool colors. 

Hot colors, such as red, orange and yellow express action and excitement. Place hot colors by doors, walkways and in far corners of the garden to draw attention to spots that might otherwise be overlooked. Cool colors, such as blue, pink and purple tend to calm and provide tranquility. They are great to use in spaces where you want to relax.

Color can also be used to visually change distance perspective. Warm colors and light tints, such as red, orange, yellow and white, advance an object or area toward the observer. These colors and tints placed near the foundation of a home would make the house appear closer to the street. Cool colors and deep shades like blue, green and black recede and can be used to make the house appear farther from the street.

When choosing colors, one very helpful tool is the color wheel. A color wheel is a diagrammatic way of showing relationships between colors. Colors on the right side of the wheel are warm. Colors on the left side are cool. Colors adjacent to one another are analogous. Opposite colors are complementary.

The first way of combining color is utilizing analogous colors. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. Some examples of analogous colors are yellow-orange, orange-red, yellow-orange-red, violet-red, blue-green, and blue-violet.

Next is complimentary colors. Using these can create more drama in the garden. To design with complimentary colors, simply look at the color wheel and choose the colors that are opposite of each other. Complimentary colors create a lot of contrast and cause both colors to pop. When designing with complimentary colors keep in mind that bright shades of any color look better with bright shades of a complimentary color, and the same for light shades. Also keep in mind that you'll want the color of the flowers to compliment other plants or fixtures nearby.

Multi-color - This is the trickiest of color schemes but is made easier with the use of the color wheel. I usually stick to three colors but more can be used. When using three colors you will select colors that are spaced equidistant on the color wheel - the points of an equilateral triangle, such as yellow, blue, and red.

In addition to the colors on the simple color wheel, there are a number of neutral colors including white, black, grey, silver and shades of brown. Neutral colors can be used with any color scheme to add dimension.

Foliage and form
Spectacular blooms grab our attention, but don't ignore the foliage plants. Many plants, such as the seemingly endless varieties of sun coleus, elephant ears, caladiums, and annual grasses display outstanding foliage colors and textures. Plants also come in a variety of shapes (also called form or habit). Some plants such as verbenas, petunias, and purslane grow into cushions, mounds, or mats while others such as purple fountain grass, salvias, angelonia, and celosia are upright and spiky, providing vertical accents in the bed. Still others such as begonias and geraniums are round and bushy.

In formal flowerbeds, plants are usually arranged in vertical, horizontal, or diagonal rows, or other regular patterns. In informal gardens, clumps and drifts of plants are most often planted to give the appearance of a more natural grouping. In the most informal flowerbeds, one of each of many varieties are used to fill the bed.

Specialty or theme flower beds
You may decide to create a certain theme for a flowerbed. For example, a moon garden might consist of only plants with white flowers. A hot garden might consist of reds, oranges and yellows while a cool garden might consist of pinks, blues, and purples. You might plant a flowerbed to attract butterflies or hummingbirds. A foliage bed would consist of plants such as grasses, sun coleus, or licorice plants, known for their outstanding or unique foliage characteristics.

Designing Your Flower Bed

Now you that you've discovered some of the basic fundamentals of flower bed design you're ready to design your flower bed.

Sketching out the area where you intend to plant your flower bed is the easiest way to lay it out.

Aside from some research you might do regarding various types of flowers you can use, all you need in order to design a flower bed is:

  1. Sheet of paper (graph paper is best)
  2. Pencil, colored pencils would be ideal
  3. Ruler

Shape of the flower bed

When it comes to designing the shape of your flower bed, the possibilities are endless. A flower bed can be round, oval, square, pie-shape, kidney bean, square, rectangular, or any other shape you can imagine. Beds in formal gardens usually have straight edges or are perfectly round, square, rectangular or triangular. But these days, with informal gardens being the preference, curving edges are more desirable.

Before drawing the shape and size of your flower bed on your graph paper, you'll need to measure the space in your garden where you intend to plant your flower bed and then lay it out on paper. Then draw the shape of your flower bed into the space. 

TIP:  If you are using graph paper you can make each little square on the paper represent a certain size in relation to your flower bed. For example, each square on the graph paper could represent 1 square foot of space in your flower bed. This means that a 12 foot wide flowerbed would be 12 squares wide on your graph paper.

Plant spacing and placement

Before drawing a plant into the the flower bed on your graph paper, know the average width of the plant. If the width of a plant is 12 to 16 inches, then you will want to space your plants approximately 12 inches apart in your flower bed. Therefore, if each square on your graph paper equals 12 inches of space in your flower bed, the size of the circle you draw in your design would be equal in size to one square on your graph paper.

Other Helpful Tips

Here's some other tips and reminders to follow when drawing your design on paper:

  • Make sure to use taller growing plants as a background or centerpiece for lower growing plants.
  • Use colored pencils to color code the flowers that you plan to plant so you can see if the design will give you the results you're looking for.
  • Don't forget to use the color wheel to help pick colors that compliment or contrast nicely with each other. Colors on the right side of the wheel are warm. Colors on the left side are cool. Colors adjacent to one another are analogous (similar, alike). Opposite colors are complementary.
Now that you have your new flower bed designed see: How To Plant A Flower Bed

Hope these design tips were helpful!