Happy New Year!

By Jesse Gilbertson, U City in Bloom’s horticultural director

Lysimachia Walkabout SunsetEvery year as we round the bend into the new year, it reminds me that spring will come quickly and I focus on finishing up designs and plans for the upcoming garden displays. One of the biggest considerations when designing are my goals for the display:

  • Am I trying to be consistent with or complement surrounding landscapes?
  • Do I want to have a theme such as an all-pink display or a cottage-style display?
  • Will it be interactive or viewed from afar?

There are many considerations when designing a garden…too many to list in a short blog. When designing the beautiful public seasonal displays in University City, some of my main considerations for goals are visibility, sustainability, and education.

In a community with so many dynamic garden beds it’s important to consider visibility. If the garden is on a street, I will design for a big, bold appeal to be viewed by fast-moving cars or from a distance. This means keeping it simple and bold with big drifts of the same color or texture. Some of my favorite plants for this are sun coleus or wave petunias.

Too much variation would get lost from afar and is better suited in some of our more interactive gardens. Variation of color, texture and species can be used to invite visitors in to stop and explore up close.

It is tempting to crowd plants in for instant appeal in spring, but it’s not very sustainable. It costs twice as much, and by mid-summer half of the plants will become crowded out and need to be removed. Remember that, given time, plants will grow in and be happier with proper spacing.

Choosing plants that require less water should always be a major goal when planning. Even though many of our beds are irrigated, it is important that we be responsible with our water resources.

We want our gardens to be educational and encourage questions of the viewers. By including native or new and underused plants, we can encourage the community to try them. Our gardens are a working classroom for me as well.

Every year I plan with a few new or unusual plants intermixed in the garden so I can see what will be successful or good potential to use in more numbers for future displays. That way I am always expanding the palette of plants I paint the garden with. One annual I loved from last year was Lysimachia ‘Walkabout Sunset.’ It didn’t like too much competition from other plants, but the color and texture are something I certainly will include in future displays.

These were just a few of the goals I am tossing about as I look to our coming spring. As you look at your own gardens, think of your goals. They could be as simple as saving money with fewer, more vigorous plants or setting a color theme. Keep in mind if you head into spring with a plan, you will have more time to stop and smell the roses.

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