The Garden Life: If you envision it, it will grow: Plan now for spring

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If you’ve been thinking about creating a new planting area in your garden, now is the perfect window of opportunity to plan, plot and initiate that project. Our current state of winter is a sort of limbo; a window between the florid metamorphosis of autumn and the tumultuous rebirth of the spring garden. The bare bones of winter allow us a blank page on which to envision our ideas.

If you have been thinking of adding a new bed or border, you have already spent some time thinking about what you want that area of the garden to be. Thinking, hoping, dreaming and wishing are all important aspects of gardening but they seldom come to anything without putting these ideas down on paper. Planning is the most important step to take if you really want to bring your ideas to life.

On paper, draw out a simple plan that includes

hardscape, plants and any ornamental features you want to add to this area of the garden. You can follow the layout of this plan to create an actual design on the floor of the garden. Use an organic product such as gypsum to mark out each area to be planted. You can use the gypsum to divide the area into sections or to mark the spot where you will be adding specific plants.

Play with a few different outlines to see what shape would fit comfortably with the garden that is already in place. Add the outlines of individual specimen plants you want to add to the border using a scale that would show each mature plant at its most realistic size. In a mild winter, we can take three months to plan, prepare and plant, working a few hours each week to bide our time until early spring.

Make a list of the plants that you have in mind for this new planting area. A planting border with all-year interest will contain a mix of trees, shrubs, perennials, groundcovers and vines. If you already have some or all of the plants you will be adding to the border, start by positioning them in the bed while they are still in their nursery containers. This way you can move them as many times as necessary to get the layout that pleases you most.

To prepare the bed for planting, keep in mind some basic rules as you create your border. Begin by amending the soil with organic matter such as garden compost and well-rotted manure. Rake the area smooth and then set in any large rocks, boulders or stepping stones. Avoid compacting the soil as much as possible. Plan now for more than one season. Add needled evergreens that look good in multiple seasons and deciduous shrubs with strong architectural branching for an attractive winter silhouette

Stagger perennial plants such as daylilies in a well-spaced natural zigzag pattern rather than in one continuous row. Think of daisies in a meadow or grasses on the prairie. In the spaces behind the daylilies, add an additional, contrasting zigzag of fall flowering Japanese anemones. As you plant, keep in mind that when the daylily has finished flowering, its foliage will frame the taller, later-blooming anemone.

Finish the bed by filling all the spaces between these plantings with an assortment of favorite spring-blooming bulbs. Plant as many as you can fit along the entire length of the sweep. In spring, the daffodils will be the first to bloom, nodding their Easter bonnet blossoms on long, straight stalks. As the daffs fade, the emerging daylily foliage will hide the daffodil stems which need to die back naturally.

Play with this idea, planting any combination of your favorite spring-, summer- and fall-flowering plants. Try pastel tulips, bleeding hearts and chrysanthemums. How about the blue-and-white striped Crocus vernus “Pickwick,” a large pink peony and a triangular group of sedum “Autumn Joy.” By adding a backdrop of shiny, evergreen holly with bright red berries or the horizontal branching silhouette of “Shasta” viburnum you can create a four season garden in one fell swoop.

Once everything is laid out as you like, walk away from the planting area. Relax; take a mental break. When you approach the garden again, do so as if the garden is already established and in full bloom. Take the time to try different approaches to the garden layout and don’t hesitate to make changes that might add a heightened degree of interest. As much as planting, weeding and digging, envisioning the garden in seasons to come is a fundamental skill that every gardener needs to cultivate.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at Write2Robb@aol.com.