Pick the plants that suit the amount of sunlight in your garden for a gorgeous, long-lasting display
A stepped flower garden in full bloom looks striking
The best gardeners have a knack for achieving colour in the garden throughout the year, combining both flowers and foliage.
In summer, flowers are at their peak, so choose the correct plant, position and arrangement to have a bright display of blooms.
Determining whether you have a sunny, mixed or shady garden will help you select the right plants for maximum effect.
The beauty of a flowerbed doesn’t rely solely on the number of plants it contains, but on the harmony of their colour and shape, and the balance of textures, heights and flower sizes.
The most successful plantings pair flowers with small shrubs or plants with attractive foliage to give the flowers a lush backdrop so they can display their colour.
When designing a garden, never underestimate the value of foliage. As well as assessing plants on the colour of their flowers, also look for interesting leaves.
Here is a selection of the best grasses and decorative foliage plants that will add texture and bulk to flowerbeds.
CREATE A GROUP of plants for an eye-catching foliage display. Use ferns in a shaded area and grow the fine foliage forms of dusty miller, wormwood and fennel in a sunny spot.
ADD MOVEMENT with lomandra and grasses like blue fescue, poa, fountain, pennisetum and kangaroo
to give a feeling of fluidity to a bed.
USE TALL foliage plants like cordyline, dracaena, New Zealand flax and zebra grass to add height and create the impression of a living fountain in the garden.
TONE DOWN and soften the colours of bright blooms by using plants like dusty miller, woolly lamb’s ear, Bowles’ golden sedge, hakone grass, blue euphorbia and hostas.
The art of composition
Form a stepped garden bed by mixing plants of three or four different heights to give a border effect, positioning low-growing annuals at the front and taller plants at the back.
Arrange the plants in a series of steps, working from low plants under 20cm at the front of the bed to tall plants over 1m high at the back. The seed packets and plant labels display the plant height.
Shrubs make a great backdrop for a garden bed, as do climbers, such as jasmine and clematis, and tall perennials like cannas.
Climbers have the advantage of occupying little ground space, which makes them useful if your bed is narrow or your garden is small.
For a natural look, establish your flowerbed as an extension of an existing feature in your garden.
Merge it into another group of plants such as a bed of shrubs or a hedge. Or you can back it onto hard landscaping like a pathway, low wall, pergola, patio or steps.
Get off to a good start
Although it is tempting, do not buy young stalky plants in flower. Choose healthy, compact plants with vibrant green leaves and well-branched stems.
The base of the stem should be strongly attached to the root mass, not loose, and the rootball should be damp to the touch. Reject plants with either dry or saturated potting mix.
Care for new plants
Watering the plants regularly is vital, especially immediately after planting and during hot weather.
To avoid disturbing young plants, use a watering can fitted with a fine rose and hold it high above the plants.
If watering with a hose, use a nozzle attachment and point it upwards over the plants so they’re not damaged by too much pressure.
Hoe the ground regularly to get rid of weeds that will compete with your plants. Mulching well will also help reduce weeds.
Pinch out for strength
Encourage the young plants to develop into sturdy, bushy specimens by pinching out the tips of shoots.
Grasp the tip between your thumb and index finger, just above a leaf or pair of leaves.
This light pruning slightly delays flowering, but it will be more abundant when it starts. Pinch out heliotrope, cosmos, and petunia regularly.
The fragile stems of campanula, aster and rudbeckia are vulnerable in wind. Pinching out the tips will restrict their height and help them to remain upright.
Protect from the sun
As summer warms up, certain plants will suffer if they are still positioned in full sun.
To give plants spring sun and summer shade, plant ferns, fuchsias, hostas and euphorbias under the shelter of small deciduous trees such as crepe myrtle, frangipani, Japanese maple or tulip tree.
These perennials won’t just survive in full shade, they’ll thrive and have gorgeous blooms and foliage.
Columbine flower. Image: Thinkstock
Bleeding heart. Image: Thinkstock
Coral bells. Image: Alamy
Foxglove. Image: Thinkstock
Astilbe. Image: Alamy
How to create a stepped flowerbed
Mix three or four plants of different heights to give a stepped effect, using low-growing annuals up to 20cm at the front of the bed and gradually working up to tall plants 1m or over at the back of the bed.
First row (10-20cm)
Gazania. Image: Thinkstock
Lobelia. Image: Thinkstock
Sweet Alyssum. Image: Thinkstock
Portulaca. Image: Thinkstock
Second row (20-50cm)
Ageratum. Image: Thinkstock
Dusty Miller. Image: Alamy
New Guinea Impatiens. Image: Thinkstock
Petunia. Image: Thinkstock
Third row (50cm-1m)
Cornflower. Image: Thinkstock
Delphinium. Image: Thinkstock
Marigold. Image: Thinkstock
Snapdragon. Image: Thinkstock
Fourth row (over 1m)
Amaranthus. Image: Thinkstock
Cleome. Image: Thinkstock
Sunflower. Image: Thinkstock
Hollyhock. Image: Thinkstock
Gather seeds before deadheading spent flowers and store them ready to replant next year.
PUT A PAPER BAG over the flowers that have finished blooming, then secure it around the stem of the plant with string. When the stems have dried out, cut just below the tie, turn the bag upside down and shake the plant so the seeds fall into it.
MAKE A CONE out of newspaper to gather seeds from dried flowerheads. Roll up two sheets from a large newspaper to make a cone with a wide opening at the top.
Fold and secure the cone at the base to stop the seeds escaping, shake the seed-laden plant over the cone, then fold over the newspaper at the top.
USE AN OLD SIEVE to collect small seeds from plants like snapdragons and petunias. Put the ripe, dry flowerheads into an old kitchen sieve, rub gently over the mesh and the seeds will fall through.
AIR-DRY SEEDS thoroughly on newspaper to reduce the risk of mould, before storing them.
STORE THE SEEDS in old pill bottles, which are ideal as the drying agent in the cap protects them from damp. Or keep them in film canisters or in envelopes or paper bags, then peg them to a line in a dry, well-aired space. Collect the bags of absorbent silica gel that come with electrical equipment or in vitamin bottles, then drop them into the containers where you store the seeds.
To keep off weevils and rodents, add a mothball to the storage containers.
TIP Never store seeds in a plastic bag, as it won’t allow air through and the seeds will rot.
You can store saved seeds in envelopes or paper bags