Design a Flower Bed with Color and Fragrance

When planning flower beds for a garden, pay attention to color, shape, height, and the texture of plants. Even fragrance can play a large part in flower bed design. Annuals vary in form as they develop. Some flowers grow tall; sunflowers, for example, reach heights of 8 to 10 feet. Other annuals, such as sweet alyssum and lobelia, prefer to hug the ground, making them perfect for trimming edges of beds and borders.

Contrary to what you may think, no rule specifically states that you must plant the shortest flowers in front and the tallest flowers in back. Annuals can quickly add height to a garden, with towering sunflowers or foxgloves creating screening or providing color at the back of the border. As you hike in the woods, notice how nature layers plants: tall trees, understory trees, large shrubs, ferns, and then ground cover plants carpeting the forest floor. Such complexity pleases the eye, and you can mimic that pattern by planting low-growing annuals in front and taller ones in the rear. You can blend annuals in with other plants to create this same effect in your garden beds.

Texture adds another element to the garden. For example, the droopy, chenille-like softness of love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) adds a striking note to a planting scheme; the feathery foliage of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) knits together varied plantings in the front of a border.

Combining colors in a garden design

The color wheel that you studied in grade school comes in handy when planning your garden. You may recall that the color wheel is divided into the same colors and in the same order as a rainbow. Keep these color combinations in mind when designing your annual garden:

  • Primary colors: These three colors — red, blue, and yellow — are equidistant on the wheel. All other colors result from mixing these three.

  • Complementary colors: These pairs of colors are opposite each other on the wheel — orange and blue, yellow and violet, or red and green, for example. Complementary colors can be jarring if overused in mass plantings. Rather than alternating yellow marigolds and purple petunias in a large bed, consider intermixing yellow and orange marigolds, using purple sparingly as a bold accent color.

  • Harmonious colors: These colors blend gradually between two primary colors, such as red to orange to yellow. Harmonious colors unify a landscape without creating the monotony of using a single flower or color. A garden that moves like a sunset from yellow to orange to red or various shades of blue like the clear sky creates softer impressions on the viewer.

  • Shades of color: Shades refer to lighter and darker variations of the same color.

Incorporating fragrance in a garden design

The fragrance of annual flowers can add another dimension to your garden. Floral fragrances are a personal preference, so take the time to choose the flowers that most please your sense of smell. Then mix those flowers in throughout the garden. Plant generously so that you have plenty of flowers to pick for bouquets. As a rule, choose the old-fashioned varieties of flowers, which usually tend to be the more fragrant. (You may need to order seeds by mail to find the older, most strongly scented varieties.)

Here are some favorite easy-care annuals that add fragrance to the garden:

  • Heliotrope: Vanilla-scented purple or dusky white flowers.

  • Mignonette: Easy to grow from seed with a strong, sweet fragrance.

  • Flowering tobacco: White, pink or purple flowers with a nearly tropical scent.

  • Night-scented stock: Old-fashioned favorite with a clove scent.

  • Scented geraniums: The leaves come in a variety of scents.

  • Sweet alyssum: Masses of tiny scented flowers.

  • Sweet peas: Older varieties retain the sweetest of scents all day long.

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