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Fall planting.

Pretend it's spring. We know that's when the urge to dig in the garden strikes, because the weather is warming then and nurseries are filled to the rafters with blooming plants.

But early fall is a much better time to plant, especially if you're tackling major projects like putting in a new flower bed or border. Transplanted now, plants ease into the garden naturally. The soil is still warm enough for their roots to burrow in and take hold, yet the air's beginning to cool, which means you don't have to be out in the garden every 10 minutes watering. Soon winter rains will kick in.

Nurseries are well stocked now with many perennials, bulbs, and shrubs. But how do you combine all those young green plants (or brown bulbs) so they'll mature into stunning beauties come spring?

Creating handsome beds and borders takes vision and planning. We've taken the guesswork out of it. You can plant one of the four gardens pictured on these pages, or design your own plan using our guidelines for texture, color, and height. To start, check out the nine steps to planting on page 78.

Now is the time to dig in.

Basic elements of a good border

1 Color

Mixing and matching colors is like painting with plants. These strategies can help you compose your own work of art.

USE SHADES OF A SINGLE COLOR. When you stick with one basic color, everything automatically goes together. Take purple, for instance. You can mix lavender, violet, and mauve flowers and plum-colored foliage with impunity. Or pastel, rose, and cerise pinks. Like adding a scarf to a basic black dress, you can add accent colors later if you decide the look is too sedate. Some suggestions:

* A pink-flowered spiraea with 'Apple Blossom' penstemon and pink coral bells

* Yellow iris and 'Coronation Gold' yarrow with yellow and cream columbine

* Burnished orange lion's tail (Leonotis leonurus) with bronze rudbeckia and a brown sedge like Carex buchananii

* Dark pink azaleas with pink Lenten rose and pink primroses.

USE COMPLEMENTARY COLORS. Colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel - red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet - are always complementary partners. Muting one or both colors makes these combinations subtler. Apricot and lavender are easier to live with for the long haul than citrus orange and grape juice purple, for instance. Following are some possibilities:

* Blue catmint with golden yarrow and buttery yellow Jerusalem sage

* Apricot foxglove and diascia with blue salvia and iris

* The deep reddish-blue leaves of Loropetalum 'Plum Delight' with the chartreuse green ones of 'Sunset Gold' diosma

* Bright gold Japanese forest grass with 'Blue Panda' corydalis and a chartreuse and blue hosta.

USE COLOR ECHOES. This is the Mother-Nature-makes-no-mistake approach. Choose a focal plant and then build on its colors.

* Variegated 'Norah Leigh' phlox: Repeat the cream in the foliage with cream-colored foxglove and the pink in the flowers with 'Evelyn' penstemon. Back the whole vignette with cream-colored roses.

* Aster frikartii: Back the lavender-blue of the flowers with the mauve haze of purple muhly grass, then pick up the aster's yellow centers with golden coreopsis.

2 Texture

Foliage is the heart of a good planting. Putting together plants with different leaf shapes and surfaces is the object. Balance big and small leaves smooth and fuzzy, strappy and feathery. All are instant texturizers.

ARTEMISIA. Perennials grown for lacy, silver-gray foliage. Handsome as foils for spring pastels.

Use: Try billowy 'Powis Castle' with pink roses and blue delphiniums. Or plant common wormwood (A. absinthium) between white marguerites and green santolina. Or (along the coast) try dusty miller (A. stellerana) between sea lavender and variegated society garlic.

EUPHORBIA. The dome-shaped bushes of fleshy blue-green leaves and chartreuse flowers (E. characias, E. amygdaloides, and E. martinii) add instant architectural interest to gardens.

Use: Combine the species listed above with rosemary and santolina; basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) and blue and yellow bearded irises; or sword ferns and green-flowered Corsican hellebore.

HOSTA. Gorgeous heart-shaped leaves with prominent veins. (All forms are deciduous in winter.) Many green, blue, gold, and mixed colors to choose from. Great for woodland gardens.

Use: Try blue-leafed types with the fall gold of laceleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Dissectum') and lady's-mantle; gold ones with 'The Rocket' ligularia and ferns; and green varieties with Japanese barberry and astilbe.

NEW ZEALAND FLAX (Phormium). Its upright, swordlike leaves always create dramatic tension. Flax adapts to most soils and exposures (Sunset climate zones 7 through 24).

Use: Combine apricot-tinged P. 'Maori Queen' with orange African daisy (Arctotis) and purple Mexican bush sage; reddish brown P. 'Bronze Baby' with 'Siskiyou Pink' gaura and Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus); or P. hookeri 'Cream Delight' with a cream- and green-striped agave and brittle-bush (Encelia farinosa).

ORNAMENTAL GRASSES. They are unparalleled for their ability to add movement to the garden.

Purple fountain grass - which, unlike other pennisetums, won't reseed and make a pest of itself - is one of our favorites. Try it with lavatera and lavender.

Use: In a large garden, grow tall, urn-shaped Miscanthus sinensis with asters and veronica. In a smaller one, pair Mexican feather grass with ornamental oreganos and small salvias like S. greggii and 'East Friesland'.

OTHER GOOD TEXTURIZERS. Acanthus mollis, aloes, barberry, breath of heaven (Diosma ericoides), ferns, heavenly bamboo, helichrysum, hellebores, lamb's ears, Leptospermum, and rosemary.

3 Exclamation Points

If you plot out the shrubs and perennials you're considering on a piece of paper, or in your head, you'll see that they all occur oval or circular spaces. Don't let the empty spots between them go to waste. Tuck in some virtually vertical plants - flowers that bloom along tall, leafless stalks.

Biennial foxglove, with its cluster of tubular flowers at eye level, is a perfect example. Tall flowering bulbs and many kinds of irises fit into this category. These plants may put on only a brief performance, but they make up for it in showmanship. Consider these:

* Lavender foxglove with pink roses and lamb's ears

* Pale blue delphiniums with dark blue salvia and Iris pallida

* Pale yellow Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer' with yellow and pink alstroemeria and a pink true geranium like 'Ballerina'

* Rose-pink watsonia with pink rock-rose and artemisia

* Verbena bonariensis with yellow roses and French lavender.

9 steps to building a border


Determine the size of your bed or border, then sketch out a plan on paper. Mix together annuals, bulbs, perennials, and shrubs, arranging them according to height (low edgers in front, tall plants in the rear). Choose spiky-leafed plants for accents amid horizontal drifts and rounded clumps of annuals and perennials. Avoid a hodgepodge look by planting at least three of each plant. For a succession of blossoms, choose spring-, summer-, and fall-blooming plants.


Drip irrigation is the most efficient way to water. And since there's no spray to dampen foliage, plants are less prone to disease and taller perennials aren't knocked over. You can seek professional help to design and install a system or do it yourself.

Install the valve and connect the main water line first, then lay the final drip tubing and install emitters after plants are in the ground.


A successful border begins with healthy soil. First test the soil's drainage: Dig a 12-inch-deep hole and fill it with water. If the water doesn't drain away in 12 to 24 hours, install a tile drain, plant in a raised bed, or choose a new site.

Using a shovel or rotary tiller, turn the soil to a depth of about 12 inches. Mix in 2 to 4 inches of organic matter such as garden compost or well-composted manure.


Take your plan to the nursery. Choose small plants (six-pack-size annuals, six-pack or 4-inch perennials, and 1-gallon shrubs); they're more cost effective, and they get established faster than larger plants.


Set the pots of perennials and shrubs out on the prepared soil. Make minor adjustments and rearrange plants if some colors or textures don't work well together.


Remove plants from the nursery containers. Loosen their rootballs with your fingers or, if the roots are circling, make several scores down the sides of each rootball with a knife. Dig holes and place the plants in the ground, setting the top of the rootballs even with the top of the soil. Fill in the holes; firm the soil.


Interplant bulbs among the perennials and shrubs. Overplant with cool-season annuals, so when spring comes, the bulb flowers pop up through them.


Cover soil with a 2-inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture and help control weeds.


To get plants established, water two to four times a week to keep the small rootballs moist but not soggy. When winter reins arrive, water only if there are extended dry spells between rains. Once plants are established the following spring, water often enough to keep the soil moist.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes steps to building a border; beds and borders
Author:Cohoon, Sharon; Swezey, Lauren Bonar
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1998
Previous Article:Journey into Tucson.
Next Article:Sunset's Centennial cook-off.

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