GARDENING : Throwing the Bouquet Into the Back Yard


If you're tired of a humdrum planting of impatiens, petunias orother annual flowers spilling over your planter box or garden bed, try a new garden concept--a bouquet garden.

That's what Jill Bayer, of Corona del Mar did and she loves the novel design.

"I enjoy gardening and I didn't want the typical impatiens look," she explained. "I read a lot of garden books and magazines, and I decided I wanted a garden that featured a controlled wild look."

She enlisted the expertise of professional landscape architect Kathryn Rue, president of the Rue Group Inc. in Fullerton, to design gardens for the planting areas created after the installation of a swimming pool and tiled walkways.

Rue articulated what Bayer was trying to achieve, and describes it as a bouquet garden. The effect is that of a living informal, massed floral arrangement, with flowering plants of different heights, colors and textures, but harmonizing in a balanced manner.

"Because I was trained in horticulture, at first I was horrified at what Jill wanted since it violates every principle of design," Rue said, laughing.

"But we both discovered it can be fun to step beyond the rules of horticulture and design."

Rue treated each planter as though it were a bowl or vase. She analyzed where it would be viewed, either from the seating area or overhead from second-story rooms.

"The majority of the planters are a little more than 2 feet square, and this bouquet garden effect works best in small spaces," Rue explained.

She and Bayer drew up the list of plants to be used. Bayer is an enthusiastic garden hobbyist with a special interest in perennials.

"I love looking in nurseries for new and different plants, and there are so many new perennials available," she said. "I also avoided the annuals since I didn't want to keep replacing them."

Selecting mainly perennials and ground covers, Rue and Bayer grouped the plants according to their need for sun or shade, similar water requirements and color coordination.

"Because the tiles are so predominant, we avoided strong red or orange colors and selected plants with pale colors," Rue said.

Each space was treated as a separate arrangement. The harmony throughout the planting was achieved by using soft colors and repeating a particular plant in each space. In this design, hybrid day lilies were used for the focal plant.

A basic theme of boxwood hedges was used around each planter to outline the space and control the growth. Vines were incorporated for background. Then the living bouquet effect was created by tucking in a variety of ground covers and plants in each space.

Because of Bayer's preferences, Mexican primrose, rimmed by campanula and dwarf penstemon, were used in many of the plantings. Hybrid day lilies were added, as were lavenders, miniature roses, Breath of Heaven (Coleonema or Diosma) and Santa Barbara daisies.

The ground covers serve as foliage effect, similar to the foliage filler materials used in floral arrangements. The bouquet effect is achieved as the plants mature and grow through each other, thereby resembling an informal spring flower arrangement.

"Although the effect looks wild and uncontrolled, in reality this type of garden requires the same type of planning and placements just like making a floral arrangement," Rue explained.

But it differs from a traditional garden planting because it's more spontaneous.

"When we design perennial gardens, we create a structured space with tall shrubs in the background, gradation of heights and planning the plant placements on paper before anything goes in the ground," Rue said. "Unlike a perennial or even a cottage garden, where there are masses or drifts of color and specific designs, the bouquet garden is not as structured."

It's not the same thing as a cutting garden since that's an area devoted to growing flowers to be picked for indoor arrangements.

A bouquet garden requires maintenance since the flowers must be dead-headed regularly to encourage repeat blooming. As the garden matures, in three to five years, the perennials must be lifted and divided, and the ground covers may need rejuvenation.

But weeding is less of a chore since the heavy plantings and abundant foliage inhibit weeds from growing.

"We find that there's really no need to mulch since the plants serve that purpose," Rue said.

Drip irrigation works best since overhead watering should be avoided so the blossoms aren't damaged. Rue advises using low nitrogen fertilizers and only feeding once a month or even every two months since perennials shouldn't be encouraged to develop lush growth.

The bouquet garden concept can be adapted to include annuals for people who enjoy them. People who enjoy bulbs can also add them for variation. In creating a bouquet garden, Rue advises selecting plant materials that are soft and pliable, rather than woody shrubs.

"You want the effect of plants growing through one another," she said.

And although plants are tucked into the spaces, it's important to create a degree of balance so the visual result is harmonious, not just a lot of plants crammed together in a small space.

Rue offers the following suggestions for anyone wanting to try a bouquet garden:

* Try one small area first to learn the concept. You may need to remove a two-foot square of lawn or prepare a small garden bed near a patio post.

* Select one plant for the focal point. Rue recommends hybrid day lilies since they're colorful and blend well with other plants.

* Then tuck in several different types of ground cover plants, including different heights and foliage. Some examples are bellflower (Campanula), trailing verbenas, snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), variegated vinca.

* Next, tuck in a variety of plants such as dwarf beard tongue (Penstemon); cup flower (Nierembergia); bedding begonias or shrublike begonias such as B. 'Richmondensis.' Use small plants, either 4-inch or gallon size.

"This is not a garden for purists; it's a spontaneous garden where you can experiment with what works for your purposes," Rue said.

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