10 Easy Steps to a Beautiful Flower Bed

I decided to post the step by step directions for creating an informal flower bed in your Outdoor Living Spaces here so that those that wanted the how-to information but didn’t want to listen to the podcast on Informal Flower Bed Design, could have quick and easy access to the 10 steps.

Figure out how many square feet you have.

Once you know the area of the bed you are designing, you can figure out how many flowers/bulbs you need.  Use the formula 1/x for determining the number of perennials that you want (x=the spacing of the plants).  When using annuals, plan on about 2 plants and 2 bulbs per square foot for spring flowers and about 4 plants per square foot for summer flowers.

Pick your plants.

When picking your plants you must keep in mind that you are selecting plants to be skeleton (10%-20%), tendon (10%-20%), flesh (60%-80%), and sparkle (>5%)—these plants are explained more later.  Keep in mind height, texture and color.  Make sure when using perennials that all the plants fit in your hardiness zone and select plants that bloom at different times of the year.  Visit nurseries at different times of the year to see what is blooming.  Order free catalogs online and find new plants to incorporate in your designs.

Draw your spine.

Straight lines do not fit in an informal design.  Use sine curves, J’s, E’s, S’s, C’s, 8’s and explosions.  Try being fancy and drawing different lines for different bloom seasons. 

Place your skeleton plants.

Use odd numbers and place the plants in triangles (but not equilateral or isosceles triangles) and groups along the spine.  Leave space in between the groups for tendon plants.

Place your tendon plants.

Place the tendon plants in between and around the groups of skeleton plants.  Expand the spine as much as possible. 

Place your flesh plants.

Fill in the empty space.

Place the sparkle plants.

Put the sparkle plants in areas that you want to emphasize or where you want to draw attention.

Plant the plants.

Plant the bulbs about 4-6” deep pointed side up.  Plant annuals with the top of the root ball just under the surface green side up.  Plant perennials with the top of the root ball just above the surface.  Rough up the sides of the root ball before planting.

Mulch and water the plants.

Mulch perennials and summer annuals with either compost or shredded bark.  Do not mulch spring bulbs or spring annuals.  Water in all plants except bulbs.  Bulbs do not need watering.

Enjoy and maintain.

Take time to enjoy your flowers, especially by spending time  maintaining them.  Cut out the dead flowers and replace the dead plants.  Watch for diseases and insects.  Take a lot of pictures to show friends and neighbors.


Skeleton- Bright, vibrant colors; tall, pointed forms; large, significant flowers


Tendon- Colors, forms and flowers that compliment the skeleton plants


Flesh- Colors, forms and flowers that emphasize the skeleton


Sparkle- Frequently white or other significant or contrasting colors; usually small size or insignificant form; noticeable, but not detracting flowers; meant to emphasize or draw attention in a subtle way


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