How to Design with Garden Accents

Creating a waterfall or brook lends a striking focal point for any garden. See more pictures of famous gardens.

How do you make your garden stand out? Use garden accents: Containers, raised beds, accent plantings, and decorative structures like trellises and gazebos give an extra dose of color and texture to your garden. Garden sculptures are often the finishing touch of a perfect garden.

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There are numerous ways to accent your garden and create both depth and height. In this article, we will look at all of these options and briefly discuss which ones work best with various types of plants, and how each type of accent will bring out the best in your garden.

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Designing with Containers

Containers are an excellent way to learn about gardening because they're easy to plant and give great results quickly. They also provide color to highlight patios, steps, garden gates, or any other drab area. Choose containers in styles and materials that harmonize with your landscape. Containers can be placed on paved areas and under trees whose roots fill the ground. In addition, pots are the best places to show off rare and exotic plants. Hanging baskets ornament porches and decks, even where there is not much space for plants. The larger and less crowded the container, the less frequently it will need to be watered. In any raised container, whether it is a tall pot or a hanging basket, plants should trail downward, spread sideways, and grow upward, for the most impact in a small space.

An effective window box combination is ivy or variegated vinca trailing down, petunias filling the middle area, and zonal geraniums standing up. Window boxes should have matching plantings for coherent design. If your containers are weatherproof, you can use perennial plants and dwarf shrubs in them as well as annuals.

Containers eliminate much of the guesswork in gardening. There is no need to tolerate difficult soil or make do with marginal sites. You can start with any potting mix, choosing the perfect blend for the plants you want to grow. You can set the pot where it will have the ideal amount of sun or shade. You provide water when nature comes up short, and you schedule the fertilization. There is nothing left to chance, assuming that you take the time to tend the potted plant. In return, containers become living flower arrangements. With lively color schemes, varied textures, and handsome containers, potted plants grow, flower, and flourish close at hand where they are easily enjoyed.

Containers are perfect for displaying all the colors of summer, and what better way to add color than with annuals? Next, read more about annuals in containers, and how to arrange and group them.

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Annuals in Containers

Grouping annual flowers together in containers is especially beautiful because they are almost perfectly-suited for container plantings. While perennial flowers grow best in the ground, there are some perennials that do very well in containers.

Annuals are particularly well-suited for use in container plantings. They quickly fill and overflow the planters. You can also plant them in masses of a single species or in a mixture of different kinds and colors.

Planters full of annuals can be used singly or in groups. They can be mixed with houseplants brought outdoors for summer or inserted here and there in between shrubbery. Container plants can be hung from a garden fence, a low-hanging tree limb, or a porch rail. Even a small apartment balcony can be turned into a colorful garden by filling it with annuals.

Would you rather use perennials in your containers? Although not all will thrive, there are many options to choose from -- learn about them on the next page.

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Perennials in Containers

In most instances, perennials are best grown directly in the ground. However, there are occasions when it's desirable to grow them in containers as potted plants.

When the garden soil is so poor that it's nearly impossible to successfully grow plants in it, container plantings can be the solution. They can also be the answer for soil-less locations such as an apartment balcony, a deck, or a patio.

A third reason for raising container-grown perennials is to allow you to have those varieties that are not winter hardy in your climate. By growing them in containers, it's possible to easily move them into the house or a special shelter over the winter, then back into the garden in the spring.

Finally, it's sometimes nice to grow perennials, half hardy and half tender, as indoor plants, providing attractive displays within your home. After all, most houseplants are, in fact, perennials that are tropical and therefore not hardy for growing outdoors in most parts of the country. Some gardeners enjoy the novelty of growing various perennial bulbs in containers for winter bloom: tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, amaryllis, and lilies are popular choices.

Because of the extra care and space year-round container-grown plants require, you'll probably limit yourself to growing only those that are your special favorites -- perennials that look beautiful both while they're in bloom and when they are not and those that add appreciably to the decor of your home and garden.

To care for perennials in containers, follow the tips outlined for all container gardens, such as proper watering and drainage. In addition, repot plants when they show signs of becoming rootbound. An easy way to check is by knocking the plant out of the pot every six months to see how jammed with roots it has become -- when they're solidly matted, it's time to shift into a slightly larger pot, or to divide the plant into several pieces and repot.

To carry warm weather plants successfully through the winter in cold climates, it's necessary to bring them into the house or a greenhouse where warmth can be maintained. For those perennials that are half-hardy or require only slightly milder winters than those you have, it's possible to place them on an unheated enclosed porch or other similar location where daylight sun can reach them, but they're not subjected to extremely low temperatures. If sub-zero temperatures persist, a small space heater on a low setting will provide enough heat to prevent damage. Don't make it so warm that tender new growth is encouraged to sprout -- just fend off the very coldest conditions for the brief periods that they last.

Remember that potted plants overwintered under these conditions will require periodic watering in order to keep them from drying out. Such waterings should be infrequent as the plants metabolism is much slower in colder conditions.

Another way to display and group your plants is planting them in built-in raised beds. Learn about the usages for raised beds and some of the practicalities to consider in the next section.

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Raised Beds as Garden Accents

A stone wall can have built-in beds, allowing you to adorn your home with flowers.

Like containers, built-in raised beds are excellent for accent plantings, especially near doorways, where you may wish to add shrubs for framing the entryway, and atop paved areas, where it would otherwise be difficult to garden.

They generally offer excellent drainage and deep soil that is free from competing tree roots. If your home has existing raised beds, check their design and condition. If they are too small, too low, or not attractively made, you should consider replacing them. An advantage of raised beds is that the gardener can tend the plants in them with a lot less bending and kneeling.

If you want your plants to go on a taller display, plant supports like arbors and pergolas might be the accents for you. On the next page, we'll explore different kinds of plant supports, their constructions, and the advantages of using them.

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Plant Supports as Garden Accents

Arbors and pergolas are sturdy supports, often used for growing massive grapevines, wisteria, and trumpet vines. They can be used as a focal point at the end of a walkway and to provide shade and privacy in narrow spaces where you do not want to plant trees.

Create a shade garden without trees by planting under a vine-covered arbor. Shade gardens can feature serene blends of ferns, hostas, and woodland wildflowers, plus a few dazzling bloomers such as azaleas and rhododendrons. Although these plants usually grow amid trees and shrubs, they can thrive in shadows cast by other structures-walls, fences, houses, or a vine-covered arbor. The advantage of an arbor shade garden is that fewer roots are competing for moisture and nutrients. And unlike a planting close to a wall or building, the arbor shade garden has plenty of fresh air circulation. In addition, an arbor looks great when clad in flowers and handsome foliage.

Add height to a perennial border with annual or perennial vines on wire cages, tepees, or scrims. All kinds of eclectic treasures can be used. When you want a dynamic high point for a flower garden, an upward-trained vine will be effective throughout the growing season and sometimes beyond. In contrast, many of the tallest perennials reach their maximum height only when in flower, which may last for just a few weeks. Here are some support options to consider:

  • Wire cages: These work like tomato cages but can be made from wire mesh in any height or shape. A narrow, upright pillar shape is elegant in a formal garden.
  • Tepees: Make a support of angled posts tied together at the top. Plant one or several vines at the base and let them twine up and fill out to cover each post.
  • Scrims: These are open-structured, see-through supports that vines can climb and still provide a veiled view of the scene beyond. With imagination, scrims can be made of braided wire or other creative materials.

Flowers and plants may be the centerpiece of your garden, but it's the accents that frame your masterpiece, and give your design a place to shine.Want more information on creating a garden? Try: