Front Yard Landscaping Ideas Pictures Design
Garden Planning Topics:
Please click on the links below for details on the various aspects of peony selection and garden design.
There are about as many ways to plan a garden as there are to decorate a house. Styles range from the formal to natural, historic to modern, colorful to monotone. Start with your own style, think about the land you have to work with, the house you are trying to match, and dream. Then take the time to prepare the soil, deal with drainage issues and discover the pattern of the sun. Once this is done you are ready to begin. Know that a beautiful garden takes years to develop, hours of planning, and weeks in the dirt. Remember the old garden truisms – first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap – or first year roots, second year shoots, third year flowers.
For information on planting individual plants see our section on planting on our peony care page. For information about choosing specific varieties of peonies see the section on shapes & colors on our peony care page.
Begin by brainstorming what you want out of your garden. There are about as many ways to plan a garden as there are to decorate a house. Styles range from the formal to natural, historic to modern, colorful to monotone. Start with your own style, think about the land you have to work with, the house you are trying to match, and find what inspires you. Clip photos, search the internet, drive around your neighborhood, tour botanic gardens and parks – take pictures, take notes and ask your friends. This is the time to determine what you like so take it all in. Nothing is set in stone yet so open yourself up and dream.
Items to consider:
- Seasonal Rainfall
- Soil Moisture
- Seasonal Influences – such as hot summer sun or snow drifting
- Microclimates within Your Garden – shady spots, windy corners, dry & wet spots
One of the most important, and often ignored, pieces of creating a successful garden involves the creating a healthy soil environment. There are two ways to go about this in your garden – you can either choose your plants to match the current state of your soil or you can adapt your soil to support the type of ecosystem you desire. Either way in the end the composition of your soil should match the plant species it supports.
A good place to start in the process is to evaluate the current state of your soil. Any plant species that are currently present will be key indicators of the health and composition of the soil – is the vegetation lush and thick, thin and weak, composed of wetland plants, a solid mat of one particular species? Once you infer as much information as possible it is best if you have your soil tested. Your local extension service should offer soil testing. ___ Insert info on how to take a soil test. Be sure to look at the composition of microorganisms in addition to the pH and mineral content of your soil. Remember that the soil is a living ecosystem unto itself and requires ongoing maintenance to remain healthy and functioning. If you are currently having problems in your garden the soil is the best place to begin your investigation.
For both existing and brand new gardens it is important to begin by looking at the whole. Determine the overall flow of your garden and consider it’s functional needs.
Things to consider
- The amount of space you have available
- The dimensions of that space. (Is it long and thin, square, are their lots of existing features to work around)
- What is the location of the pathways and access points?
- How do you want to divide up the space? (The size, shape, and location of garden beds)
- Are there any special use needs? (Kids play area, dog running space)
- What is the line of sight through the garden and how will pieces look from inside the house?
- Where does the light come from and how does this vary over the seasons?
- Are their areas that need special attention? (Very wet, very dry, nothing seems to grow there)
- Are you attempting to create any visual barriers?
Determine the scope of your garden project – whether you want to tackle the whole area, if you want to divide the garden into pieces and work on them over time, or do the basics now and fill it in later. Also consider the amount of time and effort you want to put in to maintaining your garden. This will not only help you determine the scope it will also help you decide on the style of the garden and the types of plants you will include.
Begin by considering the style of your house and any existing garden elements that are in place. A colonial home will evoke a different overall style than a brick ranch, or a modern home. Be sure to try to match the style of garden you want to create with they style of your home. Use this to determine if you want more of a cottage style garden, a formal garden, a modern garden, as well as what colors of plants to use.
Most perennials take at least three years to begin to reach their full size. Plan your garden for the future, leaving the appropriate space between plants so that each plant can grow to it’s full extent. Know that your garden will be beautiful in time, everything must go through it’s awkward phase.
Peonies are plants that easily create an obsession. The popular herbaceous peony bloom tends to explode in color and then is gone in the blink of an eye – or a hard rain. But once you begin to know the genus paeonia it is possible to create a garden that blooms over 8 weeks, giving the peony enthusiast waves of flowers that will more than fulfill the original obsession.
Now that you are familiar with the groups that make up the 8 Weeks of Bloom we want to take you through how to use all of these plants in your garden. First to consider, when they bloom in relation to other plants that may or may not be in your garden. Note that this is a rough approximation and seasonal variability may cause bloom times to shift.
Weeks 1 & 2 – Herbaceous Peonies – Bloom with Late Crocus, Early Daffodils & Flowering Trees
Weeks 2 & 3 – Tree Peonies – Bloom with Daffodils, early Tulips
Weeks 3 & 4 – & Tree Peonies and Herbaceous Peonies – Bloom with Late Daffodils, Tulips
Weeks 4 & 5 – Very Early & Herbaceous Peonies – Bloom with Allium
Weeks 5, 6 & 7 – Herbaceous Peonies – Bloom with Tall Bearded Iris, Lupines
Weeks 7 & 8 – Peonies – Bloom with Lilies, Black Eyed Susan
Woodland Herbaceous Peonies are a separate species of herbaceous peonies worth noting individually due to their preference for shade. Woodland peonies are deer proof. They naturalize well in a deciduous woodland where they get early spring sun, before the leaves come on the trees, and summer shade.Like most deciduous woodland understory plants they bloom early in the season as they only have access to the sun before the leaves come on the trees and they get shaded out. Woodland peonies look beautiful planted on their own, or can be planted as part of a mixed shade garden with hellebores, hosta, ferns, lily of the valley, and bleeding heart to name a few. They grow 1′-1.5′ tall and self seed creating sprays of low growing forest ground cover. Woodland peonies provide three season appeal with delicate white flowers in early spring, lush green foliage throughout the growing seasons, and dramatic indigo and scarlet seed pods in the fall. Good naturalizers, easy to grow, deer proof plants.
For a naturalized planting we begin by throwing the number of tennis balls that correspond with the number of plants we want to plant up into the air loosely and allowing them to settle naturally. Then digging a hole at each location where a tennis ball falls.
PLANTING – Woodland peonies tend to spread more horizontally than they do vertically. They like the rich hummus top soil that tends to be found in the woodland and use this looser soil to grow horizontally. Like all peonies they need good drainage and a relatively high level of organic matter in the soil. We recommend digging holes that are 1 foot wide by 8 inches deep. Woodland peonies should be planted in a similar manner to other herbaceous peonies, click here for details on planting herbaceous peonies.
Woodland peonies have viable seeds and if let go naturally will self seed in an area creating swaths of peonies.
Suffruticosa is one of the largest and most well known classifications of tree peonies. This group is also referred to as the Central Plains group of tree peonies as they derive from the Central Plains of China. There is incredible genetic diversity in this type of tree peony. They come in colors that include all ranges of white, pink, magenta and dark maroon (they tend not to produce good yellow, oranges, or true reds). Their flower florm is also incredibly diverse and includes single, lotus, chrysanthemum, rose, crown and bomb. The leaves range in shape from medium to round/orbicular and they very tremendiously in leaf color. Suffruticosa cultivars tend to have outstanding fragrance. See our section below on Cultivar Characteristics of Tree Peonies for more informaiton on flower color, form and leaf shape.
Most of the tree peonies in our catalog come from this group so we tend not to note it specifically. Insead we specify when they differ from this and note them as Gansu or Lutea Tree peonies.
When planting tree peonies it is important to consider the size and presentation of the plant.
Tree peonies form woody bushes that range in height between 3 and seven feet tall. They should be spaced based on the expected width of the plant and placed in the garden based on the expected height. When grouping tree peonies consider matching height and growth habit above all.
Most dwarf varieties will be spreading, have leaf coverage that spreads to the ground, and become wider than they are tall. Medium height tree peonies are typically partially spreading, forming plants that are as wide as they are tall (5′ in diameter and 5′ tall). Tall tree peonies are typically conical and form bushes that are taller than they are wide, growing more vertically than they do horizontally.
Dwarf plants are ideal in the front of the garden as they will become densely leafed button bushes. Mid height tree peonies make excellent stand alone plants. They are often seen in a corner that is partially protected from wind, with ample space around them. The coverage at the base is typically sufficient to make the bush beautiful on its own. However they make excellent accent plants at the back of the garden. Tall plants should be planted behind other plants as they have minimal leaf coverage toward the base and will grow rather tall, up to 7′. Plan for ample space in the garden for them to grow into. Keep in mind that tree peonies are slow growing plants and will take 10-15 years to reach maturity.
Difference in Leaf Coverage – shown in year 4 Tall/Conical – no coverage at base Med/Part Spread – moderate coverage at base Dwarf/Spreading – great coverage at base
Remember that tree peonies grow slowly and can take 10+ years to reach their full size. We suggest interplanting tree peonies with shallow rooted plants such as irises that will fill in the space quickly but can be moved once the tree peony grows larger.
Space peony so it has 5′ to grow into ~5 Year Old Tall/Conical Plant ~15 Year Old Medium/Part Spreading ~15 Year Old Dwarf/Spreading
When using bookends as the caps at the front of the walkway, we recommend dwarf tree peonies as they will have leaf and flower coverage to the base of the plant.
When using them at the back of a long walkway a medium partially spreading plant would be ideal as it would give the height and stature to provide the needed grandeur for the space.