The first question you should ask yourself when planning a new garden is “Why do I want a garden?” Maybe you have a shady spot where grass won’t grow, but hostas and ferns would. Perhaps you have fond memories of your grandmother’s cottage garden, full of color and texture. You might be hoping to reduce your food bill by producing some of your own fresh fruits and vegetables. Your reasons for planting a garden and the eventual use of that garden space are instrumental in determining your garden site and the plants you choose.
Plants in a butterfly garden are chosen to attract, retain, and encourage butterfly populations. Nectar producing plants that bloom throughout the summer will attract the most visitors. It is most important to select plants that bloom in mid- to late summer, as this is when butterflies are most active. Dill, Petunias, Asters and Heliotrope are good annual choices to include in a butterfly garden. Asceplias, buddleia and purple cone flower are great perennial selections. All of these plants do best in full sun.
English Cottage Gardens tend to be informal compact spaces close to a front or back door. They are historically composed of a colorful mix of annuals and perennials designed to delight, rather than impress. Plants are spaced very close together to discourage weeds, and appear random and carefree. They are usually filled with old favorites, including: peony, cosmos, foxglove, snapdragon, pansy, bachelor's button, columbine, bleeding heart, and hollyhock.
A Kitchen garden is the place to grow the things you bring into the kitchen: herbs, vegetables, fruits and berries, and even the cutting flowers for your table. Most of these plants require full sun. Kitchen gardens are placed within close proximity to the kitchen, so the spontaneous cook can hop out and harvest herbs and food as the need arises. Raised beds and square foot gardening ideally suit the kitchen garden. Remember, many flowers are edible, and are unique additions to your salads. These include: Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Borage, Chives, Scented Geranium, Gladiola, Johnny-Jump-Up, Lavender, Lemon Marigold, Nasturtium, Pansy, Pinks, calendula, Rose, Sunflower and Violet.
Gardening in the shade doesn’t have to be a challenge. There are many plants that thrive in shady areas, and add light and texture to dark spaces. Hostas and ferns are typically planted in shady spaces, but there are plentiful choices for the shade gardener. Astilbe, bleeding heart, pulmonaria, Virginia blue bells, ligularia and forget-me-nots all do well in part-shade – shade conditions.
Whatever your reasons for planting a garden, good planning ahead of planting will get you off on the right foot and hopefully forestall any problems you may encounter. Good luck with all your garden plans! I’m dreaming of an early spring. Until next time, happy gardening!
Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.