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Planting an Outdoor Garden - Backyard Gardening


Turn your outdoor patio into a garden room with artfully arranged potted plants.It's summertime, and the living is easy - especially if you're taking in the evening breeze from your lush backyard patio. Transforming an ordinary porch or outdoor space is one of the easiest and most gratifying ways to increase the useable square footage of your home. All it takes is some planning, a streak of creativity and a little elbow grease to add a living space you - and your neighbors - will love.

A backyard haven

Think of your new living space as an outdoor room, advises Scott Crawford, landscape designer in Greensboro, N.C. Start by landscaping the corners, anchoring your room with larger potted plants. If you're in the deep south - from Mississippi or Alabama, all the way up to South Carolina - try a majesty palm. For a grand, more architectural look, plant an upright conical such as a smaller arbor vitae in a large pot.

Is your new outdoor space adjacent to an outside wall of your home? If so, consider training a climbing vine to cover the wall. Options like evergreen clematis, Carolina jasmine or the swamp jasmine have delicate blossoms and stay green year-round. If you don't have access to a wall, a well-placed arbor or pergola provides a beautiful platform for an evergreen trailing vine, or a fragrant and showy climbing rose in the summer.

Floral favorites

Now that you've framed your new outdoor room with a lush green backdrop, it's time to turn your focus to your floral artwork. Work your way in, surrounding your corners with a colorful masterpiece.

There are three components that make a flower pot sing, says Crawford. "You want to layer your container so that it has an upright grower, surrounded by a mounding grower, and finished with a cascading grower around the pot's edge." Many annuals bloom from early spring through the fall and give you the best bang for your buck. Also keep in mind the plants’ watering needs, combining plants in a pot only if they have similar requirements.

Crawford's show-stopping pick? "One combination for full-to-partial sun would be Angelonia, Vinca and sweet potato vine," he says. "Angelonia is a tall, spiky plant with purple and white flowers that provides an ideal background for the shorter Vinca. Sweet potato vine gives a cascading foliage that lets the blossoms from the other two plants shine."

Grasses like fountain grass or sedge grass are also excellent upright growers. As winter comes, the grasses will "brown out", giving your garden a touch of winter interest. When the grasses and other annuals run their course, switch them out with pansies to give your garden color through the early winter. Quick tip: When you plant your pansies, plant a few tulip bulbs about three-to-four inches below, and they'll shoot up through the pansies for a spring surprise.

When planting your flower pots, use a potting soil rather than top soil because it has a lighter texture and is more peat based, so it allows the roots to travel down through your pot. Also consider your container';s drainage, make sure it has several holes in the bottom so the roots don't rot.

Under foot

When planning your new outdoor room, don't overlook the floor. If you're using flagstone, consider planting fragrant stepables between the crevices for a waft of fragrance every time you walk through and crush the small leaves. Herbs like lemon thyme or mint are hardy and promise to spread quickly, providing a textured carpet of sweet-smelling greenery.

Make it your own

As you plan your space, think about when you'll use it most. If your visions include listening to the crickets chirp by moonlight, you may find that planting an array of white flowers gives you an irresistible starry night-time display. Confederate jasmine is a fragrant vine that grows quickly, covering its arbor with delicate, white pinwheel-shaped flowers. Pair the jasmine with white Impatiens, Dahlias, petunias, geraniums or Vincas.

More into birds than stars? Most plants with a trumpet-shaped bloom will attract hummingbirds to your garden. Hummingbird vine, an annual, has a little red flower that lives up to its name. The beloved coneflower attracts finches and butterflies. And if you'd like to commune with the birds without being bothered by mosquitoes, plant citronella, a scented geranium.

Many patio plants work double-duty; not only are they beautiful and fragrant, but they can save you a trip to the grocery store. Almost all herbs thrive in well-drained pots as long as they're watered regularly. Gardeners can combine herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary in a large pot for a variety of textures and colors.

Vegetables also grow well on a porch or patio. Before their well-known fruit emerges, eggplants boast a beautiful delicate purple flower. And for patios with full sun, pepper or tomato plants will provide a respectable crop - in walking distance to your kitchen. Try planting a salsa garden with basil, hot peppers, Roma tomatoes and cilantro.

Do you have a patio garden? We'd love to know how you've made it your own. Tell us what you're growing in the comments section below. And if you have questions, feel free to ask!


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