Set your season – and your garden – up for success!
Spring is upon us and the garden is calling. Maybe you are a new homeowner who recently adopted a landscape that you would like to make your own. Perhaps you’ve gardened for years, but you want to create a peaceful oasis for yourself to enjoy year-round.
Where do you start? It can be overwhelming to look at plant lists or to come to a plant sale and be greeted by rows of plants, all waving their leaves and blossoms at you like little “Pick me! Pick me!” signs.
That’s where your game plan comes in. In this article, you’ll find a downloadable template that you can fill out ahead of time. We’ll go through the process of planning a garden (or adding to an existing garden), so by the time you are standing at our plant sale you’ll know exactly what you’ll need. This will help you learn more about the great plants we have available, and make sure you feel confident that the ones you choose will be the right ones for your garden!
STEP ONE: Know your site
At Tyler, we’re big believers in ‘Right Plant – Right Place’. It’s always a good idea to begin your garden planning with the site conditions in mind. This will help you choose plants that will thrive in those conditions, without your having to change the site to suit their needs. In general, here is a breakdown of some of the conditions you might be dealing with in your garden:
First of all, let’s talk about the light level:
If your yard is in the sun for six or more hours a day, you have “full sun” conditions. That means you want to choose plants that are true sun-worshipers! For inspiration, you can look to the prairies and meadows of the Midwest. A good garden to visit at Tyler would be the Barn Garden. In this garden you’ll find tough prairie perennials like little bluestem ‘Standing Ovation’, pink turtlehead and coneflower.
If your yard is in the sun for four to six hours of the day, you have a ‘part sun’ garden. This is a great place to play around and see what plants you can experiment with! For inspiration, you can look to the dappled shade of a forest edge. A good garden to visit at Tyler would be the gardens along the Visitor Center pathway and around our Historic Core. In these gardens you’ll find adaptable plants like Japanese forest grass, hellebores and hostas.
If your yard sees the sun for less than four hours of the day, you have a true ‘shade’ garden. You might find it difficult to maintain the lawn, but there are some lovely woodland plants that you can use to create your very own pocket of Pennsylvania forest! Look to the flowers of the deep woods for inspiration. Some great gardens to visit at Tyler would be the Native Woodland Walk and the Wister Rhododendron Garden. In these gardens, you’ll find woodland flowers including mayapples, bloodroot and trilliums.
Next, let’s take a look at moisture in the soil:
If you notice water pooling in your yard, or your boots squelch when you walk through it in the spring, you have ‘wet soil’. This is traditionally viewed as a problem in the garden, but it doesn’t have to be! There are many beautiful, pollinator friendly, and versatile plants that thrive in these conditions. For inspiration, take a look at ephemeral ponds and shorelines. To see what that looks like in full sun you can visit the Pond at Tyler, or the Rain Garden down at Lucille’s Garden, where you’ll find blue lobelia and goldenrod. For a shaded version, stroll up into the lower paths of the Native Woodland Walk where you’ll find cardinal flower in the summer months and where golden groundsel blooms in profusion in the spring.
If your soil is right in the middle of the road, not too moist and not too dry, I have great news! Most classic garden plants thrive in these conditions. So let your imagination run wild! You can see a sunny version of this garden in the Barn Garden at Tyler, where you’ll find bee balm and mountain mint, and a shaded version up in the Wister Rhododendron Collection where Rhododendrons flower throughout the month of May alongside ground covers like hosta and coral bells.
If your garden is baking, and your soil is dry and crumbling to the touch, you have ‘dry soil’ conditions. But don’t despair! You can still have a full and beautiful garden, even without lugging a hose around. Take a look at rock gardens, dry hillsides and desert plants for inspiration. To see some examples of a dry rock garden, stop by the Ruin Garden outside the School House at Lucille’s Garden. You can find fascinating plants there like torch lily, dianthus, rattlesnake master and stonecrop.
So head on out to your garden now and take a look at the conditions you have onsite. If it’s useful to you, you can make a note of that info in the first column of the downloadable template, along with the garden space to have to fill.
STEP TWO: Know your goals
This part can be really fun. What are you hoping to do with your garden? Do you have a spot where you are dreaming of planting tomatoes? Is there another area where you’d like to create a secluded corner where you can sit and read? Do you want to attract birds or butterflies? Are you adding to an existing garden, or starting a brand new one? Take a moment to think about what you’d like to see. Here are a few examples of our most common garden goals:
Planting for Pollinators
Whether it’s hummingbirds, bees or butterflies, pollinators need a nectar source. So it’s important to include plants that will feed them during the spring, summer and fall. If there are any particular pollinators you’re looking to attract (such as hummingbirds or monarchs), make sure you include their preferred plant species. Monarchs, for example, must have their host plant, milkweed, to reproduce. Hummingbirds on the other hand, adore cardinal flower and bee balm. So take a look at the plant lists and choose ones that will support local pollinator species. To check out a pollinator garden in action, visit the Pollinator Preserve at Tyler! The landscape may be new, but it is sure to be ‘humming’ with activity.
View the list of plants to attract hummingbirds.
View the list of plants to attract butterflies.
Planting for Privacy
All this time at home might have you dreaming of a privacy screen between your yard and your neighbors. Don’t worry, there are some lovely plants that will fit that purpose. Keep in mind as you choose your plants that you might want to invest in a few tall, evergreen options that will provide a screen year-round. And depending upon how quickly you’ll need that privacy, perhaps look for some fast growers too! You might want to consider plants like Canada yew or hybrid arborvitae. Take a look at the Visitor Center pathway at Tyler to get a sense of what a privacy screen can look like in action.
Planting for Low(er) Maintenance Gardens
Maybe you don’t love to weed or water. We get it! The good news is that with gardening, an ounce of prevention is often worth a pound of cure. If you plan wisely you can make your life a lot easier. Choosing plants that suit your site conditions already cuts down on your work. You’ll have to water them in the first season, but once they get established they won’t need supplemental water unless we get some extremely dry weather. You can also plan to use the plants themselves to keep down the weeds. That’s where groundcovers come in! If you leave a bare spot in a garden, nature will certainly choose a plant to fill it. Instead, choose a ground cover that suits your garden design and that’s one less weed for you to pull. Finally you can select plants that are ‘tidy growers’. Take a look at the heights. Smaller, more compact plants and upright plants are your friends. Take a look at the Rhododendron Garden at Tyler or the Native Woodland Walk for some great groundcover ideas!
These are just a few examples of some ‘Garden Goals’. Consider what your goals might be and note them down in your template!
STEP THREE: Make a note of any special considerations
Every garden is a little bit different, so it’s good to make a note of any special considerations you might have on your site. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Plants for Slopes
You might have a steep slope in your yard that you’re getting tired of mowing. Why not turn it into a garden? There are a great range of plants that do well on steep slopes. Look for plants with good stabilizing roots that are adapted to the conditions you have on site and you can create a beautiful garden that you won’t need to push a lawnmower through! You can check out the Cistern Garden at Tyler to see sloped gardening in action. You’ll find catmint, blue star and butterfly weed blanketing the slope. When planting your slope just make sure you consider your conditions. If you’re dealing with erosion and shade you’ll definitely want to include a groundcover like yellowroot, a tough native that thrives in difficult soil. If your slope is baking in the sun, a plant like switchgrass has deep anchoring roots and will look beautiful when it turns golden in the fall, especially when accented with colorful asters. You can also brighten up a well drained slope in part shade with coral bells and foam flower, which would look beautiful paired with the feathered texture of ferns.
Gardening with Deer in Mind
At Tyler, we’re lucky that a portion of the property is enclosed by deer fencing, but you might have a garden where deer traffic is an all too common sight. When you’re making your plant list, check to see if we’ve noted ‘deer resistance’ in the plant description. You can also find a list of deer resistant plants at the sale here: Deer Resistant Plants.
Remember, a plant is only as deer resistant as the deer is hungry. You’d be surprised what a hungry herbivore will go after! But with these plants you can at least make sure they aren’t the first ones nibbled.
Native Plant Gardening
Native plants are a great way to make sure your garden is supporting local bee, butterfly, bird and wildlife species. Pollinators rely on these plants for food, water and shelter and they will be grateful to find them in your garden! If you want to make sure that you’re including native plants in your garden design, check out the plant description to see if we’ve noted ‘native plant’. You can also find our list of native plants here: Great Native Plants for the Home Garden
Go ahead and note any special considerations in your Game Plan template.
STEP 4: Make your plant lists!
Now that you know your site, your goals, and any special considerations, you’re ready to shop for plants! With all of that information, you can feel confident that you will choose plants that are right for your garden and that will look beautiful for years to come.
A few design tips:
- Remember to consider bloom time, choosing a balance of plants that bloom spring, summer and fall which will bring year round interest to your yard. You can also find a list of plants for year round interest here:
- Plant in odd numbers. Clumps of odd numbers, stagger-planted, help to make your garden look natural. Try to avoid planting in pairs, as our eyes seem to pick this out quickly.
- Plant in repeating clumps. Repeating color and texture through the garden will help your garden look intentional and composed. The color, chartreuse, is excellent at pulling warm and cool tones together.
- Have fun! Gardens are a way to bring joy and beauty to your yard. They are also never finished. With a garden plan in mind and some good weather you can enjoy tinkering with your garden space for years to come.