Richelle Stafne holds a B.S.A. in landscape design and urban horticulture, an M.S. in horticulture, is a Certified Professional Horticulturist, an ISA Certified Arborist SO-7200A, and a biological science technician (plants) with the USDA-ARS.

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Normal is Boring
by Richelle Stafne    

Uniqueness is something special that makes the ordinary extraordinary. Flowerbeds, as we know them, have been an ordinary part of gardening since, well, forever. So if your goal is to create a unique flowerbed, consider these three ideas: place interesting objects among the flowers; use unique containers or vessels to enhance the flowerbed; or create a unique style, pattern, or arrangement of common plants within the designated planting area. 
I look at hundreds of flowerbeds a year. Most of them are the same old thing – the uncreative spewing of annuals, perennials, and mulch with the occasional gazing ball or garden flag. I am always pleased to find a unique or unexpected addition that makes me smile and nod in silent applause.
Gardening is often a reflection of our personalities. I know there are some who would pass by my flowerbeds and wonder, “What is she doing? Is that permanent?” If your flowerbeds can make people stop, smile, laugh, nod, or shake their heads (hey, you can’t please everyone), then you just might be doing something right. Indeed, my creative brain is often a flurry of ideas, some impossible, some implausible, and some impassable. 
Consider growing common plants in unusual forms, such as training them as a standard (grown with a dominant vertical stem). Your local garden center may already carry some flowers, herbs, or shrubs already trained, ready for you to plant. These make fun focal points and add height to a flowerbed. Topiary is a fun way to create shapes, characters, or the illusion of form by pruning. If your topiary is young or you are not confident in your skill, add a fake topiary to your flowerbed. I do not usually promote fake flowers in the landscape, but in a quirky, fun flowerbed you can bend the conventional rules. 
Use landscape rock, stones, shells, sand, recycled glass, marbles, etc. to create shapes representing favorite team logos, your family name, Chinese characters, or other patterns. Incorporate low-growing flowers into the design to emphasize or highlight the pattern or color. Flowering and/or foliage plants can be used to match the colors of the home’s exterior, local sports team, or regional symbols (pelicans, paw prints, fleur de lis, or clam shells). 
Give your flowerbed a theme. One of my favorites is the “Old West” theme. Wagon wheels, wooden wagons, worn-out cowboy boots, old cattle yokes, horse harnesses, rusted rakes pick axes, combined with Agave and prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) can change a boring flowerbed from ho hum to yee haw! 
Love the beach? A visit to nearly any local flea market, antique store, or rummage sale can yield old boat and marina paraphernalia, seashore décor, outdoor lighthouse sculptures, coastal bird and fish statues, bags of old oyster shells, etc. Look for items that are made for the outdoors, can be painted or sealed to resist moisture, or that share the same weather-beaten characteristics (old and rusted). Hardy palms and sea oats (try Northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium) are at home in this setting and help to set the backdrop for your colorful, coastal-themed flowerbed.
Often thought of as kitschy, repurposed items (used as flowerbed sculptures) are perhaps more hip and cool than expensive garden art. Some of my favorite items are broken antiques that have lost their value, rusted farm implements and kitchen tools, and household items such as metal bed frames, bathtubs, and kitchen sinks. 
Curbside flowerbeds that invite passersby to stop and sit a spell can be inviting and unexpected. Bring the garden out front by combining ornamental and edible flowers with vegetables and herbs in a flowerbed. Wildlife and pollinator gardens are popular flowerbed themes and can be made intriguing with the addition of bird and bat houses, bird feeders, birdbaths, and creative signs that state their intended purpose or specialty certification. 
Add irony and humor by using unexpected objects as containers – such as old pots, repurposed tires (not for edibles), rusted out canoes or boats, wagons or carts, livestock tanks, the rear end of an old, rusty car, and perhaps the best idea: an antique iron bed frame. So, as you can see, when it comes to flowerbeds, don’t put the yawn in your lawn. Be unique!
This article appeared in a previous edition of a State-by-State Gardening publication.


Posted: 04/19/19   RSS | Print


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