Create a perennial patio space

Credit: Senga Lindsay

Q: I just moved to a townhouse and have a nice-sized deck along with an area 6 by 12 m (20 by 40 ft.) fenced on both sides and in grass. I want to lose the grass and build an arbour at the foot of the garden, and am looking for ideas on what to do with this space, hopefully using perennials, which are new to me. I have several fountains and birdbaths to incorporate into this area.

Think of your garden spaces as an opportunity to provide what I call a “stage set” and use a planting composition to set or complement the theme of your deck and garden accessories (like your birdbaths). Do your homework and look at images in magazines, books and on the internet for ideas that will work with your theme. You will be begin to see that certain plants or compositions of plants lend themselves to a particular look. Go with your “gut instinct” as to what works with your vision.

As you are new to perennials, part of your homework is to look at what I call “bomb-proof” perennials: low maintenance, drought tolerant and not bothered by common pests and diseases. One of my favourite palettes is ornamental grasses. Depending on what you select you can create everything from a contemporary to an English-garden look.

Be sure to repeat plants throughout the garden. This will unify your space and avoid a spotty appearance. Plant in drifts of the same species – with a minimum of three to five plants per grouping. And like a painter, pick a colour palette. Colour is very psychological and creates a mood or ambience. For example, in our garden I have a large outdoor lounge area where chocolate-brown wicker couches clad in red cushions and sheltered by red umbrellas play off of drifts of blue lavender and gold rudbeckia. As you will see in the photo, this creates vibrancy, excitement and energizes the space for our outdoor gatherings and parties.

In short, focus on three key steps: Do your homework, pick a colour palette, and plant in drifts of “bomb-proof” plants.

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