The flower garden not being one of the necessities of life, in the usual sense of the term, people are likely to consider the making of it of so little importance that it is hardly worth while to give the matter much consideration. Consequently they simply dig up a bed here and there, sow whatever seed they happen to have, and call the thing done.
A haphazard garden of that sort is never satisfactory. In order to make even the smallest garden what it ought to be it should be carefully planned, and every detail of it well thought out before the opening of the season.
To insure thoroughness in this part of the work I would advise the garden-maker to make a diagram of it as he thinks he would like to have it. Sketch it out, no matter how roughly. When you have a map of it on paper you will be able to get a much clearer idea of it than you can obtain from any merely mental plan.
After locating your beds, decide what kind of flower you will have in each one. But before you locate your plants study your catalogue carefully, and make yourself familiar with the heights and habits of them. Quite likely this will lead to a revision of your mental diagram, for you may find that you have proposed to put low-growing kinds in the rear of tall-growing sorts, and tall-growing kinds where they would seriously interfere with the general effect.
Bear in mind that there is always a proper place for each plant you make use of—if you can find it. The making of a working diagram and the study of the leading characteristics of the plants you propose to use will help you to avoid mistakes that might seriously interfere with the effectiveness of your garden.
Do not attempt more than you are sure of your ability to carry through well. Many persons allow the enthusiasm of the spring season to get the better of their judgment, and lead them into undertaking to do so much that after a little the magnitude of the work discourages them, and, as a natural result, the garden suffers seriously, and often proves a sad failure. Bear in mind that a few really good plants will give a hundredfold more pleasure than a great many mediocre ones. Therefore concentrate your work, and aim at quality rather than quantity. Never set out to have so large a garden that the amount of labor you have to expend on it will be likely to prove a burden rather than a pleasurable recreation.
Do not attempt anything elaborate in a small garden. Leave fancy beds and striking designs to those who have a sufficient amount of room at their disposal to make them effective.
I would advise keeping each kind of plant by itself, as far as possible. Beds in which all colors are mixed promiscuously are seldom pleasing because there are sure to be colors there that are out of harmony with others, and without color-harmony a garden of most expensive plants must prove a failure to the person of good taste.
I would not, therefore, advise the purchase of “mixed” seed, in which most persons invest, because it is cheaper than that in which each color is by itself. This may cost more, but it is well worth the additional expense. Take Phlox Drummondi as an illustration of the idea governing this advice: If mixed seed is used, you will have red, pink, mauve, scarlet, crimson, violet, and lilac in the same bed,—a jumble of colors which can never be made to harmonize and the effect of which will be very unpleasant. On the other hand, by planning your bed in advance of making it, with color-harmony in mind, you can so select and arrange your colors that they will not only harmonize, but afford a contrast that will heighten the general effect greatly. For instance, you can use rose-color, white and pale yellow varieties together, or scarlet and white, or carmine and pale yellow, and these combinations will be in excellent harmony, and give entire satisfaction. The mauves, lilacs, and violets, to be satisfactory, should only be used in combination with white varieties. I am speaking of the Phlox, but the rule which applies to this plant applies with equal force to all plants in which similar colors are to be found.
If there are unsightly places anywhere about the grounds aim to hide them under a growth of pretty vines. An old fence can be made into a thing of beauty when covered with Morning Glories or Nasturtiums. By the use of a trellis covered with Sweet Peas, or a hedge of Zinnia, or of Cosmos, we can shut off the view of objectionable features which may exist in connection with the garden. Outhouses can be completely hidden in midsummer by planting groups of Ricinus about them, and filling in with Hollyhocks, and Delphinium, and Golden Glow, and other tall-growing plants. In planning your garden, study how to bring about these desirable results.
Keep in mind the fact that if you go about garden-making in a haphazard way, and happen to get plants where they do not belong, as you are quite likely to do unless you know them well, you have made a mistake which cannot be rectified until another season. This being the case, guard against such mistakes by making sure that you know just what plant to use to produce the effect you have in mind.
Plan to have a selection of plants that will give flowers throughout the entire season. The majority of annuals bloom most profusely in June and July, but the prevention of seed-development will force them into bloom during the later months.
Plan to have a few plants in reserve, to take the places of those which may fail. Something is liable to happen to a plant, at any time, and unless you have material at hand with which to make good the loss, there will be a bare spot in your beds that will be an eye-sore all the rest of the season.
Plan to have the lowest growers near the path, or under the sitting-room windows where you can look down upon them.
Plan to have a back-yard garden in which to give the plants not needed in the main garden a place. There will always be seedlings to thin out, and these ought not to be thrown away. If planted in some out-of-the-way place they will furnish you with plenty of material for cutting, and this will leave the plants in the main garden undisturbed.