Garden Advice from a Pro

I will be doing most of the planting and installation on my new flower bed myself, but when it comes to garden design, I need help–preferably from a pro. So before I started digging the new bed (more on that in another post), I contacted Knecht’s Nurseries and Landscaping in Northfield for some design advice. Knecht’s offers a one-hour consultation for $50, and it’s amazing how much you can accomplish in one hour with a little preparation and forethought. Kristin Lucas, one of the Knecht’s designers, came out on Friday to talk about my plans. (That’s her adjusting the hose in the super teeny, tiny photo from 2007!)

Since I know where I want the bed to go and what kind of conditions (sunny, windy, decent soil) exist there, we were able to get a lot done. I’d already had a hose on the grass to show the position and shape of the bed. Kristin suggested we tweak the shape slightly and move the bed away from the sidewalk by the width of a mower to prevent dirt from washing away. My neighbor’s dog, Tipsy, showed up to inspect our work.

purple bottlebrush flowers on liatris
‘Kobold’ liatris is one of the purple plants we ended up using.

Once the position of the bed was set, the fun started–picking plants! I had a couple of perennials in mind for that garden: Russian sage, a grass or two, and sedum. I also roughly knew the color scheme. My house has burgundy trim, so it’s all about the purple around here. Kristin got out her book of plant “glamour shots” and we first made a list of plants that would do well given the conditions. Some plants caught my eye that I just can’t have. I covet cimicifuga, but the conditions in my yard are all wrong for it.

Kristin suggested chokeberry, a native shrub that’s very showy, not too large and has bright edible berries. For sedum, she recommended one of the new purple varieties, either ‘Black Jack‘ or ‘Maestro‘. For a grass, she likes prairie dropseed, which has a compact form and a cilantro-like fragrance. I’ve seen this grass used to good effect in many gardens that combine grasses with flowers and I like the idea of a garden that appeals to the senses of smell and touch as well as sight. I also wanted to get some white or silver plants into the bed and we settled on white garden phlox for flowers and artemisia (silver mound) for foliage. Throw in some deep pink bee balm (Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’) and salvia and you have a striking bed.

We still had some time left, so Kristin did a rough drawing of how she might arrange the bed. Once the bed is dug, I’ll take exact measurements of it, figure out the mature sizes of the plants, and do a more precise drawing based on her design. It will no doubt be adjusted and changed along the way, but having a good starting point makes the design process easier. And, getting advice from a professional gives me the confidence to move ahead with the project.

UPDATE: This project turned out to be a real highlight of my yard in Northfield. Eventually, I traded out the chokeberry, which never liked the intense sun of the area, for a golden smokebush. That plant thrived in the sun and added a lovely yellow color to the front corner of our lot.

garden with prairie plants
This is the garden about three years after installation — plants do grow!

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