Flower Garden Ideas From an Expert

Author Lee Schneller
Author Lee Schneller

If you are new to gardening or just looking to add something new to your landscape, flower garden ideas will help you get your creative juices flowing. They are helpful for deciding what flowers go well together as well as for selecting flowers that will bloom throughout the seasons.

The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden: Interview with Lee Schneller

Lee Schneller, author of The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden shares her flower garden ideas in this exclusive expert interview. Her tips and suggestions may inspire you to come up with a few ideas of your own.

About Lee Schneller

LoveToKnow (LTK): What is your background?

Lee Schneller (LS): I had a whole other career before I started my gardening business in 1995. In college I got degrees in Chinese Language and Literature and in Asian History. Then I lived in China and Japan. I ended up staying in Japan for four years and becoming a technical Japanese translator, a job I did for about 10 years, both in Japan and in the U.S.

In 1995 I decided it was time for a career change and I had always had a sort of idealistic notion that it would be ideal to be a professional gardener if I could make a living that way. I'm mostly self-taught in gardening. I read a lot and I've been very fortunate to have clients who have given me great opportunities. I've designed almost 200 gardens in Maine.

LTK: What was your motivation to write The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden?

LS: My first design job was to rework a small garden in front of a beauty salon. Really, mostly due to good luck, it was a successful continuously blooming garden. The clientele would see the garden and have a chance to ask about who did it while they were in the salon, so I got a stream of requests for similar gardens.

If you've ever tried to design a continuously blooming garden, you know how difficult it is to try to keep track of all the plant attributes (height, color, bloom time, zone, sun/shade requirements, etc.) while remaining creative and inspired! So I started playing around with various ways of organizing the information. After a few years I had developed and fine-tuned my "Blueprint" system, which organizes the garden design on a single sheet of paper with three columns for height (short, medium and tall) and a row for each bloom period. It's extremely simple.

I also gathered my own bloom data because I had discovered that there was no comprehensive database for bloom times anywhere. I started teaching workshops using my method and the response was terrific--hundreds of people in midcoast Maine have taken my workshop and there were always waiting lists. So I figured I had something that people might find useful in book form.

Who Can Plant Ever-Blooming Gardens

Low maintenance garden

LTK: Can your technique be used in any hardiness zone?

LS: Yes. The most important thing about the book, in my opinion, is the technique it offers for organizing information, and that can be used anywhere for any type of garden. Another way to use the technique is for what I call "planned bloom" (in contrast to continuous bloom). For example, you might have several flower beds in your yard and you can set them up so that each bed is the focal point at a certain time; then it settles down while another bed takes over. That way you can have focal points that turn on and off to give a dynamic feeling to your yard.

Besides the technique for organizing bloom information, the book is loaded with simple, concrete tips based on my years of experience designing and building gardens. I tried to make the book as concise as possible because people are busy and they don't want to have to wade through a lot of wordy descriptions.

LTK: How long can this type of garden actually bloom?

LS: Well, here in Maine the season runs from March or April (depending on the weather) through October or early November usually. In other parts of the country it's longer or sometimes shorter than that. The bloom data given in the book can be adjusted for other zones.

The "Flower Catalog" gives extremely detailed information and thumbnail photos for approximately 200 of my favorite (and repeatedly field tested) perennials. There are at least 150 perennials for each of Zones 4 through 7, and many choices for lower and higher zones. Also, I assigned the zone designations conservatively, so many of these plants will grow in zones lower or higher than indicated.

LTK: Are these gardens high maintenance?

LS: One of the best attributes of these gardens is that they are extremely low maintenance. My idea of a good garden is one where you put the plants in and then you look at it. I am an unbelievably lazy gardener, and on my days off I want to be kayaking or hiking, not fussing with the garden.

The 200+ recommended plants are chosen with low maintenance in mind, and the dense planting system promoted in the book has three advantages: weeds have no place to take root, plants require division much less often because they have nowhere to go, and the dense planting scheme maximizes blossoms per square foot.

Flower Garden Ideas for Continual Blooming

LTK: Can you explain your 5-Step System?

LS: The steps are as follows:

  1. Step One is just drawing the bed on graph paper.
  2. In Step Two, you roughly divide the bed into three portions for short, medium and tall plants. This is just for proportion purposes.
  3. There's about 60 seconds of math involved in Step Three, where you count up the squares for short, medium and tall plants, then crank these figures through a simple formula to give you the target numbers of plants for each height.
  4. In Step Four, you transfer the target numbers to the "Blueprint" form, where they will serve as a very rough guide for the number of plants of each height that you will need to choose to create your garden.
  5. Step Five is the fun part, where you select the plants.

LTK: What is the ideal site for this type of garden?

LS: I always try to get people to put their gardens in places that are visible from several vantage points or from places where they spend a lot of time (like out the kitchen window in front of the sink). A free-standing bed in the lawn which is visible from several windows is often a good spot. Another good place is somewhere you can see it every time you come or go by car (since that's what we do so much in America).

LTK: What are the most important things for a gardener to keep in mind while planning their ever-blooming garden?

LS: Chapter Two discusses this point by running through a checklist and bringing up some very practical questions such as, Who is the garden for? Is the garden your own private indulgence, or are you hoping to impress visitors or neighbors? Does it need to serve a practical purpose such as creating more privacy for a seating area in your yard?

If you're hoping family members will participate in garden care, it might help to involve them in the planning process, too. Taking a few minutes to think about these questions is really worth your time because gardens can cost a lot and they're not easy to move once they're in!

LTK: Anything else to add?

LS: Just thank you for interviewing me for your website, and good luck to all you gardeners out there! Please let me know how your gardens turn out if you use my method. You can contact me through my website at LeeSchneller.com.

The Flowers

If you'd like to know Lee Schneller's favorite perennials, here is her list:

  • Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'
  • Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'
  • Arabis caucasica 'Snowcap'
  • Aster novae-angliae 'Alma Potschke'
  • Aster 'Schneegitter'
  • Baptisia australis
  • Campanula carpatica 'Blue Clips'
  • Clematis integrifolia
  • Delphinium 'Black Knight'
  • Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'
  • Geranium sanguineum var. striatum
  • Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'
  • Hemerocallis 'Autumn Minaret'
  • Hemerocallis 'Catherine Woodbury'
  • Hemerocallis flava (aka Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus)
  • Heuchera 'Mount St. Helens'
  • Iris 'Crimson King'
  • Iris sibirica 'Butter and Sugar'
  • Iris sibirica 'Silver Edge'
  • Kirengeshoma palmata
  • Leucanthemum vulgare 'Becky'
  • Lilium 'Black Beauty'
  • Limonium latifolium
  • Nipponanthemum nipponicum
  • Paeonia 'Miss America'
  • Patrinia gibbosa
  • Phlox 'Starfire'
  • Platycodon grandiflorus
  • Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'
  • Sedum 'Matrona'
  • Sedum 'Rosy Glow'
  • Thalictrum rochebrunianum
  • Veronicastrum virginicum

If you'd like to learn more about continual bloom gardening, check out Lee Schneller's book, The Ever-Blooming Flower Garden, available on Amazon.

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Flower Garden Ideas From an Expert