Flowers that Bloom All Year

Plan ahead for a garden with flowers that bloom all year long.

| February/March 2003

  • Before many other garden plants in this Zone 3 garden have begun to sprout to life with color, flowering onions shoot off blossoms in a sprightly ball of whimsical star-like petals.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Bright bee balm blossoms make a statement as they stand tall and bright at the edge of this bed in a Zone 3 garden in mid-July.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Gray and green santolinas are mixed together with various thymes and lamb’s-ears as soft blooms pepper the bed with color.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Plant herbs with a variety of blooming times so that some part of the garden will be in bloom all season. The circled areas suggest a sample of plants within five basic blooming times (see the plant list on page 29). 1. Chives and flowering onions bloom in spring; 2. Rosemary and lavender are well-known for their early-summer blooms; 3. Bee balm makes a bright, tall showing in mid-summer; 4. Santolina and asters are great late-summer bloomers; 5. Goldenrod is common in borders and beds because of its late show of color.
    Illustration by Susan Chamberlain
  • Sketch your garden on a sheet of paper. Using a layer of tracing paper or vellum for each blooming season, color spots that will bloom during that time.
  • Gray and green santolinas are mixed together with various thymes and lamb’s-ears as soft blooms pepper the bed with color.

Many herbs are grown more for their foliage than for their flowers, and frequent harvesting prevents or delays blooming, so the traditional herb garden often has a limited range of color beyond shades of green. But it doesn’t have to be that way! If you’re after a more colorful, more cheerful garden scene, all it takes is a little strategic planning. Like a well-planned perennial border, an herb garden can bloom gloriously from spring through fall.

This is the goal I’ve set for my backyard herb garden this year. My herb garden is the focal point at the far end of my backyard. It is productive in providing me with lots of wonderful herbs for cooking and scents, but because in the summer I spend a lot of time on the deck and in the kitchen, which overlooks the garden, I’ve decided to improve the view by planning for more consistent blooms throughout the growing season. Herbs and flowers. . . I want it all.

I’m as guilty as the next gardener of planting haphazardly after impulse buying at the garden center, so sometimes my garden is a bit chaotic. I enjoy its carefree informality, but the garden can go for long stretches without good color, and the plants bloom unevenly in the beds, filling one side with color but not the other. I realized I needed a new garden plan that took into account the size, shape, and duration of blooming herbs.


The best way to start planning is to sketch out your existing garden area or draw the shape of a new herb bed you’d like to create. Measure out the area and draw a sketch of it to scale. It doesn’t have to be exact: just draw the general shape and note the measurements of the sides.

Now play around on paper with different-sized planting areas around the yard, spread out so that the garden looks balanced when viewed from the house. If you have enough room, plan for natural drifts or sweeps of color, which are created by filling in areas with one kind of plant or one flower color. If you want to create a formal herb garden design, use geometric or straight-lined areas within the bed.

How many planting areas you create depends on how much room you have and what you want to plant. When you’re happy with the size and shape of the garden areas you’ve planned, write down a list of herbs that you must have in your garden, including those culinary staples such as basil, oregano, dill, parsley, and others. Decide how many of each plant you’ll want, note their mature sizes, and then draw circles to represent these plants in your garden plan, spreading out the green clumps and being sure not to overcrowd them. The empty spaces that are left on the plan will be filled with flowering herbs you’ll select later.

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