Time-Release Gardening

Although designed to complement a cottage-style home, this three-season garden plan illustrates principles that you can apply to any style of gardening. Variations in height and texture, plants set in groups, and colors coordinated into pleasing combinations — these are basic tenets of good garden design. What makes this garden a cut above is its ability to achieve these goals over the full growing season.

Early Spring

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Bulbs and cool-weather flowers anchor the garden early in the year. Narcissus, tulips, and grape hyacinth (muscari) blend beautifully with the pinks, whites, and purples of candytuft, moss phlox, pansy, viola, and bergenia. Rhododendrons, not yet in bloom, provide masses of attractive foliage that sustain the garden even in winter. These late-spring bloomers also balance the large rock that anchors the right side of the garden.

Late Spring

By now, the first flush of plants has begun to fade, and the next wave of flowers is ready to fill in. With the fear of frost gone, annuals like impatiens are inserted to fill in gaps and provide carefree color all summer long.

Highlights at this point in the garden year include bearded iris and oriental poppies in the middle of the bed and pansies and bleeding heart in front. Crowning the garden for several weeks: pink rhododendrons.


The rhododendrons have stopped blooming, but their leathery dark green leaves continue to offer contrast to the more delicate blooms. The garden is now a riot of color. Annuals like impatiens, snapdragons, and zinnia compete for attention with foxglove, lilies, campanula, and nasturtiums. At the back of the border, the tall, narrow hollyhocks and delphinium take over the design role played by the iris.

Also adding color at this time: window boxes arranged on a porch railing above the planting bed.


The colors are somewhat muted as the growing season winds down, but new plants continue to have their day. Chrysanthemum, sedum, cosmos, and dahlia have the starring roles now, aided by the ever-present impatiens plus alyssum, nasturtiums, and salvia.

Although gardens such as this may seem to be on autopilot once planted, there is plenty of work to be done throughout the season to maintain it. Weeding alone averages several hours a week. Then there is the need to start and transplant (and move from time to time) the annuals. Tender perennials like dahlia must be dug and replanted each year. And, of course, there is watering, fertilizing, and removing spent blooms that must happen continually.

But for those who love to garden–or who just enjoy the view–the whole process is well worth the effort. In fact, it’s just the prescription needed to create a time-release garden of nonstop color.