Flower Garden Designs: Three-Season Bed

Spring, Summer, and Fall Color

Doreen G. Howard

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Blue Delphinium-Thinkstock
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Imagine a gorgeous garden drenched with color from early spring to the first frost of autumn.

A daydream, you say? Not anymore! This flower garden design fills the wish list of amateur and expert gardeners alike with …

  • Constant color: Spring flowers and foliage in burgundy, pink, and blue give way to yellow, orange, blue, and ebony for summer and autumn.
  • Effortless impact: This plot is almost maintenance-free. For at least five years, it will need no staking, dividing, or pruning only fertilizing, feeding, and maybe a bit of weeding.tulip_foxtrot_-_by_retired_electrician_-_wikimedia_commons_white-pink_double_late_tulip_2015_01_half_width.jpg
  • Easy adaptability: The plot size can be reduced or expanded to suit your space (and time), and these plants tolerate most climates, whether the first freeze occurs on September 10 or November 15. (Because most of these perennials need winter chill, this garden is not appropriate for subtropical climates such as southern Florida and southern California.)

Three Seasons of Color


Spring Color

‘Black Lace’ elderberry
Rozanne cranesbill
‘Foxtrot’ tulip
‘King of Hearts’ dicentra
‘Obsidian heuchera’
Wine & Roses weigela

Summer Color

‘Connecticut Yankee’ delphinium
‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia
‘Mardi Gras’ helenium
‘May Night’ salvia
‘Mönch’ aster
‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis
(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne cranesbill, ‘Obsidian’ heuchera, and Wine & Roses weigela will still bloom.)

aster_x_frikartii_monch_2_by_dominicus_johannes_bergsma_via_wikimedia_commons_half_width.jpgFall Color

‘Arendsii’ monkshood
‘Mönch’ hardy aster
(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne cranesbill, “ ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia, ‘Mardi Gras’ helenium, ‘May Night’ salvia, ‘Obsidian’ heuchera, ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis, and Wine & Roses weigela will still bloom.)

Garden Ground Rules

  • The bed is 16 feet long and 6 feet wide.
  • The garden requires at least six hours of sunlight a day.
  • The 13 plant varieties are massed in numbers of each for maximum color and instant curb appeal. The plan is customizable to your best advantage, as a border or an island.
  • To create larger beds, double or triple the number of plants
  • If space (or time) is at a premium, cut the length of the bed to 8 feet, reduce the number of plants accordingly, and forgo the large “Black Lace” elderberry shrub.
  • For a centerpiece in the middle of a lawn, place the elderberry and taller perennials in the middle and surround them with plants of shorter stature, ending with Rozanne geranium and “Obsidian” heuchera at the edge of the bed.

Best Three-Season Plants List

A three-season garden requires three essential ingredients:

Bleeding Hearts

  1. Perennials that bloom copiously year after year
  2. Small shrubs with color-saturdated foliage all season long
  3. Plants that do not spread aggressively

These characteristics are found in all of the following:

  1. Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’)
    1 plant
  2. Weigela (Weigela Wine & Roses)
    2 plants
  3. Bleeding heart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’)
    4 plants
  4. Heuchera (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’)
    2 plants
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’)
    2 plants
  6. Ox eye (Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra ‘Sommersonne’, aka ‘Summer Sun’)
    2 plants


  7. Sneezeweed (Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’)
    2 plants
  8. Salvia (Salvia x sylvestris ‘Mainacht’, aka ‘May Night’)
    4 plants
  9. Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Gerwat’, aka Rozanne)
    8 plants
  10. Aster (Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’)
    3 plants
  11. Tulip (Tulipa ‘Foxtrot’)
    40 bulbs
  12. Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelli ‘Arendsii’)
    6 plants
  13. Delphinium (Delphinium ‘Connecticut Yankee’ series)
    6 plants

Tips for Success Every Season

  • Before you start digging, arrange the potted plants on the bed so that you can get a general idea of what the garden will look like. Remember to leave space between the plants to allow them to grow wider.
  • Plant from the back of the bed to the front. Set shrubs and perennials at the same depth as they are in containers.
  • For a lush look, plant tulip bulbs thickly (about 5 per square foot of bed). After they bloom, remove the dead flowers so that the bulbs put their energy into storing nutrients for the next season rather than into setting seeds. Remove tulip leaves after they brown. Don’t worry about appearances; nearby perennials will cover up the aging leaves.
  • Fertilize if you want these plants to thrive. Scrape away any mulch from the base of each plant in the early spring and spread an inch of compost around the plants. In July, lightly mix bonemeal or a slow-release fertilizer into the surface of the soil above the bulbs. (Note: Bonemeal may attract rodents that will dig for bones.)
  • Spread 3 inches of mulch over the bed. It will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds. Use an organic material (such as shredded bark or leaf mold), which adds nutrients to the soil as it decays. Cedar bark mulch is an excellent choice as well, because the resins in it repel many insects and prevent fungal diseases.
  • Remove fading flowers to increase perennials’ bloom production. Shrubs drop their old flowers and will bloom again if conditions are right.
  • Do not remove brown foliage on perennials until early spring when new green growth appears. The dead material insulates plant roots from the temperature extremes of winter.
  • If you must prune your shrubs, do so after the shrubs flower, not in early spring.

Once your three-season plot is planted, be patient. Perennials reach their full size and beauty by the second season. Shrubs grow more slowly, reaching their mature size 3 to 5 years after planting. 


The 2007 All-Seasons Garden Guide


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Partial sun version?

Love this plan but my area only gets full sun in the spring. As soon as the neighbors trees fill in my area goes to shade.. Do you have a plan for areas that aren't full sun?

you rock!

thanks for the response! You rock!!

Long flower bed

I have just built a tiered stone retaining wall along my driveway which incorporates a flower bed that is only 3 ft wide and 50 ft long. I really like the concept of 3 season flower bed and live in Virginia. Suggestions?

Select a few plants from each

Select a few plants from each color category above (spring, summer and fall) and then space them out in your bed alternating the plants so that you have nice blooms from spring until fall. The varieties in the front of our diagram are the shorter varieties and the once in the back are taller. Choose the varieties that will fit well with the height of the retaining wall.

This looks like a neat plan.

This looks like a neat plan. I wish there was a "real life" picture of what the garden looks like. I have 2 beds that are 2.5 x 28 that borders our fenced in veggie garden. I am looking for options for this space.

Your beds are narrow so we

Your beds are narrow so we suggest that you consider using the first two rows of plants in the design and repeating them the entire length of the bed. Depending on where you live you may want to substitute the tulips with som asters.


Could you suggest a way I

Could you suggest a way I could use this great plan with only 3 1/2 to 4 feet wide? Thank you for your help.

Hi Marion,

Hi Marion,

Just remove the back row of plants in the design. That should narrow the width of the row by a couple of feet. You can also replace some of the plants in the middle with some of the plants in the back row if you like. Good luck!

Daphnes Already There

I have two daphne plants, a rose bush, and rhododendrons already....how can I place these plants around or what suggestions do you have to incorporate this list?

Three season flowerbed

I love roses and I love your flower bed design. How can I incorporate roses into your design? Thank you.

Hi Linda,

Hi Linda,

We suggest that you plant roses in the #1 elderberry spot and/or #2 weigela spots. Choose rose varieties that will bloom early. Good luck!

Three season flowerbed

Thank you so much! I just moved to zone 8a so I think I'll use day lilies instead of tulips (afraid they won't go well here). Wish me luck on they three season garden! Linda

Help me create a beautiful yard

My house is all sun on 4 sides. What pants can I buy for all four seasons.

Help !!

Just wondering if someone can tell me where to get these plants? I havent heard of most of them. Are they something I need to order? Or should a Lowes or some nursery have them?

plants for flower garden

Hi Kimberly, Yes, many people go to a local garden nursery.  If you do not know any reputable nurseries in your area, you could always ask your local county cooperative extension: http://www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services

Some people do show at Lowes or other garden centers for plants. In bigger cities, you might find that your botantical garden sells plants, too!

Finally, you can browse garden catalogs online. See our list here: http://www.almanac.com/content/garden-seed-catalogs-and-plant-mail-order-sources

You mentioned in one of the

You mentioned in one of the comments below that if you live in Southern climates, then tulips should be substituted by another plant. Can you provide suggestions on substitutions? And why wouldn't tulips work.

Tulips have to have cold

Tulips have to have cold temperatures and chill over the winter. If you live in a southern climate where this doesn't happen, tulips won't thrive. However, if you're willing to do the work, you can chill them in your fridge for 6 to 8 weeks before planting them. recommended varieties are Darwin Hybrids or Single Late varieties. Otherwise, look for a bulb that thrives in hot weather. How about the daylily or the dahlia?

When would be the best time

When would be the best time to plant this garden? I am live in zone 4 A

Shrubs and perennials can be

Shrubs and perennials can be planted in late summer or in the spring. Bulbs should be planted in the fall and any annuals in the spring.

What would be the average

What would be the average cost for this project? How much would the perennials be? How much would the materials? Also estate of how many man hours it would take?

Hi I have an area of 75 wide

Hi I have an area of 75 wide by 16 deep on a hill in muskoka ontario, and have a lot of deer in the area ! Any suggestions of plants for a three season bed that is low or maintance free and the deer don't eat the plants ? Need help thanks Vittoria

These are perennial plants,

These are perennial plants, flowers and shrubby plants, that should be hearty in your area and that deer generally avoid: allium, barberry, bee balm, bleeding heart, boxwood, columbine, daphne, daylillies, ferns, forsythia, foxglove, helebore, holly, lambs' ear, lavender, lilac, lily of the valley, spirea.
There is always some maintenance in any garden: weeds will appear (mulch to minimize), and perennial plants will need to be divided (but only every few years), trimmed, or even eliminated (if they take over).
We hope this helps!

Thank you so much ! Very

Thank you so much ! Very helpful !!

what a fantastic plan! thank

what a fantastic plan! thank you for the gift. i saw elderberry for the first time 2 years ago and am completely smitten.

My bed is 19ft X 4 ft a half

My bed is 19ft X 4 ft a half moon shaped. I live in Zone 6a, Northwest NJ. Also. I have 3 Barberries flanked along the back of the bed. What plants could I use to create a three season bed? Thanks!

you busturd don't even dare

you busturd don't even dare to force to comment on these kinds of duf articles.this is very disgusting and annoying.

I have 5 raised beds(4x10) in

I have 5 raised beds(4x10) in one area that get 8 hrs of sunlight. Where can I find a second pattern/design to alternate with this one. I live in zone 3.
Thank you, Shirley

I absolutely love this three

I absolutely love this three season garden plan, thank you for providing it! Do you have any suggestions for a different type of shrub I could plant instead of Elderberry? Thanks again!

Thank you! We're not sure

Thank you! We're not sure which plants are native to your area, but a nice substitute for a Elderberry (zone 3 to 8) is a Meyer lilac.  You could also consider a Ninebark, or a Beautyberry, or Koreanspice viburnum. If possible, consider what is native to your area. For example, a Mockorange is a nice native.

Perfect! Thank you! I

Perfect! Thank you! I appreciate your help.

when you say 6 hours of

when you say 6 hours of sunlight. you mean direct sunlight during the fall - summer months correct?

We mean six hours of direct

We mean six hours of direct sunlight per day while the plant is growing.

Can you show me how it looks.

Can you show me how it looks. Thank you.

I love how you have put this

I love how you have put this together! It does look like a costly project but well worthwhile. I have a weigela which would take up a large portion of my 8 x 16 garden. Are you suggesting miniature varieties?

Is there something else I

Is there something else I could plant instead of the Elderberry. I really don't want to plant something that gets that tall.

There are dwarf forms of

There are dwarf forms of elderberry now.

What can I use instead of

What can I use instead of Monkshood? I have young children so I stay away from highly toxic plants.

Delphiniums are similar in

Delphiniums are similar in style though not as low maintenance.

We recently moved into new

We recently moved into new construction and the builders stocked our 'flower bed' with 6 boxwood plant/shrubs. I know nothing about landscaping/gardening, but am desperate to spruce up the front of our house. Would the above design work around these shrubs? Do you have any pictures of what this design looks like over the course of the 3 seasons? Also, when is the best time of year to start planting for this? Thanks for posting this information. VERY helpful!

You can start small and not

You can start small and not plant all the varieties at once. Most of these plants can be planted in the spring. If you live in a northern climate you will plant the tulips in the fall (if you live is the southern warmer regions replace the tulips with another spring blooming perennial).

I am curious what zones this

I am curious what zones this garden will cover; I am in a hardy zone 8b and am fearful everything will dry up. Please help!

Hi Sandra, Most of these

Hi Sandra,
Most of these plants need a winter chill. If you are in an area that has some cold months in the winter you should be OK to plant these flowers. If you are worried about drought make sure to have a good plan for watering the garden. Put the garden in an area that can be reach by a hose and a sprinkler.

i really would like to no how

i really would like to no how u guys got that kind a plan n ur ideas r very thotful

Hello, I have recently

I have recently moved into a new house that has three big flower beds. There is alot of different flowers, some I know what they are and others I don't. I want to rearrange them but I
don't know if I should wait till fall or do it now. Also I don't kniw how to rearrange them so they look proportioned right. can you be of any help? Thank you!!!

Hi Rachel, You are lucky to

Hi Rachel,
You are lucky to have so many flowers. First you need to identify the flowers before you start moving them. Do a little research online or go to the library and find books with pictures of perennials. Also try to find a neighbor or friend who knows about flowers. When you have identified most of the flowers write down their colors and heights and then make a plan where to put your plants.

I don't see a blueprint of

I don't see a blueprint of where to put the plants ... is this not available for this bed design or am I just unable to view it for some reason?

Thanks for your note. We have

Thanks for your note. We have made the flower garden plot plan available. You should see it now. Sincerely, The Old Farmer's Almanac

Perfect, I can see it now,

Perfect, I can see it now, thank you so much!