Flower Garden Designs: Three-Season Flower Bed

A Flower Garden Design for Spring, Summer, and Fall Color

By Doreen G. Howard
October 2, 2017
Bleeding Heart Flowers

Bleeding Heart


Imagine a gorgeous flower 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.
  • 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 geranium
  • ‘Foxtrot’ tulip
  • ‘King of Hearts’ dicentra
  • ‘Obsidian’ heuchera
  • Wine & Roses weigela

Pink and white tulips.

Summer Color

  • ‘Connecticut Yankee’ delphinium
  • ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia
  • ‘Mardi Gras’ helenium
  • ‘May Night’ salvia
  • ‘Mönch’ aster
  • ‘Summer Sun’ heliopsis

(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne geranium, ‘Obsidian’ heuchera, and Wine & Roses weigela will still bloom.)

Heliopsis 'Summer Sun'

Fall Color

  • ‘Arendsii’ monkshood
  • ‘Mönch’ hardy aster

(‘Black Lace’ elderberry, Rozanne geranium, ‘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:

  1. Perennials that bloom copiously year after year
  2. Small shrubs with color-saturated 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

Helenium flowers

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.) Learn more about organic soil amendments.
  • 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. Learn more about mulch.
  • 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. 

Do you have a perennial garden? What’s your favorite perennial flower? Let us know in the comments below!


The 2007 All-Seasons Garden Guide

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment


I was able to grow beautiful zucchinis and butternut squash but my plants got full of bugs that ate the leaves, help!!!
Thank you


The Editors's picture

The culprit is likely some sort of caterpillar or slug. See our pest pages to learn how to keep your crops pest-free!

Squash Bugs

We've had a problem with squash bugs for the past 2 years that destroyed all plants with vines (pumpkins, squash, melons, cucumbers). They even started moving on to the tomatoes and peppers. We applied diatomaceous earth to the entire garden and they were almost completely gone within a few days. We did a second application a few weeks later to get any survivors.

Mini rose

I have a mini rose Bush (only about 16 in wide). Where is the best place to fit this into the plan?

mini rose bush

Hmm. It would depend on whether you are creating an island bed or orienting the tallest plants at the back of the bed. Roses like a lot of sun, so avoid placing your bush near the taller plants, such as the weigela and elderberry. It might also depend on the color scheme that you’d like. Perhaps one possibility, if your particular rose is only 16 inches tall as well as wide, it could be placed between the Heuchera (4) and Cranesbill (9), toward the front. The mini rose might be about the same size as the Heuchera. At 16 inches, the rose might be a little shorter than a mature cranesbill. Hope this helps!

Round garden

I love this idea. What would work best to plant this in a round garden bed? I'm in zone 5B. Is it to late in the year? If so, could this be planted in the fall?

planting a three season garden

The ideal planting time varies from region to region. A general rule of thumb: When the weather is cool and moisture content is high, it’s a good time to plant just about anything–early fall and late spring are typically best.

Snow & salt

If I planted this bed near a road (Zone 6A) would the salt/snow from snow ploughs prevent growth or cause damage?

Snow & Salt

If a lot of snow often piles up there, we could see it causing problems come spring, when it all melts. It might make the ground too wet for some of your bulbs especially. If it’s a well-draining area, this might not be an issue. 

Regarding the salt: Road salt is certainly not something you want to be throwing on your garden! If it’s in small amounts, then your garden bed should be able to tolerate it, but if it’s regularly applied, it will be detrimental to your plants. Spray from passing cars can damage foliage, while the salt that soaks into the ground will damage roots. 

Try using salt-tolerant plants, such as ornamental grasses instead of the plants above. Here’s a list of salt-tolerant flowers as well, courtesy of the Penn State Extension service: The Salt-Tolerant Garden

Monkshood Replacement


Would it be possible to substitute the Monkshood with something less risky? Zone: 6b

Thank you!

Monkshood substitute

You might try a purple form of hardy chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium); hardy in Zones 4 to 9. Or perhaps a purplish variety of Japanese anemone (Anemone x hybrida), hardy in Zones 4 to 8. Hope this helps!

Seed or plant

If I plant this all from seed right now (Oct 1) will it come up well in the spring? I'm in Southern Wisconsin.

When to Plant

It would be best to plant all the plants listed above in the spring. The exception would be the tulips and any other fall-planted bulbs you would like to use. Planting in the spring gives seeds the greatest chance at establishing themselves and growing into healthy, hardy perennials!

question about your picture

Your picture of Helenium looks like Gallardia.


Good catch! We’ve replaced the picture.

Las Vegas, NV

I live in Las Vegas, NV. area.( Pahrump, NV.) I would love to have a beautiful flower garden from spring to Fall but we have very hot summers. I would like to see perennials & annuals that are very colorful on a low budget. My flower bed is in front of my porch, 2 feet by 26 feet. I don't see very many flower gardens here. Please help. Kay

growing flowers

Hi Kay, If you plant flowers by seed (instead of transplanting), it’s much less expensive. Also, choose flowers that work in dry, hot Las Vegas! I believe most of the Las Vegas is listed in plant hardiness zones 9a/9b and Pahrump is zone 8a/8b.  Explore flower growing guides by zone here: www.almanac.com/gardening/growing-guides and also find your local cooperative extension for local on-the-ground advice here: www.almanac.com/content/cooperative-extension-services Finally, we would suggest that you walk around a local nursery to get an idea of what grows best in your area. Be sure to ask about them about soil preparation; in a dry climate, you’re going to want some moist compost or you’ll be watering all the time. Remember, annuals have to be re-planted every year and perennials will last year after year! Consider this with your investment.

Winter cold winds by the river

Can this bed survive by the river in zone 5a over the winter,cold wind off water?

Planting Time

The Editors's picture

The ideal planting time varies from region to region. A general rule of thumb: When the weather is cool and moisture content is high, it’s a good time to plant just about anything–early fall and late spring are typically best.

When to plant

I would love to plant this garden plan, but I don't see where the best time to plant is. I want to make sure I plant at the correct time! Thank you!!

10 1/2 ' by 5 foot bed

Do you have any recommendations on what plants I should remove to make this plan fit the flower bed size I have? I live in zone 8a is there any plants that I should substitute out?

Our Girl Scout troop would

Our Girl Scout troop would like to use this template to plant a Pollinator Garden at our school. Are these all bee friendly Flowers and if not could you suggest alternatives.

Is it too late

Is it to late to plant this garden in the month of July? I am in NYC.
If so, what can I do about gardening in July?

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.