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

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!