How does your garden flow and grow?

by Jan Spann

Gardening in Central Arkansas offers a bounty of plant materials and a few challenges as well. Whether you’re a novice wanting a unique landscape for your home or you have years of experience, the gardening world introduces new species and new concepts on a continual basis. So here are some ideas to help you plan your perfect place for your piece of earth.

Decide your priorities and develop a plan based on your answers

Take several pieces of white paper for each garden area you want: house border, front lawn, driveway, side space and back yard. Do you want a pathway, trellis, arbor, water feature, herb garden, seating area, compost pile, play area or patio? Develop your plan to include adding your designs over time, which will allow you to do most of the work.

If your space is mostly lawn now, determine a timeline for migrating lawn to garden. Lawn maintenance with seeding, weeding, mowing and such takes a large chunk of change! By gradually adding appropriate vegetation, you’ll reduce your water bill, have a much more inviting curb appeal and with the right plants, you’ll spend less time on maintenance and more time enjoying.

Your garden maps should include sun, soil and water conditions vital to a plant’s success.

Focus first on natives, or plants that thrive in your area. You’ll find eye-popping options in books and magazines, but save your money and instead focus on localized and native options that provide shelter and food for birds and butterflies. Head to the UAEX website at You’ll find a university-sized database about lawns and landscapes and tips from Janet Carson, Arkansas’ first lady of the garden. Under the landscape link, you’ll find information about composting, perennial beds, rain gardens and much more.

Because most of Central Arkansas faces grueling hot summers and water restrictions, here’s another handy list for drought tolerant plants: The plant lists suggested in the article are considered drought tolerant and Arkansas natives that help house and feed birds and other wildlife.

Adding soil amendments is the first step to growing healthy plants, so don’t skimp on this important step! Your local nursery will have a good variety or options, so borrow a pickup truck or have bulk purchases delivered.

Create drama and interest with variety and scale

Step onto the street and take a critical look at your home and lawn. Does a guest have a viable walkway to your door, and is there diversity in plants that reflects your tastes?

Around the home’s border, use a mixture of blooming and evergreen shrubs to provide curb appeal through the seasons and offer options for birds. A newer trend in foundation design includes mixed beds of flowers in front of fewer shrubs. Trees are the vertical balance of your garden in addition to offering shade for the home and gardens. Many native trees are fast growing, so matching the tree to the right spot will bring you shade in six to eight years. The larger trees also provide shade for more tender understory trees like dogwood.

Within each specific garden area, compose your selections of understory trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers. Create a focal point: Larger shrubs and garden art like a bench, fountain or birdbath are just a few of the many selections now available at the store or DIY projects. Whether formal or cottage style, start by placing the items in their containers, starting with the largest; then group other plants and grasses as outlined in your plan.

Check labels for size of mature plants, so that you don’t overcrowd each bed. A common scale is 1.5 times the height to the bed width. Tall plants and large shrubs will overwhelm a bed that is not sufficiently wide. Within each bed, consider plant material that provides interest through the seasons. For example, plant daffodil bulbs in the same hole with daylilies, and you’ll have spring and summer blooms with less work!

Cultivate time to enjoy your garden with low maintenance plants

Give yourself more time to savor your handiwork with plant materials that are drought tolerant and require little upkeep. And by reducing the size of your turf lawn, you’ll save money on water, be kind to Mother Nature and have more time to relax in your garden.