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sulfer butterfly on pineapple sageAdd Color to Your Life

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference!

Your landscape is installed. All the trees and shrubs are in place. The walkways and furniture are there. Now, for the fun part!  You can stop right now and enjoy your new outdoor space, or punch up the volume and appearance with flowers. Follow these mentoring tips to get the look that matches what you see in the catalogs and magazines.

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Professional results don’t come easily, so make your efforts worthwhile. You’ll end up spending about the same amount of money doing things the right way as you would the wrong way.  Read on to find out which flowers work best in the landscape for professional-level landscape planting plans for public, commercial, industrial, and high-end residential sites.

Let’s get started. Let me know the look you are trying to achieve, and your great ideas for what works best for you.  Here’s a link soon to the soon-to-be published draft version 0.0 of a new Advanced Guide to Flowers, based on years of experience working with the pros and evaluation of thousands of landscape projects. 

Banquet Flowers

Flower Arrangements for a Big Party

banquet flowers, decorating eventsAn auspicious event deserves fresh flowers. Decorating for a banquet is quite different from creating a single arrangement! It is a marathon of repetitive actions with a looming deadline. It is a performance for a crowd, which can be a triumph, a tragedy, or just plain boring. Proper planning and efficiency are essential to making the event planning happy for everyone. Creativity and exciting design play an essential role. Here is a checklist for flower-arranging for good times for a big celebration.


Coordinate with the venue management. Try to get access to the venue at least a day early.

Plan on spending an entire day. It takes hours to assemble twenty or thirty centerpieces.

There should be one design leader directing the team, with a clear understanding that workers check in before doing any ad hoc decorating activities.

Use a crew of three to five. Too many people slow the work through interruptions and blocked circulation paths.

Deadheading Flowers

Tough Love for Flowering Plants

deadheading flowers

Deadheading is the process of removing blooms from flowering plants. It can be done by clipping off only the bloom, or by cutting the entire flower stem. Most deadheading involves decapitation of spent blooms. It may seem wasteful to remove blooms. A withered flower left on the stem is a signal to the plant that it is beginning a new phase in the plant’s circle of life. A spent flower notifies the plant that pollination is complete. The plant responds by sending lots of energy toward fruit or seed formation. By deadheading, gardeners can fool a plant into thinking it must continue to produce more blooms to attract pollinators. Once a plant thinks pollination is complete, it will stop flowering.

Deadheading stops a plant from weakening. Cut back any spent blooms and any flowers that have peaked right away. Allowing the older flower heads to go to seed will send plants into a lazy decline and the foliage will begin to suffer from pest damage while the stems elongate and flop to the ground. You can interrupt seed production progress by removing both the petals and the developing seed pods before they can mature. Be thorough. Leaving behind any flower heads and seed pods will keep the plants complacent, thinking their job of reproducing a new generation is done.

Proportion and Mass in Flower Arrangements


One-and-a-Half Times the Height of the Vase

A basic rule of flower arranging is to keep the height of the flowers approximately one-and-a-half times the height of the vase, but in doing this it is possible to make a dangerously top-heavy arrangement. It can “look funny.” The before and after pictures show both arrangements reaching the same height, but the latter photo keeps the heavier mass of large flowers low, with more delicate, feathery stems beyond the dense center. This way, the design “feels right,” within the confines of the one-and-a-half rule.

proportion in flower arrangements, floral designproportion in floral arrangements, floral design

The Advanced Guide to Flowers: Using Flowers like a Landsccape Professional


The Advanced Guide to Flowers: Using Flowers like a Landscape Professional is available for download now!

The Advanced Guide to Flowers: Using Flowers like a Landscape ProfessionalThe Advanced Guide to Flowers: Using Flowers like a Landscape Professional is a quick, concise guide to professional flower gardening and floral design. Learn how to use flowers in both high-quality residential and commercial flower beds. If you are a landscape architect, especially if you are new to the industry, this book will guide you through the design process for long-term success with seasonal color. If you are in any green industry discipline, the book will help you understand the basics of flower gardening to produce professional, colorful results.

Happy Flower Gardening!

Flower Arrangement Style

Choosing Your Floral Style

fLower arrangement style, floral styleYou’ve selected your vase or container, secured the Oasis® or frog, purchased and gathered flowers and greenery, and conditioned the plant material. Now you can finally start arranging!

There were distinct periods of floral style throughout history—some related to geography and some to dates. A French arrangement might be open and airy, but always graceful. A Georgian design would be dignified and formal, with larger blooms around the base and a tight outline. A Dutch-Flemish design had large flowers near the top of an oval shape. Victorian designs were heavy and wide, with lots of ornament on the vase. Weeping and trailing plants with specific, sentimental or romantic meaning were common in Victorian times. Each era of design provided a distinctive way to express the beauty of flowers.

In the twentieth century traditional and abstract arrangements followed the current art styles of the day, swinging wildly from simple, radial construction to avant-garde assemblages. Modern creative styles are fun to create and view, but tend to be used in practice for commercial and corporate situations, and less in everyday homes and businesses. Traditional mass and line-mass flower arrangements will always be popular, and continue to be the most marketable style for most customers.

The common factor in great floral arrangements through the ages is the careful use of appropriate design principles. Spatial balance, color harmony, proper proportion and scale, interesting voids, depth and form, textural contrast, and rhythm make an arrangement pretty. Study your design as you build it. Try to have some logic and purpose to each flower stem placement. Carefully compose each sprig and stem for aesthetic appeal. If you are new to the concept of design principals, you can find lots of help online. Don’t get bogged down by terminology. Different design disciplines will use unique labels for each design principle. Read and research to find the answer to the simple question, “How can I make my design pretty?” The best designs are created when you let your mind invent new ideas. Never feel obligated to follow a specific design style or rule. Design principles are tools, not rules.

Garden Clippers

Landscape Secateurs

garden clippers, landscape secateursIf you own no other tool, buy a good pair of clippers/pruners. The British call them secateurs, a fancy word for cutters. Pruners are used for everything! Choose a pair that fit your hand, that can bite through woody stems easily, and that spring open with a heavy-duty spring mechanism after each cut. My favorite is the orange pair at two-0-clock (in the image above). They cost me eight dollars. I bought them at a wholesale florist supply house. As you can see from the picture, I am a bit of a clipper nut—and these are only the ones that survived my abuse! When I find a pair I like, I buy at least five more. The orange pair at ten-O-clock used to be my favorite, and I have purchased replacements for them at least ten times. Unfortunately, the spring mechanism breaks after a few hour’s use. They cost one dollar. They gave my hand a great feel when deadheading flowers. How a pair of pruners feels in your hand is very important! Try out the different styles before buying. If you become a professional in the landscape industry, you will be using pruners almost every single day. Professional landscape maintenance crews tend to like Felco bypass pruners. Bypass pruners act like scissors for a cleaner cut without crushing the pruned branches. Anvil pruners are good for larger branches and have a sharp blade press against a flat chopping blade. They are the brute force tool for cutting branches. Hand clippers/pruners mold and shape your garden in the same way as a paintbrush produces a painting. 

Super-hero Sedum Autumn Joy

A Perennial for the Landscape

new growth on sedum autumn joynew blooms on sedum autumn joysummer sedum autumn joysedum autumn joy after frost

There are a very few perennials that can be used successfully in a commercial landscape setting, and Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ is one of them. The current botanical name is listed as Hylotelephium telephium, but have never seen it used in the trade. Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ will do just fine, unless you are a botanist. Autumn Joy Sedum can perform almost as well as any woody ornamental ground cover. The reason it is successful is because it transforms every season.

The Persistence of Perennials

Faithful, but not Foolproof

perennials, how long do perennials live

Perennials provide a sense of time and place to a landscape. It is wonderful to see familiar color return each year. Nature’s clock uses flower blooms instead of numbers to display progress through the seasons. The Iris and Baptisia tell us spring is here. The Daylilies and Coreopsis announce mid-summer. The Joe Pye Weed and Goldenrod tell us the children will be going back to school. Year after year, perennials choreograph their burst of color.

Perennials come back each year, at least for a while. Some are more faithful than others. Some are just reliable, self-seeding annuals. Some will come back, but only if you divide them every few years. Some are perennial, but only if the outdoor temperature stays above freezing. Don’t be fooled by the perennial sales pitch. You can count on a perennial living a year or two longer than an annual, but after that, the return each spring is dependent on the species. Perennial is a relative term.

Most perennials go dormant sometime during the year. Perennials are herbaceous plants with soft, tender, watery stems that cannot withstand freezing. During winter months, their foliage will either disappear or dry up and become debris, harboring pests. Bare ground will be an invitation for volunteer weeds, so in winter perennial beds require a cover crop, compatible succession planting with cold-season plants, or a thick layer of mulch. When designing a garden, you will need to anticipate months with bare ground and plan for annual maintenance requirements as the growing season begins and ends.