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The Accidental Landscaper

By Linda H. Yates 3Tallahassee Democrat

August 9, 2013

By Linda H. Yates

Photo: Linda Yates


A rabbit sneaked into my yard last night and ate six hyacinth bean plants to the ground.  He may just have had a yen for green veggies, but he changed my landscaping plans in one, 10-minute, forage.  I had envisioned prolific green vines climbing up to shade my new pergola with their purple flowers looking like the grapes that hang down from a villa in Tuscany.

Landscape planning is risky at best.  (And as with my vine-covered pergola, the best is probably the daydreaming part before you face a reality check.)  When landscaping, you select color-coordinated flowers and shrubs and arrange them according to the gardening book’s best design.  You tend to them with great expectation, only to discover they rarely bloom in unison like the pictures show. 

Long before Photoshop, garden magazine editors had a pretty little secret:  they used potted plants, forced to be in full bloom and arranged them among those seasonally in bloom to create a to-die-for landscaped flower bed.  If you looked closely at the photo you may have seen flowers that bloom here in January still being shown to coordinate with those that don’t bloom until May.

Not to discourage garden dreamers, let me assure you that it is possible to create a lovely border of flowering plants and an entire yard of them, in fact.  Become an observant watcher of which flowers bloom at the same time or of a single variety blooming in mass that catches your eye. You may see these in neighborhood yards and certainly at local nurseries.  For camellia and azalea shopping, it is good to see at least one blossom of an annual or perennial before buying in order to coordinate its color with accompanying plants.  That’s the most reliable method.

For some of us, that wise landscape design may be too late.  Years ago I started a love affair with flowers and often brought home a new one (or several) from the nursery, the box stores, plant sales, friends’ yards and the woods.  When their colors clashed and they became a tangled web (a good hiding place for rabbits) I passed my yard off as a cottage garden.

Then one day I saw two or three plants that worked together:  blue woodland phlox and blue forget-me-nots under the branches of a Pink Perfection camellia, ajuga ground cover sending up blue spikes of flowers in February and March beneath a dwarf Japanese Crimson Queen maple  bearing its first light maroon spring leaves.  Aha!  A landscaper by accident.

There is nothing wrong with “accidents”:  pale blue stokesia edging a border and running head-on into a mass of lavender blue penstemon  (beard-tongue); A purple butterfly bush rubbing against rather large blossoms of yellow daylilies; blue hydrangeas keeping company with white ones, separated by a pair of hostas showing off their lavender blossoms.

 With the passing seasons, a more pleasing design plan emerges:  clear out the crowded array of clashing colors (a gift to someone else’s yard) and leave the accidental plant groupings that please you.  Once you get started, better design ideas will multiply like rabbits.

Linda H. Yates is a volunteer Master Gardener with the Leon County/UF Extension Advisory Committee.  For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at  For gardening questions, email us at



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