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Creating a Formal Flowerbed

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Creating a Formal Flowerbed

Creating a formal flowerbed involves digging out a regularly shaped bed and filling it with bright flowers planted in geometric patterns.

Regular spacing, straight lines or geometrical shapes, repeating patterns, symmetry and balance contribute to creating a formal flower bed. A feature of traditional gardens, parterres and formal parks open the public, a formal flower bed is orderly and neat, and often contains flowers in only two or three complementary colors. Creating a formal flower bed involves creating the bed, preparing the soil and planting the flowers.
Creating the Bed
A clearly defined shape such as a rectangle, diamond, semicircle or circle is the base of a formal flower bed. Draw your design on graph paper to get an idea of its proportions. To draw the design to scale, convert 1 foot of flowerbed to 1 square of graph paper, or a convenient alternative.
If you know the flowers you want to plant in the flowerbed, sketch these in as circles. The diameters of the circles should match their width when they're mature. For example, if 1 square represents 1 foot, and the flower grows 18 inches wide, the circle should be 1 1/2 squares wide.
Space the flowers so the bed isn't crowded when the flowers are fully grown. For example, if a flower grows 18 inches wide, it should be spaced so that its central stem is 18 inches from the central stem of the next flower.
Landscape paint, line and pegs and a spade help create a regularly shaped flower bed. First, spray a dot at the center of the bed with landscape paint.
Circular Bed
To create a circular bed, measure from the center to the edge of the circle with a tape measure. Push a peg with line attached into the dot and extend the line from the peg at the center to the measured edge. Hold the line at the same distance as you walk around the center, spraying landscape paint on the soil or lawn as you walk.
Straight-Edged Bed
To create a square, rectangular or other straight-edged formal flower bed, measure the bed's edges and mark them with a line and pegs. Measure from the edges to the center to check the bed is symmetrical. Spray landscape paint along the line, and remove it and the pegs.
Digging the Edge
Stand outside the bed, and push a spade into the soil at the marked edge. Lever the spade upward and tip the soil onto the bed, leaving a shallow ditch with a vertical edge. Dig the soil all around the bed's edge in the same way.
If you're creating a formal bed in a lawn, use a lawn edging spade with a half-moon blade to cut neatly through the sod. Cut sections of turf from the bed by cutting the edges then sliding the spade under the grass to lift it.
Preparing the Soil
Weed-free soil that's rich in organic material provides good growing conditions for most flowers.
Things You'll Need
Garden fork
Aged manure, garden compost or leaf mold
Rototiller (optional)
Step 1
Dig up any weeds in the bed with a garden fork, removing as many of the roots as possible. Remove rocks and any other debris.
Step 2
Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of aged manure, garden compost, leaf mold or other organic material over the soil surface. Mix the organic material 10 to 12 inches deep into the soil with a fork or rototiller.
Step 3
Rake the soil until the soil surface is even and has a fine texture. Level it off with the rake.
Planting Flowers
Arranging your flowers on top of the bed in their pots before planting them helps prevent making mistakes with your design. If you sketched flowers on your graph paper design, place the flowers on the bed to match the pattern you drew out. Check that the plants look as you imagined and that you're pleased with the design. If you need to, adjust the plants.
Use a tape measure, line and pegs to space the flowers and create straight rows. Dig holes 1 1/2 times as wide as the flowers' root balls and the same depth, and plant them at their original growing depth. Fill in the gaps around the root balls with soil, and gently firm the soil. Water the flowerbed with a garden hose fitted with a soft spray attachment, applying enough water to moisten the soil 8 to 10 inches deep.
Wait until after the final average frost date in your area before planting summer flowers.
Flowers for a Formal Flowerbed
Long-blooming, brightly colored flowers provide a formal, traditional effect in a flowerbed.
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) features blooms in shades of purple, peach, orange, red, white, yellow and pink and bicolors, spring through fall. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, snapdragon grows 1 to 3 feet tall and 6 to 12 inches wide, depending on the variety. 
Ageratum 'Blue Horizon' (Ageratum houstonianum 'Blue Horizon') produces lavender to purplish-blue, fluffy flowers summer through fall. 'Blue Horizon' is an annual plant that grows 12 to 18 inches tall and 6 to 18 inches wide.
Annual French marigold (Tagetes patula) has golden, yellow, orange or bicolored blooms above dark green leaves, and grows 1 to 3 feet tall and 6 to 12 inches wide.

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