The size and shape of your bed will be controlled by such things as:

  •     Your personal preferences
  •     The space you have available
  •     Surrounding features - such as trees and buildings
  •     How much work you are prepared to do
  •     How much money you are prepared to spend on flowers, fertilisers, etc.
  •     What you are trying to achieve.

In the classic Victorian era in England (where the standards of bedding plant displays were largely set in place) the size, shape, formation and planting designs of bedding plant displays were very involved. Beds were often designed in a high dome shape and layouts were circular, oval, s-shaped or heart-shaped, and they may have included a coat of arms or a story portrayed through the use of different coloured flowers. Designs were very formal with strong geometric lines in the display rather than the more informal or naturalised style massed displays which are popular today.     
There are two common types of flower beds:

  • Pure Displays - full of one type of flower only (e.g. annuals). These are often feature displays in the middle of lawns, or edging a path, wall or water feature. Stars and other complex shapes were common in the past, and are coming back into vogue. Such displays might consist of a single variety of flowers, or might consist of a single genus display consisting of a variety of colours and/or shapes of flowers from the same genus (e.g. petunias, tulips).  

  • Mixed Displays – this might be a bed consisting of a mixture of different plant types, either mixed together or in separate, but adjacent clusters. It might also involve edging a garden bed containing shrubs or perennials. The border of the shrubbery is changed by planting different displays of colourful flowers, but the backdrop remains the same.

Another theme may be to use edible plants as part of the display. For instance, some of the ways edible plants can be used include:

  • Silver beet with its red gold or white stems
  • The coloured and textured leaves of kale plants
  • Red-veined beetroot leaves
  • Decorative winter cabbages
  • Chamomile and pyrethrum
  • Edible calendula and violas combined with edgings of continental, curled or triple curled parsley.

Of course you need to match the vegetables and herbs used with the right planting and growing season for them.

In most displays there will be a progression in height from low-growing plants at the edge of beds going back to progressively taller ones, with the largest plants in the centre of stand-alone beds. For instance, it the bed was set out in a lawn on its own then the tallest plants would be in the centre with medium-sized ones on with side, followed by smaller on the edges on both sides. Alternatively, taller plants would be placed at the back of beds that butt up to larger features, such as shrubberies or walls. You can only view such beds from one side only and when you do you will observe a gradation of plants as horizontal bands of colour with the taller plants at the back and medium to smaller growers towards the front.  Individual (dot) plants might be located among otherwise pure stands of shorter flowers to create a contrast.

Getting the Most out of your Flower Bed
A simple technique to maximise the number of flower displays you can get each year in your flower bed, is to grow your flowers in pots. You can time the production of these potted flowers so that as one display of flowers in the garden finishes, the plants in the pots are just getting ready to flower. By removing the old spent display and placing the potted plants into the bed (still in their pots) and carefully covering the pots with soil and/or mulch so that the pots can't be seen, you can generate a new display in a very short time.

With careful planning and planting, even without the use of a glasshouse to help you, you can do this regularly to make your own potted colour for a planter box. You could place them in larger decorative pots on a patio or alternatively you can grow these potted colour plants just for gifts or for sales at fund raising fetes.

Use Perennials Too

Flower beds can be completely made up of annuals if you wish; but flowering perennials are equally useful for creating a stunning floral display. Perennials have and advantage -that they grow back in progressive years, whereas annuals need to be replanted each year. Annuals may require more work, but they allow you to create a completely different look each year. Perennials can however, provide a dependable and predictable result each year. There is no reason why perennials and annuals cannot be mixed as well; provided that plant combinations are chosen well.

Perennials have played an important part in garden design over the centuries; they have been used in the herbaceous borders of grand European gardens as well as in the humble cottage garden. Today perennials are used in similar (if not so labour intensive) ways.

Perennials can be used as fillers for garden beds (such as rose gardens); to line a driveway; to edge walls and ponds; to tumble down embankments or retaining walls; in rock gardens; gravel gardens, in a herbaceous border; in woodland gardens; as ground cover plants and in wild flower meadows.  

They can also be used as accent plants to create impact, diversity and movement in the garden, grasses and grass-like plants are an obvious choice.

Most perennials are tough, easy care plants that apart from initial soil preparation, and regular division, will provide the garden with years of colour and interest.

However, you should always research the plants you use in your garden as some perennials can become weedy in certain environments.