Neighbours complimenting my garden is 97 per cent of why I grow things to begin with. And when I found Cynthia Stringham and her flower walls on Instagram, I thought, “If you want to get neighbours to comment on your yard, this is how you do it.”
Every Friday, Cynthia posted videos of towering embankments of blooms against her fence. The flowers were every colour, shape, size, and height, so exquisitely placed that it looked like a painting. The fence completely disappeared, and the flowers became their own structure, bracketing the property.
It made sense that she could pull it off — she owns a greenhouse and is a professional gardener. As a hobby gardener, though, I wrote off ever being able to figure out the formula, until Cynthia eventually dropped a planning schematic on her Instagram stories, and I was hooked. I began buying seed packets, grabbed my garden notebook, and started planning.
What’s a flower wall?
Beds of flowers are like a crowded concert: If everything is roughly the same height, no one can see anything. Usually, when people have a facade — whether it’s a wall, fence line, or even an open border to a property — they tend to plant items of the same height, like a row of trees, shrubs, flowers, or ground cover. Flowers at the same height can still be beautiful, of course, but viewers have to be nearby and look from above to fully appreciate them. Alternatively, planting a variety of flowers and graduating their heights so that each leaves room for the plants in front of them turns your garden into a stadium with built-in bleachers.
How to build a flower wall
Cynthia’s plan was pretty simple. She graphed out the heights of various annual flowers, and then arranged them in order, packing them in tightly. She had enough in there that at any given point in the season it would look full, as flowers came in and out of bloom.
She had some basic recommendations to start, like beginning with sunflowers. No other annuals achieve the same height as sunflowers, so they make an easy base, rising from seven to fifteen feet as a row of towering yellow heads.
You should break the rest into rows. There are a few flowers in that five-to-seven foot range, including cosmos, ammi, poppies, foxgloves, and artichokes. A wide range of flowers make up the three-to-five foot band, including your giant zinnias. Your row in front should include anything under three feet, including stock, snapdragons, and perennial salvia. You could, at the front edge, have small ground cover flowers as well.
Sketching it all out on paper, you can also start to think about seasons and bloom times, as well as colour themes. You can certainly throw every colour at the wall and it will still be beautiful, but I began to notice how many flowers were pink, lavender, and white, and purposefully chose more jewel-toned plants, creating a sea of orange, red, yellow, purple, and magenta. Over the years, you’ll start to notice and fine tune early-season flowers (like snapdragons) and late-season ones (like cosmos) so that you have consistent flowers over the season.
Mix perennials and annuals, edibles and non-edibles
This year, I saw Cynthia’s garden in person and was shocked at how compact the space it is, and how the height graduation makes her garden look much bigger. Her beds also looked fuller than mine, even though I planted close together. She explained that the secret is interplanting carrots, cabbage, and lettuce, which helped fill out the greenery to make it look fuller.
I considered my own garden. I already had artichokes in my flower wall, and had put in foxglove over the years. I added asparagus crowns, dahlias, and delphiniums, in addition to the salvia and poppies. All of these, as perennials, would come back on their own — I just had to plan space for them.
The perennials also anchored the space, with the gigantic artichokes and their field of neon purpose flowers creating some repetition. In between those spaces, the annuals peek through. Some of the largest flowers — best for creating colour — are annuals. Zinnias, in particular, come in a slew of heights and sizes, but the Benary’s Giants are ideal for that three-to-five foot band. Gomphrena and celosia provide colour blocks of interesting shapes at a lower height. The annuals have to be planted each spring, but that means you can change things up year to year, as well. Over time, even annuals will do some self seeding if you let them go until the end of the season.
How to grow the flowers for your wall
You can certainly buy flowers at your local nursery, but if you’re set up to grow your own, you’ll find it much more economical and be able to choose specifically what you want.
Seed outlets like Johnny’s, Floret, Botanical Interest and Renee’s Gardens all have deep benches of flower seeds. Browse and find pictures of flowers that appeal to you, and then you just need to figure out what height band you want to place them in.
As you plant, you’ll want to start in the back and move forward, keeping seedlings within six-eight inches of each other. A slow release fertiliser like Osmacote is helpful to lay down in the bed as you’re working to feed the flowers. Mulching with bark chips will help keep the flowers cool, so they’ll need less water and feel less heat stress.
Remember that some plants, like stock, only bloom once, and might need to be replaced within the season. Most flowers will respond well to deadheading and will grow in fuller, which also means you have freshly cut flowers for inside, too.
Some flowers face the sun, which means that my neighbours enjoy this view from their yard, while the sunflowers face away from me.
All in all, building a flower wall is a project you’ll grow into over the seasons. It’s a fun project, help diversify your plantings, and make your house stand out with some beautiful flowers.
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