A Los Altos flower bed, before and after the remodel

Before new landscaping awakened Betty Norlander’s flower bed in Los Altos, California, the view through her living room window was anything but inspirational. Plants in this shapeless 15- by 40-foot plot struggled in heavy soil, and weeds were hard to control.

To overhaul the sunny bed, Norlander called on Mountain View, California, garden designer Gay Bonorden Gray (650/969-9523). She shaped the space with graceful curves, amended the soil with compost, and installed drip irrigation. Gray and Norlander then chose plants for year-round color, ease of maintenance, and drought-tolerance.

Now, hot pink ‘Flower Carpet’ roses ― along with perennials like blue hibiscus, bougainvillea, violet butterfly bush, and Mexican sage ― offer vivid color from spring through fall. Dahlias and gladiolus accent the bed in late spring and summer. In winter, nandina and variegated flax sustain the show with eye-catching foliage.

Most of the plants only need cutting back in late winter or dividing every few years. All Norlander has to do is relax and enjoy the view. 


Gay Bonorden Gray suggests the following techniques to enliven garden beds:

Remove harsh angles. Replace straight edges with soft curves to create a meandering effect.

Layer plants by height. Place the shortest growers in front and the tallest ones in the back.

Limit the color palette. For color impact without a confetti look, Gray mainly stuck to two flower colors. Vivid pink roses lead the eye through the border, while butterfly bush, Mexican sage, and penstemon add bursts of soft purple blooms here and there. Silvery gray foliage plants knit the composition together.

Add accent plants. Single specimens of blue hibiscus, bougainvillea, and multicolored phormium punctuate the sweeps of color.

Choose plants that look good all year. From spring through fall, silvery artemisia, lamb’s ears, and society garlic act as a backdrop for flowering plants. In winter, these evergreens become the main attraction and give form to the bed.

Include surprises. Thoughtfully placed dahlia and gladiolus ― hidden belowground much of the year ― pop up in late spring and summer.

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