Garden Design

Growing a Blue Ribbon Garden

Growing a Blue Ribbon Garden

Flower and Garden Show competitors at the NC State Fair spend countless hours growing prize-winning plants and flowers.  The goal: a Blue Ribbon.  The gardens are a big draw, and when you see them, you’re in awe.  And, you say to yourself “I wish my garden looked like that.”  So, how can you get that same Blue Ribbon quality at home?

Photo by Tammy Kennedy

Photo by Tammy Kennedy

Be Your Own Critic
Criteria for judging the State Fair gardens are based, in part, on overall effect of the design, color and texture harmonies, and cultural perfection.  When you plan a garden, employ these same requirements.  Decisiveness and resolute thinking will be the keys to your success.  Avoid settling for mediocre. 
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when it comes down to it, the garden should be filled with the plants you like.  And whether you’ve come up with a great garden all on your own, or you had to borrow ideas from a magazine, you have to be the one to like it, because it’s all yours.

Have a Design Plan
You need to conceptualize an idea for a garden plan.  Visualize the space for a garden, determine sun exposure and soil moisture, and research plants suitable for the environment.  One State Fair garden competitor suggests thinking about how the space will be utilized; create an outdoor room, choosing plants to suit that function. 
Themes dictate the designs in the State Fair garden competition, so why not adopt that same idea for your home garden?   Having a theme will help facilitate your creativity and allow you to execute the “feeling” of the garden.

Selecting color combinations and textural differences for continuity and harmony will lead you to a pleasing design that makes sense.  Placing different plants next to each other before planting is a good way to see how they’ll look together; think about mature sizes and peak bloom times. 
“You can’t create a winning garden overnight,” another State Fair competitor advises, “it may take years to grow what one envisions.”  That’s really good advice.  Too often gardeners get caught up wanting instant gratification, when patience is the name of the game.

Knowledge is Power
Learn the specific requirements for growing plants.  Some will require more water, others more sun or shade, and others still will require just the right balance of sun, shade and water.  I’ve killed so many plants because I’ve under watered, or the sun scorched them to death, even though I should know better.
Really, the best way to get plants growing right from the start is good soil preparation.  Since our native Piedmont soil is generally clay, amending it with nutrient-rich organic matter, such as composted manure, will go a long way in building up good garden soil for most garden plants.

Have Fun
As a State Fair garden competitor, I have to remember one important thing: have fun.  Gardening is supposed to be exciting, and therapeutic, and just plain fun.  The moment I stop having fun in the garden is the moment I’ve failed.  Playing with plants gives me a chance to experience gardening in ways I can’t begin to describe.  I enjoy growing plants that I’ve just learned about, and I covet still the ones I’ve seen in botanical gardens that I just can’t seem to get my hands on. 
So no matter what you grow, or where you grow it, learning what it takes to grow a prize-winning garden is the best part of being a successful gardener.

Byline:
Sandra Zazzara, a plant geek among her friends and family, considers her enthusiasm for plants an infectious addiction. At home, she enjoys gardening for pleasure, surrounding herself with beautiful and unusual plants; she also volunteers at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.