I look upon our abundant snow and see a blank slate, a canvas waiting to burst into color. And winter, often forcing us to slow down, and hiding many of our landscaping mistakes, offers a great opportunity to create a garden of color — on paper or on the computer.

If you’re thinking of growing a new flower bed or border this coming gardening season, get your crayons and graph paper out now, or open a blank Word document, or visit smallblueprinter.com/garden/planner. Any of these tools can help you design a flower garden with season-long color.

First decide what shape and size you want your bed to be. Beds can be rectangular or curving, but are usually longer than they are wide. A minimum size might be about three feet deep by six or eight feet long. Draw the shape on graph paper, or in Word, click on “Table” in the toolbar and select a table of, say, five columns by three rows.

T

T

T

T

T

M

M

M

M

M

S

S

S

S

S

Dividing a flower bed into three rows — loosely, when actually planting — helps you plan to have tall plants in the back of the bed (near the house or a fence, for instance), medium plants near the center, and short plants near the front (along a walkway, for example). In the example below, these are indicated by T (Tall), M (Medium) and S (Short).

Then consider season of bloom, scattering spring (Sp), summer (Su) and fall (F) flowering plants somewhat evenly throughout the bed to create continuous bloom.

TSp

TSu

TSp

TF

TSu

MF

MSp

MSu

MF

MSp

SSp

SF

SSp

SSu

SF

Now for some color. Open the “Standard” toolbar by clicking on “View,” then “Toolbars,” then “Standard.” The standard toolbar has a “Tables and Borders” icon on it — a grid with a pencil crossing it. Click on this grid, and another, smaller toolbar appears. This toolbar has an icon of a paint bucket pouring paint. Click on one of the cells in your table, then click on the paint bucket, and select a color for that cell in your flower garden table. Repeat this process to play with color schemes that might appeal to you, such as the warm red-orange-yellow scheme below.

TSp

TSu

TSp

TF

TSu

MF

MSp

MSu

MF

MSp

SSp

SF

SSp

SSu

SF

Now you can copy this whole table and paste it next to the first table, giving you a bed that is 10 columns wide…or 15 or 20, or as long as your landscape (and time and energy) allows. Having this basic design will help bring some order and repetition to the garden; and it will help ensure that something is blooming all spring, summer and fall. You don’t have to hold ridigly to repeating the pattern above; putting a medium height plant in the back of the border here and there, or having a few spring-flowering plants closer together is fine.

Once you have your color scheme, flower height and season of bloom, you’re ready to pick out plants. Browsing seed catalogs is a great way to do this. Another is to use a plant selection program, such as the National Garden Bureau’s garden.org/zipzone/ . Just enter your zip code on the first page of this site, and then click on “Find plants in your zone,” just above the box where you entered your zip code. This brings you to a plant selection tool, where you can select, say, perennials, moist soil, full sun, three to four feet tall, and you’ll get a list of 37 plants that are hardy in Zone 5 (or whatever hardiness zone your zip code indicated) and meet those criteria. Select further for, say, red flowers that are fragrant, and you come up with summer phlox.

For more winter fun, try smallblueprinter.com/garden/planner, where you can drag flowers (shrubs, trees, landscape elements, etc.) onto a grid to make all kinds of dreamy designs. If only the actual gardening were that easy!