Gardening Guide


Viette Perennial Handbook and Gardening Guide

Having a beautiful perennial garden can be an exciting challenge.  Observe the plants you like, use this handbook as a guide, and the results can be most fulfilling.

We have prepared this Perennial Handbook and Gardening Guide as a means to help you achieve and enjoy your perennial gardens with as little effort as possible. Proper planning, well prepared soil, and maintenance are the keys to successful gardening. By following the steps outlined below, I'm sure you will be successful.

Step 1: Planning the Garden

Determine the site conditions so you can select the appropriate plants

Exposure - Where is your garden in relation to the sun?
•  A southern exposure will get the most sun and will in general be warmer
•  Gardens on a western side get more sun (afternoon sun) than gardens facing east
•  A northern exposure is cooler and moister since it gets the least direct sunlight.
•  Know the direction of the prevailing winds which can affect soil moisture.

Light - Is your garden to be a sun garden or a shade garden?
•  Sun - at least six hours of direct, intense sunlight any time between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
•  Light (Bright) Shade - you can see your shadow.
•  Semi-shade - two hours of direct sun or dappled all day sun; indirect sun resulting from
heavy tree canopy.
•  Remember - Warm morning sun and afternoon shade = Shade (use shade loving plants)
Morning shade and hot afternoon sun = Sun (choose plants that like hot sun)
•  Remember light can vary within even a small space. Choose plants accordingly

Moisture - Is your area moist or boggy; on the dry side or inaccessible to water?

Physical Features - What landscape features already exist?
•  Work rock outcroppings or existing trees and shrubs into your garden design.
•  Is there a pond or stream to work around?  Enhance with moisture loving plants.
•  What is the contour of the land? Steep slopes may need to be terraced. Check to see where
the runoff from rain and snow goes and where underground utilities and water lines are.

Soil Type - What type of soil do you have?
•  Clay soils need amendments such as Soil Perfector, gypsum, peat, or other organic material to
increase aeration and drainage (do not add sand). Use 1/3 amendments, 2/3 existing soil.
•  Sandy soils need the addition of organic matter to reduce the leaching of nutrients.
•  Soil pH - The optimum pH for the widest range of plants is slightly acidic, 5.5-6.5 range.
•  If your soil is above 6.5, apply a water soluble sulfur or iron sulfate to lower the pH.
•  If the pH is below 5.5, spread finely ground limestone onto the soil.
•  Contact your County Extension Agent to find out where to have your soil analyzed.
Many full service garden centers sell pH testing kits you can use yourself.

Designing the garden

Balance - Elements on one side are comparable in size or weight to those on the opposite side.
•  Use symmetrical balance (both sides are identical) for more formal gardens
•  Use asymmetrical (several smaller plants will equal one large plant) for an informal garden.

Proportion - The scale of your garden and plantings should be in relationship to the surroundings
•  Smaller plants and shrubs for a smaller area, larger plants may be effective as accents.
•  Larger plants and trees for a larger area, use groups of smaller plants and ground covers.

 - You can achieve greater unity and harmony by repeating design elements.
•  Texture, color, and shape, for example.

Size and Shape -
•  Do you want one large garden or do you want the area broken into smaller garden "rooms"
•  Do you want an island bed or a border garden along the walk, driveway or fence
•  Do you need to hide garbage cans or unsightly views?  Do you need privacy from neighbors?
•  Consider working with your neighbor in border plantings!

Arrangement of Plants - Plants should be arranged in "drifts" of different heights.
•  Repeat groups of plants, varying the quantities in each group to give a natural flow.
•  Arrange taller  plants in back and "stair-step" down to smaller plants if doing a border; for
an island, use tall plants in the middle and "stair-step" down to smallest plants on the edge;
or relax the stair-step effect by using open or "see-through" plants at the center or front.

Color - This is the most personal of all decisions you will make as it will reflect your mood and
personality much as the decor of your home does.Viette Color Wheel

A  few color tips to think about . . .
Use the color wheel to help you plan your design.
Complementary harmony is using colors directly across the wheel from each other; ie. purples and yellows or oranges and blues.
Split complementary harmony is using a primary color with the colors on either side of its opposite; ie. yellows with blues and reds.
Analogous harmony is using three color hues in a row on the wheel;
ie. yellows, golds, oranges or different shades of blues, purples and reds.
An analogous design is one of the prettiest combinations, using shades of purple, blue and red (lavenders, blues, pinks) with their complement of yellow as the accent.

Draw your own wheel, or use the one above, and color in the various shades of each color.
You will find the color scheme that is perfect for your gardens.
•  Reds, oranges and gold are hot, vibrant colors which set a warm, happy, carefree tone
•  Blues, lavenders and greens are cooler colors which create quiet serenity.
•  Hot colors tend to bring the plants closer and make the garden appear smaller
•  Cool colors seem to make the plants recede causing the garden to appear larger.
•  Use cool colors in mass for close-up viewing
•  Use hot colors for a more dramatic  statement.

Spacing -
•  In the front of the border, space low plants 12" -18" apart.   Be sure to start the planting
back away from the edge.
•  Plants of intermediate size should be placed at least 18"-24" apart
•  Larger plants should be spaced about 36" apart.
•  Leave at least one foot of air space between your garden and a wall or hedge.
•  Determine the average number of plants to use for 24" spacing by taking the square
footage and dividing by 3.3.

Groupings - How many plants should be planted in a group?
•  This depends on the viewing distance and size of the flowers. The closer you are to the
garden, the fewer plants you need in a group. In general, groups of 3 to 5 work well.
•  If the garden is to be viewed from a distance, groups of 12-18 may be more appropriate.
•  Keep in mind that some plants look better in mass plantings while other larger, more
spectacular, plants can stand alone as an accent.

Profile and Texture -
•  Mix some upright growing plants such as Liatris, Salvia and Delphinium in with the more
rounded forms.
•  Use plants with unusual, colorful or variegated foliage, and ornamental grasses to add texture
and unique style to your garden.
•  Try open, "see-through" plants such as Gaura, Anemone, Gypsophila, or Patrinia.


  • You may need to have a definite play area for the children;
  • a work area with sheds, work benches and a compost pile;
  • a swimming pool, patio or terrace for entertaining;
  • a screened porch or outside dining area;
  • fencing for pets;
  • vegetable gardens;
  • parking areas; etc.

•  Garden Ornaments - Do you have some statuary, a bird bath or benches that you would
like to use among the plants in the garden?  Would you like to build in a gazebo, decking,
paths, lighting, fountains or a pond?
•  Existing Plantings - What basic trees, shrubs and foundation plantings do you have now that
you would like to keep? Do you already have perennials which you need to work into the
new plan? What needs to be discarded?

All these things need to be taken into consideration and planned for before we proceed.

Step 2: Preparing the Beds

Define the Area -
Use a garden hose to outline the area to be dug.
•  For an informal area, gentle curves work better than scallops or long, straight lines.
•  Formal gardens can be done in straight lines and symmetrical shapes.
•  Island beds can be a large oval or free-style  (e.g. an elongated "S"
or kidney bean shape)
•  Water the grass and weeds in this area to get the roots activated.
•  Spray the entire area with Round-up Weed and Grass Killer according to
label directions - it usually takes about two weeks to kill completely.

Digging the Bed -
•  The garden area should be dug or rototilled to a depth of 12"-18"
•  One quarter of the area should be organic matter such as peat moss, leaf  mold (only 10%),
or compost, composted manure, composted bark or any combination of these.

Amending the Soil - For each 10' x 10' area of garden space, add the following:
•  5-10 lbs of Plant-tone for sun or  4-7 lbs of Holly-tone for shade (these are slow-release,
organic fertilizers which will not burn the plant roots)
•  5-10 lbs rock phosphate for sun or 3-5 lbs super phosphate for shade (this is a mineral which
promotes flowering and root growth as opposed to vegetation)
•  5-10 lbs green sand (contains nutrients for disease resistance and minor elements)
•  5-10  lbs gypsum depending on heaviness of soil (a soil conditioner especially for clay soils)
•  For heavy clay soil add the "Clay Buster" Soil Perfector manufactured by the Espoma Company
•  2 lbs of 8 month Osmocote or Sierra fertilizer (optional)

Till all of these amendments into the soil, rake smooth and your bed is ready and waiting.

Step 3: Choosing the Right Plants

Now that the hard work is finished, it's time to have some fun and learn which perennials to choose for your particular garden plan.

You will need to select plants:

Compatible to your site
• sunny   • shady   • dry   • moist/boggy

According to Specific Use or Design
• for cutting    • for drying    • for fragrance    • a rock garden    • for "massing"
• a cottage garden   • a moonlight garden    • a meadow garden   • for privacy
• for a specific color scheme   • an all-season garden    • butterfly/hummingbird garden

Final Plant Selection

Base your final selection on the following criteria:
• Color   • Height   • Bloom time   • Profile and Texture   • Spacing requirements   • Hardiness
Review the design information listed above as you begin your list.

Visit other gardens, both private and public, to fill your head with ideas.

Plan a trip to the André Viette Farm and Nursery in Fishersville, Virginia. 

Enjoy over six acres of display gardens and acres of fields of flowers. 

See what these perennials really look like when they are planted in the garden.

You will come away with a "head full of ideas"!!

Step 4: Planting Your Perennials

General guidelines for planting most container perennials
•  Keep plants in the shade and the roots moist until planted in the garden
•  At planting time, remove them from the pot and "fluff' out the roots
•  If your plant is pot-bound, use a sharp knife to cut off the bottom
1/2" of roots and soil.  "Score" the sides of the compacted soil and
roots. This will promote root activity and will enable them to spread out properly.
•  Plant at the same depth as they were in the containers

General guidelines for planting bare-root or field-dug perennials
•  Generally plant with the soil even with  the top of the crown (where the roots meet the stem).
•  Dig the hole big enough to allow the roots to spread out in the soil
•  Push the soil back into the hole over the roots and  around the top of the plant.
•  Tamp the soil down just a bit to get rid of air spaces.

For all Plantings:
•  Water plants deeply and mulch immediately.
•  Water more often at first (not bog wet) until they become adjusted to their new environment.

You can plant perennials at any time of the day, but always water them in thoroughly and mulch, especially during the heat of the summer.

•  Most perennials can be transplanted or divided in either spring or fall
•  Cut the foliage back to 2"-3" so that the plant's energy can be directed to the roots.
•  Some perennials, such as Peonies and Poppies, should be dormant before they are
transplanted or divided.

Step 5: Garden Maintenance

Garden maintenance will not be such a chore if you will follow these simple procedures:

•  Water slowly and deeply putting down 1"-2" of water in a  6-12 hour period.
This should give you a penetration depth of 12"-18".
•  To determine how much you are watering, use a rain gauge or a coffee can to measure your
sprinkler output or check the depth of penetration with a trowel.
•  Ask your local garden center for the proper sprinklers or get Andre’s favorite sprinkler.
•  Watering too shallow creates shallow root systems and is sometimes worse than not watering at all!!

Mulching – Conserves moisture during the hot summer and helps to control weeds.
•  2 - 3 inches of pine or hardwood bark mulch is fine for most plants.
•  Tall Bearded Iris and Peonies should not be mulched near their stems!
•  To protect less hardy plants, use an airier winter mulch of 5"-8" of straw, composted
leaves, pine boughs or needles spread lightly over the bed after the ground has frozen
and removed in late February before the plants break dormancy.
This is especially important if you plant late in the summer.

 - This is one of the most important maintenance steps in caring for your garden.
•  The key is to prevent the weeds from ever starting.
•  Do a weekly "weed check".  There will always be a few obnoxious weeds, but this way you
can at least keep them under control. Use Andre’s favorite “weed buster” the Swing-head hoe
to cut weeds down with ease.

Insects and Disease
•  Always keep a sharp eye out for garden pests and plant disease and take care of them as soon
as possible. You don't want them spreading through your perennials.
•  Contact your local full service garden center for controls.
•  For a good organic fungicide to control powdery mildew:
Combine 1 gallon water, 1 Tablespoon Ultrafine Sun Spray oil, and 1 Tbsp. baking soda
Mix thoroughly, put into a spray bottle and spray all sides of leaves and stems. You should
repeat this application weekly as necessary.

Winterizing your Garden
•  Cut back and discard dead foliage on your herbaceous perennials in the fall or early spring.
•  Leave the following plants uncut to provide winter interest and for bird feed and habitats.
- Perennials with woody stems (e.g. - Buddleia and Caryopteris)
- Late fall bloomers such as Chrysanthemums and Asters
- Perennials that have interesting seed heads (Echinacea and Sedum 'Autumn Joy')
- Plants with attractive foliage and seed heads such as Ornamental grasses
These plants should be cut back in early spring before new growth begins.
•  Apply 6 lbs Plant-tone (sun) or 4 lbs Holly-tone (shade) per 100 square feet.
•  Consider putting on a fresh topping of mulch to bring it up to its original 3".

Perennial Potpourri

Here are some gardening tips and tidbits to make your gardening more successful - and fun!

Encourage reblooming
•  Some perennials can be cut back to the base of the stem after their first bloom.
•  This includes TradescantiaDelphiniumAchilleaChrysanthemum 'May Queen' and the
shasta daisy cultivars, VeronicaScabiosaCampanula carpaticaCentranthusEchinops,
NepetaSalviaStokesiaVerbena and reblooming daylilies.

Shearing is a method of cutting back tall, fall blooming perennials by half their height in order to
make them more compact, bushier and less floppy.
•  Shearing should be done no later than 8 weeks before their scheduled bloom time. 
•  Try shearing fall Asters, fall Chrysanthemums, PerovskiaBoltoniaChrysopsisHelianthus,
  HeliopsisSalvia grandiflora and Saponaria officinalis.
•  Shear spring bloomers, such as IberisAubrietaArabisPhlox subulata and Aurinia saxatile,
soon after they finish blooming to prevent a leggy appearance and to insure good blooms next season.

Reduce the need for staking by planting your perennials further apart.

•  Improves air circulation and light penetration.
•  Reduces the risk of disease and mildew
•  This also saves you money since you don't have to buy as many plants!

Prolong the blooming season by "deadheading"

•  Cut spent blooms off below the flower heads and just above the next node.
•  This trick works on AquilegiaGeranium sanguineumPhlox paniculataPhlox maculata,
BuddleiaHeliopsisPotentilla atrosanguineaSidalceaStokesiaVerbenaCampanula,
CentaureaDigitalisGaillardiaLobeliaPlatycodonMonarda, the large-leafed Coreopsis
varieties, Salvia nemerosaArmeriaPenstemon digitalisRudbeckia 'Herbstonne', and
Saponaria officinalis to name a few.

Create a dynamic effect in small gardens by using various shades and hues of one color (ie. purples) and then using one accent color (ie. yellow or silver) in strategic areas around the bed.

Incorporate plants known for their outstanding foliage to add interest between blooming
times of your more colorful perennials.
•  Use ArtemisiaStachys, ferns, Hosta, Ligularia, purple-leaved Heuchera, variegated foliage
of Filipendula and small Spiraea shrubs which change colors during the seasons.

Incorporate existing trees as the anchors of a garden bed and to tie the garden together.

Save kitchen scraps in a tightly covered container and use them in your compost.
•  Use coffee grounds, egg shells, ground corncobs, vegetable and fruit peelings and tea leaves.
•  Do not use meat, bones, seeds and fruit pits, grease or other fatty substances that are slow to
decompose and which also attract unwanted creatures.

Use low growing thyme between stepping stones to produce a nice aroma when stepped on.

Plant fragrant summer blooming perennials such as Oriental Lilies (Lillium) beneath a bedroom or dining room window
and let the heavenly fragrance waft through the house.

For a festive evening centerpiece, cut daylily blooms early in the morning, refrigerate all day,
and place on the table in the evening.
•  Lay them along the center of the table on a ribbon streamer
•  Tuck them into a basket, or
•  Place one bloom at the edge of each dinner plate.
•  You can even have them for dessert if so inclined!

Save seed pods from Peonies, Yucca, Siberian Iris, and Poppies to tuck into your Christmas wreaths.

Use dried flowers of Sedum 'Autumn Joy', AchilleaLimonium (German statis), ArtemisiaSolidago, and Perovskia
   in fall and holiday arrangements.

Plant spring blooming Fritillaria (Crown Imperial) bulbs throughout your perennial garden to reduce the presence
of voles - the bulbs stink, but the flowers are unusual with no offensive odor.

Now that you know the basics of perennial gardening, it is time to get creative and actually plan your garden on paper.

Step 6: Landscape Design

To help you create your design, you will need a large sheet of graph paper, several sheets of tracing paper, a pen, some colored pencils, and a measuring tape.

Plat Preparation
Follow these steps to make a detailed plat of your entire property:
•  Measure your entire property and all buildings.
•  On the graph paper, accurately and carefully draw the property outline.
- A good scale to use is one square = one foot or 1/4" = 1 ft. depending on your lot size.
•  Draw, to scale, the outlines of your house, garage, carport area, porch and all outbuildings.
•  Indicate the locations of wells, septic areas, underground utilities and sewer and water lines.
•  Indicate all "flat" areas of your landscape, including walkways, driveway, patios and terrace.
•  Indicate location and height of arbors, fences, gates, walls and decking.
•  Note the construction and color of such items on the bottom of the graph;
ie. 4' high white picket fence, 5' high unfinished wood deck open underneath or enclosed with lattice,
18" high stone wall, etc.
•  Draw circles to indicate the spread-size of all existing trees and shrubs. Label by species.
•  Outline and label  existing plantings that will remain with the new design.
•  Draw an arrow pointing "North" on your graph paper.
•  Outline and label all areas which are to be designed and planted.
•  On the bottom of the graph, indicate the site conditions, garden style and plants
desired for each new garden area.

Individual Garden Design Preparation
You can use graph paper to plot your individual garden areas.  Make note of:
•  The scale that you use, e.g.. 1/4" = 1 ft.
•  Any structures, fencing, decking, walkways, existing trees or plantings (labeled with their
names) to be incorporated into this garden design.
•  A directional  arrow indicating north
•  The site conditions as listed above.

Design Preparation
Use tracing paper as an overlay on your permanent graph paper as you begin your designs.
•  Using your list of selected plants, pencil in the sizes and quantities of the plants in each
garden area on your tracing paper.
- You may want to use several sheets so that you can color the garden plants as they will
look in the various seasons.
•  Once you create the desired effect, transfer the final designs to your permanent graph.
•  Keeping a garden journal will help you keep track of when your gardens will be blooming.