Garden Bunting

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The Garden Bunting Bed about four weeks after planting

Our head grower, Cory, designed Bed 15 behind Greenhouse One for Field Day. This location can be a challenge because it gets strong hot sun all summer long. Squeezed between the building and the concrete wall, the bed wants to behave as one very long planter running along the top.

Cory’s solution turned out to be The Garden Bunting Bed, a fun design that uses only three cultivars, assembles quickly, and delivers rapid results. Buntings are the large patriotic ribbon arches you find on fences that line Independance Day parade routes, tied up by their corners to the fence posts. This garden is our take on that theme so let’s break it down; we’ve shown the start and the middle here—the bed in its full glory is shown at the end.

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The same bed two weeks later…about the middle of its growth


In this case we had a concrete wall and we wanted to make it look like a fence. This wall sits in hot sun behind Greenhouse One and consists of a very long, very thin garden bed that lines the retaining wall, not unlike similar situations in a corporate plaza or public garden. We wanted to go up, but the more intriguing opportunity here was to go over and down.

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Broad sweeps down, tied up in the middle


We decided to create a series of garden swashes like those of a festive bunting, the kind that has inverted arches tucked up at the ends with a bow at each fence post. Our adaptation is intended to mimic those broad sweeps and imply that there are fence posts where the arches meet. We accomplished this design using three ingredients to create an attractive repeating pattern.

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Three simple ingredients—each one has a job to do


These are the cultivars that power the design—simplicity happens to be the secret sauce.

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Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’—pendulous blooms add just enough height

Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’ in the back serves as the beam of the design, giving us a single consistent rail to connect the garden together at the top and start the metaphor going. It also rises up to add more height without getting too tall, since this garden already sits up high from the viewer’s perspective. Dragon Wings push the blooms up and away from the leaves in lovely pendulous arches—you can see how easy they are to spot from a distance. 

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Ipomoea ‘Bright Ideas Lime’ trails and drapes

Ipomoea ‘Bright Ideas Lime’ is the green trailing variety known for its ability to drape over any object in its path. It grows fast and lush so we never see through that carpet of color—which is kind of a chartreuse shag. In this design, it forms the garden bunting itself.

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Dark ‘Spotlight Black’ stays put as it grows

Ipomoea ‘Spotlight Black’ is the dark sweet potato vine that’s short and stout. Here, it serves as a metaphorical knot that ties the lime green buntings together. It stays in its place as it grows, without wandering. Although this selection also gets lush, it doesn’t grow nearly as fast as ‘Bright Ideas Lime’, creating the illusion of the ribbon bunting being tied up at intervals to each fence post.

We also chose ‘Spotlight Black’ because of the dark glossy leaves. They make their lime green neighbors stand out, their shiny surface highlights the summer light, and they’re very thin and serrated—for contrast, contrast, and more contrast with ‘Bright Ideas Lime’.

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Space plants evenly like fence posts


Create two long rows that run the length of the wall. The far row is a solid backing of the Dragon Wing Red, which grows up and a little over the top of the Ipomeas. The near row is planted in a 2-to-1 ratio: two greens for every black, evenly spaced, in front of the Begonias.

This creates the alternating patterns of black/green and short/long that make up the bunting itself. When you stand back, you should see the Ipomeas form dashes and dots while they sit in front of the Dragons. If you want longer, broader buntings, use a 3-to-1 ratio of ‘Bright Ideas Lime’ and ‘Spotlight Black’.

Plant the begonias about a foot apart, and plant the Ipomeas about nine inches apart but plant them all evenly, like you are digging holes for fence posts.

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Up close the high contrast of colors, shapes, and flowers grow together tightly


Our Garden Bunting resulted in a lush bed of green and black punctuated by the red flowers of the Dragon Wings. It generates an attractive pattern all along the length of the planter. In addition, the design spills over the sides and down the concrete wall, extending the same garden across a barren surface. Notice how the concrete serves as a backdrop and blends into the background instead of becoming an eyesore. 

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The Garden Bunting Bed in its full glory, draping down the length of the wall

After three weeks this bed started coming into its own—the Begonias became one long rail and the Ipomoeas had already started their bunting. At six to eight weeks the garden is incredibly lush—‘Bright Ideas Lime’ almost covers the whole wall, but just enough concrete shows through that you know it’s actually a wall. ‘Spotlight Black’ was chosen specifically because it would not do that, and overall the design works seamlessly.

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