Garden Design Tips From The Grand Garden Show

Story and Photos By Bonnie Helander

Each August, Proven Winners®, considered the leading plant brand in the world, hosts a three-day garden show and tour of homes on scenic Mackinac Island in upper Michigan. Plant lovers from around the country flock to this exceptional event, held at the historic Grand Hotel, to hear experts in the field share their design tips. Here are a few ideas I gleaned from the garden show that will help your own landscape shine!

Have a plan.

For a professional and finished look, incorporate all these elements in your garden: foundation plants, hedges and screens, border plants, edging, ground covers, climbers, and specimen plants.

Foundation plants are medium shrubs and perennials (less than five feet tall) placed around your house foundation to soften the look and accent your home’s architecture. They include a mixture of evergreen and blooming plants for continual seasonal interest. Popular evergreen shrubs include boxwood, camellia, gardenia, hydrangea, dwarf Chinese fringe flower (loropetalum), and some hollies. Always check the plant tag to determine size and if it grows in sun or shade.

Hedges and screens are larger shrubs or trees that provide privacy and delineate sections of the garden. Probably the most popular large shrubs for screening are holly and arborvitae (Thuga), but you can also use flowering shrubs like camellia.

Border plants are smaller plants that line a pathway or are massed in a garden bed. You can make a garden bed a focal point near the entrance to your home with blooming perennials and annuals, mixed in with low evergreens.

Edging adds structure along a pathway or defines a garden bed. Edging can be a hardscape, like rocks or bricks, or can be plants, like dwarf mondo grass or lilyturf (Liriope).

Turf grass is an example of a ground cover. These are many beautiful low-to-the-ground plants that spread out in a section of the garden. Pachysandra, creeping jenny, mondo grass, wild ginger (Asarum shuttleworthii), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and lilyturf (Liriope) work well in shade, under a canopy of trees.

Climbers are vines that soften the look of walls, fences, gates and arbors when they are allowed to spread out and climb these structures. Climbing roses, clematis, Carolina jessamine, Confederate jasmine and crossvine are great climbers for the South.

Specimen plants are focal points in the garden—adding the “wow” factor because of their color, structure or blooms. These plants, when placed strategically throughout the garden, will draw the eye and please your guests. A colorful Japanese maple is an example of a specimen plant.

The University of Georgia Extension Office ( has an extensive list of landscape plants that work in Georgia.

Add color with paint.

On Mackinac Island, houses are painted in an array of beautiful colors. But they don’t stop with just house paint. You will find splashes of color on doors, gates, garden furniture, and in the outdoor fabrics for cushions and pillows. Using paint is an easy way to liven up a shady spot in the yard, or when flowers aren’t blooming.

Mass plant a few signature flowering beds in public areas where people view your house from the street.

The public area of your home can be simply updated with one or two flowering beds that add a pop of color. We call this curb appeal. Paint your front door and add two colorful containers on either side for a welcoming touch.

Create pizzazz in your private space.

The public area of your home can be simply updated with one or two flowering beds that add a pop of color. We call this curb appeal. Paint your front door and add two colorful containers on either side for a welcoming touch.

Incorporate the sound of water.

Nothing adds tranquility to the garden like the sound of water. Designing a small pond or a pondless waterfall will certainly do the trick, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the music of cascading water. A small plug-in fountain, placed where you can hear the water, will add this element of soothing sound that can help to mask street noise. Birds will flock here for a drink. Add a few water lilies to increase interest.

Don’t forget places for kids and dogs.

Dedicate a section of your garden for children and dogs to romp, and consider giving children their own garden bed to tend. If kids plant and take care of their own vegetables, they are more likely to eat them!

Social distancing has highlighted the necessity of designing a haven in our homes and gardens. Follow these simple tips to create your own personal paradise!


Garden Design Tips:

  • Design a few colorful beds in your public areas for pleasing curb appeal.
  • Create a private space for you and your family to enjoy. Plant a garden bed close by with flowers, herbs and fragrant plants. Spice up the area with splashy cushions and pillows.
  • Houses on Mackinac Island are painted bright colors. Foundation plants are mixed with eye- popping annuals and perennials to complement the home’s exterior.
  • Save a place in your garden for children and animals to romp.
  • Who doesn’t want to see what is behind the red gate? Paint makes things pop.
  • A troublesome drainage issue on a slope is solved by a stream bed emptying into a small pond. The sound of water adds serenity to the garden.
  • This garden has it all—foundation plants around the home, fencing and screening hedges, garden beds, edging around pathways, ground covers, climbing vines and comfortable seating areas to enjoy.
  • Be creative and use what you have. Pruned branches from trees are woven into a screen for privacy and are the perfect backdrop for the shiny red wagon focal point.

Bonnie Helander

I am a writer and blogger with a specialty in gardening and a proud graduate of the University Of Georgia. I live in Peachtree City with husband, Dan, and enjoy hiking, gardening, being a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club and rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs!