1. WORK WITH YOUR GARDEN’S NATURAL LAYOUT
Working in harmony with your garden is always best. Garden plant ideas work when grown where they’re happiest – which will also mean they’ll need less attention and will both flower and fruit better.
Spend time noting the characteristics of your beds and borders: are they sunny or shady? Wet or dry? Sheltered or exposed? Chances are you’ll find different growing conditions in different parts of the garden. Look carefully, and then choose appropriate plants to match each one.
- Find more gorgeous garden ideas in our feature full of stunning borders, planting tips and more ways to use your outside space
2. PLAN YOUR PLANTING SCHEME CAREFULLY
All good gardeners make their mistakes on paper, not on the ground, saving both time and money in the process. Use graph paper and draw on the outline of the area to be planted, preferably to scale (1cm on paper to 50cm on the ground –1:50 scale – is ideal for all but the most complicated schemes). Then, considering the scale you’ve selected, play with different arrangements until you find one that works. Plot plants with their mature size in mind to be sure they’ll fit.
3. RESEARCH AND FIND INSPIRATION
Find combinations you like, look in books and magazines, and if growing conditions are the same as those in your garden, copy them. Neighboring gardens and labeled displays at nurseries are also useful for ideas.
4. CONSIDER MAINTENANCE CAREFULLY
How much time do you have? For young families and those at work all day, winter and summer bedding, rose bushes, fruit, vegetables and floppy perennials are too time-consuming.
If you’re limited on gardening time, instead favor shrubs, tidy conifers, ornamental grasses and tough-but-colourful mat-forming perennials such as Stachys Byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’. All need little attention once established, and suffer few pests or diseases.
- Find out more about what’s involved in our garden maintenance checklist
5. CHOOSE A PLANTING THEME FOR YOUR GARDEN BORDERS
Picking a theme brings clarity and focus to the design process. Personal taste and how you plan to use the garden have an influence, but the space itself can offer clues as to what works best. For example, a sunny free-draining slope is perfect for an informal Mediterranean-inspired gravel garden. Visually, it won’t look out of place either.
6. KEEP THE BORDER PLANTING SCHEME SIMPLE
Hold yourself back from including every plant on your shortlist, as the planting will look chaotic and unplanned. Aim to create a sense of harmony and unity by choosing a color palette or theme early on.
- Find plenty of simple garden ideas in our edit
7. REPEAT PLANTING IN A BORDER FOR A DESIGNED EFFECT
Repetition in garden borders is the easiest way to unify a planting scheme. It’s also the one thing that marks out a ‘designed’ border, from one that happens by accident. Perhaps use the same hedging throughout or repeat evergreen perennials, or ornamental grasses in drifts at the front of beds and borders (where repetition is most obvious).
8. USE A VARIETY OF PLANTS TO CREATE CONTRAST
While harmony is important, so is diversity. Plants with distinctive colors and dramatic shapes, such as spiky palms and pencil junipers, make great focal points. But a little goes a long way, so use sparingly or the planting will look over-stimulating. With standard-sized borders (1.5-2m wide) one focal point plant every four to six metres should be enough.
A lot of space to cover? A tree border would work, but again, less is more with tree borders – choose one or two species for a start. Shade gardens also prove that it’s important to place plants where they will thrive the most.
- Learn about choosing the best plants for gardens
9. CONSIDER THE COLOR WHEEL IN GARDEN BORDERS
Color is a personal preference, but if you want to be more precise about it and create memorable plantings like the professionals, choose a classic combination, taking into account the color wheel. Colors opposite each other complement through dramatic contrast. Those adjacent are harmonious, and the easiest way to combine color over a large area.
You could pick the shades, tints and tones of one color only for a sophisticated monochromatic look. Or alternatively, choose an exciting triadic combination using three colors from the wheel, each spaced equidistantly apart. A multicolored scheme is also a possibility, but isn’t that easy to pull off successfully.
- See more garden color scheme inspiration
10. ADD LAYERS FOR EXTRA INTEREST
The easiest and most visually effective way to arrange plants is in layers, with borders backed by walls or fences, tall shrubs, tree borders, bamboo and lofty grasses first. Place roses, smaller shrubs, mid-sized perennials and ornamental grasses in the middle. Feature shorter shrubs, mounding perennials and ankle-high ground-cover plants in front.
However, try to avoid arranging everything like a series of steps. On occasion sweep low plantings towards the back, and taller ones to the front, to create depth and interest.
11. MAKE BIG GARDEN BORDERS
Thin strips under 50cm wide will only allow for a low hedge, a wall shrub, or a line of tidy perennials arranged uncomfortably like soldiers on parade. Beds and borders in excess of two metres, however, can accommodate multi-layered mixed plantings with shrubs, roses and more natural drifts of perennials and grasses.
Some designs, naturalistic ‘prairie-like’ plantings in particular, need lots of space for the effect to be appreciated. In small gardens this might mean sacrificing lawn space – consider if you want to do this.
12. CREATE MIXED BORDERS IN URBAN GARDENS
In urban and suburban gardens, continuity of interest is important. The mixed border is best, as you can call on every plant group – trees, shrubs, roses, perennials, and bulbs – for interest, with each group sparkling at different times of the year.
13. CONSIDER PLANTS WITH AUTUMN AND WINTER IN MIND
Plants with fiery autumn leaves, stunning seed heads, colorful fruits and berries, brilliant bark or evergreen leaves prolong seasonal interest and help to lift the spirits on drab days. When planning your garden borders, remember to consider seasons other than the summer!
- Find the best autumn plants for seasonal gardens
14. FOCUS ON SHAPES TO ADD INTEREST TO GARDEN BORDERS
The shape of plants is just as important as flower color, and because it’s around for much longer (with woody plants, all year round), shape helps to structure the planting. The color and texture will then supply the finish.
15. LINE PATH BORDERS WITH BAGS OF BULBS
Brilliant for seasonal interest in spring, summer and autumn, most bulbs cope with competition so can be planted to grow through frothy perennials, giving you two colour bursts from the same place – ideal where space is tight. Only large-flowered tulips need replacing each year.
16. ADD VOLUME WITH SHRUBS
Offering year-round interest for little effort, shrubs bring all-important ‘body’ to your borders, too. As a guide, most mixed plantings should contain at least 40 per cent, spaced evenly throughout the display, from the back right down to the front.
Evergreens with good form and shapely leaves should be first choice, especially in small spaces. Consider size at maturity carefully, though, as some shrubs can grow to monstrous proportions.
- If big plants are your thing, explore how to make an impact with mature plants