Gardening expert Adrienne Wild offers some tips on how to plant your garden
One of the toughest parts of planning your garden is figuring out how to plant it.
For an instant, new-look garden, take a tip from the experts and reshape the lawn to give flower beds sensuous curves – narrow borders that are crushed up against the fence only make a less-than-perfect lawn the centre of attention.
Generous beds that can accommodate a good depth of planting will also allow you to think outside the box and have fun. For example, you could plant a lake of blue salvias and verbenas to create a safe ‘water’ feature and arrange stainless- steel obelisks so that they resemble fountains spurting up from the fluttering depths.
Sunlight should be the first consideration when positioning flower beds.
It changes throughout the day and can have a dramatic effect on the way a border is seen.
Ideally, this showpiece planting should be backlit with the sun filtering through the plants for magical effects. To find which places are special can only be learnt by watching the light moving through the garden – taking photos and noting the time will help when planning.
Improving your plant knowledge, namely the shape and form a plant makes as well as the seasonal changes it undergoes, will be an asset, but to plant like a pro you also need to develop a keen eye for picking and mixing plants.
You’ll only learn this skill by trial and error and even the most experienced gardeners will tell you that great plant associations often just happen.
Visiting other people’s gardens for inspiration is positively pleasurable and any local gardens that open their gates is a good place to start, as you will find out which plants thrive in your vicinity and soil type and more often than not there is the opportunity to talk to the owner to glean a few growing tips.
Taking a notebook and camera with you to capture good plant association and features that work is also a good idea as is regular trips to garden centres.
Buying plants throughout the year and in their peak season of interest, such as with flowers, berries or striking autumn colour, will make the art of planting easier to master.
Don’t worry if you struggle with learning plant names, as choosing them for their form and colour is more important.
To taste success, simply follow some basic rules. A classic combination that works more or less every time is the mixture of spiky leaves and tall flower spikes with broad leaves and blousy blooms.
Browse through books and garden centres and you’ll find that great partners are lupins and hostas, foxgloves and poppies, alliums and love-in-the-mist plus roses with lilies.
Before you buy, always check plant labels for height and spread and for information such as whether the plant will grow well in shade or must have sun, and if it will thrive in your soil type.
Don’t be afraid to experiment – after all, you can always dig up your mistakes and move them to a more appropriate spot.
Also, dare to be different and substitute broad leaves for the wispy foliage of ornamental grasses and thread with towering verbascums, foxtail lilies and the see-through spikes of Verbena bonariensis.
Make room for the superb Euphorbia characias wulfenii – it goes with everything.
Flower and foliage colour are crucial in border design. A single colour theme gives a stronger effect than a mixture does.
Choose shades of red, yellow and orange for impact in hot, sunny spots and use cooler pastel shades to brighten dull areas.
Restrict your colour scheme to one colour such as white for stylish results and add texture with shiny silver foliage or leaves in 40 shades of grey.
Plants like Artemisia ‘Silver Queen’, lavender, Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’, anaphalis, nepeta, verbascum, stachys and Convolvulus cneorum offer a range of spikes and spears plus velvety leaves that feel like lamb’s ears, and a froth of finely divided foliage.
An effective colour combination that never fails to impress is vibrant green leaves and bright red blooms, but be adventurous – you’ll create a more dramatic effect and bring the display alive if you add a slash of bright yellow or orange.
Marry blue with pale yellow if you want to create a peaceful mood and combine it with white for a crisp and stylish look that will shine in the shade.
If your aim is to achieve an informal, naturalistic scheme, such as found in cottage-style borders, take a tip from the experts and mark the border into amoebic-shaped bays and plant bold groups of the same plant variety within.
To achieve the random and undisciplined look, always plant in odd numbers, such as threes and fives, and to avoid creating regimented straight lines you should stagger the plants.
Don’t be afraid to mix plants of different heights, too. Dot stately perennials with tall flower spikes, such as verbascum, throughout the border as this gives the garden its fullness and depth and make sure you have a contrasting or complementary colour behind to act as a backdrop.
For formal schemes, the demarcation between plant groups will be more obvious if similar-sized plants with bold, contrasting colours are used.
To combine the formal with the informal, consider making a crisply-shaped bed such as a circle and edging some informal planting within with a neatly clipped box hedge.
If there’s space, add a striking specimen plant such as a yucca or an ornamental pot on a pedestal in the centre, or use a painted obelisks to add colour and height to a flat area.
Finally, to give your garden seamless good looks, always mulch the bare earth with a deep layer of bark or a trendy coloured aggregate top dressing.
Not only will it make your displays more eye-catching but also prevent plants rotting around the base of the stems in wet weather and help conserve moisture at the roots when the sun shines.
Aggregate will even help keep slugs at bay, as they hate crossing the jagged stones.