A New Year brings with it lots of good intentions and fresh starts, and this applies to the garden too. There are always improvements to be made to existing flowerbeds, whether it is to try a new plant or amend the layout. Now is the time to look at your borders and get planning for the year ahead, to make all those great ideas that you have had for your garden over the past year become a reality.
Gardening is an ongoing process, which is part of the pleasure of it, and if you get planning now, come the spring you are ready to go!
Right Plant, Right Place
This old adage from Beth Chatto is often quoted, but it is definitely a mantra worth abiding by. There is no point trying to force a plant to live in conditions that it is not naturally suited to, so the best results come with putting the plant in the right position.
Factors to consider are whether the flowerbed is in the sun or shade, how wet or dry the site is, is it exposed or sheltered, what type of soil does it have – both in terms of structure (sandy, loamy, clay) and pH level (neutral, acidic, or alkaline). Then look at the plant, how big is it going to get, both in width and height, and how hardy is it? This last point is of particular relevance to Scotland, especially when the temperatures can really drop in winter.
When choosing the selection of plants, it is tempting to be drawn to the colour and form of the flower but the foliage is just as important – if not more. After all, a plant’s leaves are on show for far longer than the flower. Heucheras have an exquisite range of coloured foliage, Fatsia japonica has real impact with its large, glossy, palmate leaves, and the delicate veining of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ is a favourite.
Look to have a combination of shapes and sizes for interest. A rigid, sword-shaped leaf of an Iris germanica, alongside a mound-forming Alchemilla mollis with its neat, pleated foliage, next to a towering Selinium wallichianum and its soft, fern-like, pinnate leaves together provide a rich textural variety, creating a depth of interest in the flowerbed throughout the growing season.
Mix It Up
Aim to have a good mix of bulbs, herbaceous perennials, ornamental grasses, shrubs, and even a small tree if there is space and, within that, it is a good idea to have some evergreens. A mixed border with the introduction of shrubs cuts down on maintenance, as well as ensuring that there is year-round interest so you are not looking out at bare soil over the winter months.
See Katie’s advice on ‘How to Keep your Garden Looking Good Through the Seasons’.
Consider height in the flowerbed, as this is a dimension which is often forgotten or is an afterthought. This could be a climber if there is a fence or wall at the back of the bed, or a large shrub or small tree if the size of the flowerbed can accommodate it, or it could simply be a taller perennial. The contrast in height adds drama and impact to the space. Some tall herbaceous perennials to consider are Echinops ritro, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (Bronze Fennel), or delphiniums, which would all be a welcome addition to the bed.
Less Is More
Once the right plants have been chosen, an edit is required. It is so tempting to go overboard on the range of plants, but the impact is far more impressive if there are fewer varieties which are repeat planted, rather than one of everything which can look disjointed and uncoordinated. If the same plant is laced through the border, the eye is drawn through the space and it creates rhythm and cohesion.
Plant in odd numbers as this works better for a natural feel. If there is a structural plant which is ‘holding’ the bed together, such as topiary, then this could be planted in a formal, linear position, but otherwise a seemingly random placement works much better.
These are some tips to get you started. Most of all have fun and enjoy the process!
Katie runs Katie Reynolds Design which offers garden and interior design services across Aberdeenshire and the North East of Scotland. She is qualified in both sectors, having trained at KLC School of Design in London and the National Design Academy. Follow Katie for more inspiration on Instagram and Facebook.