Graham A.Pavey Garden and Landscape Design

Graham A.Pavey Garden and Landscape Design
How to build a planting plan

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Producing a viable planting scheme takes some care and knowledge of the plants being used. The main mistake the amateur makes is to plant plants which are too large for the allocated space - their spread being more important than their height. Now, lets look at building up a planting scheme from scratch;

Firstly position the structural plants. These, in general, are the evergreens, but anything which maintains a presence in the winter can bemeandering path. Rosa "Graham Thomas" regarded as structural. Plants with no structure are generally herbaceous perennials (but don't make the mistake of thinking all herbaceous perennials have no structure); a whole planting of these (an herbaceous border) will generally be more colourful in the height of summer but will leave stretches of bare soil in the winter. As the term suggests these structural plants are the building blocks of the scheme and should be situated where they can provide the best support: So place the first ones at key points, like corners and then fill in ensuring that you have approximately one third structural in the back garden and two thirds in the front, or somewhere else used extensively during the colder months.

Although structural plants are important, too many can turn the garden into a "supermarket" car park. Also, deciduous plants are, in general, more colourful then evergreen ones.


front garden. Gaura "Siskyou Pink"
Evergreens and structural plants have been carefully placed in this garden showing how best to use them

Once the structural plants have been positioned then look to fill up the spaces in between. Although it is not essential to have the taller ones at the back coming down to ground cover edging plants, it makes sense to have general flow from back down to front. Choose a season that the bed is going to be at its very best; there will still be colour through the season but the crescendo should be in these months. Your spring and winter beds should be near the house or somewhere you can guarantee they will be seen in that season.

NOTE: Before selecting a plant ensure it will grow in the prevailing conditions (soil type, aspect) and that it is the right height and spread for the position where is to grow.

Now we have a basic design we can look at adding some style. Although colour is important in a scheme, the eye relates well to a combination of shapes and textures and, where colour if is often fleeting, these characteristics are more long-lasting. Lets look at the different shapes:

Round or bun-shape: A stabilising and solid shape, this can be achieved with plants like Buxus sempervirens (clipped to keep inChamaecyparis "Tamariscifolia" out clipping but will need replacing after a few years as it uses its shape). In the photo right this shape is contributed by Chamaecyparis “Tamariscifolia” (although, in general, conifers are not good in mixed planting schemes).




LupinsFastigiate or upright. These will provide the vertical lines and can be achieved with an upright conifer like Taxus baccata "Fastigiata" or Delphiniums. Posts of a pergola or the trunk of a tree could also be used. Lupins, left, are a good choice for an acid soil although the flowers are only fleeting.



Feathery, textured or "woofly " shapes. These are often the most interesting plants and come in a wide range from sage (Salvia officinalis) with its woolly textured leaves to Acer Salvia officinalis "Purpurascens". purple sagepalmatum "Dissectum" with its feathery foliage. Having said that these are often the most attractive, on their own they lack impact and need the other shapes to bring out their best.






Cornus controversa "Variegata"Horizontal. This can be achieved using groundcover plants (be careful as this term is often used to describe some garden monsters) or plants with tiered branches like Cornus controversa "Variegata" or Viburnum plicatum "Mariesii".







Phormium tenax "Purpureum"



Spiky. Of all the shapes this can have the most impact. It can be used to add drama and excitement to a scheme. But be careful as too many in one scheme can change the whole character of the area and give it a more mediterranean feel. This is fine if that is what you are aiming to achieve but our English landscape consists of more rounded feathery shapes. Use irises, phormiums, cordylines or grasses. Here we have Phormium tenax "Purpurea"









Bergenia ciliata


It is possible to come up with an infinite number of shapes but selecting from the ones I have listed feel is adequate. One further shape that hasn't been mentioned however is more the shape of leaf than that of the overall plant and that is anything with a large round leaf. Plants like bergenias, hostas, brunneras and catalpas have the talent to bring out the best in their neighbours and, used in small groups, can enhance any display. In long borders evenly space groups of bergenias, brunneras or hostas along the edge. This is Bergenia ciliata






Kniphofia "Little Maid". A useful little evergreen with a long flowering season. The main problem is persuading the client that the common name of "Red Hot Poker" doesn't describe this little gem.


Kniphofia "Little Maid"


Buddleia davidii "Dartmoor".

Buddleias have a long flowering period in late summer, especially if you keep deadheading. The davidii varieties are better from a design point of view as long as you have the space. Alternifolia is nice, flowers early but is a very large plant and Globosa is just nasty. Cut down to a stump each spring: it will grow very quickly and still be 6 to 8ft high when it flowers in July/August.


Buddleia davidii "dartmoor"


Liquidambar styraciflua “Pendula”.

Although the weeping variety is not commonly seen, Liquidambar styraciflua is a beautiful stately tree where there is plenty of space. It is tall and statuesque and colours up well in autumn, esecially on acid soils.


Buddleia davidii "dartmoor"


Vitis vinifera "Purpurea".

This purple leafed grape is a usful all round the garden. It will grow in sun or shade but the colour of the leaves really dictates that is gets some sun as purple is very dull in shade.


Buddleia davidii "dartmoor"


Primula veris. Cowslip. Delightful little spring flowering plant. Use en-mass and looks especially well underplanting Acer palmatum "Dissectum"


Primula veris. cowslip


Allium rosenbachianum. Alliums are useful early summer flowering bulbs. Their flowers are held on tall stems so can be used to underplant herbaceous perennials with lower flowers. Alo goo for underplanting later flowering plants like Anemone japonica.


Kniphofia "Little Maid"


Agapanthus africanus. Agapanthus are spectacular flowering plants for mid to late summer. They appear to be hardy in Bedfordshire but really need a warm spot. The best display can be achieved by growing them in containers where the bulbs should be congested which encourages flowering


Agapanthus africanus

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