January is a great time to plan your garden

Looking back over how a garden performed last year we usually come up with a few issues that can be improved. Can you pinpoint what did not work in your garden? In the case of plants, sometimes, all you need to change is the care and maintenance of plants. And sometimes you simply need to move some plants to a better suited position.

If you decide to change the planting of a whole border or area in your garden, you might have some images in your head of lush planting and fantastic plant combinations. To create a border that looks good, even in the first year, you will need to plan ahead. Create a planting plan and make sure you have enough budget and time to get all the plants you need.

Planting plans

Let’s start with a budget. (I wish every gardening program on TV would show the cost involved to create the featured garden). To give you a very rough estimate for the plants, count on at least £50 per square meter if you buy them yourself. Obviously, the real cost depends on what type of plants and how many are needed to make the planting plan work. The designer has to consider the size of the mature plant, the available size of the new plant, speed of growth, how different plants interact etc. and decide how many plants are needed. Most plants are planted in groups and the density of planting varies from 1 to 11 per m2. Many perennials in South England are sold in 2 liter pots and cost around £9-£10 and in small 9 cm pots around £5-£6. Add to that the delivery or pick up cost and £50/m2 is easily spend.

Continuing with a practical theme here, the time and effort needed to find all the plants on your plant list often involves multiple nurseries and it is time consuming. Most nurseries tend to specialise in a particular range because the number of plants in cultivation is vast and they like to distinguish themselves. Some plants are imported from EU and I have no idea yet how that will impact the availability of Olive trees for example.

In garden design the design of a planting plan is a specialist skill. It is easy to start with but to create a planting that goes beyond and stands the test of time is a big deal (a bit like guitar playing :). You want to select plants that fit the atmosphere and feeling you want to create. You also want to use the appropriate planting system, such as, traditional planting in groups, natural distribution or matrix planting (see images below). Besides the aesthetics and micro-climate you also need to consider the level of maintenance. For example there are many ‘perennials’ which are not long lived, but may live for up to 5 or 10 years. An ongoing propagation is then key to maintain the planting. For each planting plan the client should then ask for a care plan or maintenance plan.


Example of a traditional plant plan with groups.

An early summer to late autumn flowering border with the smallest plants along the path and the tallest at the back. The evergreen yew hedge forms a dark green back drop for the hot red, orange and yellow planting scheme. An effective use of group planting by shaping the groups in strips and the use of repetition.

Click image to enlarge. Image: Hot Border A, Walter van Rijn 2020. Scheme inspired by “Colour in the flower garden” by Gertrude Jekyll 1908.

Walter van Rijn, planting plan HB, matrix

Example of a matrix planting plan.

A matrix scheme is often used in larger areas and consists of base plants that fill the main area in combination with accents of more eye-caching plants. Think of a field in nature with a few high uprising flowering plants dotted around. The example matrix planting plan is inspired by plant combinations found in the Surrey Hills, a matrix with grasses and perennials as accents. There are three existing red leaved hazel shrubs and in the shade we have used ferns.

Click image to enlarge. Image: Hazel Border design in Surrey, Walter van Rijn 2020.

Natural planting scheme

Example of a natural planting scheme.

Front garden design based on a natural dispersion of plants. The planting plan uses several layers of plants. Space and structure is defined by a transparent tree (ex. Sorbus aucuparia seedling) and several tall perennials (ex. Veronicastrum spp; Digitalis). Low and medium height perennials & ferns fill in between. Some perennial areas are taken over by bulbs in the spring. It works really well with tall perennials that seed themselves out and with lower plants which stay where they are and don’t spread too much. It creates an ever changing visual effect because the tall perennials pop up at different places each year.

Click Image to enlarge. Image: Front garden design, Walter van Rijn 2020.