If you would like to create a stunning planting scheme, some common sense checks are needed before you even start thinking about the choice of colours or a layout.
One of the first things to understand is your site: is it sunny or shady? Look at the amount of sun falling in the area and at what time of the day. Also, consider the amount of rainfall it receives. If the site is sheltered by trees or protected by a wall, the plants will get a reduced amount of water. Check your soil to determine whether it is acid or alkaline; Cotswold brash and clay can also be present. All of these factors govern the suitability of each plant.
Once this initial site analysis is done, you can go ahead and choose the plants.
Other gardens are a great source of inspiration, especially if they are located close to yours as these will show what grows well in the area. The National Gardens Scheme’s Yellow Book is a useful place to find out about garden open days. I always suggest taking photographs as a reminder, particularly at different times of the year.
Colour is subjective: what one persons loves, another person may hate. Most of us have a favorite colourway in the garden, ranging from the simplicity of a monochrome scheme to a riot of different colours.
The most well known garden with monochrome planting is the White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. It is a popular scheme but one that’s hard to achieve. To make it work, you need to use plenty of foliage and fewer flowers, to avoid it looking messy.
The colour wheel is an illustration of colours in the shape of a circle, showing the relationships between primary and secondary colours. It has six main segments: the primary colours – red, yellow and blue – and the secondary colours – orange, green and purple.
In ’harmonious’ colour schemes, plants of adjacent colours are placed next to each other, such as the cooler blues and violets or red, orange and yellow from the hotter side. Whereas in ’contrasting’ colour schemes, plants in colours from the opposite side of the colour wheel are chosen. Those colours exactly opposite each other give the strongest contrast, with pairings such as red and green, blue and orange or yellow and violet. When placed next to each other, these combinations work to make each colour look more intense.
Colour density is also an important factor when designing. For example, a soft yellow is soothing with any shade of blue, while a stronger yellow would be more challenging to place effectively. The stronger a colour, the less of it you need to produce dramatic planting combinations.
Hot colours are exciting – imagine red roses and orange crocosmia. However, they can be hard to see in the evening and can make a space appear smaller. Cool colours are soft and gentle, restful and calming combinations, often looking best in shade and showing up beautifully in the evening light.
When choosing plants for the border, it is the overall form of the plant that is important so don’t forget the foliage and seedheads as well as the flower. Coarse textured plants, such as Bergenia and Gunnera, have leaves that are visible from a distance, while small leaved plants, such as Buxus sempervirens, and clipped Yew (Taxus baccata), give a finer texture. A lawn, with its fine texture and calming green colour, can make a garden seem larger than a planting of the same area in larger, coarser leaved, brightly coloured plants.
Flower heads can be categorised by shape. Choose a balance of these when designing:
Buttons and spheres
This group covers plants such as the architectural Echinops through to the smaller Astrantia. The heads of these stand out against a softer background.
Spires and spikes
A very strong flower form, best used in a drift or at the back of the border. My favourites are Digitalis and Veronicastrum.
Usually a soft, cloud-like effect that can be used to link the stronger flower shapes. Examples are Thalictrum and Crambe.
Creating a mass of colour, examples included Asters and Echinacea; these are also used to link the stronger flower forms.
Screens and curtains
Light and airy plantings which allow you to see through them. Verbena bonariensis is a good example along with grasses.
Providing the domes and hummocks, plants such as Eupatorium and Orlaya give gentle, rounded shapes.
STUNNING PLANTING COMBINATIONS
The following combinations are some of my personal favourites:
Echinops Veitch’s Blue, Agastache Blue Fortune, Perovskia Blue Spire and Achillea Credo.
Lavender and Kniphofia Bees Lemon.
Lupinus The Page and Allium Purple Sensation.
Rosa Graham Thomas and Nepeta Walker’s Low.
Papaver rhoeas and Salvia nemorosa Caradonna.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of Cotswold Preview.