5 steps to your perfect garden design – step 3d, a recipe for planting delights

Part 4 – Favourite Plant

Walking round a garden with a friend or acquaintance is an intense pleasure. When doing this, the host will rarely say “so this is my structured cool palette border”, but are usually sharing stories….”this plant was given to me by my father” or “this keeps coming up, it doesn’t fit but I don’t have the heart to remove it” .

So in the same vein, whilst I said I would do the planting blog in 3 parts, I had to sneak in a fourth as this is the source of so much joy for many plant lovers, and does not need to be limited to those that know a lot about plants!

I am focussed here on favourite plants that are regular reliable species I always find myself buying for clients as opposed to “really unusual things I hide in my garden because I like them”- that might be a subject for a later piece!

I have some favourite plants that have personal memories… planting bulbs with my father led to a gorgeous wintry display of Aconite, cyclamen, and snowdrops at my home that each year reminds me of a happy time

I love roses, these are what got me into gardening in the first place and I am always sad when I hear people say they don’t like them. Often I think this is because they have seen awful bare rose beds in public parks in winter, which I agree look pretty depressing. Roses in large mixed borders however are a delight – repeat flowering, heavily scented and wonderful as cut flowers – climbing and standard varieties, preferably mixed with some gorgeous peonies, they are probably my favourite species of plant overall. My personal favourites shift around although I do love the beautiful stripes of ‘Ferdinand Pichard’ for a touch of really unusual colour, and Geoff Hamilton as a reliable scented pink rose. Don’t get too hung up on the bewildering range – just select a few (I recommend David Austin (www.davidaustinroses.co.uk) to try and see how you like them. Chuck them in almost anywhere (most prefer a sunny spot) and give them some horse manure if you can!

I am going to avoid trees for the moment or we will be here all day, but of the larger shrubs it is hard to beat a Viburnum, and I can’t imagine a garden without a few. The wonderful shape and form of a Viburnum plicatum, and the waxy heavily scented flowers of the Viburnum carlcephalum should really find a place in almost any garden – moist semi shade preferred. In my mums garden in Winchelsea the Long Tailed Tits used to come and feast on the Viburnum carlcephalum each year in a flurry of wings – such a joy.

The other large shrub I would be hard pushed to do without is the Hydrangea, in particular the large “Paniculata” varieties such as ‘Limelight’, ‘Vanille Fraise’, and the lovely Hydrangea Arborescens ‘Annabelle’

Where space allows the fantastic shapes of hydrangea quercifolia (oak shaped leaves) and Hydrangea Sargentii are also a delight – moist and shady spots preferred

And so to smaller plants….my shady groundcover of choice is Lamium (dead nettle) – ‘White Nancy’ or ‘Beacon Silver’ are brilliant – often look miserable in pots so don’t let that put you off

Viola labradorica is another fantastic ground cover plant – will naturalise well and provides amazing purple flowers with purply green leaves even in shade (few purple leaved plants will grow in shade).

In drier sunnier places and around walls then it is hard to beat Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) which again can look miserable in pots but grows like a weed and flowers all summer. There is a newer variety (Lavender lady) that is more violet in colour – I haven’t tried it for long but it looks promising

Then there are the Euphorbias – the sap is an irritant so be a bit careful – it doesn’t affect me but some people get large welts from touching them, particularly the sap. Planted in a border however they are fabulous. Some are evergreen like the majestic Euphorbia characias which again tends to look miserable and uneven in a pot but planted out makes a huge show. They self seed so it doesn’t matter too much that they are relatively short lived – they will be a mainstay for a few years then you can pull them out in favour of some new ones. They prefer things well drained and sunny, but are pretty tolerant of most conditions. Silver swan is the (white) variegated variety and I have grown that in pretty heavy shade with success so worth a go.

densely planted bed with pink and purple tulips

There are plenty of other great varieties, it is particularly the lime green colour I like so Euphorbia Polychrome is fab – tasty little mounds of colour….

The trick with most schemes is to get some signature plants running through the planting. Small mound formers that cover the soil and give some bulk are ideal. Favourites for this role are a range of grasses (Stipa tenuissima or Arundinacea work well), and Tiarella or Heuchera varieties. All are naturally shapely, Heucheras come in almost any colour and most are semi evergreen which makes them fantastic for pots.  The cooler coloured varieties like ‘Heucherella Tapestry’ are great through a scheme. For a bolder splash I love ‘Lime rickey’ and ‘Marmalade’ both a bit garish for a border, but wonderful as a splash of colour in planters.

In the larger perennials I completely adore all forms of Iris and have written about those elsewhere, and salvias (sages) are well worth a mention. Some such as the gorgeous blue Salvia cacaliifolia is not fully hardy but well worth a space in a pot. Salvia Amistad is not reliably hardy but most definitely worth planting – it tends to flower all summer and often into the Autumn and early winter, and in my reasonably protected garden in the South of England is usually hardy. Cheap as chips if bought small it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t overwinter as the gorgeous huge spires of purple flowers are an absolute treat.

So to climbers – well I love a good wisteria, and my favourite discovery is Wisteria brachybotrys – known as silky wisteria the scent is very strong and I think the flowers look more vibrant

Of the less common plants worth a mention…. Persicaria Purple fantasy – the leaf is amazing but it is a bit of a thug.

Hosta ‘Praying Hands’

…and of course the gorgeous Pulsatilla vulgaris or Pasque flower – I do literally stroke these as the buds are coming out…

Catch me when I walk round a garden or a show and I will probably find all sorts of others I consider to be my favourites, but these are plants I come back to time and time again so are worth experimenting with.

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