How to plan your garden this year

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: April 24th, 2016 In: Gardening know how

At last, the garden is green rather than brown. The time to plan your garden is almost over.

Certainly it’s time for me to stop planning and start doing. It’s time for a walk-round, with a few gardening friends, to see what’s working and what I ought to do. It’s all very well dreaming and flicking through plant catalogues.

White scyllas

I have been talking about a white border for a long time. These scillas, given to me by a friend, have now convinced me that this border would look good with more white planting.

This is one end of a long border at the back of the garden. It can be seen from the house. White shows up best – darker or more subtle colours tend to get lost in the brickwork. Garden consultant Matt Jackson suggests that I limit the number of plants I use, but use them in large swathes or blocks.

Posy Gentles, also a garden consultant, agrees: ‘If you start with lots of white tulips, and go onto white foxgloves, then the next layer could be white cosmos or verbascum, then end up with white Japanese anemones.

Mary, a friend staying this weekend, suggested Achillea ptarmica, a white yarrow. Posy was horrified because it gets everywhere.

Mary thought that was what was so good about it – ‘you can always dig it up.’

white anemones

I really love white anemones, so they must go on my shopping list for white gorgeousness later in the year.

I do have Japanese anemones in this bed, but they are the pink ones. I am asking the gardening world’s permission to be extravagant and dig the pink ones out and put a whole load of white in. It feels like a waste, but I don’t find the pink ones as attractive.

Emerging rose foliage

The rose foliage is emerging from the garden now.

Australian gardening expert Stephen Ryan says that roses are ‘beautiful flowers but bloody awful plants.’ (see my post on gardening tips from Australia) He’s not alone in this belief – because roses are twiggy and shapeless for most of the year and their leaves so easily get diseased.

But at this time of the year emerging rose foliage really earns its place in the garden. It’s beautiful against the sharp greens of spring. More roses can go on the shopping list.

Emerging peony foliage

Peonies are another flower which people consider poor value because they only bloom for a short time, but there can be few more joyful sights than emerging peony foliage, especially if it pops up next to primroses.

Box knot in garden

I planted the box for this knot garden in 2011. This is the first year it’s looking exactly how I imagined it would.

Tip: if you’re thinking of planting a knot like this, don’t buy the smallest size of plant. I bought the smallest size in multi-packs and didn’t plant them closely enough together, which is why it’s taken so long to come good.

orange Ballerina tulips

Ballerina tulips come up again and again.

Queen of Night tulips

And so do Queen of Night tulips. I planted these 12 years ago.

Posy says she has ‘gone off’ Queen of Night because it gets everywhere. Personally, I am very happy that it’s so prolific and determined, as it makes a wonderful foil for fresh green spring foliage.

Self-seeding smyrmium perfoliatum

Smyrmium perfoliatum is another vigorous spreader. It self-seeds. But you don’t need to worry about it taking over as it disappears completely from around late June onwards. All this (and another clump elsewhere) came from three plants I bought at Great Dixter in 2005.

This isn’t the most elegant picture of my smyrmium. I should have planted more bulbs in this clump. Now is a good time to buy it – probably from nurseries as I haven’t seen it in garden centres. There are other vigorous self-seeders in my post on (Saving Time and Money in the Middlesized Garden.)

Growing wasabi

One of my regular updates on how my wasabi is growing. It’s coming into its second year, and has thrived on complete neglect in a shady corner of the veg bed. This was given to me by the UK Wasabi Company.

As you’ll have seen on my post 9 Things to Do Differently in the Garden This Year, wasabi is hard to find, expensive and likes to grow in the shade. So it could be the perfect show-off veg for a dark corner…

The wasabi is looking a bit nibbled, so is a good reminder for me to do an anti-slug and snail exercise this weekend. Take a handful of Sluggo and toss it fairly widely across the bed. It lasts much longer that way and seems to do the trick – you don’t need to create little piles of slug pellets in barriers around each plant. Sluggo is accredited for organic gardeners.

Chilli seedlings

Chilli and coriander seedlings just emerging – I planted them over three weeks ago…

I included this photo because I’m amazed at how long it’s taken my chillies and coriander to germinate. I had almost given up on it. Sowing so late means I’ll also have to buy some chilli plants as these won’t start harvesting till late August.

Weeds on the front path

It’s time to start my 15 minutes a day weeding routine. The front path and Queen of Night tulips.

Weeding by hand doesn’t involve weedkillers and lasts longer. Just do it in 15 minute stints, preferably every day. Now that the days are longer, there’s more time. Not looking forward to it, though, even with a garden kneeler.

And finally – I am particularly pleased with one area of the garden. We planned the whole garden so that the main colour was in one big bed that could be seen from the kitchen window. In April the colour comes from the bulbs at the furthest end from the window, but they still make quite an impact.

When you plan your garden, think about what you will see from the house at different times of year.

When you plan your garden, think about what you will see from the house at different times of year. These tulips are planted at the far end of the bed that’s seen from the kitchen window, but they still have an uplifting impact every time we look out.

And there’s a closer view on video:

I’m aware that if I don’t act on these notes soon, then summer will be here before we know it. Yet another year will go by when the ‘white border’ hasn’t been converted from ‘vision’ to ‘reality’. So, unless you’re one of those super-organised gardeners who really did order all your plants during the winter – it’s getting close to your last chance to make a list of what you really want to do in the garden this summer.

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Happy gardening!

2 Comments

  • chrisdb says:

    My main goal this year is to expand the area covered up by plants. I’ve cleared about 2/3 of the garden of grass by plastic mulching, but it’s been the work of a few years to grow enough plants from seed to cover the bare ground. This year I’ve got 42 seed trays on the go in the greenhouse, everything from Bergamot to Yarrow. I’m looking forward to an expanding sea of perennial leaves and flowers…

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