Garden Design Planting Design

How to make a successful plant selection for your garden

As spring approaches, lots of us start to think about our gardens and its plants. Going to a garden centre and buying plants that are looking lovely in their nursery pots, but that won’t necessarily suit or look as good in your garden is a very common mistake that leads to waste of money and energy and to frustration. With that in mind, I decided to write this blog post as a guidance to help you to make an effective plant selection that will thrive, stay healthy, look good and give you a future-proof garden.

Choosing the “right plant for the right place” is the basic principle of a good plant selection. It means that you have to match the plant selection to the environmental conditions of your garden. These conditions include the amount of light that the planting place receives; the nature of the soil; and the hardiness zone that your garden is situated in. In addition to matching the plants to the natural conditions of your garden, you also need to make sure that the final selection will look aesthetically pleasing, and therefore things like the final dimensions of the mature plants, the type of plant and the interest that it brings should also be considered.

In a nutshell, when considering a plant selection for your garden, having these 7 points in mind should help you to achieve success:

1) Light: Plants can usually tolerate a range of conditions, but will usually thrive only in one of these:

Full sun: Plant needs at least six daily hours of direct sunlight, preferably including noon sun. These are usually also drought tolerant and require less watering (Picture 1): Lavender, verbascum, foxtail lillies etc.

1- Foxtail lillies, nepetas, verbascum etc. in the Beth Chatto: The Drought Resistant Garden at the Hampton Flower Show 2019 [photo]1.

Partial/Dappled shade: Plant needs three to six daily hours of direct or partial (or dappled – filtered by tree branches) sunlight, preferably excluding noon sun, which makes them useful to use as under-planting for open crown trees, for example (Picture 2): Some ferns and rhododendrons, azaleas etc.

2- Ferns used as under-planting for laburnum tree [photo]2.

Full shade: Plant needs less than three daily hours of sunlight. These are useful to use as under-planting for dense trees (Picture 3) or dark corners: skimia, hostas, lilly of the valley etc.
3- Hostas used as under-planting [photo]3.

2) Soil and Moisture: It is best to match the soil conditions (nutrients, pH and drainage) to the plants’ tolerated conditions instead of amending it: Planting a border with Chinese astilbes and goat’s beard in a poorly drained site (Picture 4) and Rhododendrons and heathers in acidic soil for example. Another alternative would be to grow plants in containers or in beds with its optimal soil.

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4- Poorly drained soil border containing Chinese Astilbes and Goat’s Beards [photo]4.

3) Hardiness: Determines the lowest temperature tolerated by the plant and whether it tolerates frost. Usually a plant is labelled to grow in a geographical hardiness zone (determined by the usual lowest temperature that said region reaches), which is important to respect during selection, as well as observing possible microclimate spots and frost pockets (usually spot lower than surroundings where cold and damp accumulates) in the garden when determining the plant’s location in it.

4) Height/Spread: Observing the plant’s mature dimensions when making the selection and positioning it within the garden helps to achieve a pretty planting scheme without tangling and also helps to keep maintenance needs as low as possible. The mature height helps to position plants in a border with taller ones to the back. Otherwise, tall plants with open habit positioned to the front can create some additional interest (Picture 5).

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5- Tall Verbenas and Veronicastrum in front of shorter Echinaceas in a Prairie Style border [photo]5.

The mature spread informs the spacing between plants, although plants of the same species can be planted closer together. Furthermore, it’s also important to observe the mature dimensions of the plant in relation to the garden size and adjoining house in order to keep good proportion in the design (Picture 6).

Lighting the tree kick starts Christmas for many people
6- A conifer out of proportion with the adjoining house. [photo]6.

5) The type of plant (annual, perennial, deciduous, a tree, etc.) helps to place the plant in the design. Deciduous plants provide seasonal interest and are usually preferred for shelter-belts and evergreens for screening, for example (Pictures 7 and 8).

A row of trees.
7- Deciduous farmyard shelter-belt. [photo]7.
8- A line of evergreen conifers used as screening for the house. [photo]8.

6) Interest: Characteristics that make the plant attractive (foliage, flower, fragrance, fruits/seeds and bark). Foliage provides the main interest in a tropical style garden and flowers in a cottage style garden (Pictures 9 and 10), while fragrance introduces a new sense to the experience and fruits/seeds and bark provide interest during autumn and winter.

tropical garden design london
9- A tropical style garden in Britain. [photo]9.
10- Cottage Garden. [photo]10

When designing a small garden with limited planting space, it is best to go for plants that present year around interest such as the deciduous small tree Amelanchier alnilfolia ‘obelisk’ (Picture 11), which provides interest with its flowers and fruits during summer and bronze coloured leaves during autumn or evergreen camellias that provide interest with flowers during the cold months and structure with its foliage during the hot months. Another good tip for small planting spaces is to choose plants that have a long flowering period such as rudbeckias and geums (Picture 11).

Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' Tree
11- Amelanchier Alnifolia ‘Obelisk’. [photo]11.
How to grow geums - how to plant geums
12- Geums. [photo]12.

7) Maintenance: By positioning a plant in the right environmental conditions you are already cutting down on maintenance, as the plant is then much more resistant to pests and diseases and you also won’t need to constantly prune it to fit a determined space as you have already selected it according to the space available, for example! But, in addition to this, it is also important to match the plant’s care needs (regular – watering, feeding etc., or seasonal – pruning, planting etc) with the time that the main garden carer will have available – Drought resistant plants are good for busy people.


  1. RHS (2019). Foxtail lillies, nepetas, verbascum etc. in the Beth Chatto: The Drought Resistant Garden at the Hampton Flower Show 2019. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  2. Bypass Nurseries (n.d.). Ferns used as underplanting for laburnum tree. [Image] Available at: [Accessed Mrch. 2021].
  3. The Spruce (n.d.) Hostas used as underplanting. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  4. Gardenia (n.d.) Poorly drained soil border containing Chinese Astilbes and Goat’s Beards. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  5. Gardenia (n.d.) Tall Verbenas and Veronicastrum in front of shorter Echinaceas in a Prairie Style border. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  6. itv news (2016) A conifer out of proportion with the adjoining house. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  7. Agriculture Canada (n.d.) Deciduous farmyard shelterbelt. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  8.  Popel Landscaping (n.d.) A line of evergreen conifers used as screening for the house. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].  
  9.  Mylandscapes  (n.d.) A tropical style garden in Britain. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  10. RHS (n.d.) Cottage Garden. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  11. Gardeners Dream (n.d.) Amelanchier Alnifolia ‘Obelisk’. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
  12. Gardeners’ World (n.d.) Geums. [Image] Available at: [Accessed March. 2021].
Gardening Tips

Alternative ways to get rid of garden pests (and avoid pesticides!)

As mentioned in the last post in this blog, one of the steps to help attract wildlife to your garden is to avoid the use of pesticides. These can not only kill the pests that you want to get rid of but can also have a side detrimental effect on other beneficial species, such as those of pollinators, birds and even your pets! Moreover, they can also cause adverse effects in humans. These can be short term effects, which occur shortly after a single exposure such as stinging eyes, skin rashes and nausea, and more alarmingly, long-term exposure to pesticides has been associated with serious conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, asthma, some types of cancer, and also infertility.

The single best thing that you can do regarding pests in your garden is to avoid an infestation. To achieve this, the best advice that I can give is that you make a good plant selection for your garden. Choose plants that are suited to the conditions in each spot of your garden, taking into consideration factors such as soil type, moisture, sun exposure, temperature, among others, which is precisely what we do when designing planting schemes for our planting plan clients. A plant placed in an environment that it is suited to not only thrives and looks lush but is also much more resistant to pests and diseases, as it doesn’t have to expend huge amounts of energy simply to survive conditions that it is not adapted to, which happens when the plant is in the wrong environment.

As an alternative to the use of pesticides, there are cultural practices and natural remedies that can be applied in order to prevent and deter garden pests’ infestations. Cultural practices range from the physical removal of the pests, passing through the use of companion plants that deter pests to the introduction of predators of the pest species. Natural remedies include natural oils with a physical mode of action, acting only in the area where they are applied on by paralysing the pests, as opposed to pesticides, which tend to have a systemic and more widespread effect. Regardless of the method used, it is always a good idea to be vigilant so that you spot the infestation in the beginning, as it is much easier to act on a small infestation than on a large one, so always show your plants some love and keep an eye on them! Bellow, I will give specific examples of cultural practices and/or natural remedies that can be used to combat infestations of three common garden pests: aphids, rust and slugs.

Aphids are sap sucking insects. They are mostly green or black and are commonly found in new plants’ growths. Aphids infestations can weaken the plant and cause distorted growth. As alternatives to the use of pesticides, hosing off any newly spotted infestation with a strong water jet, using biological controls by introducing ladybird (one of its predators) in the garden or using natural oils, such as neem oil, that have a physical mode of action can help to keep aphids under control.

Rust is a fungal disease common to roses and ornamental shrubs. It causes mostly yellow pustules commonly on the underside of leaves. It can reduce the plant’s vigour and can even kill it in extreme cases. Alternatives to the use of fungicides include spacing and pruning plants in order to allow air flow, and getting rid of affected leaves as soon as they appear to stop the spread of the infestation. Additionally, affected plant parts should be cut off and burned to curb the spread.

Slugs are molluscs, quite common in UK gardens, that feed on seedlings and soft growths, mostly during the night. A slug infestation can easily be spotted by observing them among the plants or the holes that they make in the leaves. Most established plants do tolerate a certain level of slug damage, but young plants can be killed. Natural strategies against slugs include spreading eggshells, and coffee ground, which are good for the soil, around plants or copper tapes can be placed around pots or beds to deter slugs. Additionally, placing plants that attract slugs, like marigolds, close to plants to be protected (so that they attack the marigolds and not your dear plant!) is another good strategy.


1-Pinterest. (n.d.). Aphids. [Image] Available at:[Accessed 03 Febuary 2021].

2-RHS. (n.d.). Rust. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 03 Febuary 2021].

3- Pinterest. (n.d.). Slug. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 03 Febuary 2021].

Wildlife Garden

How to attract wildlife into the garden

Attracting wildlife to the garden is becoming increasingly more important. As we go through a serious environmental crisis and see a stark reduction in the population of some animals, such as pollinators, which poses a threat not only from an ecological perspective, but also to our livelihoods, making sure that we can offer wildlife a refuge in our gardens amid the concrete jungle is something that everyone should aim for. And let me tell you, it is not a hard thing to do.

Providing animals with food, water and shelter is enough to transform your garden in a wildlife heaven. Some things that you can do to achieve that are:

  1. Plant trees and/or shrubs, preferably natives: These are very good sources of food and shelter for insects and birds and even to small mammals, especially the ones that provide flowers and fruits and berries. Good examples are Rowan trees, Hawthorns, Dog Roses and Guelder Rose.

2. Avoid being overly tidy: Not that you should have a messy garden, but leaving some pieces of wood to rotten, some fallen leaves, twigs and stones on the ground (maybe out of sight if you are a very tidy person!) provides food and shelter to a lot of species. If you wish, you can build or buy trendy bug hotels, which consists of nothing more than things like cones, twigs, stones etc. bundled up together in an aesthetic fashion.

I was pleased to see a stag beetle in my patio this summer (a sight that is becoming increasingly rarer!) after leaving pieces of wood (which I used to prop up plant pots that were on the ground) scattered around.

3. Create an area of wild meadow, prairie style planting and/or invest on “Plants for pollinators”: Giving your planting choices a thought can go a long way towards attracting wildlife into your garden. I have already mentioned the native trees and shrubs but having an area of wild meadow or prairie style planting not only creates shelter to a lot of species, including small mammals, but also provide nectar for pollinators. You can create your wild meadow area simply by letting a plot of grass grow wild or you can buy seed mixes and scatter them around an area. Another way of providing nectar for pollinators, is to choose plants that bear flowers containing a lot of nectar and for a long season, such as Lavenders and Verbenas. The RHS has a  good resource to help you choose such plants, which they call “Plants for Pollinators”.

4. Introduce water in your garden: This will not only serve as drinking source, but also as a habitat for animals such as toads. The ideal would be to build a wildlife pond – a pond with a shelf (a shallower area of the pond in at least one of its sides) to help the animals to get in and out of it. You can then let plants and animals colonise your pond or you can give it a kick-start by inserting basically four categories of plants: oxygenators that stay on the bottom, water plants that float (such as water lilies) and that emerge out of the water (such as irises) and marginal plants (such as flowering rush). If you don’t have a space for a pond, any small water containers will already be helpful to wildlife.

5. Finally, avoid the use of pesticides as much as you can! Most of these will have an effect not only on the pests that you are trying to get rid of, but also on wildlife in your garden such as pollinators. The next post in this blog will be dedicated to presenting cultural practices and organic alternatives to pesticides. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, have a look at this garden which I have designed with the purpose to be a wildlife heaven for some inspiration!


1-Pinterest. (n.d.). Rowan Tree. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

2-Pinterest. (n.d.). Hawthorn. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

3- Pinterest. (n.d.). Dog Rose. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

4-Pinterest. (n.d.). Guelder Rose. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

5-Pinterest. (n.d.). Bug Hotel. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

6-Pinterest. (n.d.). Wild Meadow. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

7-Pinterest. (n.d.). Prairie Style Border. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

8-Pinterest. (n.d.). Verbenas. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

9-Pinterest. (n.d.). Wildlife Pond. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

10-Pinterest. (n.d.). Small Water Container. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 20 January 2021].

Garden Seasons

How to keep the garden interesting during winter

After the pops of colour, scent and nice barbecues and picnics in the hot months, many people pack their garden furniture away and look forward to spring.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be like this! There are options for you to keep some interest in your garden during the cold months.

Not that I am advocating that we all brave the cold and go outside to sit in nature, but having something nice in the garden that you can look at from the comfort of your heated indoors, or that greets you in your front garden every time you come back home can be a good way to cheer you up during the gloomy winter months. Some good plants to choose to achieve this are:

1-Winter Flowering Plants. Yes, there are some plants that flower during winter, which adds pops of colour and joy to your garden.  Camellias, Hellebores and some Clematis (cirrhosa varieties such as ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Wisley cream’) are good examples.

2- Evergreens. These can be trees, shrubs or even perennials that retain their leaves all year round, and therefore maintain structure in the garden during winter. Conifers (such as Douglas Fir), Japanese skimmias (this one is not only evergreen, but it also bears colourful berries during winter) and Liriopes are good examples.

3- Seed heads: Finally, there are some plants that, after flowering, form beautiful seed heads that look beautiful during winter. These include Echinaceas, Sedums and some Clematis ( such as ‘Golden Tiara’).


1-Pinterest. (n.d.). Hellebores. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].

2-Pinterest. (n.d.). Clematis cirrhosa ‘jingle bells’. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].

3- Pinterest. (n.d.). Douglas Fir. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].

4-Pinterest. (n.d.). Liriope muscari ‘Emerald Cascade’. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].

5-Pinterest. (n.d.). Echinacea seed heads. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].

6-Pinterest. (n.d.). Sedum seed heads. [Image] Available at: [Accessed 08 January 2021].