Anybody who has been wowed by beautiful garden planting, or felt excited about some creative plant combinations, will want to try and replicate that feeling in their own gardens.

There are many plants to choose from and pretty much endless planting combinations. So no wonder I get WhatsApp photos of empty borders and requests for help on a regular basis.

So, what are the benefits and limitations of preparing a planting plan (whether yourself or by paying the services of a garden designer)?

What a plan will do:

  • It will help you press the pause button, before you go on a shopping frenzy at the garden centre and buy whatever is looking good on the beds, or have a digital meltdown looking at too many plant photos on internet.

The plan is there to ensure some essential selection is done, so that plants are suited for the borders conditions such as sun exposure, soil type ….etc, and that they will deliver in terms of function such as grow tall enough to give privacy, provide seasonal interest, create focal points…etc

  • A plan will look at plant selection with respect to the style and mood you would like to create.
  • A plan will consider the various planting mass and how all this will come together with the rest of the garden and surrounding landscape, as well as work cohesively together.
  • A scaled plan will work out quantities, positioning, and plants that might be required as temporary fillers.
  • A plan will ensure seasonal interest (e.g. calendar of when there is interest with flowers, foliage, stems…etc).

A good planting scheme may not include all your favourite plants, but should have the impact required in terms of seasonal interest, style and practical functions.

Where a plan will have its limitations:

  • Although you may not select any rare plant species, the horticultural industry can be fickle, with various fashions and trends for plants. Some cultivars may no longer be available, a plant species may be difficult to find at a particular time of year, even though it is a fully hardy perennial, or the quality of the plants available may not be good enough.

You then have to decide whether to swap plant species, wait for when a plant will be back in stock, or chase around various possible plant nurseries. All this takes time and skills.

  • If a plan is prepared well ahead of the re-landscaping of a garden, there is always the risk that the landscaping will change some of the borders initially planned or uncover unexpected soil conditions, such as a waterlogged area or the need to bring additional soil, with increased fertility level.

You do have to be prepared to review plans drastically in some instances, and so now, I would recommend only preparing a detailed planting plan once borders are ready.

  • The planting is just the beginning. For borders or any garden to look their best, there will be on going maintenance required. The planting plan will not provide any detailed knowledge of plant care required, and how each species should be managed over time. Whenever I carry out planting work, I do produce a plant care guide.

The maintenance will require time and knowledge. More information on garden maintenance in this blog post:

Now that we’ve laid out the basics, if you would like to explore further the planting design process, you can have some preparatory fun by creating a moodboard to capture the design style you are aiming for. Don’t be constrained by planting photos only, but think widely about what you like, using artwork, holiday snaps, pieces of fabric, interior design…etc. Scribble down what you like and what you don’t like too.

Example of moodboard

Example of border plan

And here’s a link to a quick checklist of things to consider when planning planting: