The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner intelligent garden design software for creating tailor-made planting plans The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner garden design software for creating tailor-made planting plans

Intelligent Garden Design Software


A Guide to Plant Types for Beginner Gardeners

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

If you’re just a new green shoot in the world of gardening, you’ll find there’s a whole new language to learn!

Seasoned gardeners will casually mention their tender perennials, talk of lifting their corms and dividing their tubers, or bemoan the chlorosis of their blueberries. If you’re nodding sagely, thinking yes, that reminds me – must go and do a bit of rhizome splitting and add sequestered iron to the shopping list, then this blog post is clearly not for you.

On the other hand, if you’re not sure whether they are discussing their ailments or brass bands, then you may find this post helpful!

Dahlia 'Nuit d'Ete' - herbaceous perennial for your flower bed

Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Ete’ – dahlias are tender perennials. They will last for several years, but only if they are overwintered in a frost -free place

When I potted up my first large container, I chose some flowers from the garden centre which looked good together. Some reappeared the following year, some didn’t – I had no idea why. When we had a whole garden to play with, I thought it was time to find out a bit more.

I decided it would be useful to have a fair idea which plants would survive the winter and which wouldn’t. And which ones, no matter how snuggly they were in their fluffy horticultural fleeces, were never going to see another spring, because sadly, their genetic make-up meant they were destined to keel over after flowering, leaving behind only their progeny to carry on the family name.


These are the annuals – plants which germinate, flower and set seed all in one year. They die after flowering, but many will helpfully self-seed leaving a new generation of flowers to appear the following spring.

Hardy annual - Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) for flower borders

Hardy annual – Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)

Many of those plants I bought for my first garden pot were annuals. I didn’t kill them. It was their destiny. I didn’t have to worry that my lack of care was responsible for their untimely deaths. In fact, for some of them, I hadn’t realised that they had died because their offspring appeared the following spring, looking just like their mums.

Not all annuals come true from seed though, which means they will reseed, but won’t be exactly the same as the parent plant. You can decide if you like the variety or whether you want to pull up the ones which clash with your colour scheme.

Annuals are perfect for a high-impact quick burst of colour. Packets of seeds are inexpensive, so it’s a good way to fill up a garden cheaply or to have a garden of colour for a year or two while you make decisions about more permanent planting.

Some gardeners like ringing the changes, trying out new colour schemes and flower combinations each year by experimenting with different annuals.

There are two types of annuals – the tough hardy ones and the more tender, half-hardy plants.

Hardy Annuals
Hardy annuals can cope with the cold. They can be sown in the autumn or early spring, because they can shake off the winter frosts. They are all ready to take off when the growing season arrives and can cope with a bit of late spring chill. And when they set seed, the seeds can survive the winter too, so will reappear the following year.

Hardy annuals include the classic sunflower (Helianthus annuus), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) and cornflower (Centaurea cyanus).

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) - a hardy annual

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – a hardy annual

Half-hardy Annuals
Half-hardy ones can’t take the cold. You will have to wait until there is no more danger of frost in your region before taking the risk of sowing them directly in the garden. A late sowing means that they will take longer before they are ready to start flowering. You can give them a head start by sowing them indoors in early spring, on a window sill, in a coldframe or green house, but you will need to wait until the frosts are past before planting them out in the garden.

Morning Glory (Ipomoea) - a half-hardy annual for summer flower beds

Morning Glory (Ipomoea) – a half-hardy annual

Don’t just rush them out there, though. These pampered little things need time to get used to the big world outside, so you have to get them acclimatised by spending 10 days or so putting them outside during the day and bringing them back into shelter at night. This is called ‘hardening off’.

Half-hardy annuals are definitely more time-consuming than the hardy ones, but if you have a nurturing nature and some time to cosset your little ones, it can be a therapeutic and rewarding experience.

Cosmos Sonata Pink - garden design idea

Cosmos Sonata Pink

Half-hardy annuals are also a bit more alluring and even flamboyant than the hardy ones, betraying their exotic origins.

The annual climber, Morning glory (Ipomoea) and Cosmos Sonata series are half-hardy annuals.

Cosmos Sonata Carmine for summer flower beds

Cosmos Sonata Carmine


A plant with a life cycle of 2 years is called a biennial. These tend not to be widely grown, which is understandable – why bother waiting 2 years for something to flower if it’s going to die straight afterwards?

Traditional foxgloves are biennials – but they helpfully self-seed, so once established, they will continue to reappear every year. You can also buy perennial varieties of foxgloves.

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

Honesty (Lunaria annua) has translucent seedpods

Honesty (Lunaria annua) has translucent seedpods

Despite its name, honesty (Lunaria annua), with its purple or white spring flowers, followed by flat silvery seedpods, is also technically a biennial.


These are the mainstay of most gardens. They are plants with a life cycle of more than 2 years. Perennials are also called herbaceous perennials, which means that the plant is not woody (like a shrub or a tree).

Many perennials die right back to the root, but grow back again the following spring. Others, like bergenia and heuchera, are evergreen and keep their leaves in winter. They don’t die back to the root, but neither do they have a woody structure, so they are still classed as perennials.

Heuchera Pewter Moon - an evergreen perennial for winter flower beds

Heuchera Pewter Moon – an evergreen perennial, which is great for winter interest in your flower beds

Heucheras are superb, clump-forming perennials, as they have delicate sprays of flowers in late spring and summer, as well as attractive, evergreen foliage. Heuchera Pewter Moon has silver leaves, with dark silver-green veining, which are red-purple on the undersides.

Carex elata - an evergreen ornamental grass for winter garden design idea

Carex elata – an evergreen ornamental grass

Ornamental grasses are perennials too and are beautiful as well as useful. Some, like Carex elata, are evergreen. These provide good winter colour and need just a quick tidy-up in spring.

Miscanthus sinensis Nippon - a deciduous ornamental grass for garden borders

Miscanthus sinensis Nippon – a deciduous ornamental grass

The deciduous grasses are good for winter interest too, as they don’t need to be cut back until the spring, leaving the seedheads on for the birds to enjoy during the colder months. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Nippon’ is very elegant, with upright linear leaves, which turn to russet in autumn before fading to buff in winter. In late summer, feathery, reddish flowerheads appear, becoming silvery-beige as they fade to plumy seedheads. These persist through the winter, creating an attractive winter feature.


Planting bulbs is one of the easiest ways to start gardening. Find yourself a suitable container, plant the bulbs and wait for them to grow. They may need a bit of care – watering, checking they’re not being munched by slugs, feeding them when necessary – but on the whole they’re a perfect choice for beginner gardeners. Some bulbs are good for naturalising in the lawn too although you may have to wait for the foliage to die back before mowing. Snowdrops and crocuses look amazing, planted in drifts. Read advice on how to do it here.

Crocuses - spring bulls perfect for naturalising in grass

Crocuses – spring bulls perfect for naturalising in grass

When we think of bulbs, we tend to think first of spring bulbs, like crocuses, tulips and daffodils, but you can add a splash of colour to flower beds and pots throughout the year by choosing bulbs which flower in different seasons.

Iris Apricot Topping - garden design ideas for spring

Iris Apricot Topping

Elegant bearded irises grow in spring, summer-flowering bulbs include lilies and dahlias, while hardy cyclamen and Nerine bowdenii flower in the autumn.

Nerine (Nerine bowdenii) - autumn garden design idea

Nerine bowdenii – stunning autumn flowering bulb

You can prolong a container’s season of interest by making a bulb lasagne, layering up the bulbs with the largest and latest bulbs to flower going in the bottom of the pot and moving upwards to the smallest and earliest flowering ones at the top. Sarah Raven explains how to do it here.

Bulbs are defined as a plant’s storage organ, sending shoots upwards and roots downwards in order for a new plant to grow. Strictly speaking, not all of the flowers mentioned above come from true bulbs, which are modified shoots. Bearded irises grow from rhizomes, dahlias from tubers and crocuses from corms – I’ve included definitions of these in the glossary below – but they all perform in a similar way to bulbs.


Shrubs are very useful for creating structure in the garden. Without a backbone of shrubs (and/or trees), garden borders can look desolate in winter. In other seasons too, shrubs provide the backdrop for the perennials and annuals to perform against.

A shrub is a woody plant with several stems, usually branching from near ground level. Because it doesn’t die back to ground level each winter, like herbaceous perennials, it will provide some winter interest. Evergreen shrubs, which keep their leaves in the winter, or winter-flowering shrubs are particularly useful in the garden during the grey months of the year.

Shrubs come in all shapes and sizes. Larger ones can offer privacy or height at the back of a flower bed. They can also be planted to form hedging along the garden boundary. Our garden borders a country lane and has a mixed hedgerow of holly, hazel and beech.

Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata) - shrubs for flower borders

Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata)

A perfect shrub for a middle sized border is Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata), an attractive, bushy, evergreen shrub, with white, starry, fragrant flowers. It doesn’t need regular pruning so is a fantastic low maintenance shrub.

Aromatic lavender hedge - garden design idea

Aromatic lavender hedge

Small shrubs, especially evergreen ones, can be planted close together to make a low hedge. Lavender, for example, makes a great low hedge or border edging.

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var repens - useful shrub for ground cover

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var repens

Ceanothus thyrsiflorus var. repens, which has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit, is a vigorous, low, spreading evergreen shrub, which makes it perfect for forming ground cover.

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)  - landscaping design idea

Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)

Some shrubs, such as Chaenomeles (Flowering Quince) are useful for growing as wall shrubs but will need regular pruning and tying in to a support system.


A tree is a woody plant, with usually a single trunk. There are trees to suit every garden and some small trees – or trees with a narrow growing habit – are particularly suitable for small gardens.

Betula pendula 'Fastigiata' -tree for small gardens

Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’

Silver Birch ‘Fastigiata’ (Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’) is a narrowly columnar, deciduous tree, with upright branches and white peeling bark.

Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis Rosea' - winter interest tree

Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

Ornamental cherries are great garden trees too. Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ is a small, deciduous tree, with an elegant spreading habit. Delicate, semi-double, pink flowers appear in mild spells between autumn and spring.

Even if you haven’t got space for an orchard, don’t let that put you off growing your own fruit! You can buy fruit trees, which have been grafted onto dwarf rootstocks, which will stunt their growth. They can also be pruned and trained in different ways in order to keep their size manageable.

A pear tree trained to form an espalier - garden design idea for a kitchen garden

A pear tree trained as an espalier

Fruit trees can be trained flat against a wall or fence, tying in the branches to a frame or trellis. Any branches jutting away from the wall or fence are pruned back. This is called an espalier and looks very attractive as well as being a practical space-saving solution.

You can also train fruit trees as cordons or in the shape of a fan. These are all just different ways of producing a decent crop of fruit in a small space. They are quite fun to try though you will need to be prepared to put some effort into their maintenance.

Step-over apple trees in a cottage garden border design

Step-over apple trees make fantastic border edging

I have some minarettes in my garden, which are fruit trees with a single stem. There’s quite a lot of pruning to do to keep the sideshoots short, but they take up little space in the garden. I also have a step-over apple tree, which bears a great crop of delicious apples, and is pruned to grow horizontally on wires between two posts. It makes a fantastic edging to a productive border.

Beginner Gardeners can have stunning borders too!

Choosing a Garden Style Designer Gardens
If you’ve ever thought designer gardens are only for the experienced horticulturist, it’s time to think again. The secret is getting the planting right – and now there is some new garden software which will help you do just that!

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner Landscape Design Software

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner is a garden design program, ideally suited to new gardeners. You won’t need to acquire a vast knowledge of horticulture before beginning to create beautiful flower beds in your own garden.

Simply input information about your garden’s climate and soil conditions (don’t worry, there are help panels to hold your hand through the entire process), choose your favourite colour scheme and sit back while the PlantingPlanner selects the plants which will thrive in your garden and shows you where to plant them. Each planting plan is specially created for you – and you can make as many as you want, changing your colour scheme and choice of style to try out different ideas.

A planting plan generated by the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

A planting plan generated by the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

The plans comes with colour photographs, descriptions and full maintenance advice, so you can keep your flower beds looking amazing year after year.

Watch the introductory video now to find out how to use the PlantingPlanner to easily create exciting garden borders with all year round interest.


Annual – a plant which completes its life cycle in one year

Biennial – a plant which completes its life cycle in two years, flowering the year after it was sown

Bulb – a plant’s storage organ, sending shoots upwards and roots downwards in order for a new plant to grow. A true bulb is a modified shoot, but corms, tubers and rhizomes perform similar functions

Climber – Climbing plant useful for covering walls or fences or for growing into trees or large shrubs. They can also be used for ground cover. Self-clinging climbers attach themselves to surfaces using aerial roots or adhesive pads. Others twine their stems around a support or use tendrils to coil around wire or trellis. A third type of climber scrambles over shrubs or trees but will need tying in against a wall or fence

Corm – an enlarged underground stem, performing the same function as a bulb

Espalier – a fruit tree which is trained to grow flat against a wall, using a trellis or framework for support.

Herbaceous perennial – a plant with a life cycle of more than 2 years. Plants may die back to ground level in autumn and then start again into growth in spring or may be non-woody evergreen plants like bergenia and heuchera

Rhizome – a creeping stem growing underground or occasionally along the ground, rooting as it travels and sending up new shoots

Shrub – a woody perennial with several stems, usually branching from near ground level

Tree – a woody perennial with usually a single trunk

Tuber – a thick underground part of a stem or rhizome, performing the same function as a bulb

Wall-trained shrub – free standing shrub which is useful for training flat against a vertical surface

Woody plant – one with a permanent structure of stems and branches e.g. trees, shrubs and some climbers

Style Guide – Cottage Gardens Part 2

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Choosing a Garden Style What’s your style?
Different garden styles evoke different moods and emotions. If you’re not sure which garden personality suits you best, check out this article: Choosing a Garden Style.

If you love charm over elegance, profusion over minimalism, natural haphazardness over control and order, the chances are that you love the cottage garden style.

Read: Style Guide – Cottage Gardens Part 1

The Daisies

Traditional cottage garden favourites are daisy-style flowers, such as asters, fleabane daisies, coreopsis and echinacea.

Coreopsis verticillata Grandiflora

Coreopsis verticillata Grandiflora

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Grandiflora’ has cheery yellow, starry flowerheads, carried in abundance on wiry stems in summer.

Aster pyrenaeus Lutetia cottage garden late summer flower

Aster pyrenaeus Lutetia

Asters come in shades of white, pink, purple and blue. I love Aster pyrenaeus ‘Lutetia’, for its starry flowerheads in palest lilac, with yellow centres. It has a long flowering season from mid-summer to mid-autumn and is completely resistant to powdery mildew – a disease which plagues many asters.

Erigeron karvinskianus for Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog

Erigeron karvinskianus

Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican Fleabane) is a delightful long-flowering perennial, spreading by rhizomes to form a carpet of daisy-like flowers. Little white flowers with yellow centres appear throughout the summer and into autumn, becoming deep pink as they age.

Echinacea purpurea Weatherstaff PlantingPlan cottage garden plant

Echinacea purpurea

A beautiful, late summer-flowering perennial, Echinacea purpurea has slightly reflexed, light purple rays, carried on upright stems from mid-summer to early autumn. The flowers have prominent coppery-brown, cone-shaped discs.

Down at Ground Level

Cottage gardens are recognised by the abundance of their planting. Filling the borders to overflowing has the added advantage of leaving no bare soil for weeds to germinate.

That’s where the little ground covering plants come in. They do a brilliant job of plugging the gaps in borders and knitting everything together. Allowing them to spill gently over border edges, wind around paths or cascade over low walls creates a natural, informal effect.

Campanula poscharskyana for ground cover Weatherstaff Planting Plan

Campanula poscharskyana

Campanula poscharskyana, the trailing bellflower, is a fantastic perennial for softening the edges of paths and borders. Its purple-blue, star-shaped flowers, keep appearing from spring right through to early autumn. Read more about it here

Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow ground cover for border design in shade

Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow

Ajuga (Bugle) is another useful, creeping perennial, spreading by means of rhizomes to form a mat of attractive, evergreen foliage. Short spikes of deep blue flowers appear in late spring and early summer. Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’ has variegated leaves – silvery-green, with shades of pink, red and cream. The leaves of ‘Variegata’ are grey-green, with cream borders. For white flowers, try Ajuga reptans f. albiflora ‘Alba’.

Myosotis-sylvatica, the little forget-me-not

Myosotis sylvatica

The woodland forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) has clusters of blue flowers, with tiny yellow eyes. The flowers are carried above tufts of grey-green leaves in spring and early summer, and mingle happily with spring flowering bulbs. Though short-lived, the plants will self-seed freely, to spread through borders and cover patches of bare soil.

Viola odorata Queen Charlotte spring planting idea

Viola odorata Queen Charlotte

You will have to crouch down low to catch the scent of the Viola odorata. Pretty, very fragrant violet-blue or white flowers are produced in late winter and early spring. It spreads gently to form a clump of glossy, heart-shaped, bright green foliage. Perfect ground cover for a shady spot.

Lysimachia nummularia Aurea - landscaping design idea for cottage garden ground cover

Lysimachia nummularia Aurea

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, known as Golden Creeping Jenny, provides useful groundcover, especially between paving stones or on gravel. An evergreen carpeting perennial, it forms a low mat of attractive golden-yellow foliage, with bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers in summer.

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner Landscape Design Software

Need a Cottage Garden Planting Plan?

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner makes it easy for you to create a cottage garden style border.

The interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, tailored to your garden’s soil and light conditions.

Select ‘Cottage Garden’ for your choice of style and pick your preferred colour scheme. Enter your garden’s climate, soil and light conditions. The PlantingPlanner will draw up a planting plan with flowers, herbs and shrubs, which are perfect for creating your very own cottage garden.

You can tweak and modify your generated plan, by excluding any plants you don’t like and substituting them with your favourites. The PlantingPlanner will tell you if your choices are suitable for your location.

If you want to grow vegetables as well as ornamental plants, you could use a collection of pots and containers to cram into gaps around your garden. Try here for inspiration.

Read more about Cottage Gardens in Part 3 – to follow shortly.

Style Guide – Cottage Gardens Part 1

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Choosing a Garden Style What’s your style?
Different garden styles evoke different moods and emotions. If you’re not sure which garden personality suits you best, check out this article: Choosing a Garden Style.

If you love charm over elegance, profusion over minimalism, natural haphazardness over control and order, the chances are that you love the cottage garden style.

Exuberant planting in a cottage style landscape design

Flowers packed in and spilling over… exuberant planting in a cottage style border

Planting will be exuberant, with self-seeding annuals and low-maintenance perennials packed in together and spilling over border edges. Climbers scramble over fences, garden gates and trees.

Historically, gardens for pleasure were the preserve of the wealthy. Cottage gardens were for the poorer levels of society and were purely functional. The first cottage gardens met the needs of early tenant farmers, by providing the vegetables, herbs and fruit which formed the mainstay of their diet.

Vegetables included garlic, onions, cabbages and beans. A fruit tree here and there offered shade, as well as its crops of apples, pears, cherries and plums.

If you dream of a cottage garden in your own backyard, but haven’t got the space for full size tress, don’t worry! There are some great alternatives. You can grow fruit trees on dwarf rootstocks, which will stunt their growth, or prune trees to form single cordons, fans, and espaliers.

I have a small collection of minarettes – columnar fruit trees, growing to 1.8-2.4m (6-8ft) tall – in a narrow garden border. These need pruning regularly so that the fruit is carried on short spurs along its length. They can be planted as close as 60-90cm (2-3ft) apart or even in large pots, which make them suitable for patios or balconies. I bought mine from Ken Muir, which carries a large selection of apples, pears, plums, gages, damsons and cherries, suitable for growing as minarettes.

Pride of place though goes to my stepover apple, which looks wonderful along the edge of my fruit bed and carries a prolific crop of crunchy Falstaff apples. The stepover apple is grown on a very dwarfing rootstock (M27) and trained horizontally to make a low border edging.

Step-over apple trees in a cottage garden border design

Stepover apple trees make fantastic border edging

Dwarf fruit trees

Fruit trees can be grown on dwarfing rootstocks to fit into the smallest spaces.

In a traditional cottage garden, flowers served the important purpose of attracting bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects into the garden, in order to ensure fruitful crops. However, traditionally, they were chosen for a specific purpose, rather than for their beauty.

Primula vulgaris spring planting idea

Primula vulgaris

Sweet-smelling flowers were useful to mask odours. Edible violet petals could be added to salads. Wine was made from the native English primrose. Lavender was hidden among clothes and household linens to repel moths. Cough medicine was made from Verbascum.

Lavandula from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner


Verbascum from the Weatherstaff Planting Planner design software


Hyssop - cottage garden landscaping design


The ancient herb, hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) was chopped and added to salads and soups, while its orange scent made it a useful addition to pot-pourri.

As well as being used traditionally to treat bronchial infections and melancholy, the leaves and flowers of the pretty borage plant (Borage officinalis) were also edible. The young leaves taste like cucumber and both leaves and the starry blue flowers can be added to salads and drinks. A fun party trick is to half-fill a tray of ice-cubes with water and freeze. Add a borage flower to each, top up with water and freeze again to make borage flower ice cubes.

Borage - traditional cottage landscaping design


Comfrey - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner


The young leaves of Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) were used in salads or cooked like spinach. Wine could be made from its roots. The plant itself was widely used to staunch bleeding and reduce inflammation.

Comfrey is also a rich source of food for plants. Rot down a bucketful of chopped comfrey leaves and, in about a month’s time, you will have a free fertiliser for your plants. Dilute it in the ratio of one part comfrey liquid to 20 parts water. It’s smelly, though, so use a bucket with a lid to make it!

Cottage garden @

To create your own cottage garden, you need flowers and herbs, grown for their culinary and fragrant properties, as well as for their beauty.

Plant flowering shrubs for structure and ground cover plants to fill up every bare patch of soil.

For more gardening ideas, click here to follow the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner on Pinterest.

To complete the effect, use traditional and natural-looking materials.

  • Smother weathered wooden fences with climbers.
  • Complement garden furniture with checked tablecloths or flowery cushions.
  • Gather together an eclectic collection of containers and pots and arrange some of the smaller ones on a bench or the rungs of an old wooden ladder.
  • Create routes between borders with winding paths or stepping stones.
  • Rustic arches and pergolas emphasise the old fashioned charm of a cottage garden.

Need a Cottage Garden Planting Plan?

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner Landscape Design Software

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner makes it easy for you to create a cottage garden style border.

The interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, tailored to your garden’s soil and light conditions.

Select ‘Cottage Garden’ for your choice of style and pick your preferred colour scheme. Enter your garden’s climate, soil and light conditions. The PlantingPlanner will draw up a planting plan with flowers, herbs and shrubs, which are perfect for creating your very own cottage garden.

You can tweak and modify your generated plan, by excluding any plants you don’t like and substituting them with your favourites. The PlantingPlanner will tell you if your choices are suitable for your location.

If you want to grow vegetables as well as ornamental plants, you could use a collection of pots and containers to cram into gaps around your garden. Try here for inspiration.

Read Cottage Gardens Part 2

How much did you spend the last time you went to the garden centre?

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Did you just cast your eyes down and look a little bit sheepish then?

Plants are enticing, beguiling little things. They whisper: “Buy me! Put me in your trolley! See that gorgeous little flowery thing over there which matches my colours so beautifully. Buy us both! And you too will have an award-winning show garden in your back yard.”

In May 2014, the Independent wrote that Britons will spend an average of £30,000 on their gardens over a lifetime, with a third of that amount going on plants, “often fuelled by impulse buys on garden centre visits”. That figures…

Planting plan for a show garden

Who wants a show garden in their back yard?

I remember a friend of mine proudly showing off her garden to me. She’d just moved in to her new house by the sea and was keen to plant up the long border in the narrow back garden. It was looking fantastic. She’d gone to the garden centre, she told me, and spent a small fortune – but it was all worth it, because here was her garden transformed into something that wouldn’t look out of place at Chelsea.

Except that, just like the spring-time show gardens, her border wasn’t designed to last very long either.

The following year, it looked dull and despondent. Most of the plants had died. Some were annuals in the first place, so couldn’t have been expected to put in an appearance the following spring. Some just couldn’t cope with the salt-laden air or exposed position. (The fact that she didn’t actually know how to look after them didn’t help either!)

My friend admitted that she couldn’t possibly afford to spend the huge amount of money she’d spent the previous year on an annual basis. She was planning on getting some utilitarian ground cover plants in to fill the space.

Garden from Weatherstaff Planting Planner

How do you get a planting plan that lasts?

This was a useful lesson for us when we set about transforming our own garden a year or two later. Determined to make sure that every living thing I planted had the best possible chance of survival, I did my research, reading every gardening book I could lay my hands on and poring over my enormous Plant Encyclopaedia – weighty enough to hold down a small potting shed in a hurricane. Read about it here

Now I felt I knew a bit more about plants – the difference between perennials and biennials, how some loved acidic and others needed alkaline soil, that some were more demanding than others, some were great for attracting wildlife, lots were poisonous.

But I was no garden designer… And that was why a trolley load of plants did not a show garden make!

Winter scene

What’s your garden like in winter?

I realised I hadn’t really considered structural planting – important in the summer months and essential in the winter. My garden was missing a focal point – a specimen small tree or shrub to draw the eye. Buying a collection of plants in the spring meant that they all flowered beautifully in the spring, but there was no tapestry of colours and textures, changing and performing in succession throughout the seasons. There was a bit more to this than I first thought!

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner - garden design software

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – a virtual garden designer

That’s when the idea for the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner was born. Garden design software that would select the right plants for your garden’s conditions and arrange them with the eye of a virtual designer.

The program chooses plants for all-year-round interest, so that your borders are not a one-season wonder. It also gives you the opportunity to select your favourite garden style and colour palette, as well as providing family-friendly, wildlife-friendly and low maintenance options.

If you are going to spend your hard-earned money on transforming your garden, you need to make sure the money is spent on those plants which will not only thrive in your location but will also look stunning all year round. The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner will show you how.

Move On Up!

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Akebia quinata planting design

Delicious deep claret flowers of Akebia quinata

Sultry, seductive, with a slight hint of chocolate – my first climbing plant was Akebia quinata. I fell in love with its photograph and set off to track one down for my very own!

We had just invested in a beautiful pergola. It was delivered – a collection of posts and panels and a hefty stash of 3in nails – and assembled by a local builder. It was all looking rather good. Until the moment when we realised that we still had a rather large collection of nails and, on closer inspection, discovered that the builder had gone home before securing the rafters. And, right on cue, came the first gust of wind and rumble of thunder. The pergola’s first night in the garden was accompanied by a howling gale and a pair of novice builders, raincoats flapping, torchlight wavering, wet hands dropping nails into the sodden ground, as we fought to batten down the rafters before the thing took off into the darkness.

But the next morning, there it was, all fresh and new, standing proudly in the garden, which was then almost entirely lawn, with flower borders and snaking woodland paths still just a dream nestling in the pages of a magazine, where they came attached to Cotswold stone manor houses or country vicarages. So, first step towards our dream garden – draping the pristine new wood with swathes of blossoming ramblers and scramblers.

Enter the chocolate vine, Akebia quinata. Not only a good-looker; it turned out to be a keeper. Bright green leaves in spring, with exquisite wine-red flowers. Not particularly large and showy, but just big enough to give a thrill of discovery when the first flowers of the season appear amongst the foliage. It’s hardy and vigorous, quickly twining and clambering its way over the wooden posts. It can start to scamper off on adventures of its own, when my back is turned – threading its way over neighbouring shrubs and clambering up in to a nearby tree, but responds very well to being cut back to keep it in check.

Other climbers have inveigled their way into my garden centre trolley and my heart since then, enticing me with their scents and colours. Clematis, of course – from the large, lavender-blue of Mrs Cholmondeley,
Clematis Mrs Cholmondeley

Clematis Mrs Cholmondeley

to the enchantingly ruffled Clematis viticella ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans, twining its elegant way around a wrought iron obelisk,
Clematis viticella Purpurea Plena Elegans

Clematis viticella Purpurea Plena Elegans

via the bright yellow lanterns of Clematis tangutica ‘Aureolin’, paired giddily with the appropriately named Romantika, with its bewitchingly dark good looks.
Clematis tangutica Aureolin

Clematis tangutica Aureolin

Clematis Romantika

Clematis Romantika

I have a Wisteria for those gorgeous lilac waterfalls of flowers in mid-spring, a Jasmine for its heady scent and Actinidia kolomikta for its amazing colours – the foliage looks like it has been dipped in pots of white and pink paint.

Wisteria in herbaceous border design

Wisteria floribunda macrobotrys has particularly long, scented trusses

Actinidia kolomikta in landscape plan

Actinidia kolomikta has heart shaped leaves with splashes of pink and white

Climbing plants are useful for covering walls or fences or for growing into trees or large shrubs. They can also be used as ground cover. Smaller ones can be grown in pots, winding themselves round a spiral plant support and providing background height for more lowly companions.

Though self-clinging climbers attach themselves to surfaces using aerial roots or adhesive pads, most climbing plants need something to cling on to. Some twine their stems around a support or use tendrils to coil around wire or trellis. A third type of climber scrambles over shrubs or trees but will need tying in against a wall or fence.

Parthenocissus henryana for border plan with climbers

Self-clinging Parthenocissus henryana

Rosa Paul's Himalayan Musk rambler for landscape design

The rambling rose, Rosa Paul’s Himalayan Musk

Clematis macropetala Lagoon Weatherstaff Planting Plans

Coiling tendrils of Clematis macropetala Lagoon

Need a Planting Plan for your garden, which incorporates climbing plants?

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner makes it easy for you to add climbers to your border designs.

1. Design Layout

Draw out your border using the on-screen Drawing Tools.

2. Styles and Conditions

Enter information about the soil and light conditions in your garden. Select your preferred planting style and colour scheme.

3. Boundaries

Use the Drawing Tools to mark out the different sections of the border’s boundary, indicating where the border is backed by a fence, wall or hedge. Select the option to clothe walls or fences with climbers.

4. The Plan

Your tailor-made planting plan is generated. Each plan comes with colour photographs, descriptions and full maintenance advice for individual plants.

For climbers and wall shrubs, check the plant descriptions for information about climbing habits and any support structures needed.

Climbers in garden design software

Akebia quinata

Tips for planting climbers

Plant as for container-grown plants, taking into consideration the following specific requirements for climbers:

  • If your climber needs a support structure such as wire or trellis, it is useful to fix this in place before you plant.
  • Make the planting hole about 45cm (18in) away from the wall or fence to avoid the rain-shadow effect.
  • When placing in its hole, angle the plant towards the boundary.
  • Fan out the stems and tie them to the wire or trellis. You may need to use a bamboo cane to help the stems reach the bottom of their support structure. Help the plant by tying in the stems initially, though self-clinging climbers will manage on their own once they have settled in.
  • Special Cases
    Roses: Many roses are grafted. Plant so that the graft union – the bulge in the stem – is 6cm (2½ in) below the level of the soil.
    Clematis: Plant clematis deeper than other plants. If the plant is attacked by clematis wilt, new shoots may grow back from the base. These climbers like their roots to be in shade. Place low plants in front to provide shade at the base or add a mulch of pebbles to help keep the roots cool.

Secret Garden

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

When the children were small, I was quite taken with the idea of creating pathways around the garden. Trails for chasing round and doubling back on. Routes for Easter Egg Hunts. A pergola, clothed in climbers, providing hiding places for leaping out of on dark nights. For small children, plants didn’t need to grow very high before they could be ducked behind and screen someone in a game of Hide and Seek.

Stepping stones landscape design ideas

Stepping stones create pathways round the garden

One year, we had a Princess and Prince themed birthday party held in the garden. The highlight was a game we devised which entailed leading the party-goers one by one around the stepping stone pathways on a hunt to slay the dragon. The children waited, quivering with excitement for their turn to set off, through the pergola, round the stone circle, climb the tallest mountain (or was that the garden slide?) and a final swoop down the slide into the open doorway of a pop-up tent where a dragon soft toy lay in wait.
Every Hallowe’en, we carved pumpkins and waited for darkness to fall to light our jack o’ lanterns. Set at strategic points in the garden, they cast eerie, flickering shadows. With clouds racing across the ghostly moon, little figures darted round the suddenly unfamiliar night garden, screaming in delight when the adults pounced from behind bushes.
Wisteria and pergola Weatherstaff Garden Design Software

A path winds through the pergola, past peonies and under the purple wisteria.

There was an unexpected bonus though. Besides creating an area which was fun for small children to play in, the little pathways and screens help to make the garden seem much bigger than it is in reality. It is impossible to see the whole garden at once. You have to wind through the pergola and peer round the arches before the next section is revealed.
It also makes a stroll around the garden a whole lot more interesting. There is a path to follow and a chance to brush up close to the plants bordering it. The pergola provides a cool, shady contrast on a hot summer’s day.
Peonies, roses and pergola garden design

Peonies and deep red roses clothe the pergola

At the top of the garden is the wild area – the part furthest from the house and consequently, the bit left to last on weeding circuits! Still, taking a deliberate wander up there can reveal hidden delights. Especially in late spring, when the self-seeding columbines, forget-me-nots and candelabra primula create a breath-taking, sun-dappled secret garden under the silver birches.
Spring flowers landscape garden ideas

Spring flowers in the Secret Garden

Candelabra primula wild garden design

Self-seeding candelabra primula

Fact file : Primula pulverulenta

from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

An attractive deciduous perennial, forming a rosette of mid-green, toothed leaves.

This Candelabra primula has sturdy, upright stems carrying whorls of red-purple flowers with dark eyes in late spring and early summer.

Primula pulverulenta spring flower

Primula pulverulenta


Primula pulverulenta likes reliably moist soil in sun or partial shade, preferably with neutral or acid conditions.

It has a tendency to self-sow in the garden and will naturalise readily to form an impressive colony. Where conditions are ideal, it will spread vigorously.

Garden Styles

Perfect for Naturalistic, Family and Woodland Gardens.

Winter Scents

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena landscape design

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena

No one wants their garden to be a muddy, lifeless patch in winter! Though a touch of frost can transform the dullest of gardens into a magical wintry landscape, most gardeners aim to create an outdoor space, with delights which are less transitory.

Choosing plants for winter interest usually means selecting attractive skeleton forms or handsome evergreen foliage, picking out plants with winter flowers or looking for colourful stems and interesting bark. All of these can make the winter garden a pleasure to view from your kitchen window.

When you get up close and personal though, it will be those heady winter scents which engage the senses and lift the spirit. With pollinators few and far between, the flowers work extra hard in the winter months to entice pollinating insects and winter flowers can have the most intoxicating fragrance of all garden plants. I’ve planted some of my favourites in a border near my back door to make the most of their scent.

Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

This neat, rounded, evergreen shrub has attractive dark green leaves, which are narrowly margined yellow. Clusters of sweetly-scented, white flowers, flushed purple-pink, are borne from mid-winter to early spring. It isn’t reliably hardy though and needs a bit of cosseting in the form of a layer of horticultural fleece on colder nights.

Daphne odora Aureomarginata winter garden design

Daphne odora Aureomarginata

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ is an upright daphne, with intensely fragrant winter flowers. It has an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society and is widely available at the moment.


Crumpled, spidery flowers provide a blaze of colour in mid- and late winter, on the bare twigs of this large, deciduous shrub.

Witch hazels flower in a range of ember colours. Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Jelena’ has coppery orange flowers, ‘Arnold Promise’ is yellow and ‘Diane’ is red.

Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise winter planting plan

Hamamelis x intermedia Arnold Promise

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena  garden design

Hamamelis x intermedia Jelena

Hamamelis Intermedia Diane winter flower border design

Hamamelis Intermedia Diane

Sarcocca confusa landscape design

Sarcocca confusa

Sarcococca confusa

Sweet box is an evergreen, winter-flowering shrub, growing slowly to form a dense mound of glossy, dark green foliage. Tiny, vanilla-scented, white flowers are produced in winter, followed by glossy, black berries.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’
Winter border flowers Viburnum bodnantense Dawn

Viburnum bodnantense Dawn

An upright, deciduous shrub with distinctively veined foliage. As the leaves begin to fall, deep pink buds open to sweetly scented, pink-flushed, white flowers, continuing from late autumn to early spring.

Sky-high Water Garden

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

I’ve visited lots of gardens, but The Water Garden at Emquartier – slap bang in the middle of a luxury shopping mall and five storeys above the city streets – was a new experience for me.

EmQuartier is Bangkok’s brand new shopping mall, next to Phrom Phong BTS station and just across Sukhumvit Road from the well-established (and recently renovated) Emporium mall. Alongside the modern glass and chrome architecture, there’s been a real effort to create breathing green spaces on every level.

Waterfall Quartier landscape design software

Waterfall Quartier

Peacock Feature landscape garden design

Peacock Waterfall Feature

Outdoor walkways connect the different zones and from these vantage points, as well as superb views of the city, you can spot the foliage of the Water Garden high up in the Helix Quartier and an impressive waterfall, complete with enormous peacocks, overlooking the atrium.
Rainforest Chandelier - garden design, landscape design

The Rainforest Chandelier

Spiralling down over 100 metres from the roof, the Rainforest Chandelier – designed by Patrick Blanc of Vertical Gardens fame – creates a striking first impression of The Water Garden. Echoing the chandelier, the floor then spirals up and up, enabling visitors to circle the gardens and then continue upwards, to select from one of the 50 or so dining outlets between the sixth and ninth floors.
Below the living chandelier, a curved wall of stone – displaying a variety of tropical plants grown hydroponically and over which a cascade of water continually flows – follows a path down to the lotus pond.
curved wall landscape design software

Water cascades over the curved wall

Plants growing hydroponically  landscape design software

Plants growing hydroponically

Lotus pond garden design software

Lotus pond

A glass doorway leads to the outdoor courtyard with its interconnecting pools and swaying bamboos. Strategically placed viewing platforms give spectacular panoramic views of the city and the nearby green oasis of Queen Benjasiri Park.
Water garden landscape design software

Water garden overlooking the city of Bangkok

City view at dusk from Weatherstaff landscape design software

City view at dusk

Lobster pot-style gazebos provide quiet sitting areas for catching up with friends and admiring the gardens and views.
Lobster pot gazebos landscape design software

Lobster pot gazebos

A wooden walkway over a pond winds between Bodhi and Banyan trees, a spirit house nestling beneath their branches.
Between Bodhi and Banyan Trees landscape design software

Between Bodhi and Banyan Trees

Dusk was falling as we arrived, transforming the gardens into a magical world. Tiny starry lights hung suspended from the ceiling, flames flared from metal torch holders and hidden lights illuminated the trunks and foliage.
Flickering flames garden design software

Flickering flames

Flames flickered from a glass cube floating on the water.
Watching the city landscape design

Watching the city

It is a beautiful spot to watch night descend on the city.

Living Walls

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

You know the scenario – you’re wandering around the garden centre, a horticultural show, a friend’s garden, and there’s this gorgeous little plant you desperately need to own. So you buy it (or dig up a clump if offered or take a few seeds). Your own garden is bursting at the seams. There is no room for a single extra plant, but how many gardeners are staunch minimalists who will stoically turn their backs on that enticing little plant?

Astrantia - for garden software blog

This winsome little astrantia didn’t need to do much eyelid fluttering before it was in my shopping trolley.

So the borders are bulging with delicious combinations of plants and you dig up more lawn for an extra bed. You plant up huge flower pots and hanging baskets. You drape fences with climbers – perhaps even cover the shed roof and the wheelie bin. Where next?
You could always try creating a living wall!
Vertical gardening is the craze that’s been sweeping the world. In our concrete and glass city centres, they are soothing to the eye, covering up ugly, decaying or just plain boring grey structures and creating new green spaces in our cities. Green walls lower the temperatures of buildings and help reduce the urban heat effect. They have been used indoors in countries with severe winters, like Canada, to counter Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And, of course, they are a work of art in themselves.
The living wall at Siam Paragon shopping mall, Bangkok

The living wall at Siam Paragon shopping mall, Bangkok

A tapestry of greens - garden design  blog

A tapestry of greens

Patrick Blanc, the French botanist and pioneer of living walls, is a garden artist, creating his living wall installations around the globe – Paris, New York, Tokyo, Dubai and Bangkok. His latest installation – ‘Rain Forest Chandelier’ at the new EmQuartier luxury shopping mall in Bangkok – looks visually stunning. It spirals down for over 100 metres, above the 3,000 square metre indoor tropical water gardens, 5 storeys above the streets of the country’s capital city.
Rainforest Chandelier - garden design, landscape design

The Rainforest Chandelier – a hanging green spiral at EmQuartier, Bangkok

Rainforest chandelier close-up, from garden design blog

Rainforest chandelier close-up view of planting

Since the plants on living walls must be able to survive without soil, relying instead on a nutrient solution, the careful choice of plants is essential.

The first green walls were made with tropical species, plants observed to grow vertically in the wild without the need for soil. However, gardeners now use a much wider choice of plants, experimenting to find ones that can cope with being grown hydroponically.They also need to have interesting foliage, which looks good when viewed from underneath, and require little in the way of regular maintenance.

 Codiaeum variegatum for garden software blog

The colourful tropical plant, Codiaeum variegatum, is often grown as a house plant in cooler areas

Tropical plants such as Calathea, Codiaeum variegatum pictum, Spathiphyllum wallisii and the Philodendrons work well on indoor living walls – or outdoor walls in tropical regions!

Tougher plants for outdoor walls include fuchsia, hebe, epimediums and ferns such as Cyrtomium fortunei and Asplenium.

Tropical plants - good for living walls, landscape design

Colourful tropical planting is perfect for indoor living walls

A Visit to the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

With a feeling of excitement, adventure and just a little trepidation, we recently set off on an amazing family road trip in northern Thailand. Stunning mountain scenery, tranquil tea plantations, fruit juice freshly squeezed at an orange orchard, a night of solitude with just the frogs and cicadas for company in an isolated hilltribe village awaited us.

Stunning Views

Stunning Views

After a particularly adventurous experience, lurching and jolting over a lonely mountain road not yet fully surfaced (but with the most fantastic view in the whole of Thailand), we headed back to the charming, moated city of Chiang Mai and civilisation.
Choui Fong Tea Plantation

Choui Fong Tea Plantation

On the way, we stopped at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, near the little town of Mae Rim and about 30 miles northwest of Chiang Mai. Like many Royal Projects in Thailand, this one was beautifully designed – with more people working on the site than actual visitors! We passed a handful of other tourists, but most of the time the gardens were ours to explore. We stopped at the Lanna-style Visitor Centre near the entrance to ask for a Visitor Guide and, after some scuffling, one was finally produced – but it was the last one, I was told with a smile, and it seemed to have taken a bit of searching for!
The Visitor Centre at Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, Chiang Mai

The Visitor Centre at Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, Chiang Mai

A driveway meanders around the site, so that you can take your car in and drive through the grounds, pulling up at the side to hop out and inspect the plants, and leaping back into the air conditioning afterwards.

A number of trails are signposted along the way – the Waterfall Trail, Fern Garden, Banana Avenue – and, at the top of the site, is the Glasshouse Complex, with 8 glasshouses each housing its own collection of plants including water plants, bromeliads, variegated plants and medicinal plants.

Waterfall Trail

Waterfall Trail

The Waterfall Trail near the entrance is a lovely place to start. The path passes beside the low waterfalls where the Mae Sa stream tumbles over rocks and leads on pushing through the shaded undergrowth to the Orchid Collection.
Zephyr or Fairy Lilies

Zephyr or Fairy Lilies

Though our visit at the beginning of the rainy season meant that many of the outdoor ornamentals had finished flowering, it was a good time to admire the fairy lilies, which carpeted the ground as we climbed up the main drive towards the Glasshouse Complex.

Arid Plants Glasshouse

Arid Plants Glasshouse

It was in the comparative coolness of the glasshouses themselves that we lingered longest.

The spikes and spines of the desert-dwellers – in the Arid Plant Collection.

Bromeliads Glasshouse

Bromeliads Glasshouse

Bright, pink-flushed Bromeliads, displayed amongst stone carvings and Thai pots.

Lotus Flower

Lotus Flower

Exquisitely layered blooms of the lotus flowers and water lilies in the Aquatic Plants Glasshouse.
Water Lily

Water Lily

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner garden design software for creating tailor-made planting plans