How to apply a spring mulch

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The spring bulbs are a picture. Early winter aconites and the valiant, little snowdrops are giving way to the first cheery daffodils, flashes of purple crocuses and creamy primroses, huddled low in their blanket of foliage.

Purple crocus in early spring Weatherstaff garden design blog
Crocuses light up the spring border
Cyclamineus narcissi - early flowering daffodils for a spring display
Early Cyclamineus narcissi
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) in an early spring border
Scented primroses in early spring

A splash of sunshine on an early spring afternoon is enough to entice you out into the garden, pulling on the gardening gloves, on the look-out for an excuse to potter.

There are plenty of jobs to do. Winter-flowering shrubs can be pruned when they have finished flowering. The grasses can get a bit of tidying up too. Any deciduous grasses left to provide winter interest can be cut back in early spring, while dead foliage on evergreen grasses can be pulled away. The wisteria gets its second cut in January or February. Those whippy shoots which were cut back in the summer after flowering can be cut back to 2 or 3 buds in late winter or early spring.

Wheelbarrow of well-rotted manure for a spring time mulch
Well-rotted manure makes a great spring time mulch

It’s almost time for the spring mulch – but don’t be too impatient to get it done. The best time to do this is mid to late spring, when the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit, but is still moist from the winter rains.

If you are planning to lift and divide perennials, do that first, so the mulch is left undisturbed as much as possible once it’s down. Tackle the weeding first too.

What is mulching?

Mulching means to apply a thick layer of material over the soil in garden beds. Between 5-10cm (2-4 inches) of mulch will prevent annual weeds from germinating. Any weeds which make it through will be weakened and easier to remove.

Tulip leaves emerge in spring garden beds
Leave room for new growth to emerge

Spread it carefully, leaving a gap around existing or emerging plants. Piling mulch up too close to the stems can cause them to rot.

Why mulch?

As well as suppressing weeds, mulching also helps trap in moisture, reducing the need for watering later on. If you choose to mulch with organic matter, there are additional benefits, as it acts as a great soil conditioner and improves the structure of the soil.

Chipped bark used as a mulch in flower beds Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A layer of chipped bark covers the soil around perennials

Mulching also gives garden borders a tidy appearance, covering the soil between plants with a neat, homogenous surface.

What should I mulch with?

The two choices for mulching are organic or inorganic material. If you are mulching to conserve moisture and reduce weeds, you can use anything which will allow rain to permeate through, yet reduce evaporation. A layer of straw will help or even bits of old carpet. Woven landscape fabric is particularly useful when planting up a new border, because you can lay the weed-suppressing material down first, then cut crosses and plant through the gaps. Gravel, slate or pebbles can be an attractive addition to flower beds or containers.

Pebbles, slate and gravel can be used as an inorganic mulch in spring
Slate, gravel or pebbles make an attractive mulch

However, if you want to benefit from improved soil condition and structure, your best choice is to use an organic mulch. All soil types can be improved by adding organic matter, which helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients. Adding well-rotted organic matter to heavy soil improves its structure, making it more crumbly and easier to work with.

Apply chipped bark to borders as a spring mulch
Decorative chipped bark can be bought from garden centres

Organic matter includes well-rotted manure, garden compost, leaf mould, chipped or composted bark and spent mushroom compost. Dig it in when first preparing the ground for planting and then add layers around the plants (mulching) every year if possible.

If you have a lot of garden, it can be expensive to cover every bed. Making your own leaf mould or compost is a good start, but if you need to supplement it with something extra, it’s worth trying to find a reputable source. My first delivery of well-rotted manure contained more than I bargained for and I spent hours sifting through it, removing bits of string, electrical wires and weeds!

How to apply a spring mulch - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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6 Thrillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are usually the tallest plants in the display, the eye-catchers and head-turners. They provide structure to the planting group.

Here are my 6 choices for plants with superb thriller qualities.

Acer palmatum

There are hundreds of varieties of Japanese maples and they are a popular choice for container plantings as well as for garden borders.

Acer palmatum Bloodgood - Japanese Maple from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Acer palmatum Bloodgood

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ is a small, deciduous tree or large shrub, grown for its beautiful autumn colours. The deeply dissected, dark reddish-purple leaves turn a brilliant red in autumn.

Acer palmatum Katsura from Weatherstaff garden design software
Acer palmatum Katsura

‘Katsura’ has wonderful spring colour. The attractive foliage opens pink-orange, becoming green in summer, before taking on yellow, orange and red autumn tints.

Acer palmatum Ukigumo - container planting from Weatherstaff
Acer palmatum Ukigumo

The small, deeply lobed leaves of ‘Ukigumo’ are mottled green, white and pink


A stunning architectural plant, with arching, strap-shaped foliage. An evergreen perennial, phormiums provide all-year round interest in the garden.

Phormium Evening Glow - container plants from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Evening Glow

‘Evening Glow’ has bold clumps of soft sunset-pink leaves, with dusky bronze stripes and margins.

Phormium Pink Panther - eye-catching container plant from Weatherstaff garden design software
Phormium Pink Panther

‘Pink Panther’ has coral leaves with bronzed grey-green margins.

Phormium Dusky Chief - thriller plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Phormium Dusky Chief

‘Dusky Chief’ has deep burgundy foliage, which makes a great foil for chartreuse planting companions.


Many grasses do well in pots, creating a fluid, tactile backdrop to the rest of the planting.

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum - grasses for container planting
Pennisetum x avena Rubrum

Pennisetum x avena Rubrum (Purple Fountain Grass) is a spectacular centre-piece when in flower. It has burgundy red, strappy foliage, with 30cm long, purple bottlebrush plumes from mid-summer to mid-autumn. It isn’t hardy, so be ready to move it into a greenhouse or a sheltered spot for the winter.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ - grasses for flower pots from Weatherstaff
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’ is more upright, with white to soft pink plumes, fading to buff. It is a little hardier and should survive in mild areas of the UK.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ has bright green leaves and soft plumes with purplish tinges


Long-flowering and graceful, gaura is a pretty perennial with starry flowers fluttering on long, airy stems.

Gaura Whirling Butterflies - thriller perennial for container gardening
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

Gaura ‘Whirling Butterflies’ has 75cm tall, waving stems of floating white flowers from May to September and takes on pretty autumn tints later in the year.

Gaura Crimson Butterflies - perennials for container plantings
Gaura Crimson Butterflies

‘Siskiyou Pink’ (1.5m tall) has dusky pink flowers. The fabulous Gaura lindheimeri Rosyjane (‘Harrosy’) (75cm tall) has white flowers with a pink-flushed edging. ‘Crimson Butterflies’ has bright pink flowers on red stems but is shorter at only 60 cm height.


Achilleas are upright perennials, with flat-topped flowerheads from early to late summer. Deadheading will encourage further flowering, but if you leave the flowers on the plant, you can enjoy a pleasing tapestry of muted colours as the flowers fade.

Achillea Walther Funcke - container plant from Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Achillea Walther Funcke

Achillea millefolium ‘Walther Funcke’ grows to 60cm. Its flowers are orange-red with yellow centres, fading with age.

Achillea millefolium Cassis - great plant choice for container gardening
Achillea millefolium Cassis

‘Cassis’ (60cm) has wine-red flowers, fading with age. ‘Terracotta’ (1.1m) has pale orange flowers, which fade to creamy yellows.


A charming and popular summer perennial, penstemons have upright, leafy stems carrying spikes of foxglove-like flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.

Penstemon Schoenholtzeri - gorgeous perennial for containers
Penstemon Schoenholtzeri

‘Schoenholzeri’ (also called ‘Firebird’ or ‘Ruby’) has crimson flowers, with white-streaked throats. ‘Raven’ (100cm) has rich dark purple, tubular flowers, with white throats streaked purple.

Penstemon White Bedder - pretty container plant from Weatherstaff
Penstemon White Bedder

The white flowers of ‘White Bedder’ (70cm) open from greenish buds and become pink-tinged with age.

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Containers - from Weatherstaffgarden design software

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5 Silver Plants for a Mediterranean Garden

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Sophisticated Silver

Silver-leaved plants often cope well with hot, dry summers. Their silvery, often hairy, foliage reflects the sun’s heat and helps the plant to conserve water. Silver-leaved plants can be attractive focal points in the garden, but they work well with other colours too, making them useful highlight plants in any colour scheme.

Olive leaves - Olea europaea for Mediterranean gardens
Olive leaves

Many traditionally Mediterranean plants are silver, of course, such as the glorious olive tree, silvery-grey leaves dancing against deep blue skies and evocative of sun-drenched Mediterranean landscapes. Some, in the list below, though not traditionally from this region, would suit a Mediterranean garden border, due to their tolerance for sun and limited rainfall.

Convolvulus cneorum - silver leaf plant for Mediterranean garden beds
Convolvulus cneorum

1. Convolvulus cneorum

A small evergreen shrub, 60cm tall. The elegant white flowers are funnel-shaped and the narrow, silvery leaves are evergreen. Prune lightly after flowering.

Artemisia ludoviciana Silver Queen - for Mediterranean garden borders
Artemisia ludoviciana Silver Queen

2. Aromatic Artemisia

From mid-summer to autumn, rather insignificant flowerheads appear, but Artemisia is grown primarily for its beautiful aromatic foliage. Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’ has narrow, deeply divided, silvery foliage, borne on upright stems.

Cutting back the flower stems will make the plant less inclined to flop, and also helps to reinvigorage the foliage colour. If not cut back or supported by other plants, it may need staking.

Santolina chamaecyparissus - silver plant for Mediterranean garden beds from Weatherstaff garden design software
Santolina chamaecyparissus

3. Santolina chamaecyparissus

S. chamaecyparissus – cotton lavender – has silvery-green, narrow, finely divided leaves. Bright yellow, button-like flowers are carried on long, slender stalks in mid- and late summer.

The flowers are enjoyed by bees. The woolly, aromatic leaves act as a moth repellent.

Stachys lanata - silver plant for hot, dry borders
Stachys lanata

4. Stachys byzantine

A mat-forming perennial spreading by rhizomes to make good ground cover. The strokeable, velvety leaves are grey-green, felted silver. Between early summer and early autumn, upright stems carry clusters of woolly, purple-pink flowers.

Stachys likes well-drained soil in full sun. It is tolerant of poor soil conditions. Its flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Lavandula - Mediterranean garden borders from Weatherstaff garden design software
Hazy lavender

5. Scented Lavender

The jewel of Mediterranean planting schemes, gloriously scented lavender. A traditional favourite, lavender is a bushy, evergreen shrub, grown for its wonderfully fragrant summer flowers and aromatic foliage.

5 Silver Plants for a Mediterranean Garden - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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A Guide to Planting Eye-catching Containers

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Planting up a container is a bit like designing a garden bed in miniature and the same design principles apply.

Planting up eye-catching containers from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner


Get the colour scheme right. Nature’s soothing greens often make even unlikely plant groupings work, but don’t rely on that if you want your containers to sing. Decide whether you want harmonising or contrasting colours, pastels or rich hues.

Spring pansies in harmonising colours from Weatherstaff garden design software
Spring pansies

A group of pansies in varying hues of purple-blue make a soothing combination. The bright yellow eyes and different flower sizes maintain interest.

Tulips and grape hyacinths in a vibrant planting combination from Weatherstaff garden design software
Vibrant tulips and grape hyacinths

Vibrant clashes can work well – like this glorious combination of tulips and grape hyacinths.

But take care! When my new display of red summer pelargoniums suddenly took off, they clashed horribly with a pot of purple petunias. It’s an easy job to move one of the pots to join up with a new group of friends, but harder to separate shudder-inducing combinations if they’re sharing the same container.

Size and shape

You can plant up containers of any shape and style, whether your taste is traditional, contemporary or rustic.

Metal pots from the Weatherstaff garden design software
A row of metal pots is perfect for succulents

A row of small, matching pots looks great when planted up with similar plants.

A collection of terracotta planting containers
A welcoming collection of terracotta pots

This medley of sizes, shapes and planting combinations works well because the containers are all terracotta.

A collection of charming daisies and forget me nots
A shallow bowl of charming daisies and forget me nots

Small or shallow pots can dry out quickly so are best used for displays of small plants.

A larger container gives more space for compost and roots, as well as needing less frequent watering. Pots big enough to house a collection of plants provide endless scope for experimenting with combinations – just as a larger garden border gives plenty of opportunity for playing with layers and textures.


The ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ technique is a useful reminder of the types of plants to include.

The thriller plant is the one to fulfil the architectural role in your pot. It should add vertical height and drama to the display.

Phormium Pink Panther for colourful pots Weahterstaff PlantingPlanner
Phormium Pink Panther

Stunning phormiums, with their colourful strappy foliage, are perfect ‘thriller’ plants and continue to provide structure in the winter months.

Gaura Whirling Butterflies for summer containers.
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

A tall, summer flowering star-performer, like Gaura, will fit the bill too. If the display is to go the distance, though, you will need to consider what will replace this drama queen in its declining days.


You need mounds to contrast with spires. These are the fillers, the second storey of planting in the container, planted around or in front of the thrillers. They can be billowy, adding a contrasting texture and filling out the scheme. Long-flowering geraniums are perfect for this.

Geranium himalayense 'Gravetye' - ideas for summer flowering pots
Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’

Geranium himalayense ‘Gravetye’ has violet-blue, summer flowers. It flowers in summer, but often flowers again intermittently into the autumn.

Heuchera Green Spice - a great container plant choice
Heuchera Green Spice

Evergreen heuchera, with variegated foliage in colours to match every scheme, also works well to fill out the planting. ‘Green Spice’ has silver-green foliage with plum markings around the veins. Wiry stems of tiny, white flowers appear in summer.

Trailing plants

In the garden border, the little ground covers knit the plants together as they weave their way through the planting. In container planting, the spillers have the same role, tying the elements together and anchoring the container to the garden. The spillers are the trailing plants which, when squeezed in around the edge of the planting, will tumble over the sides and soften the boundaries.

Trailing ivy - a spiller plant for containers
Trailing ivy

One season dazzler or all year-round interest?

If you have a collection of pots, with space to move them around, you may want to create a stunning display for just one season.

Tulips in a spring container display
Bright candy-coloured tulips in a spring display

A massed planting of spring bulbs looks fantastic early in the year. And when they die down, you can move the pot to a quiet corner or plant the bulbs in the garden.

Red and white pelargonium for summer containers
Red and white pelargonium

Summer bedding, either annuals or frost-tender perennials, will flower prolifically for months before needing to be replaced.

On the other hand, because of time or space constrictions, you may want to plant up a pot which is more enduring. In this case, you will need to choose plants which will provide interest at different times of the year and with at least one evergreen for winter colour.

A guide to planting eye-catching containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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How to Plant Pots for All Year Round Interest

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Window boxes, spilling over with summer colour, or containers lit up with seasonal bulbs – you can ring the changes by moving into the limelight pots of just-ready-to-bloom bulbs or plants at their peak of perfection.

Still, it’s good to have a collection of containers which look good all year round in the garden. If you don’t have the time – or money – to keep updating displays, or if you just want some good do-ers to form a reliable backdrop to those flowering divas, then an all-season pot is the one to go for… And with a bit of thought and preparation, it’s not difficult to choose plants which will provide long-lasting interest in the garden.

Planting containers for year round interest - Weatherstaff garden design software
Container gardening

Step 1 Choose your container

If it’s going to be admired all year, it should have drainage holes and be frost proof. Terracotta pots are beautiful, but are prone to cracking in freezing temperatures. Look at the labels on the pots, but remember that even the best quality pot can break if the compost gets water-logged. Read more tips here on ways to protect your pots in winter.

Your container also needs to be large enough to fit in a collection of plants, which can take centre stage at different times of the year. Though I love eclectic groupings of pots of all shapes and sizes, the smaller ones are going to be more demanding in terms of watering, so it’s best to go for big if you can.

Step 2 Choose your plants

It’s tempting to choose the ones that are flowering beautifully when you go to the garden centre, but you need to resist this temptation. You want plants which are going to flower at different times of the year so plan ahead and stick to your list.

Violas for containers Weatherstaff garden design software
Violas for an immediate splash of colour

Having said that, I did throw in a tray of purple and yellow violas, so that I could squeeze them into any gaps and get flowers right from the start.

Plants for containers - from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Look for variety of leaf colour and texture

Choose plants with contrasting foliage and shapes. You will need at least one evergreen for winter interest. Make sure your plants can survive winter temperatures in your region if they are to stay outdoors all year.

Selecting plants for all year round interest - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Group the plants to check you have variety and interest

If I’m buying from scratch, I like to arrange my potential purchases in groups, so that I can check if there is an interesting collection of form and colour.

You will want some with upright growth to balance the mounding types. Check the flowering times to make sure there will be something happening throughout the year. Add a couple of groundcover type plants to mingle and drip off the container edge, especially if they can provide evergreen leaves, like ivies, or are long-flowering.

Heuchera and uncinia rubra - container planting combinations
Heuchera and uncinia rubra

Rather than going for a multi-coloured, summer bedding effect, I like to restrict the colour palette. This purple heuchera looked dazzling next to the red-brown Uncinia rubra, so into the trolley it went.

Step 3 Prepare the container

Your plants will be spending a long time in the planter, so give them as good a head start as possible. Give them some water, then sit them to one side while you deal with the container.

Drill drainage holes - container gardening guide from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Drill drainage holes
Cover drainage holes - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner guide to container gardening
Cover holes with stones

Recycle old pots in containers for all year round interest
Recycle old pots
Add drainage material - container gardening guide from Weatherstaff garden design software
Add drainage material
Add slow-release fertiliser to your containers before planting - Weatherstaff Planting Planner
Add slow-release fertiliser

Drill holes if your pot doesn’t already have any. Before filling the container, cover the drainage holes with broken pots or small stones. Alternatively, use the small plastic flower pots which the plants came in. Turn them upside down over the holes. This has the added advantage of filling up some of the space in larger containers and reducing the amount of compost you need to use.

For better drainage, you can add a layer of drainage material, such as clay balls, at the bottom of the pot, and mix in perlite or organic matter throughout the pot. Use good quality compost and mix in some slow-release granular fertiliser.

Step 4 Planting up the pots

Decide how to arrange your plants. I put the plants into the container, whilst still in their plastic flowerpots, and moved them around until I was happy with the arrangement.

Arranging pots - guide to container planting from Weatherstaff landscape design software
Arrange the plants in your big container
Water plants in well - guide to container gardening by Weatherstaff garden design software
Water the newly planted containers

Tap each plant out of its pot and settle it into the container, adding more compost to ensure that the top of the rootball is a couple of centimetres below the container’s rim. This gives space for the planter to be watered easily, without all the water running off, together with excess soil. Firm in the rootball with more compost. Give everything a good watering-in.


  • If you can keep your pots out of the full sun, they won’t dry out so quickly, reducing the need for too much watering.
  • Continue to water when the soil is dry during mild periods in winter.
  • If the temperature drops very low, drape some horticultural fleece or bubble wrap over the top of your container to provide some winter warmth.
  • The restricted conditions in a container mean that some shrubs and larger perennials won’t grow as big as they might if given space in a garden bed. Nevertheless, they may outgrow the pot after a year or two. You could try digging up the plant, dividing the rootball and putting one part back in the pot. This has the advantage of reinvigorating the plant as well as providing you with new plants for future containers, garden borders or to give away.

How to plant pots for all year interest - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Tulip Mania!

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Red tulips - spring border ideas from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

Though tulips are as quintessentially Dutch as windmills and clogs, they are actually an Eastern flower, growing wild along a narrow belt, stretching from Ankara in Turkey to the mountain ranges of Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan in Central Asia. The word tulip itself is derived from the Turkish and Persian names for turban, named for the resemblance between the flower’s petals and the turban’s overlapping folds of material.

Iznik tiles with tulip motif - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Iznik tiles with tulip motif

A prized flower in Turkey, the tulip later became a symbol of the Ottoman Empire, with a period during the early 18th century – noted for its prosperity and relative peace – being labelled the Tulip Era. The classic tulip motif, with elongated petals, often featured in Ottoman art.

A hundred or so years before that, the tulip, of course, had been the catalyst for wild speculation, followed by a spectacular collapse in price, known as Tulip Mania, during the Dutch Golden Age.

The exotic and previously unknown tulip was probably first introduced to Europe when the ambassador of Ferdinand I, the Holy Roman Emperor, to the Sultan of Turkey, sent tulip bulbs and seeds to Vienna from the Ottoman Empire in 1554. From there, they spread to other European cities.

Tulip The Viceroy
Tulip, named “the Viceroy”, from a Dutch catalogue in 1637. One bulb could cost as much as 4,200 guilders.

The Dutch East India Company was set up in 1602 and Amsterdam was becoming a hugely important port. It was a time of great prosperity for the Dutch, with art, architecture and horticulture experiencing an upsurge in popularity. The pioneering botanist, Carolus Clusius, had a collection of tulip bulbs which he planted in his private garden, spending years studying them to try to establish what caused some of the bulbs to ‘break’, creating new variations in colour and pattern.

We now know that this is the result of a virus, but the novelty value of these unpredictable and enchanting varieties caused their prices to soar. Tulip bulbs changed hands at ever-increasing prices, until finally the bubble burst in February 1637.

Some of the wildest myths about the Tulip Mania period have been debunked by Anne Goldgar in her book, Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age. The tales of financial ruin were certainly exaggerated and some of the stories were simply not true – for example, that of a sailor thrown into prison for accidently eating a tulip bulb, having mistaken it for an onion. Goldgar, researching through the archives, discovered that many of the rumours originated in pamphlets published after the event, often by Dutch Calvinists, eager to persuade people that chasing untold wealth was an ungodly pastime!

Captivating tulips - spring garden plans from Weahterstaff
Captivating tulips

Still, the tulip is rather alluring and it’s tempting to believe that its elegance and sophistication could cause speculators to lose their senses, whilst in thrall to its beauty. Fortunately, you won’t have to invest your life savings to enjoy tulips in your back garden. A pack of 10 or even 20 bulbs can be bought for under £10 today.

Rembrandt Tulip Mix - spring garden border ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Rembrandt Tulip Mix     ♦   Source

A glance at the catalogues reveals a bewildering array – single, double, early, late, fringed, parrot… There are over 3,000 registered varieties, divided into 15 groups. There’s even a collection named after Rembrandt, who would have been painting at the time when the striated variety, named after him, could have cost more than a house! They do look as if someone has daubed them with a paintbrush, though, to create the streaks and splashes of colour.

Here’s a selection of tulips to turn anyone’s head:

Tulip Black Parrot - spring bulbs ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Tulip Black Parrot

Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’ is a member of the Parrot Group of tulips, which has flamboyantly frilled petal-like tepals. The cup-shaped, feathery flowers, appearing in late spring, are a deep purple-red.

Tulip White Triumphator - spring border ideas from Weatherstaff landscape design software
Tulip White Triumphator

For simple elegance, you can’t beat Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’, from the Lily-flowered Group of tulips. Flowering in late spring, it carries graceful, pure white flowers, with pointed petal-like tepals flaring at the tip.

Tulipa Prinses Irene - spring bulbs ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Tulipa Prinses Irene

Tulipa ‘Prinses Irene’ belongs to the Triumph Group of tulips, which has single, cup-shaped flowers often streaked with a contrasting colour. ‘Prinses Irene’ has gorgeous orange flowers, streaked with red-purple, in mid spring.

Tulip Queen of the Night - spring bulbs suggestions from Weatherstaff landscape design software
Tulip Queen of the Night

Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ belongs to the Single Late Group of tulips, which flowers in late spring. The sumptuous, cup-shaped flowers are a sultry dark red-purple.

Tulip Red Riding Hood - spring bulbs ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Tulip Red Riding Hood

For an early flowering tulip, try Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’. A member of the Greigii Group of tulips, ‘Red Riding Hood’ has deep red bowl-shaped flowers, scarlet inside and with a black base.The strap-like leaves are blue-grey, attractively streaked maroon.

Tulip Mania! - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

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Spring is here!

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Spring bulbs and pick-me-up window box displays.

Tulips in a huge array of colours to complement any colour scheme. Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), with spectacular Carmen Miranda headgear. Cheerful daffodils and chirpy violas. Here’s what I found flowering this week…

Spring is here! from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

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Spring is (not yet) sprung!

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

I’m not too great when it comes to delayed gratification. I want spring – and I want it now!

Actually, I wanted it a couple of weeks ago. I like the changing of the seasons. I love autumn colours and crisp winter days, but now, I’d like the seasons to change again.

Anemone blanda - spring flowers from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

Campanula lactiflora Loddon Anna - summer flowers from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

Amelanchier canadensis - autumn colour from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

Holly in snow - winter colour from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

With the arrival of February, spring seemed almost within the grasp of my gardening-gloved hand. And really, February’s such a little month to endure. Those missing few days at the end of February mean that by mid-month, it’s almost over! There’s Valentine’s Day, too, slap in the middle, to cheer us up with chocolates and flowers. Suddenly, supermarket shelves are laden with bunches and baskets of flowers. Garden centres are bursting into life again. Little pots of mini plants sit, huddled together, fluttering their eyelids, seducing passers-by to pop them in a trolley.

It’s enough to make you think that spring is just round the corner. I eyed up some new containers, made mental notes of new must-haves, even scribbled a few names on a scrap of paper. But it was chilly and getting dark. I resolutely turned my back and promised to return soon.

And it’s just as well I resisted those enticing charms. For then along came the Beast from the East, blowing in freezing air straight from Siberia, sounding the death knell for some almost-made-it, would-be survivors in the plant world.

Still it’s almost March – roaring in like a lion – and you have to have daffodils for St David’s Day. So, I’ll watch the stalwart little ‘Tête-à-Tête’ through my window (you didn’t think I walked away with nothing, did you??) and dream of spring.

Tête-à-Tête in crate - Weatherstaff garden design software

The RHS says it’s hardy to -20, so if the Beast gallops off westwards, we should be fine.

Narcissus Tête-à-Tête - spring border ideas from Weatherstaff
Narcissus Tête-à-Tête

Click here for the Weatherstaff Fact file on Narcissus.

The Weatherstaff Team

Finding the Perfect Plant – Drought Tolerant Plants

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Need a Planting Plan for a Dry Garden? Click here

Some plants are particularly versatile and unfussy, making themselves at home and seeming to thrive wherever they come to rest. Most plants however have a preference for a particular set of growing conditions or cannot cope if the temperature gets too high or the water supply too low. Keen gardeners may relish the challenge of coaxing a particular favourite plant to prosper, but if you don’t have the time to lovingly cosset your choice specimens, getting the plants in the right place to start with is the way to go.

Plants for Dry Conditions

Geranium Rozanne - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

If you garden in hot, dry conditions, it’s worth seeking out plants which will thrive in this situation. With climate change giving us unpredictable weather patterns, it’s helpful to know that a prolonged period of drought is not going to kill off all your plants. Then when drought conditions are declared, accompanied by hosepipe bans, you can relax, knowing that your plants will be none the worse for being left to their own devices.

There are many shrubs, perennials and annuals, from around the world, which are accustomed to dry conditions. Here are my 5 choices for plants with good drought tolerance.

Perovskia longin - drought-tolerant plant from Weatherstaff
Perovskia longin
Perovskia atriplicifolia

Russian sage is a bushy, deciduous shrub, grown for its upright spikes of lavender-blue flowers and deeply-cut, aromatic foliage. Perovskia is a tough plant and, once established, does not need regular feeding and watering.

Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ grows to 1.2m. Perovskia longin is a little shorter but more upright in form. For a smaller plant, try ‘Little Spire’, which reaches only 60cm.

Click here for the Weatherstaff Fact file on Perovskia.


Hardy geraniums are wonderful, versatile plants and there will be one to suit any spot in your garden. The following will cope with dry conditions:

Geranium macrorrhizum is mat-forming, with aromatic, light green foliage and early summer flowers. The leaves take on autumn tints, which, unless the weather is particularly severe, are usually retained over winter.

It is a particularly useful drought-tolerant perennial, spreading by means of rhizomes to form effective groundcover, even in dry shade. The plant’s shallow rhizomes make it easy to pull up any excess growth.

Geranium macrorrhizum Spessart - drought tolerant hardy geranium
Geranium macrorrhizum Spessart

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Spessart’ has dense clusters of white flowers, with pink centres and red-brown calyces. ‘Bevan’s Variety’ has deep red-purple flowers, with red calyces.

Geranium Rozanne - drought tolerant hardy geranium
Geranium Rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is a superb herbaceous perennial, forming mounds of deep green, slightly marbled foliage. The divided leaves take on red tints in autumn. Charming, violet-blue flowers, veined maroon and with white centres, are carried from early summer to mid-autumn.

Geranium cinereum Ballerina - drought tolerant geranium from Weatherstaff
Geranium cinereum Ballerina

Geranium cinereum is an alpine geranium, forming a compact mound only 15cm high. ‘Ballerina’ is easy to grow, long-lived and deservedly popular. In late spring and early summer, it produces clusters of delicate, pale purple flowers, attractively veined in deep red-purple and with a dark maroon centre.


A striking, clump-forming perennial, adding a touch of drama to borders. The plant forms a neat mound of spiny leaves, which are grey-green, white-veined and very deeply divided.

From mid- to late summer, branching stems bear striking flowerheads, consisting of a cone of metallic blue florets, surrounded by a ruff of spiny, silvery-blue bracts. The upper stems are also suffused with metallic blue.

Eryngium for a drought tolerant garden border

Eryngium copes well with arid conditions, its tap root searching deep underground for water. Cut down in autumn or leave the faded seedheads to enjoy into the winter. The flowerheads make great additions to cut flower displays and, if dried first, retain their colour well.

Eryngium bourgatii Graham Stuart Thomas’s selection grows to 50cm, with a spread of 30cm. Eryngium x oliverianum is taller, reaching a height of 90cm. It flowers into early autumn and has an AGM (Award of Garden Merit).


Poppies can be annuals, biennials or perennials. The herbaceous perennials are clump-forming, with attractive summer flowers. The flowers are followed by enchanting seed pods, coveted for adding to bowls of pot-pourri for winter displays.

The foliage will die back after flowering and needs to be cut back almost to ground level at this stage. However, many will start to grow again by autumn, providing some winter interest. Cutting back may also induce a second flush of flowers later in the summer.

Papaver orientale Patty's Plum - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Papaver orientale Patty’s Plum
Papaver orientale Coral Reef - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Papaver orientale Coral Reef

Papaver commutatum Ladybird - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Papaver commutatum Ladybird

Papaver orientale ‘Patty’s Plum’ has ruffled, papery, mulberry-plum petals, with black blotches at the petal bases, surrounding a circlet of dark stamens. The coral-pink flowers of ‘Coral Reef’ have purple-black blotches at the bases. Papaver commutatum ‘Ladybird’ has large, bright red flowers, with distinctive black blotches.

Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’

A bushy, evergreen shrub, grown for its aromatic foliage. Its green, felted leaves are irregularly margined yellow. Spikes of two-lipped, lilac-blue flowers, well-loved by bees and butterflies, are occasionally produced in summer.

Salvia officinalis Icterina - drought tolerant herb for dry garden beds
Salvia officinalis Icterina

Sage likes very well-drained soil in a sheltered, sunny spot. It will appreciate extra grit dug in before planting on heavier soil.

The leaves are commonly used, both fresh and dried, as a culinary herb. Since Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’ grows fairly slowly, harvest leaves more sparingly than those from more vigorous plants.

Tips for planting for dry conditions

  • If you have a choice, buy your plants when they are small, so that they can get acclimatised gradually to the growing conditions in your garden.
  • Improve soil structure by digging in lots of homemade compost or well-rotted manure before you begin planting.
  • Don’t add fertiliser. This can encourage lush growth, which will require more watering.
  • Water in well at planting time and periodically when plants are settling in. Don’t go for little and often watering – this will encourage the plant to make shallow roots, whereas you want deep roots to cope with drought conditions.
  • Cover the bare soil around your plants with a layer of mulch to retain moisture in the soil. Gravel or small pebbles look good and add a Mediterranean flavour to the planting.
  • It’s worth remembering that many drought tolerant plants still need a little cossetting until their root systems are established. Once settled in, they will be more tolerant of dry summers in future years.

Need a Planting Plan for a hot, dry border?

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner makes it easy for you to create a drought tolerant garden. The interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans for your garden, tailored to your garden’s soil and light conditions.

Choose your favourite planting style (for example: cottage, contemporary, Mediterranean) and pick your colour scheme. The PlantingPlanner will draw up an individual planting plan for you.

Drought tolerant plants from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

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

The Weatherstaff Team

Creating a Mediterranean Garden

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Hazy lavender, silvery foliage, aromatic herbs – these are the first plants to spring to mind when I think about a Mediterranean garden. But it’s not just the right selection of plants that will conjure up that holiday feeling. It’s the whole caboodle – the laid-back, make the most of the outdoor space, relaxed ambience of a week in Provence – I want to recreate!

Lavender - an essential ingredient in a Mediterranean garden - from Weatherstaff garden design software
Lavender – an essential ingredient in a Mediterranean garden

For gardeners dealing with the real thing, Mediterranean climates can be problematic – trying to keep a collection of plants alive when every drop of water is precious. Fortunately, many typical Mediterranean plants are drought-tolerant and are often able to cope with nutrient-poor soil. With our increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, growing more drought-tolerant plants in the UK doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

Artemisia Powis Castle - Mediterranean style garden borders from Weatherstaff
Artemisia Powis Castle

Many drought-tolerant plants have silver leaves, which reflect strong sunlight. Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ (wormwood ‘Powis Castle’) is a low, evergreen shrub with gorgeous finely-dissected, aromatic silver foliage.

The Mediterranean planting style is influenced by the character of warm climates. Lawns need far too much water to stay attractive so, in hot climates, are reduced or replaced entirely by hard landscaping. Mulching with gravel conserves moisture and has the added advantage of creating a low maintenance garden.

Mulching with gravel - Mediterranean garden beds from Weatherstaff landscaping design software
Mulch with gravel for a Mediterranean look

In garden designer Beth Chatto’s gravel garden in Essex, the plants were soaked and well-watered in when first planted. Then left to their own devices. For details of the gardens, check out their website here.

Small pebbles and glazed tiles are also often used to add interest to courtyard areas. White, deep sea-blues and terracotta are particularly effective for painted walls and containers, contrasting with the sun-bleached planting.

Mediterranean tiles - ideas for a Mediterranean garden from Weatherstaff garden design software blog
Ceramic tiles capture the sparking blue of the Mediterranean Sea
Ladder of plants - inspirational gardening ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Ladder of plants

Collections of pots always look amazing. Displaying small pots of herbs, succulents and bulbs on a rustic ladder allows for easy watering and provides vertical interest. Keep a watering can nearby to remind you that plants in containers need more frequent watering than those planted in the ground.

Italian cypress - Mediterranean ideas from Weatherstaff
Italian cypress     ♦   Source

Needle-thin Italian cypress provides year-round colour and structure in Mediterranean areas. The classic Italian cypress is Cupressus sempervirens, forming a narrow column up to 20m tall. Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ is a smaller variety, reaching 4m high. It holds an RHS Award of Garden Merit and has golden foliage to provide winter colour. You can grow cypress trees in large pots but will need to repot into larger containers as they grow.

The ancient art of topiary can add a strikingly contemporary edge to gardens. You can buy topiary ready-clipped into balls, spirals, lollipop and pyramid forms. Rotate the pot for even growth and trim in late summer to maintain the shape. The best plants are slow-growing evergreens, with a dense habit. These include box (Buxus sempervirens), yew (Taxus baccata), privet (Ligustrum japonicum), holly (Ilex) and Lonicera nitida. Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), with its aromatic glossy leaves, looks good trimmed to a lollipop shape, providing an essential ingredient for Mediterranean cooking right on your doorstep.

Box topiary in a Mediterranean garden - from the Weatherstaff garden design software
Clipped balls of box in terracotta pots
Make your own topiary duck!
Make your own topiary duck!                      ♦   Source

Trees and shrubs bought ready-trained can be expensive but provide immediate impact. You can, of course, start your own topiary, trimming into shape as the plant grows. A half-way step is to use a topiary frame. Place the mesh frame over your plant. As the stems push through the frame, simply trim back to the framework.

More tender Mediterranean plants are not going to survive in harsher climates, but there are many traditional Mediterranean plants which are hardy enough to grow in the UK. Remember that less hardy plants, such as citrus and olive trees, can be grown in containers and then brought into a greenhouse or a cool conservatory to help them survive the winter months.

Pick your own citrus fruit
Pick your own citrus fruit
Smart Garden Damasque Lantern
Solar powered lantern ♦ Source

Of course, the whole point of a Mediterranean garden is that you will sit outside admiring it all, so an essential element will be an area for alfresco dining and an arbour or pergola to shelter from the heat of the day. Extend the day with a solar lantern or a sprinkle of magical fairy lights, trailed along a hedge.

A refreshing trickle from a cooling water feature will complete the effect – leaving you feeling as relaxed and refreshed as you were on holiday. Just grab a glass of wine and close your eyes – you could be back in Provence!

How to create a Mediterranean Garden from Weatherstaff garden design software

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Read more about Mediterranean Gardening here.

Mediterranean Garden @

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

The Weatherstaff Team