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

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 of a Mediterranean garden
Lavender – an essential ingredient of a Mediterranean garden     ♦  Source
Silvery Lavandula angustifolia - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Silvery Lavandula angustifolia

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.

Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden
Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden   ♦ Source

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.

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.

Blue tiles - inspiration for a Mediterranean style garden
Ceramic tiles capture the sparking blue of the Mediterranean Sea     ♦   Source
Ladder of plants - garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Ladder of plants     ♦   Source

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!

Mediterranean Garden @ uk.pinterest.com/plantingplanner

Read more about Mediterranean Gardening here.

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

The Weatherstaff Team

Gardening Mediterranean Style

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

In the summer, you can smell the herbs on the air as you head south towards Provence, but our visit at Easter was a tad too early for that. The morning and evening air was chilly, but by mid-morning the sun was hot enough to cast off cardigans and enjoy an alfresco café noisette.

Windowboxes of red pelargoniums for a Mediterranean style garden
Windowboxes of red pelargoniums in Arles

Not too early though for the vines to be in full leaf or for red pelargoniums to be flowering brightly in window boxes at wooden-shuttered windows.

Jasmine in a Mediterranean garden
Summer jasmine flowering early in Provence

Scented Jasminum officinale – summer jasmine – was already clambering over stone walls and above blue-painted windows in St Rémy de Provence.

I’ve admired the flower displays on French roundabouts before, but here the road islands have a distinctly Provençal flavour. Everyone is unique, but each displays a microcosm of Mediterranean plant life.

Sunshine yellow

Yellow planting scheme - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A sunny Mediterranean planting scheme

At a road island in St Rémy de Provence, it’s all jaunty yellow-orange, underpinned with silver foliage and highlighted with bronze grasses. Perfect inspiration for a Mediterranean style garden border back at home. Here are some cheery yellow/orange flowers to bring Mediterranean sunshine to your back garden!

Erysimum Apricot Twist - Mediterranean garden ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Erysimum Apricot Twist for warm Mediterranean borders

The common wallflower, Erysimum cheiri, has scented, vivid yellow-orange flowers in spring. Erysimum ‘Bredon’ has cheery yellow flowers while those of E. ‘Apricot Twist’ are warm orange.

Oenothera glazioviana in a Mediterranean garden
Oenothera glazioviana – Large-flowered evening primrose

Oenothera macrocarpa (Evening Primrose) is a low perennial, growing to only 15cm in height. Its bright yellow flowers appear from late spring right through to early autumn. The Large-flowered Evening Primrose – Oenothera glazioviana – is an upright biennial. Huge, pale yellow flowers open in the evening, in summer and autumn, on stems up to 1.5m tall.

Santolina chamaecyparissus with cheery yellow button flowers - from the PlantingPlanner blog
Santolina chamaecyparissus with cheery yellow flowers

For silvery foliage and bright yellow flowers, try Santolina chamaecyparissus (cotton lavender), which has deeply dissected silvery leaves and bright yellow button-like flowers.

Silver Helichrysum italicum - Mediterranean garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Silver Mediterrean-style Helichrysum italicum

Helichrysum italicum also has the typical silvery leaves of Mediterranean plants and has yellow flowers in summer. Its evergreen leaves are curry-scented, giving it the common name of curry plant.

Palette of sun-drenched colour

Just outside a tiny French village, another roundabout combines subtle silver-green foliage with pale yellow Euphorbia and cool purple rock roses.

Silver, chartreuse and cool purple planting idea for a Mediterranean garden bed
Sun-bleached planting on a French roundabout
A Mediterranean planting plan - Weatherstaff garden design software
The low lying, shrubby planting is punctuated with exclamation marks of darkest green Italian cypresses.
Euphorbia characias Black Pearl - Mediterranean garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Euphorbia characias Black Pearl has silvery grey leaves and lime-green flowers

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, the Mediterranean spurge, is an upright plant, with grey-green leaves and whorls of chartreuse flowers. Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl’ is more compact, with distinctive black eyes. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is smaller still, growing to only 60cm.

Cistus Sunset - magenta flowers for a Mediterranean garden border
Rock roses will flower continuously all summer

Cistus × purpureus (purple-flowered rock rose) is a bushy evergreen shrub, growing to a metre in height. The papery purple flowers have yellow centres and dark red blotches at the base of each petal. Cistus × pulverulentus ‘Sunset’ has clusters of yellow-centred, magenta flowers. Each flower lasts a single day, but the plant will flower its socks off all season long.

Lavandula angustifolia - Weatherstaff garden design software
Fragrant lavander, the quintessential Mediterranean plant

Lavender is a must for every Mediterranean style garden, with its aromatic grey-green leaves and scented purple flowers. Lavandula angustifolia, despite its common name of English lavender, is a Mediterranean plant, of course, as the fields of scented lavender in Provence will testify.

Wisteria in a Mediterranean garden
Wisteria tumbles over a Provençal arched doorway

It could be the amazing Provençal light, making every wisteria-draped arch and blue-shuttered window look fantastic. Or just the sun’s warmth down in the south of France bringing flowers to bloom which are still months away from flowering in the UK. Or perhaps it’s the laid-back, holiday atmosphere, with breakfast on the terrace, surrounded by terracotta pots and topiary box, or an afternoon coffee with a tarte citron under the awning of a local patisserie. Whatever the impetus, like so many others, I’ve returned with a burning desire to recreate a bit of the Mediterranean in my back garden.

Box topiary in a Mediterranean garden - from the Weatherstaff garden design software
Clipped balls of box in terracotta pots

Read more about Creating a Mediterranean Garden here.

The Weatherstaff Team

Celebrating the Lily of the Valley – La Fête du Muguet

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

May 1st – International Workers’ Day or Labour Day – is a public holiday in many parts of the world. It coincides with the much older traditional festival of May Day – springtime festivities, associated with May Queens and ribbon-dancing around the maypole. In France, it is also the Fête du Muguet, the day when the little Lily of the Valley, with its delicate sprays of white bells, is elevated to the position of celebrated star for the day.

Lily of the Valley display for La Fête du Muguet in France
Lily of the Valley display in readiness for La Fête du Muguet in France

The earliest May Day celebrations honoured the ancient Roman goddess of flowers, Flora, and flowers inevitably feature in many of the traditions associated with this day. Traditionally, “May baskets”, containing flowers or sweets, were given at this time of year. They would be hung anonymously on the doors of friends or neighbours.

May Day baskets or posies from the Weatherstaff  garden design software blog
May Day baskets or posies were traditionally left on a friend’s doorstep     ♦   Source
A May Crowning ceremony from the Weatherstaff garden design software blog
A May Crowning ceremony     ♦  Source

A May crowning – honouring the Virgin Mary, by placing a crown of flowers on the head of her statue – takes place in many Roman Catholic parishes. Young girls in white dresses carry flowers to place on the head of the statue. Throughout the month of May, the flowers may be replaced to keep them fresh.

A charming tradition, in France, is La Fête du Muguet, the festival of the Lily of the Valley. It dates back to the 16th century and is associated with the ill-fated Charles IX of France, son of Catherine de’ Medici.

The young King Charles – he acceded to the throne at the age of 10 and died before reaching the age of 24 – was prone to illness and dementia. He suffered from fits of violent, mad rages and was responsible for the massacre of thousands of Huguenots, in what became known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

Sprays of lily of the valley - spring flowering garden border idea
Sprigs of lily of the valley

Despite his gruesome history, however, he has left behind a much more pleasant legacy. In the spring of 1560, the young prince was apparently presented with a sprig of the sweetly scented lily of the valley (muguet in French) as a lucky charm. He was so delighted with the gift that, each year on the same day, May 1st, he gave sprigs of lily of the valley to the ladies at court.

Tall vases of Lily of the Valley from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Tall vases hold elegant sprays of Lily of the Valley

The custom continues in France, with fragrant posies of lily of the valley being presented to loved ones as a token of appreciation or good luck charm on 1st May. Street stalls and supermarket shelves are laden with little pots and tall, elegant vases containing sprays of the dainty, bell-shaped flowers, rising from a scroll of bright green leaves. More than 75 million sprigs of the flower will be sold across France for the Fête du Muguet.

The tradition has been incorporated into Labour Day activities too. During the Second World War, a buttonhole of eglantine rose, which had been worn by marching workers as a symbol of the Left, was officially replaced by a spray of lily of the valley.

There are now special rules in France allowing lily of the valley to be sold on May Day without the usual taxes having to be paid, provided the flower is homegrown or gathered from the wild. Fortunately, the little plant’s propensity to spread by means of underground runners, means that it copes well with any amount of cutting back and will continue to bloom undeterred in subsequent years.

Lily of the valley, bringing luck and happiness on the Fête du Muguet from the Weatherstaff blog
Lily of the valley, bringing luck and happiness on the Fête du Muguet
The Weatherstaff Team

Garden Border Ideas – In Search of the Wow Factor

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software


Sometimes we don’t know what we want until we see it in someone else’s garden!

In all these internet searches every month, what gardeners are looking for is a little inspiration. Pinterest is great for sharing ideas. Try scrolling through some images to see which ones you instinctively fall in love with and start collecting your favourite pictures on your own board.

Follow Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner at uk.pinterest.com/plantingplanner

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

Even with a glorious mood board of beautiful images to inspire, though, it’s not always easy to transfer these ideas to our own garden borders. Here are some ideas for creating the garden of your dreams.


The first step is to decide on the style of garden you prefer. Are you a minimalist, in search of contemporary planting ideas and modern materials? Or do you have a passion for cottage gardens – billowing roses and white picket fences? Perhaps you want to create a Mediterranean-style garden border or a shady woodland retreat?

Contemporary planting idea
Contemporary style planting
Flowers in a Cottage garden style from Weatherstaff garden design software
Cottage garden style

Read more here on different garden styles to help you decide.

Now look back at your mood board of favourite images – which style of garden features most prominently in your chosen images? Is that the type of garden you would like to recreate in your own backyard?

Formal or Informal

The next step is to consider the overall layout of your garden. Will you need to stick closely to the structure you have already or are you prepared to invest in some major restructuring, involving moving or laying new paths or seating areas, perhaps? Read more here about disguising awkwardly-shaped plots.

There are some changes you can make, without huge cost implications, such as widening a flower bed or tweaking the shape of a lawn. We were able to change the look of our triangular garden by rounding the lawn and losing the sharp angle amongst a sea of tall planting.

Before you head out with a garden spade, think first about whether you want to create a garden which is formal or informal in design. Do you prefer a naturalistic, informal look or do you hanker after the elegance of formal lines and symmetry? Have a look at the following design tips for creating a formal or informal style of garden border.

Ideas for formal gardens and borders

Formal gardens at Villandry
Formal gardens at Villandry

The amazing, formal gardens at Villandry in the Loire valley are a great source of inspiration. You may not be able to create something on quite such a grand scale, but the elements of symmetry, geometric shapes and well-manicured topiary are the basis for a formal garden border.

Tips for creating a formal garden

  • Choose straight lines and geometric shapes, such as circles, squares and triangles, to define planting areas.
  • Aim for a symmetrical design, repeating planting and colours in matching borders or arranging features such as pots, fountains or obelisks in a symmetrical pattern.
Formal garden with symmetrical flowerbeds
Symmetrical beds in a formal garden
  • Formal gardens need to be carefully maintained, hedges and topiary well-clipped and borders neatly edged.
  • Containers of topiary in neat geometrical shapes sit well in formal designs.
Topiary - ideas for a formal garden border
Topiary for a formal border     ♦  Source

Ideas for informal gardens and borders

Informal garden border
Planting spills over border edges in an informal flower border

Tips for creating an informal garden

  • Use gentle curves, rather than straight lines, to define border edges.
  • Planting can be allowed to spill over the boundaries of flower beds to break up hard edges.
Informal collection of pots i- garden style ideas
Informal collection of pots ♦ Source
  • Use natural materials, such as wood and weathered stone.
  • Collections of pots and containers in a mix of heights and sizes create a natural look.

The Planting

So, you’ve decided on the style and layout of your garden. Take another look at all those beautiful images you’ve collected. Chances are the most important feature in those pictures is the choice of plants. The crucial step to making your dream garden a reality is getting the planting right.

Take time to study the plants used in the flower borders and how they are combined to great effect. Try placing plants in groups or drifts – an odd number usually works well. Contrast tall plants with low mounds. Choose plants for all year-round structure as well as summer colour.

Spires and mounds work well in a planting plan. - garden border ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Spires and mounds work well in a planting plan.

Getting the planting right can be tricky. Many home owners have spent a small fortune in garden centres only to find that the plants they have chosen aren’t suitable for the growing conditions in their own gardens.

It’s a good idea to check on the acidity of your soil and take time to work out whether your borders are well-drained or water-retentive, sunny or shaded, as these factors will affect which plants will thrive in your borders. Read here for more on my endeavours to create a successful planting plan.

Need help choosing the right plants?

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner makes it easy for you to create beautiful garden borders.

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

  • Draw your garden layout using the onscreen drawing tools.
  • Select your choice of style and preferred colour scheme.
  • Enter your garden’s climate, soil and light conditions.

That’s it! The PlantingPlanner will generate your bespoke planting plan, complete with colour photographs, descriptions and full maintenance advice for individual plants.

Planting Plan from Weatherstaff garden design software
Planting Plan from Weatherstaff

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. Find out more here.

Happy gardening!

The Weatherstaff Team

Long, narrow gardens and other awkward shapes

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

When is a triangle not a triangle?

Our main garden is an elongated, right-angled triangle, bordered by a wild hedge edging a country lane. When we first moved in, the entire garden was laid to lawn and could be viewed in all its triangular, tapering glory! Pythagoras might have been delighted with the opportunity to experiment with the properties of our triangle. We were more perplexed by the dilemma of how to make a triangle look more like a rectangle!

The newly divided and planted up garden from Weatherstaff garden design software
The newly divided and planted up garden

In our vast expanse of grassness, we were also keen to add interest by creating pathways and hidden areas, as well as planting up flower borders to soften the boundaries.

We ended up making the lawn area smaller, with a more curvy shape, by lopping off the tip of the triangle. We laid stepping stones to create a winding pathway up to the tip of the triangle and used taller planting to obscure the shape.

The planting has started to fill out - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
The planting has started to fill out.

As the planting started to become established, the stepping stones began to disappear into our secret garden.

Polystichum munitum, Myosotis sylvatica, the frosted foliage of Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost and new buds opening on Centaurea monana - woodland plants from the Weatherstaff garden design software
Polystichum munitum, Myosotis sylvatica, the frosted foliage of Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost and new buds opening on Centaurea monana

We planted a pair of columnar silver birches, their narrow lines perfect for small gardens, and used plants which naturally favour woodland conditions.

The tip of the triangle - landscape ideas from Weatherstaff
The tip of the triangle

It has become our wild area – not least because it’s not so visible from the house so is always last on the weeding list!

Spring flowers - landscape garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Spring flowers in the Secret Garden

This area of the garden is glorious in spring, when the aquilegias, candelabra primulas and forget-me-nots are all in flower. In summer, the geraniums, hydrangeas and persicaria do well.

I tried hostas up here, as they are a perfect choice for a shade garden, but they were too far from the house for me to remember to slug-proof them and I decided to move them nearer to the back door where I could keep a wary eye on them.

In need of a hair cut - garden ideas from Weatherstafff
In need of a hair cut

Over time, the shrubs have grown tall and the planting has become dense and overgrown. It’s definitely time for another make-over – or at least, a good sort-out and pruning session, but the basic structure and pathways are still good and I’m happy that the garden no longer looks too angular.

Disguising awkward shapes

Changing the shape of features such as lawns and planting areas can help disguise unusual shapes and smooth out sharp angles. Circles (or even octagons) make interesting lawn shapes as they create intriguingly-shaped borders around their edges and draw the eye away from the less-than-perfect outline.

Splitting up the overall garden into sections, especially where there is a journey to follow to reveal each part, can be a clever way to disguise an unusual shape.

Ideas for long, narrow gardens

I appreciate that dealing with a triangular garden is not a problem too many people have. A much more common garden shape is the long, narrow plot and the geometrical puzzle becomes how to make a narrow rectangle look like a circle – or even a square!

Painswick Rococo Garden, Glos - photo by Weatherstaff
A long straight path looks wonderful in Painswick Rococo Garden, Gloucestershire

If you have a grand estate to play with. long, straight vistas are rather wonderful. But in a ‘normal’ back garden, the idea is to break up the linear view.

You know the fashion advice – if you’re short and dumpy, vertical stripes are better; beanpoles look better proportioned if the stripes are horizontal. The same ploy works for gardens. For plots which are long and narrow, you need to trick the eye into looking from side to side, instead of along the length. (Of course, if your garden is wide and shallow, you can use the same tricks – this time emphasising the length instead of the width.)

Circular Garden
Photo by Green Tree Garden Design LtdMore rustic garden photos

So instead of laying a path which runs straight down the length of the garden, create sinuous, walkways, with interesting features along the way, to create different vantage points as you walk through the garden.

Diagonal lines - garden border ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Making use of the diagonal   ♦    Source

More ways to break up the linear look:

  • Place a path, seating area or pond widthways across the garden.
  • Lay an area of decking so that the planks lie across, instead of down the length of, the garden.
  • Set open spaces, like a lawn or sitting areas, on the diagonal.
  • Place large objects, such as urns or obelisks, at the edges of the plot.
Dividing up a long garden - garden design ideas from Weatherstaff
Dividing up a long garden    ♦  Source

Long gardens can benefit from being split into sections horizontally, with each section given its own distinctive role and style e.g. an alfresco dining area, a lawn area, the kitchen potager.

Clematis viticella Purpurea - garden sdesign ideas from Weatherstaff
Gorgeous Clematis viticella Purpurea clambers over an iron obelisk

Garden designers often recommend building in ‘obstructions’, to prevent the whole garden being seen at once. Try adding arches, obelisks or fencing panels, clothed with climbers, so that each section of the garden is revealed in turn. Tall planting can also be used in this way.

Choosing the right plants

Once you’ve got the basic structure right, it’s time to think about updating tired garden borders or choosing plants for new flower beds. For plantaholics, that’s where the fun begins!

If you need help selecting plants to make a stylish border, you could try The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner. This interactive gardening software designs all-season planting plans, choosing plants which are tailored to your garden’s growing conditions. You can satisfy your inner garden designer by tweaking and modifying each plan until it is just how you want it to look!

Find out more here.

Happy gardening!

The Weatherstaff Team

A Crescendo of Crocuses

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

What’s the collective noun for a group of crocuses? A cluster, a crowd, a colony? A swathe, a dazzle, a drift?

Spring Crocuses - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Spring Crocuses

On a bright, chill-nipped, late-February afternoon in Cannizaro Park, the word which comes to mind is crescendo – the pale buds, pushing up in clumps through the crumpled dead leaves and winter mud-brown soil, gradually increasing in number and intensity of colour, spilling across the grassy borders, unfurling to reveal orange stamen and deep purple petals, peaking at the very moment I reach the park gates!

The cheerful little crocus - spring garden border idea from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The cheerful little crocus

Cannizaro Park is a 34-acre Grade II* listed English Heritage garden, to the south of Wimbledon Common. A private garden for 300 years, it was acquired by Wimbledon Borough Council, now London Borough of Merton, in 1948 and a short time after, opened to the public.

Crocuses - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
A crescendo of crocuses at Cannizaro Park

The stately home it surrounds is now a hotel and the gardens provide the backdrop to many wedding reception photographs. A little later, and it will be transformed by the mass of blossoms in the azalea dell and then the brightly coloured summer bedding in the formal Sunken Garden, but for now, the crocuses hold sway.

Sunken Garden in Winter - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Sunken Garden in Winter
Sunken Garden in Late Spring - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Sunken Garden in Late Spring   ♦ Source
Diana and the Fawn - at Cannizaro Park
Diana and the Fawn

The statue of Diana and the Fawn, originally from a Sicilian villa, can be found at the north-western tip of the park.

Rhododendron - flowering in Cannizaro Park - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Rhododendron – flowering in Cannizaro Park

Lady Jane’s Wood is known for its collection of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Here, only a few are flowering just yet but the plump buds hint at lots more to come. Walking through the dark azalea dell, with London’s emerald parakeets screeching overhead, it felt very much as if I was exploring a tropical rainforest!

Wild parakeet - from Weatherstaff
Wild parakeet in Margravine Cemetery
Squirrel at Margravine Cemetery, London
A curious squirrel

The next day, I had a close-up view of the ubiquitous exotic parakeet – this time in Margravine Cemetery. In fact, I felt a little like Francis of Assisi, surrounded as I was by curious and hungry squirrels and pigeons.

Crocuses and memorial stones
Crocuses and memorial stones

Margravine Cemetery is just around the corner from Barons Court tube station and forms part of the Barons Court Conservation area. It was opened in 1869 in response to a shortage of burial plots caused by outbreaks of cholera, and became a Garden of Rest in 1951.

Nowadays, it is a peaceful, atmospheric mix of wildflower-rich grassland and ancient gravestones.

Snowdrops and gravestones
Snowdrops and gravestones

Like the Friends of Cannizaro Park, the Friends of Margravine Cemetery are a voluntary organisation dedicated to improving and supporting the gardens. In 2016, they entered the Cemetery into the London in Bloom awards gaining ‘Outstanding’ in the ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ category, and a silver-gilt in the ‘Our Community’ award.

Crocuses at Margravine Cemetery
Crocuses at Margravine Cemetery

It’s not surprising then that the crocuses are magnificent here as well. As the earlier-flowering snowdrops fade, the crocuses push up, pooling around tree trunks and lining the pathways with a sea of delicate purple.

The Weatherstaff Team

On a Hunt for Winter Colour

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Winter is not all bare branches and empty garden borders! Camera in hand, I set myself the challenge of tracking down plants which brighten up the dead days of winter.

Even when frosted with ice or with a sprinkling of snow, holly can be relied on to provide deep greens and rich red berries. Ivy and mistletoe complete the trio of festive evergreens.

In the medieval, walled town of Pérouges, in eastern France, I spotted a collection of window boxes which combined Christmas baubles and pine cones with winter pansies and cyclamen. When it’s time to take down the Christmas decorations, the pansies and cyclamen continue to brighten up the window sills.

Medieval Perouges
Sweetcorn and baubles

Decorating the house walls above them, traditional bunches of sweetcorn, together with gold and red baubles, were tied onto the winter vines, adding a splash of vibrant colour amongst the fading vines.

Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis Rosea' - winter ideas from Weatherstaff
Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

By early January, the spidery flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia are starting to appear, while the delicate pink blossoms of Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ – the winter flowering cherry – appear in mild spells throughout the winter months.

Mahonia for winter garden borders
Mahonia japonica ‘Hivernant’

Mahonia is a useful winter plant with evergreen leaves and fragrant lemon-yellow flowers. Winter jasmine – Jasminum nudiflorum – is a vigorous climber, with yellow flowers providing a cheery sight on grey days.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ carries pretty, pink flowers for months through autumn and winter, while the peony-like ruffles of Camellia provide handsome clusters of colour in late winter and early spring.

Camellia williamsii 'Donation' - winter flowering plants from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Camellia williamsii ‘Donation’

And with snowdrops starting to open and green shoots of early-flowering daffodils poking up from the ground,it will be spring before we know it!

The Weatherstaff Team

5 Easy Containers for Stunning Winter Colour

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

With leaden skies and the days getting shorter and colder, it was time to inject a splash of colour on our front door step!

Container for winter interest
Planting up a container for winter colour

1. Skimmia, heuchera and winter pansies

A trip to the local garden centre is a great pick-me-up at any time of year, but on a chilly November day it was a heart-warming experience! Fairy lights twinkled and deliciously cute, fluffy rabbits waved from their glittery warrens as I passed through the Christmas grotto and out into the plant sales area. Of course, there wasn’t the huge array of colourful flowers you’d find at other times of the year. Still, there was plenty of choice for garden lovers hoping to cheer up their winter flower beds – or front door steps!

Pots of young trees and evergreen topiary are superb for creating structure at the time of year when many of the perennials are fast retreating underground. I also spotted a good selection of autumn/winter flowering and berrying shrubs. These included both white and red berried Gaultheria and Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’, which has colourful autumn leaves and violet berries.

Callicarpa berries for autumn colour
Callicarpa berries

Plants don’t grow much during the winter months, so to make an immediate impact, it’s important to choose enough plants to look good right from the start. The first step is to choose the focus plant. After that, it’s relatively easy to create an effective arrangement – just keep pottering around the shelves, picking out plants and trying out different groupings, until you find the perfect combination!

For structure, I chose a striking Skimmia japonica, dripping with red flower buds, together with a couple of ornamental grasses. I picked up a heuchera with dark purple evergreen foliage, which would look stunning in my slate grey pot. It wasn’t labelled so I’ll have to wait till summer to find out what the flower looks like! Finally, a collection of winter pansies found its way into my trolley. There was a huge choice of cheerful colours, both single and bi-coloured, but I liked the sultry deep red-purple ones, that complemented the other plants in my trolley.

Back in the warmth again, I got side-tracked on the way to the till by the spring bulb collections and ended up throwing in a packet of Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’, which also included some free Iris reticulata bulbs. Narcissus ‘Tête-à-Tête’ only grows to about 15cm so is perfect for small pots. It has slightly reflexed, golden petals, with deeper golden cups. Twin flowers, sometimes triplets, are carried on each stem in early spring. The beautiful iris reticulata flowers in late winter to early spring, growing to 12cm high.

Planting idea for winter flower beds and containers
Getting ready to plant
Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' - for winter colour
Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ – the centrepiece plant

Planting Time
I found some small stones to sit over the pot’s drainage holes, to prevent them from getting clogged up with soil, and added a layer of compost. Then it was time to be creative. The Skimmia japonica went in at the back, flanked by the two grasses.

Adding bulbs to winter containers
Adding bulbs to winter pots

Before adding the smaller plants, I planted a handful of the bulbs as deeply as I could. Bulbs need to be planted at 2-3 times their depth and one bulb width apart. My container wasn’t as deep as I would have liked, but I’ll hope for the best!

Winter pansies for flower beds and containers
Squeezing in the winter pansies

To finish off my winter pot, I added the remaining plants. The heuchera went in front of the skimmia and the pansies squeezed in around the edge, where I hope they will flower their little socks off in milder spells throughout the winter.

Skimmia, heuchera and pansies for winter interest
Skimmia, heuchera and winter pansies

2. A collection of winter interest shrubs with white Helleborus niger

Winter shrubs with Helleborus niger - winter container ideas
Winter shrubs with Helleborus niger

Gaultheria’s red berries, purple-red Skimmia flower buds and the fiery winter foliage of evergreen Nandina domestica line this weathered stone trough. Trailing variegated ivy softens the edges while the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) adds a splash of winter white.


3. Cyclamen, Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ and Gaultheria mucronata ‘Pink Pearl’

Cyclamen, Senecio cineraria and Gaultheria mucronata - ideas for winter garden borders and containers
Cyclamen, Senecio cineraria and Gaultheria mucronata

Gaultheria is an acid-loving plant, so to do well will need ericaceous compost. It’s easy to give plants the conditions they need in containers, so if you love a plant that won’t survive in your garden soil, planting up a container is a good way to fit it in.
Senecio cineraria and cyclamen are happy in all soil types, so they make good companions for the Gaultheria. Not all cyclamens are hardy, so it’s best to choose hardy Cyclamen hederifolium or Cyclamen coum for your winter pots.


4. Ornamental cabbage, cyclamen and heathers

Ornamental cabbages in a winter display from Weatherstaff
Ornamental cabbages in a winter display

There were plenty of ornamental cabbages in the garden centre, which I passed by without too much hesitation. They just seemed a bit too clunky for my liking. However, in this collection of winter containers, the delicate spires of heather and the fine filigree of senecio balance the heavier purple cabbages. The cyclamens and ivy help to tie the display together.


5. Evergreen topiary

Topiary for year round interest
Topiary provides year round interest
Box topiary for winter interest in garden borders and containers
Box topiary

For the easiest of winter pots, try some box balls, cones or pyramids. Box (Buxus sempervirens) grows from mid-spring to early summer. It will need trimming in mid-summer to maintain its elegant shape but will provide year-round structure in the garden.

Looking for more ideas? The RHS has more advice here on suitable plants for winter containers.

Tips for Winter Containers

  • Plants don’t need feeding in the winter months, but they will need watering in dry, mild spells.
  • Standing pots on bricks or pot feet will improve drainage and may help protect pots from cracking in icy conditions.
  • Deadhead flowers when necessary.
  • Place the container where it will get the best of the winter sun. In severe weather, move pots to a sheltered spot or wrap in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap.
The Weatherstaff Team