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

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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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Mediterranean Garden @

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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.

Gardening Mediterranean Style - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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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.

Sweetly scented lilac for spring posies - from Weatherstaff
Sweetly scented lilac for spring posies
Prunus serrulata - from Weatherstaff garden design software
Cherry blossom

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

Celebrating the Lily of the Valley - from Weatherstaff garden design software

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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

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?

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

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

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.

Formal garden with symmetrical flowerbeds
Symmetrical beds in a formal garden

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.
Topiary - formal garden ideas from Weatherstaff landscaping design software
Topiary for 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.

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 - landscaping design ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Informal collection of pots
  • Use natural materials, such as wood and weathered stone, if you can.
  • 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.

How to get the wow factor in your garden from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner landscaping software

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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.

Water lilies - ponds in small gardens from Weatherstaff garden design software

Decking - from Weatherstaff landscaping design software

Garden urn with pansies - ideas for narrow gardens from Weatherstaff

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.
  • Place large objects, such as urns or a sundial, at the edges of the plot,to draw the eye across, instead of down, the garden.
Diagonal lines - garden border ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Making use of the diagonal   ♦    Source

Think about setting paths and open spaces, like a lawn or sitting areas, on the diagonal.

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.

Ideas for Narrow Gardens from Weatherstaff landscaping design software

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The Weatherstaff Team