from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Plants for a Romantic Garden

There will be roses, of course, and they must have an old-fashioned scent. David Austin’s roses are renowned for their excellent range of colour, combined with the ability to repeat-flower and the fragrance of old garden roses.

Red roses in a romantic garden.
Rosa Falstaff

Rosa Falstaff is a fragrant shrub rose, with deep crimson petals. It grows to 1.25m high.

Roses in a romantic garden. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Rosa Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener is a climbing rose, growing to 4.5m. Its pale pink blooms carry a delicious Old Rose fragrance. It has earned the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Camellias and peonies (or paeonies) are rose lookalikes, with their delicate clusters of multi-layered petals.

Camellias in a romantic garden
Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’

Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’ is an upright shrub, with double, deep pink flowers in late winter and early spring.

Red peony - herbaceous perennial
Herbaceous peony

Most peonies are herbaceous perennials, dying back to ground level in autumn. They flower abundantly in early to mid-summer. Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ has large, scented, pure white flowers. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ has pink flowers with a cream centre.

Tree peony
Tree Peony ‘Kamada-Fuji’

There are also woody shrub peonies. The tree peony is China’s national flower and has enormous, breath-taking blooms. Kamada-Fuji is a tree peony with beautiful pale lilac flowers.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus' - scented shrub for a romantic garden
Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’

Well-behaved shrubs provide structure in garden borders. Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom) and Philadelphus have fragrance as well as pretty flowers.

  • Climbing plant for romantic gardens.
  • Climbing plant ideas for a romantic garden
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle) - climber for romantic gardens

Clematis, wisteria and honeysuckle are perfect for clambering over arbours in a romantic garden. Or go for more roses – this time, the climbing or rambling ones.

Perennials for romantic gardens
Campanula lactiflora Loddon Anna

Include perennials like Geranium Johnson’s Blue, Nepeta, Verbena bonariensis and Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’ for luscious flowers.

Heart shaped flowers of Lamprocapnos
Lamprocapnos or Dicentra spectabilis

And what could be more romantic than the heart shaped Lamprocapnos (also known as Dicentra spectabilis or bleeding heart)?

Grasses in a romantic garden
Pennisetum alopecuroides Hameln

Swaying grasses are also very tactile, adding to the sensory feel of a romantic garden.

Herbs in a romantic garden

Herbs are perfect for a romantic garden, because they can be touched and smelled, as well as tasted.

Spring bulbs in a romantic garden
Camassia leichtlinii

Don’t forget spring bulbs for an early display of flowers. A swathe of camassia, grape hyacinths and scilla are fabulous early in the year. Plant up as many pots as you can spare with narcissi and tulips.

Romantic Gardens Part 2 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic Garden – who wouldn’t want one? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye? You will probably be wearing something from the 18th century and inhaling the intoxicating scent of roses. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu - romantic garden
Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu

So what does the garden actually look like? Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden.

Features of a romantic garden
Topiary and an elegant fountain in a romantic garden.

They may be formal – think Lady Someone’s Walk in the grounds of a stately home – or more relaxed. In fact, they could be a mixture of both. Neatly trimmed box hedges and topiary balls combined with billowing drifts of flowering shrubs and fragrant perennials.


Stone lamp
A stone lamp for added interest in a romantic garden

Features include statues or garden sculptures to admire and linger near. A bench is essential for relaxing moments amongst the scented flowers.

Garden borders creating symmetry
Matching borders and a winding path

There will probably be elements of symmetry, such as borders mirroring each other either side of a path. Here, the same plants are used in both borders, but without strict symmetry. The winding path also creates a less formal look.

Tall metallic water feature
Contemporary water feature

A water feature is perfect for a romantic garden. Listen to the murmuring of a fountain or watch sunlight playing on water.

Clematis on iron arch
A soft purple clematis scrambles over an archway

Of course, there needs to be a hidden part, too, for secret trysts and whispered conversations. It could be a path leading away from the main garden, obscured by high planting. Or a secluded, flower-strewn bower – an archway, arbour or a pergola, draped with perfumed climbers.


Garden furniture in pale colours
Garden furniture in relaxed muted colours

Colours will be soft and serene. Furniture and paintwork will be chalky greys, smoky greens and grey-blues. Or plaster, rose and lavender – the colours of castle stone walls at sunset.

Dark highlight plant
Verbascum, delphinium and iris, with dark acer to contrast

Flowers are in pastel shades, blush and peach and soft apricot. But don’t forget to highlight with splashes of a more intense colour. Deepest red or dark purple black add a frisson of romance and daring.

Flowers in a white border
White tulips

You could have a white border too or a collection of containers with a white focus.


Garden lighting
Candles for soft lighting at night

There’s nothing more romantic than watching the sun set, followed by an alfresco meal. You’ll need a sheltered spot and a collection of candles or solar powered lights so that you can keep enjoying the garden well into the night.

Romantic Gardens Part 1 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are the architectural plants, usually the tallest plants in the display. They provide the structure for your planting combination.

Next come the Fillers, the second layer of planting in the container. They add mass to the planting, as well as providing a contrast in shape and texture. Think mounds, if your Thriller is a spire.

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


The colourful summer bedding pelargoniums of course make fantastic summer container plants. If you want a longer lasting display, though, choose from the hardy perennial geraniums, known as cranesbills. They are superb for providing long season flowering year on year. Some of the more vigorous ones, like Geranium Ann Folkard, make fantastic ground cover in your borders, but choose a more compact one for your containers.

Geranium cinereum Ballerina - ideas for container plantings from Weatherstaff garden design
Geranium cinereum Ballerina

Geranium (Cinereum Group) ‘Ballerina’ grows to 15cm high. Pale pink flowers, delicately veined purple and with a bewitching dark eye, are carried in spring and summer.

Geranium Rozanne - hardy perennial geranium for containers
Geranium Rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is taller and more vigorous. Violet blue flowers, with white centres, appear in abundance from July to October. Trim back hard to maintain shape and encourage more blooms.

Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Geranium clarkei ‘Kashmir White

Geranium ‘Kashmir White’ is 45cm high, with white flowers, veined pink. It spreads by rhizomes, so can be easily split to provide free plants elsewhere in your garden.


Heucheras are the most perfectly behaved container plants. Foliage can be green or chocolate, red or golden, often marbled or frosted. They produce delicate sprays of tiny flowers in late spring or early summer, but their colourful evergreen (or semi-evergreen) foliage is the main attraction. You can find heucheras which are suitable for any spot in the garden, sun or shade.

Heuchera Green Spice - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Heuchera Green Spice

‘Green Spice’ has stunning foliage. Its bright green leaves are frosted with silver and its veins highlighted in red. A good plant for shady borders and pots.

Heuchera Marmalade - container filler plant idea
Heuchera Marmalade

‘Marmalade’ has ochre leaves, with pink undersides. It can tolerate full sun to part shade.

Heuchera Beauty Colour - foliage plant for container planting from Weatherstaff blog
Heuchera Beauty Colour

Shade-loving ‘Beauty Colour’ has silvered foliage with fresh green margins and dark purple veining.

Take a look at their close cousins, heucherellas and tiarellas, too!


Salvia x sylvestris is a clump-forming perennial, with flower spikes in early and mid-summer. The perennials die back neatly at the end of the season and push up again the following spring.

Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose
Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose

‘Viola Klose’ has spikes of indigo, two-lipped flowers, with contrasting dark purple bracts. It grows to 60cm tall.

Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht - from Weatherstaff blog
Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht

‘Mainacht’ (or ‘May Night’) has dark purple-blue flowers, with red-purple bracts, growing to 75cm.


Hylotelephium (also known as stonecrop or sedum) is a low growing perennial with succulent leaves and flat flowerheads of starry flowers in summer and autumn. Cut back in late May, the ‘Chelsea Chop’, to keep the plant from flopping and produce later flowers. You can leave the flowerheads to provide interest over the winter months.

Hylotelephium Purple Emperor - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Hylotelephium Purple Emperor

‘Purple Emperor’ has dark plum leaves with deep pink flowers. It grows to 50 cm tall.

Hylotelephium Munstead Red - from Weatherstaff blog
Hylotelephium Munstead Red

‘Munstead Red’ is 60cm tall, with purple-pink flowers. The dark green leaves are tinged with purple.


Herbs make good fillers, as well as providing flavour in the kitchen. Thymus x citriodorus is a hardy, evergreen perennial with summer flowers and lemon-scented leaves.

Thymus x citriodorus - herbs for container plantings
Thymus x citriodorus

‘Golden Lemon’ has variegated yellow and green leaves, with lavender-pink flowers. ‘Bertram Anderson’ forms mounds of tiny gold-green leaves, with clusters of lavender-pink flowers.

Allium schoenoprasum - planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Allium schoenoprasum


Grow chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for edible, dark green leaves and attractive pom-poms of pale purple flowers. The flowers are edible too and can be sprinkled over salads.

5 Fillers for Containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

18,000 years ago, the cave at Lascaux, in southwestern France, was visited by a group of prehistoric hunters who set about creating their masterpieces. With pieces of iron oxide, manganese oxide, charcoal and kaolin, and using the cave walls as their canvas, they painted their subterranean cathedral.

Lascaux cave painting from the Weatherstaff blog
Cave art at Lascaux

In earthy shades of reds, browns and yellows, nearly one thousand animal figures – horses, aurochs, bison and red deer – clamber, jump and charge across the walls of the underground gallery. The story of how the cave entrance was discovered in 1940, in a country ravaged by war, by an 18 year old boy and his dog, seems almost as much a fairy tale as the idea of prehistoric man, clutching his stone lamp in the darkness of the cave, and taking up his plant-based brush to make the first stroke.

Lascaux cave painting from the Weatherstaff blog
Cave art at Lascaux

The thousands of visitors to the caves took its toll on the paintings, which quickly began to deteriorate, and the caves were shut to the public in 1963.

In 1979, Lascaux was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and twenty years after closing to visitors, a replica of part of the cave system, known as Lascaux 2, was opened. The latest facsimile, Lascaux 4, uses digital technology to create a replica of the whole of the original cave, which perfectly reproduces the contours and dimensions of the original walls and paintings.

International Centre for Cave Art from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
International Centre for Cave Art, Lascaux

In 2016, the International Centre for Cave Art, housing Lascaux 4, opened at the foot of the Lascaux hill.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about visiting the replica. I wanted to get as close as possible to the real thing, but I wondered if there would be a sense of anti-climax, knowing that what I was seeing was a 21st century copy. In fact, the sense of wonder was still there. It even felt like a real cave, dark and cool, and the first painting, emerging from the blackness by the arrow of light from our tour guide’s torch, was enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Lascaux visitor centre surrounded by planting

The new centre is half-buried, sinking into the landscape, but determinedly modern, with its angular lines and an enormous wall of glass. The planting in front is modern too.

Prairie-style with yellow and purple perennials - from Weatherstaff
Yellows and purples bring splashes of colour to the planting

Swaying, ornamental grasses combine with vibrant perennials to create drifts of naturalistic planting.

Blue perennials at Lascaux
Agastache, geraniums and asters at Lascaux

Colours are predominantly blues, greens and soft purples, with splashes of bright yellows and oranges.

Prairie Planting

The origins of the current trend for ‘prairie’ or naturalistic planting can partly be found in the Dutch Wave movement of the early ‘80s in the Netherlands, associated with garden designer, Piet Oudolf.

Pennisetum and seedheads
Soft Pennisetum and tactile seedheads at Lascaux

The planting is primarily grasses and perennials, with structure provided not by shrubs and trees but by long-lasting grasses and perennials which keep their shape into the winter without collapsing.

chinacea purpurea flower and seedhead - autumn interest from the Weatherstaff blog
Echinacea purpurea flowers and seedheads

Those perennials which flower late and develop appealing seed heads are especially valued. Echinacea purpurea flowers from late summer into the autumn, then as its drooping petals drop away, its dramatic seedheads provide further interest in late borders.

Pink echinacea flowers - late summer garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Pink echinacea flowering in late summer at Lascaux

A pink echinacea adds a splash of vivid colour in the late summer borders.

Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firedance'
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’ – the leaves fade attractively in late summer

Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’ is one of the perennials favoured by Piet Oudolf. A clump-forming perennial, it has spikes of red flowers from mid-summer and into autumn.

Soft blue planting at Lascaux
Soft, swaying planting at Lascaux

The overall effect of prairie-style / naturalistic planting is soft and dreamy. Walking through the borders should be like wandering through a flower meadow.

Chipped bark pathway at Lascaux from Weatherstaff
Pathways meander through the planting

At Lascaux, paths of chipped bark meander through the waist-high plants to provide close-up views.

Drifts of planting - Weatherstaff blog
Drifts of grasses and pockets of yellow planting create repetition in the borders

The planting, of course, is far from ‘natural’ but is carefully designed to give a naturalistic feel. Plants are arranged in drifts and mingle with others. Colours and groups are repeated at intervals.

Yellow and red daylily - prairie-planting style from Weatherstaff
A yellow and red daylily adds a pop of colour to the borders

Tall stems support each other, rather than being tied and restrained by stakes and wires. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of shapes and textures and colours, almost too varied for nature to manage by itself.

Green lawns outside Lascaux Centre - from Weatherstaff garden design software
Borders to wonder at and lawns to roll on…

Outside the modern, glass-fronted building of The International Centre for Cave Art, the misty swathes of planting ebb and flow. But they are carefully bordered with immaculately manicured lawns. Like the artists of long ago, the gardeners of Lascaux are fully in control here.

Prairie Planting at Lascaux - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Need to know just what to do and when in your garden? The Weatherstaff’s new maintenance calendar screen collects together in one place all the maintenance tasks and information for each plant in your personal planting plan.

Maintenance tasks on the calendar screen

If you’re not using the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner yet, read more here to find out how it can help you create stunning garden borders.

So, you’ve generated your tailor-made planting plan – your choice of colour and style, with plants selected to thrive in your garden’s micro-climate.

You’ve printed out your plant shopping list.

And you’re all set for your home-grown designer show garden!

But how do you keep it looking fantastic year after year?

The Weatherstaff intelligent garden design software has just got smarter! Our latest update now includes a Maintenance Calendar Screen.

Tasks sorted by season or task type - Weatherstaff Maintenance Calendar Screen
Maintenance tasks sorted by season or task type

The maintenance tasks refer specifically to the plants in your border. They can be sorted by season or task type.

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner displays maintenance instructions for individual plants
Specific maintenance information is given for every plant in your planting plan

Clicking on a maintenance task for a particular plant will bring up detailed information relevant to that plant.

List of task priorities - Weatherstaff Maintenance Screen
Sorting maintenance tasks by importance

What’s more, the tasks are graded by level of importance – decide how much time you can spare in your garden each month and prioritise your maintenance tasks accordingly. *** means important tasks!

Screenshot showing task priority bar -Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Select all tasks or choose from Important, Beneficial or Useful.

Make sure you get all the essential gardening jobs done by selecting the important jobs first.

Select tasks for new or established plants
Select tasks for new or established plants.

You can also choose to select tasks for all newly added plants, established plants or every plant. That means if your border is now established, you won’t need to see gardening jobs relating to plants which are just getting settled in.

Weatherstaff Planting Plan with highlighted plant
Plant is highlighted in your planting plan.

And if you need help finding a plant in your borders, double-clicking on the plant in the Maintenance Calendar Screen opens up the Planting Plan Screen with the relevant plant highlighted.

We think the new maintenance calendar will be all you need to organise your gardening to-do list each month. If you have any questions or feedback about the new screen, do let us know.

Image of Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner for tailor-made planting plans

Garden Maintenance Calendar - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Last spring, I decided it was time to give my little courtyard a make-over, by potting up three matching containers. My challenge was to choose plants which would provide interest all year round and continue to look good the following year. It was hard work restraining myself over the cold months but, eventually, in early spring, I allowed myself to indulge in my favourite pastime at the garden centre!

  • Salvia x superba - for spring and summer flower beds and containers. Weatherstaff garden design software
    Salvia x superba
  • Pansies and grape  hyacinths - spring flowers for container planting. Weatherstaff garden design software
    Pansies and grape hyacinths
  • Dianthus for garden pots - from the Weatherstaff blog

Buying plants earlier in the year means that the plants are small – and I did have to take some on faith that they were going to survive and grow more than the one flimsy leaf they came home with – but they are usually cheaper, so you can get a lot more for your money.

Choosing plants at the garden centre from Weanterstaff garden design blog
Choosing plants at the garden centre

Early summer containers with heuchera
Early June

Because these pots were designed to brighten up the courtyard all year round, I chose at least one evergreen plant per pot, as well as plants which would provide interest at different times of the year.

The Gaura in this pot flowered magnificently for months on end, but when it eventually faded away, the purple heuchera and red hook sedge (Uncinia rubra) kept the display going well.

I potted up each container with at least one tall, architectural plant, a couple of mounds for contrast and a trailing plant to tumble over the edge. This is known as the ‘Thriller, Filler, Spiller’ technique – read more about it in the post below. I also added a handful of Muscari bulbs, left over from planting elsewhere in the garden.

Here are my recipes for all-season container plantings:

Pot 1 rosemary, salvia superba, Japanese anemone and geranium endressi - planting ideas for all year round interest
Pot 1

Pot 1

  • Rosmarinus officinalis – upright (and also evergreen), so great as the backbone of a container. Aromatic shrub, with needle-thin leaves, and pretty blue flowers in spring.
  • Salvia superba (late spring to late summer) – forms a mound of foliage, with vertical spikes of flowers.
  • Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ (Aug to Oct) – Japanese anemone is an upright perennial, with late deep pink flowers.
  • Geranium endressi (May to October), semi-evergreen mounding perennial.
Pot 2 - heuchera, uncinia rubra, gaura and dianthus - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 2

Pot 2

  • Gaura Whirling Butterflies (June to Oct), a real ‘thriller’ for pots, with masses of fluttering flowers.
  • Uncinia rubra (evergreen, ornamental grass) – has gorgeous red-brown linear leaves.
  • Heuchera (evergreen) – superb mound of eye-catching foliage, with delicate sprays of flowers in late spring and summer.
  • Dianthus – mine was unnamed, but has bewitching dark pink-red markings, with a pale pink outer petal. Compact, prolific bloomer and scented.
Pot 3 - lavender, iris, geranium sanguine, Achillea millefolium and lemon thyme - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Pot 3

Pot 3

  • Lavandula (evergreen) – bushy, evergreen lavender with wonderfully fragrant summer flowers and aromatic foliage.
  • Thymus × citriodorus – lemon thyme forms an aromatic mound, perfect for flavouring roast vegetables and chicken.
  • Iris germanica ‘Accent’ (May, June) – has beautiful yellow and dark red flowers in spring.
  • Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ (summer) – upright perennial, with flat-topped flowerheads, magenta with white centres.
  • Geranium sanguine (May to September) – low mound of foliage and masses of flowers all summer long.
Pot 2 in April - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Pot 2 in April

The containers were a picture through the spring and summer. Within a month, the heuchera had put on fresh new leaves, the gaura was growing strongly and the dianthus was flowering prettily.

Iris germanica Accent - flowering in May. Spring garden ideas from Weatherstaff
Iris germanica Accent

In early May, the iris began to flower, its soft yellow standards and dark red falls echoing the dark heuchera and the purple and yellow pansies in the adjacent containers.

Salvia and heuchera flowers - late spring garden border ideas
Salvia and heuchera flowers

By the end of May, the salvia was throwing up spikes of deep blue, two-lipped flowers, contrasting with delicate sprays of pink heuchera flowers.

Early June - geranium, salvia and gaura. Summer planting ideas for containers.
Early June – geranium, salvia and gaura

In early June, the vertical stems of gaura, salvia and rosemary (with the tall iris leaves still showing behind) created vibrancy and movement, while the mounds of heuchera and geranium kept the containers grounded.

Lemon-scented thyme - herbs for summer containers, Weatherstaff garden design software
Thymus × citriodorus
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme - planting herbs from the PlantingPlanner garden design software
Roasted carrots with lemon scented thyme

Planting herbs in your all-season containers provides a ready source of fresh flavours to add zing to your cooking. The zesty taste of Thymus × citriodorus is perfect for flavouring roast meats and vegetables. The edible flowers have a lemony flavour too.

Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ - ideas for summer flower beds,from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’

Into the autumn, the late flowers of Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ and Anemone hupehensis ‘Praecox’ took over from the fading summer bloomers, while the evergreen plants continued to work their magic in each of the three pots.

Muscari armeniacum for spring containers from Weatherstaff garden design software
Muscari armeniacum

During the winter, I added some winter-flowering pansies, which did a great job of keeping the pots looking good through the cold months and into early spring. The muscari popping up through the over-wintered planting was a delight. Next year, I’m going to multiply this effect by adding more bulbs of tiny spring flowers.

New growth on the uncinia rubra -grasses for container gardening by Weatherstaff
The red hook sedge pulls through

Uncinia rubra will only tolerate full sun if kept constantly moist. I thought I had lost it, but this spring, it has fought back and is putting on new growth.

New pink leaves on the heuchera - container planting in spring. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The heuchera keeps on going

The wonderful heuchera has fresh, soft pink leaves now, which darken to a deep red purple. Its foliage looks fantastic all year round and in a few weeks’ time, it will send up sprays of tiny pink flowers again.

Planting pots for year round interest doesn’t mean that the pots will continue to look good forevermore. Over time, some plants will grow too big for the space and some will need dividing to keep them in good flowering form. But it does mean that you won’t have to ditch a whole container of planting every time the seasons change. Of course, you could use a slow-growing shrub or dwarf-evergreen, which will last for several years without needing much effort on your part. If you enjoy watching the seasons change in your garden, though, you might well prefer to watch them change too in your garden containers, where new plants push up into the limelight as other quietly fade away.

All Season Pots - spring update - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is mulching?

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

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

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

Why mulch?

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

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

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

What should I mulch with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to apply a spring mulch - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Driving down through France at the end of October, we pulled into the motorway services near Troyes for a bite to eat. The planned quick pit stop took longer than expected, though, as I was side-tracked on the way in by an unexpected horticultural delight!

Living wall at the motorway services in France- from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Living wall at the motorway services in France

The entrance was enlivened by 4 vertical panels of planting, still looking fantastic despite the gloomy weather and lateness of the season.

Living wall tapestries - Weatherstaff garden design software
Living wall tapestries
Grasses and ferns on a living wall - Weatherstaff planting ideas
Grasses and ferns with blue campanula
The living wall at Siam Paragon, Bangkok - from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
The living wall at Siam Paragon shopping mall, Bangkok

I was lucky enough to get a close-up view of the living wall installations at Siam Paragon and EmQuartier, both in Bangkok.

These are indoor plantings in a tropical country, though, so the outdoor living wall at Troyes was inspiring for providing an example of vertical planting that could work well in my own temperate climate.

Living wall plant containers - ideas for vertical planting from Weatherstaff
Living wall plant containers

Earlier in the season, the fullness of the planting would have obscured the systems and structure used to create the wall, but at this time of year, it was possible to make out how the plants and growing medium were assembled.

This one was obviously a professionally installed, large scale system, but it’s becoming easier now to create a more manageable version of living walls in our own back gardens.

As vertical gardening has become increasingly popular, there are now several products on the market to enable gardeners to create living walls in their gardens, courtyards or even indoors.

You can buy panels of pouches to suspend on fences or walls. These pouches, often made from felt or plastic, can be planted up with plug plants. Take care that the material the panel is made from is sturdy enough to support the weight of the pouches when planted up.

Dobbies now sells living wall systems which can be used both indoors and outdoors. Each sturdy plastic planter has 3 pockets and can be slotted together to create a living wall. The modular system means that you can build it to suit the space available, and I also like the fact that it has a self-watering system. The planters can be fixed directly to a house wall or garden fence or to wood panels, which can be moved from place to place. Pots of compact plants can be dropped into the planters so that they can be easily changed later.

If you are planting up plants yourself for your living wall, think carefully about the potting mixture. A high quality compost gives the plants the best chance of survival, but it needs to be reasonably lightweight, to keep the weight of the plants and soil on a living wall to a manageable level. Try incorporating polystyrene beanbag balls to reduce the overall weight of individual pots. You want the mix to be well-draining but also to hold on to enough moisture to avoid the soil drying out too quickly. Slow release fertilisers can help as well.

Choosing plants for living walls

The best plants are those that will knit together to form a tapestry of contrasting textures and colours. Go for compact plants or ones that can be cut back regularly to keep them within their allotted space.
Remember to take account of whether your living wall will be in sun or shade and pick the plants which will do best in those conditions.

Bronze Carex comans - grass for containers and vertical plantings
Bronze Carex comans

Ferns, such as Cyrtomium fortunei and Asplenium, and small grasses, like Carex comans Bronze form and Ophiopogon nigrescens, are good choices.

Tiarella Iron Butterfly - a shade-loving perennial for gardens and containers
Tiarella Iron Butterfly

Heuchera, Heucherella and Tiarella, with their colourful foliage and delicate sprays of flowers, are an excellent choice for vertical plantings.

Tiarella Iron Butterfly is a shade-loving perennial, with mahogany-blotched leaves and sprays of fragrant flowers in early spring and late summer.

Campanula portenschlagiana and Erigeron karvinskianus - planting ideas for living walls
Campanula portenschlagiana and Erigeron karvinskianus

Small, spreading ground cover plants, like Ajuga reptans, Galium odoratum (Sweet Woodruff), Erigeron karvinskianus and Campanula portenschlagiana, are useful for creating blocks of colour.

Grow strawberries on your living wall - planting ideas from Weatherstaff garden design software
Grow strawberries on your living wall

You can grow edible crops on your living wall too. Herbs are perfect, but also consider salad leaves and strawberries.

The key is to plant in vertical or diagonal drifts, repeating the plants at intervals to create a pattern of colour and texture across the display.

Coffee, baguette and a living wall - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

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

Acer palmatum

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

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

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

Acer palmatum Katsura from Weatherstaff garden design software
Acer palmatum Katsura

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

Acer palmatum Ukigumo - container planting from Weatherstaff
Acer palmatum Ukigumo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gaura Crimson Butterflies - perennials for container plantings
Gaura Crimson Butterflies

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Penstemon Schoenholtzeri - gorgeous perennial for containers
Penstemon Schoenholtzeri

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

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

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

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Containers - from Weatherstaffgarden design software
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from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Sophisticated Silver

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

Olive leaves - Olea europaea for Mediterranean gardens
Olive leaves

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

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

1. Convolvulus cneorum

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

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

2. Aromatic Artemisia

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

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

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

3. Santolina chamaecyparissus

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

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

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

4. Stachys byzantine

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

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

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

5. Scented Lavender

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

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