Prairie Planting at Lascaux

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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The Weatherstaff Team

Garden Maintenance Calendar

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.

Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner CD for customised garden plans

Garden Maintenance Calendar - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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The Weatherstaff Team

Spring update – How to Plant Pots for All Year Round Interest

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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The Weatherstaff Team

How to apply a Spring Mulch

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is mulching?

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

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

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

Why mulch?

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

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

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

What should I mulch with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coffee, Baguette and a Living Wall

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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The Weatherstaff Team

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

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

Acer palmatum

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

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

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

Acer palmatum Katsura from Weatherstaff garden design software
Acer palmatum Katsura

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

Acer palmatum Ukigumo - container planting from Weatherstaff
Acer palmatum Ukigumo

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gaura Crimson Butterflies - perennials for container plantings
Gaura Crimson Butterflies

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Penstemon Schoenholtzeri - gorgeous perennial for containers
Penstemon Schoenholtzeri

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

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

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

6 Thrillers for Fantastic Containers - from Weatherstaffgarden design software
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The Weatherstaff Team

5 Silver Plants for a Mediterranean Garden

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Sophisticated Silver

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

Olive leaves - Olea europaea for Mediterranean gardens
Olive leaves

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

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

1. Convolvulus cneorum

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

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

2. Aromatic Artemisia

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

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

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

3. Santolina chamaecyparissus

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

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

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

4. Stachys byzantine

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

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

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

5. Scented Lavender

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

5 Silver Plants for a Mediterranean Garden - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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A Guide to Planting Eye-catching Containers

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

Planting up eye-catching containers from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner


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

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

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

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

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

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

Size and shape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Phormium Pink Panther for colourful pots Weahterstaff PlantingPlanner
Phormium Pink Panther

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

Gaura Whirling Butterflies for summer containers.
Gaura Whirling Butterflies

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


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

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

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

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

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

Trailing plants

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

Trailing ivy - a spiller plant for containers
Trailing ivy

One season dazzler or all year-round interest?

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

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

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

Red and white pelargonium for summer containers
Red and white pelargonium

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

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

A guide to planting eye-catching containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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How to Plant Pots for All Year Round Interest

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

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

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

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

Step 1 Choose your container

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

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

Step 2 Choose your plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3 Prepare the container

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

  • Drill drainage holes - container gardening guide from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
    Drill drainage holes
  • Cover drainage holes - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner guide to container gardening
    Cover holes with stones
  • Recycle old pots in containers for all year round interest
    Recycle old pots
  • Add drainage material - container gardening guide from Weatherstaff garden design software
    Add drainage material
  • Add slow-release fertiliser to your containers before planting - Weatherstaff Planting Planner
    Add slow-release fertiliser

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

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

Step 4 Planting up the pots

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

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

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


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

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Red tulips - spring border ideas from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captivating tulips - spring garden plans from Weahterstaff
Captivating tulips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tulip Mania! - from the Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
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