Archives for October 2010

What Makes A Planting Scheme Great?

Creating a good planting scheme can be tricky. To help you create a great planting scheme, we’re going to dissect what made the planting scheme so good at the inspirational garden of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba, Spain.

Purple Ageratum & Red Salvia in background

Purple Ageratum & Red Salvia in background

 How to Use Plants Effectively (the Power of One)

The Alcazar garden managed to create a scheme that was brave and bold by using very few plant varieties. Not only did it look amazing but it wasn’t boring, nor did it look like a municipal park.

They had large areas containing just one key plant. Sure, there was a box hedge around it and the occasional use of a different plant, but on the whole there was one key or ‘Power Plant’.

How Do You Pick Your ‘Power Plant’?

Choosing a power plant is no easy task. Before I list a few of my favourites, let’s define what a ‘power plant’ is. It’s a plant that gives you most bang for your buck. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an evergreen but it does need to look good for a large proportion of the year regardless of whether it’s flowering.

Celosia cristata instead of traditional roses

The key to it is to pick plants like they have in the Alcazar Garden in Spain that are slightly unusual, not in the sense that they’re hard to come by, but in the sense that you wouldn’t expect to see that particular plant en masse (like using Celosia instead of Roses as shown in the picture).

Plant Quantity And Repetition Are Also Key

Pennisetum Grasses

You need to have an area big enough to put in a substantial enough group of the power plant and then still have room for some minor planting. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t do this in a small garden but you basically need an area big enough that you can put more than five of your power plant.

You also need to repeat it in other locations around your garden to create the best effect. If you think about it, mother nature plants in this way and let’s face it, she is the ultimate designer.

My Top 5 Power Plants

This is my current list, which does change quite frequently.

Stipa tenuissima – It’s a grass that moves like hair in the wind and you just want to stroke it, and it’s great to show off other plants around it. And I think it looks fantastic planted in big bold groups.

Agapanthus – Blue, purple or white flowering varieties are available. The flowers last a fair while and semi-evergreen, strap shaped leaves, make this a good plant to have in my book.

Perovskia Blue Spire – The Russian sage has white stems with greyish/blue foliage which are scented and stunning purple/blue flowers. I use this plant more at the middle to back of borders as it can get ‘leggy’ and need other plants for support. Planted in big enough groups, you get clouds of blue in late summer.

Sedum Purple Emperor –  The deep purple foliage and pink flowers is a good combination. It’s a good plant to show off other plants around it – the flat topped flowers make a good change of shape (more on this in the next blog post) in the border.

French Lavender – I love to see lavender planted in clumps and repeated around the garden, especially when used with grasses and more upright plant forms. When choosing French Lavender, it’s best not to go for the Lavendula stoechas but a named variety of it (there are loads to choose from), the original variety is a bit messy can get leggy more easily than some of the newer varieties.

Before incorporating any of the above in your garden, do check they will be OK with your soil type, location and general climate.

Watch Rachel Demonstrate How to Create A Stunning Planting Scheme…

If you’d like ALL the insider tips on exactly how to put plants together to create stunning schemes that look good all year, including a plant database you can sort by plant colour, growing conditions, height, hardiness etc. then take a look at the Plant Design Formula.

How to Make a Garden Great

Inspirational gardens can do more than just inspire, if you know what to look for they can show you how to make your own garden sensational.

I’m currently on a jolly around Spain and Portugal. I mean, I’m working very hard on your behalf, to find exceptional gardens that will inspire and help you improve your own garden.

What Makes Stunning Landscaping?

Mostly it’s shape. The shapes you create within the garden are the most important, not the actual shape of the garden. After that it comes down to subtle factors. Today, we’ll take a look at those more subtle elements that make the difference between OK and great gardens.

The above picture is of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a garden I discovered quite by accident whilst wandering around the beautiful city of Cordoba, Spain. I’m not usually drawn to formal garden styles but this one really did it for me. It took my breath away. There aren’t many gardens that I say that about, being a fussy designer.

What Makes This Garden So Hot (apart from the climate)?

What impressed me so much about this garden, wasn’t the obvious grandeur, the exuberant water features or the stunning setting. It was the use of sightlines and focal points. Everywhere you looked there was a stunning view. Every conceivable viewpoint had been thought about. I’ve never been in a garden before where every time I turned round there was something more amazing to look at with every view.

The design of this garden had been thought about, really thought about. This garden didn’t just happen, it was planned. Every time you reached the end of the path and looked to your left or right, there was another path with a view enticing you to go further into the garden. Turning around to view behind you was even more spectacular than walking down it in the first place.


So How Was This Achieved?

With very controlled sightlines. Every view was carefully orchestrated. The designer had complete control over what you saw and what you didn’t. It was impossible to see the entire garden in one go with the use of taller planting and hedges steering your view. This very clever organisation of space, with strategically placed features and focal points, made for a truly wondrous garden.

How Can You Transform Your Garden?

Think about how your garden is viewed from different locations. Which view do you see the most? Is it the view from your kitchen window perhaps? If so, what is it that you’re looking out to? Can you improve the view by the placement of a bench or statue? Then, when you get to that point in the garden, what is the view that you are looking back to?

Really think about how the garden is viewed from different locations. Then look at how you can improve each view by shaping it and placing a focal point to capture and hold attention. It doesn’t have to be a stature, a specimen plant like the one in the picture below can often do the trick.

Experience It Yourself!

Annoyingly I haven’t been able to do this garden anywhere near justice with my photography skills. It is spectacular in a way that will make your heart miss a beat, so I urge you to go and see it for yourself and experience the mastery of an exceptionally well planned garden.

Next Week It’s Plant Time

In the next blog post we will take a detailed look at what made the planting so effective in this garden. We’ll also discuss how you can create great planting schemes in your garden.

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