Archives for November 2013

Plant Selection – Dapper in December! And your chance to get a free garden sketch design…

December can be quite a dull time for the garden, but with a few flowering evergreens, to go along side your existing summer flowering plants, you can still have a continuation of interest. The suggestions below can be planted in with your existing plants to add a bit of colour, or you can plant the selection together in the combination below.


Right click on the image above and ‘Save As’ to download a larger version of it.

Betula jacquemonti

The silver birch tree really comes into its own in the winter months. Whilst the striking white stems look great all year, they really stand out once the leaves have fallen. I like to plant silver birch with a dark green back drop behind them, to really show off the white stems. There are many varieties available these days, but I do love the brightness of Betula jacquemonti, especially when planted in groups.

Group planting creates a lot more impact than a stand alone tree. There aren’t many trees that you can plant in groups, but Betulas are well suited and look great. If you have a small garden, then choose one of the smaller forms, like Betula pendula, which has a weeping form.

Garrya eliptica ‘James Roof’

For most of the year, this is quite a dull looking shrub, but in the winter months, the long catkins, which last from November through to February, make it noteworthy. It’s a really good evergreen shrub to have at the back of borders. Its tall arching form provides the perfect backdrop for more showy flowers during the summer, and it helps keep form in the garden in the winter. It’s great when mixed with the silver birch trees as the green foliage helps show of the white stemmed birch.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonias are often considered to be quite an old fashioned shrub, but I like them because, in the right setting, they can look modern and funky. The large rosettes of spiky, glossy, green foliage, are elegant and provide a unique structural form to the backs of plant borders. In the winter months the bright yellow flowers appear. Mahonias are evergreen, and will grow in quite deep shade, through to full sun in most soil types.

Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescens

This low-mounding, evergreen grass, is one of my favourite plants. The leaves are black, yes, actual black! It has lilac flowers and grows  in full sun to partial shade in most soils. It doesn’t get that big, so it’s important to plant them in large groups for effect. They look amazing when mixed with yellow or purple leaf plants. The darkness of the foliage sets off other plants and flowers really well and the unusual colour makes it a great, eye-catching, evergreen, garden plant.

Erica carnea ‘Eva’

This winter flowering heather is a delight during the winter months. The lilac flowers look fabulous next to the dark black foliage of the Ophiopogon. They last from December through to March. Ericas prefer an acidic soil, but will tolerate some alkalinity. They will grow quite happily in full sun to partial shade.

BUT do be warned, plants alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

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Garden lighting tips – luscious landscape lighting

garden-lightingLandscape lighting is a real art form. I will need to immediately tell you that is it not my main area of expertise. When I have a big scheme to do, I always call in a lighting designer. A good lighting designer will work absolute magic.

However, having said that, I have picked up one or two useful tips along the way that might help you if you’re planning your own lighting scheme.

Tip 1 If you don’t light it you don’t see it!

Yes, I know that is incredibly obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy is to not consider this aspect of garden lighting. In the daytime we’re so used to seeing everything, because of the daylight, but when it comes to lighting at night, we forget about how we see things (usually in conjunction with the surrounding items).

The most obvious thing to do is to light up key features in the garden like a statue or pergola or something. Unfortunately, if you do this, you end up with something glowing at the end of your garden like a UFO has landed!


So, it’s really important that you light the visual journey to the object that you wish to light. So if you have a statue at the end of the garden, you strategically light a visual pathway to get to it. It doesn’t have to be actual path, it can be a series of lights that are dotted through the borders that end up at the statue, so your eyes have something to follow and it ties in with the surrounding areas. It’s not just there in the garden on its own, lit up like a Christmas tree!

Tip 2 Don’t buy cheap lights

Seriously, don’t. Admittedly, cheaper lights are a lot better looking than they used to be, less Dalek like, but even so they tend to be quite an eyesore during daylight hours. Good lighting tends to be smaller and discreet and is also made of more durable materials. You can control and adjust how the beam of light lands and you can also add different filters to create different effects. Unfortunately that’s way beyond my skill set but I just wanted to make you aware that you can do a lot more with proper garden lighting.

Lighting designers I’ve worked with always recommend Hunza lighting, but there are a lot of similar brands that are good. Shop around online, there are tons to choose from. I’ll put some links at the bottom of this article to point you in the right direction.

Tip 3 Put in a higher power cable when you think you’ll ever need

Basically, put in a cable that is capable of running more electrical units than you think you’re going to need. If you ever decide to put in a water feature or garden shed or decide you want more lights then it’s very handy to have a cable that is powerful enough to run extra things off should you need it.

There are many different ways to do lighting from up lighting to down lighting and probably 1 million others I don’t know about. So, I’m going to try and sweet talk one of the lighting designers that I know into writing an article for us to explain the subtleties and the art of lighting in more detail than I’m able to. Or if you are a lighting designer and would like to write an article here on Successful garden design, then please get in touch!

Where to buy online?

People always ask me where to get good quality lights online, so I’ve spent a good few hours trawling through the interwebs to give you some suggestions. Please note: on some products I do receive a small commission, which helps me towards the running costs of this website. I’ve chosen lights I like the look of, but still, please do your own due diligence, and check the quality and reputation of the companies, before you purchase anything, as I have no direct experience with any of them!


Modern – Absolutely beautiful, contemporary garden lighting from Lumens. They are not budget lighting, but there is a good mix of affordable in with higher end of the market designer lights. I particularly love the hanging Havana pendant and Mia Serata outdoor mood light that have a slight ‘UFO has landed’ look about them (in my fantasy world, I’d buy half a dozen!).

Free US postage on orders over $50 and they will ship worldwide, for a fee. *WARNING* – this site is ‘lighting porn’ for anyone that loves designer stuff!


Modern – Lovely contemporary garden lighting and slightly more affordable than the ones above (USA only).

All styles of garden lighting, from Louie Lighting, good prices (also ships to Canada).

A fun and bright selection of solar and novelty lights from Mr Lights. Free shipping in the US, additional fees for other countries.


Great selection of modern and traditional garden lights, at good prices, from Lighting Direct. I’m particularly taken with their planter lights, very funky. Free UK delivery on all orders over £65.

A range of quality garden wall lighting in both modern and traditional styles from Lighting Supermarket.

A nice selection of solar lights over at Greenfingers.

Lighting Questions and Comments?

Do you have any questions you’d like me to ask a lighting designer? Or have you come across gorgeous garden lighting products? If so let me know in the comments below…

And if you purchase any of those gorgeous designer lights from my first recommendation above, do please email me some photos so I can live vicariously through your purchasing! 😉

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L-shape garden design – Case study


Small L-shaped garden before landscaping

L-shaped gardens can be difficult to deal with because one section is often quite narrow and leads into a larger area. To make the best use of the available space, it’s important to bear the following things in mind…

Step 1 Decide if you want to create two separate spaces or one continuous garden.

You have the choice with an L-shape garden, you can either separate the areas off and create two separate little gardens, or have the garden as a whole. If your garden is quite small, then it is usually better to leave the garden as one whole entity rather than creating two separate little areas, which may well be too small.

Step 2 Make the best use of the available space.

If one area of your garden is particularly long and narrow, then you need to take the eyes from one side of it to the other, creating either a meandering path or using shapes that make the space feel wider. Depending on the space available to you,  interlocking circles and squares can do this. But if the space is really narrow then you are better off with a meandering path, as shown in our case study example below.

Step 3 Use the same materials to keep the continuity between each area of garden.

By using similar shapes and materials throughout the garden, it will help hold it together as one whole entity. A bit like in modern day show homes where they have the same carpet running from one room to another. They do this because if they were to have different coloured carpets in each room of the house, it would make the space look smaller and not larger. The same is true for your garden. Use the same paving, gravel and even repeating key plants will enable you to make the space look and feel larger than it is.


If your garden is small, like our example garden, then you need to decide if you want to keep the lawn or not. As you can see in our example, the owner decided to get rid of the lawn. Even if you don’t want a lawn, you do still need to have areas of empty space so that the garden doesn’t feel too confined. In this case we used mixtures of different types of gravel and cobble and paving in the areas without planting.

Over time, the planting will increase in size and will help make up for the lack of green that a lawn provides.

The sweeping curves of gravel and steppingstones draws the eye around the garden and helps make the space look wider and the paving with seating area is in the sunniest area of the garden and helps acts as a nice focal point from the kitchen window and the conservatory.


The garden is very low maintenance because all of the cobbles and gravel are on top of a weed suppressant membrane.

Want to learn more?

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Garden Plant Selection – Nice in November

November can be a depressing month weather-wise, particularly in the UK, but with the right plant combinations in your garden, you can help lift the gloom of the coming winter months.


Right click image and choose ‘Save As’ to download a larger version.

Arbutus unedo ‘Rubra’ – Killarney strawberry tree

This evergreen shrub / small tree is great at the back of a border. It has pinkish/white flowers from September to November along with large reddish fruits that mature from the previous year’s flowers. Arbutus prefer a moist, well-drained soil that is neutral to acid but will tolerate some alkalinity. They grow best in full sun. Too much shade makes them quite leggy. They also have an attractive bark. When combined with the dwarf Pampas grass, the ‘strawberry tree’, as it’s commonly known, creates a lovely contrast.

Cornus alba Sibirica Variegata

This is one of my favourite dogwoods. The white variegated foliage provides a beautiful backdrop to flowering plants and shrubs and the red stems look amazing throughout the winter months. It prefers a bit more moisture than the average shrub, but it can tolerate quite a wide range of conditions. Combined with the dark foliage of the Arbutus and the white plumes of the Pampas grass, the red winter stems are further complimented with the red tinged leaves of the Bergenias.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’ (dwarf Pampas or Tussock Grass)

I’m cheating a little with this one, as November is more or less its last month of flowering. It starts to produce the showy plumes in August, looking stunning through September and October. This is a surprising choice for me because I’ve never used it in a garden (yet). I’ve always associated it with gardens of the 70’s where one giant specimen appeared in most front gardens as focal point, only to end up being dug or burnt out a few years later when it had become too enormous and difficult to maintain.

What changed my mind on this plant was a recent trip driving around the northern coast of Spain. Pampas grass are everywhere along the roadsides. To the Spanish they no doubt feel like weeds, but seeing them planted en masse made a spectacular display.  Yes, the statuesque Picos mountains and palm trees backdrop did enhance their charms, but even so I was captivated by them.

I’ve chosen a dwarf variety of Pampas grass and in larger spaces encourage you to group plant them for full effect. I still don’t like seeing them as stand alone plant, it’s the group that creates the magic with these. Be careful of the larger varieties as these can become quite invasive.

Bergenia cordifolia – Elephant’s ears

I love Bergenias. They are so versatile. They will grow in virtually any soil. They are evergreen, flower in April/May and have great autumn colour and to top it off they will grow in full sun to quite deep shade. Yet strangely enough, this is the one plant that can provoke more dislikes than any other and I’ve no idea why! I love the big bold foliage as it gives a unique structure to planting schemes. Its evergreen form makes it perfect at the front of borders and helps it be a good contrast with softer, fluffier, flowering plants or grasses.

Again, I think Bergenias work best when planted in groups. Individually they can look a bit floppy with their large leaves. In groups though, they are really eye-catching.

Heuchera Crimson Curls

These are another great, low-growing, herbaceous perennial and work well with the Bergenias for an extra hit of colour. Again, this isn’t their peak season, but just because they aren’t flowering, doesn’t mean they don’t still have a lot to offer with their foliage. They are a little pickier about their growing conditions than Bergenias, but they still tolerate quite a wide range of conditions. They prefer full sun to light shade and are semi-evergreen in milder climates.

Their flowers aren’t overly showy, so Heucheras tend to be grown more for their burgundy coloured foliage. To be completely honest, from a distance, it doesn’t really matter which purple leaf variety you have, as most of them look pretty similar. Crimson Curls is perhaps the exception, as the undersides of the leaves have an almost pink appearance, which does make it stand out.


What are you favourite plants for November?

Let me know what looks good in your part of the world in the comments boxes below – I’d love to hear how you brighten up your garden at this time of year. That includes you southern hemisphere folks, you’ve got it much easier than we do this time of year! 

BUT do be warned, plants alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

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