You’ve read the books. You’ve gone online and researched which plants to put in your garden.

You may have even colour themed your planting border and put the design on paper…

But after all that effort and time spent researching, planning, purchasing, placing and planting, your garden still doesn’t look as good as you hoped.


Planting Border Design Failure Reason No.1

A fair chunk of the time, the reason a garden doesn’t look great, isn’t actually down to the planting, it’s down to the overall design layout…

As strange as it might sound, the shape of your borders plays a big part in how good your planting schemes will look.

A good design layout will give you 60-70% of the success – even if you do a really poor job with the planting scheme, design will save the day!

If you’ve not yet designed your garden layout (it’s not too late to do something about it, even in quite established gardens) head on over to my garden design web class (it’s free) and I will walk you through the simple key to great garden design.

Planting Border Design Failure Reason No.2


Most plant borders look messy.

Plants by their very nature tend to be all over the place unless you spend hours pruning them into shape.

Who has time for that?!

It doesn’t matter how careful you’ve been with your colour scheme, getting the right heights etc. Unless your eye has something solid to focus on, the planting will tend to blur into one big messy mass.

With correct plant design (which I teach over at the Plant Design Formula) there are ways to make sure this doesn’t happen…

But there’s also a quick and easy cheat you can use that will salvage an existing planting scheme.

Here’s one simple tip from our Plant Design Formula Course that will instantly fix a messy border

There’s no rule that says the ‘clarity’ within your planting borders has to come from the plants (though that does of course help!)…

Which means we can cheat!

Because sometimes, you just don’t want to have to replant an entire border…

Take a look at this Chelsea Flower Show garden – on first glance it’s gorgeous… but look what happens when the structural element is taken out…

One small structural element removed and suddenly things have got a bit messy!

Here’s a garden by the brilliant Matt Keightley in his 2014 Chelsea Flower Show Garden – Help for Heroes.

Now Matt’s planting scheme is wonderful regardless of the structural elements, so on this occasion, the structure is icing on the expertly designed cake!

Here are some more photos of Matt’s inspired Help for Heroes garden so you can see how he’s skillfully incorporated the structural granite blocks throughout the scheme.

Notice how he’s mirrored the shape of the granite blocks into the clipped Buxus (box) bushes.

How to incorporate structural elements to your planting schemes

The trick to adding in structural elements are not to overdo them. You can choose a single shape and repeat it as shown above, or simply have different structures at strategic intervals.

When using different elements you won’t need many, so space them out like the example below:

A simple pot and bench really help bring clarity to this very busy planting border.

Garden Pots

And see how much a simple willow animal sculpture can improve a very dull and uninspiring border!

So have fun with it and let me know how you get on. And remember, if you’ve not yet created a good design layout, that is paramount!

If you’d like me to walk you through ALL the elements to creating a gorgeous planting scheme as well as provide you with a searchable plant database that you can organise by colour, flowering season, size, shape, growing conditions etc. then take a look at the Plant Design Formula online course.


*Photo credit: The amazing Karen Roe for the images of Matt Keightley’s Help for Heroes garden.



Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

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