Garden planting rails – How and where to use them

Last time around we looked at all the ins and outs of pergolas. Adding a structure as large and as dominating as a pergola isn’t always the best option for everyone though. So this week we will take a look at planting rails, the pergolas smaller sister.


So what exactly is a planting rail?

Basically, it’s like a pergola, but it’s like a flat version that you can either put across the garden or on top of the fences to add a bit of height and dimension to it, as shown in the photographs above.

The main purpose of a planting rail is to add height. So you can use them on top of an existing fence as a way to grow climbers higher than the fence and help screen the neighbours.

The other use of a planting rail is to frame the view as well as add height. This happens when you use them across the garden. Placement however, just like it is with pergolas, is critical if you’re going across the garden.

How to correctly place a planting rail

There’s no exact rule here, but visually, I think it looks better if the planting rail is at the beginning or end of the garden rather than in the middle. You can see in our example garden above that the planting rail framed the view to the top raised patio at the end of the garden. So it wasn’t just floating in the middle of nowhere, it linked in with the patio area.


You can also use a planting rail a bit like an extended arch, with sections of trellis beneath the rail. This gives you a more solid division in the garden than the example garden version. So just imagine that garden with each end of the planting rail filled in with trellis, making the patio area a bit more enclosed.

Another way of using a planting rail is to have them in raised planters. That way you create interest and height and a place for climbers to grow up out of the planters. So as you can see, there are many uses for the underused planting rail.

The other advantage of the planting rail is that it’s obviously considerably cheaper to install than a full size pergola. You can use metal or timber, the choice is yours. Obviously metal you can bend and shape more easily, so that gives you a greater flexibility with your styling, but of course metal will be considerably more expensive than timber.


BUT do be warned, no garden feature 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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A back front garden! An unusual garden – Case study

The garden in this month’s case study is a little bit unusual. This is because the driveway ran down the side of it to the garage and parking area at the top. So it was a bit like having a front and back garden combined as one.


So how do you overcome an awkward or unusual garden layout?

Step 1 Your main job is to disguise the part that is unusual, or try to at least turn it to your advantage and incorporate it into the design in some way.

In the garden featured in this case study we simply disguised the existence of the driveway with some careful planting and use of upright timber sleepers to take the eyes away from the driveway.

Step 2 Utilise the space to enhance the area that you’re left with.

The inclusion of the driveway and parking area into the back garden left us with a slightly unusual shape. To take the eyes away from that fact, we put in a nice oval lawn that was angled away from the drive.


Step 3 Create a diversion so that you have something other than the awkward element to focus on.

In the garden in this case study, the slate stepping stone path around the right of the curved lawn drew the eye away from the driveway and up to the top of the garden.

A rendered wall water feature with a cascade fountain into the pond below, created an additional diversion and point of interest.

The rendered wall around the patio area curved out and up to the lawn area. Curving it this way draws the eyes forward and up to the rest of the garden, and makes good use of the available space.

Need more ideas?

If you’d like to learn more about exactly how you can transform your garden, then check out the online garden design courses I run here at Successful Garden Design.

Or attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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Trisha’s 1st Garden Plan – design case study

The conversation started like this:

“Hi Rachel!!!

I’m so lucky to have found you! You have such a knack for teaching the RIGHT information, quickly and in the right way. It’s clicking immediately (you should see the garden I designed for my cousin, just after watching the free videos… Imagine what I’ll be able to do after taking your courses).”

As you can imagine, this piqued my curiosity! What precisely had Trisha achieved from just watching 12 Garden Design Show episodes – here’s what she sent me…


I will let Trisha take over and tell you all about how her design works. My comments are in [these boxy things] and a critique at the bottom.

Trisha’s design process

My cousin and her husband are a young family with 2 small girls. They moved into their new house with a yard so big, I don’t think they know what to do with it.

The yard’s layout and plain concrete patio are built along stark, straight lines. I began softening the lines with an addition to the patio. The [patio] extension would be lined in brick and could be flagstone set in mortar. 

I designed it to be the same height as the patio (opinions are welcomed if it would be better ground height, stepping down off the patio). [Definitely keep it the same height Trisha – it will be much safer and nicer to use].

I set a swing on this extra patio for her and her husband to sit on and watch the girls play. If flagstone is too expensive, the addition could be switched to a planting bed. The brick edge should stay to hold that line in place.

Her yard is currently is one huge L shape. In order to break up the space, I incorporated one of Rachel’s infamous circle lawns. I have never seen a circle lawn and I think my cousins jaw will drop when she sees it.

Creating a ‘designer’ path

I love Rachel’s use of curved paths, so I used one around the lawn to tour the yard. This is a pretty big path that takes up a lot of space. It would be nice set in pavers, but since our highway department will deliver free woodchips, that might be a no brainer.

The lawn would need a strong brick edge if using woodchips, and I think square stepping stones (that I lifted from one of Rachel’s designs) would be a nice touch set in the path. Theres a nice stop along the path with a wooden bench under her big pine tree.

After the circle lawn was established, there was room for 2 more areas. A playground was the obvious choice. And seeing that the other part of the lawn hides behind the garage, I assume they want the girls to stay in this area where they can see them. The final section of the yard behind the garage, I thought, would be great for ‘family getaways’. So I added a firepit and left the grass so they could put up a tent and go camping! 

These 4 sections of the yard would be fantastic for parties. The adults could play ‘bags’ in the lawn and have a bonfire, and the kids could play in the playground.

Designer vegetables!

My cousin likes to eat healthy food, so I gave her not 1 but 2 vegetable garden areas, if she chooses to grow vegetables. I imagine her and her girls eating from the fruit tree and raspberry bushes by the patio. I also gave her the option to grow greens and herbs on the patio, with large box patio planters. And situated a few more terra cotta planters on the extended patio.

I’m so very proud of my first real garden design. Its all because of Rachel’s insane ability to teach the right information in the right way. She’s such an inspiration. Thank you Rachel!

[:D Grinning from ear to ear – thank you Trisha, you are very welcome, I LOVE that you’ve taken so much on board from just the Garden Design Shows].


Trisha certainly should be very proud of her first ever design. She’s really understood how to divide the space up and create a nice flow around the garden. The area that needs a bit more work is by the shed. The firepit/camping area doesn’t flow in with the rest of the garden as nicely as it could.

The other slight thing, and this is very nit-picky, is the play area. It would look better if it’s definitely smaller than the main lawn. If it’s the same size or larger, it throughs the balance off and makes the garden look top-heavy.

Trisha has a really good eye for design and I cannot wait to see what she is able to do once she’s been through a full design course – she really will be unstoppable!

About Trisha & how she could help you

Trisha from Roots Nursery

Trisha from Roots Nursery

Trisha has her own plant nursery called Roots Nursery which is in the western suburbs of Chicago.

She’s got a lovely website and I recommend you take a look at the download pages she’s created as there’s some garden layouts you can download and adapt to your own garden.

I’m so happy to see a horticulturist crossing the ‘plants only’ divide and embracing garden design so fully. She’s planning on doing the various online garden design and planting courses we do here at Successful Garden Design so that she can better serve her customers.


Has Trisha’s 1st garden design inspired you?

Do leave your comments and feedback in the boxes below!

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Garden update – sort of…

If you have been wondering what happened to my parent’s garden we featured in episodes 8 and 9 of the Garden Design Show, the one that needed the flower beds updating. Yes, the one where we’d removed a large hedge and mother nature had done her thing and put all sorts of clashing colour combinations together, well here’s how it’s looking now…


Here’s how it looked in May


Garden back in May

So what did we do?

In a word, nothing.

Absolutely nothing, in fact!

I’ve been away for over a month and never got around to doing the planting plan before I left. It’s amazing how much plants can grow this time of year with a bit of sunshine and rain.

Clearly there’s a lot to be said for doing nothing!

There are still some really horrific colour clashes, and yes we will get around to fixing them, but to be honest, it’s so lovely to see everything flowering so prolifically, we’re just going to leave everything as it is until the autumn!

FlowerbordersWorking colour combinations

Kniphofia Timothy

Kniphofia Timothy

Not everything is clashing, thankfully. I particularly love the rusty peach shades of the red hot poker ‘Kniphofia Timothy’ along with the purple foliage of Physocarpus Diable D’or.

Unfortunately next to that combination we had planted a salmon Achillea to carry the colours further down the garden, but alas this year it’s come up shocking pink, so it’s definitely on the ‘to be moved’ list!

I guess the saying about cobbler’s children having no shoes is also true of parents who’s children are garden designers, never getting their garden done! ;o)

 Garden Design Courses

Hopefully my idleness in the garden isn’t contagious and you are still wanting to properly tackle yours! To help you do just that, check out these Online Garden Design Courses.

[DESIGN SHOW 2] – How to Design a Garden

This Garden Design Show episode features the first quick-sketch challenge. In ten minutes or less, Rachel will come up with as many ideas as she can for a viewer’s garden in the UK.

You’ll be able to see how to plan a garden from scratch and how important correctly dividing the space in your garden is. Rachel will show you how to make your garden look more visually interesting by using some cunning design tricks. She’ll also show you how you can get a feel of the perspective, to help you visualise how your finished garden will look.

She will also discuss the costs of getting your garden built as well as how you can reduce costs to work to your budget. This episode also covers how to create a low-maintenance garden, that suits your home and tastes.

Rachel will also give you the answer to the question featured in the last episode and tell you how you can submit your garden to be featured as part of the show.

What Would You Like to See Covered in Future Shows?

I’d love to get your ideas for future shows so that this can be as beneficial to you as possible. Leave a comment me know what topics you’d like me to delve into in future episodes in the comment boxes below?

If you’d like your garden to be featured for the quick sketch design challenge, enter your details here: Subscribe via the Successful Garden Design YouTube channel (iTunes coming soon).

Need Help with Your Garden?

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