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.
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 the most bang for your buck. It doesn’t necessarily have to be evergreen but it does need to look good for a large proportion of the year regardless of whether it’s flowering.
The key to it is to pick plants as 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
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.
1. Nasella (Stipa) tenuissima – USDA hardiness zones 6-10
It’s a grass that moves like hair in the breeze and you just want to stroke it (‘pet’ it for my American friends!), and it’s great to show off other plants around it. And I think it looks fantastic planted in big bold groups. They grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Please note: if you’re in areas like California, it can become invasive.
2. Agapanthus – zones 7-10
Blue, purple or white flowering varieties are available. The flowers last a fair while and semi-evergreen, strap-shaped leaves and overall form, make this a good plant to have in my book. They prefer full sun and a free-draining soil but I’ve grown them successfully in quite a heavy clay soil and in dappled light.
3. Perovskia Blue Spire – zones 5-9
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 which the bees absolutely love!
The softness of this open but eye-catching plant adds a quality that few other plants can create and it looks fantastic with grasses. Yes, you read it right, soft and fluffy are worthy qualities too! It prefers dry, sunny conditions in well-drained soil. But buyer beware – I’ve been told that in places like New Mexico they can be quite invasive.
4. Hylotelephium (Sedum) Purple Emperor – zones 4-9
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. Another one that perfers sun and a well-drained soil to thrive.
5. French Lavender – zones 5-9
I love to see lavender planted in clumps and repeated around the garden, especially when used with grasses and more upright plant forms. It’s another favourite of the bees too!
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. Full sun and a free-draining soil are a must for lavenders to thrive.
Before incorporating any of the above in your garden, do check they will be OK with your soil type, location and the general climate.
Watch Rachel demonstrate all the steps to creating 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.