By garden designer Mary Newstead
This series is devoted to
plants and planting schemes. It is not a quick-fix to the perfect planting scheme.
On the contrary, I hope it
will give you inspiration and a desire to learn more about plants and encourage you to experiment with colour, shape and form.
Know your onions
If you want to design your own planting scheme, and get it right, you may well want to learn more about the plants you intend to use. Understanding their needs and natural habitats is an important part of the design process and also helps to familiarise yourself with their lifecycle so you can organise your scheme to look good all year round.
Remember, it is important to go with nature and not against it, and if it means you can’t grow camellias or rhododendrons, then you must accept this fact. It just means that you will have to enjoy them where they do flourish, so timely visits to botanic gardens and arboretums will be the order of the day.
To broaden your understanding of plants create your own plant portfolio as a self-study aid. To do, this follow the steps below:
- Photograph the plants you intend to study, making a note of the date and location.
- Take pictures from your own plot and during any visits to botanic gardens, where you will find them clearly labelled with up-to-date botanical names.
- Plant names are constantly changing, so check names in the RHS Plant Finder.
- It's also a good idea to take images of the same plants at different times of the year, giving you a handy reference as to what it will look like, say, in mid-winter.
Next, draw up a grid with the headings listed in the example below and add as much information as you can find on each plant. Use several books to gather information and adding your own notes as well. This is important because our changing climate now means that we can grow more than some books would have us believe.
Example portfolio page
Botanical name: Melianthus major
Family name: Melianthaceae
Country of origin: South Africa
Type: Evergreen shrub
Description: Highly decorative olive green, architectural foliage, silver underneath, which smell of peanut butter when touched. Spectacular tawny-crimson flower spikes late spring/early summer. Honey substance on flowers - common name honey bush.
Height and spread: 1.5m in one year - main growing period early to late autumn.
Growing conditions: Any rich, moist, fertile soil. Full sun or light shade away from strong winds, which may rip the large, delicate foliage.
Pruning/maintenance: As plant matures, cut off brown and crispy lower leaves - use secateurs rather than tugging off the leaves as stems are delicate. If stems get leggy, cut offending ones down to ground just above a basal bud any time in summer. Can be kept in bounds by cutting whole plant down to ground annually after flowering – it grows back same season.
Problems: Pests and diseases - trouble-free. Tender so best suited to the favourable south.
Period of interest: Evergreen - foliage good all year round. Flowers late spring-early summer.
Next article: Colour and colourists