How I Designed My Silver Birch Border In Easy Steps

There’s only so much design you can do in your own garden before you get restless and just want to get on with it. I’m aware I haven’t shown you my full garden design yet. There just hasn’t been a minute to draw it all out. Although, I do have a rough drawing. I promise I’ll show you that soon. What I can show you though is the plan for the first border – the Silver Birch Border. It’s now complete as you might have seen on Instagram. In this post I’ll be telling you all about it and reveal the plants I have used.


Somehow, actually getting on with it and creating one section of your garden, can actually stir the imagination cogs in your brain. Just being able to tick something off the to do list too can do wonders for your state of mind. 

Man standing in silver birch copse
Don’t mind me! Just casually hanging around pretending to be a gardener.

Our garden

Our garden has a five foot high Victorian wall almost all the way around it. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of having, partly for its beauty as a backdrop to plants, but also for its protective qualities in the winter months.

It is about 45 metres long by about 14 metres wide, so it’s a long garden. It faces south-west, which is perfect in my book. The owners previous to the ones we bought from knew their stuff when it came to gardening. Deep amongst brambles, stinging nettles and the dreaded Winter Helliotrope, is a considered and curated planting plan. There are a few fine specimen trees and shrubs and a mass of perennials and spring bulbs.

The problem is that in order to save all the good things about our garden it is imperative that all the weeds are removed first. To do that requires digging up huge swathes of the garden, saving and potting up all the plants that will cope with being transplanted and then weeding for days!

Where to begin?

There is one solitary Silver Birch tree about a third of the way down the garden. I knew I wanted to add more of the same variety to create a mini copse. The problem was that beneath the lonesome birch was thick tufted grass. I spent at least a week digging up all the grass and almost lost the will to live in the process. I love gardening, but be under know illusion about my distaste for menial heavy duty tasks. There’s no help in our garden though and there never will be, so if I didn’t just get stuck in, then the botanical sorcery would never be realised.

The Silver Birch Border

The Silver Birch Border is going to form a bit of a showpiece. I want it to draw the eye and make you want to venture close to it. The idea is that once inspected it ignites the imagination and sense of adventure, luring you further down the garden to see what’s beyond its icy white peeling bark.

By completing this border I have not only given myself a sense of satisfaction, but it has allowed me to see in real life something that up until now has only been in my head. It’s given me the confidence to continue to the next stage and start to create more borders. It’s allowed me to get a better idea of where other design elements in the garden are going to fit in. If you are starting a new garden, my best advice to you would be to just get something done. Then, that mountain doesn’t seem quite so insurmountable.

The structural planting plan

I nearly always plant in odd numbers. It just works better. I can’t tell you why, it just does. It’s exactly the same with interiors. Three objects placed together looks great. Two looks awkward and lost. The only time I would plant two of the something would be to create symmetry either side of something. My plan started with adding six more Silver Birch Trees – Betula Utilis Jacquemontii Snowqueen. I placed them around the one we already had, but something looked wrong. I realised it had to be nine instead of seven. I had managed to find them at a relatively inexpensive price, but nine trees was still just over £900, which is a lot of money in my mind. However, they are the cornerstone of the whole border, so I closed my eyes and clicked add to basket!

I then wanted four Box balls to go around the central tree. However, we have the dreaded box moth here and I just couldn’t risk it. So, I ordered four Yew balls instead. They’re actually easier to maintain too. Finally, I had designed 16 white hebe to go around the edge of the triangular border. Actually, I need one more. These are Hebe Wiri Mist and they form a small bushy evergreen mound about 60-70cm round. They have masses of white flowers from late spring to early summer. I managed to get these at my trade nursery near Woking, in Surrey. So, they were only about £4 each.

All of these plants form the structural base to the border. The Yew balls and Hebes are evergreen and along with the white trunks of the Silver Birch, they all form a good base of year-round interest.

The floral underplanting

Planning a border is all about creating interest, something to admire throughout the year. I’m a big fan of successional or layered planting. This is where you plan various plants to come up and shine at different times of the year, so that there is always something going on.

The design so far is quite purposefully formal. With the underplanting I want to soften all those edges and create a frothy mix of white, purple, lilac and green. The leaves on the trees and the white blooms of the hebe will arrive in late spring, followed by the perfectly globe-like purple sensation alliums. I have also added Allium Nigra – a white variety and also a paler lilac variety.

I’ve then added Digitalis Pururea Alba (White foxgloves), which should appear in late May/June. Astrantia Star of Billion appear in June and if cut down after flowering will appear again in September. These are tiny little pin cushion-like flowers and are one of my favourite blooms of all time.

Leucanthemum show their jolly white faces from July onwards, along with Lychnis Cornaria Alba. These flower profusely right through to autumn. I’m still toying with the idea of adding Veronicastrum Virginicum Album, with their white regal spires over a metre tall.

Dot planting

I don’t know if this is the official name for this type of planting and I don’t care. It’s my way of creating a tapestry of six or seven plant varieties dotted around the border with no two of the same variety planted together. It’s a technique I’ve used to great effect for many years. It’s different from a ”dot plant”, which is usually something that has height that you dot around a border to add structure. I’ve already got my structure. The Silver Birch are effectively dot plants. I’m using this technique for my border. For most other borders I will be using swathe planting.

It’s another way to make your border look immediately professional. It’s a technique that the late Gertrude Jekyll made famous in her garden at Munstead Wood. This type of planting uses swathes of the same plant in odd numbers.

Planting the same variety en masse can be thrilling to see. By choosing six or seven plant types and then repeating swathes of them throughout a border gives cohesion and potentially year-round interest.

Choose your colour scheme and stick to it!

This is so important. It doesn’t matter if the colours clash. In fact, that’s a technique that was made famous by gardener and writer, Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter, in East Sussex. He was one of the first people to put purple flowers next to orange ones, for example. Do pay attention to the colour wheel though! Orange is opposite to purple on the colour wheel, it just works. However, you may want a calmer, more serene palette. In this case you would use colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

The Colour Wheel.

Whatever you do, just choose a scheme and stick to that scheme. So many of us go to the garden centre and just buy whatever takes our fancy that day, often resulting in a mish-mash of a design. People often only buy one of each plant too and these tend to get lost amongst all the other plants in a border. At least buy three of each thing if you can! Stick to your chosen colour palette as well and you can’t go wrong. Happy planting!

JP Clark signature

If you liked this then you may like:

How To Design A Garden – Stage One

2 Comments

  1. Lisa
    March 28, 2022 / 12:13 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this JP thank you for sharing, Lisa xx

  2. Janet Watson
    May 30, 2022 / 7:51 am

    Great blogs Jp very helpful and I love your honesty. That’s inspiring because although you despair sometimes you still get on and do it! Now I shall reappraise my garden! Xx

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