How To Design Your Own Garden – Choosing Plants

Hey budding garden designers. This is the final part of the pre-planning stages of my garden design series. In up coming blogs we will be getting down and dirty. I’ll be sharing my own garden design and we can all create beautiful gardens together. it’s going to be so exciting! in this final preparatory post I’ll be discussing height and diagonals and how to create different types of garden space. I’ll also start to delve into planting.

English garden
Spring is in the air in my walled garden. Can’t wait to get planting!

Spring is in the air and it really is time to start getting outside. With the world in turmoil at the moment and the terrible news about Ukraine, troubles can play heavy on your mind. One of the best ways of alleviating anxiety is to get into the garden. Just a couple of hours outside doing something productive can really help your mental health. There is very little we can do to help what’s going on in Europe at the moment. For me though, that doesn’t stop me worrying. So, the best thing I can do is keep busy and active. Let’s get creative and start building a place of beauty and solace for our minds and souls.

The use of the diagonal and the vertical

Using diagonals in a garden can be the easiest way to make a space feel larger. By placing pavers on the diagonal within a space you will expand the perceived area and draw the eye to the extremities of the space. Placing a pergola further up the garden again on the diagonal achieves unity because you have repeated a pattern. It also achieves balance as you have counteracted the diagonal on the ground with one higher than eye level, but on both counts you will have deceptively expanded the width of the space.

If you then place some screening in between the paved area and the pergola, in the form of a trellis covered in white roses perhaps, or three erect Italian pencil ferns, then you will have created intimacy at the far end of the garden, a private room to relax and unwind in. A meandering path around the pavers with a simple planting palette in the borders either side, leading to the pergola, creates movement and a journey. The path makes you want to see what lies beyond the screening. The screening itself also makes the garden feel larger because you can’t see to the end of the space, so it could go on forever! You won’t know unless you journey up the path.

Small spaces

In a very small garden you may just want to create an intimate space next to your house. This can be achieved by not using the diagonal and really embracing the space that you have. Sometimes, it’s better to not fight against what you have. I often do this with dark rooms inside a house. Most people want to make a dark space lighter, I always want to do the opposite. I believe painting light colours in a dark space makes the room feel cold. Better to really go with it and embrace the dark side, then it will be a cosy, warm and welcoming space.

The same can often be said for very small gardens. It’s often better to accept what you have and just create a beautiful, welcoming space. Create one outside room, still using all the design principles I talk about in Stage 4, but keeping it simple and cosy.

Easy fix

An easy fix for making the space cosy is to add colour to your fences. By painting all the surrounding fences a colour that you love, it will not only add your character to the space, but also make the boundaries more noticeable, delineating the space. However, if you painted you boundaries black or very dark green and then planted up against them, this would make the space feel larger as very dark colours disappear behind foliage, making the foliage pop and the garden feel like it goes on forever. So, it’s up to you, either is possible.

If you want a cosy space then perhaps create an oval seating area with planting around it up to your boundaries. The planting will act like living walls around your cosy oval intimate space. Add an outdoor sofa or armchairs, throws, cushions and a few well-placed lanterns and you’ve got an outdoor living room or snug.


This is my favourite part of the design process as it’s just like decorating a room with glorious paint colours. The plants are your medium and you can do whatever you want, there are endless combinations! Where do you start though? Well, what’s your favourite colour? What flowers and plants float your boat and which ones leave you cold? Make a wish list. Now, you may find that some of the things you love you can’t have because of the reasons I said in earlier stages, such as soil type or aspect, but at least you have a starting point.

One of my best ever tips for designing a border is to visit which has one of the best search facilities and filters on the internet. They are an online plant nursery, so you can buy your plants from there too if you wish. Once armed with your soil type, your aspect and the colours you like, visit the website and search using the filters. So, for example, you could search for white blooms, a shady site and sandy soil.

The search engine will then provide you with loads of good examples of plants that suit your needs. It will also give you a ready-made flower border design. It’ll even tell you where to plant everything and how! This isn’t an advert by the way, I just think it’s a great website. You can then, either go off to you local nursery with your planting list or buy direct from Crocus. Genius! The border designs on the website have done all the hard work for you, but if you do fancy designing a border yourself, then here are some tips:

Designing a border

  1. Choose a colour scheme – let’s go with white and purple. 
  2. Plant in odd numbers, trust me, it just works! I like to plant in swathes. The technique was made famous by the late garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. By planting in swathes of , three, five, seven, or nine plants of the same species, you create a tapestry of colour and interest. Flowers work much better en masse. Often people make the mistake of buying one bloom that they like at a garden centre and then when they plant it amongst their other plants it gets lost. 
  3. Layer your planting. There’s a great book called The Layered Garden, one of my favourite gardening books of all time. It talks about creating borders that have year-round interest, layer upon layer of seasonal blooms. Plant snowdrops and tulips for late winter and spring. Follow that with Purple Sensation and Allium Nigra bulbs and White alpine Phlox and Aubretia for May. Erigeron, Lychnis Coronaria Alba, silver Artemisia and Gaura for June and July and August. Follow this with annual blooms like white Cosmos. Then comes white and purple Asters and tall white phlox to take you into the autumn. This way you will have all year round colour, it just takes a little planning. Make sure you have a few evergreen plants thrown in for good measure. This will create structure, so that even in the dead of winter there is something to look at. I don’t cut back my plants till the spring as I like to see the frost on the dead stems. 
  4. Plant in three dimensional triangles. Imagine triangular mountain peaks when planting, starting with low planting and gradually rising to a tall plant at the peak. You can have quite a few planting triangles within one border. Make sure you keep your tallest plants at the back of the border though, so your tallest planting triangles at the back and the smaller ones further forward. The triangles create height, texture and interest to a border.

Choose a simple colour scheme

Planting – its so important to get it right within a garden design. There must be repetition and flow and a cohesive scheme if you want your garden to be a success. Choose a simple colour scheme, I like cool colours, so its whites, blues and pale pinks for me, with the odd black to aubergine for contrast. 

I planned a white border and a prairie border in the first terrace of my last garden. The white border included Lychnis Coronaria Alba, Leucanthemums, White Phlox, Artemesia, white geraniums, Stachys, Gaura and White alliums. The prairie border contained Lychnis Coronaria, which is hot pink, Perovskia, Calamagrostis Karl Foerster, Agapanthus, Sea Holly, Stachys and Leucanthemums. You’ll notice that some of the plants were repeated in both borders, this creates harmony and cohesion.

In the second terrace I created a cottage garden and an entire border of box balls, or Buxus Sempervirens. There’s no reason why you cant have variety in your garden design. I see each border almost like they are rooms. There needs to be a sense of flow, but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be the same. 

Unity, balance, interest and movement

The cottage garden was planted in drifts of between five and seven of the same variety of plant. It’s important to always plant in odd numbers when putting plants together. Here, I added Leucanthemums of various varieties, Bergamot, Crambe Cordifolia, Rosa Twice in a Blue Moon, Persicaria Bistorta Superba, Delphiniums, Nepeta and Knautia.

Dotted around the garden were specimen trees such as Italian Umbrella Pines and Italian Cypress, Acerbic Autumn Blaze and Crimson King and Cornus Kousa. The Acers add repetition and draw the eye further up the garden. The Italian Cypress add symmetry, along with Box balls in pots. 

Garden design doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to follow my four design principles: Unity, Balance, Interest and Movement (all discussed in stage 4) In my garden, the interest is created by using the curved sleepers and garden sculptures. The balance is achieved by planting on different levels, so that not all your plants are at the same height. The sense of balance is maintained by the two symmetrical Italian Cypress At the top of the steps mirroring the two box balls at the bottom of the steps.

Unity is created using a simple colour palette and repeating it throughout the garden. Finally, movement is achieved by creating a journey through the Hollywood steps and the archways. Tall grass near the steps, sway in the wind and usher you forward further into the space. 


Obviously, I have used my last garden to illustrate some planting ideas as I haven’t done any planting in my new garden yet. However, that is soon about to change. In the coming weeks i’ll be starting the fun part of garden design in my new walled garden. I’ll be showing you practically via my Instagram account: @jpslifeandloves and in theory on here in more detail. I can’t wait to take you on my journey and I really hope it helps you design your own garden haven.

Missed Stage 4? Click the link. Xx

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1 Comment

  1. Monica
    February 27, 2022 / 8:22 am

    Can’t wait!

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