Don't just plant it, colour it

Colours adds so much fun, pleasure and excitement to the garden but often many gardeners are frustrated with the results of their efforts to produce a colourful display. In urban gardens where space is often more limiting, this can be particularly challenging. Before deciding on what plants (shrubs/flowers/grasses and trees) to grow, there are a number of factors to be considered:

  • Site aspect – some sites are lucky in that they may be sun washed from early morning to late evening, the lucky owners of sites with a sunny south and south west aspect will have a very wide choice to select from. Sunny sites tend to be very warm and soil conditions dry and free draining. In contrast, sites with a northerly or westerly aspect will have much cooler ground conditions, and with less sun, there are usually some shaded areas and soil condition scan be cool and often a little damp. But this is not necessarily a problem as there are plenty of colourful planting options suitable for these conditions.
  • Soil conditions – heavy damp soils can be problematic for most plants as often plants prefer dry and free draining soils and few will in heavy wet clay soils. It is relatively easy to improve the soil conditions, simply mix in lots of compost and a little grit, this will help to improve the soil structure and reduce the wet conditions. There are a wide range of plants which prefer/require a particular type of soil, an example would be Camellias, Skimmias, Rhododendrons, Pieris etc which all prefer acidic soil conditions, which is quite different to typical soil conditions which have a high lime content. There are a number of methods to enhance and increase the soil conditions and make it more suitable for ‘acid loving soil’ plants. One method is to add lots of ericaceous compost or add a chemical supplement, sequestrean of iron to make the normal soils more suitable.
  • Size and space – once one has determined the site aspect and soil conditions, the next and most obvious consideration is the growing space available. Unless one wants to be endlessly cutting back and trimming, much of this ongoing and often onerous maintenance is easily avoided by using a little common but practical sense. Select plants which have growing characteristics (height as well as spread) suitable for the available space. There is no advantage (and often ending in disappointment) to selecting and planting a shrub or tree which is too tall or too large for the available space. This is quite common and often the constant cutting results in distorted  and spoiled plant forms. By selecting plants with more appropriate growth characteristics, it is surprising how significant the garden maintenance requirements can be dramatically reduced and leaving you with more time to enjoy the garden. Pay close attention to the information on the plant labels, some might refer to height and width after five or ten years, this should not be confused with eventual heights etc. Many purchasers are very disappointed to discover that what they thought they had purchased (‘ a dwarf tree’ ) kept on growing after five or ten years and had to be removed because it had become too big.
  • A balanced mix of plants – whilst some gardeners will prefer to see as much variety in shape, size and colour, others may prefer a more relaxed display. On ecan ignore rules, advice etc and do whatever one wishes but it has been proven time and time again that using less variety but small clusters can guarantee very satisfying results. For example, a garden should look well for as much of the full year and not just during the growing season. Therefore it makes sense to pick a combination of evergreen and Herbaceous (plants which die back during winter but return the following spring etc). In selecting suitable candidates, it is often a good way to plant three of each type in a small group or cluster, this will ensure that each group will be visible and not smothered out by taller or wider growing plants. When planting, it is important that each plant has adequate space to develop to it’s natural height and spread. All too often, newly planted shrubs etc are planted too close together, which will only lead to congestion, removal of some plants later and unnecessary expense.

Whatever your preferred planting design scheme, careful consideration of the above together with very good ground preparation will ensure a very satisfying and colourful summer display year after year.


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