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Informal planting

Posted: Wednesday 18 April 2012
by Andy Sturgeon

The RHS often asks for planting plans from designers of the show gardens at Chelsea, but I don’t know of any designer who actually produces one.


Sanguisorba in grass

The RHS often asks for planting plans from designers of the show gardens at Chelsea, but I don’t know of any designer who actually produces one. You have a broad picture in your head, a few dazzling combos, and then you kind of make it up a bit on site.

The reason it doesn’t sound terribly scientific, is because it isn’t, and the first few days of planting are really exciting, as you discover combinations you hadn’t thought of before. Alternatively, the first few days are utterly terrifying, as you struggle to come up with an elusive winning formula! It can go either way.

I do like to do a bit of planning though, and I’ve developed a technique, which is a bit crude, but usually works. Basically, it’s like a collage of pictures stuck on a bit of paper, except I do it in Powerpoint on a computer. I cut and paste the same image of a plant several times, to create a drift, and then repeat that drift a few times on the same page. Then I add more drifts of plants, so I can get a good idea of what it will look like, from a distance, in terms of texture and overall colour. 

At the beginning of designing this year’s garden, the idea was to create something like a meadow, with plants growing amongst each other and intermingled. But my cut and paste process doesn’t work well for this look, and I’ve ended up with quite clearly defined blocks of plants. 

So I’m now trying to disrupt the blocks, by throwing together Sanguisorba, with the tufted hair grass, Deschampsia cespitosa, as I think the claret-coloured flowerheads will dance through it nicely. And one of the cow parsley-like umbels would go well in the mix. I’m also growing the nettle-leaved bell flower, Campanula trachelium, which will work best poking up amongst its neighbours, and the white version of ragged robin, which would never be seen growing without pink companions in the wild.

And so the plan at the moment is to create pools of green within the colour. I’ll have Rodgersia, pheasant's tail grass, goats beard, ferns and Equisetum in large groups repeated around the garden, and then meadow drifts of intermingled loveliness in between. That’s the plan anyway. It could all end up quite differently of course.



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Wintersong 19/04/2012 at 15:38

Andy said "Basically, it’s like a collage of pictures stuck on a bit of paper, except I do it in Powerpoint on a computer."

It's an incredible achievement and credit to your design capabilities to be so free and still win!

A few years back, I cut up all my old gardening magazines and made collages which I still enjoy looking at(especially through the dull winter months). They really helped establish my style.

This year I have gone so far as designing my borders using hand sketches and colouring pencils as well as begining my third year photographing the successes and failures with my camera, because my designing has always been organic but also, ridiculously slow. I just take ages to decide where to put something! And only those things that get placed automatically, seem to stay put.
I use the photoes during the winter, not only to cheer me up but make corrections. Using powerpoint is a brilliant idea, especially since I cannot find a free design program on the net!

3dgardener 23/04/2012 at 18:07

I thought part of the chelsea submission process was to produce plans which you had to stick to in order to get the coveted gold. Have I misunderstood this?

kate1123 23/04/2012 at 18:24

I also thought that they had to remain true to their original design. Who is the paymaster?