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I can heartily recommend the RHS book on planting combinations. Well worth the price as it saves you buying things that end up not working. You look up a plant and it gives you info on it, plus a selection of suggestions of what works well with it, both for looks and for site/soil preference. Look em up in your encyclopaedia and choose one or two, perhaps based on colour and/or flowering time. Then search the combo book for THOSE plants and see what's suggested... and so on.
The key, I think, is choosing things that contrast with each other, preferably (to me) in foliage colour and texture. I often use plants that I may not even like much (such as bergenia) simply because they show other things off so well because of the contrast. And have decent sized clumps. It also helps in island beds to have one central focal plant to work around. Stops it looking like a cold frame. xx
That's a tricky one! If you are mobile, it might be worth visiting some open gardens around your area. You can find a list of open gardens supporting charities by using the find facility here:
Personally, I would start with making a list of my favourite plants & shrubs - "must haves" if you like, look-up their approximate spread and then mark their positions on a scale plan of your layout. Obviously put the taller things in the centre of each bed and work from there. Even the professionals keep things in pots and move them around until things look 'right', so I would do the same.
I've been doing exactly what your planning. My lawn has all but gone, in it's place are differenting heights, walls and large planting spaces/beds.
I want a true cottage garden with different heights of plants, eventually I want to be able to walk through my garden, which is good for bees, insects and all wildlife.
I would grow the plants that you like, rather than follow any other persons sense of planting. I'm growing a lot of perinnial plants which won't give me a show til next year but I've got some annuals on the go a well.
I agree thought that mass planting of one plant is best for the overall effect. I wanted snapdragons in my garden at the beginning of the year so I grew them from seed................ I've still got loads,even though I gave loads away. I've filled my new beds with them. Looking forward to them flowering but it might not be the same next year.
My advice is just go with what you like and work around what you have already.You can always change it. Gardens are never "right" and never complete
Eee you little shopping devil - you didn't waste any time! Its a lovely book and great for inspiration. Some of the options offered are very traditional associations, but plenty of surprises too. Let us know how you go. And how the Sarah Raven turns out too. Always on the lookout for another good book...
My piece of advice, should you wish to take it, is to plant larger groups of the same plant than you might imagine needed. If there's one thing I've learnt this year is to be bold and do it in snake shapes or waves rather than fat clumps. It looks way more pro.
Visiting National Trust and RHS gardens is a great source of inspiration as most of the plants are labelled. I have just written a blog post on the merits of Hydrangea Limelight. It establishes quickly and is readily available up to a 1m tall from suppliers so can give an instant feeling of establishment to a planting scheme. The flowers are lime green fading to cream and then finishing with a hint of pink, they flower profusely from August to October providing an impressive display. http://www.williamgrace.co.uk/blog/