The 4 Things To Know About Perennial Garden Design

Our last hurrah

When it comes to designing are garden it can be difficult to know where to even start. Even if the garden already has a rough layout, it’s difficult to say which plants go where, how they should be planted and what combinations will work.

Over time you’ll develop an instinct for this kind of thing, but here are a few things that you should bear in mind until those instincts kick in.

Make Your Flower Beds Wide

It’s a basic fact of garden design that a skimpy flower bed is nigh on impossible to make look good. Give those beds plenty of breadth, ideally at least a foot of width for every three feet of length. If you’ve got a fifteen foot perennial flower bed it should be at least five feet wide. That said, you don’t want beds any wider than ten to fifteen feet wide, otherwise people will have trouble seeing the flowers at the back of the bed!

Plant Thickly

Do you enjoy looking at dirt? Of course you don’t, nobody does. It’s dirty, it’s brown, it occasionally has worms crawling out of it, it’s not anybody’s idea of an aesthetic treat. So why make the visitors your garden look at it Pack those perennial flower beds so that there is barely an inch of soil visible between them. If there are bare spaces it looks like the plants are too young, or you’re too cheap to get enough plants.

Make Sure the Garden Reflects Your Tastes

Like anyone who does anything creative, a gardener’s work should tell you a little about his or herself. It’s an expression of their tastes and personality. So bear that in mind when planning your garden. Take a look at the surroundings – if you’re creating a garden for a rickety cottage in the Cotswolds, there’s no point trying to go for the same regal atmosphere of a stately home.  But at the same time, always remember, this is your garden, and at the end of the day the first person you need to please is yourself.

Step Back

Gardeners spend an awful lot of our time on hands and knees, barely a nose’s distance away from the ground, working on all the hundreds of tiny details that make up a garden. But every so often it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the garden as a whole. There are essential questions you need to ask yourself about the garden, such as: What is the experience like when you walk through a garden, how do the opposite ends of the garden react to one another when they are  both in your eye line at the same time? Does this look like someone was creating it with a plan or just making it up as they went along? What’s the first emotion you feel as you step through the garden gate?

Getting the answers to these questions right can make the difference between a good gardener and a truly great one.

Featured images:

Rob Whitehead is the principal of the Pickard School of garden design.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Google Plus
  • Google
  • YahooBuzz
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS


  1. Great advice here, I particularly like your third point, make sure the garden reflects your tastes. I think too many people try to achieve something that they don’t actually want, in the name of fashion or keeping up with the joneses. Stick to what you will enjoy!

  2. Lavenders are great plants, come in range of cuolors and types, and are reliable. They are also not invasive, though easy on care needs just trim them every spring. Look out for Hidcote lavender a beautiful blue flowered type, as well as the French lavenders, such as Kew.Otherwise, I’d mix the heights of plants, as well as add varied types of foliage, and cuolors, to increase the interest and spectacle of your borders.Phormiums, or New Zealand Flax, are spear leaved shrubs, from green, through red to purple, some of them with mottled variegated leaves. These add some drama to the border, and are good in full sun/part shade, as you have. Can grow to 6 high, though there are some dwarfer types.Add some climbers, if you have walls or fences, to increase the growing area, and shield boring boundaries. Honeysuckles are great, and most have a strong scent too. Just need some trellis, or can be fixed on with garden wire etc. for support. To add winter interest, winter Jasmine, or Jasminum nudiflorum, as bright yellow flowers, when nothing much else is growing, yet alone flowering. Can be grown on a fence, or just allowed to build a mound, and trail. These are good in shady areas, so your borders are perfect, with just some sun till early afternoon.Heucheras are great in part sun/shade areas, they are flowering perennials, with a huge range of leaf cuolors their main attraction, as well as summer flowers. Foxgloves are great normally tall upto around 6 high. They readily set seeds after flowering, so allowing you to continue with more, even after the main plant finishes. They flower the following year. For the front of the border area, pinks are attractive, come in a huge range of cuolors, many of them patterned flowers, and have a strong scent. Good for cut vase flowers, for indoors.Cotinus, or smoke bush, is a good deciduous shrub, especially nice if you have a purple or red leaved variety. More grown for foliage than flowers. Height to 8 or so, eventually, so more for the back of the border.I’ve not included too many types of plants here, not knowing how large your borders are. These are fairly simple, really low maintenance plants that give good results. Just plan how you can blend them in, I love cottage style gardens, where there is no regimentation, and have the varied heights, leaf types, and cuolors, as well as some scented flowers for added interest.Hope this helps. Message me if you’d like some more plant ideas, I’ve got many many more. Good luck! Rob