How to choose plants for your garden

Is your garden north or south facing or does it feature lots of room for beds and borders? Follow gardener Kate Gould’s advice on how to select the best plants to suit the space

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I have a blank canvas of a garden, but want to create beautiful beds and borders, where do I start?

Start with a tape measure, piece of paper and a ruler and measure up the size of your garden. This is a really important first step to allow you to make decisions about scale, furniture, pots and areas for hard standing and lawn. Once you’re happy with the design and have a to-scale plan of where you want your beds and borders to be and at what size, you can then quantify these to enable you to place accurate orders when buying plants.

How do I know which type of soil I have?

There are some simple things you can do just by looking around your plot. If rhododendron and camellia grow well in your neighbourhood then the likelihood is that your soil is pH neutral to acidic, so look out for plants that have this information on the label. You can also buy simple pH test soil kits in most good garden centres, which are easy to operate and provide useful information to base your planting scheme around.

Loose soils that do not hold together in your hand are generally sandy whilst others that clump together are clay. Once you know what your soil type is you can select plants with more knowledge and be confident that they’ll grow well. When designing a garden I always remember the mantra of ‘right plant, right place’. Spend time selecting your plants carefully; reading labels and thoroughly researching plant/soil type suitability and you will be rewarded.

North or south-facing garden?

Work out the aspect of your plot and consider the following plants for your space:

North facing:

Hydrangea petiolaris, Sarcococca confusa, Mahonia vars, Liriope muscar, Hosta vars.

South facing:

Agapanthus Headbourne Hybrids, Allium vars, ornamental grasses, Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’, Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’.


If you can see rhododendron growing in neighbouring gardens, there’s a good chance your soil type will be perfect for the plants too

I have an area that’s shaded by a large tree, which plants grow well in shady spots, but are still visually appealing?

There is light-dappled shade and pitch-dark shade and every level of shade in between. Plants that do well in light shade are more common that you might think; hydrangea, viburnum, paeonia and even some roses. Plants for dense heavy shade are much more difficult and often not as exciting; aucuba, vinca, ferns and hosta are all worth considering – they’ll give the space plenty of greenery and substantial ‘body’ as some can be quite large.

Often shade goes hand in hand with dryness as large trees take up lots of water and nutrients so shady areas can take longer to establish, so patience is vital.

Evergreen vinca spring carpet with blue flowers.

Great for areas that are heavily shaded for most of the day, vinca will add structure to your planting scheme throughout the year

The beds near my patio have sun all day — which plants and flowers are best suited?

Sun-loving plants outnumber shade-loving ones in garden centres as they tend to be those that have the most colour. The world is almost your oyster here if you’re lucky enough to have a garden that benefits from sun all day. Look out for lavandula, salvia, penstemon, roses, verbena and herbs, which all like sun.


Great as a fragrant and attractive solution, a herb garden in a bed or border is a great idea in sunny spots. Grow from seed or plant already-established young plants and leave to develop

What’s your top tip for creating a successful planting scheme?

It has to be my mantra: ‘right plant, right place’ and also plant in bulk numbers for maximum impact. Group plants in threes or fives or if you have more room multiples of odd numbers to create broad swathes of colour. Don’t be afraid to fill gaps in beds with plants and flowers – the most beautiful beds, borders and pots are teaming with colour and interest.

topiary of the garden

Add structure, character and a focal point to your garden with box plants and topiary – have fun with shapes or go for a uniform, formal design with multiple versions

How can I create year-round interest in my garden?

Gardens that look good in the winter will only look better in the summer. Think of green as a colour too and embrace it as your winter backdrop. A high percentage of evergreen plants will provide a backbone for your scheme and these act as foils to summer colour and provide a feeling of a well-established plot. Plants such as cornus that have colourful winter stems are good too. When the warmer spring and summer months arrive, look to update beds, baskets, pots and troughs with seasonal flowers, and plant spring bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils in winter for a nice boost of colour in early spring.

Which plants are both visually appealing but require little maintenance?

Topiary is remarkably low maintenance and box plants only really need clipping once or twice a year. Choose these as easy-to-care-for options that add visual drama and interesting focal points, that will also form a good sound backdrop to any planting scheme.