Category Archives: Garden bloopers and how to fix them

Right Plant….Wrong Place!

Are you a Right Plant…Wrong Place expert!


looking good

We’ve all done it….we’ve planted a lovely plant in what we thought was the perfect spot, and then it all started going wrong!


Delicate climbers turn into voracious triffids, the few bulbs you popped in the corner have re-appeared – everywhere, or that beautiful gorgeous flowered plant that you popped over there is now a mass of sickly looking twigs…is this sounding familiar?

The key to getting the plants to behave properly, is to plant them in the right place at the beginning – and that means the right place in terms of light and moisture but it also is important to have the right soil for the plant to thrive too.

At PlantPlots we believe that our gardening advice should be really useful and practical – especially if you aren’t the most expert in the garden, so to help we’ve created some simple soil guides.

We want to help you promote you from the realms of Right Plant Wrong Place Expert and propel you towards becoming a true gardening guru! ….

Well be a better gardener anyway…but at least you will have a better understanding of what to plant or not!

PlantPlots ‘rule of thumb’ guides to getting it right….from the start!

Good Soil 2 Clay soil Poor soil Sandy soil Acidic soil


Simply click the images to view and then download the guide – it’s all free advice.


There are however, some simple rules you can apply to help reduce the number of goof-ups, that will apply regardless of soil type:


10 tips to avoid ‘Right Plant – Wrong Place’ problems:

These rules apply for the average sized UK garden by the way (those lucky people with huge gardens don’t have to worry so much about how big plants can get or how fast!)


Don’t impulse buy at the Garden Centre.


Any plant label that says ‘Vigorous’ should be planted with care.


Any plant that grows beyond 12ft should also be planted with even more care.


‘Good for Naturalising’ is not good in a small garden!


Plant ‘Self Seed Experts’ downwind of the patio.


Bedding Plants may look great in the Garden Centre – but do you really have enough time and enthusiasm to maintain the required pampering regime to keep them looking that good?


Don’t just fill a gap in the border with anything you can find – it probably won’t work!


Don’t fight your garden’s natural environment – if you want an easier lower maintenance garden, then work with what you have. Your plants will perform better and tend to misbehave less.  


Check the ‘size in 5’ BEFORE you plant it! If it says 20 feet tall in 5 years, then that is what it will be.


If the plant’s not thriving where it is, don’t be afraid to move it to somewhere better.


If however, you really can’t (or don’t have the time) to plan the right plants for your garden…. you could cheat and try one of our designs. Think of them a bit like recipes for the garden, simply have a browse and download the ‘recipe’ you like the best!



You may as well plant plastic flowers instead – many modern plants have no food for foraging insects.

Garden Problems – Misbehaving Gardens!

Garden Problems: Is your garden misbehaving itself and how can you sort it out?


misbehaving garden

Much as we’d all love one of these….


White show garden

Most of us usually end up with something more like this…


So what can you do to get your garden behaving itself?

We all have garden problems, even Monty Don and Alan Titchmarsh will have had many, but not getting on top of those garden problems will usually mean they start to get on top of you instead.

We all see these glossy images of the most beautiful and bountiful gardens and it’s hard not to feel somewhat disappointed when looking at your own back garden/jungle and wonder whether you can ever really get something that looks (and stays) looking good all year without the expert designers or full time gardeners on hand.

Well of course you can.

The key to a lovely garden that works for you, is how good you are a ‘refereeing’, what sort of team you have on the pitch to start with and how well you understand the rules!

Gardening is a process, there is no start or finish to a garden, it is a living breathing entity, so plants will die and others will try to take over, you need to make sure you know how to remain in charge!

Read our guides to ‘righting the wrongs’ in your garden.

flops  taking over  thriving  uninspiring

Or for a little extra helping hand …you can ‘cheat’ and buy one of our lovely ready made border designs instead – that way you know it will all work – hurrah!


happier gardens

Paths not runways

Paths not Runways please.



One of the main problems in small garden design is how to deal with paths. Paths by definition have to go somewhere, they need to be hard wearing and they need to be a certain width to be able to walk down comfortably. The problem arises as garden sizes shrink, the path becomes a much more visually dominant feature and as paths have to be practical they are often not pretty!


So what do you do if like many garden you already have a path and you don’t want to go through the expense of changing it, but you don’t really like it much as it is rather ugly. Well luckily there are lots of ways to make the path appear less obvious, and it’s all about making your eye notice other things more.

Hide the Path in Plain Sight:

This garden for example, is typical of many small gardens. It has an attractive step up onto the lawned area, but the path really leads you eye straight down to the place where the bins are kept and the back gate. The owner has tried to create some interest by adding a birdbath, but at the moment the ‘runway’ beats the birdbath in terms of what you actually notice.


To lessen the impact of the path and make the garden look more interesting you need to make something else much more interesting.


Now the lawn is competing with the path – the lines of the lawn are saying ‘look this way instead’…but there is still not enough interest to make the birdbath the feature of the garden….but we have a cunning plan for that too!


The plants used have strong vertical lines, which pulls your eyes up from the ground. Low box hedges force your vision into the back corner – where the main garden feature is. The birdbath itself has been immersed in soft and floaty flowers, so on first glance, you can see something, but you have to look a little harder to see exactly what it is.

So, does the path still dominate?

Make an Entrance:

This garden clearly highlights the runway effect…but you still need to get to the shed. So how can you make the walk to the shed more interesting and the path less of an ugly feature?



As we have said, you can’t hide the path, but you can hide the path by making it less obtrusive – it’s all about distraction. Here all the lines lead in the same direction, all the garden features reinforce the runway nature of the garden and this end up giving the impression that one should ‘look to the shed’. This is not a problem if the shed is a thing of beauty….but maybe the man-cave or her-hideaway is rather more practical than pretty!


The first job is to lose part of the runway effect by reshaping the lawn and redefining the left hand border.


Now, we tackle the runway, by making you look up. All the columns lift the eyeline above the path. The shed is partially hidden and the planting will sway in the wind. All of which creates a more interesting outlook, but the path is still pretty visible and pretty dominant.

To deal with this you need to make an entrance. Entrances frame the part of the view you want to highlight. By making the entrance spectacular – the path automatically becomes less obvious it also becomes more welcoming. It’s kind of like saying ‘step this way…and enjoy the journey’.


Create a False Entrance:

If changing or re-siting the path is not an option, what can you do. A simple but cheap option is to create a false entrance.

The border alongside the garden can be planted with really vibrant eye catching colours- which helps to hide the ugly grey concrete paths and patios. Planters have been  dotted around the garden too, use the same planter to keep the whole design simple but chic.

This makeover uses plants from ‘Prairies’ as they are easy care, low maintenance and will tolerate drought.



Uber-organised or ‘pop it in’ planting

Many years ago, I was outside my front door, and the lady down the road was planting her bulbs down the side of the drive – she was using a set square and ruler to get everything ‘just so’. When the tulips popped up there was a red one then exactly  9 inches away a yellow one, and so it went on – it looked ridiculous!

What was worse, was that as they all didn’t flower at exactly the same time, the effect was rather like a group of rookie squaddies trying to learn to march, except one poor chap had turned left not right.



Nature does not do measurements or regimented  planting schemes, so please please, have a neat and ordered interior, but let’s not impose it outside!

bedding plant colours_edited-1



Secondly, are the ‘buy a plant and pop it in a gap’ gardeners, what ends up is usually a multicoloured mishmash of stuff, colours everywhere, all dotted around, big stuff next to little stuff, and it just looks like you have thrown breakfast, lunch and dinner all onto one plate.



lovely yellows

lovely yellows


So have a plan, even if it is only a loose theme, and try stick to it.  It could be only 2 colours are allowed, or that you want a soft floaty plants, or that nothing should lose its leaves in winter. Whichever you choose it will look so much better and you can give yourself a pat on the back for being a budding ‘designer’!


Poor Topiary

On the plus side, this is bold, dramatic and gets noticed, but conifers don’t take to topiary well, as it will only generate new growth on green shoots, so cutting hard to take this shape will mean you get green bits and a lot of brown dead looking bits, not the look for your showstopping statement! 


The owners have also placed a pot over the manhole cover to hide it, but it actually really highlights it, as you wonder what the pot is doing there on its own. 


This is an awkward shaped front garden dominated by a path and enclosed by walls, so quite shaded for much of the day – so how do you remedy things?


peoples gardens (42)


First step is to remove the conifer, this border should then be filled with plants that are no more than 1m high, that are ‘soft’ are in light bright colours and scented. So lets say whites and pinks are used, you can plant bergenia, hostas, hebes, japanese anemone, bluebell (english ones please), cimicifuga, dicentra ferns myrtle etc. Repeat the same plants in the bed under the window and also plant in front of the fence, then your eyes are drawn to the plants and avoid picking out the less attractive features such as manhole covers and meter cupboards! 


You could even remove the lawn in front of the fence entirely, it will always struggle to grow well due to the shade, and create a garden of shade loving plants to give you something to look out of the window at, rather than next door’s wall. In this case you can go for taller plants, martagon lily, cimicifuga, foxgloves, sarcococca, and some geraniums as well. 


Once done, the path will become less harsh as a feature and the planting will hold your attention rather than at present, the boundaries and walls being the main points of interest.

There’s a hole in my patio….

OK, I jest, but if you are going to have an island bed, it has to look spectacular and be big enough to make a statement.


Here the driveway is quite large with this oval island bed, the three roses are quite small, (possibly recently planted, so in time these should fill the space) but the effect now is rather like a child’s inflatable floating in a sea!


Two questions, are the roses all the same or are there three different colours (to create a spectacle they should all be the same), but more importantly, are roses gorgeous enough plants to look at for the remaining ten months they are not flowering – if they succumb to blackspot – possibly not!


The primulas are what ruin this for me though, too many different garish colours all plonked together – you wouldn’t do this with your soft furnishings in the sitting room (I hope), same applies outside!


What would I do here, well firstly I don’t really want prickly plants where people walk past, secondly for me, the roses are only spectacular for too short a time to be given such prominence.  If I really wanted a rose, then choose a standard rose (the ones that have been grown to look like giant lollipops), that way my eye level is held up, then you can fill the underneath with pretty plants and winter bulbs.

narcissus teta tete glanthus in pot (1) cyclamen coum album tulip white triumphator flower Gypsophilia flower



Let’s say we have a white standard rose then underneath plant, snowdrops, freesias, white narcissi, tulips, gypsophilia and white autumn flowering cyclamen, thus making sure there is something pretty in flower all year.

Alternatively, just plant a daphne, it has lovely foliage all year and a truly wonderful scent in early spring. Or fill the bed with tall airy grasses like molinia or miscanthus and hide some solar lights amongst them to shine at night!



Pot Collections!

Small Garden Design: Get your Pots right!


pot collections


Not everyone likes cutting grass or wants the perceived work load of lots of plants, so a few pots are a good  alternative for many people, but there are ways to ‘do’ pots and ways not to.


Here the pots are arranged in a loose ten pin bowling arrangement, there is a mix of wooden planters, plastic and blue pots each containing one plant. 


Now I actually subscribe to the ‘one plant in a pot idea’ as I would prefer to have one good looking plant as opposed to several occupying a small space (which means I need to water and feed them all religiously to keep it looking lovely – and I usually forget too!), but the plant also has to be in proportion to the pot, and here they all look a little small.  So how to improve this?


Firstly, just like redecorating a room, decide on a colour scheme for plants and for the pots, with the stone and paving here, darker coloured pots contrast well, the palest terracotta colour doesn’t really stand out.  I could use the pale pot colour, but ensure the plants were bold, that way the plant is the feature and not the pot, or all the pots could be the same colour but different styles for interest. 


The key is to have a plan, so let’s assume I am going to use the darker blue for all the pots. The colour scheme for the plants can be either  pastel and cool or bold and bright, but not both!  In this instance I will choose bright and bold (as the stones are quite pale), choose two flower colours you like and buy plants only in those colours.


Tulips in pots

I know these are in a lovely garden, but it’s the effect I want you to look at.

In this instance I would like red and purples as it will stand out against the stones.  Do consider bulbs as well as one plant per pot, so tulips for example can happily sit under a plant and pop up in spring for extra interest. 


Lastly positioning, sorry but the skittle style of arranging is not a good one, group the pots in 3’s or 5’s or all together (this also makes watering easier), put plants that look good together in each group and it will look so much better!

Size and placement


Small Garden Design : Size Matters


This person has clearly thought about their front garden and has planted a really well looked after box hedge, and they have bought two specimen plants the phormium and rosemary for the inside. 

size and placement


There a a couple of issues here, firstly that the plants don’t fill the area despite being big, so a tiny ophiopogon lily (the black plant) has been planted which unfortunately now looks rather dwarfed. If you are only having one specimen per area – why are both offset in a corner.


Secondly, are both these plants really beautiful specimen plants? The box hedge is designed to frame the space and like a painting, if you have a lovely frame, you want a lovely picture in it.


To improve this and really make it stand out more, you could either contrast the solid frame with a fluid centre or you could paint a colourful picture to ‘put in the frame‘. 


Creating a fluid middle, this would be designed to waft in a breeze, but you don’t want it to flop all over the hedging.  Fill each area with soft airy grasses like deschampsia or a stipa tenuissima – then use bulbs and delicate plants to provide interest over the seasons, such as alliums, tulips, nigella, catananche, schizostylis, galanthus, astrantias and maybe some pennisetums too.


Alternatively, a colourful picture can be created by using a limited colour palette.  Stick to two flower colours along with green.  As the hedging here is a more yellowy green, I would avoid pastel shades and choose strong blues with yellows, purples and oranges or acid yellows with creams and whites.  Then choose your base plant (evergreen, not too tall, non floppy), and get plants in your chosen colours that flower at different times of the year to ensure year round colour


For example, I want strong blues and yellows, my base plant would be a geranium ‘Johnson Blue’ to which I would add crocus, muscari , narcissus, salvias, iris yellow tulips and achillea tomentosa (summer), echinacea sunrise (late summer).


The result – a picture that steals the show rather than the frame!


Geranium johnsons blue


Salvia Blue Queen


Iris yellow (1)


muscari (2)





Check the ‘size in 5’!

Small Garden Design: Don’t plant a problem!


Another new garden border by the house builder, it looks OK right now, but all these plants are doing is storing up a problem for the new home owner (and as these are starter homes – it’s probably their first garden too) – thanks!


Too many big plants - not enough space


OK, so what is wrong, well in this bed there are, 4 phormiums (the spiky ones) 4-5 skimmia’s hiding at the back, 2 box balls, and 9 lavenders. The whole area looks to be about  3m x 1m roughly, so let’s say 3.5m sq. The skimmia’s will get to just over 1m round, (if they survive being that close to the wall), the box balls are OK you can trim to size. The lavenders, well probably these are the standard ‘hidcote’ variety, so will get to 80cm round (as you can keep them trimmed).


Then we have the phormiums, these look like ‘tenax’, each one can get to 3m tall and about 2m wide – and you have 4!


So totting it all up, you have plants that will use up at least 15m sq of ground space in an area that’s around 3.5m sq.


It’s only saving grace is that the plants they have used are easy care, but sadly this was a north facing house, so the lavenders will be devoid of sun and won’t therefore perform.


Why not just think a little more and plant something that works – rather than instant fix!


For north facing plots like this, why not use equally easy to care for plants such as euonymous, hostas, foxgloves, bergenia, brunnera, sarcococca, ferns, japanese anemones, for a bed this size, go for a ratio of 1 large, 3 medium and 9-12 small plants (these could be bulbs or low growers like primroses).

It may take a little longer to fill up, but gardening was never instant!





Wrong plants entirely!

 Small Garden Design: Have a bit of a plan!


badly planted front

‘Naff’  is the best way to describe this – and because it was done by a house building firm, I am not insulting any homeowners by saying so! 

So what’s wrong with this.  The main problem is the vinca (the green plants in the centre) these are tough grow anywhere ground cover plants – so in this lovely rich sunny new bed – the vinca will quickly overwhelm everything. In addition, it’s quite an untidy plant (long tendrils emerge which re-root wherever they touch), not the thing for the front door!

There are daffodils, primroses and pansies in flower, blue and yellow nice, blue and pink nice, yellow and pink… um not nice! 

In the back of the plot are some attempts at a shrub, which could be a choiysia, it is hard to tell, but do they really think they are well grown specimens?  Two branches and a few leaves on top – and you are paying for this? It looks like there are 7 in the picture, far too many in that small area.

A vinca turning into a triffid


In 18 months, you will have no pansies or primroses left on show, the vinca will have covered all of them, it may have killed off most of the ‘shrubs’ before then as well.

You may get the daffodils in the spring, but as the bulbs are clearly visible, (they need to be about 10cm deep at least), I doubt these will survive either. So a plot of wild shaggy untidy vinca with a pale blue flower for a few weeks each year but you need to trim it probably every few weeks so as you don’t trip up on the tendrils – great eh? 

OK, rant over, what to do:

1 good focal point plant – that gets to no more than 1m high and 1m round (for example, daphne, euphorbia, hebe, lavender, pittosporum or sarcococca).

Dapne odorata


Euphorbia Griffithii Fireglow


Hebe Pewter Dome poss


Pittosporum argyrophyllum








3-6 lower infill plants (depending on overall size) so geraniums, geums, gypsophilia, hostas, nepeta, grasses,

tulip ballerina 2


Geranium phaem album flower


geum mrs bradshaw


Gypsophilia Bristol Fairy (2)







9-12 bulbs depending on planting time, but these could be tulips,

It may take a little longer to look it’s best, but it will stay looking it’s best for longer!

1 2