Has your garden design gone wrong?

What to do if the garden just doesn’t look any good

Whilst we would all love to show off an immaculate garden just like ones in the magazines, but the reality for most of us is a lot less spectacular! Now, that’s normally because our gardens are smaller and cost less, but it can also be due to the design and layout being wrong.  How do you sort out a garden design gone wrong!

 Firstly, you need to identify the causes,

Too much stuff!

garden design gone wrong
This looks a mess as the border is too full.
start garden again
the solution is to start again

In this image (which happened in my garden), the ‘Welcome to my Home’ border is definitely not looking it’s best. The reason there is way too much stuff packed in. As a result, nothing shows itself off, it splays out and looks unattractive.

The solution is to be bold and dig it all out and start again. Replant the same plants back in just fewer of them or start again and move new plants in from other areas of the garden.

Something for all the seasons:

In small gardens, garden borders have to work hard all year. Staring at a dull patch of soil waiting for the few weeks of the year it flowers, is not enough.

A common design problem is the balance of plants throughout the season is wrong. The border ends up a bit of a ‘James Dean’ partying hard but dying young. All the plants flower in the same few weeks of the year, which is great for those few weeks… but boring for the other 48 weeks.

To remedy this you need to come up with a plan, so for example in spring the border will have a purple, orange and yellow colour theme. Then in the summer this can change a different colour combination.

However, don’t just buy pretty flowering plants. Flowers fade, look for different foliage colour use plants with interesting shapes or textures or scent.

Fortunately , we have already predesigned some fabulous border planting schemes, just visit the shop and download the design that suits. Get the plants, pop them in and bobs your uncle – a more gorgeous garden! Good eh!

There are other reasons your garden design has gone wrong too..

No planning:

Another common mistakes that causes your garden design to go wrong, is a lack of planning. The planting in this image is lacking something, it all seems rather dull and uninspiring – the plants that have been added don’t work well there. The colour of the shingle, with an unpainted grey fence and the pale red walls all seen to suck the green out of the plants. The grasses have flopped and everything seems to have been plonked into place – along with one rock.

plan the planting. Garden design gone wrong

It has been planted without a plan. Decide, the colour of the ‘furniture’, what goes well with pale greys and reds. In this case it would be better to go for a bold contrast rather than complimentary colours. Think of the overall look you want to create, tall and dramatic (it hides a boring fence..) or one that moves with the wind (which draws your eye away from the boring fence!)  

Check the environment:

Finally, all your plants don’t look as though they are thriving – the most common problem is the plant has been put in an unsuitable place and so it struggles.

The second most common is usually down to poor soil and drainage. 

Naff planting schemes!

Sadly most of us are not garden designers and it’s not just the garden design that is wrong, the planting schemes look decidedly naff too.

garden design wrong naff planting schemes
Not the best is it?

Most garden borders evolve… you tend to have inherited some plants, you’ve bought more plants and then you pop them in gaps in the borders.

Now this can work, but more often it doesn’t. This evolution though can lead to some bad colour combinations and putting plants next to each other that really do work well together. 

You wouldn’t mix certain colours in the rooms of your house, so why do it outside, pink and yellow for example!

So if it has ended up looking a bit of a dog’s dinner, how do you go about sorting things out?

Have a plan!

Look at the border in question – pick out the best bit, the plant that seems to be looking better than the others. If that plant grows well there then it’s worth keeping there. Build your plan around this plant. 

You then have to decide if you are going to go for more of the same (and big blocks of the same planting look great – even in a small garden), or you are going to plant to highlight the contrast with this plant.

You contrast with either colour, shape or texture, but any plant you put in must grow well in the place it’s being planted in. Some ideas for border designs are shown below, so you can see what we mean by contrast or coordinate.

Be bold:

This doesn’t mean bold colours it means you need to to move plants around in the garden. Don’t be frightened to move plants around the garden, this is best done in Autumn or Spring, but experiment with different looks and shapes.

What to do if your plants take over the garden!

Sound familiar, you visit a garden centre or a flower show and see a beautiful plant and think  ‘I know just the spot for that…’ The lovely specimen is then lovingly planted in said spot. A few months later it has GONE MAD EVERYWHERE!

It grows so fast and spreads everywhere.

Some plants should never be planted in an average size garden as they just require too much work and a lot of effort to keep in check, but what do you do if you have an unruly plant?

Sadly if the plant has outgrown it’s spot really quickly, it will continue to do so forever. So your best bet is to dig it up.

It squashes everything else.

DSCF7832

You thought that plant was going to be a pretty ballerina of a plant but instead it ends up as a large hippo – squashing all other plants around it.  Well you can prune the plant into shape, but radical reshaping can either lose the beauty of your ‘hippo’ entirely, leaving it an ugly twiggy mess or you lose the flowers. So if you don’t want to move it elsewhere, then consider ‘lifting the petticoats‘. By that we mean to remove much of the lower level of stems as possible, to stop it squashing everything and see how it performs in the year. If it looks awful, you will have to relocate it to somewhere else in the garden with more room for it to expand.

It cuts out light in the garden

garden design gone wrong

Sunshine is so important, it provides vitamin D and it makes us all feel better – so we don’t want too many plants that absorb light from the garden, but some plants seem to suck the light out of everything (Leylandii hedges!!)

A rule in gardening; Lleylandii hedge = a garden design gone wrong

Getting other plants to thrive or grow well next to light sucking shrubs is nigh on impossible, so how to improve things?

There are 3 ways to improve light levels.

Reduce the height of the plant:

Railway-train-garden-hedge-design-ideas

Technically if you have a hedge, it should not be allowed to grow more than 6ft high, if your hedge is taller and it cuts out light to a neighbouring property, you could be required to reduce the height. If though you want height for privacy, think – does the whole hedge need to be tall or could the height be stepped down in places?

The rule is usually hard prune the top, but lightly cut back the sides. Try to ensure the base of the plant is wider than the top also.

Lift the Crown:

This means removing the lower branches of the tree to allow light in underneath, or in the case of shrubs it’s more about ‘lifting the petticoats’.

Make a hedge hole!

Just so you don’t think we are completely batty, how much nicer is this little peephole than just a blank dense wall of green?

The Worst Messy Trees and Untidy Plants!

Plants and trees do require some work and all make some mess, but some are worse than others. 

As the title says, all the plants or trees listed below are shaggy, scraggy, messy or generally untidy plants  – if you leave them to do their own thing.


How to design a garden – 10 golden rules

They can look good and many have pretty flowers, but you will need to keep them well preened and coiffured if you want to enjoy them as much as you should.

Also these plants or trees drop shed loads of stuff, or drop loads of fruit or drop loads of big leaves that are a pain to clear up in the autumn. So if all these should be avoided if you like you garden to look neat and well tended.

The worst plants for small gardens are…

Bluebells – lovely until the leaves go all mushy

Bamboo – beautiful, but the leaves quickly shred in the wind. Best in a very sheltered spot

Buddleja – grows faster than your overdraft 

Campsis – this will grow about 3ft overnight and can pop up several feet away 

Chaenomeles – an ugly thorny tangled web but it does have pretty flowers

Cotoneaster – drops berries everywhere and always looks like a bad hair day!

Crataegus – Thorns, so it’s a killer to prune!

Fallopia – aka’ Mile-a-minute’ vine….actually it’s 2 miles a minute!

Fig trees – Big pink fig bombs, drunken wasps and the tree wood is easily broken

Hedera – Ivy, will cloak everything and then it drops leaves, berries and detritus

Humulus – Golden Hop, a pretty yellow vine….that swamps everything in it’s path

Jasmine – pretty flowers, the rest of the plant is really untidy & needs constant pruning

Lonicera – Honeysuckle, resembles a bowl of overcooked spaghetti after a couple of years

Lleylandii – big, dense, green, dark shrub/tree and it never stops growing

Mulberry – a very broad tree that drops millions of purple staining berries

Passiflora – A bit like Lonicera (honeysuckle)

Perovskia – A lovely plant but if you forget to ‘chelsea chop’ it flops everywhere

Phalaris – A very unattractive, scraggy and invasive ‘ornamental’ grasss

Philadelphus – A beautiful scent  but prone to looking leggy, woody and unattractive

Pryracantha – Lots of thorns & berries! 

Rubus – even more thorns and berries

Salix – A wild bad hair day of a plant that grows like wildfire. Needs a firm ‘talking to’ every year!

Solanum – Potato Vine it will end up a jumbled mess of tendrils and swamp lesser plants

Symphiocarpos – Snowberry this plant would survive the Apocaylpse it’s so hard to dig out

Vinca – a triffid of tangled tendrils collect around your feet and then trip you up

In addition:

  • All tall deciduous trees – over 30ft require regular maintenance & drop lots of leaves.
  • Pine Trees  – not only do you have razor sharp (non-compostable needles) they ‘bomb’ you with pine cones!
  • All Fruit Trees – They require regular pruning and you have lots of fruit drop to contend with.
  • Birch Trees  – may be pretty but they drop thousands of seeds in spring and loads of twigs & leaves all year
  • Elderflower – Fast growing shrubs, and once you have berries you also have lots of purple bird poo!

Thanks for getting to the bottom, there are a lot of reasons why your garden design gone wrong, hopefully I have covered a lot of them. But if you are still stuck drop me a line rachel@plantplots.com

For more great advice try this amazing book. Available at Amazon and other online bookstores

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