How to buy plants properly – 5 golden rules

How to Choose Plants

How do you buy plants properly?

Well, the best way to explain how is with a sofa.

So you’ve just watched the Chelsea Flower Show all week and now you’re on a mission to do-up the garden. Gardening can be really expensive, buying plants certainly is – so how can you buy plants properly, so you don’t waste money and the garden will look amazing!

First, you need a sofa.

Your lovely sofa (i.e your garden border) needs a new look. So off to the shops you trot.


In the department store, you see some colourful scatter cushions that catch your eye, a lamp and a rug – so you buy them all and VOILA; a fabulous new look…


All of us understand how to decorate a room, albeit maybe we’re not so good as an interior designer, but most of us can ‘cook up a new look’ pretty well.

Almost like this one.


So why on earth, when faced with a trip to the garden centre do many folks, simply wander round and purchase on impulse.

Pick & Mix in the garden is not going to work.
You need a plan if you want to stop wasting money and learn how to buy plants properly.

Buy Plants Properly – The 5 Golden Rules

– especially if you don’t know much about gardening!

Rule 1 – Never ‘Pop into’ a Garden Centre for Some Plants.

All retailers want us to buy stuff, they have lots of stuff to sell and so make that stuff look really exciting and nice and attractive.

Funnily enough, all of us get duped into buying stuff we don’t want or need or know what to do with – all the time!

Garden Centres are expert at this too. The horticultural world has decided what we, the consumer, will want to buy. They then grow all these plants and present them to us for purchase.

Plants abound in every size shape and colour, it’s like being in a giant sweetie shop. And we fall for it every time,

“ooh that looks lovely, buy one”,

“have you seen this one, that’s really pretty too”, buy one.

We, the said consumer, then return home with this bag of brightly coloured sweeties and usually struggle to find a place our new purchases, so we tend to do what we’ve always done, simply pop them in any old gap we can find in the border.

The result – a sofa covered in lots of different scatter cushions.

So you need a plan.

Rule 2 – Discipline Yourself

In the instance of our lovely sofa above, we need to look for scatter cushions that will look good with brown. So your trip to the garden centre will focus your attention on the colours you are looking for. Perhaps in this case, cream colours with maybe a few orange coloured scatter cushions…

You may have noticed we’ve not even looked at what type of plant yet, just colours.

Rule 3 – Take a Photo of your Garden

You are going to be tempted by all the lovely plant displays and goodies on offer – so a cunning plan is to have a picture of the sofa (garden border) on your phone. It will help keep you focussed on what you are really need to get.

Rule 4 – What shape does the plant need to fill?

Right, this is the technical bit, and the best way to explain this is with a few diagrams…


All borders are 3D in shape, so you need to think about length, width and height.

You need to think how the plants will fill the whole area – and this helps you determine the right shape of plant to fit the space you need.

So in this example of our border space, you can see how different shapes of plants will work or not as the case maybe!


Here, the plants seem a little too flat or a little too top heavy.


To fill the 3D space, you can create a more balanced border.

As you can see in the final image, the whole area is filled, none of the plant shapes is too dominant, it looks OK. And that’s all you need to think about, if it looks OK, it probably is.

We still haven’t even begin to speak about what types of plants yet, just, colour and shape.

However, the next rule is knowing how the plant will behave and it’s probably the most important.

Rule 5 – Read the Label, always.

Plant labels are a real nuisance these days, all you get are a few symbols and some infographics. The essential information is there though and you need to read it.

It’s important to know how big the plant will get, if it says 10ft in 5 years, then it needs a pretty big gap in the border – squeezing it in anywhere else will only cause you problems in a very short time.

You also need to know whether that pretty plant in the pot will spread like wildfire all over the garden or have ambitions to world (or at least your garden’s ) total domination!

Luckily, we do have a helpful page – ‘Plants to Avoid – if you don’t like gardening’!

OK – you’ve followed the rules, so what now?

Hopefully you will have come up with a little plan by now, but if not, here’s an example from my garden to show you what to do.

 Clearly, this border is over stuffed.

Now I don’t want plants too tall, because I won’t see out of the window, but I would like plants that are colourful (so there is something nice to look out of the window at).

Luckily, I have a white wall, so I can showcase bold colours against it, but only 2 contrasting colours as it’s a small bed.

I would like all the plants to be: non-floppy, not too tall, but I’d like the flowers high enough to see through the windows. I’d like some scent and bright colours, as this border is in full sun.

Now you can choose the plants. you have the basis of a plan.

The result….

It’s the same border – just with different plants.

If you have trawled all the way to the bottom of this post (thank you btw), hopefully you have a better idea of how to buy plants properly.

If however, you are still a bit stuck, we can help – all you need to do is call!

Garden design service by PlantPlots