Garden Design – a first for me!

A friend of mine has asked me to help her plan a planting scheme for a new garden.  This is not something I have done before, but I was happy to help. I usually design by trail and error – luckily for me most plants can be easily moved if they are in the wrong place. Thankfully my friend Gillian already had a colour scheme in mind and knew the overall affect she wanted to achieve – more of a cottage garden style rather than anything too formal.

The garden

The garden itself is in Aberdeen and had been cleared to make room for a new wooden studio. Gillian’s daughter is very keen on spinning – the woollen type, not the cycling one. As spinning wheels take up quite a bit of space they decided that she should move this hobby/business out of the house.  You can read more about Ashleigh’s spinning on Happy Days Hand Spinning. The whole process of turning a fleece into wool is fascinating.

The garden is south facing and sheltered. The soil seems to be good, neither clay nor sand. I didn’t test the pH but Aberdeen soil usually tends to be slightly acidic.

So here is the garden.

Looking down from back steps

Looking down from back steps

The main border on the left is what we are concentrating on first. The border on the right is quite narrow and shady, that will be done second.

The colour scheme is pastel with yellows, blues and pinks and we will concentrate on a good summer display.  Gillian feels as I do that although we need a few evergreens, the main impact of the garden should be in the summer months.

Working our way from the bottom. . .

Bottom of garden near studio

Bottom of garden near studio

Middle of garden with small pond

Middle of garden with small pond

The middle of the garden contains a small pond. There used to be a much larger pond and as there are still a lot of frogs in the garden, it was necessary to leave them somewhere to lay their frogspawn. These will be taken to the nearest wildlife pond so that the garden frog population doesn’t increase further.

Top of garden

Top of garden

Nearer the top of the garden is a mature white rose, which will provide a lovely backdrop.

There are also a couple of climbing hydrangeas against the wall and another much larger one on the opposite wall.

Looking towards the house at the right side.

Looking towards the house.

Looking up towards the house there is a lovely variegated holly providing quite a splash of colour in the corner. There is also a small apple tree trained against the blue trellis.

Looking towards the house on the left.

Looking towards the house on the left.

Looking towards the house and left you can see a couple of mature climbing hydrangeas.

Narrow border with ivy

Narrow border with ivy

The narrow border has a mature ivy and more hydrangeas. There is also an interesting unknown shrub in the corner which will be exciting to see as it leafs and flowers.

So that is the tour of the garden, now to the drawing board.

The plan

Gillian had looked on the web and in books and made a Pinterest board to collect her plant ideas. I had also sent her a list of any of my plants I  thought would be suitable.  At least she didn’t want purple – so that ruled out a lot of my plants and made choosing that much easier.

Planning the old way.

Planning the old way.

We then measured up the garden and did a scale drawing on some tracing paper. Neither of us knew how to do this on the computer!  We had a cup of tea and looked at the plant choices. It was actually surprisingly easy to come up with which plants we were going to use and where we could put them. There was only one plant we didn’t agree on – a large pink Lavatera for the bottom corner near the studio. Gillian had had this plant before and really liked it.  It is not one of my favourite plants as it can look really messy. It would also need a lot of maintenance to keep it in check. I do have an ally in Ashleigh, who also thought it would be unmanageable.

The plants

We first thought about a couple of evergreen plants that would also provide interest in the spring/summer.

Choisya: This can have wonderful scented white flowers and shouldn’t grow too large. I like the one with narrow leaves, Choisya dewittiana ‘White Dazzler‘.  Gillian has found a new variety, also with narrow leaves, but with pink flowers. Choisya ternata ‘Apple Blossom‘.

The plan is to have this up near the house.

Mahonia ‘Soft Caress‘: I have this in my garden but it is quite young and hasn’t flowered yet. The leaves are gorgeous and again it shouldn’t grow too large. The yellow flowers will provide lovely late summer interest. This is quite a new, non prickly variety of mahonia.

This will be a focal point the far side of the pond from the house.

Lavatera clementii ‘Rosea’:  The jury is out on this one!

However I do feel we need something tall for the back corner near the studio. We are thinking about Vibernum plicatum f.tomentosum ‘Kilimanjaro’. Although this grows quite tall, 3m, it doesn’t spread out as much as the Lavatera would do.  Does anyone know this plant – what are your thoughts on using it for a small garden?

Siberian Iris ‘Tropic Night’
This pale blue iris grows quite tall and I felt it would be lovely along the back of the little pond.

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’
This would be to the left of the pond and would be a lovely backdrop for some Coneflowers.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Rubinglow’
In front of the Perovskia.

Eryngium bourgatii ‘Picos Amethyst’
This sea holly looks to be a wonderful blue – I think I will get some myself too.


Geranium Rozanne

We then though across the front we could have swathes of yellow Erysimum ‘Yellow Bird’ and a blue Geranium ‘Rozanne’. Then at the far path corner we could have  Francoa sonchifolia.

Erysimum 'Yellow BIrd'

Erysimum ‘Yellow BIrd’

Other plants still in the running are:

Night-scented phlox

Night-scented phlox

Hollyhocks (pink), Prostanthera cuneata (this evergreen plant has wonderful fragrant leaves and white flowers), Delphiniums, Zalusianskya ovata  (these night scented phlox have the most gorgeous flowers that open in the evening), Ajuga, Cosmos, Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’ (this is a lovely bright green evergreen shrub that doesn’t grow too large),

Ilex Crenata

Ilex Crenata

a yellow achillea, some short pink phlox . . . . . .

pink cosmos in pot



There are so many plants to choose from it is really difficult just choosing a few. The ones we do choose have to give a lot of value with all round interest or a long flowering period.  They have to be easy to control and not grow too large.

We would really appreciate your comments on our ideas or any further suggestions you might have.










19 thoughts on “Garden Design – a first for me!

    • Well put. We started off thinking of that but then I think got carried away with the flowers. Thanks for bringing us back on line. Have you any recommendations for good structure plants for small gardens?

  1. how lovely to have a (nearly) clean slate to design and plant, the climbers sound like they will make a good interesting back drop and of course add height, if your friend would like any pink geraniums I have 3 different ones that flower well, the pollinators love them and I just happen to have 2 of them dug up needing me to find new places for them, I bought my first Lavatera last year and love it, it flowered profusely despite the dreadful weather and didn’t take long to cut down ready for this year, remember she will be the one looking after it and looking at it everyday, Frances

    • Hi Frances. I was round at my friend’s again today and the design has changed quite a lot. The lavatera has been discarded as has the choisya as they are probably both too big for the space. I would have loved to accept your offer of geraniums, but she already has a pink geranium and has absolutely no more space on the plan. Once things are bought and planted then it might be different, but we were having to cut down the number of plants we wanted so it wasn’t too crowded. Do your geraniums flower in the shade – if so I would love one of them. I have quite a few white ones and a gorgeous small pink rockery one with dark leaves. Would you like a swap? You could wait and see what I show photos of on my blog if you like.

    • I am quite excited too. I normally build a garden up gradually and move plants around until they are right. So this was a first for both of us. I think the plants are being ordered this week. It will be very exciting seeing how they look.

  2. Annette, what a great project you have started! I wondered , do you plant flowers in threes? Somewhere along the line this was a plan I was told to follow! And do you order all your plants as an everyday rule? The nurseries have just got into full swing open season here now and I have been waiting! I go look everything over and then come home and decide where to put it! There’s always something new I haven’t seen before.

    • I think smaller individual plants are best in threes, though I have rarely done it myself! We did work to that though. We didn’t have room to do it for all the bigger clump forming perennials like the coneflowers. I think Gillian is going to order three for the delphiniums and hollyhocks though. I have only just started buying online as I feel I have now bought most of the varieties available in the nurseries. I do use them if they have something I need though and for my annuals.

  3. Sorry I’ve only just seen this. Sounds like a great plan so far Annette. Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ grows up rather than out to form a narrow shrub and flowers for months on end through autumn and winter. Some small low growing evergreen perennials are jolly useful to grow underneath deciduous shrubs. You already have Ajuga on your list… what about Iberis sempervirens, Campanula persicifolia or poscharskyana, Saxifraga umbrosa, Vinca minor or Viola odorata. Don’t forget bulbs …though they can be added later. Many of the plants you mentioned are quite loose in form and a scheme like this usually benefits from something quite tightly clipped like a couple of box balls or cubes.

    • Hi Gillian, Thanks so much for your suggestions. I have made a note of them and there may still be room for some of the smaller ones. Most of the plants have been bought now and planted – my friend had a good idea what she wanted. In the end she went for a eucolyptus which she will keep cut down as a bush, and an azalea for her shrubs. She didn’t seem to want anything too formal. I will be photographing her garden as it develops and will do another post later in the year. Meanwhile I am off to look up some of your suggestions – they might also do for my own garden.

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