Plan Your Garden Borders

Whether you're looking to revamp your garden, starting from absolute scratch or just after a new-look border, planting plans are all about combining the colour, texture and shape of your favourite plants, alongside the structure of hedges, shrubs or trees and lawn layouts, to create a balanced and striking layout. Here's how to approach it.

By Sacha Markin

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Traditionally, planting plans have been either formal or informal. Formal planting has a definite and precise structure to it, with distinct areas and rows for each plant or shrub. In contrast, informal planting is much more flexible, with the emphasis on a flowing and relaxed arrangement. Informal planting looks to imitate how things grow naturally, using softly intertwined plants and casually positioned shrubs with occasional bulbs poking through.

Ideally set your sights on a controlled mix of both styles which will hopefully result in your own unique and dazzling garden display. However, before you start to plan, take stock of what you have to work with.

Assess Your Site

What's Your Garden's Aspect?
Firstly, take into consideration when and where the sun hits your garden, paying close attention to the direction of the boundary fences and walls of your garden - it is along these that much of your greenery will grow. Walls which face east will get a lot of strong morning sun each day, while west-facing walls receive most of the sun in the afternoon and early evening. South-facing sides of the garden will get particularly hot as the sun shines down on them for the majority of the day, whereas north-facing areas only get an hour or so of sun each day, so are just right for ferns and other shade-loving foliage.

What Growing Environment Does It Offer?

If you really want to grow a particular plant, check to see what type of growing environment it will require and look for the best place for it. Take into account that fruit and vegetables will need at least six hours of sun exposure a day, and the same goes for most flowering plants. However, even if you have a slightly shaded site, there is still so much choice available. And look at the other elements of exposure, such as a particularly windy spots, and then go ahead and clear the site completely of weeds and any garden rubbish. Make sure you have a thorough dig and get rid of all perennial weeds - instantly recognisable by their bulky and persistent roots.

Check The Soil

Once you know where you want to plant, it's time to check the soil so do a few simple analysis tests to check the quality of your soil. A do-it-yourself soil test kit, bought from all good garden centres, will give you the pH of your soil. The pH is a measure of the degree of alkalinity or acidity. Plants cannot take up nutrients unless the soil's pH is within an acceptable range. A reading above 7 indicates soil alkalinity, while below 7 points to an acidic soil.

Most soils have a pH between 5.0 and 7.5, but if yours doesn't, don't worry. Alkaline or chalky soils will support a wide range of plants, but not garden shrubs, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, which prefer acidic soil. If you are growing plants from the garden centre, check the plant label for details. If no pH preference is listed, a neutral range will be fine. You may also want to check the texture of your soil - soil texture refers to whether it is sandy, heavy clay, rocky or the ideal, a sandy loam. Whatever the texture, it can always be improved by adding organic matter, such as compost.

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