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Planting a border...advice...

I am planning a border which will be cover 5m by 1.5m of my garden. I am sticking to taller plants at the back and shorter plants towards the front. I really like the cottage look…clumped in groups. I have a few questions and need some advice.


1.       Last summer, I added top soil because the soil beneath didn’t look great (amateur guess). This year, I want to make the border levelled the same as the rest of the garden. Do I take the bottom soil out and replace it? Any tips?

2.       I have lots of ideas of summer plants I would love to use e.g. lupins, alliums, tulips, foxgloves, honeysuckles, pink elephants etc Should I buy them grown or buy seeds/bulbs?

3.       I wanted to use some plants that survive and have some interest in the garden all year round. Any suggestions that will compliment my summer plants?

4.       Is there a rule on colours to use? As I don’t want it to look like a jumbled up mess.

5.       The border is 5m x 1.5 m how many plants do I need? I want it to look full and filled.

6.       Should I add a climber to my fence? Which one?


I’ve added a pic of the current state- I am making more changes. I’m making a bricked path and will take off the small wooden fence so plant all over towards my fence… photo added to show you on next post.

Any other advice-very much welcomed!

Thank you so much!


  • This the current state and my plan...
  • How nice to have a project. :)

    I am sure lots of people will be along to give advice, however, they normally need a few more details like where about you are situated, type of soil, aspect (north/south facing etc. 

    In answer to a couple of your points I do know that in the main Foxgloves and lupins will not flower from seed in the first year. So, seeds will be a longer term project. Bulbs for this year will also be, in the main, too late. 

    Cottage garden look is usually successful with groupings of plants and for me the colours need to flow/blend with each other, difficult to describe I am afraid.

    How many plants will depend on what size you buy. Do remember to plan the spacing around what size the plants will grow to, it's nice to have a full border but over filling will just mean some plants get killed off by others or don't perform as well as they could. 

    You will most certainly be able to find plants with autumn/winter interest but it will probably best if you get to look at lots of pictures and try and identify what you like and then check if they will grow in whatever conditions you have. 

    I do love bulbs and find them great value for money (year after year blooming and usually bigger and better each year). It has been so cheering to see the early spring bulbs popping up this week. They certainly help in getting the flower border's season extended. 

    Clematis are great climbers, but again it will depend on your growing conditions/aspect etc. 

    Good luck and keep taking pictures, before and after photos are great for us and you too of course. :smile:

    • “Coffee. Garden. Coffee. Does a good morning need anything else?” —Betsy Cañas Garmon
  • Thank you

    I am situated in East London, my garden is north-facing.

    I don’t know what type of soil I have! Erm what do you mean?

    • “Coffee. Garden. Coffee. Does a good morning need anything else?” —Betsy Cañas Garmon
    • “Coffee. Garden. Coffee. Does a good morning need anything else?” —Betsy Cañas Garmon
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,689
    edited February 2021
    I would guess clay-ey soil from the look of it, and that you say it's 'not great' and you're in London... does it easily ball up and stick together, like modelling clay?

    Clay is fine, if you are happy growing plants that like a clay soil. There are plenty of them. You'll find things that hate winter wet may struggle a bit - you might find your alliums gradually decreasing for example. You can add a bit of organic matter to make the soil a bit lighter. Old compost from last year's grow bags is fine. Mulching with chipped bark will also build up the organic matter in the soil, over time. 

    Re the plants, I would go with 9cm potted plants and plant in groups of 3, 5, and 7 to avoid that 'bitty' look. Repeat some of the plants to pull the bed together. Off the top of my head, some good plants (if your soil is clay and presuming at least a few hours of sun per day) would be Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Pink Elephant', Sanguisorba 'Tanna', Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, and Thalictrum 'Black Stockings'. Not sure if there's room for all that though! If you can increase the size of the bed you will be able to have more diversity. Most of these you'd plant about 30cm apart if you want things to knit together quite quickly. You can squeeze in extra plants for earlier in the year, either bulbs or things like primroses which come up when the perennials are dormant, and won't mind being overshadowed by them over summer. It might be an idea to wait for next Autumn/early winter to plant those.
    "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour". 
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