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How to design a flower bed

I'm starting aa flower bed from scratch and am completely out of my depth. Please help! I removed half a dozen conifers from the garden last year and cut the stumps as low as possible. I then built a raised bed on top of the stumps with the intention of hiding them while they slowly decay. The stumps range from about 6" to 14" diameter and the bed is about 12" high, by 14 yards long, by 3'-4' deep. I've finished the raised bed but this is now an intimidatingly large space to fill for someone be to gardening like myself! How do you design a flower bed from scratch? There's an overwhelming array of things to choose from. Is it best just to go to a garden centre and pick half a dozen plants and build from there, or is it better to plan it all from scratch? My personality makes me want to do the latter, but that's overwhelming. I think I want a mixture of shrubs and flowers for the height variation - the shrubs would obviously need to go between the stumps so the roots can establish. In case you want to suggest specific plants, please bear in mind that it's next to an east-facing fence so primarily receives morning/midday sun. 2-3 yards is also under a tree so received very little sun. I assume drainage is okay as it's a raised bed. We're in the south east of England so we have a warm climate by UK standards. I'd considered lily of the valley in the most shaded parts but heard they're poisonous and hard to eradicate. Is this a particular problem? We have children in the garden.


  • I feel for you as I did and am doing the same for my garden after removing the laurel hedge that were on three sides. I am not a gardener but have collected a lot of articles and clippings from magazines and newspapers and also visited many gardens to get ideas over the last five years or so. Even then it is daunting to 'design' or select plants and shrubs. Verdun in this forum advised me to 'plant things that I like and enjoy seeing' so that's what I am trying to do. There are many helpful experts in this forum who will come to your rescue, so I will leave you to them. Good luck!
  • a1154a1154 Posts: 1,092

    I bought a few books and looked at planting schemes.  I found that more useful than pics on the internet.  Get down to your library. 

     My first bed ever i stole from the local garden centre which has a beautiful walled garden.  I loved one bit of it and asked for a list of plants.  They were happy to help and i bought some of the ones i needed there. Definitely get out and visit gardens. 

  • Thanks - they're some really good tips. I guess it is as simple as seeing what you like and asking what the plants are.
  • When selecting perennials chose the largest then split them once you remove them from the pot.  This way you get a few more plants from the original.  They won't take long to grow bigger but make sure you bed them in some compost.  This will help them establish better.

    While your shrubs will take a time to get to reasonable sizes you could select some standard roses.  This will give you the height you need in the meantime.  Some very pretty weeping roses are lovely but you will need to spray with fungicide during the summer and feed with rose fertilizer - worth the extra effort.  A standard holly with beautiful red berries in the winter are lovely.  They are evergreen so will look good all year round.  Avoid Leyllandii at all costs.  They rob the soil of nutrients and moisture and nothing will grow beneath them.  A varigated ivy for the shaded wall in your garden will add interest and are easy to maintain and grow.  A climbing jasmine close to the house will bring beautiful summer scent into where ever it is positions near to.

    For a cottage like garden lupins, hollyhocks, delphiniums,poppies, are tall but you will need to prepare the bed with lots of compost and manure.  Do it now, in the winter, then the soil will be ready for plants next season. 

    Many gardeners have compost bins.  Position in a sunny border as it needs heat to really get the thing going.  You can put all your kitchen food waste in it.  Be prepared for the odd hedghog or mouse lurking underneath.  This should be well away from the house and can be screened off with a trellis.  I planted a honeysuckle in front and the perfume was wonderful.

    When selecting plants I try and place dark greens next to light variegated varieties. Short next to tall.  Groups of round shrubs together with different coloured leaves. Position your plants in their pots where you want them to be and then step back and look at them from a window in your house where you can see the garden.  Live with it for a few days and it will then become apparent if this is o.k.

    Good luck and happy gardening.


  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,078

    I would mug up on plants and the conditions they like and the heights of them from books and Google but not plant anything until Spring. Conifers make soil dry and remove goodness from it. Have you dug in lots of compost and manure?

    Draw out plans of your bed and choose plants you like, putting the shade lovers in the shadier places, taller plants and shrubs at the back. Don't put everything of the same height together, triangle shapes look better.

    Then in the spring the Garden centres will have much more choice and you will be more knowledgeable. Also less risk of plants dying in winter cold and wet.


    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • You are so right Busy-Lizzie.  I'd concentrate on getting your soil in good condition now.  The winter frosts are good for breaking down clay soil if dug over now.  You can buy a product called clay breaker which is brilliant for really claggy soil.  You could however put in some spring bulbs now this will give you the inspiration for the coming year.  The later you leave it the cheaper they become.  I've never had problems from putting in bulbs late.  Just throw away those that are soft or mouldy.  Shrubs and trees should be o.k. still.  To get them established they need water so avoid putting them in summer.  You've missed the autumn but it won't be too late to put some in however your soil should have been prepared in advance so if I were you wait until next autumn (September) when it's wet and windy.  Trees should be subjected to a bit of wind as it encourages root growth.

  • Excellent feedback, thank you very much. Lots to think about image

    Artylive - does a compost bin really need to be in the sun? I always thought so (and it's currently in a fairly sunny spot) but both for convenience and aesthetics I want to move it to very shaded spot. I recently heard that it's okay to be in the shade because most of the warmth is generated by the compost heap?

    Busy-Lizzie - I've filled the bed with approx one third manure, one third compost, one third topsoil. That was mainly to hedge my bets but I'm glad it sounds like I've done something right! image
  • It doesn't need to be in the sun but it helps to rot down the vegetation quicker.  Takes about two years in total for really good compost.  I can never wait that long though and dig it in half cooked so to speak.  I pull up the bin and move it along a bit so that I can get to the stuff underneath then top up the empty bin from the stuff not degraded. So for me it's never in the same spot for more than six months anyway.  From my own experience in the sun speeds up the process.  As the years have progressed and I am quite old now I found that the garden changes.  That's the joy of it.  I get fed up with some plants and some outgrow their positions.  Others fade and die.  I don't believe there is a right or wrong way.  It's all a matter of luck and choice.  You can live in the same street and what one neighbour can successfully grow won't do well in your garden.  Equally if one of your plants seems to be fading repositioning it in another part of the garden may bring it back to life.  Strangely if you look after some plants too well they won't produce any flowers (honeysuckle was one I ignored, instantly producing a whole mass of flowers after I threatened it with the compost bin.  Took ten years to produce a single flower.  Then went berserk!)

  • So glad I found this thread! I have just had a garden 'makeover.'  I moved in April to a house with one of the ugliest back gardens I've ever seen! Concrete City plus walls and rectangular block pond covered with red floor paint!

    It is all multi-levels with high raised borders and small rockery at the top. I have posted pics. Garden is now transformed with pale gravel, a paved area at the top, and two raised beds - one L shaped and the other very small with raised deck next to it (pic to follow.) Soil is sandy and light - covering a layer of upside down turfs over rubble in the little bed. Any suggestions re plants? I've been advised to be careful re size of plants for the small bed and to maybe use a colour theme (say blue/pink/white.) Garden gets morning sun and the raised beds face east. 

    One query before I finish this rather long post - the levels of gravel are retained with new pine sleepers. My first instinct was to colour them dark brown to contrast with the putty colour gravel but my garden 'installer' says they will weather. Presumably this will be that rather lovely greyish colour - I can't stand toffee colour pine (the iinside of the house was full of it!)  Any idea how long it would take for the sleepers to weather? Once I paint them I can't change my mind and wish I'd waited. (Yes, I am rather impatient!)  photos won't load - will keep trying!


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