The New Review /

Blooming lovely

Now is the time to put in colourful flowering plants that will return year after year, says Alex Mitchell

Kniphofia bee’s sunset with lobelia x speciosa hadspen from Crocus (Elke Borkowski)


This is the perfect time of year to plant perennials – those flowering plants that add colour all summer and return to flower another year. While soil is still warm and not bone dry the roots of young plants can get going. But which plants will look good together is a perennial headache. You may know you love lavender or have a thing for foxgloves, but combine the wrong plants and it can all fall very flat.

Online nurseries know most of us are fairly clueless about what plants go well together. So they’re coming up with ready-made borders, carefully selected to look good together. All you have to do is roughly measure how much space you have, work out if it’s sunny or shady and then choose from a selection of styles. Now that world-renowned designers are getting in on the action, the ready-made border is gaining a new cachet.

Piet Oudolf, Dutch master of wafty grasses and late summer seedheads and designer of the much admired High Line in Manhattan, has recently begun selling seven personally selected groups of plants so you can recreate his naturalistic schemes at home. Hein Lommerse, who runs Oudolf’s company from the Netherlands with his brother and aunt, has created collections including playful, creative, original and naturalistic. You will receive a box of nine plants – eight flowering perennials and one ornamental grass – along with a planting plan – each designed to fill an area around 1x1.5sq m – perfect for a bed in a small garden. Expect some unusual, artful plants including rudbeckias, salvias and, of course, dreamy grasses.

Pollination perfection: the bee and butterfly ready-made border from Crocus (Elke Borkowski)

Another giant in the planting world, Beth Chatto, has also entered into the world of ready-made borders. The woman who coined the phrase “the right plant in the right place” has three ranges, which start at £55, are shady, damp and drought-resistant and come with a planting plan and maintenance instructions throughout the year.

But it is Crocus that is the field leader with a dizzying range for the confused, time-poor and unconfident. With ranges with names such as fiery summer, shady sanctuary, bee and butterfly and vibrant, there is a style for everyone and for every spot. All you need to do is browse the photographs and select the one that fits your garden best, then order.

Helen Derrin, the in-house designer at Crocus who devised the range, says: “For people who just don’t know where to start these ranges can be quite inspirational and a good starting point.” One of her favourites is the add some oomph range with vibrant purples and reds. Another popular one is the budget border (£107.34 for 16 plants and a plan for 3.5x2m area) which combines plants that will either grow quickly, self-seed readily or can be divided to make new plants so your collection will soon spread. If you’re feeling rich, go for the grand experience, £1,554.35 for 165 plants, including topiary box, rivers of lavender and an orchestra of drumstick alliums.

If you don’t like website ordering go for a professional planting designer. Tony Woods, founder of Garden Club London, is often called in by the desperate. For around £500, Garden Club can visit your garden and draw up a bespoke list and planting plan for you. You can then either use this as template to buy and plant yourself, or ask Garden Club to supply and install the plants (something 90 per cent of their clients choose).

The costs, Woods says, are worth it, especially if you’re honest about how much you probably spend on plants anyway. “People realise that they’re spending £20 or £30 on plants every weekend at Homebase or Columbia Road Flower market, not knowing where to put them and slowly but surely creating a plant graveyard.”