Some tips for getting the most from a trip to the garden centre

Ever been to your local garden centre or online nursery chosen some gorgeous plants, only to find you’ve actually no idea where to plant them?…either there’s no room in the border, or the colour doesn’t fit, or it just looks plain wrong. So I thought I’d write this week with some tips to help you avoid this annoying (and expensive) situation.

1. Collect dreams! 

Keep a file of pictures of gardens, plants and borders that really appeal to you. Pinterest is a great place to find this sort of thing. Or cut pictures from magazines and brochures. On an idle afternoon, with a cup of tea (or glass of wine!) in hand, have a look through them.

Think about what it is that drew you to them – is it perhaps the colourful mixture of plants? The intimate atmosphere they create? The idea of being on holiday at home? Start adding some notes to your file.

2. Take photos of your own garden during the year. 

You don’t need to be a professional photographer to do this, just take some snaps each season. Keep them on your phone, or in your dreams file. Again, have a look through them and make notes. If you have a tablet, there are apps that can help you with adding notes directly to your photos.

3. Questions, questions!

Using your photos, identify if there are any gaps in your borders, and which season they are. Are there any plants that have never thrived – they’ve just hung on and you’ve always assumed that one day they would look great? Or plants that are just too big for their space and are always needing pruning? Think about the balance of plants in the border – do they all come up in one season and there’s nothing interesting for the rest of the year – and are you happy with this? Is the mix of colours what you like? Write these down and make decisions on the priority areas.

4. Decide on the practicalities. 

How long are you prepared to wait for your dream border to take shape? And what’s your budget? These two questions are closely related because smaller plants cost less, but will take longer to reach their mature size. At North Leeds Garden Design we identify the key plants and shrubs – for example those which provide a focal point – and select these in a mature form. The rest of the plants (not forgetting bulbs) can be smaller if budget is tight.

5. Check your garden’s environmental conditions. 

By this I mean the soil type (whether it’s acid or lime, or somewhere in between) and texture (heavy clay, sand or just good crumbly, dark brown garden soil). Also make sure you have a good idea of where in your garden it’s mainly sunny, where it’s mainly shady, and where it’s somewhere in between.

6. At the garden centre or online shop, stick to your list.

Make sure at least 80% of your budget goes on the kinds of plants you have already thought through. This leaves a bit of room for those eye-catching extras which are so fun to buy, but ensures that most will definitely fit your requirements.

7. ….and always read the plant label! 

However wonderful they look, plants that don’t enjoy the growing conditions of your garden won’t thrive. Yes, you can use various chemicals to temporarily change the acidity of your soil. You could put plants in pots and move them around the garden every day to make sure they always catch the sun! But this is pretty high maintenance and, frankly, life’s too short! Also make sure the plant you like the look of is hardy – that is, it will survive outdoors in winter. And check what size it will grow to so you know it will fit your space.

We hope these tips will help you with your plant buying this year. If you have tips you’d like to share with us do let us have them, by Facebook, Twitter or email us at