A planting scheme for a small garden

By Andy McIndoe

I’ve just done some planting for a small town garden. Friends of mine have built a nice garden office/den at the end of their garden. It’s certainly not that their house isn’t big enough, and they have a lovely big deck area right outside their main living area, they just want a retreat and somewhere to enjoy the morning sun. They like their garden and will do some maintenance, if not necessarily regularly. The soil is extremely fertile and plants grow apace because the site is sheltered. They do have two rather lively dogs which can be a challenge when trying to establish new planting. Fragile and delicate subjects are not a good choice.

Theexisting garden

Ready to plant

Although the new building is heated and insulated I imagine they will use it most in the spring, summer and into autumn. That’s certainly the tie they will sit out and look at it most. In winter they may use it as an office so it needs to have presence but I expect their attentions may be more focussed on a computer screen rather than the planting. The building is contemporary in style and they have acquired a rather magnificent piece of glass art which the planting needs to complement and showcase it, but not hide it. The site is fairly sunny for most of the day, however there are trees that I put in to conceal adjoining buildings a few years ago. Although these are compact headed they will influence the growing environment in time.


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Buddleja 'Buzz Magenta'

There is an existing large buddleja which I decided to keep and I added two more to the garden. This might sound excessive but the bees and butterflies are a delight and these are easy-care plants that add a lot in late summer. I chose ‘Miss Ruby’, a fabulous new variety with red-purple flowers and plenty of them. I also chose ‘Buzz Magenta’. This is a dwarf variety that can easily be kept to 120cm, 4ft with hard pruning in late winter. I really hope they will dead-head while the plants are small; this keeps then blooming for much longer. Both buddlejas pick up on the rich highlights in the glass sculpture.

From the new deck

I want the planting to have structure so I chose three Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Gold Ball’. This can be trimmed if necessary and is a great alternative to box if you want a structural dome in the planting. I also chose three Hebe ‘Wiri Charm’. Again this is compact and rounded with good green foliage and white flowers in summer. It offers a different foliage form and texture to the pittosporum.

laying out the plants

The planting will be back lit by the sun when viewed from the terrace and when approached from the house in late afternoon. Front this aspect it needs to work with the glass. I chose Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ for its fine silver-green foliage and graceful lines. I planted this in the bed around a multi-stemmed birch close to the house; it looked surprisingly good throughout winter when the leaves turn to parchment. I drifted Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ around the base of the glass panel and used them to soften the edge of the deck. These are good with some shade. I like their soft texture, light colour and gentle movement. I planted Lavandula stoechas ‘Tiara’ with the carex around the glass. This is not the hardiest of lavenders but should be fine in a sheltered town garden. Its light green foliage and green flowerheads flecked with tiny deep purple flowers will be lovely with the sedge.

The glass art

The colour of the glass is reflected in the bright blue flowers of Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, the Russian sage. The delicately branched silvery spikes catch the light beautifully and the white stems that are left after the flowers of faded will carry the effect into winter. The perovskia works really well alongside the feathery foliage of the miscanthus, both catch the light beautifully and give that light height in the foreground which makes the space seem bigger.

For another bold form I chose the dwarf Phormium ‘Back in Black’. This stays small and compact but its dark leaves still have presence and attitude and it adds another different texture and form. I think this will contrast well with the few plants of Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ i included in the scheme. I planted these as small plants which are inexpensive to buy and make wonderful gap fillers while the planting gets going. I used a few purple sage in a similar way. Both add an aromatic note to the planting and both are good bee friendly shrubs.

For flowers I chose a simple white cistus. This also has evergreen foliage to maintain the interest through the winter. Three single specimens of Rosa ‘Flower Carpet White’ will continue the white flower theme throughout the summer months. I like the shiny emerald-green foliage of this variety too.

Finally I found room for a couple of plants of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’. The soft green foliage is a good filler through summer, but the leaves colour brilliantly in autumn. The orange red stems should catch the winter sun beautifully and provide a stunning contrast to the overall cool colours of the glass.


Because this area had some initial planting, some of which I removed or relocated did not work to a plan. I positioned all the plants first and then worked through and planted them. Before planting we made sure that the ground was as weed free as possible and we forked over the site. I think it’s always surprising how many plants you need, especially if you want to see results quickly. Choosing the right plants at the outset prevents overcrowding which can result in higher maintenance costs later.

Andy McIndoe

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