Welcome to School Notices
Get the inside track about your school,
school life, exclusive rewards, and
buy and sell to other independent
school parents Learn more.

Beautiful gardens with minimum effort!

Gardening expert and School Notices favourite Sally Harley-Martin, shares her top tips on why now is the perfect time to get planting for a beautiful 2019 garden, plus which are the  best plants for when you’re on a time budget. Choosing some hard working plants – think members of the chorus rather than the prima donnas – should help set you up for success!


From now until mid-October is the perfect time to start thinking about planting for next spring/summer interest. The soil is still warm and moist and the first frosts are (hopefully) a little way away which makes it just the right condition to get planting those trees/shrubs/perennials.


As a Garden Designer, I find that the majority of my clients are busy people who want a beautiful garden but do not have the time to stake, tie, spray, primp and preen. So key to success is a list of hard working reliable plants which form the backbone of a scheme; not necessarily show offs, and prima donnas, but members of the chorus which give a continuous interest and underpin proceedings. There is always room for favourite garden plants like Peonies, Echinacea or Poppies but like a sugar hit, their joy is short lived, so must be used judiciously.

So I look for strong structure, and long periods of interest, whether from trees or ground cover and the following all fit the bill.


Prunus ‘Mount Fuji’

Flowering Cherries and Crab apple trees earn my vote for their two seasons of interest. My favourites are Malus ‘Evereste’ with its snow white Spring blossom and red crabs, whilst the Cherry

Prunus ‘Mount Fuji’ has tumbling white semi double flowers and orange red Autumn foliage.


Trachelospermum jasminoides

Shrubs are resurgent in gardening, and I am currently enjoying Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Golf Ball’. It is evergreen, and its apple green foliage grows in a neat mound up to 1m. It survived last winter’s snows and in a sunny spot is a great substitute for Box in these days of Box blight and Box tree caterpillar.

For a fabulous tiered structure up to 3m, Spring blossom and orange red Autumn foliage, a good feature shrub is Viburnum plicatum f. tormentosum ‘Mariesii’. It is tolerant of sun and part shade so invaluable in many garden situations.

An brilliant climber is Trachelospermum jasminoides, the evergreen star jasmine. It likes sun and moisture, but is infinitely flexible. It will climb and screen a fence, sprawl down over a wall or even make a low hedge, whilst producing fragrant white flowers in Summer.


Grasses are polarising, but popular amongst designers is Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macra and its acid yellow cultivar Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’. Happy in sun or part shade, they make neat fresh domes 40cm plus from April to October, then turn rust in colour and stay that way until Spring when green shoots appear. I often use it as a soft ‘full stop’ on a corner of a bed instead of a formal clipped plant.

On a much larger scale, I am a fan of the grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’. Books say it grows to 1.3m but mine is taller than me (1.63m!). It grows quickly to full height by June and stands until I cut it down in March, flowering late season in October or even later.


Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’

Roses can have a needy reputation, but modern breeding means there are many which will flower from June to October with very little intervention; two feeds and some pastoral deadheading can reward with bounteous colour for months. I frequently use Rosa ‘Winchester Cathedral’, ‘Lady of Shallott’ and ‘Graham Thomas’ as anchors in a mixed planting.

Euphorbias are invaluable in the garden for their strong acid green flowers and variety of shapes and sizes. For long interest, evergreen Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’ , or the variegated cultivar ‘Silver Swan‘ are bankers, flowering in April and leaving evergreen foliage for the rest of the year.

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

They may only live three or 4 four years, but if you collect the self seeded plants you will be set up for the long term!

In the midst of a bed, repeat flowering Astrantia work hard with flowers in late Spring and when cut back another flush in Summer. I find pink Astrantia major ‘Roma’ healthy as well as white Astrantia major. Geraniums can be real doers, but some flower longer than others. RHS plant of the century Geranium ‘Rozanne’ creates a mound of green foliage in April and flowers from June right through to October. It spreads to 80cm, so needs space. Cut back if it looks straggly and it will come again and again.


Viola lutea

Finally to ground level, for a path edge or front of border, I love Viola lutea, a little plant with a big heart, which flowers from April to October with one cut back, if in a sunny spot.

Equally resilient is the Mexican Fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, whose pink and white daisies are equally happy in a pot, sunny bed edge or in the crevices of a wall or steps.

There is nothing worse than a garden which should be a joy becoming a burden. Many people love their garden, but don’t have the luxury of time for gardening. Careful plant choices can free time for you to enjoy, rather than just tend your garden.


Sally Harley-Martin is a garden designer living and designing gardens in North Hampshire, and further afield, as well as gardening her own sloping, flinty clay, windy garden. For more information visit:


* Main body images courtesy of Sally Harley-Martin

Other similar posts

Logged out | Log in