Let your garden dictate what to grow, says Val Bourne. It’s the quick and easy way to happier, healthier plants
Plants are rather like people: they have particular preferences and needs. Put them in the wrong place and they look miserable and often succumb to stress and disease. My own Cotswold garden lies along a line of freshwater springs, so the soil’s moist and deep in certain places. These areas are perfect for moisture-loving plants such as Phlox paniculata. However silver-leaved plants such as santolina generally lack sparkle here so they’re tucked into the drier hot spots close to the house.
Every garden, however small, has a mix of different microclimates – whether it’s damp, shady or dry. These in turn are dictated by the geology underpinning the soil; soil depth and structure; geographic location; exposure to or shelter from drying winds; and the amount of sunlight received during the day. Each part of the garden can be completely different, so it really pays to spend time getting to know the conditions in each of your planting areas.
My south-facing garden gets a lot of sun throughout the day, but there are also shady spots under trees and shrubs that are the ideal place for spring woodlanders.
The south-western corner gets bathed in afternoon and evening sunshine, so this area is best for late-summer and autumn plants, which look their best backlit by the setting sun once the days shorten.
My hottest areas get day-long sunshine and this suits Mediterranean lavender, rosemary and thyme. Slightly tender plants such as Melianthus major (South African honey bush) and Miscanthus nepalensis, a frizzy grass that needs good winter drainage, are planted here too because the warmth of the house protects them from the worst of the cold weather.
Finding the right plant for each part of your garden is key. See if you can map out the sun’s path at different times of the day and year: certain shady borders may receive more sunlight in winter, while others might enjoy a little dappled summer sunshine once the canopy closes overhead.
The pH of your soil also dictates what does well for you. Certain plants thrive with their roots in acid soil, others love alkaline conditions. It’s worth visiting local gardens near your own, to see what plants do well there.
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