The secret to structure with Katie Rushworth!

I know it can be super tempting when walking into the likes of Tong’s fantastic plant department and seeing all the gorgeous flowers to instantly fill up your basket! 

However, a little plant knowledge goes a long way to creating borders that will mature over time and give you colour all year round, so here are my tips on how to give your garden some oomph!

Now, when planning any border, structure is key – by structure I mean your trees and shrubs, the stuff that gets big, stays put and holds its frame all year. This is the stuff that, if you get right, will make a huge difference in how your garden matures.  So if you’re starting from scratch here are my TWO UNBREAKABLE RULES:

  1. Read the label!!! Planting a tree that grows to 30ft in a garden that is 5x5mtrs is only going to give you problems – so make sure you choose trees and shrubs that you can accommodate. Even a balcony garden can have a tree – you just need to pick the right one. (Ask a member of the team at Tong if you’re still unsure)
  2. The tree or shrub must have more than one redeeming feature. It should have more than just a pretty flower or nice leaves. Think stem colours and exciting bark! A shrub that has lovely flowers, good Autumn colour and berries over the Winter months is the holy grail – but evergreen foliage and flowers are good too, as is Spring blossom and a striking Autumn leaf colour. This rule is even more important in a small garden – you want everything you put in your garden to be as interesting as possible for as much of the year as possible. Foliage is around an awful lot longer than any flower is – so make it count. Again, ask a member of the team at Tong if you still need help)

Next up is plant shape – this is something that can really change the style of a border and is often overlooked by many people new to gardening. Columns, fans, cones, globes, mounds, spikes and mats are all terms that garden designers consider when designing borders –all plants have their own distinct shapes which we group into these categories. When wanting to create great borders, it all starts with achieving a good contrast of shapes so they highlight one another. Adding column-shaped plants to a bed gives it a dynamic edge as they puncture the eyeline whereas lots of globes and mounds give a softer, more restful feel. Fan-shaped plants, those that are smaller at their base then flare out at their tops, can be exciting when shown off by low mats of other plants.

Now it can be difficult, when buying young plants, to know what shape it will take as it grows. If the label doesn’t have a picture for reference then I wouldencourage you to do a quick internet image search so you know what you’re buying and if it’s going to work with your scheme. Just remember to keep it simple, just because there are many different plant shapes, it doesn’t mean you must use them all – less is often more!

For instance a couple of columns and some globes would instantly contrast and look pleasing then place a few mounding plants in and around them to blend and add a few mats toward the front to give ground cover - and voila! It may seem strange to consider shapes and forms before flowers but believe me, it really works!! Have a go – and we would love to see your results, be sure to post any pics on Tong’s FB page. Happy gardening!