Planting for year-round colour
If you are an occasional gardener but still want to enjoy your garden all year, a little bit of planning can give it a personality for each season
A little research pays off
Before you plant your low-maintenance garden this autumn, there's one initial task to undertake: a do-it-yourself garden assessment. This will mean light work later on. Find out about the conditions in your garden - whether it's a large garden or tiny roof terrace - so that you can pick the plants that will like living there.
You will enjoy healthy and happy plants without having to nurse poorly plants later on. There are three simple checks:
The soil type
Is it clay, sandy, chalky or silty? A sticky texture that holds together like plasticine when moulded will usually mean it is clay, whereas a gritty texture will mean it's sand. Most plants will thrive in rich, loamy soil, which is considered the highest in nutrient value.
This is the way a garden faces. Watch your garden throughout the day and see if it is exposed to full sun, or whether it's in partial or full shade. A south-facing garden will get more light and north-facing gardens tend to be darker and damper. That six-foot palm tree in the garden centre green house might shrivel your shady border.
Buy a soil-testing kit and check out the acidity/alkalinity of your soil. Then buy plants that are tolerant of these conditions. For example, a popular azalea or rhododendron will not like living in alkaline soil but will thrive in acidic soil.
Now you know your garden type, read the labels as you shop for plants and match them to the conditions. Keep a scrapbook or folder of plant labels to help you remember the names and characteristics. Most have useful pruning instructions too.
Autumn is the perfect time for planting, as your new plants will get a chance to grow and establish before the winter. If you want plants that provide colour and survive year after year, pick perennials for your pots or borders. Choose varieties of Delphiniums or Verbascum, for example, which will provide elegant long stems with clumps of flowers.
If you are lazy when it comes to planting, stick to perennials and avoid annuals - like sweet peas, primroses and pansies - that have one-year life cycle.