Top 10 plants for London Garden Designs

Top 10 plants for London Garden Designs

I have been giving a lot of thought to the plants that I use the most in my London garden designs and why they are there. This is partly due to the mail at this time of year, packed with catalogues and brochures showing off this years new arrivals and the plants tipped to be the plant of the year at Chelsea flower show. I look through, making lists, checking hardiness and habit and slowly introduce new varieties into my garden designs. My brief for planting is always pretty much the same particularly for small garden designs.

Garden planting brief:

  • Low maintenance
  • Year round colour and interest
  • Scent where possible

Shade tolerant planting

Shade tolerant planting

Usually I will produce a mood board to show the style of planting and the atmosphere that I am trying to create in the garden. This is followed up by a planting plan if the client requires it detailing the positions and names of the plants. I make my planting suggestions based on discussions with my clients about what they want to achieve from the planting using years of experience propagating, planting and maintaining thousands of plants. This year is really interesting when it comes to feedback – after being featured in the RHS Garden magazine a number of times I have found that 3 of my designs have been for long standing members of the RHS (I only found this out at the end of the process!). I am pleased to say that with only a few tweaks, the planting schemes have been signed off and given the green light by clients who have a clear interest in plants but needed help with the full re-design of their garden.

As a garden designer, one of the most rewarding parts of my work is re-visiting a garden 6, 12 or 18 months after the landscaping has been completed and seeing the plants maturing. There are always a few surprises or tweaks that need to be made but on the whole the plants below are pretty fool proof and behave themselves.

Top  10  plants  for  London  Garden  Designs


Trachelospermum jasminoides

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Trachelospermum jasminoides AGM

This plant is more commonly known as ‘Star Jasmine’ or evergreen jasmine and has been awarded the RHS award of garden merit.  This is a self twining climber and can be kept quite compact with timely trimming so it is ideal for covering a boundary in a small space. The glossy ovate leaves form a dense evergreen cover and produce strongly scented white flowers throughout the summer. The leaves often turn burgundy/red in winter for added interest. Trachelospermum will grow in full sun or part shade although I find that it will grow in slightly deeper shade but not flower as well. The ultimate height and spread is around 6m depending on how much trimming it receives. I have also used this plant in an espalier style supported by a wire system on a wall and as a dense hedge with support.


Pittosporum 'Tom Thumb'

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’

Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’ AGM

This is a dense and compact Pittosporum with a round habit. Unlike other Pittosporums, this gem of a plant has an ultimate height and spread of 0.5-1.5m depending on position and can easily be  kept in shape with occasional gentle clipping. The rich purple/burgundy leaves have a leathery texture and produce fresh minty green coloured leaves in spring that contrast will the dark older foliage. This plant will provide colour all year round and is happy in sun or shade, I have also used this plant to good effect under a mature tree with some additional watering during establishing the root system.


Heuchera 'Green Spice'

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’

I have found this to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ plant. People either love it or hate it. I certainly love it – It is small, provides year round colour in sheltered gardens and has small white flowers on wiry stems in spring. The Silver and green colouring in the leaves is complemented by deep purple veins. This is a great plant for the front of a mixed border or for filling a gap in large containers. Heuchera will grow in sun or ideally part shade and reach a height and spread of around 0.3-0.4m.


Euphorbia wulfenii

Euphorbia wulfenii

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

This Euphorbia has strong upright stems with oblong, silvery grey-green leaves and large, rounded heads of greenish-yellow flowers often in early spring when not much else is happening but these can continue through to summer depending on the season. Height is around 1.2m depending on how much you cut the plant back and would advise cutting back the stems after flowering to encourage new growth but wear gloves as the sap can cause skin irritation.


Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ AGM

This is a shade loving plant that has large silvery-green leaves (bit of a theme occurring here!) and ‘forget-me-not’ type blue flowers in spring. It is deciduous but will often keep its foliage in an urban garden through the winter. I would recommend tidying up the older leaves in the spring to allow plenty of space for the new leaves to form. The height id often around 20-30cms and Brunnera will form a clump that will slowly spread. Other varieties are available with cream variations but this is my favourite as it really lightens up a shaded planting bed.


Erigeron karvinskianus AGM

This is a very dainty perennial forming wide mats of small daisy type flowers that open white and turn pink as they age above delicate hairy leaves. Ideally suited for the front of a sunny border, a gap in paving and in many cases a roof garden container. The height is around 15-20cm and spread of up to 1m if allowed to spread over a long period of time. Enjoys a sunny spot.


Lavender 'Hidcote' planted to form a small hedge in a front garden

Lavender ‘Hidcote’ planted to form a small hedge in a front garden

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ AGM

Hidcote is also known as ‘The well behaved Lavender’ with our clients. It is small and compact reaching about 50cm high by around 80cm spread over a couple of years. I would advise re-planting after a couple of years as it does work very hard and can be hard to rejuvenate after a while. It has rich violet-purple flowers and a strong scent. Trim back the old flowers in late summer to encourage the plant to bulk up again for winter protection.


Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’

This plant provides great value especially when planted in well drained soil as bulbs in Autumn. The sturdy stems produce a fantastic display of purple flowers in spring and the seed heads can be dried off and used for flower arranging. The strappy green leaves will die back after flowering. The height of the flowers ranges from 30-60cm so this is areal for planting in a mixed border to add height and colour for the spring.


Pittosporum tobira ‘Nana’

Although this might not seem like the most interesting plant, this dwarf pittosporum only grows to 40-60cm tall and forms a neat, dense mound of small glossy leaves and produces small scented cream flowers in June/July. I have found this to be a faery valuable plant for use in small garden designs and sheltered terraces either in moist but free draining soil in the ground or in pots and containers with plenty of drainage and a small amount of irrigation.


Ceratostigma willmottianum

A deciduous shrub provides good interest in late summer and early autumn when it produces pale blue flowers amongst the foliage that gradually turns red as the autumn becomes winter. Ceratostigma is easy to grow in a sunny, well-drained position and I most commonly use it in sunny front gardens or to to form a dense clump in a raised bed or sloping border. The ultimate height and spread is around 1.0m but I would usually be cutting the plant back in spring to tidy it up and keep a check on the size.


Dryopteris erythrosora

This is a delicate fern with copper and green colouring. I have found this to be one of the most reliable ferns to use in the shady spot of an Urban garden. Although technically deciduous it will keep much of the foliage intact through the winter months to provide good interest until the new fronds appear in the spring. It is a great complement to other shade tolerant plants that are often very dense in habit. The height and spread can reach 0.6m in the right conditions – damp, part shade

By Tony Woods

Planting scheme with a mix of edibles and cut flowers

Planting scheme with a mix of edibles and cut flowers

Garden Club London provide a range of garden and planting design services across London. All designs are produced and overseen by RHS Gold medalist Tony Woods designs gardens and planting schemes across the UK. Monty Don described Tony’s planting as ‘Fulsome and Rich’ in July 2013 at the RHS flower Show Tatton.