A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

Spring bulbs are some of my favourite flowers. However, bulbs aren’t just for spring; they are great at providing colour and interest all year round. There are lots to choose from so here’s my guide on which bulbs to buy and taking care of them.

Bulbs are generally robust, which makes them easy to grow, however they prefer a well-drained soil so if you do have water-logged garden during the winter, make sure you add plenty of horticultural grit and farmyard manure to the soil before planting.

Buying bulbs

I always recommend buying from a reputable retailer or grower as the bulbs will be the best quality and therefore have stronger blooms.  Make sure the bulbs are firm to the touch and not mouldy as they are unlikely to develop. Try and buy them early in the season as they will be better quality too.

How many you need depends on where you are planting them – they are usually sold in packs, which are usually enough for a container, but if you’re planting in a border it’s likely you will need more packs to create a display.

Taking care of garden bulbs

Once planted, it’s unlikely you will get any problems but if you get yellow leaves, it could be down to a virus in the bulb, so it’s best to dig them up and remove them from your garden – don’t put them on the compost heap either as you could be transmitting the virus that way.

Sometimes, you may find that your bulbs don’t flower in their second year. This is rare but could be down to the bulbs being planted in poorly drained soil. Other possible reasons include:

  • Location – they could be in too much shade
  • Lack of food/nutrients during growing season
  • The removal of leaves too quickly after flowering – they need to be able to create food to develop the flower for the following year.

Planting bulbs

As a general rule of thumb, bulbs need to be planted at a depth of 3 x the size of the bulb (you can measure this against your trowel).

As a rough guide if you’re using bulbs that grow to around 45cm tall then plant 10-15 bulbs per square meter.  If you’re using bulbs that grow to around 20cm tall, then plant 20-40 bulbs per square metre and this will provide you with a beautiful display.

You may have heard of the ‘lasagne’ method of planting, which is where you plant a pot in layers of different bulbs which enables you to have either succession planting, and/or different heights of flowers, ie the tallest in the middle which decrease in height to the edge of the pot. These can look stunning.

When creating this style, plant the larger, later flowering bulbs towards the bottom so that the small, early flowering varieties can flower first early in the season, and as they die off the next lot comes through to continue the display.

Styling your garden with bulbs

Starting with the basics – bulbs can be planted in containers, window boxes, or straight into your borders

If you’re planting in pots, strategically place them either side of your front door to frame it or a view.  Think about the style of the container you are using, the colours of the flowers and add some trailing plants such as ivy and maybe an evergreen shrub for year round interest.

If you’re planting straight into your borders, weave bold drifts of flowers to create impact.

Here are three ideas of bulbs you can use

Nerine bowdenii

These are great at the end of the summer when lots of flowers start to fade; these really stand out with their gorgeous pink flowers which bloom from September to November.  They grow to around 45cm tall and 25cm wide, and like a well-drained soil in full sun. They need planting in the spring; however, you will be able to buy them in pots from the garden centre this time of year.

Cyclamen hederifolium

These are great for the front of a border as they are tiny and measure height and spread 12cm x 15cm. There are different varieties available and some are great for naturalising under a deciduous tree. Make sure you buy the outdoor version. Their leaves have a beautiful marble pattern and I love them.

Cyclamen flower from October to November and usually flower before the leaves appear.

Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’

If you want to add some drama to your borders add the Parrot style Tulipa’s to create the WOW factor. These black coloured versions would look amazing with some silver leafed plants such as Artemesia. They do come in other colours such as white, blue and a really striking red/orange called Tulipa ‘Rasta Parrot’.

I’ve created a bulb list which features three bulbs for each season, which you can download for free when you join my Garden Lovers Club.


5 Herbs to Grow for Health

Growing Herbs for Health.

With the spring equinox it means there’s more daylight hours than darkness so our gardens will start to come to life quickly now. Perfect timing for everyone whilst we self-isolate. This month, I thought it would share my top five herbs to help with health and wellbeing and how to dry them to make teas and balms.

Calendula officinalis

These are gorgeous orange daisy type flowers and will grow in sun or part sunny gardens and are loved by bees. They’ll flower from June to October and are happy in any poor or fertile free draining soil (but not clay soil) and grow to around 50cm tall. You can grow them easily from seed too – just follow the instructions on the packet. The flower petals are edible and have a peppery flavour, which can be added to food. Or you could dry them and use in salves. To dry them – harvest them after mid-day when it’s dry and cut the flower head off. Bring them indoors (do not wash them) and place them on an old sheet or paper towel (depending on how many you have. Leave to dry in a dark, well-ventilated space for approximately 4 weeks. Then store them in an airtight jar. These can be used to infuse oil to make balms and lotions. The oil of Calendula officinalis is used as an anti-inflammatory and a remedy for healing wounds and skin complaints, plus many other uses. It’s best to seek advice from a trained herbalist to help with any specific conditions.

calendular orange flower

Chamaemelum nobile – commonly known as Camomile

An aromatic plant with finely dissected leaves and daisy-like flowerheads with white petals and yellow centres. Traditionally used to help with stress and calm the nerves – chamomile tea before bedtime is very soothing. These are mat forming plants, that loves the sun or part shade, happy in all soils except clay and will grow to around 50cm tall. Flowers from June to August. To dry them – pick the flowers when in full bloom, ie when the white petals are still in place. Remove any bugs. Make sure it’s a warm dry day. Leave in a dry dark space for approximately 4 weeks then place in an airtight glass jar. Can be mixed with Lemon Balm to make your own tea infusions.

Melissa officinalis – commonly known as Lemon Balm

Amazing lemon-scented, light green leaves which grows to around 1.5m tall. Loves full sun or part shade and will grow in any well drained soil. They flower in June with spikes of tiny, pale-yellow flowers, which fade to white or lilac. Loved by bees and the leaves can be used in salads and soups. Pure lemon balm essential oil is valued for its properties in aromatherapy where its considered to be uplifting and calming. Ideal in herbal teas too.

Ocimum basilicum – commonly known as Basil

basil leaves herb

Most people know this herb from having it with their tomato soup, pesto or pizza. It can be easily grown from seed on a windowsill or container in full sun. Using normal loam compost. Depending on the variety (there are plenty to choose from) they can grow to around 50cm tall. If you want to dry basil so you have herbs all year round, follow the previous instructions for Chamaemelum. The best time to pick basil is just before flowering. If you want to dry the herb quicker, you can do it using the oven too.

Oven-dry method

  1. Wash the leaves and dry using a paper towel
  2. Place leaves (no stems) on a baking tray, one layer, and not touching/overlapping each other
  3. Oven temperature should be on the lowest setting possible
  4. Cook for 20 minutes (or until they are crisp and break easily) then leave in the oven overnight
  5. Put them in a sealed container such as a glass herb jar

Basil has many medicinal benefits and is generally beneficial to health, for example it is renowned for helping digestion and bug bites. However, it can also thin your blood if eaten in large amounts.

Thymus vulgaris – common name Thyme


Thyme is a bushy dwarf shrub with small ovate, aromatic, dark grey-green leaves with small white or pink flowers in early summer. Its evergreen so ideal for a cottage garden as well as an herb garden. It prefers full sun and will grow in all soils except clay to around 40cm tall, so best suited to the front of a border or a pot on the patio. Another herb that is easy to grow from seed. Thyme can be turned into essential oils which is traditionally used as an antiseptic and an insect repellent. Thymol (the compound in Thyme) is a common meat preservative, and olive farmers often combine thymol into the oil that preserves olives in the Mediterranean. With all herbal medicines, it is best to seek the advice and guidance of a professional.

Grow your own cocktail with my herb kit

Contains two packets of herb seeds – Basil & Thyme, plus snips to cut the leaves and a recipe card to make a cocktail (or you can leave the alcohol out). With a pencil & two wooden plant labels, packed into an A6 size kraft box that easily fits through a standard UK letterbox. £12.50 including free P&P Buy direct from my shop https://borderinabox.com/product/herb-seed-gift-box/

thyme basil border in a box herb kit

Cacti & Succulents – A popular houseplant gift

cacti succulents pink flowers

If you’ve been given a cacti or succulents houseplant as a gift and now wondering what to do with it, here are some top tips and advice by my friend and expert, Ian Thwaites who is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society.

The common linking characteristic of cacti and succulents is the ability to store water in the leaves or stems enabling them to survive in arid habitats. All cacti are succulents, yet cacti are defined by the presence of areoles (specialised sites where spines form) whereas succulents have none.

Succulents – the camels of the plant world

In magazines they look amazing all crammed in a pot or terrarium together, but this really isn’t the ideal growing conditions for them. This may encourage insect infestations and/or mould. It also creates too much competition for water and food – therefore it’s best to repot them into their own pot and put them in a sunny windowsill.

The most common type of succulent house plant is the Crassula ovarta, commonly known as the Money tree, Friendship tree or Jade tree as you often see them in Chinese restaurants.

Crassula ovarta

cressula ovata money tree jade plant

This is a bushy evergreen shrub that grows slowly to 2m (it will take 5-10 years to reach this height). It has rounded fleshy dark green leaves sometimes edged with red, and flat clusters of small starry white or light pink flowers in late summer.

These plants are simple to propagate, and it will get children hooked onto growing their own plants. Simply pick off a leaf, tell them to leave it by their bedside so they can chat to it when they get up every morning. After a few weeks the leaf will sprout some roots, so pop it into some soil (from the garden will be fine) and gently cover the roots with the soil and firm it in and then leave it on the windowsill and after a few more weeks it will start to grow.

Echeveria elegans

Echivera succulent plant

Otherwise known as the Mexican gem. The elegans variety is a perennial and forms a clump of evergreen rosettes of spoon-shaped, whitish-green leaves and has lantern-shaped pink flowers, tipped with yellow, in late winter and spring.

These look great in a pot for the patio table as they only grow to around 10cm tall. They also don’t need much attention so if you go on holiday for a few weeks, you don’t need to worry about watering them.

Succulent care:

All succulents like a well-drained soil/compost. Its best to add a third/half grit (or perlite) to the compost to make sure the soil is open and well drained.

They prefer a sunny windowsill but some of them are happy outside in the summer months. Generally, they like warm sunny spots.

Feed them regularly during their growing season with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. Use half strength and feed regularly during the growing season. Do NOT use Miracle Grow.

The compost should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings, rather than keeping it constantly moist. Succulents hate having their roots in water, so don’t leave them in a dish or tray of water. Ideally use tepid rainwater for watering. The minerals in tap water builds up in the soil and can cause deposits on the leaves of succulents.

Best time to re-pot them is in the spring.


All cacti originate from the Americas – so all the ones you see in Europe come from the Americas.

Christmas cactus

christmas cacti pink flower

This plant is named because it flowers around Christmas time, so they make a pretty gift. These cacti originate from Brazil, so they also like a hot dry climate.

Once it has finished flowering, give it a water with half strength feed (such as Tomorite) and then give it a dry rest for 2-3 months. In the spring place it in a hanging basket and hang in a tree in your garden. Remember to water occasionally with food. It loves dappled sunshine under the tree. Make sure you bring it back into the house before the frosts start. Then water and feed it again and keep the compost moist.

If the flower buds drop off, this is due to the plant drying out, so simply water and feed it again. Keep it in a cool place when in flower as this will intensify the colour.

If you want a flowering cactus, buy a globular version as the columnar varieties need to grow to a certain height before flowering.

Mammillaria cacti pink flowers


Like all plants, they need to be repotted, especially when they have outgrown their pots. You can use leather gloves to protect your hands from the spikes. Or alternatively you can use lumps of polystyrene by adding them to the spines which makes them much easier to handle. Simply repot to the next size up in a free-draining compost and then place gravel around the top.

Gravel is needed for various reasons, firstly aesthetics as it looks much nicer. Secondly, it protects the neck of the plant from damp soil and thirdly, it stops the white spines discolouring.

succulents planted in brown laceup gardening boots

Great use of worn out old gardening boots!


Ian Thwaites is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society (www.bcss.org.uk) and they have over 70 branches around the country.  The principal objectives of the BCSS are to promote the study, conservation, propagation and cultivation of cacti and other succulent plants. Ian has grown plants all his life and in particular Cacti and succulents. Ian is also a professional plant and garden photographer.  You can contact him via his web site www.ianthwaites.com.  Ian is a committee member of the Garden Media Guild.






Perennials for Pots

perennials for pots border in a box


Spring and summer are traditional times to create containers full of seasonal bedding (annuals) to add colour to the garden, however, by using perennials, it can add more texture and interest.

What is the difference between an annual and a perennial?

An annual is grown from seed, blooms, produces seeds, and then dies all in one year. Whereas perennials will last several years – it usually dies back over the winter and regrows each spring.

By planting perennials in pots, you can add structure and height along with lots of texture with different shaped and coloured leaves.

Pots are ideal to fill in gaps in the garden borders and if you’re living in temporary accommodation it is one way to create a beautiful garden that can move with you.

Other advantages of using pots are taking care over winter – they can be moved into the greenhouse, porch or closer to the house for protection. Also you can use different soil which will enable you to grow any plant you choose.

When it comes to planting perennials in containers, it is better to choose a bigger pot due to having larger root systems than annuals, so they require more space to grow well.  It’s also ideal to have pots in odd numbers and different heights which creates further interest and are easier on the eye.

What perennials look good in pots?

Choose plants that have interesting leaves and flowers for long periods – here are three plants that will create a lovely display together:


heuchera in flower

I love these plants due to the colour range of the foliage, the long thin stalks with tiny flowers on top and they simply look great in any garden. They like full sun and part shade and are mound forming so are ideal for the front of a border, or in a pot, clumped with other pots. Variety ‘Plum Pudding’ has striking dark purple foliage with a dusting of silver. *Top-Tip* buy immature plants to make your budget go further – here is an example of a 2L pot compared to a 9cm pot, the juvenile Heuchera will soon mature to the size of the 2L pot.


purple penstemon

Another favourite – especially the ‘Pensham ‘ series. These were developed by Edward Wilson, who sadly died in 2009, but his legacy of Penstemons lives on through Hayloft Plants in Pensham (a local company to me).  An ideal variety to go with the Heuchera is Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ which flowers from July to October, with tall flower spikes of dark purple with white throats, which are very striking.


Artemesia silver leaf plant

The third pot for an attractive contrast to the Penstemon & Heuchera is Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ with its aromatic, silvery coloured fern like leaves. It’s also semi evergreen so it will remain over winter, but will lose a few leaves. It grows to around 70cm tall and prefers full sun. It will flower in August with small insignificant yellow flowers, which look great with purple.

Other perennials you could use are Salvia’s such as the ‘Caradonna’ variety with dark square stems; Helleborus for spring flowering, and Lavender for it’s amazing scent.



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pink tulips

How to create a spring flower pot for your patio

spring flower pot for your patio

If your garden is looking a bit brown and boring you can easily add some colour with some fabulous spring bulbs, flowers and evergreen shrubs and here’s how you can create a pretty pot.

Firstly, a visit to the local garden centre is a must, so you can select some fabulous healthy plants – there are plenty to choose from. Ideally get a mixture of ‘in the green’ bulbs, cheery bedding plants, an evergreen leafy shrub and a trailing plant such as an ivy.

garden centre spring flowers

bulbs in the green

ceramic flower pots

There is a vast array of pots to choose from – many styles, colours and materials, so how do you decide? I’ve created this blog for more guidance – https://borderinabox.com/container-garden-thrillers-fillers-spillers/

In this example I’ve chosen a ceramic taupe coloured pot with a blue and white colour scheme, which has lots of texture and a fresh colour scheme.

You can also include some ‘in the green’ bulbs – you can buy a whole variety of spring bulbs from bluebells to daffodils to tulips.  White tulips will look lovely with this pot and will add height to the design too. Unfortunately it’s a bit early in the season for tulips, so I was unable to include them.

Depending on where the pot is going to be located, depends on where to place the plants in the pot. If you’re accessing the pot all the way around, then place the ‘thriller’ in the centre of the pot. If the pot is going against a wall, place the ‘thriller’ at the back of the pot.

In this example, I’ve placed the evergreen ‘thriller’ plant at the back of the pot – this is a Pittosporum which is an evergreen shrub and there are many varieties available.

After filling the base of the pot with broken crocs which aids drainage, add in the compost and then add the Pittosporum making sure the top of the soil is slightly below the top of the ceramic pot. This helps when watering the pot, the water remains in the pot rather than flowing over the sides.

Remove all dead leaves and debris from the surface of the plant as this can contribute to the spread of diseases.

Place remaining plants around the pot.  Backfill with compost, firm in and water. Ta-dah! One pretty spring-time pot ready for the patio, or around the front door.

spring flower pot blue white flowers


Further reading:

  1. What compost do you need? https://borderinabox.com/compost-soil-types/
  2. Container gardening – https://borderinabox.com/container-garden-thrillers-fillers-spillers/

Join The Garden Lovers Club

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patio pots in a large garden

Which compost is best for my plants?

what compost do i need to use


I get it, you walk into the ‘compost section’ of the local garden centre and you’re faced with a mountain of options – which one do you need and which one should you buy and which one is best for your plants?  Here’s my handy guide to help you buy the right product for your needs.


compost flow chart

Here is the pdf version of the above chart –  compost flow chart



Let’s start with the types of soils you are likely to have in your garden:

Knowing whether your soil type is clay, sand, loam or chalk will help you choose the right plants for your garden and maintain them in good health. All Border in a Box garden designs are for a loam soil except the Clay version, which is suitable for clay and loam.

How can you tell what type of soil you have?

Clay soils are heavy & dense which means they are high in nutrients which is great, but also means they are wet and cold in winter and baked dry and likely to crack in summer.

Sandy soils are light, dry, warm, low in nutrients and often acidic so you definitely need to choose the right plants for this soil in order for them to thrive.

Loams are mixtures of clay, sand and silt and are a good balance to grow most plants due to their fertile and well drained texture.

Chalky soils are very alkaline and may contain lots of stones (chalk and flint) and can be light in texture or heavy clay.

The best way to tell what type of soil you have is by touching it and rolling it in your hands.

  • Sandy soil has a gritty element – you can feel sand grains within it, and it falls through your fingers. It cannot be rolled to make a sausage shape.
  • Clay soil is sticky when wet. It is easily rolled into a long thin sausage and can be smoothed to a shiny finish by rubbing with a finger.

Another important aspect of soil type is the pH (acidity or alkalinity). This will also affect the type of plants you can grow and how you manage your soil.  All the plants I use in Border in a Box kits are for neutral soil.

Types of compost:

1. John Innes – this is a compost formula as opposed to a brand. It’s the compost recipe that manufacturers use to enable customers to buy the right consistency for their needs. It can be abbreviated to JI

John Innes #1 – this is for young plants and potting-on plants before planting out.

John Innes #2 – this contains more nutrients than JI1 and is suitable for more established plants

John Innes #3 – this contains the most nutrients and is suitable for established plants, trees and shrubs

pink flower camelia2. Ericaceous compost – this is for acid loving plants such as heather’s, azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons and blueberries

3. Multi-purpose – this is a good all-rounder loam based compost and can be used in all situations. Some of these composts will have water retaining crystals and nutrients, which can make the compost more expensive than standard MP compost. These can be branded as ‘container compost’ or ‘hanging basket compost’.




4. Potting compost – this is for seedlings, herbs and houseplants and contains less nutrients than multi-purpose.

5. Mushroom compost is usually available in bulk and is used as a soil conditioner or mulch. Mulch is used as a surface dressing to help retain moisture and supress weeds in the border. It is usually available as ‘spent’ mushroom compost, referring to the fact it is the compost left over from mushroom farming.

6. Peat – this is a natural product and comes from peat bogs, which are important to the flora and fauna and are depleting which is why there is an environmental change to peat-free alternatives such as coir (from coconuts), composted pine bark and wood fibre.

7. Top soil – this is the uppermost layer of soil in your garden and is usually high in nutrients. However during building new homes, this is stripped by the developer and sold on, which is one of the reasons why soil is so bad on new housing estates, which is made worse by the soil being compressed with heavy machinery. Top soil is used in raised beds and new garden borders – you will need a depth of 20cm ideally. You can also buy different grades – premium, general purpose and economy. Premium grades have been screened for weed seeds, stones and contamination content (bricks, glass etc), so it’s best to buy from a reputable source.

8. Organic matter – this is usually made from farmyard manure and contains a high level of nutrients to support plant growth. It’s ideal for growing veg, but can also be used for improving the soil structure all over your garden and aids moisture retention of the soil too. It can also be used as mulch after planting.

If you’re creating a raised bed use this recipe – 1 part top soil, 1 part organic matter and 1 part sand, which should give you a consistency suitable for growing healthy veg or flowers.

flowers in a raised bed


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purple alliums


Styling your garden with Border in a Box

Border in a Box gardening gift


You’ve decided you want to update your garden, so where do you start? You could ask a garden designer to create a plan for you, but you will need to guide them by saying what you like and don’t like so the designer can create the garden of your dreams.  What if your budget doesn’t stretch that far and you just want to buy a few plants to update or refresh your garden?

A great place to start could be a visit to the local garden centre, but when you get there it can be overwhelming with a vast array of plants to choose from.  Where do you begin?  You may have no idea which plants to buy, what looks good together or if the plants will flourish in your garden’s soil, aspect or light? How should you care for the plants once you’ve planted them? Arrgghhhh!!!!!

You start looking at individual plants and wonder how big they grow.  Should they go at the back of the border or will they take over the garden? So many questions!

Garden centre plants

I was in the same situation myself a few years ago; I had moved into a new build property and was faced with a bare patch of turf and a wooden fence.  It was really uninspiring and my budget wouldn’t stretch to buy the services of a garden designer.  In solving the problem and creating my own special garden my passion for colour and plants was ignited and I decided to retrain as a garden designer so I could help others create their own lovely gardens.

So where do I start? Before even thinking about which plants to use, I look at the house and garden as a whole and think about what would suit the property.  Next, I collect images and magazine cuttings and choose everything I like – thinking about the colours, textures and styles.  Then I consider the hard and soft landscaping and what will suit the environment and the home.

So, if you would like to design your own garden, here are some great tips to get you started.

Step 1: Create a mood board

Start a folder of images and magazine cuttings – literally cut out any colours, adverts, plants, photos of anything you love. Once you’ve collected a stash of pictures, get a big piece of card (minimum A4 size), scissors and a glue stick.

Lay out the pictures on the cardboard, once you are happy with the design layout, you can glue all the pictures to the card. Creating this mood board will help you with your discussions with the garden designer, or if you’re doing it yourself, it can make choosing your hard and soft landscaping products easier.

Here is an example of one of my mood boards and also my scrap book, which I keep for inspiration and ideas.

mood board planning

mood board scrapbook

Step 2: Creating your style of garden

Having created your mood board and thought about landscaping options, you will probably have gravitated towards a particular style and colour scheme.  This is great, as you can now move onto choosing a style of garden.  There are lots to choose from, so here are some style ideas.  Each of which can be accomplished through implementing the easy to follow Border in a Box template.

Cottage garden

cottage garden style plants

Traditionally a cottage garden is informal in style with masses of colourful flowers tumbling over path edges.  The garden was also used to grow fruit and veg alongside the flowers all in one plot.  These days it’s just flowers such as roses, pinks and foxgloves. The version of Border in a Box English Cottage Garden is suitable for any garden in sun, or part shade in normal loam soil and can look great with contemporary hard landscaping as well as a traditional style.

Sunny garden

Echinacea sunny garden border

This border is similar in style to the cottage garden, without roses for those who don’t like thorns, for example if you have children this design may be better suited. The Border in a Box Sunny Garden is full of flowers suitable for a garden in full sun in a normal loam soil.

Contemporary garden

Contemporary style garden with grass

Contemporary design conjures up straight lines, geometric patterns and lack of fussy flowers and clutter.  In my Contemporary Garden Design, a limited number of colours and plants have been used to complement each other.  The design is also perfect for containers which could be placed on the patio, or in a front garden.  The Contemporary Border in a Box is also ideal as a gift for someone in temporary accommodation.  Not only the design but the pots can move with them to their next home.  This border is suitable for a sunny or part sunny garden in a normal loam soil.  This design is also suitable for a windy position.

Clay soil

ferns candelabra primula

After having lots of conversations with people whose gardens have clay soil, I have found that many people believed that you couldn’t have pretty flowers as they wouldn’t grow in clay soil.  Not so.  This lovely border provides colour all summer long.  It’s suitable for a sunny or part sunny garden.  As well as growing happily in clay soil it can also be planted in a normal loam based soil – the best of both worlds!

Evergreen border

Box balls, Festuca grass and tulips

The Evergreen Border in a Box design features plants that remain in leaf throughout the year.  So, it is important to use plants that have great texture and different coloured leaves to create interest all year round.  I use evergreen plants in all borders but, this design is predominantly evergreen.  It will also look fabulous if you combine it with a selection of bulbs (see the bulb list which is provided as part of this Box and is available free from my website www.borderinabox.com) and/or one of the other Border in a Box floral border designs.  The Evergreen Border is suitable for a sunny or part sunny border with normal loam soil.

Shady border

purple alliums

Another tricky part of a garden to fill with flowers is a shady garden.  The shade could be due to a fence or neighbouring building creating a shadow over the garden border, so this design has been created using flowers and shrubs that will look great all year round in a shaded or part shaded area in a normal loam soil.

Please note this border is unsuitable to be planted underneath evergreen trees such as firs/conifers as they will absorb all water and block out all light, which is important for most plants to thrive. However, you can plant underneath deciduous trees as the plants should get the light and water they need.

Butterflies & Bees

Pink floral border

With a decline in our bee population, it’s imperative to help our pollinating insects to ensure our future food supply as well as enjoying pretty flowers! You can create a wildflower garden to attract bees, butterflies and wildlife, however, this doesn’t suit everyone or every garden.  So I’ve created this border using plants that butterflies and bees love.  This Border in a Box design is suitable for anyone who loves pretty plants that can grow in sun or part sun, in a normal loam soil.

Next steps:

There is a Border in a Box garden design to suit different homes and preferences.  Each Border in a Box is a ready-made template kit which provides step by step guidance on what to plant where.  Each template measures 3m x 1m, but can be easily adapted to suit your size/shape of garden border.  The kits remove all the guesswork of working out what plants go together and where they should be planted.  Choose the one that suits you and your garden – simply plant, water and watch your border bloom whilst you sit back and enjoy – available from www.borderinabox.com/shop.

If you would like more assistance or want to go further, we can also create a design just for you via our bespoke service www.borderinabox.com/bespoke.

If you have a tricky spot or just need some inspiration feel free to send an email with a photograph of your garden and I’ll help you create a fabulous garden to be proud of – email [email protected]

Please note, the photographs are for illustrative purposes only and not an exact representation of what the final border will look like.

Butterflies & bees garden design in a gift tin

butterflies & bees garden design gift


I have written a useful blog with ideas on how to create your garden on a budget: https://borderinabox.com/cheap-garden-borders/







Gardening – nature’s anti-depressant and how it makes me happy


gardening makes me happy

After a horrific year of heart-breaking news about terrorist attacks, fires and conflict around the world thankfully there have been some heroic acts of kindness that’s been featured on every TV show and newspaper, but I’ve been feeling helpless and frazzled by it all. Thankfully through my own personal traumas, or challenges as I like to call them (much less dramatic!) I developed a love of gardening which really helped soothe my frazzled mind and gave me a place to escape to.

A few years ago when life was really difficult I had a really over-grown garden so I was able to go and chop all the shrubs back – I had no idea what I was doing to the poor plant, but it looked untidy and I needed it to look neat, nothing to do with the lack of control in my life!

After a few months I thought I needed to understand how to look after my garden properly so I enrolled at a local horticultural college and attended every Saturday for two years and learned all about plants, their structure, soil and loads of other stuff I can’t really remember. But that’s what stress did to me, it affected my speech and memory – I just forget words mid-sentence.

But looking back on this time in my life, if it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have developed my passion for gardening and colour and turning houses in to homes.  After all our homes are our safe havens and pottering around in the garden for an hour or two always lifts my spirits.

So if you’re feeling frazzled, here are a couple of projects you can do in an afternoon that can help you soothe those jangled nerves and brighten up your home too.

Make a planted container

I love container gardens for many reasons; they can brighten up a dull space all year round by having seasonal pots.  You can change colour schemes and create a focal point, height, texture and interest within a border.  The downside is keeping water levels right for the plants to thrive.

Here’s a container I made for a front garden, as you can see the space is narrow and very boring. This particular spot was on a high street, so there’s plenty of pollution and is in the shade, which meant the plant choice had to be thought about.

Step 1: Choose a suitable container or pot for your plot. There is so much to consider at this point, so there is a separate blog on this subject (coming soon!).  In a nutshell, think about the colour scheme and how the pot will enhance the plants.  A quick rule of thumb for colour combinations that contrast are: yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange – if in doubt do an internet search on ‘colour wheel’ and click on images which will provide you with contrast and harmonious colour combinations.

As you can see from this picture collage, how the choice of plant, background and pot creates a different look, so it’s worth taking time to choose the right combination. The top left picture looks more modern/contemporary, compared to the bottom right which looks more traditional.

pot, plant and background

In this example below I’ve used a wooden trough, which has already had timber preservation applied at the factory.  You can buy them without being treated which makes it easier to paint to match your preferred colour scheme. If you’re using a large pot, it’s advisable to add the compost and plants in situ, otherwise it could be too heavy to lift and move around the garden.

Step 2: line the pot/container with plastic, such as a bin liner – this helps protect the pot from the damp soil and will prolong the life of the pot – no need to do this if you’re using a plastic pot. Use a pair of scissors to create drainage holes in the bottom of the plastic liner – but make sure they’re not too big for the compost to fall through. Drainage is important as lots of plants don’t like to have their roots permanently in water as it can damage the roots and they could drown. In winter the water can freeze and damage the plant roots which could ultimately lead to the plants’ death.

Step 3: add broken crocks or gravel to the bottom of the pot to help with drainage.

Step 4: add in a layer of compost.  The depth is dependent upon the height of your pot and the size of your plants.  The top of the plant root ball should be level with the top of the pot when planted. Add in some seasonal bulbs at this point. I’ve created a bulb list for year round colour – it’s free, just message me for a copy [email protected].

Step 5: arrange the plants and when you’re happy with the layout, add in compost around the plants and firm them in.  Water well until the plants become established. The plants used in this pot are: Heuchera, Thalictrum and Fatsia.

evergreen planted container

Make a door or table decoration

If you’re busy pruning shrubs and plants in your garden you could use the clippings to create a lovely decoration for your home. These are easier to make than they look, and can be used for any occasion. This example is a table decoration, but you could add a big ribbon and hang it on your door for Christmas.

Materials needed are: a circular oasis (with a plastic base), available from any craft store or florist. A sharp pair of scissors or secateurs, lots of mixed foliage from your garden (ask neighbours if you don’t have enough variety) and decorations of your choice such as candles, berries, fir cones.

Step 1: soak the oasis in water until it is soaked through but not dripping.  I place my oasis on a tray to make it easier to water and handle. The foliage will hide the tray.

table decoration

Step 2: Add in the main focus flower to the oasis – cut the stems to 3-4cm long. In this example a silk rose has been added – use odd numbers – and place equally around the oasis. You can do this by eye.

floral wreath

Step 3: Start adding in the foliage, berries and decorations – put them in to the oasis at different angles and cover the whole oasis.  Look at it from different angles and fill in any gaps with more foliage – you can’t have too much!

floral table decoration

Here’s an example of one you could create for Christmas – just add in some twigs for added colour (I’ve used Salix in this version).

Christmas floral table decoration

I love creating wreaths as you can get outside, make a mess in the process but create a thing of beauty at the end of it. I completely focus on what I’m doing and forget about everything else going on around me, so it’s a great way to switch off and enjoy the moment.

3 simple autumnal garden ideas

autumnal garden border ideas

This time of year the garden can look a bit dull but with some thoughtful planning you can create a beautiful outdoor space, even if it’s just a simple update of a container by your front door, I’ll show you how with these three simple ideas.

Evergreen border

There are so many lovely shrubs with great colour and shaped foliage that can create interest and texture to your garden all year round and I always add them into every border I design.  In this simple border I’ve used bay trees for height at the back of the border, along with cornus with its amazing bright red stems (which are great for Christmas door wreaths), box balls and pittosporum with its silver leaf colour at the front.  These plants will need to be clipped to keep the size and shape you require.  Add more colour and texture with bulbs – snowdrops and crocus along the front of the border and tulips in the middle of the border for height. Winter bees will thank you for flowering bulbs, although avoid double flowers as they’re difficult for the bees to get to the nectar.

evergreen plants for an autumnal border


Container garden

In this faux-lead container I’ve used four plants – festuca (grass), nandina, euphorbia and erica although it would look just as effective if you had three different sized pots and one plant in each pot – anything looks best grouped in odd numbers.

Here are some top-tips for container gardening in the cold months:

  1. Make an impact – as plants grow much slower in the colder months, it’s best to fill the planter right from the start, so choose larger specimens, or more of them. Add ivy to spill over the sides of the pots, and use winter pansies & violas for instant colour and bulbs for seasonal interest. Remember to dead-head the pansies to encourage more flowers.
  2. Raise the pots off the ground to aid drainage – don’t over-water or underwater the pots, as the water can freeze and damage the plant roots.
  3. Choose frost-proof containers. In severe weather protect the plants and pots by placing in your porch and/or wrap bubble wrap around them.

evergreen plants container

Decorate for Halloween

In this display I’ve used simple terracotta flower pots and filled them with plants that have orange coloured berries and flowers. To add height I’ve place a wooden crate at the back of the display and arranged the plants around it and added in Halloween items such as the black cat and pumpkins.  For an instant uplift visit your local garden centre for seasonal plants whatever time of year it is. The plants will look great without the Halloween items and will really brighten up your front doorway to welcome you home. They can be planted in your garden borders once they’ve finished flowering or outgrown their pots.

Halloween plant display


If you would like help with your garden borders and have year round colour and interest, feel free to contact me [email protected] with all your questions and I’ll design a personalised border just for you. https://www.borderinabox.com 

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Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
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