Guest Post : Block Planting with David Marsden of the Anxious Gardener

block planting

Guest Post : Block Planting with David Marsden of the Anxious Gardener

This month we feature a guest post from multi-award winning writer David Marsden aka The Anxious Gardener.

Planting up a new border from scratch can be daunting, especially for the beginner. And if you do it by the book, there are all sorts of considerations before you even reach for your trowel – the site’s aspect and soil type for a start. Once you’ve worked out how hot, shady, dry or wet your new border is, you need to consider what range of plants will thrive. What shape, size and colour of foliage do you want? What colour flowers? How tall will these plants grow, how wide, and will they dwarf or even swamp their neighbours? Will your fabulous, mind’s eye concoction meld together in reality? And will this intoxicating mix perform from spring through autumn, or explode as one simultaneous crescendo of sight and scent? So plenty to think about… with absolutely no pressure to get it right.

block planting

Of course, you could just bung a load of plants into a bed, close your eyes, gulp a cup of tea and hope for the best. And very often it’ll be absolutely fine – perhaps with a little remedial sighing, taking plants out, putting plants in and shifting plants about. If you’re new to gardening, you’ll learn very quickly what works, what doesn’t, what looks good and what, frankly, looks rubbish.

But there is a much simpler way of starting a new border: block planting. Using only one species can create maximum impact (and really wow that sniffy neighbour who peers over the garden fence with barely hidden disdain).

Experiment with Verbena, Lavender, Catmint or Fennel

A couple of years ago, as an experiment, I planted up two beds with Verbena bonariensis only. In early summer, the verbena starts growing vigorously and by late June/early July, it begins flowering and continues right through to the first frost. There are loads of garden plants you could use for block planting – but if your area is large, like mine, you’ll want to keep their upkeep and maintenance down to a bare minimum. Dahlias, for example, look amazing on a big scale… but they need staking, heavy watering and an awful lot of dead-heading.

So, unless all that work appeals, choose a plant that is tough, free-standing, doesn’t demand regular watering, doesn’t need dead-heading and, perhaps most importantly, puts on a show for several weeks or even months. If you don’t fancy verbena, try lavender, catmint or fennel. Heck, experiment! If you love a particular plant and wonder what it would look like en masse – give it a try. What have you got to lose?

block planting

But I am particularly fond of V. bonariensis. For a start, it self-seeds madly here in Southern England, so these two borders didn’t cost me a penny – I simply gathered seedlings from other parts of the garden. It is also mostly frost-hardy and if a particular plant doesn’t survive the winter, I always have an embarrassment of replacements. And, crucially for me, it is beloved by bees and a wide, satisfying array of butterfly species.

block planting guide

Whilst my two borders mostly look after themselves, there is some work involved. (Isn’t there always)? They need weeding and, in spring, I rub out the thick carpet of seedlings which emerge, moss-like, between the adults. I also decide which seedlings I’ll allow to grow to maturity and which older, failing plants are sent to the compost bins. But other than that, and the snipping of a broken stem, pulling out the odd unnecessary plant and keeping the path clear of intertwined branches, that’s it.

I think my block borders are eye-catching, they’re long-lasting and demand minimal effort. My kind of gardening.

If you fancy trying your hand at a spot of block gardening, head over to the Capital Gardens seeds and bulbs page and pick your feature plant. If you would like to read more from The Anxious Gardener click here. 

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Comments (4)

  • Vohn McGuinness Reply

    Love Verbena bonariensis but never thought to put it on its own in a border. Looks fabulous.

    29/07/2016 at 11:30 pm
    • Chris Brown Reply

      We completely agree! Sometimes block planting can be boring or even overpowering but the light elegance of the verbena really makes a spectacular impact. Definitely something to try if you have the space!

      04/08/2016 at 9:18 am
  • Jules Forth Reply

    Just what I needed to read! I’ve recently removed an entire bed of its plants in a bid to be rid of a toxic mix of ground elder and bindweed. Next year I’ll have the opportunity to experiment with a block of glorious flowers, perfect to enjoy whilst sipping my tea from the window seat in the sitting room! Thank you.

    30/07/2016 at 12:28 am
    • Chris Brown Reply

      Fantastic! We are really glad this has given you some inspiration to try something different in your garden. We hope the planting plan goes well and we would love to see some pictures when the garden is in full bloom! Happy gardening!

      04/08/2016 at 9:19 am

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