‘How to Plant a Garden’


Sandy Felton reviews a new RHS Book on planning and planting a garden, by the ‘City Gardener’, Matt James.

There are countless occasions when I have visited my local nursery and been totally bewildered by the range of plants on offer. Choosing the right plant for my garden is not as easy as it looks and I have to admit that there have been some total disasters.

side-book-jacketIn his new book for the RHS, ‘How to Plant a Garden’, author Matt James takes us on a logical journey through the design and planting process helping the reader choose and combine plants with confidence.

Right from the start I felt quite at home with this book. I found it straightforward and to the point with easy to follow guidance, excellent illustrations and a really useful and expansive range of garden situations, from minimal maintenance, dry shade and modern herbal to growing in gravel and prairie planting.

Chapters include ‘Getting to Grips with Your Garden’, ‘The Plant Palette’, ‘Plants with a Purpose’ and ‘A Design for Life’. I particularly liked the chapter ‘The Best Made Plans’ where Matt brings together the theory covered in the preceding chapters and looks at the practical aspects of creating the garden you want.

The 15 planting designs he uses can be adapted or tweaked to suit individual garden space and personal taste. Each design has an introduction and useful ‘tricks of the trade’ section as well as highlighted pictures of signature plants before moving onto the design drawing and list of recommended plants.

The author also includes design decisions to consider and also fine details, where he looks at aspect, period of interest and maintenance etc.

side-Author-photo-1In his ‘A Design for Life’ chapter, the author (pictured right) takes us on a journey to consider how best to arrange the plants together, enabling the reader to understand the visual characteristics of plants, seasonal change and continuity of interest. As a rather haphazard gardener, I found the discipline in this chapter really useful.

The easy to follow at-a-glance layout is one of the main strengths of this book as well as Matt’s wealth of knowledge about his subject. There is certainly plenty of inspiration and advice from cover to cover, as one would expect with an RHS publication, and I was certainly impressed by the wealth and variety of the information available for both the novice and more experienced gardener. He also considers the more practical aspects of caring for a garden such as lifestyle and time available for maintenance.

Matt also covers sourcing of plants, types of containers plants are sold in and a section on quantities and spacing. Included at the back is a comprehensive further reading section.

Matt is a garden designer, broadcaster and lecturer who is well known as Channel 4’s The City Gardener and he admits that he has wanted to write this book for years. As soon as I picked it up I knew that it was going to find favour with me because I like to be taken on just such a journey, without fuss, with straightforward advice displayed in an easy to digest way, using methods I can identify with.

The author achieves that and more and ‘How to Plant a Garden’ by Matt James, is certainly a book that will earn its place on the bookshelf. Published by Octopus, in hard back at £25, it is available in bookshops now.