Planted Paradise

Really good garden design is all about the plants. You can be as fancy as you like with the hard landscaping but, without the plants, your garden will have no soul. This is something that couldn't be said about Chrissie Harten's garden.

She describes herself as a plantaholic and it's easy to see why. The extensive list of plants in her garden reads like a well-stocked nursery catalogue and you just know she's the type of person who can't walk past a garden centre without having a look for a new variety she hasn't got yet. This geniune love of plants has led her to create a stunning garden where the plants take centre stage and the hard landscaping compliments the plants rather than the other way around.

25 years in the making

Like most good gardens, Chrissie's garden has evolved over a period of time - 25 years to be exact - and, because she created her garden on a new-build site, she can be proud of the fact that she really did build her garden from scratch.

Confronted with a pile of mud, builder's rubble and a sloping site, Chrissie set about creating a garden on five levels.

Typically, for someone who is so fond of plants, the first thing she did was to build a cedar wood greenhouse and then to alter the topography of the garden by creating five levels. Using a process called 'cut and fill', she built retaining walls of railway sleepers to turn a slope into five level terraces. This allowed her to include hard landscaping features such as patios, paving and a pond to compliment her beloved plants.

By terracing the slope, she was able to turn the garden into what has become a series of 'rooms'. This is a great design trick. Instead of a large garden, where you can see from one end to the other, you have a garden that literally draws you in. You want to enter it rather than view it from inside the house and, in fact, only by entering it, can you really appreciate it.

It's a 'wander-through' garden and Chrissie has added little areas of interest amongst the planting that invite you to linger. There are small paved areas throughout and Chrissie's own sculptures serve to draw the eye. Two gazebos and a number of benches strategically placed allow the true plantaholic to stop and appreciate the clever combinations of architectural leaves and seasonal flower displays.

Small lawned areas create openings where the planting that skirts around them can be better viewed and the way the paving runs into the lawn (in the picture on the right) is a nice touch.

The Water Garden

On level four of the garden, Chrissie has created a water garden which allows her to grow aquatics and marginals and is home to all manner of wildlife. She uses the pond like a mirror, as a reflector for the planting around it and has positioned plants with arching leaves that dangle, like fishing rods over the water. Plants tumble over the edges of the pond giving it a natural look and allowing the wildlife to take shelter from predators. This close planting on the margins of a pond is essential if you want to encourage wildlife and will prevent your pond from looking quite so man-made.

Chrissie's Website

It wouldn't surprise you to know that Chrissie is a flower arranger and her website A Flower Arranger's Garden is hugely informative. In it you will find more pictures of the garden, her impressive plant list and regularly updated diaries so you can keep abreast of what is going on in the garden.

If you are considering a planting project, the diaries are extremely useful as a reference tool for helping you choose what plants may be of interest on a month to month basis. Click on any given month in the diary archives and you will find pictures and lists of plants in flower. There is also a 'Fabulous Foliage' page where the plants are listed according to their foliage colours - something anyone designing a garden would find useful.

For flower arrangers, there are loads of hints and tips as well as a huge gallery of arrangements to inspire you. If you live in or around Bromsgrove you can enrol to attend one of Chrissie's flower arranging classes and you will find details of these and how to contact Chrissie at her website. I thoroughly recommend a visit and I know I will use her website again and again when I'm stuck for an interesting plant or I need some inspiration for planting combinations.

You will find Chrissie's site at

Our thanks to Chrissie for allowing us to use her wonderful photographs.

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