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Planting design

Plants have been a passion of mine since I was a teenager and I am fortunate to say that my interests have evolved into a career that centres around horticultural design and my knowledge of plant characteristics. To be a proficient planting designer you have to have a passion for plants. This is a creative process that requires vast knowledge, deep thinking and ongoing problem solving.

Because planting design is a relatively new subject which is expanding rapidly, ongoing education is vital to ensuring that created designs are current, fit for purpose and knit into the context seamlessly. Knowing how high a plant will grow and what flower colour it will have form the tip of the metaphorical iceberg that is the planting design process.

Speaking as a landscape architect, it always surprises me that planting knowledge is not in high demand within this profession, whereas knowledge of other skills, such as the adobe suite, is. It is a skill that separates us from other sectors of the design world (graphic design, architecture etc) and ultimately is the creative process that is showcased in many of our carefully planned schemes. Perhaps this is because planting can be seen as something that is hard to tame and uncertain once left out of our hands? Or could it be that the complexity of planting is hard to understand? I am not sure of the answer myself. Please send in your answers on a postcard….

Detail Planting Design

Anyway, back to the topic in hand. For any planting design to be successful, make sure that you know the site proposals, the context, the perceived microclimates and the wishes of the client. Without a full understanding of these factors, all further decisions in the design process are approximations. This will involve strong communication skills as well as an ability to analyse aspects of the landscape and the links between differing genius loci. This will naturally lead to an informed plant palette fit for purpose. I find that the best place to start with a planting palette is to set out key design principles across the site. This may involve splitting the site into sections. This way you can think of the styles what will bind the landscape together as well as the show stopping focal points. This could be the use of a particular plant species, an architectural plant, or entire colour scheme. In many cases you may find that this is the evergreen structural plants. It is also important to consider the whole range of plants available to us in the modern word and not just those that we are fond of. Sometimes a plant (or plants) might be needed that can knit together a planting scheme and help the more prominent plants to shine.

Detail Planting Design

I am also a person who likes creating lists and I find that when it comes to thinking about different plants for different microclimates, I choose to list each microclimate and each of the plants in my planting palette which will survive (and hopefully thrive) there. Microclimatic conditions, to speak briefly, include sunlight shading, moisture retention of soils, wind conditions and minimum temperatures expected in winter. Sometimes you will find that more tender species can be left outside during winter if they are next to a south facing wall or a house that is letting off heat. I find that a common mistake that is made is that plants are thought about as looking their best throughout the year. For instance, plant selections may be made based on the flower colour of summer flowering plants, but not much consideration is made for how they will look in other months, and if there are plants adjacent that will continue the show. If the layers of planting that make a planting bed exiting all year round are not considered then only a very one dimensional planting plan can be created. For this reason it is always best to think in a timeline Thinking to a timeline that runs in a 12 month cycle will really help to ensure that plant interest will be on show for the whole of the year. The indicative plant timetable below runs in a 12 month cycle with the berries of Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Orange’ showing throughout the winter months, until the pink flowers of Bergenia cordifolia and white of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ display to see in Spring. Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’ continue the flowering display until the highlight of Santolina chamaecyparissus and Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ produce their long lasting display of contrasting colours.

Detail Planting Design

What’s more is that this scheme also includes a number of evergreen plants with different leaf structures that will provide a foil for the flowers and berries, providing continuous interest all through the year. For a closer look at some planting designs by Liz Lake Associates, please follow the links below:

The Grove hotel: The Grove Hotel

The Galleries: The Galleries, Warley Hospital

World of Golf: World of Golf

For further information on planting design, particularly the most common mistakes that can be made, the following article is very interesting:


Mathew Hull

Mat Hull

New skatepark for Stansted community

The end of summer 2015 saw the completion of a brand new concrete skatepark in Stansted, just a short walk from the Liz Lake office. The newly built facilities, located adjacent to Stansted Mountfitchet rail station, offer a space for young individuals to meet up and practice their preferred discipline (be it skateboarding, rollerblading or BMX). Something that is particularly beneficial about this kind of environment is that it is free for users, which in turn creates a wide reaching demographic. I think that this is a point all landscapes and social spaces can strive to achieve, after all what good is a space that doesn’t aim to integrate a variety of users?


The skatepark itself sits in the same location as the previous wooden surfaced one, which, over the space of around 10 years became decrepit to the point of being virtually unusable and unsafe. This is partly due to it being constructed from wood, a material that will eventually become victim to weathering of some kind. For this reason the choice of surfacing material for skateparks generally, has shifted from wood to concrete. Albeit more expensive and specialist in construction terms, the lifespan of concrete is incomparable.

Stansted is part of the growing list of places across the UK that now has concrete skatepark facilities. Concrete as a material offers far greater freedom and fluidity in design, as I’m sure you will agree after comparing the photos below.

Stansted_Skate_Park_3 Stansted_Skate_Park_4

For skatepark users, concrete surfacing offers an unrivalled smoothness to ride on which is a pivotal part of the experience. It also dries quicker after wet weather, which is always good for getting the most from the facility, so a win-win choice all round.


This kind of facility is a fantastic addition to any community as it get people active, it is free to use and requires relatively little maintenance. Don’t take my word for it though… come and visit for yourself!

Sam Elstub, Graduate Landscape Architect.