RHS guide: how to grow plants that will flourish in your garden

Too shady, dry or damp? A new RHS guide tells you what will suit your garden.
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Ferns and purple astilbe under white birches
© DK/Photographer Peter Anderson
Woodland wonder: ferns and purple astilbe make magic under white birches
The mantra that holds true for choosing property is equally applicable to plants: location, location, location. Settle sun-loving cistus into a shady corner and it will never bloom as nature intended; plant drought-loving santolina into moisture-retentive clay soil and it is likely to turn up its toes.

Plant labels frequently neglect to relay vital information, such as the fact that azaleas will sulk in alkaline soil, or that candelabra primulas need perpetual moisture to thrive.

A new RHS encyclopedia, What Plant Where, promises a surer route to beautiful beds and borders than a plant-it-and-see approach. Instead of looking up a plant to find what it needs, you can look up your garden's specific problem areas — and see which plants will thrive in them.

The RHS What Plant Where encylopedia (DK) costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £19.99 including p&p by calling 0845 130 7778 and quoting code HPDK1.

You want plants for the base of a fence? Acanthus, tree peony, epimedium, pulmonaria and Japanese quince are just a few that will withstand the dry, dark conditions. An exposed rooftop? Rosemary, sedum, phormium, perovskia, thrift and dwarf mountain pine, as well as robust coral rose Warm Wishes, are some of the windproof candidates.

A dip that is perpetually waterlogged? Transform it into a flowery paradise with damp-loving lacecap hydrangeas, a host of violet Japanese flag iris, wild pink bergamot and some luscious three-foot golden spikes of ligularia.

A city garden section details robust, pollution-tolerant shrubs including skimmia, as well as adventurous plants such as Abyssinian banana that will thrive in urban microclimates, and recommends making small spaces appear larger by fudging boundaries with leafy trees and shrubs, such as magnolias and viburnums.

Water feature with heuchera, persicaria, fatsia and scarlet acer
© DK/Photographer Brian North
Bright foliage: heuchera and persicaria thrive beneath fatsia and scarlet acer
Two dozen plant recipes make the point that a few simple ingredients work best. Fancy an easy-upkeep border that will thrive in your tricky clay soil? Try a smart green-and-white combo of Geranium sanguineum album, Actaea simplex Brunette, Veronica spicata Alba, baby box balls and fragrant rose Winchester Cathedral that just needs an annual prune.

You might want a special effect, like a magical, mini woodland, in which case bring in multi-stemmed birch Betula utilis jacquemontii, and underplant with semi-evergreen fern Dryopteris affinis Cristata and purple-plumed Astilbe arendsii. Just these two plants, repeated over and over, look stunning spread beneath the stark white stems of Himalayan birches, and will give you a designer look that would be a smash at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Fashionable prairie planting is ideally suited to rural acres, but can you have a small-scale prairie in the centre of town? Indeed you can, using just a few plant species that deliver an exciting contrast of shape, texture and colour.

Together, the flower spikes of purple salvia Ostrfriesland, the large, flat lemon heads of Achillea Credo and the sky-blue pompom blooms of Allium caeruleum Azureum comprise summer's dream team. Extend the season with rudbeckia and asters in the same shades, and leave the flowerheads, prairie-style, to stand over winter.

Japanese iris
© Gap Photos/FHF Greenmedia
Oriental elegance: Japanese iris transforms a waterlogged area
Perhaps you need more practical advice, like a list of slug-resistant plants to pin on the shed wall. Lavender, penstemon, aquilegia, echinops and crocosmia are just a few, together with a suggested slug-free border of aromatic thyme, oregano, phlomis, santolina and box.

Armed with the right knowledge, the seemingly impossible becomes possible: yes, you can grow edibles with little sun, and at the same time, create a border that looks as good as it tastes, with purple, frilly-leaved lettuce Lolla rossa, Swiss chard and cut-and-come-again salad leaves, dotted with orange and yellow pot marigolds. You could also add rocket, chives and an edging of alpine strawberries.

The RHS What Plant Where encylopedia (DK) costs £25, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £19.99 including p&p by calling 0845 130 7778 and quoting code HPDK1.

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