5 smart planting lessons to take from Harlow Carr – North Yorkshire's garden gem

The RHS Harlow Carr boasts some of the most exquisite plant borders we've ever seen; here are the top planting lessons to take away from its spectacular plant displays

Main borders at RHS Harlow Carr
(Image credit: RHS/Jason Ingram)

The RHS Garden at Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, England, is a gardener's paradise. So much to see – and so much to learn. From luscious border displays to woodland, meadows, a lakeside garden, and a rock garden, this gorgeous site offers inspiration for every type of garden there is. 

These are the garden design ideas we'll be taking away from Harlow Carr, specifically  planting ideas for summer and looking ahead to autumn. 

1. Maximize the potential of ornamental grasses

RHS Garden Harlow Carr main borders

(Image credit: RHS/Jason Ingram)

Harlow Carr uses ornamental grasses to spectacular effects, with whole borders lit up at sunset thanks to the extensive planting of whispy stipas, Chinese silver grass, and many other types that catch the light beautifully. 

Learning how to grow ornamental grasses is easy – they'll thrive in most sunny borders and are also worth keeping unpruned well into winter, when the grass heads add interest covered in snow and ice. 

2. Layer planting to add dimension

RHS Harlow Carr, Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue', Montana 'Gardenview Scarlet', Stipa gigantea

(Image credit: RHS/Jason Ingram)

Plant layering is a technique that works in gardens of all sizes, but it's especially useful for adding height to borders as part of small garden ideas. The basic principle of border plant layering is planting in descending heights, with the tallest plants at the back. This will give your borders a dynamic yet smart look. 

This border at Harlow Carr uses Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue', Montana 'Gardenview Scarlet', and Stipa gigantea to create depth. 

3. Let shady spots shine

Hostas and silver birch at The Lakeside Garden, RHS Harlow Carr

(Image credit: RHS/Jason Ingram)

The Lakeside Garden, with its secluded areas of dappled shade, is the perfect source of shade garden ideas. There's no need to settle for ferns – as this pretty border that celebrates hostas proves. 

Hostas are one of the best shade loving plants, providing both interesting foliage and flowers. Here it is shown in dappled shade, but some varieties will do great in deeper shade, too.

4. Introduce artful planting to a kitchen garden

The Kitchen Garden at RHS Harlow Carr

(Image credit: RHS/Jason Ingram)

The Harlow Carr Kitchen Garden is every bit as beautiful as other areas and, for our kitchen garden ideas we'd like to take away its artful approach to planting crops. 

The planting here has had as much thought put into it as a flowering border – vegetable gardening doesn't have to mean ordered rows with no individuality. We especially like the joyful addition of sunflowers. 

5. Don't forget autumn planting

The Sandstone Rock Garden, RHS Harlow Carr

(Image credit: RHS/Lee Beel)

Every beautiful garden looks good in every season, not just the summer. The Sandstone Rock Garden at Harlow Carr is ablaze in spectacular color in the autumn, with Japanese acers stealing the show with their bright foliage. 

Acers can be planted as part of Japanese garden ideas, but they are so graceful and low-maintenance that they'll also look good in a container in a small urban garden, providing interest in summer and autumn. 

Anna Cottrell
Anna Cottrell

Anna is a keen urban gardener, with David Austin roses and Japanese acers among her favourite plants. She moved into the world of interiors from academic research in the field of literature and urban space a couple of years ago. She's always been interested in how people make houses into homes, and how our concepts of what's stylish change over time.