Creating planting schemes that are sustainable is a goal we should all strive for, allowing our plants to cope with extremes of weather. However, newly planted plants even if carefully selected to withstand some drought will struggle in the first year if they are not watered during times of dry weather, especially if it is windy - a bad combination for plants and one that we in the West of Scotland have experienced over the last month. The wind in particular will strip water from the plant and as they have not yet established their root system at the same time as drying the surface of any bare soil.
So how can you help your new plants get established?
(1) WATER. Do not let the water levels in the soil around your newly planted plants get too dry. First, water them in on planting and then give your newly plants a good soaking once a week during dry weather, especially if it is also windy to prevent the plants getting stressed.
Apart from preventing immediate stress, watering will also help the plants to establish a good root system, encouraging them to send their roots deep. In the long-run, it will be these deep roots that will help bring your sustainable planting scheme to fruition. Conversely, light watering will only encourage surface roots, which will leave your plants susceptible to drought in the future.
When watering, use a hose or watering can to apply the water directly to the base of the plant.
(2) MULCH. Add a thick (at least 5 cm) mulch of compost, composted bark or gravel, depending on your scheme, to keep the water in and protect the bare soil from drying out.
(3) REMOVE UNWANTED PLANTS aka WEEDS. Borders prepared well and mulched directly after planting should mean that weeds and therefore weeding will not be an arduous task. However, perennial weeds in particular can still pop up from a small bit of root that is easily missed. Weeds are naturally plants and will use available water. By removing them, you are not wasting any water on the growth of the wrong plants!
Taking care with your newly planted borders during the first year especially will reap rewards in years to come.
How to establish plants in containers
Containers are not really a sustainable method of planting, but they can add to a design if you are prepared to look after the plants. Watering, mulching and weeding should all be applied to plants in containers, whether newly planted or otherwise. They will likely need daily watering, depending on the size of the container, to stop them drying out during dry weather, especially if windy. Using large sized containers hold larger volumes of compost-enriched soil that will take longer to dry out.
Grouping containers can increase humidity levels between them reducing the need for watering. Mulching the top of the soil in the containers with a thick layer of composted bark or gravel will also reduce evaporation from the soil surface and keep roots near the surface cooler, reducing stress. It will also minimise weed germination allowing any available water to go to the plants you want.
The days are lengthening and there is some warmth to the sun (when it shows it’s face) and some of the earlier flowering herbaceous perennials are poking their heads above ground level! It won’t be long before growth is rampant and we’d wished we had added supports to our plants! So, before that happens, I suggest using plant supports for those plants you want to keep upright or at least not completely blocking pathways and flopping over lawns causing the grass to dieback. However, before you reach for the bamboo canes and chicken wire or string, consider that plant supports should be beautiful so they add to the design of your garden, not detract from it.
There are a variety of plant supports out there to buy - some made from metal with a variety of finishes - black, galvanised that go rusty, green; others from recycled or natural materials; Some are quite ornate, others simple in design. All of which are far more appealing than the age old bamboo canes and chicken-wire, which unless you have a very large herbaceous perennial border hidden from view of the house, you might want to avoid.
Metal plant supports will last longer than natural materials and the more ornate ones can add a certain elegance to the garden both in winter and before they get completely smothered by plants. Recycled materials, such as old metal fences or bicycle wheels add a certain creativity to your borders before the plants are in fully growth.
For those of you who prefer more sustainable, natural materials, Obelisks, which are useful for climbing plants, and plant supports made from willow are a lovely addition to your garden. There a number of willow suppliers in Scotland (see below for link) and the UK as a whole, some of whom make willow structures.
I met Rob Eves, a lovely supplier of willow and willow structures in Edinburgh last weekend. He makes Willow obelisks among other living willow structures to order for a very reasonable price. Alternatively, you could have a go at making your own either on a course or DIY. Try using instructions such as those from Gardeners World or the BBC Gardening Blog (see links below) (see), though you could substitute the bamboo canes for the local and more sustainable willow of similar thickness, just add tape over the end you intend on pushing in the soil to stop it from rooting or use hazel or dried willow for the straight supports.
And then there are pea sticks, useful for lower growing herbaceous perennials, such as Astrantia, Nepeta etc. Just push some branches taken from winter pruning of trees into the soil, interlocking the twiggy growth. Not only will these structures provide support for the plant for the season ahead, depending on their design, they may also provide some protection from animals or the odd football!
Whatever plant support option you choose, they will be covered in no time with lovely fresh foliage, giving the appearance that your plants are exceptionally well behaved!
Willow suppliers in Scotland: https://willowscotland.wordpress.com/willow-growers/
Guidance for DIY Willow supports:
BBC Gardening Blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/gardening/2011/04/supports-for-herbaceous-plants.shtml
Gardeners World http://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/diy/how-to-make-willow-plant-supports/
More information about Pea stick plant supports: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/gardeningadvice/7803592/Pea-sticks-the-best-support-for-your-plants.html
When I ask people to describe fruit trees in a garden, they invariably go on to describe an orchard where fruit trees are growing in meadows of naturalised bulbs in spring and wildflowers and grasses in summer. But many of us do not have space for one standard size fruit tree, let alone an entire orchard!
However, all is not lost. We do not need to banish our dreams of fruit from our own gardens - even for those of us who have small gardens - thanks to the ancient craft of fruit tree training.
The answer is creative pruning of fruit trees
Espaliers, stepovers, fans and cordons are all traditional forms of fruit tree training. But one only need visit some of our national gardens, such as RHS Wisely in Surrey, West Dean in West Sussex, as well as browse the internet to see that the forms of trained fruit tree varies as much as their names: from a Parisian goblet to the lattice design of Belgian Fence. It is clear that your imagination is the limit to the shapes and forms of fruit tree can take - and all are suitable for small gardens!
Trained fruit trees add structure
Cordon apples and pears can create a living pergola; an espaliered or similarly pruned apple tree growing on a decorative metal or wooden support and a fan-trained plum tree grown against a south- or west-facing wall can all add height, interest and structure year round.
As an alternative to a trellis screen, the diamond-shaped gaps of a fruit tree trained as a Belgian fence or the horizontal gaps of a 4-tier espalier let both light and air to freely circulate; perfect for sub-dividing a small garden and giving the illusion of space. Such a living screen could mask a utility area, for example and wall-trained trees could add a focal point or soften the house, connecting it to the garden. And then there is of course in all cases, the seasonal, home-grown fruit to be enjoyed.
Whilst I have focused on top fruit, training is not limited to these trees. Red- and white-currants and gooseberries can also be trained allowing a variety of soft-fruit to be grown in a small space whilst clothing fences and walls. They can also act as lower screens when grown on decorative supports.
Training your own
There are practical reasons for training other than restricting size if space is limited - that is to improve the ease of picking and, techniques that were developed over thousands of years, to provide a maximum yield in the minimium time and/ or to ensure an even yield of fruit season on season. Of course, on the West Coast of Scotland where the season is shorter, exposing fruit to sunlight through training the tree can assist ripening.
Apples, pears, plums, quinces etc. are trained whilst young, called formative pruning, to provide the framework that goes onto bear the fruit for tens if not hundreds of years, if a regenerative pruning routine is maintained after the formative period.
There are a number of good books that describe using images and diagrams how to prune a young fruit tree and soft fruit shrub into espaliers, step overs, fans, and cordons. I have listed one below. (Note that some forms are better for certain fruit tree species than others, such as plum trees are best trained as a fan rather than as an espalier or cordon).
The Royal Horticultural Society Pruning by Christopher Brickell
For more creative forms, you will see that the underlying framework is based on the formative pruning of an espalier or a cordon.
So what are you waiting for..... now is a great time to start your new fruit tree off, so let those creative juices flow and you will be rewarded with structure, interest and an abundance of fruit in years to come!
Well 2016 has been a turbulent, unsettling year with Brexit and the US elections, so as we turn our attention to the New Year, we are perhaps looking for a more relaxing, calming 2017. Somewhat insightful, is the on-trend colour for 2017: ‘Greenery’ for the home.
According to Leatrice Eiseman of the Pantone Color Institute, the colour Greenery was chosen “to provide reassurance amid tumultuous political and social environment” and “to satisfy our growing desire to rejuvenate and revitalise; Greenery symbolises the reconnection we seek with nature, one another and a larger purpose”.
As a garden designer, I completely agree with this assessment. Although often overlooked as a fantastic source of nature, our gardens are pockets of nature on our doorstep. I certainly find that I feel revitalised and connected to nature when I have spent time amongst ‘Greenery’ in the garden, no matter how big or small, just as long as it is full of plants. And as for relationships, these for me are much deeper when developed in the outdoors.
So, if greenery is the must-have colour for 2017 and you’re in need of some mental rest and recuperation, I suggest turning to your garden. By careful designing, your garden can provide that essential greenery year-round that lifts the spirits along with highlights that give seasonal interest. And if you’re not into painting a wall in your home or piece of furniture green, your garden can provide that essential outdoors-in feel via views out to the greenery in your garden and even provide cuttings to lavishly fill vases - giving that highlight of green in your home too.
So set forth in 2017 with a spring in your step and head to your garden and fill it with wonderful plants!
Now is the time to be planning and planting for next Autumn! I realise that we are barely out of this year's autumn, but if we do not act now, the vibrant autumn show will fade from our minds as winter sets in.
We've had a lovely autumn - the weather has been mostly dry and relatively warm for the time of the year. And with it the vibrant autumn foliage combined with colourful fruits, striking bark and show stopping flowers of late flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials has certainly grabbed my attention. A last hoorah before the silent, sleepy starkness of winter beholds us.
So here are a few trees and shrubs you might consider planting as you plan for a future autumn.
Of course, you cannot go wrong with an Acer and there are many to choose from that suit different sized gardens. Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' is a small tree that has year-round interest, so perfectly suited to a small garden where every plant has to earn its keep. Pale green-tinged pink leaves in spring, mature green before turning butter yellow with red margins in autumn. And if that is not enough, the annual growth is a vibrant coral red, that sings in winter after the leaves have dropped.
Plant the Acer so that it is back lit with the seductive, low winter sun and combine with an evergreen grassy ground cover, such as Carex divsula or Hakonechloa macra. Other plants that will combine well with the acer include Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight', which will give you flowers and then the flowerhead in later summer going into autumn and winter, depending on your conditions. Neat Ilex crenata mounds will contrast with the loose structure of the acer and the shutlecock-shape of the semi-evergreen Dryopteris eythrosora, whose crosiers unfurl with pinky-copper-tones that will combine well with the young foliage of the acer.
Though lost relatively early, the buttery-yellow autumn leaves of Birch add to the rich autumnal tapestry of our landscapes. And the beauty of birch is the year-round appeal that these trees offer. The colouring of the bark, which often peels freely, can range from stark white of the often overused Betula utilis var. jaquemontii to a white with pinky-hues of Betula albosinensis and even a chestnut brown of Betula utilis 'Bhutan Sienna'. The annual growth of our native Betula pendula can have purple hues especially when viewed from a distance, en-masse.
All combine well with dogwoods that are regularly coppiced to give vibrant coloured winter stems, heathers, and a grassy evergreen ground, such as Hakonechloa macra. But if you don't want to do the cliche winter planting, Betula sp. grown as a multi-stem tree would work well in a herbaceous perennials and grass border, providing the all important structure and winter-interest.
Other trees and shrubs good for autumn include:
Rhododendron luteum, Aronia melanocarpa (or the hybrid Aronia x prunifolia 'Viking'), and Amelanchier lamarckii, which all have vibrant yellow, orange, red autumn colouring of their foliage. The edible blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum 'Duke' has particularly striking autumn red colouring to its leaves. All these shrubs have more than one season of interest: spring foliage colouring, flowers (R. luteum flowers are scented too), berries, and scent.
Whilst the autumnal foliage is the first to catch our eye, colourful autumn fruits and striking bark and stems all contribute to that last hoorah before the quiet season of winter is upon us.
People are often worried about having deep borders because that means more planting. Some come to me because they do not have the first clue about plants, especially how to look after them, so they initially shy away from lots of planting. However, my experience has been that these same people by the time we have worked through the design process together, they have taken a shine to their new garden and are really bonding with their plants. Some even help with the planting!
So, I say, bigger is better when it comes to borders. Deeper borders give plants the space to breathe and to show themselves in their best light. You only have to look at the borders in various country gardens to see how this works to best effect. Deep borders give impact to your garden through planting in swathes or layering so that you have successional flowering and interest all year.
So how deep is deep? A border should be at least 1.5 m depth. Any less and the plants will be in a single line. Think of a plant, say Astrantia, which has a spread of 60 cm and you want to put another plant behind that has similar spread - that’s the depth of the border almost full. But you don’t have to limit yourself to 1.5 m deep!
So what are you waiting for? Now is a great time to expand your existing borders and create new ones - just remember, be generous and you’ll be florally rewarded!
It is fast approaching that time of the year when bulbs are planted. So now is a great time to plan what bulbs to buy. Here are a few suggestions to give a floriferous display from spring right through to summer.
Bringing some welcome colour early in spring are the dwarf irises standing around 15 cm tall. The royal blue flowers of I. reticulata 'Harmony' put on a wonderful display from February to March naturalised in a sunny spot in grass, at the front of a sunny border or in pots, if like me, you have acidic soil. Give them neutral or alkaline moist, well-drained soil and they'll be happy year-on-year.
If like me you prefer the small, demure pale yellow or ivory flowered daffodils, try Narcissus 'Cotinga', a cyclamineus type with swept back petals. It is small (25 cm) and flowers early to mid-spring. However, having said that, I really love the multi-headed ivory N. 'Thalia' that stands 40 cm tall and is a great cut flower. All will grow in full sun or partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil.
A warming tulip for April is Tulipa 'Jenny' with it's sunset colours that stands around 35 cm tall. Like the irises, tulips prefer well-drained neutral or alkaline soil. For those of you with acidic soil, layer the tulips in pots with earlier flowering bulbs to give you a succession of interest. They will be happy in full sun or partial shade.
I saw Allium 'Cameleon', a small ornamental onion, at Chelsea this year and it caught my eye because of its pretty, unassuming presence. It flowers in June and as it is small (would look great interspersed among herbaceous perennials that have yet to get going at the front of the border.
For those of you with damper soil to contend with, try Fritillaria meleagris 'Plum and White Mixed', which will thrive in heavier, fertile, moist soils - in fact it needs soil to remain moist over the summer months. It flowers in April/May and will be happy in sun or part-shade naturalising in grass (as long as it is not cut until after the flower has set seed in June/July) or along the front of a border.
Now that you have had some inspiration, pop along to your local horticultural society bulb sale, which will be happening very soon, or buy online from nurseries such as www.crocus.co.uk or www.sarahraven.com
Front gardens are often overlooked in terms of their design. To most, they are utilitarian, functional spaces, a place to park the car or two, and store the ever-expanding collection of wheelie bins. Worst still, paving is being opted for over and above plants, which is neither good for our mental well-being or for the environment (more on that in a later post).
However, you cannot avoid going into or passing through your front garden on a daily basis, whatever the weather. And for those of you who's house is on the market, if your front garden does not have kerb appeal it could hamper your chances of a quick sale.
Front gardens can and should be attractive and inspiring, and bring a smile to your face everytime you step into it. They don't have to resemble bland carparks with little or no planting. They need kerb appeal, really setting off your house and making it stand out. At the end of the day, your front garden is the window to your home.
So here are some suggestions for sprucing up your front garden:
(1) Choose attractive, preferably permeable, hard landscaping for your driveway so that it adds to, not detracts from, your house when there are no cars parked on it. Gravel interspersed and/ or edged with attractive, complimentary setts is a age-old favourite that can't be knocked in terms of attractiveness, functionality and permeability.
(2) Invest in attractive storage for items such as bins, wood, bikes. We all need to store our bins, bikes and so on somewhere. By include them in the design from the outset, they can become a feature of your garden rather than an eyesore.
(3) Make room for plants, whether they be in borders or within the paving or gravel. Adding plants to your front garden will soften the look of the garden and provide a frame for your house. Include lots of evergreen plants as well as plants with structure or interest in the winter months and the summer months, so your front garden looks good all year round.
(4) Add an attractive focal point, such as a bench, large pot, bird bath, or a sculpture. This will really give your garden the wow factor - something that draws your eye into the garden.
(5) And last but not least, don't forget to look after it and to enjoy it!
I also loved The Telegraph Garden designed by Andy Sturgeon and built by Crocus. Apparently so did the judges as this was awarded Gold and Best in Show. Whilst it used very architectural, even harsh lines that divided opinion, I thought it was balanced by the beautiful, naturalistic planting, which had a muted and restricted colour palette.
This garden drew inspiration from geological events with the bronze-coated steel 'fins' inspired by Stegosaurus! You could see the entire garden through framed views and site lines created by these 'fins'.
The fins also provided a wonderful backdrop to the plants.
And whilst the planting was inspired by an arid landscape comprising plants from warm, temperated climates across the globe, it was not a recreation of habitat. Like the Winton Beauty of Mathematics garden, the planting colours were harmonious with other aspects of the garden, with the orange flowers of the Isoplexis canariensis picking up the flames in the fire bowl and contrasting beautifully with the hard landscaping!
I was lucky enough to visit Chelsea this year on the first of the two RHS members only day and as ever, there was plenty of inspiration in all three of the show garden categories, as well as in the Floral marquee. Judging by the number of photos I took and my excitement for the garden, I loved the Winton Beauty of Mathematics garden designed by Nick Bailey and built by Gardenlink.
The garden immediately drew you in. It had depth as well as height in the form of both trees and elevated platform, the copper band that ran through the garden offered a focal point (as well as a bench, handrail and planter), but also a visual guide as your eyes meandered through the garden.
And then there was the planting...... beautifully naturalistic with a harmonious softness offered by the colours and forms of the plants and the materials used in the garden, and with enough repetition of colour and form to add highlights and punctuation.. It was a garden that you just wanted to get into and explore!
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.