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!
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!
I am privileged to be involved in two community group projects at the moment. For the first project, I am devising a planting plan and approach to populating the two wildlife pond in Duchess Wood with plant . The second project is the renovation of James Street park for which I have been commissioned to design a new community garden for the space. This design will go out to consultation on Saturday 23 April. Though I cannot say too much at present, the design for the park aims for an attractive, slightly wild space that can be enjoyed by all whilst being low maintenance. Two very different projects with a common thread - wildlife.
For both projects, I am considering native versus non-native plants. Putting the overall aim of Duchess Wood to return it to it’s native state aside, I feel it would be inappropriate to introduce non-natives into Duchess Wood given it’s position in the landscape. The wood is adjacent to regenerating woodland and links to other broadleaved woodland on Glenoran Road to the west and to the north. It would not take much for vigorous plant species to widen their reach. We already see Japanese knotweed on the outer-reaches of the wood that was until recently threatening to encroach this local nature reserve. So I turn to the natives here.
The new ponds in Duchess Wood would support native plants such as the yellow-flowered Iris pseudoacorus, Filipendula ulmaria (meadowsweet), and Juncus sp. - three plant species already found in damper areas of the wood. These native species would be right at home around the margins of the pond along with Lythrum salicaria (purple loosestrife), Valeriana officinalis (valerian), and Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) . The pretty sky-blue, though sometimes pink flowered Myosotis scorpioides (water-forget-me-not) would grow well at the edge of the ponds or in shallow water. Whereas, the white water lily, Nymphaeus alba, with its large flowers and leaves, Mentha aquatica (water mint), which has spherical lilac flowers that are loved by pollinators, and Potamogeton natans, with floating leaves that are appreciated by insects, would be happier in the water. Together, these native plants would provide habitat for wildlife in and out of the pond and the oxygenating plants within the pond, such as Potamogeton natans and Myriophyllum spicatum increasing pond biodiversity.
On the other hand, non-natives combined with natives would be far less controversial for James Street community garden. This green space is in the centre of town and bounded by gardens and buildings. In fact, non-natives would be welcome here as they would extend the season. For us, we can enjoy the later flowering plants, such as Helenium, Anemone x hybrida, Eupatorium maculatum, Ageratina altissima, and Aster sp. that give such a wonderful autumnal display. And for the wildlife, the food that some at least of these plants provide long after many of our native plants have finished flowering. I say some - those that are considered near-natives (i.e., those naturally occurring in the northern hemisphere, but not native nor naturalised in the British Isles, and from at least the same family if not the same genus) are better for our pollinators than exotics according to an extensive study carried out at RHS Wisley (1). Though even exotics have their place in providing food for our pollinators.
So in short, my answer to that question - native or not-native - is yes to both, but (and it is a very large but) it very much depends on the context and the wider landscape. These really need to be considered - carefully.
Reference: (1) Salisbury et al (2015). Journal of Applied Ecology 52: p.1156 to 1164
For more information, visit:
RHS website: plants for pollinators
Butterfly conservation: plants for butterflies
I am currently implementing a design of a perennial edible and wildlife friendly garden that I did for a client and it made me reflect on why perennial edible gardens are really no-brainers.
Whilst I love growing annual fruit, vegetables and herbs, it is my perennial edible borders that are a constant source of food year-on-year and they look attractive too - year round. What I mean by this is that no matter how busy I get during the year, especially in spring and early summer when most annual crops are sown and nurtured, my perennial food plants just get on with what they do best. They grow, produce flowers, fruit, leaves and seed with only a little input from me.
Whilst temperatures prevent me sowing annual seed at this time of the year as they will just not germinate, my perennials are growing. Most of this growth is going on below ground as the root systems extend, getting ready to transfer energy into leaf production as soon as the time is right.
And all this is happening with the very littlest of care from me mostly over the winter months: some annual pruning for fruit shrubs, or in the case of the trained apple trees biannual pruning, cut back dead herbaceous material, feed with compost, weed where the previous years mulch has got a little thin, and reapply the mulch where needed in the form of leaf mould or shredded bark. Every few years, my herbaceous perennials are divided to renew their vigour, but this is a simple winter task that provides me with new plants. Old strawberry plants are replaced with their own offspring, which are sent out on runners in late summer.
So despite relatively little care, my perennial edibles provide kilos of fruit (blueberries, blackcurrants, red currants, gooseberries, strawberries, plums and apples), endless supplies of leaves for soups, salads and stews (such as a variety of sorrel, perennial kale, garlic and onion-flavoured leaves, sweet cicely, mitsuba, leaf celery), tasty herbs (rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, fennel), and attractive edible flowers, which are good to eat as well as support wildlife. They also provide good ground cover reducing the need to weed and in terms of the shrubs and evergreen herbaceous edibles, they provide structure and winter interest to the borders.
So all in all, growing perennial fruit, vegetables, and herbs requires less time and energy than annual varieties, they can provide an abundance of produce, which compliment annual veg by adding diversity to the menu, provide year-round structure and interest to borders and can be good for wildlife.
Although this year is far from over, now is a good time to assess your garden, while it is still in growth (and it still warm enough) to spend time pondering it’s successes as well as it’s failures.
First, decide what you like about your garden, then consider where you feel it could be improved. To help with this, you could ask yourself the following questions whilst perusing your garden:
(1) Does the garden entice you outside, even on an inclement day?
(2) Do you use all of the garden or are there areas that you do not spend time in?
(3) Do you have all the features and functions you need from your garden, such as a watering system, lighting, vegetable beds, somewhere to raise young or tender plants, such as a greenhouse, etc.?
(4) Are your borders full of plants that provide colour and interest year round?
(5) Are all your plants growing happy and healthily in their current location?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, think about why you do not spend time in your garden, or visit particular areas, what features you would like, and consider the times of the year that your garden does not seem to sing with floral and foliage displays.
After answering these questions, you can formulate a plan to help improve your garden for next year, however, the dormant season is a good time to make some of these changes!
Autumn is the perfect time to plant bulbs, such daffodils, snowdrops, and crocuses, for early colour and interest, and other plants so that the roots have a chance to grow before winter giving them a better start next year. Any plants that are not doing so well could be moved at this time of the year to a new location or removed entirely if they are diseased. And any gaps in the planting could be marked with a stick - if only small areas - so that new plants whether bought or home-raised can fill the space when you get them.
Over winter is also a great time to make structural changes to the garden, build new features, prepare plants and borders for spring (more on this later) and to have a general clear up (though leave some shelter for hibernating wildlife).
So I leave with some parting words: enjoy your planning but do not leave all the work until the spring - some of the improvements will be best done before the new growth starts!
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.