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!
Three weeks ago I saw the most welcome sight: the first flowers on my plum tree (Opal), which is fan-trained against a south-facing wall of my house, and one in which I can see up close from the elevated storm porch at my back door. And I smiled! Soon after, more flowers opened and the bees were buzzing and my heart sang!
This mass of flowers on trees and shrubs, known collectively as blossom, is a welcome sight. Other than early flowering plum trees, Amelanchier lamarckii is another tree that flowers in April along with early flowering shrubs, such as Spiraea 'Arguta', Corylopsis pauciflora and flowering currants, such as Ribes sanguineum 'Pulborough Scarlet'.
So I say, let us celebrate the arrival of blossom as it is done in style in Japan - in the form of the cherry blossom festival, Hanami. Every year between the end of March and early May, people in Japan congregate around the country's cherry and plum trees for 'flower viewing', or Hanami, which is a traditional Japanese custom to celebrate the transient beauty of the flowers (see Wikipedia for more information on Hanami). I think that we should not only embrace this custom but extend it to be one in which we celebrate all early blossoming trees, not just plum and cherry trees.
Our festival can be one that celebrates the beginning of spring and the warmer months to come. After all, there is nothing quite like the sight of early blossoming trees buzzing with bees to bring a smile to your face.
Of note, Helensburgh's Tree Conservation Society will be celebrating the return of the Spring Blossom this Saturday (30 April) in Hermitage Park in Helensburgh. This event will be opened by Lee Stetson, an actor who plays Tom Muir, who will plant a Sequoia in commemoration of the famous conservationist. For more information, visit The Tree Conservation Society's website.
Today, the sun was shining on James Street park - literally and metaphorically. I had a fantastic time talking with local residents of all ages about the vision for James Street Community Garden. I was working alongside the community group who want to see the park used and several council members and councillors at the consultation for the proposed design.
In case you could not make it today, the proposed design for the community garden is shown below. It aims to turn an under-used green space, which is pretty much an uninviting blank canvas into a garden where the community can enjoy quiet play within natural play areas to basking in the sun whilst hearing bees and other wildlife go about their daily business.
The community group had asked me to find an attractive and inspiring low maintenance solution for the park, one that would provide space for parents and children to enjoy and a place for retired people to relax. In particular, the community group asked for a wildlife garden and a natural play space for children.
According to a spokesperson for the community group "The design has met this brief and uses natural materials where possible (and practical), has provided a natural play space for imaginative play, and has creatively turned the wet area into a positive addition to the garden, rather than a negative."
From talking to many visitors to James Street park today, the positive feedback to the vision for the park was incredible with a number of local residents offering to get involved. This is wonderful news because the garden will need a strong community involvement to come to fruition. Efforts will be needed now to raise funds for the project and in the longer term to actively create and then maintain the garden (even a low maintenance garden needs some tender-loving-care).
I look forward to getting involved in making the garden come to life and to seeing it develop. I also look forward to gardening alongside members of the community.
So, in case you did not make it to the consultation, the masterplan and a full description of the design, which makes the most of the site and its conditions can be seen here: Masterplan for James Street Community Garden.
This garden is for the community, so please get involved and also send in your comments by completing the online questionnaire by 30 April 2016 at: http://www.helensburghcommunitycouncil.co.uk.
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.
With Christmas over, I am now done with winter and am looking for any signs of spring - be it the tip of a snowdrop pushing skywards through the earth to shrubs in full flower. OK technically these are winter-flowering plants, but they bring me hope that warmer and lighter days are just round the corner.
Whilst pottering around my garden over the past few weeks, I have photographed some plants that have made me smile and in some cases break into song!
At the moment, the evergreen shrub Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ is flowering beautifully in my garden. The dainty clusters of white flowers, which open from buds tinged a pale pink, will go on bringing me daily joy well into spring. After flowering, this shrub provides a lovely backdrop to more floriferous perennials that come into their own in the late spring and summer months.
Laurus nobilis (aka bay tree) with it’s bright green evergreen leaves and red stems glows in the low winter sun and if trained into a particular shape, such as a lollipop, provides not only structure but interest in the garden year round. In my garden,
I have a characterful 8-year old lollipop bay tree in a container made from half a whisky barrel that stands proudly at the bottom of the steps to my kitchen along a south facing wall. Here, my bay tree is on hand to provide flavouring for winter soups and stews; in return, this location provides a sheltered spot from cold winds and frost and where she can happily soak up any sun with which we are blessed. In fact, this bay tree survived the two cold winters of 2009 and 2010 in this location without any additional protection.
As a lover of ferns, I have these prehistoric plants growing intentionally, as well as unintentionally all over my garden. Given the mild winter we have had so far, the small, semi-evergreen Dryopteris erythrosora is still looking stunning. From the open-arching shape of the clump to the copper-pink tones of the young fronds amidst the mature green fronds, this fern really lights up my woodland garden.
Another fern that is still going strong well into winter is Adiantum venustum. This fern has the most delicate of fronds that can add a lightness to a border. In my garden, this fern is growing well in a terracotta bulb bowl in the shade where it greats visitors to our house.
Hellebores can provide winter greenery under deciduous shrubs, but their large leaves also provide an interesting horizontal form. The unassuming bowl-shaped flowers, seemingly a little shy, come in a variety of colours. The ones I have in my garden at present (I am considering adding more to my garden on my next visit to the nursery) are the white variety Helleborus x hybridus 'Clear White'.
As I mentioned, these plants can provide winter greenery, though I had to remove quite a number of leaves that showed signs of being infected with a fungus that causes Hellebore leaf spot. Having fed the Hellebores with a good mulch of compost, I am hoping that the plants will be stronger to fight of this fungus in the coming year and they will be healthier. On the upside, removing these leaves lets me see the flowers a little better!
And finally (for now), Iris reticulata (possibly the variety 'George'), which I have growing in a pot on my back steps, is about to break into flower. This is early for even this early flowering dwarf iris. The mild December we experienced I am sure seduced it into bloom earlier than it normally would. And of course, no sooner than it raised it's beautiful head, did the weather change bringing with it snow and freezing nights. I really hope that the snow has protected the flower bud from the cold rather than causing it undue stress. Only time will tell......
As gardeners, we are manipulating nature to a greater or lesser degree, creating our perfect space to live and play in. Some do this with a plan on paper others do it as they go along. But once created, no garden is static - it changes from month to month, season to season, year on year. We are working with living organisms that grow, reproduce, and die.
And with these changes we see seedlings appear, self seeded from one parent or another, borders fill out and dappled shade cast as the canopies of shrubs and trees grow.
For some, this creates a plethora of interest and opportunity. Unexpected, but pleasant planting combinations may arise from self-seeders moving into a gap in a border or existing plants vegetatively moving around the garden; new planting conditions may arise that allow for different plants to thrive; and spaces may open up for the inclusion of yet more plants!
For others, this change creates a mountain of stress because the garden is changing beyond the original plan. Of course, no amount of planning and designing will halt the tide of change, and trying to keep it to plan will result in a lot of work.
Nevertheless, we should, no need, to delicately tweak our gardens through seasonal maintenance to prevent our gardens returning to their native form - in this country it would be woodland, to increase vigour of the plants in our care, and to keep with some kind of plan, even if it is a naturalistic one.
I feel we should embrace the expected as well as unexpected changes in our garden and see them as opportunities to create new experiences rather than hindrances to our original ideas. By doing this, we will feel more connected to our gardens and to nature around us.