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!
Despite less than desirable weather, I ventured to Rhu to visit the garden of Glebeside House, which was open as part of the Scotland’s Gardens Scheme. Divided into fluid ‘rooms’ by a pergola, a very impressive laburnum archway, and palatial beds brimming with plants, this garden was definitely worth a visit.
I first travelled behind the house, passing a standing dead tree trunk clothed in Clematis tangutica, carpets of Alchemilla mollis, and a lemon-flowered nasturtium (among many other things). Here, I loved the use of a mixed shrub border of Cotinus, Camelia, Sambucus, and peony that gave the illusion of depth, blurring the boundary and disguising the neighbouring Cupressus x leylandii hedge.
Raised beds, newly built in stone outside the renovated washhouse were filled with plants that complemented each other in colour, and contrasted in form, from the large lowering pale pink Clematis, to the purple Salvia, Lavandula, and Viola, and a crimson Fuchsia. Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and the bronze-coloured Carex testaeca gave a restful break in the riot of colour.
In the shady part of the garden, a Weigela, clipped into a dome shape, and the broad leaved hostas provided the perfect foil to allow the various ferns in this part of the garden to sing. Other shady areas included Gunnera sp. underplanted with hostas, and a Tree fern underplanted with Epidmedium and ferns, among other things. I noticed that there were a number of different fern varieties, as well as hostas, Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, and Epimedium (possibly E. rubrum) repeated in other shady parts of the garden, under trees and large shrubs, adding a sense of unity amongst the planting.
The shady borders led through the laburnum archway, not at its best this time of the year as the yellow chandelier-like flowers are now over but I am assured it is a sight to be seen. However, the beautifully sculpted pergola provided a wonderful support for winter-flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) - just green at this time of the year, honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), and a wild rose of sorts with red hips that were starting to swell.
Mixed borders are clearly favoured at Glebeside House, and rightly so. Mixtures of the odd Rhododendron, a green backdrop at this time of the year, a reddish-purple acer, a variety of Salix alba underplanted with a red Phormium, Astrantia, and Lysimachia punctutata. In the sunny border, a purple pittosporum was intermixed with Campanula, Achillea, and Fuchsia. The trees and shrubs providing structure year-round, coming into their own at various times of the year, and acting as a calming backdrop during the summer season when the herbaceous perennials run riot.
On complimenting the owner, Peter Proctor, on his garden, he said, “you know, this is a high maintenance garden”, which he told me that he does get to enjoy of an evening over a (well-deserved, might I add) glass of wine. All-in-all, the garden was a wonder to explore, a complete delight, and I could have spent much longer there. Roll on next year when I can visit again!
Visiting flower shows is a wonderful way to get inspiration for your own garden. I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the RHS Tatton Park flower show 2015 during the final stages of the build as well as pop in for a flying visit on my way south, after the show had opened.
Tatton stages a number of competitions not seen at the other RHS shows, such as the Young Designer of the Year. This year, the theme was an English country garden, and that’s just what Tamara Bridge’s ‘The Sunset Garden’ evoked. Tamara was awarded the coveted title and was also awarded a Gold medal. Marrying a formal layout and lush planting, there was a lot to like. In this garden, I loved the planting, and in particular the planting combination of a burgundy Penstemon with Gaura lindheimeri - gorgeous!
The circular design of young designer Kate Savill’s Gold-medal winning ‘Time is a Healer’ garden encouraged an inward focus. I liked this - the sunken seating area with its central water pool that was enclosed almost entirely with mixed planting providing a place for contemplation and engagement.
I often hear - “I just don’t get it” - when referring to the conceptual gardens at flower shows. But not this year. The three conceptual gardens were fantastic, with their messages clear even without the brief in front of you, and wonderful planting to boot. They were all awarded Gold!
The year of light was the basis of the three conceptual gardens at this year's show. The light catcher garden by Sharon Hockenhull was awarded best conceptual garden, and was my personal favourite. The light and airy planting in iridescent purples, whites and yellows, which was to die for so to speak, softened the almost harsh but sculptural PVC clad metal arbour. Despite it’s conceptual nature, I could see this garden incorporated into my own back garden (well, almost - the wet climate here would see off most of the lovely grasses)!
Helen Elks-Smith and Kate Hart’s fun garden ‘Reflecting Photonics’ used the colour of their planting and sculpture and the contours of their garden to enhance their message about cutting edge research at Southampton University on fibre optic research. As a scientist (my first love), I was pleased to see a show garden as a platform for public outreach!
The large show gardens that stood out for me were the Perennial Legacy garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brooke's and R-Space, a garden for a large family, designed by Pip Probert.
The perennial legacy garden, awarded best in show, was inspired by large English country estate, and as with such an estate, it could not all be viewed in one go, adding intrigue and interest. Large stately Ginkgo biloba trees and tall shrubs and herbaceous perennials, such as Physocarpus and Veronicastrum, within the long borders obscured views, and making the garden feel much larger than it was. A sculpture nestled within one of the borders at the end of a narrow path drew my eye across the garden, adding depth. Behind the pavilion, which was viewed along the length of the garden flanked on either side by the long borders, was the kitchen garden and gardeners bothy. This garden was one to explore - if only I was given the chance!
R-space, designed by Pip Probert was a garden to love and one you could have at home. This beautiful garden used repetition of form, colour of planting within the expansive mixed borders, and an angular path to direct the eye and add movement to the garden, whilst providing an ample lawn for lounging or playing. A water fall and rill, which ran under the dining table, added interest in the dining area, which indeed could hold a large family!
In contrast to the richly planted, vibrant borders, Pip created areas around the dining area that were planted with a limited palette, such as the lilac Verbena bonariensis, blue Agapanthus and Carex 'Ice Dance' as underplanting to the lollipop Ligustrum trees, pink Echinacea and Anemanthele lessoniana, and Lavendula with Carex ‘Ice Dance’ creating an area that was calm. One could spend hours in here, gardening as well as relaxing!
Last but not least, the small, but perfectly formed back-to-back gardens. My favourite was ‘A Quiet Corner’ by Anna Murphy and Sarah Jarman. I loved the use of pewter grey render on the wall, which provided the perfect backdrop for the subdued and calming planting palette. However, in amongst the planting were a few gems - such as Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’ These designers really showed restraint on their planting, but it paid off - they were awarded Gold and best back-to-back garden.
I very much enjoyed speaking with and being inspired by the designers and their gardens. I only wish I could have spent more time there as I missed so much! Still, there is always next year......
Whilst cycling round Helensburgh, I came across the most delightful sight - a strip of plants, commonly associated with the margins of a pond or water course, happily growing within a mown grass verge!
Helensburgh’s many wide grass verges often have a swale, or narrow depression, that runs parallel to the road to catch road-water run off. An innovative local resident had in fact planted up the swale in his adopted verge using plants such as Darmera peltata, Primula, Rodgersia, Iris, and Miscanthus, all of which would all thrive in these damp conditions.
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.