EAT YOUR GARDEN

Most of us are trying to get our garden to work for us in many ways – somewhere to sit, somewhere to eat, somewhere for the kids to kick a football, somewhere to plant flowers, somewhere to store the bikes, lawnmower, BBQ etc. And so the list goes on, with so many things to squeeze in.

One of the most important functions for me is somewhere to grow some fruit and veg. I have a standard town garden so making sure everything is efficiently planned and looks great is essential. Over the years I have honed the veg plot in my garden to be the most efficient and productive as well as looking good at the same time.

So lets start with fruit, possibly the best producer for the least amount of effort. The most efficient fruit producers for space usage are trained fruit trees and bushes. The main ones include red currents, tayberries, blackberries, gooseberries, figs, plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots, apples and pears. There are other more unusual varieties as well but these are the easiest and most common.

For now we will cover apple trees. These are bred in the nurseries by grafting a stem onto a dwarfing rootstock to restrict their growth. This ensures that they put their energy into producing fruit rather than growth and without this they would take years before they come into fruit production and would end up as very large trees. There are several different types with varying amounts of dwarfing properties to suit any location from a pot to an open field. There are loads of different corresponding training forms but the easiest are cordons, espaliers and fan trained which will come on the relevant root stock.

Beautifully trained fan fruit tree

Beautifully trained fan fruit tree

In my garden I have a few super columns (also known as ballerinas) that are grown and pruned as a single vertical column that grows to about 7ft tall and takes up little space but still produce loads of fruit soon after planting. These can even be planted as close as 60cm (2ft) apart. Here’s a picture of the ‘Saturn’ variety of apple tree that I have in my garden.

Vertical cordon apple tree

Vertical cordon apple tree

This year it produced around 100 apples. And let’s just clarify that these are apples that taste amazing, crisp and sweet – the supermarket variety are not a patch on these. There are not many things better than walking out into your garden and eating an apple straight from the tree.

As well as being productive they produce loads of gorgeous blossom in the spring to rival ornamental cherry trees and of course attractive fruit to look at later on. You can plant bare routed fruit trees from mid November to March and pot grown any time of year. I will be posting a ‘quick and easy’ YouTube guide on how to plant a bare routed fruit tree soon.

Over the next year I’m going to be blogging about how to get the most fruit and veg out of your garden and I will be posting on YouTube a series of ‘quick and easy gardening’ guides on how to plant various fruit and veg – a total beginners guide in easy to understand language. So please check out my YouTube channel. You can also see my quick and easy guide on how to prune a trained apple or pear tree here

Happy gardening.

Brett

A QUICK AND EASY GUIDE TO PRUNING

Autumn is a great time to get out in the garden and give it a thorough tidy up before winter sets in. As part of this tidy up you should be pruning back your fruit trees and Wisteria in order to maximise fruit and flower production for next year. Late summer to early Autumn is a good time to be doing this pruning. I am often asked how and when to prune various plants so I have started posting tutorials on YouTube showing you what to do.

Check out my latest tutorials:

Simple guide to pruning a climbing Wisteria plant https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWQhiO8ePL0

Simple guide on how to prune a trained apple or pear tree https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynI3wCxpWg

The basics of pruning are really very simple. Both of these YouTube tutorials last under 3 minutes so do give them a look and please do subscribe to me on YouTube so you don’t miss out on any more of my ‘Simple Guides’ in the future. Happy pruning!

Brett and the team

Festive Cheer! Brighten up your garden ready for the festive season.

December is here!  Do you look out of your window and see how sad your garden is looking?  Are you ready to inject some festive cheer to your outside space as well as inside?

If the answer is YES then please read on.

It’s winter and its usually dark when we go to work, dark when we come home.  Our gardens are in a dormant state and looking rather bleak.  Here are a few ideas to inject light, colour and festive fun!

konstsmide_led_light_set_with_40x_white_led_stars_2062-200_mediumLight it up!

  • A simple and very effective way to add a bit of twinkle to your garden is to purchase a couple of sets of fairy lights and wrapping them around your trees and bushes.  You can now get lights that work on battery power or solar power so even quicker and easier to fit.
  • Put storm lanterns on your patio filled with church candles and pebbles or baubles and tinsel to add warmth and colour to your outside dining area.

 

konstsmide_copper_coloured_metal_wreath_45_leds_2891-603_1024x1024Christmas Decorations.

  • Plant your boxes, tubs and hanging baskets with a Christmas theme.  Mini Conifer Trees or Mini Christmas Trees complete with baubles surrounded by Cyclamen and Winter Pansies for that all important injection of colour!
  • An outdoor Christmas tree decorated with all the trimmings to add that extra special touch of glamour.
  • Create a festive centrepiece for your garden table using holly and fir, ribbons and glitter.
  • Hang a luxurious Christmas wreath from your door for that extra special welcome.
  • Use ribbons, bunting, stars, pine cones, twigs, beads or baubles to liven up any tree or hedge.

 

konstsmide_reindeer_figure_in_snow_next_to_lit_tree_6166-203_mediumSomething for the children

  • Why leave that mysterious elf on the shelf?  Why not put him in the bushes or the trees?  Can they find him hiding?
  • How about a wooden Reindeer hiding amongst the borders?
  • Light the way for Father Christmas and his sleigh with runway lights!
  • Decorate their Wendy House or Den.
  • Create a nativity scene.

Allow their imaginations to run wild and get creative this Christmas!

We hope that you have a wonderful time whatever you decide to do in your garden for the festive season!

From Brett & the rest of the team

Bringing the outside in or taking the inside out?

Making the most of the space you live in.

Craving some space?  Looking for somewhere to work? Feeling overcrowded?  There are many reasons why we are looking to improve the space that we live in.  Modern day life has seen our children staying at home well into adulthood, more of us now work from home and our family homes are bursting at the seams.   With house prices at an all-time high and the rising costs of moving more and more of us are staying put and putting our efforts into improving our homes by extending or constructing to create new spaces.

In the past 10 years the average costs of moving have risen by 25%. Stamp duty can set you back thousands of pounds. For example: the stamp duty on a house costing £450k is £12.5k.  Then you have all of the other moving costs. Legal Costs, Estate Agency fees, Removals, Mortgage Evaluation and Arrangement, Surveys etc.  All in all, the cost of moving could set you back in the region of £25-£30k!   Think of what you could achieve by spending that improving your current home.

Our gardens are often the largest space we have in our home.  There are many different ways in which we can zone and utilise different areas of our gardens to create extra rooms and spaces.

Outside Dining

Adding a retractable awning to your patio area means that you can still dine outside whatever the weather.

Lounge

Creating a sunken lounge with big soft cushions, warm blankets and a fire pit to keep you cosy on a chilly evening. A great way to socialise, relax and enjoy the garden well into the evening.  It is also a great place for enjoying the sunshine by stretching out and catching a few rays during the day.

Outside Kitchens

With cooking being one of the nation’s favourite pastimes. Having an all in entertainment space complete with a wood fired oven, built in BBQ and grill ensures you have everything at your fingertips for making a feast!  Being able to relax and engage with your guests while making your culinary delights means that you won’t miss a thing.

Pergolas

Make a design statement in your garden by adding a pergola.  These impressive structures can be used to create definition within your garden.  If you have been struggling to zone your garden, then a pergola could be the answer for you.  They can be left open to allow the climbing and trailing plants to cover over time but if you want to be able to use this area all year round then you may want to consider one of the many types of retractable covers now available.

Garden Rooms

If you are looking for the WOW factor, a great way is to take the inside out is by adding a stunning garden room.  They are stylish, easy to construct and typically they do not require planning permission.  Top uses for garden rooms are:

Home Office / Workspace

With an estimated 4.5 million of us now working from home, creating the right environment for us to work in is essential.  The beauty of having a home office is you can have a dedicated space to work in and at the end of the day you can shut the door and walk away.  The added bonus of having a home office is a stress free commute and no travel costs!

Workout Studio

Having a home gym has so many benefits.  You get to work out at a time convenient to you.  You can create the right environment for you to work out in.  You choose the music, the pace, the type of workout and who sees you work out! No waiting around for a certain piece of equipment to be free to use. No one looking at you and judging your workout abilities and no monthly membership fees.

Play Room

Allowing your children space to play in is essential.  Adding a space which has the ability to grow as your children do is a wonderful solution.  A special place, designed with your children in mind where they are free to play in a safe environment.  A room where they can have all of their toys and easy access to outside space.  Children love to play in the garden so having a room in the garden where they can freely move inside and out is ideal.

Entertainment Space

With entertaining at home becoming more popular a “party room” is a great addition to your home.  Having a garden bar adds the wow factor to your parties.  Creating a space to entertain your family and friends whatever the weather!  Great for dinner parties, barbeques, music and drinks.  You can have this all set up and ready to open the doors whenever you choose.

Den

Having a place to escape to within your own home is such a luxury.  Creating a den where you can relax in a quieter environment away from the main house can be just the space you need.  Creating a room where you can enjoy different views of your garden, curl up and read a book, create a home cinema if its films you like, a space for your teenagers to socialise, the list of den uses is endless.

If you are considering making improvements to your outside home, why not contact me for a free consultation

Bee Friendly

With many of our gardens being over groomed and modernised our bees are in decline. The maintenance free minimalistic gardens mean that many of our bees are in trouble. Also, our farmland has lost a lot of its natural variety with large fields being planted with a single crop replacing the smaller wider variety crops and hedgerows that bees need. This has resulted in the extinction of more than 20 varieties of bees. Several other varieties of bees still remain at risk.

With farmers being encouraged to sow their field margins with nectar and pollen rich wild flower mix to create flower rich habitats for bees and other insects as part of The National Pollinator Strategy for further information click here

It makes sense that we should follow suit in our own gardens.By following a few simple steps you can easily make your garden or at least a section of it a more friendly environment for our busy little buzzers.

Go for variety: There are a huge number of bee friendly plants available such as: – holly hocks, honeysuckle, lilac, buddleia, clematis …. there is a huge list! Go for single flower head types of flowers rather than doubles.

Single flower form -good for pollinators

Daisy & butterfly

Double flower form- pollinators cannot get to the nectar

double Peony

Garden centres often have great labels to show which plants are nectar and pollen rich varieties.

Consider your seasons: Like you, bees need food and shelter all year around.  Providing even just one bee house or nesting box is fun and easy to do and will provide winter shelter for hibernating Queen Bees as well as a home in the busy summer months.

Our new bee post prototype soon to be on sale – All the holes were full of solitary bee eggs by the end of last season!

15 10 16- phone pictures 018

Create a meadow: Instead of mowing all of your lawn why not leave an area to grow and form a natural meadow state. Or why not go the whole hog and replace some of your lawn with Wildflower turf for a greater mix of beautiful bee friendly native flowers.

wild flower meadow

Have a conservation section: Section an area of your garden purely for conservation.  Provide planting, water and shelter within this area and watch your wildlife thrive.

Minimise the use of pesticides:  Ideally stop using pesticides or at the very least use less pesticides and allow nature to do its job.

With little effort these beautiful essential buzzy Bees can be given a helping hand.

How to Choose a Landscape Gardener or Garden Designer

Choosing a landscape gardener or a garden designer is a daunting task.  It’s hard enough deciding on the changes you want to make to your beloved garden, let alone choosing the person who is going to implement them.

Over the years I’ve talked to numerous clients and I know what it is like to be in their shoes.  As a result I’ve put together some, hopefully helpful, advice on what to consider when choosing a garden designer or landscape designer.

  1. DO go for one organisation if you can. Most projects, big and small, involve both design and landscaping elements.  I really advocate using someone who has expertise in both areas.  “Of course you are going to say that” the cynical reader will say. Yes, but let me justify it.

 

design & build image

It makes sense to have one person working with you to see your vision through to the final stage of completion. If one person is able to provide an excellent design, and work with and employ the landscaping team, and oversee the sourcing of plants and materials, then that person will be able to keep control of the budget and schedule.  For example, a designer may not know the best place to source turf, or how to get a digger or skip at short notice.   A landscaper may not know the best plants to thrive in a shady corner.  One person with expertise in both areas means that problems are more likely to be avoided from the outset. And for the client, having to deal with one person is easier,  cheaper, quicker and less stressful.

  1. DO research. DON’T rely on word of mouth and recommendations from friends and family alone. DO check out websites and in particular look at accreditations – these can help sort out the “cowboys” from the professionals.  For example I recently undertook a lot of time and effort to join the APL – Association of Professional Landscapers.  I had to provide 6 recent project references, undertake a sit down interview, have my work closely examined, safety & business systems checked etc.  An accreditation is a recognition of high standards, expertise and good practice. It seems remarkable that anyone can set themselves up as a landscaper or garden designer without any prior requirement for qualifications or experience!
  1. DO always ask for references, at least two, and talk to the referees directly. A telephone call or, even better, a site visit, will go a long way in helping to make a decision.  Another good indication is case studies on the website, as these are only supplied by happy clients.
  1. DO spend time preparing your brief. The contractor will measure up but it is good to have an idea of the size of your garden.  Also, if possible,  knowledge of frost, drainage, wind and soil conditions are helpful for providing a better quotation.  And try to be as specific as possible.  Always keep at the forefront “What is it I really want?”
  1. DO go for three quotations or estimates. This will provide a feel for costs and also will show you, by comparing the quotations, who has got a better understanding of the brief. Ensure you give the same information to all three so that you can easily compare and they are pricing like for like.

    Detailed Bill of quantities provided with our quotations

    Detailed Bill of quantities provided with our quotations

  1. DON’T lose sight of what it is you want to achieve. A good designer will inspire you, and DO use their expertise and advise, but DON’T let them lead you astray –as this will impact on cost and time.  If the original idea was for an outdoor seating area, don’t get misled by water features and huge new borders.  Good design is endless; unfortunately money and time are not!
  1. DO talk through the quotations with the candidates. At this point you will start sharing your vision, and talking through your brief to three different contractors or designers will give you an understanding of costs, but more importantly will give you a feel for who you can develop the best working relationship with. Avoid using contractors with fag packet quotes. They should have a detailed quotation clearly laid out with all the elements listed so both parties know what has been included and you are not caught out with costly extras missed from the original price.
  1. DON’T try and haggle or play contractors off against each other. In this industry I can guarantee that cheaper does not mean better – by trying to cut costs with garden design and landscaping, you will be paying for it later.  If a quote seems expensive then ask the contractor why. A good designer/ landscaper wants a mutually beneficial working relationship based on trust, as much as the client does. Often a cheaper alternative tweak of the design or use of materials can be offered.
  1. DO ask the designer/contractor about legislation and building requirements. A good contractor will know if planning permission is required, or if a new fence is going to cause a traffic blind spot, or what compliance is needed with regard to drainage on driveways and around the house.  Also DO get everything in writing – all costs, timetables, and assurances.

I hope these points help.  Most professionals want to provide the best job for their clients and to leave behind something they are proud of, and will look good in years to come.  The whole process, from deciding what you want to when the first spade is put in the ground, can be a long process, up to several weeks rather than days, so be prepared for that.  The more time you take in the process – the better the result will be.  If your chosen contractor/designer cannot start work for a few weeks, then this is an endorsement in itself.  And waiting a few weeks for what could potentially last a lifetime is surely worth it.

 

 

Bye for now – Brett

Up the garden path

Paths.  Yawn.  On first consideration – boring.  However a path can be a garden’s backbone – essential in giving definition, dividing or uniting elements as well as providing access.  A path is one of the most prominent design features of a garden, and ideally it is decorative as well as durable.

A slippery, cracked & poorly designed path in need of a re-vamp.

A slippery, cracked & poorly designed path in need of a re-vamp.

A badly designed or poorly maintained path can “undo” the whole garden, dragging it down to look shabby.  In addition paths can become hazardous if they are slippery or uneven.

When designing a path I avoid a dead straight line as this cuts the garden unless I am using it for dramatic effect.  Soft curves are much better and more interesting.  If you are using slabs then the angle of the path is dictated by the curved slabs available – never try and cut a curve yourself, it won’t work.  A professional design trick is to vary the width of the path – for dramatic effect designers will widen the path slightly when coming to a focal point in the garden or when approaching steps or a patio.  The narrowing of a path away from the house will also make the garden appear longer.

The width of the path is important – do you want it as a functional path to get between beds as with a vegetable plot?  I advise a width where it is easy to kneel comfortably between beds – most gardeners advocate at least the width of a wheelbarrow or 2 ft/60cms.  Although you may want as much space as possible for growing plants and want to keep paths to a minimum, you will regret it later if the path is too narrow.  A rule of thumb used to be that the more a path is used, the wider it should be – and 4ft was a good width for two people.  However with a range of materials available a narrow path can be as durable as a wide path.

Materials used for the path have to be right for the garden style – and should either complement or deliberately contrast with other hard landscape features.  In addition the materials should be appropriate for the amount of traffic the path has to withstand.

Here are my pro’s and con’s with popular path materials:

Gravel – gravel will travel unless edged properly. It is relatively cheap, comes in a range of soft colours, and is ideal for light to medium traffic.  It is not ideal for sloping paths (rain will wash it downhill), for coming up to the house (it will be walked in), and it can be used as a litter tray by cats, and small children cannot resist playing with it.

A nice cost effective gravel path.

A nice cost effective gravel path.

Sharp edged gravel will lock together and not move around as much as smooth gravel.  Weeds eventually creep in. My favourite is 10mm or 20mm golden gravel because of the warmth of the colour.  Gravel works well in either formal or informal gardens.

Concrete – this used to be unpopular as can look plain and because of its permanent nature – but those were the old days and concrete now can be fantastic in modern or highly stylized gardens and has become trendy again.  It is ideal for heavy traffic, can accommodate interesting design shapes, curves and angles, and is the most low maintenance of paths.

Contemporary looking concrete steps and stepping stone path

Contemporary looking concrete steps and stepping stone path

A colouring agent can improve the colour and the surface can be roughened before setting to give texture and better grip.  Concrete begins setting in two hours.  As there is little room for error I would advise using a professional landscape gardener to lay it.

Bricks – an extremely ornamental but expensive material.  This works best for narrower paths and is good for light to medium traffic.  The use of red brick is very popular in pottagers, cottage gardens, country gardens and vegetable beds.

Brick paths can be used to great effect

Brick paths can be used to great effect as seen here

There are traditional design patterns such as running bond (see photo), which can be used for straight or curved paths and which draws the eye along it, or parquet and herringbone which are used for larger areas and are more ornamental, giving a formal look.  Bricks work well when combined with slabs and concrete.  A firm foundation is necessary and weather-proof bricks are needed to withstand frost.  Again I would advise getting professional help.

Earth paths – these work very well in sheltered gardens with good drainage and a lot of sun.  They give a rustic effect, are low maintenance if the soil is compact, and complement a naturalistic planting style.  The path shown here was in “A Perfumer’s Garden” at RHS Chelsea this year.

'A Perfumers Garden' -RHS Chelseas 2015

‘A Perfumers Garden’ -RHS Chelsea 2015

Green paths – grass, thyme, chamomile or clover – either singularly or in combination, provide soft walkways through borders and work well for light traffic.  These are cheap but are high maintenance as they need mowing, and regular aeration to avoid compaction.  Also there is a danger that, even with edging, the plants can invade beds.  Anti-slip grass mesh, or grass pavers, can provide a stronger pathway for medium traffic.  This provides a more solid foundation allowing the grass to grow through.

Slabs – including pre-cast paving slabs, Porcelain, natural stone and pre-cast paving. In my previous blog, “The Crazy World of Paving”, I explain about the differences between natural and pre-cast slabs.  Natural stone – such as sandstone – gives a very stylish, expensive look – but it is hard to cut cleanly, is heavy and needs a lot of foundation preparation.  Pre-cast slabs come in a variety of styles and colours and are much cheaper and lighter.  Slabs are ideal for medium to heavy traffic but must be laid correctly to avoid issues of puddles, drainage, cracks and sloping.  A softer effect can be created by allowing plants such as thyme to grow up between cracks. Stones may need to be treated to avoid algae and greening.

Mulched paths – in the larger garden centres there is a growing choice of mulching materials made from wood.  These can range from simple bark chips to wood shavings to bio-mulch.  The more chippings, the better the drainage and the suppression of weeds.  Bark chipping paths are usually good for 2 – 3 years, are cheap, and don’t need a lot of site preparation – they can be laid in a shallow trench over landscape membrane.  The chippings can also be composted after use.

Bark mulch paths are cheap and fit a woodland setting.

Bark mulch paths are cheap and fit a woodland setting.

These paths work well in wildlife gardens, allotments or between raised beds, and in “wilderness” areas.  They are good for producing pathways that softly blend in with the planting.  However, as with gravel, the chippings may travel or attract cats.

Rounded stones or cobbles – these have become unfashionable in recent years but can look amazing when combined with other materials, such as rounded polished stones, modern slabs or bricks.

Cobble paths can be highly decorative.

Cobble paths can be highly decorative.

Set in cement the cobbles can give a soft informal path of muted colours, however they can be uncomfortable to walk on and slippery when wet or icy.

Setts  – these are small paving blocks made of stone, or imitation stone.  They are like small bricks and can create a lovely tapestry in either formal or random patterns.  They are hard-wearing and highly decorative – but they are expensive, fiddly to lay and may become uneven over time.

At RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year I was very impressed with how paths had been made glamorous (but not very practical!!).  Chris Bearshaw incorporated water jets in his path – which although highly slippery – made the polished stone shine and glisten.

This years Chelsea Flower show garden entry for Chris Beardshaw featured water jets in the path.

This years Chelsea Flower show garden entry for Chris Beardshaw featured water jets in the path.

Paths needn’t be boring.  They can be fun, they can lure, they can be pretty.  So look at your garden path with fresh eyes – you never know where it may lead you.

Bye for now – Brett

 

 

Planting for Shade

At this time of year when our sunlit beds and borders are ablaze with colour it is easy to ignore the shady corners of the garden.  But there is no reason why these should not quietly shine too.   All it takes is good design and careful plant selection.

There are different types of shade, so first of all define which one you are dealing with.  Light, partial, moderate or deep?  As defined by the RHS I will be addressing deep or moderate (dappled) shade that receives no direct light at any time of day.

Spring is the best time for shade loving plants as they have evolved to flower before the leaf buds break on the branches above them.  I advise people to be content with a pretty display in Spring and then let your shady areas take backstage to the sunlit borders.   This doesn’t mean they should look patchy or awful – they can still be interesting and look great.  These are a few ideas:

Ground Cover

Vinca minor 'Ralph Shugert'

Vinca Minor ‘Ralph Shugert’

Ground cover plants are programmed to spread.  I advise against Hedera helix (ivy), Hypericum (Rose of Sharon apart from @Hidcote’ which is well behaved) and Vinca major (periwinkle) as they are difficult to control.  I like Vinca minor ‘Ralph Shugert’ as it is not as invasive and has a silver variegated leaf which works well in shade.  Lily of the valley is good but needs moisture especially when setting flower and takes a couple of years to establish.  I usually turn to the Ajuga reptans and Lamiums.  My favourites are Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Pewter’ for its silver leaves and long flowering period.  I also love Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’ – for the name and for its intense blue miniature spires.

Ajuga reptans 'Chocolate Chip'

Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolte Chip’

Lamium maculatum 'Pink Pewter'

Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Pewter’

 

 

 

 

 

Impossible shade

For me this is shade under an evergreen conifer.  The ground is dry, dark and covered in acidic needles.  I would not try and grow anything but rather hide the damage.  For these areas I would propose planting pots (but avoiding hostas).  I like Tiarella “Inkblot” with any of the purple leaved heucheras, with a small silver leaved trailing ivy or dwarf Japanese painted fern, Athyrium ‘Silver Slippers’.  Add impatiens for a splash of colour or begonias but they will need watering.  In my mind, ferns are fantastic.  They work in pots, are structural and can work by themselves or be combined.  I particularly like Gymnocarpium dryopteris and evergreen Blechnum spicant.

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

 

Athyrium 'Silver carpet'

Athyrium ‘Silver Carpet’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Large Dark Corner

This is the area of shade that isn’t under a canopy but still in shade, like a north-facing fence or corner between two walls.  Hydrangeas (provided the ground is not too dry) are made for this type of area, as are Camellias, Sarcococcas and Viburnums.  Although some websites recommend fuchsias and skimmias, I find that these work better in partial shade with more moisture.  Another favourite that gives winter interest is Garrya eliptica- or the silk tassle bush.  Like some of the viburnums however, this can become enormous so give it room.

Viburnum acerifolium

Viburnum acerifolium gives spring blossom, lovely lush green leaves in summer and spectacular Autumn Colour.

Year Round Interest

It is possible to have year round interest in a shady bed, but make sure that the bed is annually well prepared with moisture retaining, rich compost.  Most plants that have adapted for shade are woodland plants that grow on soil full of organic matter.  By replicating what nature provides in the wild in your garden, you will have a better chance of success.

Spring:  It’s all about bulbs.  Take your pick from shade loving primroses, wood anemones, cyclamens, English bluebells, snow drops, dogtooth violets, and winter aconites.   These can peep up through evergreen ground cover of the Ajuga and Lamium quite happily.

Summer: Think foliage not flowers.  I like silver variated foliage to lighted up a dark corner (but golds work just as well) or lush, green shiny foliage to reflect the light.  I choose heucheras, tiarellas, epimediums, any brunnera macrophylla – good, hardy, low maintenance perennials that deliver and all of which work well together in different combinations. The perfect tried and tested combination is Alchemilla mollis with any of the long flowering purply-blue Geraniums, like ‘Johnson’s Blue.’

Alchemilla & Geranium

Autumn: Japanese anemones flower late summer into Autumn and come in a range of pinks and whites.  Foxgloves that have been cut down after summer flowering sometimes have a second autumnal show.  The Autumn crocus is reliable, and I like Colchicum luteum, though it may flop.

 

Colchicum luteum

Colchicum Luteum

Height can be provided by Polygonatum (Solomons Seal) in late Spring, followed by Digitalis (Foxgloves) and then with Japanese Anemones in late Summer/Autumn.

Planting combinations for dry shade

White and purple Hellebores can be followed by a combination of Geranium phaeum ‘album’ and/or ‘raven’, mixed with Tiarella ‘Neon Lights’ and Heuchera ‘Cajun Fire.’

Another combination is Lamium ‘album’ which goes well with Geranium maculatum.

Dicentra ‘Bacchanal’ goes with Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ and can be mixed with Lamium album – this works in a pot or bed.

Dicentra 'Bacchanal'

Dicentra ‘Bacchanal’

 

Epimedium 'Lilafee'

Epimedium ‘Lilafee’

The soft lilac of Lunaria redivia works well with the blue spires of Ajuga.

Finally, in summer a mix of  Astrantia major ‘Sunningdale variegated’ and foliage from Tiarella cordifolia creates a summer tapestry of foliage and flowers.

Astrantia 'Sunningdale variegated'

Astrantia ‘Sunningdale variegated’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dicentra 'Bacchanal'

Dicentra ‘Bacchanal’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next blog:  How to Choose your Path

THE INSPIRED BY CHELSEA BLOG From “Designer” to “Do-able”

Back from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show I am fired up with inspiration and new ideas.

 

It fascinates me that there is definite “trending” in plants every year and this is very apparent at RHS Chelsea.  This year there were the usual purples, whites and zippy greens, but there were more powerful splashes of colour using Primulas, Geums (Totally Tangerine and Princess Juliana), Irises and Foxtail Lillies.  Grasses had a shout too (especially silver green varieties of Deschampia) and also ferns as foils were back in fashion.  I was drawn to the sinister but beautiful darker ports and burgundies.  There were the usual suspects of Geranium phaeum, Cercium rivulare and red astrantia contrasted with hostas and euphorbias.  But there were some more unusual appearances from the gorgeous Papaver “Blackcurrant Fizz’, some sumptuous burgundy irises and the amazing Angelica sylvestris “Ebony”.

 

Morgan stanley Healthy City Garden

Morgan Stanley Healthy City Garden by Chris Beardshaw

 

This year it was not the planting but the structures, walls and seating that inspired me the most.  It reminded me that good garden design ought to be focused not just around the plants but also on features that contribute aesthetically and functionally.

 

Walls and fences are as important as staging to the cast of plants in the border and nowhere is this more apparent than at Chelsea.  These seemingly impossible and impossibly expensive backdrops need not be reproduced but could be adapted and downscaled to fit in a more modest garden.

 

There is inspiration to be taken by Marcus Barnett’s De Stijl inspired panelling which acts as a backdrop both to the planting and seating.  This could be reproduced using panels on an existing wall, by painting onto a wall, or even just etching black lines on a white concrete wall.

The telegraph Garden by marcuss Barnett

In contrast to the modernity of the De Stijl panels is this simple, rustic wall in the L’Occitane Garden.  I love the contrast and “soft” texture of the wall that makes it a subtle non-intrusive backdrop to the planting.  Again this would be easy to replicate in a quiet corner or along a boundary and would work equally in a town or country garden.

Beautiful textural wall in the  “A perfumers Garden in Grasse by LOccitaine” – Chelsea flower show 2015

This “chimney” caught my eye – I love the use of the wall buttress against the wooden fencing  – the dry-stone brickwork is cleverly repeated in the edging of the gravel path – and it adds height and solidity to the ethereal soft planting below.

 

Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Mathew Wilson

Royal Bank of Canada Garden by Mathew Wilson

In the Viking Ocean Cruise garden most eyes were upon the mirror sculpture.  However look beyond to the purple panelling – this works with the wooden decking – the key is in the symmetry of all the pieces working together.  This could be reproduced with formal planting of box and silver birch in a city garden, or would also work with a cottage garden border.

 

Viking ocean cruises garden

Viking ocean cruises garden

In addition to walls and fencing, most gardens incorporate a seat or seating area.  Again I was inspired by how seating spaces were created as well as the materials and aesthetic design of the seats themselves.  I think the best was seen in the L’Occitane Garden – I loved the deceptive simplicity of the layout of the garden and how the seating seemed casually placed under the shade of the tree, but was actually the focal element of the planting and framed by the walled rill.

 

Secluded seating area in the "A perfumers Garden in Grasse"

Secluded seating area in the “A perfumers Garden in Grasse”

This feature caught my eye and I love its duality.  There is the modern and the traditional – i.e. the concrete on top of the rustic dry stone walling.  There is the dual use of it being a wall and a seat together.  Finally it would work as a standalone feature in the centre of a lawn as well as infront of or behind a border.  Simple but multi-functional.

 

Multi functional bench in the Cloudy Bay Garden by the Rich Brothers

Multi functional bench in the Cloudy Bay Garden by the Rich Brothers

Although we can’t all have the wonderful outdoors room of Adam Frost or the fun and functional glass bubble of the Rich brothers we can always incorporate some design element from RHS Chelsea into our gardens.  We love the “wow” factor plants provide because it’s not permanent – but surely we can incorporate a more permanent “wow” into our gardens with a seat or wall or path?  Or it could be something subtle to compliment the ‘wow” of the our plants.  It is far more do-able than perhaps we think.

Bye for now  – Brett

Next blog “Wonderful waterfalls and water features”

 All photos courtesy of the RHS – check out www.rhs.org.uk/Shows-Events/RHS-Chelsea-Flower-Show for more information and inspiration