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

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THE RHS SHOWS

It’s beginning – the buzz, the build up …  not the General Election but something of far more interest to gardeners – The RHS Flower Shows.

Although most media coverage is centered on the RHS Chelsea and RHS Hampton Court Flower Shows, there are a range of RHS Shows all over the country that start in February and finish late October.

Show garden at Hampton Court flower show 2014

Show garden at Hampton Court flower show 2014

These are my top tips on how to the make the most of the RHS Shows

  1. Consider all the RHS Shows 

Because of the difference in locations and season – each RHS Show has its own distinct character and thus each one is well worth visiting.  Don’t be disheartened if you missed out on Chelsea this year – I guarantee that you will enjoy and learn just as much ambling around the (often muddy but somehow more “real”) RHS Malvern Autumn Show.

  1. Package them up with other attractions 

Location may seem off-putting – but the advantage about the RHS Shows is that they are held at the same location and (more or less) run on the same dates every year – so it is possible to plan in advance.  For example, if you live miles away from Woking, the trip to the RHS Wisley Flower Show may seem excessive.  But surely it is worth the expense of an over night stay when you have the beautiful garden of William Robinson’s Gravetye Manor only 49 minutes away, with also Sissinghurst and Great Dixter less than an hour and a half away?  That surely must be the gardener’s dream horticultural excursion!

  1. Research 

Your first trip should be to the RHS website.  This lists all the facilities of each RHS Show, will preview the Show Gardens, will list all the exhibitors and will often include a history, interesting facts, photos – in fact you can even pre-buy souvenirs to save queuing on the day.

Show garden at Chelsea 2006

Show garden at Chelsea 2006

  1. Useful Things to Take
  • For some reason it is always cold at an RHS Show – so take an extra layer of clothing and thermal socks.  I went to RHS Chelsea in 2013 and although the weather was glorious, my feet were numb by the end of it.
  • A thermos flask is a great idea to save queuing.  I wouldn’t recommend lugging around an entire picnic but definitely a small thermos flask (which can be refilled).
  • A fully charged mobile phone is invaluable.  I take literally hundreds of photos of plant combinations that I like.  I also take notes on my phone of plant names, nurseries and suppliers – saves the bulk of a camera and notebook and pencil.
  • Binoculars – a small pair are really useful for scrutinizing details

    The crowd in front of our 2012 show garden

    The crowd in front of our 2012 show garden

  1. Talk

Gardeners belong to one of the greatest fraternities on the planet.  We are all in it together – the battle against slugs, the ravages of drought, and the joy of a newly opened peony.  The camaraderie of the punters at the RHS Shows is amazing.  Everyone stands back for one another for photos, there is a silent law about how long one can stand in the front row of a Show Garden, we all want to spot a Gardener’s World presenter, and we disdain the selfie-taker.  So it’s easy to talk.  I learnt more about Antirrhinums talking to a little old lady of eighty in the Floral Marquee than from any book.

If a designer seems approachable, then talk to him or her.  They love hearing feedback and answering questions about their concept.  Obviously don’t ask them about which clematis would they recommend for your garden shed or how do they feel about not getting a Gold Medal, but ask about why they chose certain cultivars, or what inspired their planting combinations.  When I designed my RHS garden for BBC Gardener’s World Live, I loved hearing peoples’ opinions and answering questions.

  1. Know what you want out of it 

Do you want inspiration for a shady corner?  Do you want to know what to plant as a foil for your alliums?  Are you contemplating a pond?  Or do you want to drift around and simply be dazzled and inspired? To get the best of an RHS Show it is very useful to clarify your own gardening objectives beforehand. I always want to see the new plants that are being revealed.

  1. Doom or Bloom?

When I talk to people at the end of an RHS Show I tend to see one of two reactions – either

“OMG I’m such a rubbish gardener.  I’ve just realized how awful I am.”

Or

“OMG I can’t wait to get home and put that combination of the fern, the hosta and the purple thingy together, under that evergreen clematis I saw.”

The most important way of making the most of an RHS Show is to let it inspire you.  Let it excite and motivate you.  For that reason I can’t wait to visit one.  And urge you to do so too.

Bye for now – Brett

P.s. My earlier blog – “Eco-gardens – The Future is Green” talked about greening up front gardens and driveways.  I’m delighted to see that the RHS has launched its 3 year “Greening Grey Britain” Campaign.  Go to www.rhs.org.uk/greeninggreybritain for more information and ideas.

The Crazy World of Paving – A Guide To Choosing the right Patio Slabs for your garden

Frequently I am asked by clients “what are the right patio slabs or stone to use?”  I always say that there are four main factors:

  1. Style – this should link with the style of the house and garden. Should you be looking at traditional, rustic riven or modern sawn faced types of stone?
  2. Colour – as well as choosing a colour you like – ask yourself whether you want to have a colour that contrasts with, or complements, the existing walling of the house and garden. Or more than one colour.
  3. Function – what is it going to be used for? How much traffic, footfall and weight will it have to endure?
  4. Cost –the cost of the stone in a landscaping project is usually only 20% (approximately) of the total cost – the majority of which is in labour and other materials. So going for a more expensive stone may not impact dramatically on the cost. sunny border of Mediterranean style plants

One good rule of thumb re: design is that small areas suit smaller stones and slabs, and vice versa.  Large stones in a small space can look wrong proportionally.

Another thing to consider is how the stone will weather – the more porous the stone, the more green with algae it will go.  Generally concrete stone tends to fade and natural stone tends to darken with weathering.

The main selection is between natural stone, reconstituted stone and Porcelain.

Natural stone tends to look better – each stone will have its own individuality, its own texture and colour, which overall can give a marvelous finish.  It is high quality, hard-wearing, and – sadly – more expensive.

FairstoneLimestoneRusticOchre

Natural stone can be imported or from UK quarries.  Indigenous readily used products include:

  • York sandstone
  • Portland stone
  • white and blue lias
  • Welsh slate.

The benefit of imported natural stone, such as Indian sandstone, is that it is much less costly than indigenous stone due to cheaper production methods.  Look out for ethically sourced stone from suppliers such as Marshalls who are now working with UNICEF.

Reconstituted stone 

There are many products made of reconstituted stone:

  • Wet cast (tends to weather slower and has a smoother look –Premium product– big variety of products)
  • Pressed concrete slabs – cheap and can give a very neat, uniform look , cheaper product (whether smooth or textured/riven)
  • Blocked paviours – usually used for drives because they are so strong but can be used for patios due to their decorative effect. Concrete and clay forms in many different sizes, finishes and colours.
  • Impressed concrete –can be created to look like natural stone, or slabs. Dye is added to colour the concrete surface. Saxon Natural Drivesett Argent Dark

Porcelain paving

  • Porcelain stone – Relatively new product designed for outside use 20mm thick in many sizes. Very robust, less slippery than concrete and stone, lots of finishes from smooth to textured – Very good resistance to staining. Mid-range price

And finally – one thing to consider is how much “give” does there have to be in the surface?  On drives, large slabs may crack as they are very rigid and may have to bear a large uneven weight over their surface.  Smaller elements such as block paviours are better suited in this situation as they can flex slightly due to the base make up and so are less likely to crack.

Sourcing patio slabs and stone has never been easier and there are dozens of products available. I would look at the practical elements before the aesthetic – because, with so many products out there – you are bound to find the right colour and texture – it’s much more important to pick the right stone.

Have a look at how we can help you select the best paving slabs for your garden here.

Bye for now

Brett

Next post: 20th April

Garden Design Bath

The Golden Rules of Small Garden Design

Do you get annoyed when almost all television programs on garden design look at large gardens and don’t include ideas for small gardens? And yet, because of the limited space and planting options, this is one of the most difficult areas of garden design.

When I designed my RHS small garden I was very conscious that every decision I made was crucial as with a small space there is no margin for error – mistakes stand out.  Show garden photoFirst of all I looked at the advantages that small gardens offer:

  • they are usually sheltered from direct sun, wind and frost
  • they can be easy to maintain
  • they offer a perfect space for scented plants to work well
  • walls and fences offer workable structures for vertical planting.

The next step is to decide how you want to use the space.  In my experience the most common “wants” from a small garden are somewhere to escape and a picture – something that looks good from the house all year round.  With that in mind, I would like to offer my “golden rules” with regard to small garden design.

  1. The right choice of plants – plants really have to earn their keep with several seasons or a long season of interest. Foliage lasts longer than flowers and is just as important as it gives texture, contrast and visual interest.
  2. If you have a poor looking plant don’t be merciful – no room for stragglers in a small space – get rid of it and plant something that looks healthy and vibrant.
  3. Consider large plants or plants with large dramatic foliage. Large plants can make a small space look larger and provide perspective, more so than using lots of small, low growing plants.
  4. To “light up” shade use plants with shiny surfaces, or silver or gold variegated foliage – especially to contrast with plants such as Hostas and ferns.
  5. Use colour to create depth. Hot colours in pots close to the house, such as reds, oranges and yellows, can be eye catching and contrast with softer pastel background colours creating an illusion of depth.
  6. Don’t be tempted to use too many materials or plant types as this can look fussy. Clever minimalist planting and a pared down choice of materials can look better and more classy.
  7. Use the verticals without compromising the floor space. Put up wires and trellis on fences and walls to support climbers.  An arch, a bamboo wigwam, or even a couple of inexpensive wall pots can look great and introduce height and pull the eye upwards.
  8. Play tricks with perspective – Setting the paving on an angle can make the space feel bigger by using the diagonal distance instead of front to back or side to side. Mirrors, well placed ornaments and unusual features can also make a garden seem bigger.
  9. Blur the boundaries with planting to blend with the surrounding landscape and gardens. For example, it’s easy to make a neighbour’s tree complement your planting and contribute to your garden visually. Hiding the boundaries makes the garden feel bigger by extending the view beyond your fence or wall.
  10. And finally – pots! There seems to be a heavy reliance of pots in small gardens.  They can work well as they can be moved, replaced and provide tiered planting, but they can look cluttered, stain the patio, crack with frost, hide pests and can be high maintenance with regard to watering.  Be selective and use with care! Choose similar colours and larger types.

In the next few weeks I will return to small garden design, providing more detailed information about plants that work well in small spaces.  But this has to be all for now – the days are getting longer and there’s much to be done.

 

Until next time – Brett

 

Next post “Choosing the right paving” – 19th March.

Landscape Gardener or Builder?

How some builders leave the garden!

How some builders leave the garden! OK this may be a bit extreme but you get the picture.

Picture the scene…

Mrs Jones has just had her extension completed and is sitting having coffee with a friend.  “I have to get the garden done now,” she says, “do you know any good landscape gardeners?”  “Oh no, don’t do that,” says her friend, “they’ll cost a fortune. I know a builder who will do it for half the price.”  “Well,” says Mrs Jones, “all I want is a simple patio with a wall, and a couple of steps up to the lawn.”  So she calls the builder.

Fast-forward five years.  The patio has a big puddle problem, the slabs have weathered to a dull brown, and not much grows in the flower beds.  The patio only looks good three months of the year but even then Mrs Jones doesn’t sit outside.  Things would have been so much better had she used the right person for the job.

So, why choose a landscape gardener over a builder?

These are just a few reasons:

  • Soil- it’s very complicated. There are issues with drainage, structure, and compaction. Often a builder will throw all the soil that has been dug out for the foundations into the flower beds, mixing top soil with sub soil and rubble.  Mrs Jones is then surprised when her new plants (which weren’t cheap) struggle.  In addition there are different types of soil, and each will react differently to being built upon.  Hence Mrs Jones’ patio has sunk in places – causing puddles.
  • Drainage – this covers everything from run-off water, to position of down pipes from the gutter, to drainage in the flower beds and compliance with the latest Sustainable Urban Drainage regulations (SUDS) another topic for later….

    A drainage channel connected to a soakaway at the front of this driveway  to comply with the Suds regulations.

    A drainage channel connected to a soakaway at the front of this driveway to comply with the Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) regulations.

  • The right materials. A landscape gardener will have a broader knowledge of landscaping products, and will know, for example, how stone weathers, which materials withstand frost, how timber reacts to the elements, and even which type of gravel to use.  It is important that the right materials are used so that the patio looks good year after year, and holds up to the elements.
  • The “wow” factor. Perhaps the strongest argument for a landscape gardener is their experience and knowledge with regard to design. And not surprisingly we can present options to save money due to our experience. Did Mrs Jones really need a big, block patio for an outdoor eating area? Is the patio in proportion to the rest of the garden?  Are the slabs and bricks used, and the style, in keeping with the house? A landscape gardener can provide more design options, which means scope to save money, to maximize the outdoor space, and to incorporate a design “wow” factor bang on trend.

    RHS Show Garden Silver Medal Winner by Brett Hardy Landscapes

    An RHS Silver medal winning small space garden with impact we designed & built at the BBC Gardeners’ Live show at the NEC in 2012. This garden titled the ‘Water Wise Garden’ highlighted how rainwater can be collected discreetly & how waste grey water can be cleaned by plants and re-used in the garden. 

At first glance a landscape gardener may seem more expensive because we do it right, but in the long term, we are better value for money, can provide outstanding design, know the right materials to use, and know how to avoid future problems.  Mrs Jones wouldn’t choose a seamstress to upholster her sofa, or an electrician to fix her boiler.  The right person for the right job means the right result.

Bye for now – Brett

Next post – 5th March – Small Garden Design.

Eco-Gardening – the Future is Green

All hail Bristol – this year’s European Green Capital.  Bristol is the first UK City to earn this prestigious award, gained by its exceptional environmental, sustainable and eco-friendly commitments.

As a landscape gardener I am becoming increasingly interested in how to implement eco-friendly and sustainable ideas and practices into the garden.  I strongly believe that this is the main area where gardening is going to evolve, and much that I see at the horticultural and RHS Shows supports this.

Ecologically friendly gardening is not a new concept – for many years now we have been:

  • using non-peat compost
  • using less plastic and choosing biodegradable products
  • collecting rainwater
  • planting drought tolerant plants and planting for wildlife

but I’m interested in what we will be doing in the future.

How we may all be living in the future with gardens in the sky to produce our food.

How we may all be living in the future with productive gardens in the sky to produce our food and help to purify the air..

One area of change will be our front gardens where simple changes can make a huge difference.  How can we do this?  I encourage clients to “green up” their front garden space with plants that both tolerate pollution and simultaneously help reduce pollution.  Good pollution tolerant shrubs include hydrangeas or dogwoods, or evergreens such as Skimmia japonica, Aucuba japonica or any of the Euonymus fortunei varieties, all of which are hardy, low maintenance, easy to prune and have attractive foliage, stems or flowers.

Plants can also be used to control the environment by acting as an insulator against exterior walls by trapping air against the structure. They can also reduce the heat gain in summer by shading and moisture loss from the leaves. Admittedly this is not often required in this country but may become more of an issue if global warming takes hold. There is even research under way for the next generation of cheap Photovoltaic panels which mimic the photosynthesis cycle and store unwanted energy as plant starches instead of using inefficient current technology batteries. The mind boggles!

Green wall designed by the pioneer Patrick Blanc. These walls help to clean the air and provide insulation and help modify the temperature in summer. They also look far nicer than stone or concrete.

Green wall designed by the pioneer Patrick Blanc. These walls help to clean the air and provide insulation and help modify the temperature in summer. They also look far nicer than stone or concrete.

Back down to earth the functionality of front gardens does not prevent eco-friendly opportunities.  For example it is now possible to have an eco-friendly drive.  This is a drive made from a porous or permeable product that allows water to drain back into the ground, thereby purifying it and preventing the run-off into drains and possible flooding.  Porous drive options include:

  • Using a permeable concrete or asphalt.
  • Using grass, growing through a durable mesh or grid.
  • Special pavers with gravel filled gaps between and gravel beneath.
  • Paving only the car tyre tracks and having planting in between.

    Cut a strip out of the centre of the drive and plant with low growing low maintenance plants. Acts as drainage strip and looks great.

    Cut a strip out of the centre of the drive and plant with low growing low maintenance plants. Acts as drainage strip and looks great.

Looking to the future there is one innovative material that I can’t wait to use – carbon dioxide absorbing concrete.  It’s been in the production stage for many years – but it now looks very close to becoming readily available.  Not only is the manufacture of the concrete more eco-friendly as it emits less CO2 during its production, but the concrete actually absorbs CO2 as it cures and continues to harden over its lifetime.

The eco-friendly approach is very important in the materials we use. I always try and source in an eco-conscious way, whether this means using locally produced aggregates such as gravel and paving, or timber that has been produced in a sustainable way.  I try and buy from local trade nurseries that have grown the plants themselves – and this benefits my clients as they get plants that can cope with local conditions.

Eco- friendly gardening is something that I am very passionate about and will be returning to in future blogs.  The great thing about it is – big or small – we can all make a difference by doing something we love – planting.

Bye for now

Brett

Next post – 19th February – “Builder vs Landscape Gardener”