Free Advice from a garden designer

stock001Free advice from the experts

All these written articles have previously appeared in either Kent Life Magazine, Meridian Magazine or the Kent County Magazine.

Adam's been a regular contributor to various lifestyle magazines for nearly ten years. Just click on the link to read any of the past articles.

Architectural Salvage

wood4Old timers offer new character

One of the most challenging and enjoyable aspects for a designer creating a new garden for a client is the ability to be innovative whilst capturing the client’s character and personality.

Each garden should be individual, a reflection of the client’s personal likes and dislikes. The tricky part is how to combine that skill with a sensitive and intelligent use of materials.

Sometimes a designer just needs to be different and be imaginative whilst still caring about what materials are going to be used in the construction of the garden. In our modern throw-away society, the use of salvaged materials isn’t just big business, it’s also environmentally friendly.

There’s something magical about holding an object that has a history, like architectural salvage. They’re often real crafted items made by professional craftsmen who took a pride in their work, not simply mass produced for a cheap market. Each one tells a story. Since much of gardening philosophy is about recycling things and looking after what we already have, making use of unwanted everyday items can really give a garden character when given a little time and thought.

Old chimney pots suddenly make bold planters, slate mantelpieces can be transformed into solid seats and even discarded roof tiles can be given new lives as a path edge. For clever inspiration in a small, narrow garden, save that old kitchen door and place at the end to fool the mind into thinking the space is less enclosed than it really is.

The advantage of using old bricks as paving materials is the beautiful effect of each time-weathered surface. New materials have a habit of looking very uniform. Search out old London stock bricks for a raised bed and you instantly have a garden with a history.

One of the commonest forms of recycled timber today is the trendy railway sleeper. These chunky travelers are perfect for building cheap, low walls or steps.

There are many architectural salvage yards around Kent and London, each one offering unique items that you’ll never see in a big high street store.

Half the fun is searching out treasures to use in your own garden. The other half is letting your imagination run wild as you turn old things into new and create your own, unique piece of history.

Autumn Colour

ph03656iFood for the soul

Autumn is a bountiful time of the year, with fruits having ripened at the end of a long summer. Our native Dog Rose, Rosa canina, is a familiar sight in Kent’s wild hedges, offering up a multitude of bright red hips.

At the same time, red is the dominant colour from the Spindle Tree, Euonymus europaeus, which is also native. With fiercely glowing foliage and the gift of red fruits opening up with orange seeds, this late performer is hard to miss.

At this time of year, it’s very tempting to oil the loppers, clean off the shears and chop everything down in the goodwill gesture of tidying up. Before you do, however, take a few minutes to consider what those plants will do as the days get shorter and the frosts return. Many perennials, like the ornamental grasses will have seed heads that take on a new lease of life when caught by a sharp frost on a bright winters’ morning.

Other late performers like the Mahonia will be budding up for their winter display. It’s not impossible to get fragrance in a winter garden if you keep the secateurs away from the Winter Sweet, Chimonanthus praecox, with a perfume to rival many of the summer flowers.

So, whilst your garden is providing its autumnal banquet, what about a feast for the soul? Time to grab hats, gloves and car keys and head off to Kent’s arboricultural paradise, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest Gardens. Situated in Goudhurst, Cranbrook, this really is a place for letting nature envelope you with her seasonal fireworks display.

Rare oaks and maples assail the visual senses as you tour parts of its 320 acres. Whilst hosting the worlds finest selection of conifers, Bedgebury is a ‘must see’ at this time of year, as bird enthusiasts can also view Hawfinches and Crossbills, feeding on the autumn berries. Walk through the trees and let your senses be massaged by the soul-calming glories of autumn.

Gardening is all about feeling good after all the work you’ve put in. Autumn is nature’s way of saying thank you.

 

Boundaries

vinehouse4Know your limits

From the royal garden at Highgrove to smaller gardens of the South East, there’s one element that all gardens have, no matter what their size and stature. Every one has a boundary, be it fenced, hedged or walled. A boundary serves several functions, primarily for security and to define the legal limit to which the property extends.

A well planned boundary using appropriate materials can also provide a backdrop to planting, emphasise and control views in and out of the garden and when intelligently designed can even create microclimates, areas of differing temperatures and protection from the forces of wind and weather.

The choice of materials for a boundary will also differ according to the local character of the area and of course the budget. A red brick wall may be well placed within a new housing development but if you live in a rural location, you might consider more traditional methods of dry-stone walling or hedging. Brick walls have the benefit of longevity and relatively high security when built properly but are proportionally more expensive. A hedge on the other hand provides a habitat for wildlife, is a lot less expensive but is normally less secure.

When planning any kind of boundary, think about what the space in front of the boundary will be needed for. You can plant in front of a wall to great effect but not so easily in front of a hedge as you’ll need to maintain a hedge by trimming to keep it at its best. Trellis can be used and supplemented by climbers, which gives a pleasing growing wall without losing too much width. Remember to also consider the neighbouring property when installing a boundary and don’t allow hedges to grow above the height where you can reach them. An overly tall wall or hedge not only blocks out sunlight but can also reduce available rainwater at its base.

The range of materials for a boundary is considerable and what you use will define not only the visual aspect of your property from the outside, but also play a big part to the garden within it.

Choosing Paving

pavingarticlepicSensible choices for a new patio

New ideas emerge from the world of landscape design on a regular basis and none more so than for the ubiquitous patio.

If you took a time machine and went back through the years you would have seen a demand for crazy paving but trends move on and in the Nineties decking made a surge appearance on the television. Anything but cheap when built to last, decking became the new modern ‘must have’.

Today, there’s a huge range of materials to choose from for a new patio, but the most popular is still paving. The type of paving you choose will depend on how big the space is, what function you need the paving for and what budget you have.

The size of the space often determines how large or small the individual units are. Small brick pavers or tegula setts can make a small space look larger compared to using huge pieces of stone. In contrast, seating areas can feel more comfortable if the ground surface is kept simple by using bigger individual pieces.

If your budget is priority number one, concrete reproduction paving is probably the most effective choice. Say concrete to most people and they instantly think of a grey, boring surface but modern paving made from concrete can imitate real stone very effectively. There’s a huge range of colours and textures to choose from.

A different choice of paving which is absolutely natural is sandstone. This material is becoming very popular and has the advantage that no two paving pieces are alike since they originate from a quarry, not a factory. Both concrete paving and sandstone are available in different sizes so think about creating a random layout using three different sizes to achieve a more interesting finish.

You can use a brick edging to define the outline of the patio and if you’re thinking about lighting or cables at a later date, place some conduit pipe under the paving before its finished, so you can run cables under the patio later on. Think about where rain water will run off to and lastly, don’t forget – patios don’t have to be square so have fun with the layout!

Classical Elegance

classicphotoThe art of classical elegance

Fashions come and go. Styles and fashions within garden design are no exception and every year there are new trends that stand out as ‘must haves’, whether it’s the latest in lighting technology or materials such as stainless steel and contemporary decking.

However, there’s one look which always has the power to impress and surprisingly it can work with both old and new properties. The classical elegance of a traditionally geometrical garden, with long avenues and individual ‘rooms’ is one which can be seen in hundreds of period properties throughout the country.

This classical look not only has a sense of timeless character but also reflects the inner layout of the house, as the spaces within such a garden often pay careful attention to proportions and a sense of scale.

The use of geometrical sight lines are a key aspect and can include formal ponds with a centrally placed fountain and wide, formal steps with equal planting on both sides, emphasising the use of symmetry. The very essence of the classical look is one of control over nature. It’s this control which impresses the eye and brings a sense of calm elegance to the garden. Thus hedges become tightly clipped, avenues of trees are given strict pruning to train their growth and lawns are cared for until they adopt the nature of high quality carpet.

Some of the most beautiful things in nature are also the simplest and the classical look exemplifies this idea. Of course, it’s not only the design of a classical garden which can be beautifully simple. The art of looking after it also has a timeless appeal, as the gardening skills (now so often forgotten or unappreciated) are the result of an intimate knowledge of what a garden needs and how it will respond if given a caring hand and an expert eye. A garden of this high calibre is a combination of design and gardening knowledge, something often lacking in contemporary gardens which often fall into the trap of relying on gimmickry to impress, rather than the pure sophistication of timeless beauty.

Climbers

millclimbersThe sky's the limit

Who says plants can’t be like people? When it comes to rising stars, there are few prolific performers like the garden climber. A climber exists for almost every situation to cover anything from a humble archway to a grand pergola.

Providing you invite the right plant for the right place, it’s possible to have fragrance and colour all year through.

First, decide what you want the climber to do. Need a vigorous evergreen for a sunny trellis, then it’s time to get romantic with a Passiflora caerulea (Passionflower). Showy blooms, followed by orange fruits after a warm summer ensure quick colour and coverage.

For something a little more sophisticated, the social climber Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine) will fill the air with heady fragrance, its glossy evergreen foliage a choice alternative to ivy.

Climbing roses remain the queen of the garden, the majestic blossoms of Rosa Albertine a must have on any garden party guest list. Of course, there will always be those who just love to cling on by themselves, so let’s introduce Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) with its stunning autumnal fiery colours, accompanied by Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea), both of which will attach themselves to most flat surfaces.

Try to avoid wild gatecrashers like Fallopia baldschuanicum (Mile-a-minute vine) unless you have a castle or something similarly big to cover.

For a truly Kentish theme, try Humulus lupulus aureus (Golden hop) a perennial climber with eye catching gold foliage which sleeps over winter, emerging in the spring to drape bountiful colour over a sunny archway.

Plant climbers directly in the ground as the bigger the plant, the more water they need to keep everything healthy over the hot summer. If planting on a terrace, find the largest pot possible. Remember to tie in new shoots in the directions you want them to go and before long you’ll have living walls of colour and scent.

Composting

compostpictureGreen up and rot down

Refreshing summer showers may keep plants looking lush and healthy but all that growth produces copious amounts of one thing in particular. Waste.

Grass clippings, hedge prunings, weeds and faded flowers all contribute to the mass of organic matter that needs to be removed from the garden.

Filling up landfill sites doesn’t help the pocket or our environment, so think about composting and keep the goodness where it belongs, in the soil.

There are a few key things to remember when planning a compost heap. Just like the estate agents jargon, location is all important. One of the basic ingredients to break down the ingredients quickly is heat so set up your compost pile so that the front of it faces south. It’s the heat inside the pile that speeds up all the friendly microorganisms which work their way through the debris. Heat also acts as a ‘thermal kill’, effectively sterilising unwanted weed seed.

The other basic necessity is good ventilation. Air flowing through the decomposing matter provides valuable oxygen to the armies of tiny organisms. You can improve air flow by either using a slatted timber construction, with spaces between the boards for ventilation and by raising the pile a few inches off the ground. An old palette is ideal for allowing air underneath. As the heat rises, it pulls air from underneath much like a chimney, keeping the fire burning in the centre.

Grass clippings can be added, but its better if they’re mixed with drier material like leaves so they don’t form a soggy mush which is slow to break down. If you add larger items like branches, remember to chop them up as small as possible. Turning the pile occasionally will also help to mix old debris with new and distributes the new stuff right under the noses of the microorganisms.

If you need large amounts of compost quickly you can of course always cheat! Mushroom compost is a natural waste product obtainable from mushroom farms. Rich, dark and full of nutrient, it’s perfect for planting. It might be waste to some, but for gardeners it’s food for healthier plants.

Drought Tolerant Planting

joannew3Turning up the heat on plants

Xeriscaping isn’t a word you’d have heard in the last six months after an incredibly wet winter. 

Although gardeners are well known for putting up with whatever the weather throws at them, with late frosts, heavy rain and damaging winds bashing plants without mercy, there’s still one element that may prove a larger problem as temperatures slowly climb year after year.

Sunshine, or rather too much of it, can have gardeners reaching for hoses in an effort to save precious plants. So, is there a way of reducing the amount of stress on plants and gardeners alike?

Yes, welcome to the clever world of xeriscaping, a method of gardening that reduces the need for watering and maintenance. Commonly called drought-resistant planting, nature has long been xeriscaping in the drier regions of the worlds for millions of years.

So what are the key things to remember? Let’s start with the basics. Less leaf area means less water lost during the heat of the day. Plants with tough or small leaves like Festuca, Sedum and Pine all have good drought tolerance.

Survival technique number two is grey foliage. Light is more easily reflected from light foliage so Lavender, Senecio and Eryngium all have the winning advantage. Next, the deeper the roots go, the more able a plant is to search out water below ground. Yuccas, with their tough evergreen leaves are well suited to plunging roots deep into the soil.

Another tip to remember is that plants in desert conditions often partly shade themselves under rocks where scarce rain is more easily collected. Our equivalent is to use shingle or a mulch beneath plants which reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation.

Likewise, water in the evening after the sun goes down. For small gardens, use glazed pots as terracotta dries out quicker due to its porosity. Grouped pots protect each other from the effects of drying winds and heat.

Copy nature to survive the heat of summer and your plants will soon show their appreciation by growing better.

Dry Gardens

drygardenspicSummer

What an amazing summer! Long sunny days and high temperatures have given parts of Kent an almost Mediterranean feel.

Unfortunately the lack of rain has meant that lawns have suffered and a lot of plants will have given signs of stress in dropping foliage.

Flowering times can also be affected, with some plants offering up a second bloom when they’d normally be fading.

However, if our typical English summer is slipping further south year by year then gardeners have an opportunity to try new plants that wouldn’t have been possible before.

Plants that will tolerate dry places for longer spells will also take centre stage. Russian Sage, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ with its spikes of violet-blue makes a perfect partner to Kniphofia ‘Nancy’s Red’, the two colours in wonderful contrast.

Other plants like Eryngium (Sea Holly) and Iris have adapted to survive long dry spells. Silver foliage plants withstand the glare of full sun easier. Teucrium ‘Compactum’ and Hippophae rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) are good examples.

Also for drier soils and considered a weed in Australia , Verbena bonariensis is ever popular at Chelsea and Hampton Flower Shows, self seeding to provide tall, swaying masses of rosy-purple flowers through late summer into autumn.

Essential Garden Design

beck3Essential improvements for quality of life

The New Year is a perfect time for making a ‘must do’ list of home improvements. With the festivities behind us and the promise of spring not too away, this is a good time to think about your most valuable asset, your home. Enhancing the living space around you is all about increasing your quality of life.

A beautifully designed garden is rapidly becoming as essential as a custom made kitchen and when designed professionally will provide a relaxing, sensuous space to entertain friends, spend time with the children and can even make the home feel bigger as the garden essentially becomes another living space.

By extending your living area to outdoors, you begin to discover a whole new way of life. It's an all in one sensation that reaches all five senses. We all need food for the soul and your own garden, designed to be individual to you, is just the thing to take away the stress and strains of everyday life.

You can increase security around your property by introducing the right plants and use of sensitive lighting. Practical design makes security a priority, with sensitive use of tough plants to help guard the boundary of your property. Block off views you don't want whilst increasing your own privacy. Increase the sales potential of your home to new buyers by showing that you care about your property, something sure to impress a would-be purchaser.

Make a short list of the main requirements you want from a garden and put them in order of priority. Think about how the outdoor space will be used to best effect, just like you would a living room or kitchen. The design of the space can be tailored to fit the way you live, with seating, lush planting, screening, vibrant colours and easy maintenance. All our homes are as individual as we are and the garden is no exception.

You may have an existing garden which needs some careful attention to enhance it or a blank canvas on which to create a wealth of exciting ideas. Whatever you have, getting professional advice is the first step to improving your outdoor living space.

Foliage

foliagepicCreating mood with foliage

There are many things to consider when choosing plants for a new garden, from the type of soil and aspect in which they will be planted, to the feel of the scheme once it matures. At this time of year it’s tempting to go wild and opt for pure flower power. A garden without flowers can seem almost alien to some people, but never forget the other big consideration, be it a small courtyard or a large estate.

Foliage, in all its forms, textures and colours can play just as big a part, especially when the flowers have finished and the plants have to justify their place in the scheme with that little bit extra.

From the smallest alpines to the tallest trees, the foliage of a plant can define its character, shape and growth habit even when the plant isn’t in flower. Green is only one of a wide range of colours, too, from the red of a Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria), to the blue-grey of a Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), through the yellow of a Tufted Sedge, (Carex elata ‘Aurea’) and even finally near-black, in the form of Lilyturf, (Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens’). It’s the contrast of these colours, when placed carefully, that can give a garden its mood and draw the eye.

Foliage form is a key priority of a plant designer, where the size and outline of foliage can create either spectacular statements of movement or calm, subdued spaces which are easy on the eye. Large leaved plants like Rheum, Acanthus and Gunnera are bold and solid looking, filling space easily with their impressive, simple spans, whilst the smaller leaves of plants like Epimedium and Sedum achieve a different effect by clustering together many more leaves, creating a more detailed effect.

With summer here, foliage can also help to visually reduce the heat, with wide, tropical looking statements like sumptuous Cannas and Chusan Palms spreading out their leaves to soak up the sun. And of course, don’t forget the aromatics like Rosemary, Lavender, Fennel and Lemon Balm, whose foliage scent when touched is perfume in its purest form.

Front gardens

frontgardenspicUp front and personal

Most discerning homeowners will wisely invest in their properties, be it a new kitchen, bathroom or conservatory.

These home improvements are not only pleasing to live in but also increase the value of the property if carried out properly by skilled craftsmen who use the best materials and plan the use of the space carefully.

This is fine except that many high quality improvements can’t be seen from the outside. Of course, this isn’t true of the front garden which can say a great deal about the owners to everyone walking past. If not properly thought about, a front garden will not only let down the look of a property but can also affect the potential sales value.

Front gardens are usually spaces which have a varied number of demands on them, including security, providing parking and obviously offering a welcoming aspect to visitors. The choice of materials has to take into consideration the architectural character and style of the property. With these key issues in mind, Adam has been designing front gardens for many years for clients like Rydon Homes who require high quality landscapes to compliment their prestigious properties.

The first rule of front garden design is ‘keep it simple’. Don’t try to cram too much into the space, keep planting within well defined areas and provide easy access between parking areas and the front door. The layout of the design will depend on the period of the property, although it’s still possible to introduce a few contemporary features with an older house.

Paving is usually the biggest expenditure for a front garden and choosing the right durable surface to withstand the weight of vehicles is something worth spending time and a few extra pounds on. Getting it right at the start can save having to make expensive repairs later on. Discreet lighting (as opposed to harsh flood lighting) can also provide security and a warm welcome for visitors arriving after dark.

The front garden should make a statement about who you are and the beauty of a carefully planned space will benefit not only your lifestyle but the value of your property and how others view it.

Garden Security

light3Safe and sound in the outdoor room.

The idea that the garden is very much an extension of the house has lead to the concept that the garden can be in effect, ‘an outdoor room’.

Thinking about security for the inside of your home has to be a priority in these ever changing times, so what about that expensive statue in the front garden or those shiny new tools in the shed? How do you reduce the risk of losing what you’ve worked hard for?

The first thought of many is to put up 500W halogens on the front and back of the house. These are fine if you want to convince wildlife that you’ve signed up for a premiership football club, but would you do that indoors? Reduce costs and impress the neighbours by installing low wattage spotlights beneath trees and shrubs around the boundary, linked to a motion sensor. Not only do they highlight the good work you’ve done in the garden, but you’ll be lighting the perimeter, not the house, making it harder for intruders to make their way into the garden unnoticed.

Discourage unwanted visitors by using tried and tested plants at vulnerable points along the boundary like the tough Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Red’ and Berberis darwinii, both thorny and evergreen right through the year. If you’re planting expensive plants in the front garden, don’t forget, labels are a dead give away that the plants may be new and not anchored in the ground, so remove them and tuck them just under the soil next to the plant.

Shingle paths can help to betray intruding footsteps and if you’re keen on terracotta, place a deep layer of the same material in the base of pots to make them heavier. It also helps with drainage over the winter months. Statues can be electronically tagged to sound an alarm indoors when removed from the garden and benches can be secured in concrete footings to prevent light fingers lifting them away.

If you’ve got expensive tools in the shed, place ornamental trellis work over the side windows and face the door towards the house. Many people try to hide the shed from the house which only makes it easier to be broken into.

As the television saying goes, “don’t have nightmares!”

Grasses

reedsIt's only natural to love grasses

Gardening is full of trends and perhaps the world of garden design even more so. This year’s Chelsea Flower Show was no exception with the emphasis well and truly on natural gardening, focusing on plants that grow as native species or those that are adept at thriving with very little on-going maintenance.

It may not be too surprising to learn that a large proportion of our own country’s native species are grasses. With the fashions of garden design changing with the wind, one trend is growing ever stronger.

Although the use of grasses in planting schemes is one being championed by many modern designers, grasses were used frequently by the legendary Gertrude Jekyll. The reasons for their ever increasing popularity are many, from the architectural splendour of their foliage to their true versatility at growing in a wide range of conditions. Many grasses are colourful statements simply with their foliage like the evergreen Stipa arundinacea, with its rich, shiny hues of orange and red in late summer.

Taller grasses like the majestic Stipa gigantea are almost unmatched in the garden for their stately elegance, the golden spikelets held proudly above the grey-green foliage. Caught in even the lightest breeze, this grass sways with a mesmerizing beauty.

One of the most advantageous aspects of grasses is the contrast of their foliage to most other broad leaved garden plants. They have the ability to soften the form of a planting scheme and provide rhythm with their upright character. They change considerably with the mood of the seasons and in winter their frost-sparkled seed heads float like whispered memories above tinted foliage.

There’s a grass for almost any location, with small blue Fescue’s like ‘Blue Fox’ and the blood-red stems of Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ perfect for containers. Carex morrowi ‘Variegata’ is well suited as ground cover, its prostrate, evergreen foliage hugging the soil. The tall Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ is an ideal grass for screening when grown in numbers and is named after the German nurseryman who pioneered the public’s awareness of grasses.

With graceful beauty and varied characters, it’s no wonder grasses have become the essential ingredient of many modern day gardens.

Green Roofs

klgroof1Sky gardens for the future

Intelligent landscape design is a combination of form and function. Green ‘living’ roofs are a perfect example of intelligent design, where valuable roof space is enhanced with a unique ecosystem, not only benefiting wildlife but also adding to the quality of the living space underneath that roof.

Green roofs are not a new concept, indeed they’ve been used in Scandinavian construction for centuries. However, their surge in popularity here in the UK has been driven by the increasingly important ecological principles of conserving water and the creation of sustainable habitats for local wildlife. Another added benefit is the roof’s ability to help insulate a building during the winter (thus lowering heating costs) and also keep it cooler in summer.

Learning to help the environment

There are many fine examples of living roofs, notably the brand new Princes Park stadium in Dartford and Riverhead School in Sevenoaks, the latter designed by Architects Design Partnership. The curved school roof features a living ecosystem of sedums which give the new contemporary building not only a rural aspect but also offer a valuable source of food and nectar for local butterflies and other insects.

Since it is the younger generation who will have to live with the way we are affecting the environment now, it is perfectly apt that the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, London also boasts a living roof above its library, built as part of its Centenary Development. Children visiting the museum are enthralled by a garden growing up above their heads. Maybe there will be future architects among them?

klgroof2klgroof3klgroof4

Creating your own sky garden

There are principally two main types of green roof, intensive and extensive. Intensive roofs are generally commercial systems, able to support the heavy weight of a deep growing medium. The structure of the building itself is often designed to carry this bigger load and planned at the outset. Extensive systems however, are those generally with a substrate depth of 20- 100mm (approx ¾” to 4”) deep. This type of green roof is also the most suitable for the garden and an ideal way of covering an ugly shed or garage roof.

Before you start on your green roof project, there are two questions to ask. Firstly, will the structure you’re covering be strong enough to take the load? Small sheds are easy to do although garage roofs may need to be checked by a structural engineer before starting work. Secondly, will the roof be waterproof when it’s finished?

You can create your own ‘sky garden’ on a shed roof by first applying a butyl liner over the roof surface – be careful not to nail it to the roof otherwise you’ll compromise its waterproof integrity. Next, build a wooden framework on top of the liner made up of small squares, which will hold the growing medium (soil and crushed brick). Framework depth only needs to be 5-20cm (2” – 8” depending on the type of plants you want to grow). Bigger plants will need a deeper framework. Fill the frame with the growing medium and then plant up with sedums and other drought tolerant plants like alpines and tuft-forming grasses.

Living the high life

Your living roof will provide you with a wonderful array of seasonal colours and textures through the year and you’ll probably notice that other wild flowers start to appear by seed blown in with the wind or dropped by birds. The wildlife will be quick to find your oasis in the clouds, too. The marvellous thing about such roof gardens is they require very little maintenance and can cover unsightly buildings in a way which benefits local wildlife.

Designers and architects are making the most of our precious landscape space, be it on the ground or on the roof. We can all reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ by designing our gardens in ways which improve air quality and increase the diversity of the local ecosystem. Only by keeping the environment at the forefront of design can we create sustainable landscapes and buildings which benefit not only our standard of living today but also that of generations to come.

Ground Cover

pebblesIt's a cover up!

You might be mistaken for thinking that the reason Kent gardeners are all reaching for their sunglasses is because of the recent long spell of wonderful sunshine. I’ll let you into a secret. There’s a cover up going on! Luckily for our readers I’m going to spill the beans. Follow me into the dark underworld of ground cover...

For the busy gardener, time is precious so anything that reduces work and helps the plants at the same time must be a good thing. This is where ground cover comes into its own. Ground cover generally means any plant that can block out light to the soil which in turn prevents weeds from germinating.

For sunny places try Ceanothus thyrisiflorus repens or Rosmarinus ‘Prostratus’, both blue flowered evergreens that spread sideways. For shadier parts Cotoneaster dammeri and the perennial Euphorbia robbiae will both provide low canopies to cover the soil.

It’s not just plants either, there are a number of materials for creating barriers against weeds. Whilst you can always pave large areas, loose material ground cover helps to cut down on weeding and reduces water loss due to evaporation from the soil on sunny days.

If you’ve got the balance of plants just right and want something to put down as a mulch, chipped bark provides an ideal solution when laid thickly between plants. It slowly breaks down so needs replacing after a few years but will feed the soil and make it hard for weeds to get a foothold. For the more adventurous, you can try shingle for that Mediterranean look.

For really outstanding results, invest in landscape membrane which you can place between the soil and the shingle. This allows the water to soak through to the plants where’s its needed but stops most weeds getting through.

The secret to ground cover is to keep it simple to help plants thrive and show them at their best. Use only few varieties so the eye doesn’t become distracted from what’s going on up above. If you use mulch, don’t skimp with it. Block out the light and you’ll block out the weeds. That’s one cover up worth shouting about.

Herbs for Summer

grace6Al fresco herbs for summer

A warmer than average spring left many gardeners feeling as if summer had already started, but a few sharp frosts caught out many magnolias and other spring flowering shrubs. However, now the evenings are pleasantly light and after a long day at work, why not spend time outside with a sprinkling of friends and the offerings of a well planned garden?

Eating outside in the garden during the summer is one of the benefits of having your own external space and you may be thinking about the ever popular barbecue to entertain your guests.

Whatever your culinary tastes, you can hardly do better than an accompaniment of fresh herbs, hand picked and full of instant flavour. If you’re cooking meat like lamb, the first choice has to be rosemary. It can either be added as a sprig or finely chopped. Very easy to grow if given a sunny place with good drainage and there are many varieties available from the blue R. officinalis to the upright form, ‘Miss Jessop’s Upright’, ideal where space is limited.

For salads, try the classic favourites, Petroselinum crispum (parsley) or Allium schoenoprasum (chives). Both will tolerate partial shade for the smaller courtyard garden and have the added bonus of possessing contrasting foliage. Although much more tender than other common herbs, basil, Ocimum basilicum can be planted out after the threat of frosts has passed and makes an ideal companion to tomato-flavoured dishes and pasta sauces. Pinch out the tips to keep plants bushy.

There are some herbs of course that positively should only be grown in a pot unless you have a lot of space to surrender. Mint is notable for its invasiveness but can be used in salads (Mentha x piperita – peppermint) or mint sauce (Mentha spicata – spearmint).

Herbs don’t all have to be small either. The evergreen bay laurel, Laurus nobilis is capable of growing into a small tree if left unpruned and its leaves are commonly added to sauces, soups and desserts.

You can’t beat the taste of home-grown herbs and with so many to choose from, there’s a herb to suit every culinary palate.

Lighting

in liteTheatre by night

The often-used media phrase for the modern garden is the ‘outdoor room’. Many of us have friends to dinner in the summer, perhaps lighting candles for ambience and heating up the overworked barbecue for alfresco dining. So what do you do when the nights draw in and winter drags the late sun beneath a cold horizon?

Flick a switch! Just like you would for an indoor room, if the garden is thoughtfully prepared, you can enjoy a different garden by night. It isn’t just the feel of the garden that changes but also the wildlife. Plants take on different forms, dancing light and shadows giving a sense of theatre. Nocturnal creatures venture out after dark, replacing their day-living neighbours.

Sounds good, but where do you start? Safety first and always. For those with a limited budget there are low wattage kits from many of the local garden centres that will provide a low cost and safe solution to lighting paths or edges of a terrace. With a bit more spending power, the garden really does become a playground for night owls.

Use a relatively low cost 50W spotlight close to the base of a tree and suddenly the trunk and branches come alive with myriad shadows and textures. The key thing to remember is, try to hide the source of the light away from the eye. It’s better to see the effect, not the light itself. Next time you see a stage production at the theatre, you’ll see how true this is.

The other benefit of adding lighting to a garden is of course security. Many homes have glaring halogen lamps flooding the garden. Place a few carefully selected lights near entrances and boundaries and you’ll have the enhanced benefit of lighting the grounds around the house rather than the house itself.

Safety again as always. Higher wattage lighting should always be linked with armoured cable and run under patios or along walls out of the way of spades and forks. If in doubt, call an electrician.

Then flick a switch, sit back and enjoy the show.

Low maintenance gardening

bellamy1Learning the secrets of low maintenance.

February is a crucial month in the gardening calendar and with the first of the spring bulbs starting to show, it’s not hard to see why. There’s a definite feeling of anticipation in the air as the days gradually get longer and the thermometer begins its climb back up to more civilised figures.

This is also the right time for some creative planning in the garden. Putting pen to paper now will avoid costly mistakes later on and one of the often asked requirements of a garden designer is for a ‘low maintenance’ garden.

Low maintenance doesn’t mean no maintenance, however. Even the most intelligently designed outdoor spaces need a little TLC from time to time, but if you remember a few tricks of the trade, it’s surprising how much time can be saved.

If cutting lawns isn’t your thing, then introducing hard landscaping elements like paving, decking and pathways can reduce the lawn area to a manageable level. For most of us, weeding is a necessary evil, but weeds only thrive on soil that gives them no competition. Planting shrubs and perennials closer together blocks out light and cuts down on the unwanted invaders.

A little plant knowledge can go a long way. Although it’s tempting to buy fast growing plants for that instant effect, remember what goes up has to come down and you’ll be out there hacking away more often than if you choose slower growing plants.

When you’ve got the garden looking good, you might not have the time for watering through the hot summer months, so think ahead and mulch well around the base of plants to reduce moisture evaporation. Throwing in handfuls of rich compost before you put plants in will help them develop strong root systems deeper down into the soil, helping them to survive dry spells. A cleverly hidden irrigation system can also keep roots moist when you’re not there, either with a drip system or porous hose.

Getting it right takes practice, but there’s one easy way of making sure you don’t waste precious leisure time this year – call in the professionals. They know the secrets to easier gardening.

Natural Planting

astersEasy performers for the natural garden

One of the primary purposes of any garden is to create a natural space in which plants and wildlife can thrive.

However, it’s sometimes difficult to define exactly what natural actually means. It’s easy to buy armfuls of plants from the garden centre and set them out, complete with a well manicured lawn and a new paved patio. But is that natural?

Garden designers have been exploring this idea for years, trying to capture a sense of atmosphere and mood in a garden using plants which ‘feel’ right in terms of their shapes, forms and the way they occupy the space.

It’s a very subtle art and one well worth experimenting with, even if you’re new to gardening.

Natural planting can be simply put as plants which don’t have to be cajoled into performing and aren’t demanding. All too often we buy plants because they look good, only to find they need spraying, staking or copious amounts of pruning.

This is really the exact opposite of natural planting. Natural plants should be at home quickly and without fuss whilst they’re showing off what they can do. Sure, at the end of the year there’s tidying up to do, but for the rest of the year let them do what comes naturally.

The range of plants for a natural garden is very extensive, so try a few easy performers to get going. Echinops bannaticus ‘Taplow Blue’, the globe thistle, is fantastic for wildlife and will grow almost anywhere, whilst Centranthus ruber, with its red plumes of flowers will grow in the most difficult of sunny spaces where other plants would struggle.

Tall spires can make striking statements, like the foxglove, Digitalis ferruginea with gorgeous soft tints of red-brown in its flowers. Not outrageous, but loaded with elegance. Smaller but no less sweeter is Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’, which flowers prolifically from late summer. And of course grasses are an absolute must for the natural look, so try Calamagrostis brachytricha, simply stunning.

Natural gardens take on their own feel as they mature and nature secretly does the work for you by providing those plants which are at home from day one. Try it yourself, you might be surprised at the difference.

Natural Stone

klnstone1Natural beauty as old as the hills

Garden design has seen many trends come and go over the years but one material has literally stood the test of time.

Natural stone has been used in landscape applications for literally thousands of years. Man has traditionally worked the local stone extracted from the landscape around him although with modern day global trade now bringing down prices its possible to make natural stone a first choice for any new garden.

When choosing natural stone as a paving or walling material for a new garden, the selection must be made according to where the material is going to be introduced and how the colours and textures will work with the rest of the property. Different finishes in paving such as bush hammered, honed or flame textured provide varying degrees of slip resistance, so choose carefully according to where the stone is to be used.

There are colours and hues of stone to match almost any application from blue slate to red granite in numerous shades and tones in between so aim to compliment the colours of surrounding house walls or other brickwork. By mixing complimentary tones of different stone types it’s possible to create really individual spaces which reflect your own character.

Natural stone is durable and has a beauty which is unmatched by manufactured products. Every single part of it is unique. Natural stone has character quite literally by the ton, its individual personality formed by incomprehensible geological processes. It’s the range of contrasts in a single piece of stone that make it so special.

Often misperceived as expensive, natural stone can be surprisingly cost effective. Whilst it is true that initial costs of natural paving are sometimes, although not always, higher than their man-made concrete equivalents, there are several important aspects of natural stone which add up to make it a lower cost solution in the long term.

Primarily, natural stone lasts a lot longer than comparative manufactured materials. Natural paving can last as much as five times longer than concrete, meaning less labour and replacement materials required over the life of the product. That all adds up to huge savings for the environment and the owner of the garden.

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Natural stone also has one critical element not commonly shared by manufactured materials. Like a fine wine it has the ability to get better with age. That can’t always be said of concrete paving which tends to lose its colour and texture as it degrades under the pressures of wear and exposure to the outdoor elements. Natural stone on the other hand is literally borne of the outdoor landscape in the first place so the effects of weather are far less of a problem.

Knowing how to make the right choice of stone takes time to learn and patience to understand. It’s an intimately tactile material which almost demands to be touched and experienced. Courtyards can be made to glow with the warmth of Porphyry setts, whilst contemporary chic can be achieved with hard wearing forms of white granite. The colour and textures you choose will be determined by the atmosphere you wish to create and the practicality of the material for that particular space.

Buying natural stone is a straight forward process providing you make your selection from one of the main, reputable suppliers. Be wary of ‘too good to be true’ prices offered by some suppliers, especially in relation to the increasingly popular Indian sandstone. Stone from some companies is very occasionally extracted from quarries abroad which care little about child labour and health and safety issues, which can be reflected in their ridiculously low prices.

Closer to home, if you’re looking to achieve a truly Kentish feel there are several traditional, locally sourced choices including the warm coloured Ragstone and the unmistakable black and white tones of knapped flint both of which make excellent materials for garden walls. Reclaimed stone is perfect for instilling timeless character into a garden and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you’re having little effect on the environment by recycling a piece of history. In an age of throwaway consumables, natural stone really is an intelligent choice for a new garden.

Buying natural stone:

  1. Select from a reputable supplier
  2. Consider textures for different applications
  3. Think about colour in relation to the property
  4. Choose local or reclaimed if appropriate for the scheme
  5. Try a sample before you buy in bulk

New Trees

treefieldTrees for a greener future

Here in the South East stories of land shortage are becoming ever more common as house builders attempt to meet the demand for new homes.

Local councils have an obligation to control this growth of development and it’s very likely that if you live or work in Kent there are new homes either planned or being built not too many miles from you.

The team at Adam S Bailey Garden Design work closely with major house builders like Rydon Homes to ensure that whilst bricks and mortar keep up with the demand for new homes, the landscapes around these new developments also receive the closest attention.

One key aspect of a landscape throughout a new development is the careful selection and introduction of trees. A primary consideration for those involved in the planning process is how to blend in the new development with the landscape beyond it and planting native trees, those which can be found in the wild throughout our county, is an important way of providing a sense of local character to a built environment. Local councils are strict about the need for native trees as part of the planning requirements for new houses.

Many of our native trees will be familiar by name, if not immediately by sight, like Birch, Oak, Hawthorne and Beech. Others may be less familiar like the Service-tree and Gean. Some native trees make very striking statements as they get older like the Scots Pine and the Copper Beech. These trees not only soften the impact of a new housing development but also help to encourage wildlife back into the area after the diggers and machinery have all left.

As we head out of the fiery colours of autumn and into winter, now is the perfect time to plant a tree because the branches will be bare and the tree will be almost asleep, meaning it can be planted without stress to the tree’s system. That also means less watering and more chance for the tree to get a head start come next spring.

We all have an obligation to look after the environment around us and whilst the team at Landart Design are working to keep Kent a green and pleasant land, you can also play a part by planting your own tree.

Organic Gardening

simonphoto18Going organic in the changing landscape

The demand for new houses has increased in the South East recently and with so much building work going on, our surrounding landscape is undergoing some major changes.

More houses mean more of our natural landscape disappearing to new roads and brickwork.

Of course, the picture isn’t all grey and most modern houses are built with gardens, although generally smaller than they would have been many years ago. It’s difficult to see how nature can fit into such a scenario when the concrete mixer seems to be king, but gardeners can do something to ensure nature is given a chance in the small pockets left.

It's well worth experimenting with, even if you’re new to gardening.

Organic gardening is perhaps the closet form of working with nature, using tried and tested methods that date back further than the earliest man-made chemicals. It’s the need to reduce these chemicals and allow greater diversity in the garden that leads to a more sustainable environment not just for plants but also the creatures in it.

Areas of open water encourage a larger range of birds and insects into the garden, many of whom will feed on the pests that we all love to hate. Think about companion planting by using marigolds and poppies between susceptible plants. These will offer a valuable source of nectar for hover flies who in turn feed on the aphids.

By composting your garden waste and using it as mulch you’ll not only cut down on fertiliser costs but also help the soil as worms pull the goodness down into the soil where it belongs.

Choose your plants according to their disease resistance and there’ll be less need for chemical sprays. With a little plant knowledge, even weeds like teasel are great for goldfinches and their architectural value is never wasted.

The greenhouse isn’t out of the organic zone either, as a controlled habitat is perfect for natural parasites that feed on pests and you can even buy them in packs from the local garden centre.

Organic gardening may be seen as a trendy form of gardening, but one day it may be essential if we are to make sure nature still has a place in a built environment.

Romantic Gardening

klroman1The theatre of the heart

Creating a new garden can be a very daunting experience, especially if all you have is a lawn and bare fences. The number of ways in which you can lay out a garden is almost limitless so it helps if you stop thinking of how you can fill the space and start thinking of the garden as a piece of personal theatre.

The key elements of the stage are surprisingly similar to that of a garden with one added bonus – you get to be part of the production.

Setting the stage

Gardening is a theatrical art where the plants are the performers and the walls, seats and pathways are the props. It’s no coincidence that Shakespeare included gardens in many of his plays. As gardeners we can play a part in shaping how the story evolves, transforming our personal green space into something that makes a statement of how we live.

The most wonderful part of creating a garden or looking after an existing one is that there are so many opportunities to let nature do a lot of the work. Left untended any garden will eventually return to a state of careless rapture. That’s perfect for wildlife but modern life usually means having some control so there’s a fine balance to be forged, just like any friendship. There’s give and take on both sides.

Understanding the rules

Perhaps the Greeks knew that best since Demeter, the goddess of horticulture and gardens was also the goddess of law and order! Classical gardens have long been home to gods and goddesses who would often watch sentinel-like along avenues of pleached limes or command the focal point in a courtyard garden.

These mythical characters of the garden remind us that our relationships with our gardens are a humble affair. We should work with nature, not seek to rid them of nature’s influence. Gardens which derive from hard work, inspired ideas and the fruits of trial and error are a partnership between the garden owner and the soil which is the heart and soul of any garden.

Working with the soil is a sensuous activity. It’s easy to mistakenly think that all soils are the same. The truth is that soils are as individual as people and getting to know what type of soil you have will make life easier and allow you to get the most out of a garden. When you understand the soil underneath your feet, you’ll realise the potential of what you can grow. The moment you start to dig, you start to learn.

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Twists and turns

Like any good play gardens should tell a storyline with twists and turns of the plot, suspense and most of all have characters which grab you visually and make you want to discover more. When a garden enthrals the eye it’s easy to fall in love with.

As with theatre, a simple layout will allow you to make the most of the space. You rarely see a stage crammed with furniture and a garden should work in the same way, allowing you to develop scenes within it, often experienced one after the other, perhaps across a lawn, through an archway and into an entirely different space with its own individual mood and atmosphere.

It’s worth remembering also that gardens exist long after dark. Some of the most enigmatic gardens can be best seen by moonlight, when plants are draped with a myriad of shadows and there is a tangible air of mystery, of an oasis waiting to be explored. Moonlighting is also a type of theatrical lighting employed on a modern stage to create mood and drama. With a few carefully placed lights (or candles) you can give the space a wonderful atmosphere.

The relationship you have with your garden is a long term one and one which will gently change and evolve the more you spend time developing it. Don’t be afraid to try out new things this spring, be it plants or bigger stage sets which set the scene for your own perfect space.

Tall Perennials

rudherbstandverbHead and flowers above the rest

After the dark days of the winter, there are few things more uplifting than the sight of the first emerging buds beginning to swell as plants wake from their cold slumber.

Gardeners everywhere will be looking keenly for the young new shoots of herbaceous plants breaking through the soil.

For cathedral-like spires of flowers and foliage, Verbascum olympicum stands proud in any sunny border providing it’s not too wet. With yellow towers of blooms and grey foliage it’s happy on Kent’s chalk soils.

Ever popular at RHS flower shows, the trendy Verbena bonariensis is capable of making over six feet to throw purple tufts of flowers into the sky.

Pure brazenness comes in the form of Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ up to seven feet high, with its yellow daisy like flowers during late summer and autumn.

Architectural foliage is the specialty of the moisture-loving Gunnera manicata, with individual leaves sometimes over five feet across on a single plant.

Spring sunshine is warming the soil and soon the race will be on to get those flowers up and out, not just under our noses but sometimes even over our heads! If you can plant these tall players in big groups, you don’t have to worry quite so much about staking either as their safety in numbers means they protect and support each other.

Just remember all that growth needs to be rewarded with a good application of organic compost.

The Hot Border

j0223828Turning up the heat of summer

Garden designers draw their inspiration from a number of sources, sometimes it’s the surrounding landscape, sometimes the individual character of the person who owns the garden. Perhaps the greatest inspiration however comes from Nature herself.

With the summer well underway, how about experimenting with some daring colour and setting your borders alight with flames of fiery reds, golds and oranges. Put your shades on and go wild with the dangerous side of the colour spectrum.

Throwing in lots of colourful plants with garish colours is easy but getting right takes practice. If you’re a beginner to gardening, you can’t fail too easily with the robust, fanned leaves of Phormium ‘Rainbow Queen’ with its striped foliage of red, amber and subtle green. It’s perfect for using as a focal point between other plants which will come and go with the seasons.

Other low maintenance plants include the larger smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace’ with deep burgundy leaves and whispery, soft flowers and the cheerful Spiraea ‘Goldflame’, its new bracts burning through with reds and oranges above gold foliage.

For the more adventurous, try the bold tongues of Cannas, available in a range of delicious fiery colours. Their large leaves act as a wonderful backdrop to more delicate foliage plants like the golden Carex elata ‘Aurea’. One classic favourite is the stunning Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, with works exceedingly well with a few purple splashes like Verbena bonariensis.

Of course, the excitement doesn’t have to end when the summer sun goes down in autumn because then if you’ve planned right, the border changes to show off one more glorious display as the smoke bush shifts into its autumn tints and the Rudbeckia heads dry to a sculptural black.

Mind you, if you’re more into literal fire than visual effects, you can always settle for Dictamnus albus. In hot weather, it’s leaves produce a volatile oil which can be set alight with a match!

Experiment with your hot border and don’t be afraid to mix and match. Try to contrast different foliage shapes and textures as well as colours and you’ll soon be glowing with pride.

Tools

heligan3The right tool for the job

It’s wake up time in gardens all over Kent, now the daffodils and crocuses have finished exploding up through the soil to take our breath away with riots of bright colour.

After a mild winter (the sledge stayed in the garage this year), the garden will soon be needing a strong arm to keep it looking at its best.

Time to check the inventory of tools. First up is the spade, which is essential. Pick one that feels right. If you’re taller than average, choose one with a longer handle to save back ache. Stainless steel spades are good and soil doesn’t stick to them as easily, except I’ve found they don’t take heavy abuse like a ‘conventional’ forged steel head.

Literally always by my side in a small leather pouch are my faithful secateurs. Again, try a few before you buy. They need to fit your hand snugly if they’re going to be used for hour after hour without too much strain. Some more expensive Swiss makes have swivel shafts which rotate with the cutting action, causing less friction on the palm.

Personally, I use scissor action rather than anvil. The former can snip at rose heads as well as crank up for more robust work whilst the anvil action tends to crush rather than cut.

For larger branches a lopper makes quick work of chopping and is simply a larger version of the secateurs. For leaves on lawns I’d recommend a leaf rake with a plastic head, rather the traditional wire spring-tine as the softer head will not damage the sward so quickly. You can even use it on paths without it sounding like nails running down a blackboard!

A Dutch hoe can be pushed just underneath the surface of the soil to uproot weeds and makes working in small areas easy. A sharp (folding) knife doubles for string-cutting and taking plant cuttings.

This is just a small selection but remember, whatever tools you use, they will be an extension of your body, so they have to feel right in terms of weight and balance.

The golden rule is – keep them sharp and clean. Good tools mean the battle’s half won.

Topiary

spiraltopiaryTrimming a status symbol

There is a saying that power is nothing without control and mankind has always been attempting to control nature to produce food or to create a statement of power. To Louis XIV of France in the 17th Century, the grandest way of showing off his wealth and power over his subjects was to extend this control to the gardens surrounding the Châteaux of Versailles.

It’s not just the strong geometrical lines of the layout of this landscape which impress the eye but also the sharply architectural lines of the main plants in the form of topiary.

Topiary is essentially the art of controlling a plant’s growth to produce bold shapes which are then trimmed to encourage a dense form. The most typical of topiary shapes are of course balls and cones although the more adventurous can venture to spirals and even animals. It seems the only limit to what can be represented in topiary is your imagination.

So what makes a good plant for topiary? The well-proven stars are Box and Yew which will happily tolerate hard pruning. Holly is a tolerant performer, followed by the shrubby Honeysuckles (don’t get confused with the climbing species), which can all be trimmed once a year in late summer. Being evergreen, these candidates for cutting will form wonderful shapes during the winter at the time of year when the garden is most in need of bold lines.

The key thing to remember about topiary is that the shape needs space to be appreciated. It’s no good hiding topiary in a mass of other planting. The topiary forms a shape but the space around it is just as important.

You can use sharp shears to trim topiary or a hedge trimmer if you prefer. Just be careful of the lead if its electric as concentrating on the shape can sometimes take the eye off the cable!

Trimming a piece of topiary is not only therapeutic but can be an entirely personal thing as you create a piece of living sculpture. With a little patience and a sprinkle of imagination, you too can show off your green status symbol, a sign of your careful control over nature like Kings and Queens before you.

Water Features in Gardens

klwater1We all grow up with memories of water in some form, whether it’s catching tadpoles by a stream, searching rock pools by the sea or splashing in puddles on the way home from school. It is perhaps this memory of wanting to interact with water which makes us yearn to have it in our gardens.

Water of course is not only fundamental to life but also appears as a key design element in gardens throughout the world, from the cool courtyards of Italy to the Peterhof Gardens in Russia with their beautifully stunning gold statues and cascading waterfalls.

Water plays with your senses, providing a point of interest or place for a sculptural art object (see featured silver ball). Whilst not everyone is lucky enough to have a river running through their garden, there are other options for introducing water into even the smallest of outdoor spaces.

The Water element features heavily in most gardens that I’m asked to design and build. Waterfalls, ponds, streams, fountains, cascades, rills and horizon pools (pools which are designed to appear to touch the horizon) are just some of the ways that water can soothe the ear and catch the eye.

Choice of type depends upon the size and surroundings, placement and design specifics of your outdoor space. Are you looking to provide a focal point or a hidden natural environment for wildlife? It’s important to work out what you want your feature to do for your garden and how it will look through the four seasons.

Feature

Although there are no hard and fast rules, I generally regard ponds as having wildlife of some description and pools as being architectural areas of water in their own right. The image shown to all intents and purposes is a pool – all be it a rather grand one!

Small courtyards are perfect for elegant water features as they cool the air temperature. Small pools like the one in the Italianate courtyard (see photo) can be finished with delicate detailing like mosaic tiles which lend the courtyard a distinctive character.

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Elements

When planning where to place water within a garden there are a few key points well worth remembering. Firstly, wildlife ponds are generally better off when accompanied by some shade for the creatures living in it. However, small ponds can easily get choked by falling leaves so place away from large trees.

Deep water can be hazardous for small children so keep depth to sensible limits and place within eyesight of the house for peace of mind.

If you’re introducing fountains or pumps you’ll need a power supply which should be fitted by a qualified electrician. It’s also worth considering ‘lighting’ at the design planning stage. When lit at night, a water feature can provides an atmospheric space in which to chill out with friends.

Planting

For wildlife ponds you’ll need to plan the edges of the pond, ensuring you have a shallow gradient for part of the perimeter for migrating insects and frogs and don’t forget shelving for aquatic plants which provide the wildlife with not only food but a safe havens for breeding.

As a vital element of any wildlife pond, planting also helps with the water quality. Oxygenating plants like Water Violet and Hornwort help to keep water clear of algal growth.

Materials

The relaxing sounds of water tinkling across stone can soothe even the hardest day. Water features can be constructed from a wide variety of materials in sympathy with the rest of the property, from natural stone, to brick or even glass or stainless steel – which reflect the light on the water beautifully. In a rural setting large rocks and stonework can lend a water feature a fantastic backdrop.

The Senses

Drinking from a fountain on a summer’s day, feeling the pleasure of feet dipped in a stream or simply listening to the sound of water cascading over rocks, water catches our senses and leaves us with memories, an ever important element of a well design garden.

Watering

wateringpicLooking after the source of life

Water is essential to all living things and even though a typical English summer will herald rain, one thing is for sure, if we have a summer like last year then plants in the garden will need careful watering to ensure they survive the heat.

It’s so easy to waste water which is not only bad in terms of squandering a valuable resource, but if you’re on a water meter, bad for your pocket, too!

Saving water can also save you money if you collect rain water from down pipes and use a mulch of bark or stone chippings to reduce evaporation during hot spells.

Thinking carefully about drought-tolerant plants will also cut down on the water bill, but if you really have to water the garden, what’s the best way?

A really good soak from time to time is better than little and often. A good drench will encourage roots to go further down into the soil where it’s cooler. Avoid watering during the day unless the plant is really suffering as midday heat can evaporate water before plants have a chance to soak it up and try not to splash foliage as this evaporates quickly and small water droplets can act like magnifying glasses in bright sunlight and even scorch leaves

If plants are in pots, get the hose right down at the base of the plant, this will get the water to where its needed most. Adding a little fertiliser to the water will replenish nutrients which get used up or are carried away as the pots drain.

How much water a plant needs will depend on how and where it’s growing. Plants in pots generally need watering more often as the amount of available water is less and especially so with hanging baskets.

So, is growing everything in the ground the answer? Not always, if you have bigger plants nearby which will have a greater demand for water than smaller plants and compete with them! The strong effects of wind and sun will also dry out foliage quicker when they’re combined.

Water is something we all need, so be water wise and use it carefully this summer. Your garden and your pocket will be all the better for it.

Wildflower meadows

meadowpicSummer grass with a wild side.

At this time of year, the Kent countryside will be alive to the sound of mowers, shears and rakes, all taming the countless square miles of lawns that make up the majority of the garden landscape.

If the demands of a perfect lawn are too time consuming, why not think about an area of meadow instead? A rich contrast to the manicured green of a cut lawn, a meadow can provide an alternate wildflower-rich grassland which is superbly attractive to wildlife.

The first step is to look carefully at the neighbouring landscape of grass verges alongside roads and even roundabouts, where native wildflowers have been allowed to seed themselves. This will give you a good clue as to what your own soil will be likely to support.

If you’re planning a meadow, the golden rule is to never feed the soil as most wildflowers thrive on poor soil. If soil has been supplemented over the years with fertiliser, remove the topsoil to expose the subsoil and then import new sterilised topsoil. All such work should be carried out on dry spring days when the soil will be easier to work and less compaction will occur. Sections can of course be removed from an existing lawn to make way for the new meadow.

Seeding should then be carried out over the new topsoil. A good seed manufacturer will often advise on the mix and quantities and the best method of sowing. As the seed germinates, keep a check on unwanted weeds like nettles, which may compete with the new seedlings.

The first cut can be carried out in July and its best to leave the cuttings for a few days to allow the ripened seeds to shed back into the soil and to allow wildlife to migrate away from the debris before its removed completely. Leave a few meandering paths through the meadow to provide access for weeding out unwanted newcomers. Mow again in autumn to reduce its height over winter.

Meadows don’t have to be large and are a beautiful sight that attracts not only the eye but also a rich culture of wildlife, beneficial for the garden and the landscape as a whole.

Winter Fruit Pruning

winterpruningpicFruit pruning in winter – a quick guide.

Kent is well known as the ‘Garden of England’ and not without good reason. Orchards cover countless square miles of our countryside and lines of apple trees all in blossom are a most stunning sight earlier in the year.

Growing your own produce is a wonderful thing to do, but do you know what to prune at this time of year or what to avoid cutting back?

The list is reasonably straight forward. Apple and pears can both be pruned now. The aim of pruning a tree of 4 years old or younger is to create a proper framework of balanced branches. Once the tree has established, the main focus is to encourage fruiting wood. Always remove dead, diseased or crossing branches. With spur-bearing apple varieties (those which bear fruit along the whole shoot like Cox’s Orange Pippin), leave the leading shoots and remove any laterals (side branches) growing towards the centre of the tree. Tip bearers like Worcester Permain which produce fruit mostly at the tip of the shoots should have their leading shoots cut back, leaving the laterals which show signs of fruiting buds. Pears are treated in a similar way to apples, according to their variety. Always cut to an outward facing bud.

There are some trees to avoid pruning at this time of year. Do not cut back plums, cherries, peaches and nectarines. To do so will encourage damaging diseases like Silver Leaf and bacterial canker infection to which they are especially prone at this time of year. Both these diseases can lead to die back in the branches and in the case of canker can result in death.

The list of soft fruit is a little longer but mulberries, quinces, blackberries and blackcurrants can all be cut back now. If in doubt about which shoots to remove, seek advice as to the way in which the shoots are removed will determine how well the plant fruits the following year.

Kent is steadily increasing its reputation for wine growing after the hot summer and for those growing grapes at home, laterals should be cut back to 1 inch from the main branches and the leading shoots by half. With a little time and care, your crop will be something to be proud of.

Woodland Gardening

simonphoto20aGardening beneath the green canopy

Spring is the easiest time of year to write about and words like ‘awakening’ and ‘uplifting’ are hard to deny when describing the landscape around us. By now crocus will have warmed the heart with their speckled display and buds will be swelling on the branches of shrubs and trees as sap starts to rise in response to the longer days and higher temperatures.

It is by nature’s contradicting design that as the days get longer, there are parts of the garden that can actually get shadier. As the buds of trees begin to unfurl their leaves, the canopy can obscure the sky from the plants down on the ground. In woodlands all over the country this is most noticeable, although the urban environment of tall buildings provide much the same conditions, albeit all year round.

Plants have adapted to thrive even in these sunlight-starved areas and have certain characteristics to compensate for the lack of sun. Greens get deeper as the amount of chlorophyll (the food making cells in the leaf) increases. Plants spread their branches wider to soak up the little sunlight that’s available. In a garden situation, a shady border is often seen as a disadvantage, something to be avoided at all costs but can in fact, with a little plant knowledge, provide a wonderful opportunity to create cool textures and surprising visual effects.

Green is far from the only colour, either. The red leaves of Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ contrast spectacularly with the grassy, golden tufts of Milium effusum ‘Aureum’. For superb splashes of silver, one can hardly do better than Pulmonaria ‘Opal’, with its blue flowers in early spring. Damp shade can be positively luscious with the bold foliage plants of Rodgersia podophylla and Cimicifuga ‘James Compton’ with its red leaves and creamy flower spikes.

Most gardens have a shady corner and in built up cities, this is ever more so. The good news is, there is a whole group of plants that are only too keen to keep out of the sun.

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