Thursday, 19 February 2015

New Book Published

I am thrilled to have received a copy of a new book called ‘Garden Design, A Book of Ideas’ by Heidi Howcroft & Marianne Majerus.  Published by Mitchell Beazley.

Any excuse to look through wonderful images and inspirational ideas is always welcome.  


I am particularly biased on this occasion because one of the case studies, on page 204 – 205 to be precise, features a Pictorial Meadows annual wildflower meadow in one of my gardens.  


I use these whenever the opportunity presents itself.  They are very easy to sow, require minimal maintenance and flower for months on end.  In addition they buzz with insects – the bees love them.

The rest of the book is extremely interesting and very beautifully photographed, as one would expect from Marianne, and packed full of great ideas.  I can feel an extended book session coming on.

Should you feel the need, and I recommend that you do, it is available on Amazon.

The ISBN number is 978 1 84533 921 0. 

NB - These images are ones I have taken of the same meadow and nowhere near as good as those in the book.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Naked Gardens

It might seem somewhat perverse but when designing a garden one of the most important things to keep in the back of your mind is what it will look like during winter and what plants will look like when they are either dead or dormant.

Over the past few years we have all had a bit of a wake-up call as far as real winter is concerned.  Perhaps we have been lulled into a false sense of security with our previously mild weather but, as we have seen, it is a season that has to be taken seriously.  

Planting is often used to disguise a badly designed garden in the same way that clothes can be used as a cover up.  You might be able to get away with this during the summer when everything is lush the eye is distracted.  However in winter, when the garden has its clothes stripped away, you will see the less attractive bits which have nowhere to hide.

The basic design has to be able to stand alone.  It has to look good without any decorative plants.  Consider the shape, pattern and form of the garden.  Is it pleasing to the eye?  Do you have any features that are particularly interesting?  It could be something as simple as the curve of a wall, the reflection of the sky in a still pond or the way light falls across a terrace.

From this point it can be ‘decorated’ with plants.


The main plant emphasis during winter is on bark, berries, seed heads, evergreens and the shape, form and silhouettes of dead or dormant perennials, shrubs and trees.  

There are also some lovely scented flowers to enjoy.  At the moment the perfumes from Sarcococca Confusa and Daphne Bholua 'jacqueline postill' are utterly bewitching - to name but two examples.

Sarcococca Flowers are highly scented

Bark and twigs can be shining white, patterned, bright glowing red and orange or gleaming like polished mahogany.  One of the best for white bark is the frequently seen Betula utilis var. 'Jacquemontii'.  Prunus serula has extraordinary mahogany bark which is the colour of freshly opened conkers.  The dogwoods, particularly Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' have glorious twigs at this time of year which are scarlet or flame coloured and look particularly fine planted in groups where the low sun can illuminate them.

Prunus serula bark gleams in the sun.

Berries come in lots of different colours ranging from white to yellow, orange, pink, red, blue and dark purple.

The structure of many of the ornamental grasses and some herbaceous perennials once they are dead are exceptionally lovely and could stand all winter like mini bronze sculptures.  The Miscanthus species stand particularly well all winter until you chop them down in about March to allow the new growth to come through.

Miscanthus turn silver.

Evergreens give colour, substance, depth and shadow but be careful of packing in too many.  They can look a bit artificial particularly in rural settings.  Use small groups, don’t dot individual specimens.  For something a bit different consider using the black/purple leaved Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb'


Winter can seem very long so it is worth taking a little extra trouble to make sure that your garden looks just as good dressed or naked.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Can You See The Wood For The Trees?

Considering the importance trees play in our lives it is extraordinary how little thought we give them and how they are literally and figuratively overlooked.  

Perhaps, given the recent storms, you may have lost a tree and can therefore see what a huge difference their presence makes in our landscape.

An English Oak.

Trees are vital.  The benefits and uses to which they can be put are huge.  Trees give structure, height, shade, shelter and screening, they offer year round interest with flowers, leaves, berries and bark, they absorb excess rainwater, balance the temperature under their canopies, they give homes and food to large numbers of birds and wildlife.  And they are also rather beautiful and good to hug, should you be so inclined.

Tree planting is not to be undertaken lightly.  It really is important to get the right tree for the job you want it to do. 

Malus Hupehensis.

There is a tree suitable for almost every garden in a huge variety of sizes, shapes and colours.  What do you want from your tree?  Is it to be a single specimen?  Do you want to frame a view or hide something unsightly?  Evergreen or deciduous?  What about shape?  Think about what would look best in your intended space.

Trees are classified into three size groups:
·         Small (5-10 metres high)
·         Medium (10-20 metres high)
·         Large (20+ metres high)

Do not underestimate size.  It is tragic to see a tree which is growing too large having to be hacked about to try and keep it contained.  Try to imagine your tree 50 or 100 years from now.  If you are planting a really long lived variety it might well still be around in 1000 years. 

Some of my favourites include:

Small Gardens
Amelanchier lamarckii – beautiful flowers, berries and autumn colour.
Corylus avellana ‘Zellernus’ – pink catkins, purple foliage and edible nuts.

Spring Blossom
Malus hupehensis - a crab apple with astonishingly beautiful blossom.
Sorbus aucuparia - our native rowan with lovely white flowers and splendid autumn berries.

Acer Griseum.

Interesting Bark
Prunus serrula ‘Tibetica’ – shining polished mahogany.  A bit like a freshly opened conker.
Acer griseum – peeling amber and cinnamon coloured.

Ilex aquifolium Argentea Marginata – a small holly with white and pink edged leaves.
Pinus wallichiana – beautiful soft needles on a large conical tree.

Pinus Wallichiana, The Bhutan Pine.

Pinus nigra ‘Austriaca’ – good for any exposed site.  Long green needles.
Populus tremula – sparkles in the sun and very robust.  Also looks great in the Autumn.

Populus tremula in Autumn.

Autumn Colour
Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon – stunning large tree.
Parrotia persica ‘Vanessa’ – One of the finest small trees for autumn colour.

Parrotia persica or the Persian Ironwood in Autumn.

And last but not least;

Quercus robur – our native English Oak.  Home to over 600 species of mini-beast.  Huge and simply wonderful.  It is said that an oak takes 300 years to grow, is in its prime for the next 300 years and then takes 300 years to die.  Please plant one if you have the space.

I could go on... 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Light Up Your Garden

Just because it is dark outside doesn’t mean that you have to stop enjoying your garden.  Lighting a garden is often overlooked - which is a shame because the addition of some well placed lights can transform any garden, of whatever size, into a magical, enchanting world.


Consider which areas would benefit from being lit - these could include the obvious such as dining and seating areas, paths and steps.  However dramatic effects can be created by lighting walls, trees, ‘architectural’ plants, sculpture and water.

There are many different ways of using light to achieve different effects.


·         Uplighting.  Lights placed at ground level which shine up a wall or into a tree.
·         Downlighting.  Places the light source above the feature to be lit.
·      Path and step lighting.  Usually shines a beam of light horizontally across the step or path.


·         Washing.  Literally washes a surface with a soft glow and brings out interesting shadows and shapes.
·         Shadowing.  Creates very dramatic effects and strong shadows by placing the light directly in front of the object to be lit.
·         Cross lighting.  Lights an object from two sides and creates soft highlights.
·         Moonlighting.  Replicates the effect of moonlight by placing a light high in a tree for romantic, soft dappled shadows.

Many of these techniques can also be used to light water which will glitter, sparkle and glow.

Part of the drama of what you choose to light lies in the balance created between shadow and light.  Do not be tempted to light everything.  Keep some mystery in the shadows and be subtle.  Less is more.  Do not over-do it or you run the risk of your garden looking like Disneyland.

You can create extraordinary effects using LEDs or fibre optics.  These can use colours and almost as many different theatrical effects as you can imagine.  Just don’t get too carried away.


There are many different types of light fitting to choose from.  Buy ones specifically designed for outdoor use with low voltage lights routed through a transformer and get them fitted by someone qualified. .

So don’t just think about it – get started. Wait for a suitable evening.  Open your curtains.  Take as many torches, lanterns, even candles as you can find, go outside and experiment.  Then go back inside and look at your garden and see how it can be transformed into a 24 hour space.