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.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Natural Gardens

‘Eco-friendly’, ‘wildlife’, and ‘native planting’ are phrases that are being used a great deal at the moment.  They all have subtly different meanings but in the end boil down to gardening in tune with nature to achieve a beautiful garden full of wildlife.

Spring Flowering Hebe.

The problem most people face is where to begin.  Does this mean just giving up completely, letting the lawn grow as it will and forgetting the weeding?  Ground elder and nettles are native plants after all so must therefore be ‘a good thing’.  Not necessarily.

A much less drastic and easier way is to create a Natural Garden.
Summer Flowering Nepeta.

A Natural Garden will have the benefit of strong, thriving plants (that may or may not be native to the UK).  It will be as low maintenance as any garden can be.  It will be colourful but not full of hysterical, collapsing prima donnas.  It will be humming with insects and birds.

When creating a natural garden try to put yourself in the position of the mini-beasts and birds you are trying to attract.  Their needs are basically the same as yours and mine.

·         A safe home.
·         Food.
·         Water.

Autumn Flowering Anemone.

Try to manage the garden with reference to its other occupants.  Don’t cut hedges when birds might be nesting, leave flower heads for their seeds and dry stems for bug accommodation and don’t be too tidy.

All sorts of plants and structures can make a good home for a bird or mini-beast.  Ivy or other evergreen shrubs or trees offer a lot of shelter and bug hotels are easily made from hollow stems, rolled up paper or dried leaves.
If at all possible try to incorporate some water into the garden either as a pond or bog garden.  Just remember to ensure that there is a way out either up a slope or vertical stem.

When you are designing your planting give some thought to how dependable and your chosen plants are.  Try to avoid anything that has to be cosseted and primped in order for it to survive.  They do not have to be indigenous or wild but do need to look natural.  

Winter Flowering Mahonia.

Finally make sure that there is something in flower all year round to feed your neighbours.  The RHS have produced a ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ plant list which should help in your selection.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Mind The Gap?

It has just occured to me that the notorious August Gap is upon us.  That time during the summer when gardens are traditionally supposed to run out of steam and look a bit jaded. 

Says who?

This might not be sophisticated. 
It might not, perish the thought, even be particularly 'designed'. 

A little bit of vulgarity is good for the soul and the fact that it looks like an explosion in a paint factory is irrelevant.

But - it is flowering its socks off and is absolutely humming and buzzing with bees and butterflies.

Enjoy ...

Hemerocallis 'Stafford'

Liatris spicata
Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant'

Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'
Achillea 'Terracotta'

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'

Gaura lindlemeri 'Whirling Butterflies'
Rudbeckia flugida 'Glodsturm'

Datisca cannabina

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Architectural Planting

Architectural or minimalistic planting is not for the faint hearted. 


In this instance less really is more and you have to be very strict with yourself and resist the temptation to keep adding plants to your scheme.  Try to imagine your garden as a sculpture gallery and use your plant specimens as works of art.  They will need to be carefully placed and framed by their surroundings.  The mulch or under planting you use also needs careful consideration.  You can use traditional chipped or composted bark, gravel, cobbles or a low growing and simple ground cover – but only use one species otherwise you will lose the effect.  Imagine a multistem silver birch under planted with a mass of Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ which has a fine white edge to its leaves and will gently accentuate the birch stems.  The space around each plant is almost as important as the plant itself.  You might even want to light them at night to produce stunning shadow patterns and dramatic effects.

Some plants are naturally architectural whilst others can have architecture thrust upon them.


The former all have strong, bold and distinctive shapes and are quite often associated with Mediterranean or tropical planting schemes.  Examples include phormiums, yuccas and cordylines.  

 The other group is much broader based and can include almost any plant which could be considered to be a ‘specimen’.  Japanese maples are ideal.  You may well need to release its inner architecture by pruning or clipping.  It is amazing the difference you can make by simply taking off the lower branches of a shrub or small tree to expose its twisted stems or interesting bark.  Try clipping a Cupressus sempervirens to form a bold dark green spire.  Lift the petticoats of a paperbark maple or Tibetan cherry to show off the superb bark.  



The ultimate expression of this tweaking is topiary which, if you have the patience, you can create yourself, or invest in a ready-made piece.  Look for interesting shapes, textures or colour.  Carefully scrutinise your intended subject to see how you can create a piece of living sculpture.

If you are feeling really bold why not use the land itself to form your architectural shapes?  You can create extraordinary mounds, pyramids, bowls and hollows which look spectacular simply planted with grass.



However you decide to approach your living architecture just remember be bold and keep it simple.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Jungle Planting

Jungle Planting is a style which is pure theatre and one where there is no such thing as restraint.  A successful Jungle has to be exuberant and lush.

Firstly make sure the soil is free draining with loads of compost and manure.  Jungle plants need a lot of ‘fuel’ to grow.  It is also a good idea to mulch well with bark chips to help conserve moisture.

·         Keep planting really dense.  Pack them in.
·         Use bold leaf shapes and architectural plants.
·         Remember to layer the planting from ground cover up to large shrubs or trees.


The trick is to use plants which give the impression of being tropical and tender but which, in reality, are hardy.  Things like Fatsia japonica, Rodgersia, the palm Trachycarpus fortuneii and Phormiums are a good place to start.  Bamboo looks wonderful.  Some of the big ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ or M. ‘Giganteus’ also work well.

There are some semi hardy plants which can create superb effects, but you must bear in mind that they may need winter protection, such as Tree Ferns and Agave americana.  It is a common misconception that cold kills most slightly tender plants.  Wet is the main reason for most deaths.  It is really important to make sure that plants do not sit in soggy soil, unless of course they are bog plants!


It may come as a surprise but the banana Musa basjoo is root hardy.  It can be grown in two ways.  Either wrap the trunks each winter or leave it unprotected.  If left, all the top growth with die back and it will sprout huge leaves from the ground each spring.

In a boggy garden try Papyrus cyperus and Gunnera and you can imagine yourself on the banks of the River Nile.


Unlike most other planting styles a Jungle garden does not put huge importance on flowers.  The predominant colour will be green.  Those flowers that do exist will tend to be large and brightly coloured.  The flowers of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Cannas and Hedychium coccineum ‘Tara’ are spectacular.


Just remember three final points:

·         You are directing a theatrical production – be dramatic.
·         Have fun and experiment.  Most pot plants are tropical so put them in the garden for the summer.
·         Don’t forget to feed the tigers.