Preparing the Garden for Spring

Now that the snow has gone and the weather is (perhaps) improving, there are a few jobs you can do around the garden to get ready for the year ahead:

Start in the Shed…

… or greenhouse.  Clear out anything left over from last year that is dead or broken.  Empty pots and give them a scrub.  Wash down greenhouse windows and clear any guttering of leaves and moss.  Clean gardening tools with a wire brush.  Sharpen shears and give secateurs a squirt of WD-40 to get them moving.

Clear the Beds

Use a spring tine rake to carefully clear moss and leaves from planted beds.  Dig out any small weeds that remain – if you stop them getting established now it will be easier to keep on top of them later in the year.  Remember to remove weeds from walls and paving too.  Mulch the beds with compost to help suppress weeds and add nutrients to the soil.  Now’s also the time to clear moss and weed from ponds, but make sure you do it carefully so as not to damage the liner.

Give Things a Trim

Cut back last year’s growth on any remaining perennials and deciduous grasses.  Trim overgrown climbers.  Prune late flowering shrubs – remove any growth that is dead, diseased, or damaged.  Deadhead flowering shrubs like Hydrangeas by cutting stems back to just above the first pair of buds.  Don’t prune shrubs that flower in Spring now or you’ll lose this year’s show of flowers.

Spruce Up the Lawn

If your lawn is tidy, the whole garden looks tidy!  Nothing makes a lawn look tidier than neatly clipped edges.  If the boundaries between your lawn and planted beds have started to blur, start by giving the beds a nice sharp edge using a half moon tool.  Follow on by clipping these new edges with edging shears – make sure you collect the clippings.  Don’t be tempted to walk on the lawn when it’s frosty though as the grass is more susceptible to damage when it’s frozen.

Clearing and tidying may not seem like most exciting part of gardening, but it’s really worth putting in the effort now to prepare the garden for the coming seasons.  And there’s no doubt that spending a few hours in the fresh air on a weekend and seeing the first signs of Spring are a real boost for the soul!

Why Employ A Garden Designer?

As we start another new year in which it looks like we might all be spending a fair amount of time at home, you might be thinking about investing in your garden. Here’s a reminder of why it’s worthwhile engaging a professional garden designer for your project.

If you’re thinking of revamping your garden one question you may be asking is who would be best placed to help meet your requirements – a gardener, landscaper or garden designer?  In simple terms, a good gardener will be able to overhaul existing plants and will be invaluable in helping keep an established garden looking its best; a good landscaper will be able to lay a new patio for example or build garden features such as walls or pergolas. A professional garden designer will have the knowledge and expertise to look holistically at your garden and help you get the most out of the space, within the available budget.

A garden designer will be able to plan the layout of your garden bringing creativity in terms of where to position paving, decking and garden features.  They will be able to help you solve particular problems such as privacy issues, sloping sites, or shady corners.  They will also be experienced in selecting plants which achieve the ‘feel’ of garden you are looking for and are appropriate to the local conditions.  A good garden designer should also be able to provide you with construction drawings and a specification to enable a landscaper to accurately price and construct the works.

A garden design is effectively a blueprint for your garden – it ensures that, whether you choose to construct the whole garden in one go or in phases, perhaps to suit budget, all areas of the garden will complement each other and fit together as a cohesive space.

Completely revamping your garden can be a big investment – it’s not uncommon to spend a figure of 5-10% of the value of your house on achieving your ideal garden.  This might seem a lot but consider how much you might spend on a good quality kitchen, and how much value this adds to your home as well as to your quality of life.

An experienced garden designer will always work with your budget in mind and will be able to suggest cost-effective solutions to meet your requirements.  They should be able to provide you with a range of options for materials and planting to fit within your budget.

Once the design is complete, the garden designer should be able to help you source quotes from landscapers to carry out the work.  While some designers have one landscaper that they prefer to work with, I would almost always advise clients to competitively tender their project to two or three reputable landscapers.  This provides the client with peace of mind that they are getting value for money.

Garden design fees vary depending on the complexity of the garden and the services which the client requires but will no doubt be a cost that has to be factored into your project budget. However, when balanced against the sometimes costly mistakes of DIY garden projects, it can be a small price to pay to achieve the garden of your dreams.

A professional garden designer will help you maximise the potential of your space and leave you with a garden you will love for years to come.

You will find more details on the garden design process at http://www.artisangardendesign.net/stages-of-the-design-process/

If you would like to have a chat about your garden, please get in touch!

A Visit to Scampston

2020 has been the strangest of years, and as we near its end I’ve been reflecting on the personal highs and lows of the year.  I realise with hindsight how lucky I was to get a few days away in the summer, the highlight of which was a visit to Scampston Walled Garden.  So, on a dark December day, I thought I’d share with you some summer garden loveliness!

Scampston Hall in North Yorkshire is a 17th century country house set in extensive parkland designed by Capability Brown.  While Brown’s landscape is undoubtedly worth a visit, the jewel for me is the walled garden, located within what was originally the kitchen garden.  In 1999 the current owners of Scampston commissioned world-renowned plantsman Piet Oudolf to design the garden, and it opened to the public in 2005.

Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf is considered to be a leading figure in the “New Perennial” Movement of landscape design.  His designs include drifts of grasses and herbaceous perennials which are selected for their structural rather than flower interest.  Oudolf believes in the use of plants that look good in decay as well as in flower – seedheads and stems should provide interest throughout Autumn and Winter.  The result is dynamic, rhythmic planting that changes in waves through the seasons.

At Scampston beech hedges divide the walled garden into “rooms” allowing each space to take on its own mood with distinctive planting.  Some rooms contain light, airy planting – “Drifts of Grass” for example contains swathes of Molinia grass running through the lawn, which by late summer gives quite a dramatic sense of movement as the flower spikes wave in the breeze.  “Perennial Meadow” is a large room in front of a Victorian conservatory and contains informal blocks of perennials, each selected for their leaves, flowers and stems to create an ever-changing scene throughout the year.

In other rooms the planting is more formal – “Silent Garden” contains 24 clipped columns of yew, all 3m tall, symmetrically arranged around a rectangular reflective pool.  The restricted planting palette and orderly layout gives this space an incredibly calming atmosphere.

Other rooms contain a mix of the flowing perennials and clipped structural shrubs, which provides a striking juxtaposition.  In the long, narrow “Spring and Summer Box Borders”, orderly cubes of box running down the middle of each space are flanked by borders of dynamic seasonal perennials.  Finally, in “The Mount” a closely mown pyramid rises up out of a wildflower meadow and provides a superb vantage point from which to appreciate the intricate layout and structure of the whole Walled Garden.

Whilst my photos were taken during the Summer, the garden is stunning all through the seasons and is well worth a visit at any time during its open season from April to October.  Fingers crossed that 2021 will allow us all to enjoy more of the UK’s garden gems like Scampston!

https://www.scampston.co.uk/

https://oudolf.com/

Taming a Windy Garden

Given some of the weather we’ve had recently, I thought it would be useful to look at ways to reduce the impact of wind on a garden.

Amongst other things, windy conditions in a garden can damage plants, cause moisture loss in the soil, destroy potential insect habitats, and make it downright unpleasant to sit outside!

The answer is to create a windbreak; however this needs to be given careful consideration so as not to make the conditions worse.  As the diagrams illustrate, erecting a solid barrier will force the wind up over the top.  This will cause an increase in wind speed above the height of the barrier.  It will also cause swirling winds and eddies immediately behind the barrier.  A better solution is to create a windbreak with 50-60% permeability.  This will still allow the air to flow through, but at a reduced speed.

Types of windbreak

Windbreaks can be living or artificial: a living windbreak such as a hedge or line of trees will be attractive and long-lasting, although may take some time to establish.  Selected species will need to be wind-tolerant and fairly fast-growing.  Shrubs such as Cotoneaster, Elaeagnus, and Viburnum could work well for example.  It’s better to plant smaller specimens of fast-growing shrubs than more mature shrubs as they are likely to be quicker to establish.

Artificial windbreaks will require a sturdy support structure to withstand the wind.  Cladding should be fixed to the windward side of any posts. Hit and miss horizontal slats will provide privacy, while maintaining permeability.

Sizing and positioning

A windbreak will reduce wind on its leeward side to a distance of 8-10 times its height.  That will give some idea of the height that might be required to protect your garden.  They should be wider than the area requiring protection, to minimise the effects of wind coming around the sides.

Generally, windbreaks should be positioned to face the prevailing wind direction.   It may be however that you want to protect your garden from particularly cold northerly winds instead.

Site specifics might also influence the position of a wind break – for example, if the garden is on the side of a hill, or if wind is funnelled into the garden between existing buildings.

Second line of defence

Having created your windbreak, you might decide to give extra protection to specific areas within the garden, such as a seating area or vegetable patch.  Again, garden dividers can be living or artificial.  Examples of living dividers might include espaliered fruit trees, whilst decorative screens provide instant artificial barriers.

In short, with some careful planning it’s possible to make your garden a tranquil and more sheltered space.

It’s Bulb Time!

Now is the time to start planning for early season colour in your garden with Spring bulbs.

The garden centres are full of bulbs at the moment.  If you don’t fancy venturing out, there are lots of online bulb retailers who will deliver bulbs directly to your door.

This week I’ve discovered that planting bulbs can be a fun half-term activity too, as we set about planting 150 tulip bulbs in the garden.  I bought one of those bulb-planting tools – I never really saw the point before, but they actually do make the job quicker and the kids loved having a go too!

There are bulbs available to suit every taste and every type of garden.  You might want just a few specimens for some pots by the door; perhaps you want to add colour beneath deciduous shrubs; or maybe you’d like some bulbs to naturalise in your lawn.

If you’re looking for something to cover the ground in and around existing shrubs you can’t beat Snowdrops (Galanthus) for that first sign of Spring.  Why not also try blue-flowering Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) or the sunny yellow tuberous Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)?

For sunny borders Daffodils are always great value.  If you have well-drained soil you could try Alliums – available in a range of shades from white through to dark purple.  If the soil is damp, the delicate nodding heads of Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria Meleagris) can look very attractive.

Tulips are my favourite – hence the half-term planting project!

With so much choice available it can be a bit daunting knowing what to pick.  Using a restricted colour palette of pinks and purples, or yellows and whites will look quite stylish.  If you prefer a crazy eye-catching mix of bright colours that’s ok too in my book.  When all is said and done, the whole point of Spring bulbs is to add a touch of cheer at the dullest time of year.

Choose what you like – if they lift the spirits, they’re working just fine!

September Highlights

September is here and there’s definitely a chill in the air.  Summer perennials are starting to fade, and the trees are showing the first tints of autumn.  I’ve just been for a walk round the garden and there are still plenty of pops of late summer colour – here are some of my favourites:

Hydrangeas

Mophead hydrangeas are a particular favourite of mine, with their large pompom flower heads in shades from bright pink through to blue.  These shrubs like a moist, well-drained soil in partial shade.  Their flowers last from mid-summer all the way through autumn making them a good value addition to the garden.

Fuchsia

In total contrast to the Hydrangea, Fuchsias are graceful arching shrubs with dainty pendant flowers.  There is a huge variety with flowers ranging from white through to deep pinks and purples.  These shrubs like a sunny, sheltered position and will flower from mid-summer through to the first frosts.

Penstemon

Penstemons are semi-evergreen perennials, with upright spikes of thimble-shaped flowers, rather like foxgloves.  Colours range from pale pink through to deep red and blue.  They like a moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade.  Flowers last all through summer until the first frosts in autumn.  This is a good one for the bees!

Rudbeckia

As the days start to grow shorter Rudbeckia begins to flower.  These perennials, with their sunny daisy-like flowers provide a cheerful sight in the late summer border.  The attractive looking seedheads provide food and shelter for wildlife over winter.  With varieties ranging in height from around 0.5m to 2m there’s a Rudbeckia to suit any sunny spot in the garden.

Crocosmia

These perennials have strappy bright green leaves and arching stems of small tubular flowers from August through to October.  They grow from corms beneath the ground, dying away over winter and producing new growth in spring.  With their bright orange flowers, they provide a tropical accent to the garden.

Japanese Anemone

Also known as windflowers, these clump-forming perennials have tall stems with delicate saucer-like flowers in shades of pink and white.  Reaching heights of around 1m the flowers appear to float above surrounding foliage.  The prefer a sunny, or partly shady spot and will flower from August through to October.

Colour in Your Garden

I’ve seen lots on social media recently about choosing colour schemes for our homes and it’s prompted me to write to a piece on colours in the garden.  Whether through plants, hard landscaping, or furniture and accessories colour can be used to create particular moods and can have a powerful influence on how we respond to the environment.

Individually, colours evoke different feelings: red, for example, is vibrant and passionate; yellow is happy and fresh; blue is cool and tranquil.

I’m sure we all remember learning about the colour wheel at school – primary colours, secondary colours, etc. When choosing plants and materials for the garden, a simple colour wheel can be a useful tool to help us understand the effects different colour combinations will produce.

Colours that sit opposite each other on the colour wheel are known as ‘complementary colours’ – they contrast each other, creating vibrant effects.  Think about bright, fresh yellow contrasted with rich, deep purple, for example.

For a more relaxing colour combination, choose colours that sit together on the colour wheel.  Adjoining colours create a harmonious effect that is pleasing on the eye.  Reds, oranges and yellows will create a warming effect, while purples, blues and greens are more cooling.

Consider also the different tints and shades available within each colour.  When a colour is tinted with white it becomes lighter and paler.  Conversely, when shaded with black, a colour becomes darker and more intense.  Take orange, for example, which ranges from tints of peach, through to rich, shades of copper.  Tinted colours will appear more ethereal and further away; shaded colours appear both warmer and closer.

Alternatively, a monochromatic colour palette can have striking results – cream and white flowers against green and variegated foliage can be crisp and elegant, creating a calm and tranquil feel.

When all is said and done, colour preference is very personal.  The most important thing is to choose colours that will bring you joy when you look at your garden!

Photos courtesy of Pinterest

Container Gardening

Is your outdoor space a balcony, a terrace, or perhaps just a windowsill?  There are many plants you can choose to create your own green space, no matter how small.

A few practical considerations first:

If you have a balcony, weight is an important factor.  Consider using lightweight pots and compost.  For balconies and windowsills make sure that planters are secured so they can’t fall off.

Think about the amount of wind the space gets – for a particularly exposed spot consider installing a windbreak, or choose plants suited to exposed coastal conditions.

Look at the amount of sun the plants will get through the day and make sure you choose either shade-loving plants, or plants with silvery foliage to reflect sun and avoid scorching in a sunny position.

Plants in pots generally require year-round watering.  Make sure that pots have drainage holes to avoid roots sitting in water.  Also, pots made of porous materials like terracotta will dry out quicker than materials like plastic.

Herbs are great to grow in pots as they tend to stay quite compact.  Sage and thyme like a sunny position; parsley and mint will be happy in a shadier spot.

Fruit and vegetables can also be grown in container or bags – try strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes or potatoes.

Consider including a small evergreen shrub in the centre of a pot to create a focal point in a display as seasonal plants come and go through the year – Euonymus and Skimmia work well.  You could include ornamental grasses for foliage contrast in a sunny spot.  For containers in shade, try using Hostas, ferns or Heuchera for foliage interest.

Summer perennials like Nepeta, Salvia and Agapanthus will provide a great display in full sun or try Geraniums and Verbena in shade.

For a splash of instant colour try adding some bedding plants for summer – Pelargoniums for sun, Begonias and Impatiens in part shade.

If you have a reasonable size of space, consider including a tree to create height interest and provide some privacy and shade.  Many varieties of Acer and Magnolia grow well in containers, as do Prunus or Malus.  Or perhaps consider a topiary specimen like clipped Photinia or holly.

Finally, when the Summer perennials have finished flowering, pop some bulbs into the pots so you’ll have plenty of colour again next Spring.

Photos courtesy of Pinterest:
Housebeautiful.com; hgtv.com; hamptonsgarden.squarespace.com; midwestliving.com; commonground-do.com

Spring Jobs in the Garden

While we’re all home during lockdown, it’s an ideal opportunity to get out into the garden and tackle those jobs we don’t normally have time for or try something completely new.

With the nice weather we had over Easter I’m sure most of us lucky enough to have a garden have already been out making the most of it.  If you haven’t started yet – don’t worry, it’s not too late!

The first thing to do is give the garden a Spring clean.  Empty out old pots and give them a good wash. Clean your garden tools. If you have a greenhouse, clean that too.  Sweep or power wash any paths, patios and decking.

In the borders, get rid of any plants that have died over the Winter.  Cut back seedheads and dead foliage on perennials before this year’s growth starts to take off.  Once Spring bulbs have finished flowering deadhead the flowers – leave the foliage to go brown before you remove that.  And start to tackle the weeds!  Weeding is nobody’s favourite job, but if you get on top of them early in the year before they start to flower and seed everywhere, it will make life easier later in the Summer.

Once you’ve done all the preparation it’s time to think about the nice bits!  If you have a garden that’s full of foliage, why not think about adding some perennials in between for some seasonal colour?  Or maybe you have a border where nothing grows, and you’d like to add some new plants.  I can help with remote planting plans and there are local nurseries like Macplants https://www.macplants.co.uk/ and Binny Plants https://www.binnyplants.com/ who are still supplying during lockdown.  Maybe you’d like to add some instant splashes of colour – why not add some annuals to pots on your patio?  Pentland Plants https://www.pentlandplantsgardencentre.co.uk/ offer a range of colourful bedding and hanging basket plants.

A bed of newly planted perennials

This is also a great opportunity to try growing your own veg.  It’s a great activity to get the kids involved with too.  Salad crops like lettuce and rocket are very easy to grow, either on a windowsill or in a tray outdoors.  Radishes grow very quickly and will be ready to harvest within about 4 weeks of planting.  Beans, such as broad beans and runner beans are fun to grow, and some have very pretty flowers too.  Plant seeds in cardboard toilet roll tubes filled with compost and keep indoors until the seedlings reach about 10cm tall.  Transplant into a sheltered spot in the garden, tubes and all!  Potatoes are also easy to grow, either in the ground, or in pots or sturdy bags on a patio.  Harvesting them is like digging for buried treasure!

Whatever you decide to plant, just remember to keep it well watered.

Happy gardening.

Bringing the Outdoors In – The Wellbeing Benefits

In this time of uncertainty, it’s never been more important to look after our physical and mental wellbeing.  The health benefits of gardening are well-known, but if you don’t have a garden, or are unable to get outside and start digging you can still reap the benefits by bringing the outdoors in.

Indoor gardening allows us to grow plants which wouldn’t grow in our gardens!

There is extensive research to suggest that indoor plants can boost our physical health by improving the atmosphere: houseplants can help to remove some toxins from the air, as well as producing oxygen and increasing humidity.  In short, indoor plants help provide a clean and comfortable environment for us to live in.

As well as physical factors, there are many mental wellbeing benefits associated with indoor gardening.  Studies show that humans feel relaxed and less stressed in a natural environment.  Getting back to nature improves happiness and wellbeing.  Adding green foliage plants to your living space brings a little bit of nature indoors, helping to create a soothing, comfortable atmosphere.

Colours can help to lift the mood – sometimes there’s nothing cheerier than a bunch of fresh cut flowers in a vase.  But why not make that splash of colour last longer by planting seasonal perennials in a window box?  Spring and summer bedding plants could work just as well in pots on a windowsill as in the garden.

The activity of gardening is very therapeutic: when you’re tending plants, you are focussed on the task in hand and the stresses of life are momentarily forgotten.  Even something as simple as watering houseplants can be a beneficial exercise in mindfulness.

Nurturing plants and helping them grow brings with it a sense of responsibility – this sense of purpose can be another boost to our mental health.  Coupled with that are the feelings of reward and achievement when the plants flower or show new growth.  For the ultimate reward why not try growing something edible?  Herbs or salad leaves will grow well on a sunny windowsill, or perhaps a tomato plant if space allows.

Pea shoots thriving on a sunny windowsill

Even in this time of lockdown it’s possible to order plants online – local suppliers including https://growurban.uk/ and http://www.pentlandplants.co.uk/ are supplying to the Edinburgh area and there are plenty of online retailers from which to source plant and vegetable seeds.

Why not invest in your wellbeing today?  Happy growing!