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

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

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!

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:;;;;

Plan now for your dream garden next Summer

Doing your homework now can help achieve your garden goals for the coming year

The kids are back to school and summer’s almost over.  While many people will have enjoyed their gardens this summer, others will have spent days wishing the garden could be different.  If that’s you, here’s a bit of homework you can do now which will be the first step towards achieving your ideal garden next summer:

Sun and shade

Have a think about which parts of your garden have had most sun over the past few weeks and which are shady.  Is your patio in the right place, or is there a sunny spot where it would get more use?

Is there a part of your garden which remains in shade, even in the height of summer?  There are plenty of plants which thrive in shade – it’s just about choosing the right planting combinations.

Perhaps hard to imagine, but is your garden too sunny?  Does it lack somewhere shady to sit and cool off?  Installing a pergola or some shade-giving plants could overcome this.


Most of us have neighbours and sometimes it’s not till summer that we realise how overlooked our garden feels.  Would you like to create more privacy in your garden?  Or give it a secluded feel with planting that envelopes the seating area? It may be possible to add height to your boundary.  Or you could add some strategically placed plants to obscure the view of your garden from neighbouring properties or the street.


Do you find the layout of your garden impractical?  Maybe the seating and BBQ area is too far from the kitchen door.  Or do you have a view of your bins from your patio?  A good garden designer should take account of factors such as these in preparing layouts.


Has the lack of an outside tap made watering or cleaning a pain?!  Do you wish you had lighting to highlight and enhance your garden?  Or do you have lights or a water feature that simply don’t work?  Consider employing reputable tradespeople to fix these problems for you.


Are the plants in your borders fighting for space?  Conversely, are there bare patches in the planting?  Perhaps there are areas of planting that you just don’t like?  Most gardens are at their fullest in summer and by next spring it can be difficult to remember what’s going to pop up in that bare flower bed.  Go round the garden now and take lots of photos so you’ll remember which areas you want to change.

Take lots of photographs.  Make some notes, even scribble some sketches.  Once you’ve done your homework get in touch.  Together we can make a plan for how to achieve your dream garden by next summer.

Making the most of small gardens

In the past few weeks I’ve been working on some garden designs for small city gardens in Edinburgh. In each case the client has asked me how they can maximise the space to get the most use and enjoyment out of their garden. It’s a question I’m often asked, so I thought I’d share these top tips:

City garden sketch
  • Compartmentalise – divide the space into separate ‘rooms’ using planting, obelisks or trellis panels.  If you can’t see the whole garden in one view it will give the impression of being larger than it is, encouraging you to explore further.
  • Use diagonals – if you’re changing the garden layout and are replacing paving lay it on a diagonal relative to the house to give longer sight lines through the garden and create the illusion of space.
  • Green the vertical surfaces with climbers or wall mounted planters – this maximises the planted area and hiding the boundaries makes their proximity seem less obvious.
  • Don’t be afraid to use trees – these can help with the common problem of being overlooked by neighbours.  Canopy trees make a real statement but don’t take up so much space at ground level.
  • Small gardens are often shady – hostas and ferns create a vivid green foliage palette in the shadiest of spaces.  Seasonal colour can be added with perennials like Astrantia, Bergenia or Hellebores.
  • Reflective surfaces and light colours are great for reflecting the light within a small space – this might be a mirror fixed to a boundary wall, a sparkling water feature, light coloured paving or glazed pots.
  • Choose garden furniture that can be left outside all year round so you don’t have to think about incorporating storage space.  Hardwood furniture will last well.
  • Using pots and containers allows you to add seasonal interest – their flexibility allows you to vary the look of the garden through the year.

Please get in touch if you’d like more advice specific to your garden needs.

Top 5 trees for small gardens

People sometimes assume that having a small garden means sticking to shrubs and perennials rather than trees. In fact, there are many trees suitable for small gardens. Here are some of my favourites:

Amelanchier lamarckii

A small tree or large multi-stem shrub which can tolerate quite difficult sites. When the leaves appear in Spring they are a beautiful coppery colour. Stunning star-shaped white flowers appear around the same time. In early summer the tree produces berries, loved by birds! This gives the tree its common name – Juneberry. The foliage turns copper again in Autumn giving this tree a really long season of interest.

Malus ‘Red Sentinel’

Pink buds produce really fragrant white flowers in late Spring. Towards the end of the summer edible crab apple fruits appear. These are bright red in colour and their size makes them look more like cherries. The fruits often remain on the tree into Winter, after the leaves have fallen, and look rather like Christmas decorations!

Prunus ‘Amanogawa’

Who doesn’t love the blossom of a flowering cherry in Spring?! And there are so many varieties to choose from. ‘Amanogawa’ is a column-shaped upright tree, making it particularly good in a garden where space is at a premium. The semi-double pink flowers look quite striking in Spring. Orange-red foliage provides Autumn interest.

Acer griseum

This is a slow-growing medium-sized member of the Acer family. It’s commonly known as the Paper Bark maple due to its cinnamon-coloured peeling bark. This decorative feature provides year-round interest. The tree has delicately lobed leaves and in Autumn the foliage turns to shades of bright red or orange. This tree is often available as a multi-stem variety.

Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’

‘Avondale’ provides early Spring interest with an abundance of deep pink pea-like flowers on bare branches around March. These are followed by large heart-shaped leaves which fade to buttery yellow in Autumn.

I believe that in a small garden every plant should work hard for its place and provide a long season of interest. Whilst all of these trees are deciduous, I think that Spring blossom, Summer fruits and stunning Autumn foliage mean they are all deserving of a place in any small garden.