If your garden is larger than a courtyard but smaller than an acre and you want it to look gorgeous, with hardly any time or money follow this blog. The Middlesized Garden is about helping you to make your garden a reflection of your own personal style.
You can let a larger garden evolve – and by ‘larger’ I mean any garden more than about 100ft long or quarter of an acre.
A small garden with a big ‘exotic’ idea – this purple bench and tree fern in a London courtyard.
But the most successful small gardens I’ve seen recently all have one strong idea behind them. Here are three of them, to inspire you.
The plant-lover’s garden
After visiting Philip Oostenbrink’s garden (open for the NGS on 29th July, 2018), I realised that a small garden is a wonderful display area for unusual plants. As the plants are so close to you, you can really appreciate the differences in leaf shape and colour. Find Philip on Twitter at PhilipHGCC.
Wonderful leaf contrasts in Philip’s garden – the slim palm-like leaves of Begonia luxurians contrast with the darker Persicaria ‘Red Door’ and the citrus green of Hakonechloa macra (Philip holds a National Collection of Hakonechloas). In the foreground is a rare variegated form of ground elder (in a pot).
Also, in a small garden, there’s no need to plant in threes or drifts. One of each specimen will look just fine in a smaller space. (if you dot lots of different single plants around a larger garden, everything could end up looking a bit muddled….)
Tree fern, Canna ‘Durban’ and other foliage plants in Philip’s garden.
‘It’s all about the foliage for me,’ says Philip. He is Head Gardener at Canterbury Cathedral Gardens (also open for the NGS earlier in the year). And as Chairman of the Kent division of Plant Heritage, he is passionate about unusual plants. His small garden (around 35ftx15ft) is bursting with fascinating leaves, and follows a jungle theme.
Most of the plants in Philip’s garden are chosen for their foliage, but he also adds dash of brilliant colour from dahlias. Here Dahlia ‘Happy Days’ and Ricinus communis make Philip’s front garden stand out from all its neighbours.
Urban jungle garden
Philip’s theme is also be defined as ‘urban jungle’. That’s another good look for a small garden, because it’s relatively easy to get the look of a jungle packed with different layers of plants. ‘A jungle is quite an enclosed space when you’re in it,’ says Philip. ‘If you have more space, you could create a tropical or exotic garden, but it wouldn’t necessarily feel like a jungle.’
Philip adds splashes of colour with bedding plants, but he is really interested in the unusual plants especially those with large leaves like the Tree Foxglove (Paulownia tomentosa) on the top at the right.
Tree dandelion (Sonchus canariensis) – one of the fascinating exotic leaf shapes in Philip’s garden.
And for more exotic garden inspiration, Steven Edney and Lou Dowle’s tropical garden is nearby and is open for the NGS on the same day.
Derek Jarman coastal garden
There are a number of small gardens open for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day (held on the last Sunday in June every year). One of 2018’s most popular gardens was the Derek Jarman-inspired garden, belonging to the Feltons.
Guy Felton painted the fence black to echo the fishermen’s huts nearby in Faversham harbour and also at Dungeness.
Guy Felton is a retired architect so he has a keen eye. When they bought the house, the garden was a thin strip of lawn bordered by two narrow beds. It’s around 15ft wide at its widest, but tapers down to around 12ft. And it’s around 35ft long.
‘There didn’t seem any point in mowing such a tiny strip of lawn,’ he said. So they replaced it all with shingle, which makes the garden look wider and lighter. The plants grow out of the shingle.
Raised beds, grasses and ‘found objects’ such as shells and broken china all convey a beach-comber ‘Derek Jarman’ look.
Faversham harbour is nearby, and when Guy was walking around the boatyard, he spotted an old wooden yacht rudder. It was about to be put on the bonfire, but the owner said Guy could have it. It now stands halfway down the garden ‘dividing up the space’, and looks like a piece of garden sculpture.
Garden sculpture or an old yacht rudder? There’s a pretty seating area behind.
Exotic courtyard garden
This is the smallest garden in this post. It is around 15ftX15ft and belongs to my friend, Amanda. She picked ‘exotic’ as her theme, and asked garden designer, Paul Thompson-McArthur to make it work. (She says it was my idea, but I’m not sure…I think it just came up when we were all talking.)
Paul Thompson-McArthur kept this exotic look simple, with a few distinctive plants and brick paving which echoes the garden walls.
The back of Amanda’s kitchen is one long glass door, which rolls back, so her garden is on view all year round. ‘Exotic’ has a long season of interest, because it’s based on leaf shapes. In the winter, the two benches both look like garden sculpture, and there is a distinctive piece by Tom Stogdon, too.
Amanda’s garden from the kitchen – it’s on view all year round, but the purple bench is a good focal point.
Amanda’s tip for small gardens – choose a chair that is quite ‘transparent’. The sculpture is by Tom Congdon.
Small garden details
In a small garden, everything can be seen, so Amanda wanted all the detail to be right. She asked Paul to source nails and wires that looked as if they could have been there forever.
I love these rusted nails and wires set into the wall to support the climbers. Amanda’s house is Georgian, so touches like this give the garden a feeling of having been there for years.
Another tip from Amanda is to remember the garden when you’re having any work done in the house. She had her kitchen renovated, which would have been the ideal time to run an automatic irrigation system out into the courtyard. ‘But I did the garden after the house, by which time the kitchen floor had been laid over the piping, and it really wasn’t feasible to take it up again.’
An automatic watering system, by the way, makes alot of sense in a small garden. It’ll keep your plants alive, especially if you are away alot, and it’s also a good use of water.
I’ve recently been asked about plants and solutions for a windy garden.
Sue Marling and Fay Sweet’s Suffolk garden is in a windy area, but it is colourful and feel sheltered. The plants which love the conditions – the low-growing Alchemilla mollis and the tall spikes of Phlomis russeliana, along with salvias, have spread.
Even if you don’t have a windy garden, you probably have a windy spot. Our walled garden gets windy in the middle, which is quite common.
I’ve made a mistake with planting too tall a young tree there. We’ve secured it with several stakes. But it gets pushed over again when the wind changes direction. I actually chose the right type of tree – a Liquidambar – for a windy spot, but it was too tall when I planted it.
Check the gardens in a windy town
And not long after being asked about plants for windy gardens, I went to the charming beach town of Southwold shortly afterwards.
It’s always useful to look at what grows naturally – here on this windy Southwold beach, there are lots of grasses.
Southwold is a delightful former fishing village on the Suffolk coast, and it dates back hundreds of years. But Suffolk is quite flat near the coast. And all seaside towns get their fair share of wind.
The Crown Hotel at Southwold. It was a Georgian and Victorian fishing town, and is now a well-loved holiday place.
A garden in Southwold is definitely a windy garden. So as I was visiting in midsummer, I thought I would see what was flourishing in the Southwold gardens, and along the beach.
Rosy had three pieces of very useful advice as well as suggestions for plants. ‘Choose shorter varieties of your favourite plants if your garden is windy,’ she suggests.
‘Or you can choose plants which are meant to blow about in the wind, such as grasses or gaura,’ advises Rosy Hardy.
Sue Marling and Fay Sweet, whose garden is featured here, have created a successful garden near Southwold. They have found that salvias, Phlomis russeliana and fennel have all done well in their garden. They are all plants that can sway in the wind.
And they also have Alchemilla mollis, which fits into Rosy Hardy’s ‘low-growing’ category, as do the asters all over Southwold beach.
Gaura ‘Rosyjane’ is one of Hardy’s Cottage Garden plants and is ideal for a windy site.
And thirdly,’ says Rosy: ‘Plant trees and shrubs dotted about the garden to break up the wind. Don’t plant in a line.’
Specific plants she recommends for a windy garden include hardy geraniums, especially the Oxonianum ‘Lace Time’. Amongst the grasses Stipa Tenuissima always looks good’, she says. And she also recommends the long slender stems of Gaura Rosyjane, which is an elegant flower with a picotee petal.
Japanese anemones are also tough enough to survive windy conditions, and Rosy suggests you try an unusual variety such as the ruffled ‘Swan’ series.’
Japanese anemones (Anenome x hybrida) do well in a windy garden, so choose a special variety such as this Ruffled Swan from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.
Hardys Cottage Garden plants stock all these.
The RHS on trees and shrubs for windy gardens
One important thing to understand about wind is that it whips up a solid fence or wall, and then drops down creating turbulence on the other side. That’s why hedges and shrubs, which break up the wind rather than block it, are better than fences and walls. And a very thick line of evergreens can act more as a fence or block rather than a filter, so the RHS recommend choosing a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs.
Sue and Fay have surrounded their garden with a mix of trees and shrubs around the boundary – and there’s a hedge behind the trees. The garden feels sheltered and secluded although the Suffolk winds can be quite strong.
Trees and shrubs won’t grow as tall in windy conditions but they are so important for breaking up the wind. The RHS has a page of recommendations for trees and shrubs that do well in exposed sites. These include some pines, hawthorn, Norway spruce and holm oak, all of which I love. Good shrubs include black elder and pinus mugo (dwarf pine).
Roses do well in a windy garden
One thing that really surprised me as I walked round Southwold was how well roses were growing. They seemed to be blooming in every garden.
This white climbing rose seems very happy amongst the winds of Suffolk.
So I contact Michael Marriott of David Austin Roses. He confirmed that that roses often do very well in windy places. Some original species roses came from quite inhospitable places – Rosa rugosa came from Northern Japan and Siberia, for example, and the Spinossisima roses (often called ‘Scotch roses’) are basically coastal plants.
Rosa rugosa ‘Rosarie de la Haye’ tumbling over a front garden wall onto the beachfront at Southwold.
Roses in windy gardens won’t grow as tall, he says, and you do have to pick and choose your varieties, but they are a great plant to add.
Rosa rugosa Gap from David Austin roses – will do well in windy gardens.
This is David Austin Roses’ Dunwich Rose. Dunwich was a sea port just along the coast from Southwold, Most of it was reclaimed by the sea, so only a few houses now remain. Not surprisingly, the Dunwich Rose does well in exposed sites!
But choose your rose carefully
When choosing roses for a windy garden, Michael suggests you firstly think of the flowers – single flowered or semi-doubles will be better than big showy blooms of hybrid teas.
‘Kew Gardens’ rose from David Austin Roses is recommended for windy spots.
And think about how the plant grows – a rambling rose will create a lot of body which can be buffeted in the wind. The stiffer and more individual stems of a climbing rose will give the wind much less to blow about. And keep tying a climber in if you have a windy garden.
Roses growing over Sue and Fay’s windbreak-cum-wildlife home (see later on in this post). This is a small single-flowered rose with a few stiff stems that can be tied in. Good for a windy garden!
Break up the wind for a sheltered spot
In terms of a sheltered spot to sit in, consider a broken screen rather than a solid one. There is a terrific range of laser-cut screens around these days, such as this one from Stark & Greensmith.
This corten steel laser-cut screen from Stark & Greensmith breaks up the wind and offers privacy, but it isn’t a solid barrier.
And I’ve seen some great screening ideas at the garden shows this summer. For example, I like this slatted wooden screen inscribed with poetry from The Oak & Rope Company.
This is a slatted screen so it filters the wind. From the Oak & Rope Company.
Sue and Fay have created a wildlife-friendly screen by building a curved wall out of inexpensive roofing battens. It filters the wind, and offers a hideaway for insects. Fay built it herself, although she admits it was quite hard work.
Fay built this high semi-circular windbreak wall herself out of roof battens, laying them in a criss-cross pattern. The wall is about seven feet high, so it provides lots of shelter as well as supporting climbing plants like roses and honeysuckle.
And here is another easy DIY broken screen. These wood posts and strips of corrugated iron shield a washing line in this Australian coastal garden, while filtering the wind beside a seating area.
Corrugated iron and wood (possibly fence posts or railway sleepers) used to create a broken screen in coastal Australia.
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And if you’d like to see what July in the Middlesized Garden looks like, see this video:
Garden tour- July in the Middlesized Garden! - YouTube
There are, of course, the top show gardens, where the budget is way over anything you or I could manage.
The fountains at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show – it’s a beautiful setting.
But even those have ideas you can copy without breaking the bank. Here is my pick of the best budget-friendly ideas at this year’s ‘Hampton Court’.
Update your garden with vibrant colour
The Bizzy Lizzie, formerly the most municipal of bedding plants, has had a makeover, courtesy of B&Q.
Blocks of inexpensive bedding plants – the new Busy Lizzies – teamed with large leafed ‘exotic’ plants for a contemporary jungle look.
No-one mourned when it disappeared from the shelves due to a virus. And I wasn’t particularly interested to hear that B&Q had developed a virus-resistant variety, the Imara Bizzy Lizzie.
Bizzy Lizzies teamed with fashionable spikes…
But top marks to the B&Q team for showing what you can do with standard bedding by planting it in big blocks and teaming it with exotic plants.
Resurrect old favourites
Are there other plants you’ve begun to take for granted? Fuschias, for example, or dahlias? The great fun of today’s gardens is that ‘knock your socks off’ seems to be replacing quiet good taste. Go for it. Add a few new varieties of familiar, easy-to-look after plants to add instant zing to your garden.
Dahlia ‘Fashion Monger’ from the National Dahlia Collection’s stand. Is it time to say goodbye to restraint in the garden for a while….?
Fuschias from Roualeyn Fuschias fairground carousel-themed stand.
Make an impact with size
A huge pink tub of matching pink Bizzy Lizzies on the B&Q show garden at RHS Hampton Court.
Fill one large planter and make a statement, rather than planting lots of little ones up. It’s also easier to water, as small pots need watering daily. Big ones hold water better.
You could also paint any big plastic pot in a vibrant colour. Use a specialist plastic primer, such as Rust-oleum Plastic Primer Spray Paint . You can then paint any colour or brand of paint on top.
(Note: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)
Paint your fence or shed a stunning colour
There were some wonderful fence and wall colours this year at Hampton Court. This is a look that we could all mimic.
A strong sunshine yellow makes a dramatic backdrop for a courtyard. In the Santa Rita 120 garden.
And duck egg blue is still a garden favourite. From the Community Brain ‘vegetable box’ garden.
Update your garden with a spiky plant (or two)
The jungle look has well and truly arrived, and there were spiky plants everywhere at this year’s RHS Hampton.
You could buy an agave…although it might poke you in the bottom as you bend over to weed.
The Santa Rita 120 ‘Living La Vida’ garden at RHS Hampton Court, complete with agaves, agapanthus and other sculptural planting.
Buy a smaller agave, such as this Agave parryi from Palms-Exotics, and keep it in a pot.
Buy ‘exotics’ that will survive your weather…
The most budget-friendly way of acquiring exotic plants is to choose ones that will survive, so you won’t have to keep replacing them.
The Chusan Palm, or Trachycarpus Fortunei is less prickly and will over-winter in most UK and Northern hemisphere gardens, provided that it is sheltered from winds. Around £10 for a small one from Palms-Exotics.
And you can find cordylines very reasonably in most markets. And they seem to survive anything, judging by the neglected cordylines I see on the streets.
Carex ‘Feather Falls’ is an exotic-looking grass but it will withstand heat and frost, and it grows well in most environments.
If you can be patient, it’s always cheaper to buy smaller and let it grow – but there is the worry that ‘exotic’ may have passed by the time it gets large. Pick fast growers like Carex ‘Feather Falls.’
Pines are back…
Pines used to remind me of my parents’ home in Camberley (Surrey) rather than fashionable exoticism. But they are beautiful sculptural plants that have been over-looked, perhaps because they’re evergreen.
It’s definitely time to add a pine or two – buy them small and keep them in pots. Then you can plant them out – if you like – when they have grown.
Pines in pots are affordable and even spiritual…From Limes Cross Nursery stand.
Anything can make a stunning ‘garden feature’
Don’t take those old kids’ bikes to the tip. Paint them and use them as garden features.
A row of children’s bikes, painted and used to edge a garden at RHS Hampton Court.
The full row of bikes…
I loved the RHS Primary School children’s scarecrow competition.
Buy (or find) extra water butts
One water butt really does not save you money on water. It only lasts about a week into a drought. But I like these four tiers of water butts from the RHS Grow Your Own with Raymond Blanc Gardening School. I’d have lids on the butts in case small mammals fall in, though. You may be able to find old water butts via Freegle (or Freecycle).
Four tiers of water butts at the Raymond Blanc Gardening School at RHS Hampton Court.
This ‘self-watering’ guttering system looks fun. I’m not convinced it’s practical, but let me know if you’ve tried it. Also at the Raymond Blanc Gardening School.
Embrace your inner ‘cottage garden’
The big message from the shows this year – from Ascot Garden Show right through to RHS Chelsea and beyond, is that flowers are really important now.
Echinacea ‘Lelani’ from Hardys Cottage Garden Plants at RHS Hampton Court – echinacea and other cottage garden plants are brilliant for wildlife.
If you want your garden to look contemporary, fill it with flowers. Lots of the same sort, or lots of different ones…it’s hard to get it wrong. Choose flowers that do well for you or try experiments.
Alcea ‘Halo Apricot’ from Daisy’s Roots.
I have a stylish garden designer friend who refers to gardens with a mix of flowers and colours as ‘fruit salad gardens’. It does not sound like a compliment. Not the way she says it, anyway.
But a riot of colour, attracting birds and pollinators, is what gardens are about now.
Ann-marie Powell’s planting for the Countryfile 30th Anniversary garden at Hampton Court.
And if you have to update your garden on a budget, plants can be the most cost-effective way of doing it. Swap, grow from seed or pick up bargains in nurseries and the market.
More ideas from Hampton Court in this video.
It is such a huge show that I could have spent all week there – and still not seen everything.
RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2018 - what you need to see - YouTube
It was cold, messy and full of clutter, with nowhere to put anything. So seeds and tools started to spread around the house.
Before and after – my life has been transformed by adding insulation, artificial turf and lots of storage.
I decided to ask a young artist, William Ford, to use his creativity and ingenuity. William has recently graduated from Bath and I’d been impressed by an exhibition he’d put on here in Faversham with some fellow artists. He’s good at making and recycling. So I hoped he’d be able to reuse and upcycle some of the stuff we have lying around, rather than buying new.
William Ford and one of his installations at a recent exhibition.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy. However it won’t affect the price you pay, and all items are also easy to find in your local shops (or you may have them anyway).
Upcycle and organise the shed – the brief
I explained that I wanted to be able to keep seeds and fertilisers in the shed. At the moment, it gets either very hot or very cold. Extremes of temperature aren’t good for seeds.
It was also important to improve the storage. I had a few shelves and some hooks, but it was all pretty chaotic.
William decided that it was important not to have storage jutting out – it’s a small space. So he built shelving out of scaffolding planks and breeze blocks and put them under the potting shelf.
The big window in the potting shed gives a good light. So if we could organise the shed properly, it would be much easier than chasing around the house, constantly having to move the furniture.
And to be absolutely honest, I was rather envious of the allotmenteer YouTubers, who broadcast their videos from charming sheds. These are painted in soft colours, such as duck egg blue (Agents of Field) and hung with bunting and vintage wallpapers (Homegrown.garden and Lavender & Leeks). They brew up tea on camping stoves with old-fashioned kettles that whistle.
It’s all wonderfully atmospheric. But it wouldn’t make sense in a middle-sized garden shed, which usually has a well-equipped kitchen, complete with electric kettle, just a few steps away.
So we felt our potting shed makeover would need a different approach.
William decided to keep the atmosphere as simple as possible, with artificial turf and hanging storage.
Artifical turf on the walls
William says that, at first, he wanted to think up lots of clever ideas. But he decided that when you organise the shed, simplicity has to be the key principle. The shed has to work.
So he had one big decorative idea, which was to use artificial turf on the walls.
The view from my newly upcycled potting shed with its artificial turf walls. The hare was a present from a friend, and we decided he looked rather fun poking his head out of the new ‘green’ walls. I wanted the shed ceiling painted white to improve the light.
The rest of the shed makeover was about creating simple, effective storage for big and small items.
Think about the background for photographs or filming
I wanted to make sure that the artificial turf would be a good background for filming. The colour behind you makes a big difference to skin tone in a video – it can be the difference between looking like a healthy, normal human being or a grim and terrifying ghost.
And if you’re going to be doing photography or Instagram in your shed, then the background and the light will be important.
By coincidence I was going to a WordPress workshop at Dragon Co-working in Chatham (excellent, do go if you are local). Dragon Co-working has artificial turf on its floor, so when no-one was looking, I was able to lie on the floor and sneak a selfie.
To check whether artificial turf would be a good background, I snuck a selfie in on the floor of Dragon Co-working – if you want to use your shed for photography, it’s worth thinking about the light and about the colour of the background.
I also asked William to paint the shed ceiling white, in order to reflect the light better.
He also insulated a drawer for me, to give seeds a bit of extra insulation.
William used a bit of leftover insulation material to line the top drawer and also the top of this chest, just to give seeds a little extra protection from extremes of heat and cold.
Because of the size of the potting shed window, and because there is a slight gap below the roof of the potting shed, it will never be fully insulated but it’s definitely less extreme now.
Fixing artificial turf to walls
Artificial turf is quite heavy, so William used three methods to fix it to the walls. Firstly he used double-sided carpet tape all around the edges of each panel of the insulating foil.
Then he used a glue gun, going from left to right and back again, all over the insulation material.
Once the artificial turf was fixed with the glue and carpet tape, he then nailed it to the shed walls to make sure it stays in place.
You can see how he did it in this video below, as well as more footage on how terrible the shed looked at the beginning!
Minimise the budget by recycling what you already have
We wanted to re-use and adapt as much as we could. In the end, the only new materials that William bought were the insulation, the artificial turf, some very short lengths of copper piping and some new S hooks.
He found some concrete breeze blocks in the basement, and acquired some old scaffolding boards. As my main expense was William’s time, I didn’t want him to build shelves. He made shelves by simply putting boards on top of breeze blocks. It’s quick and also flexible – if we need to change the storage we can.
He also found a couple of old wire basket drawers we had bought years ago, probably from IKEA. I haven’t been able to find anything similar online, so perhaps they aren’t made any more. But any chests or drawers that you don’t use would work as well.
Free-standing wire basket drawers and shelves made of breeze blocks and old scaffolding boards, tucked under the potting bench surface. There’s a hanging organiser from Nutscene Twine, although they don’t seem to do these any more.
Organise the shed with hanging storage
Hanging tools on hooks makes them easy to get at and also to put away. William found an iron grid that had been part of a safety cover for a pond.
You need to hang it slightly away from the wall, so that you can get hooks on. William had very short lengths of copper pipe cut, and covered them with
A bit of old safety grid from a pond, secured to the wall with short stubs of copper piping and hung with S hooks – the perfect tool holder.
William started to organise the shed by using pots for lots of different things – these old terracotta pots are used for labels, ties, pencils and a couple of rulers. I bought this ‘shabby chic’ plant pot holder several years ago on a whim, but had never found a place for it before.
Three more hooks on a leftover piece of board add extra hanging space just beside the door. The bright green RHS bag fits in very well, I think.
We’ve just opened our garden for Faversham Open Gardens and Garden Market Day, so we’ve been doing alot of last minute gardening. A friend has been helping me weed, but it’s all been so much easier because everything in the potting shed is easy to see, easy to find, and easy to put away.
See it in video
For a closer-up view of how William organised the shed, see this video. It’s also got how to attach the insulation and the artificial turf.
How to organise your shed - upcycled shed storage tips! - YouTube
I’ve seen several beautiful strips of wildflower meadow in show gardens this year. And also in friends’ gardens. Ever since the 2012 London Olympics, meadow gardens have been fashionably on trend.
Amanda and Julian Mannering’s town garden has a meadow in the centre, measuring about 30ft x 30ft square.
But a middle-sized garden doesn’t have half a mile to fill with meadow flowers and native grasses. So is a mini meadow viable?
Amanda and Julian Mannering have a square walled garden behind their terraced house (open today for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day). It’s about 50ft x 60ft – space for borders all round, but not quite enough space to break up in any other way. They had a standard square lawn in the middle, but they weren’t entirely happy with it.
One day a friend stood in the middle and asked ‘what’s this lawn for?’
A meadow garden breaks up the space
So Julian and Amanda decided to turn the middle of the lawn into a mini meadow.
At first, they just mowed out the shape (around 30ft x 30ft square), with a path diagonally through the middle. Then they simply stopped mowing that area.
The mini meadow breaks up the space in the centre of the garden, and is wonderful for wildlife.
Friends told them that would never work, and that they would have to remove the turf.
(Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay.)
Or you can just let the grass grow…
I have about half a dozen friends with mini meadow gardens. None of them ‘did it properly.’ They all just let the grass grow. But it’s worth knowing that these are all perennial meadows. An annual meadow (see later on in this post) would need the soil to be cleared.
Artist Helen Kirwan just let her meadow grow out of lawn, mainly to reduce the upkeep of the garden.
When conceptual artist Helen Kirwan let her lawn grow long, she never added seeds or plug plants. Ox-eye daisies ‘came from nowhere,’ she says.
However Amanda and Julian did do some meadow planting over the years: ‘We added some wildflower seeds from Emorsgate Seeds, and watched it all grow up.’ Emorsgate Seeds sell a variety of different meadow seeds for various soil types.
The first year Amanda and Julian mainly saw cowslips and wild carrot emerge, but a wildflower meadow changes every year. The wild carrot seems to have almost disappeared.
You still have to weed a mini meadow garden
Some weeds are very invasive, such as medick, docks, thistles and dandelions.
You will have to weed them out of your meadow garden regularly or they will take over.
Medick spreads everywhere and stifles other plants. It seems particularly prevalent this year. You have to weed it out of meadow gardens.
Sow yellow rattle to weaken the grass
In the second year, Amanda and Julian sowed yellow rattle to weaken the grass, and this has proved to be very good advice. (They should really have sown it in the first year, but luckily nature doesn’t read instructions…)
Sarah Raven says that ‘sowing yellow rattle is the key to a mini meadow.’ That’s because it’s a parasitic plant, and will help reduce the amount of lawn grass you have. More wildflowers can establish themselves in the gaps.
Amanda’s sister-in-law also gave her half a dozen ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) from her own meadow lawn. These have since multiplied into thousands.
Half a dozen ox-eye daisy plants turned into this – in just two years.
Amanda and Julian also sowed wild grass seeds, too, to make the original grass more diverse.
So is a meadow garden less work?
Julian and Amanda spend much less time mowing the lawn. ‘It takes about twenty minutes to mow the paths once a week,’ said Amanda. That’s much less time than they spent mowing when the whole garden was a traditional lawn.
But there’s also the weeding, plus – in the early days only – some planting of seeds or appropriate meadow plants.
And they scythe it once a year, usually some time between mid-July and mid-August. ‘We went on a scything course. It takes about half an hour to do, and it’s all fairly easy once you know how. Then you remove the scythed material – don’t leave it lying on the ground or it will add nutrients.’
‘I also rake it occasionally in the winter. Generally, it is a bit less work,’ assessed Amanda. ‘But it’s a different sort of work, and done at different times.’
Which meadow plants to choose
The RHS explains that you need to decide whether you are going to grow a perennial meadow, like Amanda and Julian, or an annual meadow, like my friends who sow seeds every year.
The perennial meadow needs a fairly poor soil, so don’t enrich it. Amanda and Julian’s lawn was well drained, in full sun and hadn’t been fertilised so it was ideal for a perennial meadow, which comes up year after year.
The gate into Amanda and Julian’s perennial meadow lawn, with its ox-eye daisies in June.
Perennial meadow plants include ox-eye daisies and cowslips.
Annual meadows need richer soil, so they are the right choice if you’re replacing a border with a meadow. Plants for annual meadows include cornflowers, corn poppy, corn marigold and corncockle.
Amanda has tried to establish cornflowers in her meadow lawn, but so far they’ve failed. She thinks that the slugs have eaten them, but it may be that the soil isn’t rich enough, because it’s a perennial meadow.
Annual poppies or Papaver rhoeas growing wild by the beach at Southwold. These are best in an annual meadow garden.
What about meadow gardens instead of flowers in borders?
Friends of mine grow wildflowers successfully in small raised beds. Former borders or raised beds are best for annual meadow plants because the soil is richer. You definitely need to start with clear, weeded soil, and an open sunny bed.
The results can be stunning – 3-4 months of changing colour, from an annual wildflower seed mix.
I hunted for annual wildflower and meadow seed mixes on Amazon. The most popular and best-reviewed was Plantworks 3 m Mini-meadow Easy Sow Wildflower Seed by Empathy. All the seeds are RHS approved ‘Perfect for Pollinators’.
And Empathy also make Rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi. This is a powder (endorsed by the RHS) which you scatter into the planting hole and which helps roots get established, improving take-up of nutrients and water. I’ve used Rootgrow on all my plantings this year, and so far everything is looking super-healthy.
Should you buy plug plants?
Plug plants get your mini wildflower meadow off to a more definite start, as you can plan which plants to put in. The ones that do well in your area will do well, and others may not.
Hugh and Fiona Boucher let their lawn grass grow long, and added plug plants. Some other flowers have also seeded themselves in the meadow.
But at least the ones that do well will naturalise, so it should just be a one-off investment. Obviously, this is more expensive than seed.
Ox-eye daisies and long grasses in the Bouchers’ meadow lawn
However, in a small area, it’s relatively inexpensive and you’ll get a more instant effect.
‘Meadow turf mats’ take alot of the guesswork out of growing a meadow. I found several companies who do this, including Turf Online and Wildflower Turf,
Can you plant a mini meadow anywhere?
The key is being in full sun and having well drained soil. Very shady corners aren’t suitable for a mini wildflower meadow.
There are meadow turf mats and wildflower seed mixes which will grow in dappled shade, but you have to specifically select them. For example, The Grass People have a shaded area meadow mix. You won’t be able to grow a meadow of any size in a very shady patch.
And Meadowmat have a Woodland Shade Wildflower Turf. It’s a pre-grown mat, costing £42 a square metre, of wildflowers, and grasses that are happy to grow in partial or dappled shade.
There are also other options if you don’t want a conventional lawn.
The delightful Abbey Physic Garden is also in Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day. It has just planted small sections of chamomile lawn by a new bench, and is cultivating a small patch of ‘grass-free lawn’ on the other side. There are lots of wonderful wildflower or eco-gardening ideas at the Abbey Physic and it’s a beautiful garden to visit.
The patch of green in the middle on the left, in front of the bench, is a newly planted chamomile lawn at the Abbey Physic Garden.
Wildflower and wildlife patch in the Abbey Physic Garden
Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day 24th June
All the gardens are very different, but they each have something special about them.
So for those who can’t make it next Sunday, here is my pick of the easy, affordable – and inspiring – ideas for your garden.
Echo the colour of your front door with planting
Garden maker Posy Gentles, in Newton Road, has just re-painted her front door and windows. That means it’s time for a fresh approach for the pots in the front garden.
Coleus and calibrachoa echo the new front door colour and the dark green paint on the brickwork.
Put the veg patch first…
Now that we’ve all stopped thinking about hiding the veg growing area away, it makes sense to put it directly outside the back door. This garden in Norman Road starts with veg beds, opens up into a lawn and has a pretty seating area beyond.
Veg before flowers at Norman Road, but the garden is still very pretty.
Or even in the middle of the lawn…
Sarah Langton-Lockton’s beans, kale and lettuce are at the centre of her double-width town garden, breaking up the space.
This garden in Athelstan Road was also open for the NGS a few weeks ago – here’s a post on how Sarah started it from scratch.
Go for a jungle theme…
Well, you saw Monty Don planting an Ethiopian banana palm in his borders at Longmeadow on Gardener’s World, didn’t you?
Exotic plants are back, but for B&B owner, Mary Mackay, they never went away. She’s been planting her small town garden with tropical-looking plants for over twenty years.
‘Exotic’ is a good theme for small town gardens because they are usually sheltered. They may even be warmer because of the walls of the centrally heated houses nearby. Even if they’re not, some ‘jungle’ plants are quite hardy. This garden is also in Newton Road.
Here’s a useful post about creating an exotic garden in a cool climate.
Meadows in small town gardens
You don’t have to own a large garden to have a meadow. Julian and Amanda Mannering have a square walled garden. One day a friend suggested they put a meadow in the centre, and they did.
Having a meadow isn’t quite a simple as just stopping mowing the lawn, and it’s taken a few years to get established with ox-eye daisies and other wildflowers. But it wasn’t difficult.
The Mannerings in Abbey St have a square of meadow in the centre of their walled town garden. It has a mown path through it.
Paint your fences
The Mannerings have painted their fences – and a bench – in a shade of blue. It was a bit bright when they first put it on, but it’s quickly weathered down and is a charming backdrop for planting.
Blue fences make a charming backdrop for planting in Abbey St.
And paint your sheds…
Don’t miss this delightful garden in Upper Brents. Photo of contrasting door and shed painted by the owner, Richard Drew.
Stick (almost) to a colour theme
The owner of this beautiful long town garden in Newton Road is Scandinavian, hence her stylish use of white and grey in the garden.
The owner of this garden painted her benches and tables with Wet and Forget, which is actually a moss, mould, lichen and algae treatment. But it gives this lovely faded grey tone to the wood. Links to Amazon are affiliate links which means you can click through to buy. If you do, I may get a small fee, but it won’t affect the price you pay.
Don’t have too many different hard landscaping elements
Town gardens often have alot of different elements. One owner will put in a shed, the next a terrace – and it could all get very muddled.
Sarah Langton-Lockton had old garden walls, a slightly newer brick shed and she bought her own greenhouse half-made of brick. So when it came to the path, she chose brick.
All the bricks are different but they’re still bricks, so the garden feels calm and ordered.
Four different eras of brick in just a few square feet. But it doesn’t look messy because it’s all in a brick pattern. It’s about harmony rather than matching.
Furnish your garden for free with Freegle/Freecycle and plant swaps
Lots of surprises lie behind the garden gates in The Knole. It’s one of the modern roads in the west of Faversham, and the gardens around here are new to Faversham Open Gardens this year.
This garden is narrow but stretches out into a marshy wood. The owner managed to source free car tyres for a path, mannequins as garden sculpture and gets many plants from plant swaps.
Find Freegle here – it’s also very good if you’re clearing your house, as people will come and take the items away.
Your local horticultural society will usually do plant swaps. The RHS has a service for finding local gardening groups.
This garden is constantly changing, but here is a mannequin acquired via Freegle and several kinds of persicaria.
Use office or industrial items outside
This is office furniture used outside. It’s been fine for many years – if it’s glass or plastic it should weather well. Also in the Knole.
Or adapt charity shop finds…
Another garden behind a twentieth century newbuild in Ivory Close – the owners volunteer at the Cancer Research charity shop. They adapt their charity shop finds – this is a really unusual and charming garden, and is the furthest out. (near Sainsbury’s). So do make that extra bit of effort to get there!
There are more charity shop finds in this post about the Ivory Close garden.
Make sculpture the focus of a bed
This clever placing of a sculpture makes the most of the shape of the tree. And it distracts from the odd weed, too.
This garden belongs to Colin Rushton in the Mall, is also new this year. It’s a very long, thin town garden, with high historic walls and a wonderful sense of history.
Who cares about the odd strand of bindweed when there is a beautiful old wall and a cleverly placed sculpture?
This bird feeder cum birdhouse makes a beautiful focal point for Colin Rushton’s terrace. The house is particularly interesting. It was a seventeenth century farmhouse, which was turned into a pub in Georgian times, then given a new front in Victoria’s reign. It was a popular trade union meeting place in the 1950s, and became a private home in the 1960s.
The seventeenth century farm workers slept upstair in the loft, now accessed by the blue door. The greenhouse on the left used to be the pub urinals. A really pretty and interesting house and garden. The dovecote-cum bird feeder is charming.
Place garden pots in beds for definition
This charming narrow town garden in Briton Road belongs to the Foremans. They have used a garden pot as a pond, and also in borders.
Even a very small water source is valuable to wildlife but don’t forget to make sure it doesn’t dry out in hot weather. In Briton Road
The Foremans have pots in borders – they make brilliant ‘punctuation points’.
A spring/early summer meadow strip
The macLachlans in Abbey St plant bulbs in a strip of lawn down one side of their garden. They let the grass grow long as the bulbs die down.
Around mid-summer, they finally give the strip its first mow, and it then becomes a normal part of the lawn. It’s a nice way of having bulbs in the lawn without getting frustrated by having to let the whole lawn grow out of control.
This long grass wias returned to normal lawn soon after this picture was taken. Then it’ll grow long again next spring and early summer.
Try a free-standing arch
OK – so this is a slightly more expensive suggestion than the others. But it looks so pretty and is a great way of dividing up space in a small garden because you can see through it.
This frames the back door and the steps to the terrace. But it’s free-standing – it doesn’t have trellis around it, so it’s a great option for small town gardens. It’s the macLachlan’s garden in Abbey St
Put a roof on a standard wooden pergola
You have to be a bit handy about this one, and also to check that the pergola is sturdy enough.
My brother-in-law spent three days adding a corrugated iron roof to our twenty-five year old pergola to turn it into an all-weather dining area.
It cost around £300 and is a lovely place to eat.
Visit my garden, also in the Mall in Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day.
Plant stalls, vintage tool stalls and lots more… in Faversham Market on 24th June.
Entrance to the gardens is by guidebook only. £6 each or two for £10 (with one guidebook and one map). Available from the Faversham Society, 10-13 Preston St, Faversham ME13 8NS or from our Open Gardens stall in the Market Place on 24th June.
Look for our stall – the market closes at 4pm, but you can leave your plants with our plant creche.
Do come and say hello if you’re visiting my garden, and if you have any good town garden ideas do leave them in the comments below. Thank you!
Three free tickets to the Woburn Abbey Garden Show
Also on the weekend of 23rd and 24th June isNow in its 9th year, the Woburn Abbey Garden Show, sometimes called the ‘Gardeners’ Garden Show’ is just over an hour from London in 42-acres of the Abbey’s beautifully landscaped gardens.
Shopping at the Woburn Abbey Garden Show
The award-winning exhibitors and nurseries have been handpicked by Woburn. The displays are complemented by an array of live entertainment, artisan foods, shopping, demonstrations, informative talks and gardening advice, tips and tours.
Woburn Abbey gardens
Show highlights include Talks and Q&A sessions with BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost, BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time panellist Pippa Greenwood and Woburn Estates Gardens Manger and show organiser Martin Towsey.
To win your free tickets, let me know why you would like to win, either in the comments below, on Twitter (to @midsizegarden) or on the Middlesized Garden Facebook page.
More fab town garden ideas from BBC Gardeners World Live!
19 brilliant small garden ideas - from BBC Gardeners World Live! - YouTube
Self-seeding plants are the key to gardening on automatic. The less you do, the more they grow.
And they’re free. You buy one packet of seeds or one plant, and get a lifetime of exuberant flowers.
But I did feel rather guilty while going round my garden today. I counted over 25 different kinds of self-seeding plants.
This section of the main border is wholly self-seeded: alliums, euphorbia, rosa glauca and crocosmia…
Do I actually ever plant anything? Do I even lift a finger in the garden?
I promise I do. But without self-seeders, my garden would be much less vibrant. And I would have to spend much more time and money on it.
What are self-seeding plants?
It’s not a silly question. When patrolling the garden, I had to ask myself ‘is this a self-seeder or a clump-former?’
A self-seeding plant is one which plants itself. If you’re a bit lazy about dead-heading, then self-seeders will flower. They turn to seed and drop on the ground. If you’re also always a bit behind with the weeding, they will pop up again in spring.
The wind or birds may also carry the seed, so self-seeding plants can pop up in any part of the garden.
My two most prolific self-seeders are wild gladioli and euphorbia.
Some plants, such as day lilies, have all expanded from one or two tiny plants into huge clumps. But they don’t wander round the garden, establishing themselves wherever they see fit. So I don’t call them self-seeders.
Which plants self-seed in your garden can depend on your soil type as well as how good you are at weeding and dead-heading.
Aquilegias and eryngium are both defined as top self-seeders by Gardeners World, but I have planted one or two aquilegias. I still have only one or two aquilegias, exactly where I planted them. I know they’re not the same plants, but I wouldn’t call them a top self-seeding plant for my garden.
And my eryngium has also stayed where I planted it, without invading anywhere else.
We have clay soil, by the way, with some flint.
My very favourite self-seederWild gladioli
One of our friends was born in this house in 1939. He remembers the wild gladioli in the garden when he was a very young boy. It’s likely that they were already well established by then as most gardening in the Second World War was growing for food.
So these wild gladioli have been in this garden for a hundred years or more. It’s their garden, more than it’s mine.
Gladiolus communis subsp. ‘Byzantinus’ to give wild gladioli its proper name. It comes from the Mediterranean but has been grown in Britain for centuries. In our front garden it lines itself up along the wall. My favourite self-seeder, because of its history.
The best self-seeding flowersCerinthe
After wild gladioli, my number two self-seeder is cerinthe. It’s an unusual looking plant, and people always ask ‘what’s that?’ But it’s no trouble at all.
I grew some cerinthe (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’) from seed about fourteen years ago. They didn’t do particularly well, but the following year, they established two self-seeded clumps in the garden, and have thrived on total neglect ever since.
Alliums ‘Purple Sensation’ and Christophii
These are the self-seeding plants I couldn’t do without. I find that both Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium Christophii self-seed vigorously. I originally bought 15 Purple Sensation about ten years ago, and now have around 50.
The tall lollipops are Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and the shorter pale lilac fireworks are Allium Christophii. Seen here with self-seeders Euphorbia oblongata and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
There was one Allium Christophii in this garden when we moved in 15 years ago. We now have around 80-100.
I particularly love this combination as both plants self-seeded themselves here. Allium Christophii knew it would look good with Rosa glauca.
The common poppy or Papaver rhoeas is brilliantly colourful and so charmingly simple.
I’d like my poppies to be that pretty lilac colour, but my garden has other ideas. Am I in charge here or not? Not. Although I think the lilac ones may have mixing with my reds…
Otherwise know as ‘rose campion’, this has cheery pink flowers and a nice grey felted foliage. Some of my lychnis has planted itself in a neat circle around a tree. It’s too close and isn’t particularly good for the tree, but I do admire the way it has synchronised itself.
This rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) may look sweetly shy and retiring, but give it an inch and it’ll take a mile.
Erigeron or ‘seaside daisies’
I love seeing clouds of these growing out of walls and steps. Though I do have friends who don’t like them…you know who you are.
Seaside daisies with lady’s mantle, or – if we’re being posh – Erigeron karvinskianus with Alchemilla mollis.
Where would a summer garden be without foxgloves? Here is a photo of the back border, which is actually full of plants which I planted. Except for the foxgloves, who kindly decided that I needed a bit more vertical interest.
The spires of foxgloves improve this border, most of which was actually planted. Although I keep digging up the Japanese anenomes – they’re spreaders, not self-seeders and would survive anything.
This is a surprise entry for this section. You are supposed to be able to grow coriander as a herb in Britain, provided you plant it late enough in the year to stop it bolting.
I have never managed to get more than a handful or two of the coriander leaves for the kitchen, but it flowers and self-seeds so beautifully that I think it probably works better as a flower for me.
Coriander grown from seed. It bolted but has since come back twice, and I rather love the flowers.
Self-seeders for foliage
My top self-seeders for foliage or greenery are:
It’s unstoppable in its bid for world domination. Some of my other euphorbias, such as Euphorbia palustris, don’t self-seed or spread at all.
This Euphorbia oblongata knows that you should always plant yourself in threes….the spiky leaves between them are self-seeded Crocosmia, who also appear to have been reading about garden design and the importance of contrasting leaf shapes.
Lady’s mantle froths happily between pavers and pops up in beds. I have no idea where it came from. One day it wasn’t there, and then it was.
This Alchemilla mollis (also known as Lady’s mantle) has planted itself amongst some low-growing roses.
This is another vibrant early summer green that looks after itself. I bought three plants from Great Dixter over ten years ago, and now have two huge clumps. It’s exceptionally long-lasting as a cut flower and disappears completely around the end of June.
Smyrnium perfoliatum – a vigorous self-seeder for shade. It looks a bit like euphorbia and lasts a long time in a vase.
You can eat both marigolds and nasturtiums. I have known komatsuma and spinach to self-seed and be good to eat, and also rocket.
Definitely my top self-seeding herb. It took a good year to get established from seed, and I was initially disappointed by its growth. But in its second year, it took off around the garden, where it serves as foliage, garnish and an ingredient for parsley sauce.
The parsley goes where it likes. Here it’s decided to share with a row of beetroot.
Self-seeding companion plants
It’s helpful if self-seeders can be useful. Marigold and nasturtiums are both valuable in the veg patch, where they help deter pests.
People can be snooty about these, and I do often pull them out, but their smell repels greenfly and blackfly. They also attract hoverflies which live on blackfly, so they are generally a good thing.
Marigolds in the rhubarb beds – they seem happy to grow anywhere in the garden, but I pull them out elsewhere.
Sculptural plants are vital in any garden, and self-seeders can be wonderfully sculptural.
It takes a couple of years to establish because it’s a biennial, but once it gets a cycle going, you’ll never have to give it another thought. Brilliant in May and June, collapses a bit after that, but you have to leave it or it won’t self-seed.
Angelica archangelica used as a temporary hat stand over a long lunch….
There was a patch of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ in this garden when we arrived fifteen years ago. It is now everywhere, but I do like it. Its seed-heads are wonderful, both in the vase and in the garden.
Crocosmia Lucifer with another sculptural self-seeding plant – verbena bonariensis.
This doesn’t self-seed quite as vigorously as I’d like, so I occasionally have to re-plant it. But it seems to need very little attention, and wanders about the garden, occasionally planting itself in a pot.
This is so obliging that many people consider it a weed, but I love its sculptural creamy flowers.
The best self-seeding plants for shade
Angelica archangelica, foxgloves, smyrnium perfoliatum, lamium (dead nettle), primroses and Solomon’s seal all do well in shade. Solomon’s seal takes several years to get properly established, but I know have two generous clumps – from just one or two plants.
A trio of beautiful self-seeding plants that love the shade: Angelica archangelica, foxgloves and smyrnium perfoliatum.
Solomon’s seal now grows in two large clumps but it was not an overnight success. Patience is required, but not much effort. These plants were in a shady spot, and have gently self-seeded over around 10 years.
When NOT to allow self-seeding
Some plants do not make good self-seeders. In the veg bed, you won’t get any reasonable flavour out of anything that has self-sown from an F1 hybrid. That’s because an F1 hybrid has been specially created. Its seeds are usually disappointing.
However, heritage varieties of vegetable may self-seed, or it’s worth keeping the seed.
Similarly some garden flowers don’t come true from seed. My lavender self-seeds but I have been warned by the grower I bought it off that it won’t come true. He advised me to take cuttings rather than rely on self-seeders.
Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day on June 24th
Come and see my self-seeders (and weeds) on June 24th for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day. There will be 29 gardens open and a wonderful garden market in Faversham’s historic Market Place. Posy Gentles’ garden will also be open, and there’s a video preview of her long, thin town garden here:
The best narrow garden ideas - from the Middlesized Garden of the month in June. - YouTube
Ten gardens will be open on 10th June (10am-5pm), which makes it easy to remember.
Wildflowers on Joy Lane beach at sunset. There are two gardens in Joy Lane in Whitstable Open Gardens.
But even if you’re nowhere near Kent, let me treat you to a few of the summery seaside garden ideas. This really is a delightful group of small town, beach and roof gardens.
Creative paths and terraces
Teresa Brown lives in an Arts & Crafts house – one of the earliest built in Joy Lane, Whitstable. She has been wonderfully creative with her paths and terraces, using offcuts of brick and tile to create paving.
The pavers surrounding the pond include a checkers board in tiles, a sunburst plus a lizard design. Teresa did them using pebbles, tiles and other found objects. Photo by Francine Raymond.
The Browns raised five children at the house, and now they have grandchildren. She’s made a tile and brick ‘noughts and crosses’ paver beside the pond, which they can play with shells.
Noughts and crosses by the pond. To be played with shells.
Teresa brightened up a cracked concrete pathway by opening the concrete up a bit more then filling it with patterns made with tiles and bricks.
Upcycled pots at Whitstable Open Gardens
Teresa has put together a number of broken pots in an unusual arrangement.
Teresa has used several layers of broken pot for this arrangement.
Jelly moulds and succulents at Clare Road for Whitstable Open Gardens.
A galvanised agricultural feeding trough used as a garden planter further up Joy Lane, home of garden writer Francine Raymond.
A good twist for garden furniture
Teresa Brown painted an ordinary garden bench in stripes of colour, and then matched it with the planting. At Joy Lane for Whitstable Open Gardens.
Francine has a two-colour theme in her garden – grey and yellow. That’s because she has a yellow brick house with grey slates. She buys garden furniture in junk shops or car boot fairs and ‘pulls it all together’ by painting it either yellow or grey.
And a roof garden…
Ocean Cottage has a tiny roof garden with an idyllic view and lots of pots.
A garden with echoes of the beach…
The Guinea is a very pretty garden with white walls and lots of pots.
An interesting use of plants…
Teresa Brown in Joy Lane has deliberately grown ivy up some ancient fruit trees in order to have some greenery in the winter. It’s a variegated ivy so it doesn’t look too dark.
Beautiful long thin town gardens…
Don’t miss Argyle Road – a typical long thin town garden transformed by Mel and Emma, great for wildlife and plant lovers.
A walk along the beach…
Wild mallow on Whitstable beach…
Somewhere for lunch – Jojo’s in Tankerton is a favourite of mine.
And for more Whitstable beach…
See this video for more beach garden tips and inspiration,plus a stroll along Whitstable beach:
Beautiful beach garden ideas from Whitstable - YouTube
Starting a garden from scratch is both a challenge and a privilege.
When Sarah Langton-Lockton bought her 1920s house, the garden was overgrown to the point of dereliction. It all had to be cleared, except for one camellia and one small tree.
Within two years, it was good enough to open to the public, and now, just three years on, it’s open for the NGS Kent on June 2nd, along with two other local gardens. That’s quite an accolade And it’s been achieved in a remarkably short time.
Sarah created this garden from scratch in not much more than a year or two. Now it’s open both for the NGS on June 2nd and for Faversham Open Gardens on June 24th.
If you’re creating your garden from scratch, you may also be faced with a garden is just a plain lawn, either because it’s newly built or because the previous owners weren’t interested in gardening.
A garden from scratch means you can start at once
When you move into a new home, garden experts always counsel you to wait a year to see what’s in the garden. It’s great advice because trees and shrubs planted years ago can give a garden maturity and texture. If your predecessor was a keen gardener, then you will undoubtedly have some gems that you won’t want to get rid of.
But if it’s clear that nothing is there, you can start immediately.
Although, to be fair, you’ll probably take a year to move in and ‘do’ the house, which is what Sarah did.
What shape is your garden?
Garden planning starts with your garden shape. Is it long and thin, rectangular, square or wide and shallow?
The extra width of Sarah’s plot meant she was able to put the greenhouse on one side, halfway along. It’s serves as a charming focal point as well as for growing.
Sarah was particularly excited about planning the garden, because it was a double width plot. ‘All my life I’ve gardened in long, thin London gardens, so having the extra width was wonderful. But I had to think about how to break up the space differently.’
She decided to have one ‘long border’ on just one side, but to make it deep and generous. She is influenced by Great Dixter, where the Long Border looks good all year round.
‘I wouldn’t compare myself to Great Dixter,’ she says. ‘But I hope there is a Great Dixter-esque feeling about this border.’
One generous border along one side – a tribute to Great Dixter. Even if your garden is long and narrow (especially if it’s long and narrow!), one really good border on one side is better than two meagre ones on both sides. The pink flowers are Thalictrums ‘Black Stockings’, ‘Elin and flavum glaucum.
Break up the space
The way you break up the space in your garden is key to how spacious it looks. My mother always used to think that a room or a garden would look bigger if you had as much open space as possible, especially in the middle.
But, in fact, the opposite is true. When you break up a space, the eye pauses before moving on. It’s more of a journey, so it seems bigger.
And last year, I went on a one day garden design course with the KLC School of Design. The tutor explained that you need to think about mass (ie sheds, trees) and void (lawns, terraces) in your garden before planning which flowers to plant. There’s more about designing your garden in this video.
Three charming veg beds cut across the garden halfway along. Behind them the back of the garden is wilder, with a still-developing rockery at the very back.
Sarah took the brave step of running the vegetable beds across the middle of the lawn. I think this is something of a growing trend, because veg beds are beautiful in themselves.
Don’t you love Sarah’s beautiful plant supports in the veg beds? They’re from Plant Belles.
Once again, if you start a garden from scratch, you can do what you like with your veg – you’re not constrained by where your predecessor has decided to put them.
What materials to use?
You will have to decide between brick, stone, gravel, seashells, lawn etc – and how much of each you want.
‘Lawns aren’t very fashionable these days,’ says Sarah. ‘But I think they are a good foil for plants and flowers, so I wanted open areas with lawn.’
She added a brick path down one side of the garden, to the greenhouse. She has lovely old brick walls, so has used similar style of brick for the path – in small gardens, it’s important not to introduce too many different elements or it can feel fussy.
Sarah has mainly used brick for her hard landscaping, echoing the old brick shed, the traditional green house and the garden walls.
How to choose plants when creating a garden from scratch
Sarah is a great believer in ‘right plant, right place’. So she chooses sun-loving plants for her sunny border and shade-loving plants for the end of the garden.
Many perennials will plump up in just a year or so. And you can fill gaps with annuals.
I love this combination of pale blue (Iris pallida subsp pallida) and dark purple irises in Sarah’s border. Irises often flower in their first year and are a good choice for a new garden. They like a sunny spot.
Sarah’s combination of annuals and perennials meant that the garden looked abundant even in its first year. We opened it for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day just four months after it was a muddy puddle, and it was picked for the NGS in just two years.
It takes climbers, such as roses and clematis, a bit longer to get established. Sarah’s climbing roses are probably at their best this year. This is Tea Rose ‘Sombreuil’.
Sarah’s garden is uncluttered but there are a few pretty touches, such as this vintage railway petrol container used as a water butt.
You can see Sarah’s garden, as well as Posy Gentles’ garden (which I’ve often written about on this blog) and also 17 Norman Road when they’re open for NGS Kent on June 2nd, 10am-5pm.
Garden maker Posy Gentles’ garden will also be open on June 2nd.
17 Norman Road is also open on June 2nd. All three are walled gardens.
Behind the gates of more private urban gardens:
You’ll find more Kent town gardens for ideas and inspiration in this video:
Visit private urban gardens for ideas and inspiration - YouTube
Chris Beardshaw’s design for Morgan Stanley and the NSPCC – just a beautiful garden at every level with abundant planting and a calm but positive use of colour.
The celebs may dip in and out, but the trends percolate down into our gardens – it’s probably more influential than any other show in the world.
I spent yesterday morning at the Chelsea Flower Show as a roving reporter for BBC Radio Kent’s excellent Sunday Gardening programme. Exhibitors were still putting the last minute touches to their stands, and the garden designers were anxiously tweaking their creations.
The BBC Radio Kent Sunday Gardening team, from left: me, Phil Harrison, Jane Streitfeild of the NGS, Steve Bradley and Louise, who kept us all organised.
Designer Laura Anstiss putting the finishing touches on the Supershoes Laced With Hope garden with Frosts.
One of the puzzling things about going round while it’s still being constructed is knowing what’s meant to be in the garden and what isn’t. This ladder does look rather wonderful here. But it disappeared later so presumably not…in the VTB Spirit of Cornwall garden by Charles Stuart Towner.
Then I went round the show again to see what I think is going to be big in ‘ordinary’ gardens over the next few years.
Paul Hervey-Brookes titivating the Viking Cruises Wellness Garden.
All very different at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018
There is a definite wind of change blowing through the gardening world, judging by this year’s RHS Chelsea
The grasses and structured hedging of the past few years has almost completely been swept away.
Instead there are huge beds full of flowers and colour.
The David Harber and Savills Garden by Nic Howard
While I don’t normally want to see graffiti in gardens, I loved this garden for Supershoes Laced With Hope.
Yellow is an emerging garden colour
At Capel Manor College, their display is called 50 Shades of Gold. I spoke to one of their designers who said ‘A few years ago, I’d never have considered using yellow in a garden.’ Their display is a celebration of yellow flowers of all kinds across all seasons.
And I spotted yellow in a number of other gardens, too, including Sarah Price’s garden for Morgan Stanley.
The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden, with yellow oilseed rape (!) in the foreground. All our mothers would be scandalised.
Lilac and yellow in the beautifully abundant Hillier ‘Stihl Inspiration’ garden.
Yellow in the gorgeous LG Eco-city garden by Hay-Joung Wang
The free-standing arch
Taking that show gardens are a very pampered version of small town gardens, it’s interesting to see how many feature a free-standing arch. Adding height halfway along a small garden gives it a sense of proportion and gives the eye somewhere to pause, thus making the garden feel larger.
The exquisite ‘Hospitality Garden’ for G-Lion by Kazuyuki Ishihara. Love that moss!
This arch in the Urban Flow Garden by Tony Woods of Gardenclublondon is made of a specially fired porcelain so it doesn’t need any maintenance and lasts forever.
I rather like this arrangement of logs, arch and eucalyptus – sorry, can’t remember who’s it is, let me know if you do.
Beautifully textured corten steel has been around for a few years, but at RHS Chelsea 2018 it is big, big, big.
Water feature with corten steel in the Stihl Inspiration garden for Hillier.
Corten steel screens for Stihl Inspiration, Hillier at RHS Chelsea
RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 - what it means for your garden - YouTube
If you’ve watched RHS Chelsea 2018 or been to the show, what did you pick up as a trend? What was your favourite garden or new product? Let me know in the comments below or on social media – Twitter is @midsizegarden and Facebook is The Middlesized Garden.