Sally has been designing gardens for 18 years and is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers, which is the only body for professional garden designers. She trained at Askham Bryan College, York and left there with a BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management and a HND in Horticulture.
Don’t be tempted to put in that extra curve, often with with a patio, less is more.
‘Extra curves’ is a phrase full of connotations, but in this case I’m only going to talk about patios, so if you’re a lady of a ‘certain age’ like me or indeed anyone else, you can relax because today, I’d like to talk about curves in the garden.
Lots of clients say they like to have curved paths, patios, ponds, walls and lawns in the garden which, done in the right way in the right place, can look really good. However, a curve in the wrong place just looks down right wrong.
The problem I see the most often is that people give in to the temptation to put in too many curves and when that happens the whole effect looks fussy and not quite right. This is what my colleague Nath calls ‘creative meandering’ which I think is a very good description. If you look at the photo attached to this blog, I’m sure you can begin to see what I mean.
The person who laid this piece of paving will have spent a lot of time cutting the stone and working out where to put those curves and although it’s been done well, the impact of the workmanship has been completely lost, in my opinion, because my eye was taken by too much ‘meandering’. It would have been much more pleasing on the visual front and taken less time (and therefore cost less) to do if there had just been one sweeping curve. A single curve would have looked strong, purposeful and much more natural in appearance.
I understand that very few people go into their gardens and intentionally analyse the hard landscaping in this way but it IS something we all do at a subconscious level – we all do it, all of the time. So it is worth getting your curves right, as it a vital part of making your garden look and ‘feel’ right.
If you’re planning some curved hard landscaping or re-shaping your lawn this weekend, get some marking-out spray paint and spray onto the ground the shape you think would work best. If you can, look down at the new shape from an upstairs window and see if it looks natural or if it feels right to you. If you cannot look down at the new shape, step back and try and be as objective as possible about it. Take a break of at least 12 hours and then go back and look at it again. Sleep on it. The goal is to create a shape that looks as if Nature could have created it and if the curves you’ve spray painted onto the ground look natural, then go ahead with the work. If not, have another go! The spray paint will come off and no harm is done.
Colour is all around us and yet there are times of the year when you look out of the window at the garden and see only versions of greens. I call these times ‘Green Lulls’. This often occurs when there is a gap between one set of plants that have finished flowering and before the next group begins. Sometimes those ‘Green Lulls’ can be rather extended when your garden only has plants for a particular season or you don’t have enough space to have year-round interest. So here is how and when to use garden pots and containers in your garden for an instant burst of emergency colour.
‘Green Lulls’ are telling us something. The most obvious is that you do not have balanced planting but sometimes, they are giving you a warning too. It could be that you are confident that you’ve got a well- balanced border that’s taken time and effort to establish but have been recently been distracted from what is happening in the garden for all those other reasons that fill our days. Slowly and steadily because there is nothing to restrict it, one or some of those garden thugs albeit beautiful ones, of which we have many, quietly begin taking over the available space at the expense of some of the less robust plants. This will throw the balance of your borders out, resulting in some periods of tired green.
I once saw a garden that no other plant in it except Lysimachia punctata (yellow loosestrife) because it had gradually taken over and the owner didn’t notice, due to being away a lot, till it was too late. Obviously, this is an extreme case but if you leave this sort of thing unchecked, you will get the same result. So, look out for those Green Lulls.
You need emergency colour
Now that we’ve established that ‘Green Lulls’ are telling us something, what is the solution? Being the gardener that you are, I’m sure you will identify why your garden is looking tired and green and put it right for next year but in the meantime, you need some emergency colour for now.
Plant up a pot NOW
This can be achieved by planting up a pot or two, using plants from the garden centre that are in flower right now. This is the only time that you will hear me advocating going to the garden centre and buying whatever is in flower without applying the 3 Foundation steps I advocate in my book ‘The Garden Equation. How to make your garden into a delightful part of your lifestyle’ and which I believe every beautiful garden is based on. It is not the most economic way of introducing colour either but this is an emergency!
It’s an emergency!
Why is it an emergency, you say? Well, there have been many studies proving the positive influence on our well-being that looking at colours have. I’m sure you have had down days that have been lightened even just a little when you’ve looked at a lovely garden. I know I have. So, on the basis that it could be quite a long time before your garden becomes colourful again, you need to introduce some now and this can be done quickly and easily by planting up some pots – now or whatever time of the year you have a ‘green lull’. Look at the photo with this blog. In the foreground you will see the tired, faded flower heads of Alchemilla mollis and behind it several pots of Bergonias. There is nothing subtle or thoughtful about this composition as it is made up of plants that were being sold off the local garden centre a few weeks ago but I’m sure you can see how the colours in the pots lift what would otherwise be a very boring and quite frankly, a bit of a depressing scene.
Free book to help you get started (if you live in the UK).
To help you get started with your garden, I’m offering you a free copy of my book
‘The Garden Equation – How to make your garden into a delightful part of your lifestyle‘.
You can get your copy by registering your details on our homepage. You need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it, so don’t give up! If you have already registered for a book but not received one, please email me on the link below and let me know. We’ve been having problems with the system – which we’re doing our best to put right.
You can message me directly – I’m happy to help…
If you’d like to fill in a contact form me with any questions, click here and I’m very happy to help you if I can.
Or if you’d like to chat about your garden with me, call on 01904 623 343
If you would like to talk the garden through with someone who is knowledgeable, experienced and objective get in touch for more information about our 2 levels of FIXED PRICE garden packages. We’re also very happy to visit you and your garden for an initial discussion. The first visit is FREE so long as you live in Yorkshire.
PS – If there is anything common sense garden-related issue that you’d like to have aired to a wider audience, please use the contact form.
If I said “Slugs and snails”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Do you think of a slug as a pest which the world would be a better place without? I certainly do, when I think of my new lettuce seedlings and tender sweet peas recently decimated by slugs and snails. I was reading an article this week in the ‘i’ newspaper, in which Chris Packham (the BBC Springwatch presenter) gave a different view point, which I thought I would share with you.
As well as growing plants, I also have a passion for hedgehogs and think that our use of slug pellets should be reduced. Whatever the pesticide companies say, it cannot be good for any animal to ingest chemicals on a regular basis which is what is happening when a hedgehog eats a contaminated slug. I believe that metaldehyde, the active ingredient of many slug pellets is systemic and that there have been incidences of dead hedgehogs with very high levels of this in their bodies. I’m sure someone will prove the connection, but for now common sense says that large quantities of slugs that have consumed slug pellets cannot be good for hedgehogs, thrushes or slowworms.
As a gardener, I have an inherently negative response to slugs but there is actually more wisdom in Chris’s point “Think like a slug“ (once you’ve got over the response of ‘Yuck’). He goes on to illustrate his point with a great analogy. If Waitrose were to tell you that everything was free, you’d rush to fill up your basket, wouldn’t you? Well, the slug is doing exactly the same thing when you plant lots of tender, tasty seedlings. So firstly, stop lining up the temptations in easy to reach rows and expecting the slugs not to go for them. Secondly, although you could still be tempted to reach for the slug pellets, read on and find out about the two alternative slug deterrent activities I undertook this year.
Initially I did not intend to go on a slug-pellet-free crusade. We were going through a very dry spring and I wanted to cut down on the amount of watering. I thought the soil on the allotment required sustenance anyway so thought I would apply a mulch. Applying a mulch, as I’m sure you know, cuts down on the amount of moisture that is lost from the soil surface which means that when water is scarce, this preserves the little there is within the soil profile. I decided to use a relatively new mulch product on the market, called Strulch (www.strulch.co.uk). It is made from chopped up straw that has been mineralised to make the decomposition of the straw a consistent process over the natural fluctuating one if left untreated. It also gives it a brown colour which looks more appealing on the beds. It also has the added benefit of being a deterrent to slugs and snails – bingo! – two problems solved with one product!
Sounds too good to be true but it has worked well so far. The slugs, being determined souls, made determined efforts to get to the seedlings but on the beds where I have applied the Strulch thickly and widely, only the most persistent got anywhere near the precious plant. The soil underneath was also nice and moist so my twin goals of not using slug pellets and cutting down on the amount of watering I needed to do, have been achieved.
Let them GROW
The other thing that I did was that once my seedlings had germinated, I transplanted them in to small pots and let them grow quite large before planting them out on the allotment. I have to ‘fess up and admit that this came about by default but it had the added advantage of giving the plant a well established root system and that it now has leaves beyond the reach of most slugs and snails. This meant that the plant could withstand the loss of a few leaves at its base.
So let me know what you think and if you’ve tried anything else in the battle against slugs and snails that worked for you? – Contact me here
Here’s a simple low maintenance idea which will cut down on the time it takes to look after your garden and it’s beautiful too.
I was talking about this low maintenance idea to my next door neighbour, Frances, on the allotments and she decided to give it a go. She treats her allotment as you would your garden where she has a lovely mix of flowers, vegetables, soft fruit and fruit trees as well as a tiny lawn, a shed and a green house. It’s a delightful space for humans and wildlife alike.
“You don’t have to cultivate every inch of your garden.”
Frances has had this allotment for years and she knows exactly what to do with it but this year, she became disheartened by the amount of effort it was taking to stay on top of everything. It didn’t help that there was very little rain this spring and the early seedlings she put in just did not thrive. Which was the point that I suggested to her that there was no rule that says she had to cultivate the whole allotment.
The solution was easy and versatile.
Frances decided to use the space that had become too much for her to look after, to sow a packet of mixed annual seed to bring some colour to the allotment and create a source of nectar for the bees. Check out Pinterest for examples of good meadow spaces by clicking here.
So did it work?
Oh, yes ! The result is a very charming carpet of flowers that are a delight to look at, as you will see from the photo. The bees and other insects love it too. Yes, there are plants that are classed as weeds in amongst the poppies and other flowers but working on the principle of ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, they are not causing Frances any concern and as a result, she’s not done anything with this part of her allotment since the end of May – except enjoy it, of course.
I love this approach to low maintenance. It is quick, easy and produces stunning results and whilst the flowers are there, you are totally justified in leaving them to get on with it. So it’s totally maintenance free for a number of months.
Annual seed mixes like this one are now readily available and they have been designed quite carefully to have successional plants within them so there is something to look at over quite a long period of time with some mixes providing interest from June through to the first frosts. Another great thing about these seed mixes is that it doesn’t matter how big or small the area is you want to sow them in is. Application rates will be on the back of the packet so just buy the right number of packets to cover the area you’ve got.
Cons – just so you know
But … as with everything, there is a downside to consider too. These mixes perform well if the seed bed is properly prepared. The better the preparation of the bed, the better the subsequent show is so work is required at the beginning of the season. How much you will have to do depends on the state of the area you intend to sow. Unfortunately, if the seed bed is infested with pernicious weeds, the performance of the annual seed mix will be hampered by the competition from them, so it would be a good idea to address the weed issue before you sow. At the end of the season, these annual plants will be dead and therefore look unsightly so you will want to take them out or you could rotavate them into the soil to break down there but either way, work is required at this stage too.
In addition, the use of annual seed mixes is not a long term solution. In my experience, they will look amazing for a number of years but by their very nature, these annuals are always attempting to set seed and over the years, the reservoir of seeds within the soil accumulates so that gradually an imbalance develops in the flowers that germinate. For obvious reasons, those that flower and set seed early become the dominant species.
Personally, I think these mixes are a brilliant solution to cutting down on the maintenance in the garden at a time when there is so much else to do.
FREE book to help you get started (if you live in the UK).
To help you get started with your garden, I’m offering you a free copy of my book ‘The Garden Equation.How to make your garden into a delightful part of your lifestyle’ FOR THIS MONTH ONLY. You can get your copy by registering your details on our website homepage. You need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it, so don’t give up!
Or you can email me – I’m happy to help..
Have a look at the rest of our website for some ideas by clicking here.
If you’d like to chat about the garden, ring us on 01904 623 343 or
If you would like to talk the garden through with someone who is knowledgeable, experienced and objective, get in touch for more information about our 2 levels of FIXED PRICE garden packages.
If you’d like us to visit – ring us on 01904 623 343 or
We’re also very happy to visit you and your garden for an initial discussion. The first visit is FREE so long as you live in Yorkshire.
PS – if there is anything common sense garden-related issue that you’d like to have aired to a wider audience, email me by clicking on the above link.
– what does your garden look like from inside the house?
Do You Have A Room with a View?
True to form, the weather this bank holiday Easter weekend is forecast to be variable. So it is unlikely you will be sitting out in the garden with E M Forster’s classic book or any other reading matter, unless you’re a very hardy type. This means you will probably be spending a little more time inside your house than you had hoped. Which brings me to the point of today’s blog.
I recently visited some new clients and whilst I was at their house, it became apparent that there were no nice views out to the garden from any of the windows except one. Fortunately this one window was a large one and located in the room the clients sat in the most. However, when I looked out, all I could see was the shed and a bit of lawn which definitely came under the heading of uninspiring and boring.
And what a wasted opportunity!
Some of us have the benefit of a lovely view outside the garden boundaries which we can ‘borrow’ for our benefit and if you do, I hope you are making the most of it. Most of us, however, have to create our own things to look at within our gardens so if you’re going to go to the trouble of doing this, make sure your efforts are in the right place.
The first thing you need to consider is whether you actually like and find interesting what you see from your ‘best’ window. My mother once said that given enough time, you can get used to anything so don’t fall into this particular trap of over familiarity. Try and be objective and, if possible, get someone else to give you their opinion as well, which is actually the easier option. What you are aiming to do at this point is to firstly make a decision about whether your present view is one you’d like to keep or if you’d like to have a change.
From a design point of view, the thing that is often lacking is a focal point. This is an object of interest to draw your eye out of the house and into the garden, so the second decision you need to make is about the type of focal point that would be of interest to you. Commonly used features include art, sculpture, a nice bench or swing seat, a water feature, a container either with or without a specimen plant, a bed of eye catching planting or simply a beautiful tree or shrub. It can be as simple or intricate as you like which should also reflect the amount of maintenance time you have to give to ensure it remains looking in tip top condition. It is also a very smart move to light this particular focal point so that the interest factor can be extended into the winter months or after dusk.
Real armchair gardening.
So this weekend, if you are forced indoors, have a think about what you can see outside. Ignore the weather, if you can, and decide if your room has a view you are happy with or whether you could do with a change. My clients with the shed have decided to have a semi-raised rectangular water feature, with a small bubble fountain in it. This will be lit from underneath the water and will look stunning at night, regardless of the season.
NOW is the time to find out if your garden will become a burden this year.
You’d think it would be obvious to you when your garden becomes a burden. Sometimes it is but most of us struggle, thinking we’ll have more time next week or the week after or the week after that………..you get the idea.
So how do you work this out because, strange to say, it is often not that obvious?
What it took for me to get the message
Let me tell you a little story as to how the penny finally dropped with me. I had 2 allotments, one for the 9 chickens I kept and one for growing vegetables. One evening the fox called and by the end of his visit, I had no more chickens. Around the same time, the allotment officer contacted me to say that my plot was too weedy and would I please do something about it?
After much railing and ranting on my behalf and with myself, it became clear that the best solution was to give up the chicken allotment and to give half the vegetable allotment to another gardener. It all sounds obvious with hindsight but it took the fox AND the allotment officer to make me realise that I didn’t have enough time to enjoy looking after the hens and grow vegetables and that neither activity fitted comfortably into my lifestyle anymore.
So the key to deciding whether your garden has become a burden or not is to be very honest about whether it fitted comfortably into your lifestyle last year
So what are the clues you are looking for?
Find a point in the day when you will have at least half an hour which will be
uninterrupted, take a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and go into the garden. Look around it. If your garden is big enough, walk around it.
Instead of looking at all the jobs that need doing or will need doing, look past them and just ask yourself this question ‘How did the garden feel last year?’ If your garden is a large one, go to the different
areas within it and ask the same question. For example, can you look at your borders and feel nothing but delight or were there aspects that felt overwhelming?
Other clues to look for
Other clues to look for are the usage of the words ‘should’ and ‘ought’. Did you say sentences such as ‘I should be in the garden now’ or ‘I want to read the paper but I ought to be doing the garden’?
If you do come to the conclusion that your garden has become a burden, then CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve just made the best decision in relation to your garden this year because now you know you need to do things differently.
Free book to help you get started (if you live in the UK).
To help you get started with your new approach to your garden, we are offering you a free copy of our book ‘The Garden Equation. How to make your garden into a delightful part of your lifestyle’.
You can get your copy by registering your details on our website homepage. You need to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it, so don’t give up!
If you’d like to email me with any questions, click here and I’m very happy to help you if I can.
– Or have a look at our website for some ideas – click here.