Archive | Garden Design

Design, landscaping construction and layouts. Special types of garden and notable design features

A Trio of Purple Leaves

It is hard to ignore plants with leaves as stunning as these in a Parks garden. The purple is from one of the Sumachs or Rhus family. Selecting plants that contrast in colour shape or form is part of the skill of gardening but starting with plants like these is a good beginning.

Purple is one of my favourite leaf colours of the moment and the Lamium below is called Perilla fructenscens. I am putting several plants in one area of my garden and will see how well they get on with one another.

This Heuchera surprised me growing in a wall cleft with thin soil. I do not remember planting it in what I thought would be a hostile location.


A Garden by any Other Name

Naming of Garden Areas

Previously I have stuck to traditional names for bits of my garden. Veg plot, rockery, orchard (when I feel posh), rose bed, border, hedge and similar names have delineate what and where I was trying to grow.

Then I  launched some new names including the Den Den for a mixture of lolly pop like Primula denticulata .  This naming obsession started some years ago with the ‘Stumpery’ when I couldn’t dig out and dispose of the whole of a conifer root.

‘Alpine Land’ speaks for itself and reflects the time I was a keen member of the AGS. I collected lots of rocks and build slopes and appropriate habitats. Perhaps it deserves a better name.

The Pinkery has many dianthus and Japan Land has more statues and hard landscape and deserves more space.

My favourite bed is Rhodo Road which will come into its own as spring develops. There are currently 3 early white bloomers that have eluded the frost.

Mole Mound contains some plastic moles or heads thereof, a big pile of dumped top soil which turned out to be subsoil and some shrubs.

The whole plot is named Fairfaxery Gardens after the street where it edges the roadside. I do not grow any more successfully but ……..they say give a dog a bad name but the garden may not be perfect but it isn’t a dog.


Best Tips for Outdoor Containers

A mantra from my gardening experience is that ‘A good big one will beat a good small one’ and this applies to containers growing plants outdoors. Big containers offer more control over watering and feeding, they bring plants closer to your senses and can be architectural in their own right. In a plant poll they also opted for a big one over a small one!

Instant Tips

  • Think about the plant roots. Roses grow long deep roots needing deep pots, other plants take moisture and food from surface or shallow roots.
  • Think about the plant leaves. Fleshy leafy growth will need more water as they transpire.
  • Globular pots are popular but very hard to empty when repotting as the neck is narrower than the circumference.
  • Use matching saucers so you can also water from underneath. It can be hard to get enough water in from the top.


Use Heavy Containers

  • ‘A good big one will beat a good small one’ and this applies to most containers. When full of loam based compost a big container will be heavy.
  • You do not want containers to fall over, plants get damaged and grow at funny angles striving for light.
  • Do not let containers become top heavy or too light through lack of watering.
  • Thin walled containers gain and loose heat rapidly. Thicker containers keep roots at a more even temperature.
  • Choose heavy terracotta or reconstituted stone over plastic. If you must use a light container put rocks in the bottom.
  • You can get special casters to wheel your container around the garden. This can be useful to seek out the sun.

Planting Outdoor Containers

  • Decide which is your star plant and put it in place first, slightly off centre. Infill planting densely for a quick result, containers should be about show.
  • Aim for plants that add about 50% in height. Tall thin plants will dwarf the container and may make it unsteady.
  • Think of using a ‘shock and awe’ plant to grab attention.
  • Bury some plants in smaller pots that you can replace with fresher plants.
  • Use some trailing plants to break the edge of the container and make a link with the ground.
  • Plan a colour scheme green and gold foliage looks warm, silver foliage is cold. Spot plants with pink or purple flowers can add sparkle to a white combination.

Moss Garden

Quick Tips for Containers

  • Use slow release fertiliser mixed with loam based compost if you are using longer term plants as opposed to annuals.
  • Provide good drainage and stand containers on pot feet so water can drain away.
  • Terracotta containers were used by ancient Greeks 2500 years ago so they are a well proven method of gardening.
  • Experiment with shapes and sizes of container. Make container gardening fun.
  • Get further inspiration for a book on Container Gardening from amazon.

Book Cover

Outdoor Containers for Special Purposes

  • You can grow ‘Crops in Pots: 50 Great Container Projects Using Vegetables, Fruit and Herbs.’ by Bob Purnell
  • Old sinks are often used for alpine and small plants.
  • Bonsai need to grow outdoors in natural conditions. Some beautiful containers are available
  • Quick growing salad crops can be grown in containers to avoid slugs.

Unique container at Bolen residence

Photo Credits
3 PLANT POTS by KTDEE….popping in and out CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Moss Garden by Flatbush Gardener CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Unique container at Bolen residence by Gardening in a Minute CC BY-NC 2.0
Potted Plants by Yoav Lerman CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Potted PlantsSlightly Potty? Needs some potty training?


Garden Seats to view Cyclamen

The 18th century Union Jack Gardens at Wentworth Castle were originally called the ‘wilderness’. It was dense with shapes, texture and contrasts of shade and light. Now it may be a suitable place to take a seat in the garden and see the original Yew trees and the variegated ‘creamed’ Hollies.

Wentworth Castle starts with an invitation to take a seat while you admire the unusual grounds. The seats are unusual too!

The living plants are less unusual but in the stumpery there are shaped tree roots riven from the soil and replanted upside down. This fails to affect the well mulched cyclamen growing from what must be substantial corms.

Gardeners can be a hardy lot but you need a hard bottom for this type of seating.

More traditional cast iron seat. Why do we paint them and other garden items in Wedgewood Blue?

Cyclamen mulch is made from coarse wood and bark chippings

In the last year the renovated garden originally designed in 1707 was forced to close. The Yorkshire Post reports ‘Talks are underway to secure the future of the only Grade I-listed landscape in South Yorkshire, which is said to be “nationally significant” for its extensive monuments including some of the earliest follies in the country. In an irony which would not have been lost on its founder Thomas Wentworth, who only built the estate due to a bitter dispute over the inheritance of the family seat at Wentworth Woodhouse …’ Sadly there has been no progress and I have to rely on my old photographs.


Raised Beds


Cottage Garden and Annuals Triptych

This is a series of 3 photographs of my favourite cottage garden on Main Street Menston. Late summer each year will see me leaning over the Yorkshire stone wall to admire the ‘gaudy’ collection of flowers that create one enormous display.

Design Features

  • The hard landscape is suitably constrained and smacks of belonging to a true plantsman or plantswoman. The red brick from the family home and a small section of slatted paneling limits the borders of this front garden.
  • The garden barely needs to borrow from the surrounding landscape but the old grey Yorkshire stone walls add a timelessness to a short lived period of glory from the plants.
  • Like my garden this garden suffers from a drain cover in an inconvenient spot but it is as disguised as practical with the wooden hooped barrel used as a plant pot. (How else can they get more flowers on show?)
  • The central bed is designed as a lozenge rather than a more normal oval or circle. It works well and allows the gardener access from all 4 sides.

Flowers on Display

  • The main feature is not of structural plants or herbaceous perennials but the selection of  bright cheerful annuals.
  • Wispy Cosmos and Nicotiana edge over the roadside wall on which I lean to take these three photographs.
  • Good strong yellow flowers predominate and link the whole composition together. I particularly like the Tagetes, Marigolds and Rudbeckia .
  • It would be churlish to mention the grass which is in fair condition towards the end of summer.

Large Scale Water Features

Moon pond water feature with pheasant – early spring at Studley Royal Ripon

Probably a bridge over a thousand years old at Fountains Abbey Nr Ripon. The Snowdrops set off another far older water feature with a bridge that was destroyed in the reformation in the 16th century. The snowdrops are probably related to the first known cultivation in 1597.

Posidon or ‘Neptune’ by Oliver Andrews standing in the middle of the Moon Pond after the restoration of the 18th century pond that had fallen into disrepair.


My Ground Cover Ideas

Ground cover plants are designed to do what they say in the title. They can cover the ground by design, happy accident or conscious neglect.

Creeping Jenny

Benefits of Ground Cover

  1. Treasure the ground cover plants that clothe the soil and rocks with leaves or stems preventing wasteful moisture loss.
  2. Ground cover reduces weed seed germination as the seed can’t reach the soil. Any weeds that do grow will likely be smothered or hidden from view.
  3. Most ground cover will flower and even foliage only plants are more aesthetically pleasing than bare or patchy ground.
  4. Ground cover is useful on hard to access land such as scree or steep slopes.
  5. Ground cover may creep or mound but most will grow lower than one feet high and be ornamental.
  6. They are easy to maintain with an occasional clipping after flowering or an edging trim to keep them in control.
  7. Ground cover can support wild life and help create a special habitat.

Hart’s tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium

Selected Ground Cover Plant Species

    1. Ajuga reptans like plenty of water to produce purple-green leaves and spring flowers of blue spikes.
    2. Erigeron karvinskianus has small white flowers like lawn daisies. A copious self seeder.
    3. Lysimachia nummularia also called creeping jenny for reasons you will discover as it moves around your garden. In summer it has numerous smal,l yellow flowers.
    4. Sedum acre or Stone crop is a popular low growing succulent for ground cover.
    5. Stachys byzantina has grey wooly leaves on 6″ high stems. They look like Lamb’s ears hence the common name.
    6. Often excluded from ground cover plant list is lawn grass. I guess meadow achieves a similar purpose.


Happy Accidents

Many times a garden will develop its own style with a series of what I call ‘happy accidents’. Looking at ground cover I would include the semi-evergreen strawberry with its habit of forming runners in my list of accidents. Other ground hugging evergreen plants include a range of recumbent or prostrate dwarf conifers such as Juniper horizontalis or Juniper squamata blue carpet.

Whilstnot planted as ground cover I notice saxifrage, Euonymus, Bergenia and even clumpy Dianthus are all fulfilling the cover role. The special evergreens have the edge over plants that loose there leaves in winter but I have some great covering clumps of cyclamen at the moment. Ivy, I would not consider a happy accident more a gardening disaster.

Pink Flowered Strawberry Lipstick

Conditions for Good Ground Cover

  1. There are plants for most circumstances and conditions. Problem areas of poor soil and poor access are often the drivers of the decision to plant ground cover.
  2. Heaths and heathers are good for soils with acidic ph and will cope with a comparatively low top soil on top of stone or rubble. Some ferns may be suitable in these conditions.
  3. Flowering ground cover generally appreciate full or partial sun with a soil that retains some moisture.
  4. Damp conditions offer there own challenges and plants from the primula, iris, polygonum or marsh marigold families may suit.
  5. Once the ground is virtually covered you may not want lush growth and for that a reason I do not apply extra fertiliser as it is not required.
  6. Delineate the boundary of the ground cover to give a smart appearance.
  7. If you are happy with an informal aspect allow several varieties to inter-mingle.

Book Cover


Garden Advice to a Daughter

These notes are designed as advice to a daughter who has just moved into a 1920’s house with a long, narrow back garden and a postage stamp sized front grass patch.

Current Layout and Issues

  • The front is open to cats and the quiet road with a footpath at one side leading to the door, edged by a rough hedge.
  • The other side of the front is partnered to a well kept neighbors garden fence and a motley collection of shrubs. Under the bay window is ruble trouble.
  • The extended kitchen at the rear provides a small sit’out’ery  and place for pot plants.
  • A high trellis fence along the length of the garden displays nothing much and there is only a pencil strip of soil at its base.
  • I don’t expect the garden to look like this next time I visit but annuals and begonias can add a splash of colour

Quick Fixes

  • Cut and edge the grass at the front even though the ground is very uneven. Don’t worry about the weeds in the grass until you can call it a lawn.
  • Lower the 6 foot high privet hedge to say 3 feet and make it narrower at the top than the bottom. An ‘A’ shaped hedge is easier to maintain. Privet, Yew and mixed hedges will regrow, only looking rough until next summer.
  • Get the neighbors to cut down the overgrown inappropriate sized tree that is over-shadowing your garden. At best a good trim of over hanging branches would be a start.
  • Get a new lockable garden hut.
  • Clear up old attempts at compost heaps by spreading or burying. I would go for a themo plastic box composter.

Continue Reading →


Minimum Cultivation- No Dig

What is ‘No Dig’

  • ‘No Dig’ gardening or not turning over your soil is  growing in popularity with organic farmers and some gardeners. It is a term used for clearing the ground and establishing a minimum cultivation area without digging.
  • The substitute for digging is mulching.  The garden may be covered with paper or cardboard and topped with a deep layer of compost. Worms will help drag the organic matter down into the soil.
  • Plastic sheeting is a poor substitute as it brings nothing to the party but stifles weeds.
  • Alternate layers of manure and straw can help build up the quality of ‘no dig’ soil.
  • Water well avoid walking on the plot and plan to plant through the mulches with minimum disturbance.

Benefits of Minimum Cultivation

  • This form of gardening is less labour intensive compared to dig a spit deep or heaven forbid, double digging.
  • Using a good layer of straw or compost improves soil structure and builds up over the years.
  • The soil remains in good heart and there should be less soil erosion and runoff
  •  Beneficial invertebrates, fungi and earthworms will enjoy the lack of disturbance and repay the no dig gardener with increase fertility.
  • Minimum cultivation reduces the loss of nitrates and reduces leaching.
  • Less wear and tear on the gardeners back.
  • The texture of the soil will become darker and crumbly with a good tilth.
  • Digging can bring up perennial weed seeds that are best left deeper in the soil where light can’t set them into germination.

Book Cover



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