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Category: Garden Design

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

Rooted in Nature

Rooted in Nature

Mankind has proved to be adaptable at least enough to survive as one of nature’s multitude species. However there are warning signs that for the long term all is not well in our environment. As one small contribution to a ‘rooted in nature movement’ we should consider the gardener as a key player and influencer.

Lest we forget nature is essential to provide our current and future sustenance, health and wellbeing. Food and shelter are axiomatic to the survival of the human race and us as individuals. In a small way gardeners can root each of us in nature and provide a significant contribution to our understanding and appreciation of our natural surrounds. Enough of the overview now a few words on a micro perspective.

Helping Nature One Potato at a Time

  • The hippocratic oath has a useful phrase ‘first do no harm’. Thinking about this in the garden can be a good starting point. Consider e,xcess chemical use, limited native species, plastics galore, food mile products failure to consider cause and effect.
  • Helping nature should help the gardener and local environment. There are many healing, mood enhancing and medicinal plants to grow beyond the humble potato. Colourful and scented plants are just some examples.
  • Designing and operating a garden in a ‘rooted in nature’ manner  is very therapeutic helping develop emotional and wellbeing. Calming water features and contemplation space may be inspirational for mind, body and soul.
Rock On With My Garden

Rock On With My Garden

Dwarf Conifers in a Rock Garden

For over 25 years I have gardened a rockery or rock garden on a triangular patch of poor soil. I progressively scrounged and collected a range of granite, limestone and sandstone rocks and added them piecemeal. I aspired to growing alpine plants and recognised good drainage and shelter from winter wet weather would be key but that is as far as my planning would go. For the first couple of decades I was busy at work and wasn’t able to put in the effort of looking after small but hardy alpines.

One of the consequences of this lack of time was that I took the easy way out and planted ‘Dwarf and slow growing conifers’ that were a popular fad at the time. I also supported many alpine nurseries with my often ill chosen plant selections in attempts to buy a ready made garden feature. Latterly I joined the Alpine Garden Society and took advantage of shows and seed exchanges.

Then a latter stage crept up on me. The 10-20 year old conifers started to take over in scale and dare I say interest. Firstly dwarf can be a misnomer just because a conifer is small when planted it may very well just be a slow grower that has higher ambitions. I true dwarf conifer is a genetic feature of some species and are worth seeking out at the expense of other mass grown shrublets. Over time I dug out the larger and more boring specimens but still the alpines became less significant. I now have 20+ conifers of varying forms, colours and species taking over the alpines. The highest is 6 feet tall and may be the next for the chop one is low growing but spreads 5 feet wide and a favorite on mine is only 9 inches high. The space is still approximately 200 square feet but is extending into and adjacent bed past the crazy paved path.

Ideas for Rock Garden

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Protect Your Garden from Wind

Protect Your Garden from Wind


Specimen tree sheltered by High Hedge

A windbreak can make a big difference to a garden creating safety and an improved micro climate. After we reduced a large conifer by half many plants got flattened by the wind which was now able to flow over the shorter windbreak.

Top Windbreak Tips

  1. Hedges, gorse and natural planting will help break-up the flow of wind. Banked up soil with a hedge on top often features in large windswept gardens.
  2. Solid barriers such as walls can create eddies and vortex effects that cause more damage than they protect.  This was forcefully demonstrated to me with lost greenhouse window panes after a big blow.
  3. Plan a first line of defence to break the winds full force followed by a second line. Design both together to be complementary. I prefer natural breaks of trees as the prime windbreak but for ground level protection I use smaller shrubs.
  4. In really wind areas windbreak trees will grow lower or be stunted so bear this in mind when planning the number and proximity of plants needed.

Mixed Shrub Secondary Windbreak

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Small Spaced Kitchen Gardens

Small Spaced Kitchen Gardens

Where space is limited or very limited there are still many ways to create a productive kitchen garden.

Optimising Space for your Kitchen Garden.

  • It seems common sense to plan to use what you have available. That covers layout, sequential growing and innovation.
  • If you have a ‘general’ garden then you can interplant kitchen plants eg herbs with box hedges, colourful veg with annuals and fruit trees instead of conifers.
  • Substitute kitchen garden plants for other plants and features as they did when digging for victory.
  • I grow potatoes in old compost bags and pots on my many paths.
  • Other garden veg can be grown in pots even runner beans. Another plant I am having success with is tumbler (Cherry) tomatoes in smallish pots. The are compact easy to grow and are currently producing lots of small sweet fruit.
  • Chose plants and varieties that grow and mature quickly eg salad, radish courgettes and edible flowers.
  • Herbs can be grown in slender strawberry pots with several opening spaces.

Small Garden Fruit

  • Dwarf rooting stock has opened up the opportunity to grow and pick fruit from  small constrained trees or shrubs.
  • Trained apple, pear or currants can be grown as cordons, espalier or fans against a wall. I have also seen a gooseberry grown this way. ( Cordons are diagonal branches that are only allowed short laters, espaliers are grown with a vertical and one or two level branches forming a cross).
  • Grape vines normally need a lot of space but with rigorous training and the right location you can succeed in a small plot.
  • Soft fruit including strawberries and blue berries are ripe for pot growing.
  • I would always find space for rhubarb but that is due to my ‘pie fetish.’
Conifer Corner in Poor Shallow Soil

Conifer Corner in Poor Shallow Soil

There are 7 or 8 different conifers in this photo from a total of 16. The whole bed is roughly rectangular 6 yards by 5 yards. It has one unusual feature in that the soil is very shallow and poor.

The Beds Origin

  • Originally the area was a tarmacked drive that was not used or needed. The answer should have been to dig it up, and almost one third of it was, but my tactical bad back intervened.
  • The solution was to buy a large lorry load of top soil and make a hump of soil that we called our rockery. The drainage from the start was excellent.
  • The depth was 1′ at the edges and may be 2′ in the middle. With a few rocks it looked like an alpine garden without the real height.
  • Alpine enthusiasm waned after several years and some dwarf conifers were planted for coverage in the now compacted and impoverished soil.
  • Little or no fertiliser has been used in 20 years but in dry summers there has been some occasional watering.
  • Despite all this the conifers survive and the prostrate spreading junipers grow year on year.
  • The rockery stones provide stepping off points.
  • Some bulbs were planted but only grape hyacinths seem to have thrived. Patio roses succumb to black spot.

As was 10 years ago at the start of the conifer plantation era.


  • Plants want to grow and will adapt to many conditions as this bed demonstrates
  • Losses have been minimal and most conifers still seem happy.
  • It remains to be seen how the roots of any shrub to be replaced will have grown through the tarmac and substrate. It may be hard to dig out but not as hard as clearing all the original tarmac in one go. The disposal of just a part was a job in it’s self.
  • The lack of soil depth has turned the taller growing conifers into partial bonsai and all the better for that.

Overhead view of the same garden bed five years earlier.

Lily Ponds Starting to Look Good

Lily Ponds Starting to Look Good

July is the season to look out for mature lilies in older ponds. There is nothing to beat the calming influence of a white lily on a pond of still water. Of course not all ponds are and remain tranquil. This smaller pond on Filey cliff tops acts as an advertising hoarding for ice cream. Who invented ice cream for dogs? It is already enough to encourage kids to splash in the pond never mind dogs.

 Waterlily Tips

  • Waterlilies need a position in full sun to flower at  their best.
  • Waterlilies need calm, still water. Warm water and light provide the best conditions.
  • Even deep varieties can’t grow when the water is more than 5 feet deep. Most varieties grow happily in 3 to 4 ft of water if allowed time to establish.
  • Waterlilies are best planted from late spring to mid-summer.

Lily Pond Tips

  • Do not allow trees to over hang a pond
  • Keep fountains and running water away from lilies as they do not like disturbance or flowing water
  • A base of natural clay and silt are the best medium into which you plant lilies
  • Read Gardeners Tips
  • Aim for a minimum two thirds water to one third water lily and you will get the best reflections.

Burnby Hall Pocklington

Burnby Hall Yorkshire (above) has two magnificent lakes holding a national collection of Water Lilies.

Massed Bands of Flowers

Massed Bands of Flowers

I think some of the best garden displays come from a mass of the same plant grouped together. I don’t often practice what I preach being a well known doter-in who squeezes plants into a small space.

These black viola Molly Sanderson’  look almost black when clumped together and the light is bright. The plants self seed and last for a few years.

Your massed plants do not need to be in the ground, a group of pots can get a vibrant display together. It is an opportunity to experiment with colour matches and variety.

Perhaps given the ‘massed bands’ title I should have shown some trumpet flowers!

Green and Red Compliment your Spring Garden

Green and Red Compliment your Spring Garden


The two best complimentary colours are Red and Green.  There are many ways this is demonstrated in the spring garden and they will be sure to draw compliments. The Peonies are just opening under a bit of shelter and shade.


The early Rhododendrons escaped frost damage and the red flower is set off by the texture and green of the healthy leaves.

This flowering Quince gave strong colour before many leaves had opened light green but the surrounding grass had been trimed with neat lines in the lawn and the effect was stunning.


See also Colourful Tips for other complementary colour combinations.


These lime green leaves are complementary to the Azaleas bright vermilion.

Some of the best art work by Georgia O’Keeffe is her paintings of Red Poppies. I recommend you try growing Oriental Red Poppies the for your Red – Green garden.

See also Colourful Tips for other complementary colour combinations.

Some colour schemes should never be seen

Some colour schemes should never be seen

How do you plan a colour scheme when gardening with a wide palette of colour. The answer is to use complimentary colours that are directly opposite on the colour wheel. This give a lie to the old phrase about red and green which is about dress sense rather than gardening nous.

Other colour combinations that work well include yellow and violet or deep purple and for the adventurous blue and orange.

wallpaper tulip

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Design Tips for a Physic Garden

Design Tips for a Physic Garden

Chelsea Physic garden

The design of the Chesea Physic Garden dates back to 1673 when it replaced market gardens and orchards on the same spot alongside the Thames. Intended to be a physic garden ‘pertaining to things natural as distinct to metaphysical’ it is exceptionally practical rather than being design led.

Design Features With Appeal

  • Many excellent descriptions of plants with their practical or medicinal uses, in my view put it ahead of the RHS show gardens.
  • Rectilinear beds are arranged and labeled in botanic classification.
  • Old walls and old trees give shelter and help create a micro climate but there are also hot houses for exotic tropical plants.
  • Because the garden is not about gardening in a modern sense there are many features that need to be studied to take in the benefit from a visit to the garden. I liked the slate beds for pot plants, the variety of berries and seedheads (see below) and the statuary.

Incorporate Helpful Plants

  • Plan your garden with a good herbal or read up on plants before you select your range of subjects.
  • Consider viewing points and natural aspects of your garden.
  • A few of the plants that profit from being grown together include:
    • Marigolds and roses, aphids are lured naturally by roses, and these feed on the flowers and leaves. By planting marigolds around the roses, they will keep at bay insects.
    • Garlic, when grown in annual and perennial gardens, aids in warding off insects that feed on leaves.
    • Monarda or Bee Balm is not only an herb but also a striking flower, and this plant draws bees, and butterflies to the flower garden to assist with pollination.
    • Dahlias hold off insects and enrich the soil with nitrogen but otherwise are big drinkers and feeders.

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