It's been another great year at the practice for planting design but one of my favourite tasks is to dive into a couple of our larger gardens that we help develop, in the Autumn,  and fine tune the schemes. Inevitably there are plants that can be split  and areas that are underperforming can be assessed and adjusted. It is a constant process; tweaking the odd area helps to keep the garden looking fresh without disturbing the underlying structure. 



Salvias and Foxgloves, this Spring.  



Deschampsia and  Eupatorium  



Clerodendron- a personal favourite  



A freshly planted scheme: Artemisia and Salvia. 



An older scheme now reaching maturity. Love the Pittosporum Tom Thumb and the Tree Peonie. 

Courtyard Garden

The initial layout of this rural garden was pretty poor. There was very little attention to structure and the landscaping choices were ugly and detrimental to the existing planting.  

I set out to create a garden that softened the impact of the hard landscaping; keeping that balance between functionality and aesthetics.

The variety of on site conditions made creating a cohesive planting scheme a little tricky; the garden transitions between sunny terrace to shady woodland edge in a matter of a few steps. 


What was achieved was an attractive courtyard garden with a distinct nod towards alfresco living. The planting has matured and separated the space into a variety of interesting and vibrant areas. 





A little snippet from a design that is currently under construction. The cold weather has really helped things along. More updates to follow....




Overlooking the lawn


The long path

Country Garden

I was commissioned to design the garden for a beautiful new country house. The garden had previously been part of a field; but for a handful of trees the site was a blank canvas.



As you can see from the photographs, we created extensive rose and perennial borders, surrounding a formal lawn, with several generous paths that utilised some nice focal points. A particularly lovely feature was the single pergola that surrounds the law and supports the rambling roses; once covered this should look quite special.



Winter Has Come

I have found myself venturing out into various gardens over the course of the last few weeks. It is true that my motivation can be at a lower ebb when the sun is in short supply, the temperature frankly unfriendly and the daylight hours meaner than Scrouge. However, I have been richly rewarded for my suffering.


There is a certain beauty to the garden at this time of year and the miserly light levels actually help to enhance the sense of drama. I have covered the notion of planting for the Winter months in a previous blog but thought I would share some of my recent photos as they uncover an almost spectral nature to the Winter gardens that is well worth braving the elements to see.

Pruned Wisteria  

Pruned Wisteria  

A riot of colour from Winter Jasmine.  

A riot of colour from Winter Jasmine.  

Late afternoon  

Late afternoon  

Surely too early? Bee on Mahonia  

Surely too early? Bee on Mahonia  

Ligularia seed heads  

Ligularia seed heads  

Japanese garden and water feature. All hail the evergreen.  

Japanese garden and water feature. All hail the evergreen.  

Sarcococca- Winter box.  

Sarcococca- Winter box.  

Why Pay For Design?

To Pay Or Not To Pay?

It’s a familiar story. The new garden looks a mess and there is nowhere to enjoy a glass of wine; the previous owners quite naturally had no taste. Without a clue where to start the number of a local designer is dialled and a meeting is booked with excitement and anticipation. The professional arrives and seems to really know their stuff. They listen intently to your ideas and respond positively, even going so far as to tell you that they can ‘do’ something eye-catching with the abomination outside the backdoor. But then the dream is ruined, quite unexpectedly the professional presents you with a fee proposal for the project. You haven’t finished reading the email but your finger is already speed-dialling some guy who ‘does’ gardens without the need for any of that drawing nonsense. That’s right folks, right there is where you probably over-spent on a garden that could have been so much more than grass, patio and raised sleeper borders, quite possibly at lower cost- even including the design fees. 

Let’s take a step back and see where this went wrong. 

You see, a garden designer is an expert in solving problems. Your garden is a problem. The aspect, the topography, next door’s not so aesthetically pleasing extension, the soil PH, the soil structure. How many of you have bought that gorgeous looking plant from your local garden centre only to watch it deteriorate over the following months? How were you to know that it would hate the soil in your garden? Your designer is an expert in pulling out the right plants to suit your garden. Spending a four figure sum on a new hedge isn’t much fun when it only lasts a season, but then who knew that your soil was too heavy for a Yew hedge? That shrub you planted in front of the conservatory window looked beautiful in a 5 litre pot, but now it has eclipsed the light from your home in such a way that only the local energy supplier can rejoice at. I digress, but you undoubtably take my point. Plants can be eye-wateringly expensive- more than that, they can be expensive mistakes.

The next problem is you. 

There are things that you want from your garden. Fine. It’s your garden. The children need a play area; the patio needs situating so that itcatches the sun, and there’s that summerhouse that you have always wanted. Perfect. The only problem is that your garden resembles the north face of the Eiger; fitting all the above elements into such a challenging space is going to require some creative thinking; a knowledge of building practices and a firm grip on reality. Your designer will know what is possible and has the expertise. They are an expert at choosing the right materials and creating structure that allows the garden to work, for you. The beauty of design drawings are that you can see how your garden will work before you go in with the 5 tonne digger without a clue what the outcome will be. Re-drawing something you don't like is vastly cheaper than re-building it once it has been constructed.

The final problem is cost. 

You have so admired the topiary gardens at Versailles and that is what you want. You won’t tell the designer what your budget is because you hadn't really thought about it but you will suffer a minor coronary when you realise that even if you saved the entire year’s wages, you would still be short. Stop. Do not reach for the phone and call the guy who ‘does’ gardens. Speak to your designer, you are paying them the find the solution. You can indeed have the topiary garden. There are solutions and savings that can be made without compromising the garden to the extent that it is a disappointment. The plants can be smaller, the structure re-jigged, the process cut into phases- there are any number of solutions and it is your garden designer’s job to find them. 

The False Economy

The real issue is that too many people want to save a few pounds on something that isn't tangible (the designs) and put that money into the physical aspect of the garden. Sadly, it is a false economy. With design in hand, the three-way problems of site conditions, client expectations and budget will have been squared into a comprehensive design, from which a set of quotations can be gathered. With a single specification all parties are quoting on the same garden outcome. The difference could be a few thousand pounds (my last project had a 25% swing) and yet you would never have known this if you hadn’t invested in the design from the outset. By hiring a professional you are mitigating the risk of expensive construction errors and throwing your hard earned cash on plants that won't survive. Investing in a garden designer is an investment in not only your new garden but your finances too. Why would you risk £10,000, £20,000, £80,000 of your money on a gamble? We shop on-line for the best deals, so why not do the same with something of greater value? If it was me, I would want to know exactly what I was getting for my money and whether it was the best deal I could find. Blindly overspending on the build simply means that there are less available funds for the things like plants.... or perhaps even that long overdue holiday.


The Japanese Garden

It's been a week of exploring exactly what is meant by the Japanese garden. Frankly speaking, a week isn't enough. It seems the conceptual basis of the Japanese garden and its design is firmly rooted in the philosophical; with that in mind, I feel like I have barely scraped the surface. However, a few concepts have struck me, one way or the other but at least they have had an impact.

Positive and negative space:

Interesting Concept. What is the balance between sections of a garden where things are, and sections where, quite simply, things aren't. I was initially struck by the utter simplicity of some of the gardens- very little going on. A mass of raked gravel and the odd neatly clipped shrub and stone. Too much dead space. There is an energy and flow about the garden but it feels negative. Very few felt comfortable. I guess that takes design to the point where it isn't necessarily about the aesthetic for the sake of beauty alone. Naturally, Japanese gardens are conceptually a reflection of nature in the microcosm; perhaps such gardens are an accurate reflection of what 'is' but I can't help feeling that slightly empty about such use of negative space; it's not something I would like to see out of my back window.

However, it got me thinking;  allowing gardens and design to breath can be critical for creating a sense of peace and calm. The negative space is critical. The cottage garden and the riot of foliage, colour and scent can be overwhelming- not to mention the feeling of dread that there is a good weekend's-worth of weeding ahead. Structure and formality can bring a sense of contentment, as can rhythmic planting schemes (a homage to the familiar) but the idea of negative space producing a sense of calm is quite intriguing. Emerging from the complexity of one section of garden to be greeted by an area of carefully set open space with more minimal use of materials can create a real sense of drama but ultimately a place to breathe. Even in the humble back garden, the proportion of lawn to border could be viewed as positive and negative space. Too often the obsession with the lawn creates too little positive space in the garden; borders pushed back to the fence lines and a dull, flat and lifeless garden, where the plants that are present struggle to be heard- akin to Spinal Tap's disastrous scale issues with Stone henge. Balance is important. The Yin and Yang, so to speak. Worth a thought when you next look out of the back window and consider your next move.


Finally, the lack of colour from perennials has been apparent. As someone who is a perennial aficionado, I can't help but feel that slipping the odd Rudbeckia into the neatly clipped shrubs would take the overall design to the next level but then I have to concede that I may have missed the point. 


Anyhow... back to the design...

The Perennial Dilemma

It's that time of year. The borders are beginning to look tired and many of us are considering making a hasty retreat from the garden as the weather starts to look ominous. What to do with your perennial borders? Cut everything to the ground in a fit of OCD or take the more laid-back approach and leave it to the wildlife until you emerge in the Spring? The choice is yours, but here's a few points worth considering.

When designing your borders, pay a little attention to the closed season; with just a little thought, you could extend the aesthetic display of your border throughout the winter months, without the risk of it looking like no one has bothered to weed for a year.

Some plants simply have to be left. Penstemon, for instance, are tender enough that the risks of hacking them down in the Autumn and losing them to the colder, wetter months is too great. Early Spring frosts will damage tender new growth; leaving last year's growth ensures that the plants can be cut back when the risk of frost has passed, thus allowing the new growth to shoot from the base without risk of being damaged. The problem being, many such plants have very little aesthetic value.

The "leave it for the birds" approach is something that has gained popularity. There is indeed some merit behind the thinking, especially where heavy soils are concerned. Many plants look attractive when tinged by frost in the winter months. Indeed the life-span of the border  can be greatly prolonged . The wildlife benefit from the seed-heads and the soil too from the lack of compaction that can be caused by trampling over the borders in the winter months. The trouble is, unlike through the growing season, the border can look messy and many of us can't stand that.

Picking and choosing what you leave is a technique that I favour. Neatly mulched borders quell the nagging OCD but a few cleverly chosen survivors from the previous season's growth can add some interest to the neat but sterile Winter border. Astilbe's and Sedum are two excellent plants to leave throughout the Winter months, as are many of the grasses. On frosty days the seed-heads look fabulous and give the garden a structural element that would otherwise be provided by evergreen shrubs and hedges.. such plants give your perennial border a near 365 day appeal.


In the picture groups of Sedum can be seen in Autumn. They retain their colour, will fade to brown and capture the most on colder days. The Yucca also adds to the drama. Much of the border will be cut down and mulched which will further highlight the plants that have been chosen to stay the course.



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A warm welcome..

After what seems to be an eternity the new website is all but ready. I am currently waiting for the domain name transfer and all will then be as it should be- is currently being moved over, hopefully asap. I hope to be able to bring some insight into design and day to day garden bits and bobs that may be of interest, so do stay tuned and feel free to join in.. JD