Something a lot of us will understand, is the importance of having to get creative when it comes to your garden. Many of us have a ‘postage stamp’ garden, which means that outdoor space is extremely limited. The most common response to this is to create a courtyard, or much worse, not use it at all!
In London we had no garden at all and it was something I really missed. Since moving to Cheltenham our garden is very small but I was determined to make the most out of the space. The person I ran to for help was garden designer and landscape architect, Daniel Bowles a.k.a Pure Landscape. I am hopeless at gardening and know extremely little about it, so my brief was very flexible, but Dan really transformed our space and worked with us to find low maintenance plants to suit our lifestyle. I was so inspired by his work, I asked him if he would be prepared to share a few words of wisdom for others struggling with space or ideas… thankfully he agreed!
Well I first began gardening in my early teens, to help my Mum clear our back garden. Gradually my interest grew (quite literally!) as I discovered the joy of being outside, and the wonder of plants and nature. I ended up taking over our garden, creating new flower beds, and my most exciting purchase aged 14 of a plastic greenhouse from B+Q! Watching gardening TV heroes like Alan Titchmarsh, Monty Don and Sarah Raven fuelled my growing passion as I became interested in all things landscape, from flowers to food. One of the first plants I remember growing were some tomatoes from seed. Eating something I had grown from a tiny seed captured my imagination and lit a spark inside. When I was 14 my headteacher kindly allowed me a Friday off school to visit the Chelsea Flower Show (now an annual pilgrimage!) where I discovered a profession called Landscape Archiecture- the design, creation and management of outside spaces. This discovery led me on a fascinating and highly enjoyable path taking me to the Cotswolds to study Landscape Architecture.
This is a hard one! In terms of gardening it would have to be Monty Don, I love his broadcasting and passion, and I adore reading his books. I really love the work of garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith, he creates such beautiful spaces and is a truly brilliant designer. Up there would also be Carol Klein as an amazing plantswoman, who when I met her was utterly lovely and down-to-earth.
I’ve also just read the biography of Jo Malone, whilst not being in the landscape profession, has an amazing story, and is thoroughly inspiring as a business woman, and in really following your passion an utilising your skills…she’s also from my hometown so I’m not biased at all!
Of course! I think gardening is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities you can do. Whether you have a windowsill, window box, or fortunate to have a big garden; engaging with the great-outdoors is truly life-enhancing, and is pure joy (theres lots of medical studies coming out demonstrating the benefits of nature!).
1. Start somewhere! Don’t be afraid to experiment, if it works- great, if not, no sweat.
2. Do read books and watch gardening programmes to learn new skills. I grew up watching and reading ‘How to be a Gardener’ by Alan Titchmarsh which taught me so much. Spend time talking to other gardeners, I learnt so much from chatting to my neighbour over the fence trying to make my plants look as good! The key thing is to then go outside and have a go!
3. Do visit gardens too to see what you like and be inspired! You can also make a note of any plants you like on your phone for when you’re next at the garden centre too to have a go at home!
4. If you can, always try to plant in odd numbers- 3,5,7 etc. Plants always look better grouped together like this- don’t ask me why!
5. Lastly, I would say work with nature. Work with the space, soil and conditions you have. If you have acidic soil, don’t bother with alkaline loving plants, or if you’ve got dense shade, don’t bother with your sun-loving Mediterranean planting scheme! Whatever growing area you have to work with, you can be sure there are LOADS of great plants, perfect for your spot!
1. In a small space, I think less is more when it come to design. Keep your design and palate of materials simple; that doesn’t mean cutting on quality, but avoid over-cluttering a space.
2. Utilise the growing opportunities you have, so don’t overlook the opportunities afforded by walls and boundaries for more growing space.
3. Try and create a ‘sense of journey’ through your space, In a recent small garden I designed, I did this by creating a path that first ran horizontally across the site bordered by flowers, before leading to the end of the garden adding interest and making the most of the limited space.
I have quite a shady garden, and these are a few of my top performers:
1. Ferns – Dryopteris filix-mas is a fail-safe plant.
2. Euphorbias – I ADORE these plants! Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae (what a mouthful!) is a strong grower in my garden.
3. Geranium Phaeum – delicate nodding claret-purple flowers, on graceful nodding stems – a real beauty.
4. Astrantia ‘Ruby Giant’ – lovely delicate pink flowers that come up year after year.
These four together form a really nice planting combination for a shady setting.
Oooh where to start – so many options!
My top five sunny desert Island plants:
1. Lavender Hidcote – scent, colour and perfect for pollinators!
2. Verbena bonariensis – this’ll add height, adorned with lovely purple flowers. GORGEOUS.
3. Alchemilla mollis- low-growing perennial with lime green flowers. Its real star quality is in the foliage which captures rain drops and holds them like liquid mercury.
4. Every garden needs a rose! For me they MUST have a beautiful scent and ideally are disease resistant. There’s a rose for most situation, short/tall, climbers etc David Austin Roses are THE place for Old English, fabulous, blousy blooms.
5. Ornamental Grasses- Stipa tenuissima is a great variety and adds a wispy haze to the border.
Also, don’t overlook the benefit of evergreen shrubs and trees to add year-round structure and interest to your garden. In addition, spring bulbs bring both colour and joy from the winter gloom: snowdrops, daffodils, tulips and fabulous alliums with give you cheap, annual colour for months at a time.
Have fun! Grow the things you like looking at or eating. If you need space for the washing line or a football pitch for children, factor this in. Gardens are highly personal, so make a space that you love, and that practically works well for you too. You don’t need to compromise on one for the other, you just need a bit of careful planning and thought. I would start by making a list of what you need, and what you’d like, and use this as your starting point. Garden centres usually have experts who will guide you to suitable plants and species. I also highly recommend www.crocus.co.uk as a useful resource for plants.
Grow, grow, grow! Don’t let failures put you off! As the great Edwardian plant woman Gertrude Jekyll once said: ‘The lesson I have thoroughly learnt, and wish to pass on to others, is to know the enduring happiness that the love of a garden gives’ – I couldn’t agree more. ‘Gardening is the slowest of the performing arts’, but arguably, one of the most rewarding.