Bold planting can transport your plot to the tropics, says Dawn Isaac
We might not have the hot and humid climate of a tropical rainforest, but it is still possible to conjure up a jungle-inspired design in a British back garden. Set the tone with bamboo or rattan furniture as well as log paths: the materials to hand in a tropical landscape. However if you want longer lasting features you can go for imitation or synthetic versions which are better able to survive our cold and wet weather.
But the most vital element by far is the planting. A lush tropical feel demands large leaves and lots of them. Thankfully many exotic looking plants are hardy enough to withstand our climate. In filling your borders it is also worth making sure you have evergreens aplenty so your carefully layered beds not denuded in winter.
Colour is less important to the overall look, but you can inject some with shade tolerant species, or by adding splashes of flowering plants in more open areas. If these are grown in pots, you can even introduce some truly exotic species that can then be overwintered in a conservatory or greenhouse.
1. Bare walls and fences give a hemmed in look
2. Lack of plants means there are no seasonal surprises
3. There's nothing to hide the neighbouring houses
4. Although the garden seems spacious, you can see it all at once
Birch trees help mask neighbouring properties whilst also providing a light shade upper canopy to create a forest feel to the garden
A thatched roof hut creates a jungle themed dining area and a focal point in the forest 'clearing'
Foliage rich planting
Large leaved foliage plants creates a lush tropical feel, with deciduous, tender plants balanced with hardier evergreens
Reconstituted stone stepping stones replicating cut logs creates a hardwearing path feature set amongst gravel
Curving paths create a sense of discovery as new views open up around each corner
Large leaved water lilies cover a circular pond which is crossed by a wooden bridge with bamboo balustrades.
Rattan effect furniture creates a tropical feel whilst being hard wearing and a hanging chairscreates an additional relaxed holiday feel to the space.
A water shoot delivered via a large bamboo stem brings jungle-inspired sights and sounds into the garden
Top 10 Plants for a Tropical Look
Acanthus mollis - Bear's breeches forms an enormous architectural plant with large glossy leaves up to a metre in length and tall summer flower spikes of white blossoms hooded by purple bracts. Height 1.5m, spread 90cm.
Hedychium gardnerianum - one of the hardiest ginger lilies, this has dramatic foliage reminiscent of banana plants and then a giant spike of sweetly scented flower in late summer and early autumn. Needs winter protection. Height 1.5m, spread 1m.
Musa basjoo - the hardiest of banana plants with dramatic paddle-shaped leaves up to 3m in length. Requires winter protection for its foliage and crown. Height 5m, spread 4m.
Fatsia japonica - a useful evergreen shrub with glossy dark green palmate leaves and unusual rounded flower spikes in autumn. Needs some protection in cold areas. Height and spread 4m.
Trachycarpus fortunei - The Chusan Palm has large and distinctive fan-shaped leaves and a dark brown fibrous trunk. Will take full sun or part shade but needs winter protection from hard frosts. Height 20m, spread 2.5m.
Crocosmia 'Lucifer' - Sword shaped leaves give rise to arching red flowers in August and September that add a dash of hot colour. Can take partial shade. Height 1m, spread 80cm.
Asplenium scolopendrium - This hardy evergreen fern with its wavy edged frond is useful to grow in shady and even dry spots (when established). Height and spread 60cm.
Polypodium vulgare - an evergreen fern native to Britain which will happily colonise areas under trees where other plants may struggle. Height 30cm, spread 1m.
Hosta 'Sum & Substance' - a yellow-green hosta with enormous corrugated leaves and pale lilac flower spikes in summer. Height 75cm, spread 1.2m.
Dicksonia antarctica - a tree-like fern with roots forming a trunk and tough, long fronds. Trunk and crown needs to be well watered in growing season and the crown protected in winter. Height 6m, spread 4m.
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Newbuild gardens present a wonderful blank canvas... but sometimes it helps to introduce a theme to help you get started, says Dawn Isaac
Fans of the great British coastline will find it relatively easy to recreate this look in their own back garden. A sunny spot will always work best as this will suit most coastal-style plants but as long as your space is relatively light and bright it's really about choosing the right materials.
Stone, shingle and even sand can be teamed with decking, sleepers and rope to immediately set the right tone. Sheds can become beach huts with a little effort and firepits and hammocks will automatically take on a seaside feel when set against this backdrop. Add in some ornamental grasses, glaucous evergreens and colourful Mediterranean or coastal plants to finish the look.
1 This typical newbuild garden is just laid to lawn
2 Nothing invites you into the garden
3 Lack of stimulating space for relaxation or play
4 Bare walls and fences create a boxed-in feel
Splitting the garden into distinct areas for relaxing and entertaining makes the space immediately more interesting and useful. A large pond in the centre gives a waterside feel, offering reflections of plants and sky. Decking creates a jetty-type feel beside the water, offering spaces to pond dip and relax by the beach hut in the far corner.
Add sculptural sleepers - Railway sleepers used as upright sculptures or windbreaks offer an accessible alternative to driftwood
Paint the shed to make a seaside hut - An off the shelf shed can soon be turned into a beach hut with clever use of woodstains, well placed shutters and a length of two of bunting
Add grasses - Recreate the grass-peppered look of sand dunes by introducing plenty of ornamental species around the garden
Create a waterside deck - If you have oodles of space and plenty of budget you could consider adding a swimming pond, but even an ordinary pond can get a beach-side feel when teamed with a projecting decked area
Make an urban beach - Import plenty of fine play sand to a geotextile-lined area to create an urban beach. If visiting cats are a worry, you can cover the area in sections of artificial turf when not in use
Entertain around a firepit - No beach party is complete with a sing-along around a fire so add a firepit and rope ottomans to set the mood
Add posts and rope - Edging the decked area in posts with rope swags evokes waterside
Laze in a hammock - Enjoy lazy summer days on a hammock set amongst the planting
Lay stones and gravel - Plant coastal style species through a geotextile membrane and add shingle and stones on top to give a beach feel to the garden
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Slatted screens, hedges and transparent grasses will avert the gaze of neighbours and passersby, without spoiling your view, says Dawn Isaac
We might love our neighbours, be naturally gregarious and like nothing more than a chat, but none of us wants to feel we’re on show the moment we set foot in our garden. At the same time, if you have a lovely view, or much needed light, then erecting six foot high walls is going to rob you of these delights.
There is of course a compromise. You can use plenty of designer tricks to create a sense of privacy without feeling like you're trapped in Colditz. Planting can create enclosures and screening at the same time as adding colour and form, and even filtering out some wind. Structures and clipped forms can direct and distract prying eyes while well-placed boundary structures can add to a sense of security and privacy.
1. Featureless concrete paving bank
2. No gate at front
3. Garden wide open to footpath users
4. Bins and washing on view
Train pleached trees - It takes time and skill but pleaching fruit trees can create a high screen between neighbours that is also a productive one
Use distraction planting - Swapping paving for planting on the slope will attract the eye of passers by and keep them on the bank rather than the garden or house
Plant a screen of grasses - Tall grasses such as miscanthus, Stipa gigantea or Calamagrostis creates a fluid and semi transparent screen for most of the year
Grow multi-height hedges - A low hedge at the centre ensures the view can still be enjoyed from the house but by increasing height at the side a private seating area is created behind
Add a pergola with side slats - As well as providing screening from above, pergolas can also provide screening at the side either with outdoor curtains or trellis panels as used here
Gate the entrance A delicate iron work gate marks the entrance and gives an added sense of privacy and security without feeling heavy and obstructive
Hide the bins - No one needs to see you popping out the rubbish so delicate overhead beams and a trellis screen mask this area from view
Add gentle noise - A water feature and wind chimes add sounds to the garden which help camouflage conversations and make people feel less audibly on show
Plant a small tree - It takes time to have an impact but planting a spreading tree will eventually screen off whole areas from outside view as well as creating private spaces beneath the boughs
Window plants - Planting around the house windows makes them less visually obvious and so reduces the temptation for passers by to peer inside
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Give flooring, fences and furnishings a new lease of life using vibrant colour that complements your planting, says Dawn Isaac
As gardeners we have a tendency to think of planting as the key way to add colour to our outdoor space. However, this is only the start. Where colour is concerned it’s worth thinking of a garden as an exterior room. From flooring and walls to soft furnishing and even artwork, there are a huge number of ways to add vibrant shades.
As a starting point, work out what you want from your colours. Reds are vibrant and warm, yellows are eye catching, blues add mystery and depth whereas greens are calm and tranquil. And, as with so much in design, less is more, so sticking to a single colour – such as the orange in this garden – gives the space a sense of unity.
Before rushing into a decision, it makes sense to purchase a few sample pots of paint and paint old off cuts of wood. If you place these around the garden you can judge the effects of light, weather and other garden features of planting which can all change how a colour performs.
Finally, remember that colours are changeable so don't be afraid to change the whole look whenever you tire of it.
1. Little planting to add colour
2. Evergreen shrubs and trees dominate
3. No entertaining spaces
4. Small stepping stone path provides minimal access
Create an ‘entertaining wall’
A low wall with black limestone coping creates an extra seating area and breaks up the space. Painting the render in orange masonry paint adds a splash of colour
Match up the scheme with painted pots
Old pots are given a new lease of life with a couple of coats of masonry paint, making them the perfect match to the new wall.
Create a feature wall
The outdoor building has been painted to create a bright orange feature wall outside, with a dark grey door adding contrast.
Fix up removable mesh trellis
A steel mesh grid has been attached to hooks on the wall allowing climbers to be taken down when the wall is repainted
Add coloured curtains
A metal gazebo gives a covered entertaining space with colourful curtains to liven up the area.
Create a colourful seating area
A wooden tree seat has been stained a bright orange to match the key garden features.
Make a contrast with dark flooring
Black limestone flooring provides an effective backdrop to the hot and vibrant colours in the garden.
Banish the boundaries
The fences have been coloured with a black wood stain so they recede from view and become an effective foil for the planting in front.
Invest in weatherproof cushions
To soften the seating on the low wall, outdoor cushions have been covered in exterior fabric that can withstand the vagaries of the British weather.
Plant for high contrast
Bright orange and purple flowers are set alongside acid green and deep purple foliage to create a stimulating colour contrast scheme
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Having a young family needn’t spell disaster for green-fingered parents, grannies and grandpas. Dawn Isaac explains
Thankfully a child-friendly garden needn’t look like an explosion in a plastics factory or a scaled down version of the local playground. Although it’s worth investing in one or two key play items such as a trampoline or a decent-sized playhouse, it’s important to remember that children have an incurable need to keep growing up, and what is a must-have one year may be redundant before next summer.
Instead, it’s better to create lots of play opportunities on a much smaller scale that integrate better with the garden. These are easier to change or replace as the children’s interests – and abilities – grow. Luckily the child-sized nature of these attractions means you can fit plenty in, and they often slot neatly into otherwise neglected spaces.
And never forget that a family includes more than just children, so make sure the garden can still work as a place for adults to relax after the children are tucked up in bed.
1. Kids will soon outgrow the play house
2. Permanent washing line spoils view
3. Children's plastic toys dominate space
4. Little planting or seasonal colour
Sink a trampoline
An in-ground trampoline means this play equipment doesn’t dominate the space and excavated topsoil is used to form a turfed mound around the edge to hide it further.
Upgrade the playhouse
The plastic Wendy house has been swapped for a larger wooden version that offers more space for children as they grow. Brushwood has been added to hide the felt roof and the house is stained with garden-friendly colours.
Create a ‘sling-it’ space
A trellis section with planting in front creates a hidden area where bulky play equipment can be moved at a moment's notice to create a more grown-up entertaining space.
Add a retractable washing line
A retractable washing line is fixed to the house wall and can be hooked onto the shed when needed but automatically winds back when you have finished which hides it from view.
Introduce a retaining wall
A small retaining wall means the terrace can be extended to give more dining and seating space for large family meals.
Create extra storage space
An attractive wooden bench with storage underneath has been added to the terrace so small play items can be accessed – and cleared away – easily.
Make use of dead space
Redundant space by the side of the shed has been used to house a mud pie kitchen and outdoor chalkboard for children’s play.
Lay a log walkway
Large logs have been placed among beds to form raised stepping stones and allow children to explore through the planting.
Leave space to play
Plenty of lawn has been left for larger garden games to be enjoyed because it’s always good to burn off some energy.
Make steps more welcoming
The narrow steep steps have been replaced with wider, shallower steps that draw people into the upper garden and are easier for small people to climb
Create a sandpit
Oak sleepers form an edge to a large, lined, excavated space filled with plenty of play sand for some serious castle building
Use a sink for water play
A butler’s sink has been raised on bricks beneath an outside tap to create a water play area. The plug can be kept by grown-ups to ensure water is only there when children are supervised.
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A sloping garden can be difficult to manage and hard to enjoy, but with terracing and the right plants they can become an exciting outdoor room with a view...
By Dawn Isaac
Garden designers respond to steep slopes the same way plumbers react to bathroom renovations: with a sharp intake of breath and a knowing shake of the head. Yes, we can sort it, but it's not going to come cheap.
The fact is slopes are tricky; you can’t serve dinner on a sloping patio table, position a shed or playhouse on an incline or sit comfortably on a bench when gravity sends you hurtling to one end.
Inevitably at least some of the space will need terracing to create one or two flat areas. This is likely to involve heavy machinery or retaining walls and probably both. And then there’s the issue of drainage: water will be coming down this slope and, if heading towards the house, or behind a retaining structure, will need diverting or channelling somewhere more useful than your front room.
On the other hand, a sloping garden automatically creates an interesting perspective. Whether it rises from the ground in front of you or drops away towards the furthest boundary it adds drama and movement to your garden that those of us with flat terrain quite envy.
1. Hard landscaping is limited to one side, cutting garden in half
2. Steep slope of grass gives little usable space
3. Unclothed fences emphasise the slope
4. Little planting to soften the space
Use the view
A seating area at the top of the slope makes full use of the spectacular views down
Stone stepping stones weave across the slope, making the climb to the seat a more gentle one
Leave the edges
The border levels next to the fences are left untouched so as not to destablise the fences and annoy any neighbours!
Make a terrace
The land has been excavated from near the top of the slope to fill the lower area next to it using a 'cut and fill' landscaping technique. This central terrace divides the space allowing different zones of the garden to serve different purposes such as dining, seating or play
Keep some slopes
There's no need to terrace the entire garden. Keeping a slope at the top and on the lawned area below the central terrace will help to keep costs down
Retain the slope with gabions
Stone-filled steel gabion cages create a retaining wall around the dining terrace and walkway. Because the cages are 'porous', the cobbles inside allow rainwater to drain through
Choose plants with purpose
Mixed planting creates a bed to discourage people from walking up to the drop beyond. Plants are also used in the gravel to soften the gabions beyond, and along the fences to disguise the border
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By Dawn Isaac
Each year the world’s most famous flower show makes headlines with its eye-catching show gardens, but how practical is it to recreate one of these in your own back garden? The short answer is: it’s possible, but very, very pricey. Six figure budgets are the norm at Chelsea and quarter of a million isn’t unusual. Why so expensive? Well, you have to remember this is catwalk, not high street territory. Designers are setting trends and pushing boundaries so, by definition, they aren’t going to be getting much off the shelf at the local builders’ merchant or garden centre. And as Saville Row tailors will tell you, bespoke is going to cost. And then there’s the ‘instant’ nature of the space. The Chelsea show ground is, for most of the year, a flat field with nothing to see but grass. Yet in less than a month it becomes home to dozens of gardens, complete with buildings, boundaries and plantings that look like they’ve been there forever. The amount of labour, materials and plants this involves adds up to an eye-watering bill. Still, if a Chelsea-inspired backyard is what you’re after, we have plenty of ideas for you to tap into.
1. House walls dominate
2. Plastic toys lack the Chelsea glamour
3. Washing lines and satellite dishes aren't exactly SW1
4. Off the shelf paving lacks the over-sized designer look
Create a pleached screen
Chelsea gardens are renowned for their high walls and hedge screening – after all you never know who will be next to you on Main Avenue. Lime or hornbeam are best for training.
Forget figurines from your local garden centre, we’re talking big, expensive and one-off creations: something to get the neighbours talking.
Plumb in a water feature
Why have one trough when you can have two? And don't forget to paint the inside midnight black to get the perfect reflecting pool effect.
Plant up a living wall
Patrick Blanc comes to suburbia with this two-storey living wall – a tapestry of green supported by a state of the art irrigation system... obviously.
Lay an oversized stone
You can’t get away with your basic 60x60cm slabs. It will need to be something enormous, made to your personal specifications direct from a quarry... preferably in Italy.
Get Power Pots
No pint-sized containers here – a show garden pot needs to make a statement, preferably in triplicate. Preferably with grasses or irises in them.
Add neat clumps of moss
This isn’t just moss, this is Chelsea manicured moss, carefully placed between each line of paving.
Choose designer furniture
You may have to sacrifice some comfort, because in a Chelsea-inspired garden it's more important that your furniture is a work of art. By a named designer.
Pack in the plants
Forget buying plants in twos and threes, we’ll be needing them by the hundred to achieve that ‘full to bursting with blooms’ signature look.
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By Dawn Isaac
Front gardens are rarely spacious affairs, yet we work them hard. Not only do they regularly serve as bike keeps and bin stores but we may even ask them to squeeze in a parked car or two. Which is why a space that should be a horticultural voyeur’s dream more often resembles an open-air storage facility.
But rather than drawing the curtains and pretending it's not there, you can help add a bit of balance to the space. Shrewd plant choices can give structure, colour and even screening without being a maintenance headache. Sympathetically chosen hard landscaping materials may cushion their impact on the space, and the right kind of boundary should set it all off perfectly.
Is it an easy marriage: practical needs and a gorgeous garden? No, but when it’s the outside space you probably see and traverse the most, it’s worth trying to make the union work.
1. No direct and easy path to the door
2. Shallow window box is high maintenance
3. No space to park car
4. Lawn requires regular cutting
5. Large brick walls dominate
Create evergreen structure Clipped box balls or rounded hebes add year-round structure that won’t require much pruning.
Screen off the neighbours A multi-stemmed flowering cherry tree (prunus 'Amanogawa') screens the neighbouring property and frames views from the house as well as providing summer shade.
Plant a wildlife-friendly boundary Adding a yew hedge along one side of the garden not only softens the space but offers protection and food for garden birds and wildlife.
Mark out the space Adding a short section of wall at the front of the garden provides an attractive visual marker of the boundary line while still leaving it accessible for cars.
Add plants in the wheel tracks If cars are only parked occasionally in the space, you can add tough, low-growing plants such as Ajuga reptans, creeping Jenny or thyme to green-up the space between the wheel tracks
Keep it low-maintenance Rather than rely on pots and window boxes that require regular watering, permanent planting beds next to the house provide a lower maintenance option.
Lay a path direct to the door A brick path to match the house brick now goes direct to the door, making it easier for visitors to use and less tempting for them to take a 'shortcut' across planting.
Soften walls Wire-supported climbing roses, combined with early and late clematis, will soften the appearance of the house wall and bring colour across the seasons.
Lay rain-permeable paving Using an angular gravel allows this to bed down to form a stable surface but on that is still permeable so rainwater can soak through.
Provide access for bins A wide section of brick paving gives plenty of room to manoeuvre bins in and out for collection at the front of the property.
A dead-end side passage can be brought to life with a diagonal design and clever planting, says Dawn Isaac
The Victorian age gave us many garden innovations, from domestic greenhouses to lawnmowers. However their horticultural gifts weren't always so helpful. By creating street after street of terraced housing their legacy would challenge generations of urban gardeners: the pesky side return.
With buildings looming on three sides, these narrow spaces are inevitably gloomy and homeowners are often tempted to swallow up the return as part of an extension, use it for outdoor storage or simply view it as little more than a pathway to somewhere better.
Fortunately, there is another way! With clever planting and imaginative landscaping, a dark strip of land can become an attractive view from multiple windows as well as a useful addition of outdoor living space. After all, if the Victorians taught us anything it was to be inventive.
1. Views from house lacks interest
2. Tired paving and plain fences
3. No planting to soften areas
4. Shady space in day and dark at night
This bleak side passage now makes a more attractive outdoor dining space. Lights festooned above the dining area create a party mood, while planting helps to soften the house walls and fences. New paving laid on the diagonal gives the impression of extra width.
Design on the diagonal
To avoid a 'corridor' feel, the design is set at an angle which helps divide the space in a more interesting way.
Lay interesting paving
Self-binding gravel forms a non-slip and light-reflective patio area while the red brick sections and edging visually tie the garden back to the house.
Boost light levels
Permanent festoon lighting has been added above the area to make it the perfect space for entertaining in the evening.
Use plants for scent
By placing scented plants by the back door and along the return you will inevitably brush pass them releasing fragrance into the air – see our suggestions overleaf.
Choose shade-tolerant planting
The height of the adjacent buildings blocks the sun for much of the day so this area is planted with shade-tolerant species that can cope with low light levels.
Shade planting tends to involve a lot of white and green, so here we’ve added our own splashes with exterior cushions and terracotta pots painted in a matching masonry tone.
Upgrade the gate
The gate has been replaced with a curved trellis-topped version, stained in a pale shade making it an attractive feature that detracts from the view of houses beyond.
Make room for extra guests
A gate-leg table can be folded down when not in use, giving more useable space and better access to the garden beyond.
Consider the views
Planted beds have been positioned opposite the house windows to ensure each enjoys an attractive view of the garden.
Disguise the drains
Downpipes and drains can be hidden behind planting or pots. Paint the pipes dark grey or black to make them less obvious.
Dawn’s top 10 fragrant plants for a shady passage
1. Sarcoccoa confusa - Small, glossy lance-shaped leaves and vanilla-scented white flowers from December to March followed by blue-black berries. H and S1m (3ft 3in)
2. Convallaria majalis rosea - A rarer pink form of lily of the valley, it still has the same delicate fragrance and pretty nodding heads. Useful for the edges of paths. H20cm (8in) S25cm (10in)
3. Begonia ‘Pink Giant’ - A tender summer bedding plant that will take part shade and has large, scented pink flowers from July onwards. Ideal for pots or hanging baskets. H20cm (8in) S40cm (16in)
4. Phlox paniculata ‘Discovery’ - A perennial with beautifully scented pale pink flowers from July to October. Needs support adding before flowers appear. H75cm (29in) S50cm (20in)
5. Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Carnegie’ - Great in pots as a scented centerpiece for an outdoor table. Fragrant and beautiful too. H and S25cm (10in)
6. Lilium longiflorum ‘White Heaven’ - Tall and elegant lily with strongly scented summer blooms. Makes an impressive cut flower and works well in deep pots as well as border. H1.2m (4ft) S45cm (18in)
7. Lonicera purpusii 'Winter Beauty' - White tubular flowers give incredible winter scent but the rest of the year this shrub holds little interest so consider planting a late clematis nearby to scramble through its branches. H2m (6ft) S2.5m (8ft)
8. Daphne tangutica - Compact evergreen shrub with scented purple-flushed white flowers from May to June. These are followed by rounded red fruits. H and S1m (3ft 3in)
9. Clematis montana rubens 'Freda' - A less vigorous variety of C. montana, this deciduous climber has cherry-pink, sweetly scented flowers from May to June. H6m (19ft) S3m (10ft)
10. Philadelphus 'Belle Etoile' - A compact form which produces large orange-scented cup shaped white flowers from June to July. H1.2m (4ft) S2.5m (8ft)
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Transform your plot into a kitchen garden, with raised beds and an outdoor grill. Garden Design expert Dawn Isaac shows how
Kitchen gardens have a long history of being hidden from view, whether that's behind tall walls in a stately home or squirrelled away down the local allotment. But this misses out on one of the real joys of an edible garden: having the freshest of produce close to hand, where and when you need it.
When garden space is limited, many may worry that crops simply don't have the year-round good looks to warrant a front row seat. But a productive garden can also be an attractive space – as visitors to the beautiful potager at Villandry will testify. And the same is true even on the domestic level – it just requires some careful planning.
Even better, you can turn an edible garden into a true kitchen garden by adding the means to cook and prepare what you harvest. And even if a fully functioning outdoor kitchen is beyond your budget, you can still create a cooking and eating area at the heart of your garden with a simple barbecue or firebowl area.
1. Empty central space lacks purpose
2. Outdoor porch/log store cuts off part of garden
3. Lack of colour and interest in the planting
4. Bare fences are a bit of an eyesore
Introduce metal raised beds
These smart powder-coated steel raised beds are an attractive shape and allow you to import some good topsoil for growing, as well as giving a sense of enclosure
Keep crops accessible
No one wants to get muddy feet trying to harvest veg for tea, so these growing beds are small enough to guarantee everything is within easy reach
Train fruit trees
In this small space, espaliered or fan-trained fruit trees are the ideal solution. There are even varieties of plum, damson and apple trees which can tolerate planting in a north-facing situation
Have herbs to hand
A small bed of herbs, including a structural bay tree, is situated right next to the barbecue area so cooking supplies are close to hand
Install an outdoor grill or oven
An outdoor pizza oven forms the centrepiece of this kitchen garden, but there’s also a traditional barbeque grill adjacent which could also be upgraded to a gas-powered option
Make dining comfortable
Here the dining table and benches are surrounded by edible planting to form the social centre of the garden
Opt for dark flooring
The black limestone flags help disguise the inevitable spills and stains from a kitchen area, especially if treated with a good sealant and colour enhancer
Create shape and height
The plant supports and cloches offer structure that will remain even after crops are over, giving shape and height to the planting beds
Enjoy water on tap
The Belfast sink is perfect for washing large outdoor cooking utensils, as well as having tap water on hand for guests' drinks
Here we’ve added space to store logs for the pizza oven, as well a cupboard for cleaning or catering supplies
The blockwork units are rendered and painted to match the raised beds in the garden, while the worktop and splashback are tiled to replicate the black limestone flooring
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By Dawn Isaac with illustrations by Gill Lockhart
FORMAL GARDENS HAVE long been associated with stately homes and castles, but there are elements that will suit even the smallest of spaces. The homes we live in have straight lines, strong shapes and often a fair bit of balance and symmetry – the very same ingredients you need in a formal garden. In many ways this angular style could be seen as the natural choice.
Planning a formal garden isan exercise in mathematics, so feel free to employ graph paper, protractor, ruler and compasses to make your design. You’re looking to create bold geometric shapes and symmetrical patterns – the staples of any classic garden. To bring your design to life and give it ‘good bones’ all year round, use evergreen shrubs, trees and hedging, softened with herbaceous perennials, bulbs and annuals.
1. House dominates
2. No features to draw the eye
3. Very little planting
4. Tiny path in large lawn
Upgrade the gateway
The low gate has been replaced with a bow-topped hardwood gateway, set within a yew hedge. This provides access yet stylishly screens off the side return.
Team privacy with formality
A pleached hornbeam hedge, mirrored on both sides of the garden, screens it from the neighbours.It hides the lacklustre boundaries and leaves space for planting beneath.
Use trees for grandeur
A pair of half-standard Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ trees are used to break up the house wall and add a hint of evergreen grandeur to the terrace.
A climbing rose trained around windows and over doors softens the expanse of brickwork and will support early and late clematis – extending the flowering period
Add a mowing strip
A brick strip makes it easier for a lawnmower to cut to the edges, stops grass creeping into beds and maintains the crisp formal shape of the lawn
Use box for neat angles
Buxus sempervirens is a formal garden must-have and here it has been used to form low hedges to neaten beds as well as emphasise the strong angles and formal shapes.
Create a focal point
Placing a sundial at the centre of the lawn creates height as well as a focal point from which the lawn area can radiate out. Masses of lavender at the base helps exaggerate the feature, giving it a grander sense of scale.
Give the path a purpose
The small stepping stone path has been replaced with a far larger brick version, which is easier to see and navigate. This creates the central line of the symmetrical lawn.
Control the colours
A restricted colour palette complements the formal design. Shrubs including Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and glossy groundcovering Arum italicum are interspersed with elegant bulbs and annuals such as white foxgloves and tulips.
Echo house materials
The dining area has been re-laid in a basketweave brick pattern to match the path and echo the house materials. The space is bordered on most sides with box balls or hedging.
Dawn’s top 10 formal favourites
1. Ilex crenata ‘Dark Green’ Known as box-leaved holly, this glossy plant can be easily clippedinto topiary shapes. Untrimmed H4m (13ft) S3m (10ft)
2. Taxus baccata The needle-like leaves of English yew respond well to clipping; it makes a dark, slow- growing hedge. Untrimmed H20m (65ft) S10m (33ft)
3. Buxus sempervirens Small glossy leaves make this the perfect evergreen for clipping into shapes. Best in part shade and fertile soil. Untrimmed H5m (16ft) S3m (10ft)
4. Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ Trained as a half-standard tree, this evergreen shrub has a neat shape with pinkish-white flowers in winter. UntrainedH and S3m (10ft)
5. Tilia cordata ‘Winter Orange’ Like all small-leaved limes this is ideal for a formal pleached hedge. Colourful winter stems. Untrained H20m (65ft) S15m (49ft)
6. Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica’ A dwarf conifer that grows into a dome of bright green foliage with a bronze tinge in cold weather. Can be neatened.H and S50cm (20in)
7. Juniperus scopulorum ‘Blue Arrow’ Blue-tinged, rocket-shaped conifer that has an Italianate look. Suits dry, chalky or sandy soils. H2m (61⁄2ft) S50cm (20in)
8. Laurus nobilis Useful shrub that can be clipped into balls, pyramids and half- standard trees. Shelter from strong winds. Unclipped H12m (39ft) S10m (32ft)
9. Carpinus betulus Useful for hedging and pleaching effects. Green beech-like leaves turn golden colour in autumn. Untrained H25m (82ft) S10m (33ft)
10. Hebe rakaiensis Evergreen shrub adopts a small dome shape so minimal trimming is required. Large white flowersin mid to late summer. H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)
1 Small weedy lawn is shaded
2 Fences dominate the space
3 Wheelie bin on show
4 Tiny space for dining
Create a diagonal layout
Setting the garden design on a diagonal slant visually lengthens the area at the same time as distracting from the fences
Lose the boundaries
As soon as you can see the boundaries of a garden you sense how small it is. By clothing the fences in climbers they blend in with trees and shrubs in neighbouring gardens giving the impression the garden never ends.
Scale the features up
Although the temptation may be to place small objects and accessories in a tighter space, this can lead to a twee, dolls’ house effect. Far more effective is to use large items such as the paving slabs, pots, bubbling water feature and key plants in this design.
Double the views with a mirror
You can create the impression of a much larger space by placing acrylic mirrors in the garden such as those used here behind the trellis arch and on the fences. Just remember to ensure these reflect back planting rather than the surprised faces of your garden visitors.
A small space will look fussy if you use too many hard landscaping materials, so here it is kept to a minimum with just the natural stone paving on the ground.
Maximise space, minimise maintenance
The lawn has been removed to make room for a much larger entertaining and dining terrace – a space that can be used year round and requires little upkeep.
With no need for a mower, the shed can be downsized but also upgraded. Here a beautifully stained tool cupboard with a shingle roof no longer needs hiding away in the corner, but instead can become a feature to enjoy.
Hide the bins
The bin is still easy to wheel out of the rear gate but is now hidden behind a trellis screen and the mirror-backed arch.
Frame the garden with a tree
A prunus ‘Accolade’ flowering cherry tree provides a spreading shape which will frame the garden year round and mask houses behind as well as providing spring blossom and autumn colour.
Choose the right plants
Good shade-tolerant groundcover might include Geranium phaeum and Geranium nodosum, Asplenium scolopendrium, hostas, Arum italicum, Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’ and Convallaria majalis – a lush green and white mix that will go well with ferns. In the containers go for a fern such as Polystichum setiferum – like a scaled down version of the tree ferns.
SHADY GARDENS don't have a great reputation. All too often they come across as dark, dank and uninviting – not exactly three words to set your horticultural pulse racing. The good news is a shady space can quite easily be turned into a welcoming oasis with some careful design choices and a bit of smart planting.
In this layout I’ve removed the grass, which will never thrive in shade, and instead created a central seating and dining area. After all, on a scorching hot day, escaping to the shade for lunch can be the ideal option and, at dusk, shade-loving flowers often give the best colours and scent.
< THE PROBLEMS
- Lawn won’t grow in the dry shade below thirsty trees
- Garden is overlooked by neighbours
- Only shade-loving evergreens are thriving
- Fences look bare and garden feels boxed in
- Nowhere to sit and nothing to look at
1. FOCUS ON THE CENTRE The circular shape of the seating area helps distract the eye from the square fences and turns focus towards the centre rather than the edge of the garden.
2. BOUNCE THE LIGHT Small, pale-coloured ‘setts’ are perfect to make the circle – these small units can create curves without needing to be cut to shape, which saves both money and effort. They also give a solid edge, which retains the limestone chippings laid inside. These chippings are a great choice in shady sites for two reasons: first, they’re pale in tone, which means they reflect back a large amount of light, helping to brighten the area; second, the chippings create a textured surface, which means you won't face the slip-hazard problems you find with stone and wood in shade.
3. BUY WIPE-DOWN FURNITURE The pale-coloured metal table and chairs echo the shape of the terrace itself, throw back the light and, as a material, are easier to wipe down than wood which is important because you’ll find any furniture will 'green' in shade if you leave it out for weeks at a time.
4. ECHO THE CIRCLE The curves of the circle are also found in the low box hedging that hugs it in sections, as well as being echoed in the box balls dotted through the borders. This shade-tolerant plant is great for providing a kind of ‘green architecture’ that gives shape and interest to a garden even in the dead of winter.
5. MAKE FENCES 'DISAPPEAR' Clothing the fences in climbers hides the square boundaries as well as maximising planting space. Swathes of ivy can be effective but will often creep into beds and swamp other plants. Instead you could plant a more flower-focused combination of honeysuckles and clematis - you can even find one or two roses that will tolerate shade such as Rosa ‘New Dawn’.
BEST PLANTS FOR A SHADY GARDEN
Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora
Majestic spires and a plant that will happily self-sow its own replacements. Grow in a humus rich soil for flowers June to July. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (24in)
Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
This is a delicate and highly scented plant for around edges of paths and patios. Prefers leafy, humus-rich soil but perfectly happy in shade. Flowers May. Also available in pink. H and S25cm (10in)
Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’
Pretty pink deadnettle ideal for quick-spreading ground cover, light-reflecting leaves. Prefers moist but well drained soil and flowers May to July. H15cm (6in) S60cm (24in)
Mahonia media ‘Charity’
Tall and handsome plant with holly type leaves and yellow winter flowers. Prefers fertile humus rich or well drained soil. Flowers November to March. Eventual H5m (16ft) S4m (13ft)
Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’
The aptly named snowball tree has huge clusters of white flowers as well as berries to follow. Plant in a fertile moist but well drained soil for snowball flowers in May and June. H and S4m (13ft)
Small-leaved, slow-growing evergreen shrub ideal for topiary and low hedges. H and S5m (16ft) - trim annually to keep size
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
Delicate, forget-me-not style flowers above leaves splashed with white. Prefers humus rich, moist but well drained soil. Flowers April to May. H40cm (16in) S60cm (24in)
Attractive herbaceous perennial with 'corrugated' blue-grey leaves. Pale lilac flowers July and August. Protect from slugs!! H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)
Large evergreen fern for a shady, well drained border. Cut back old foliage in January. New fronds unfurl in April. H1.2m (4ft) S90cm (35in)
Polygonatum hybridum (Solomon’s seal)
Arching stems of flowers add a graceful note to beds. Prefers fertile humus rich soil conditions and flowers May to June. H1.5m (5ft) S30cm (12in)
Geranium phaeum ‘Album’
White version of the dusky cranesbill holds up graceful flowers above weed-smothering leaves. Plant in fertile well drained soil. Flowers May to June. H80cm (31in) S60cm (24in)
WHENEVER WE FALL BEHIND with outdoor maintenance, wildlife gardening is a great excuse. “You don’t want to be too tidy – it’s not wildlife friendly!” is a handy phrase to trot out when the grass hasn’t been mown, the weeds run rampant or the compost heap lies unturned. But there’s no reason why a garden can’t be elegant, beautiful and tamed as well as being a home and haven to a huge range of creatures, it just takes a little thought.
< THE PROBLEM
- Skinny borders offer little wildlife appeal
- Straggly shrubs are overgrown so don’t flower or fruit well
- Shaded lawn looks a bit rectangular and boring
- Huge trampoline has seen better, bouncier days
- Flat roof is an eyesore from upstairs windows
1. ADD A POND There’s nothing to compare to a pond as a wildlife magnet. If you’re going to create one, try to allow at least 4 square metres (xxft) in area and include shallow areas with sloping sides, shelves for marginal plants and a deeper area (at least 60cm/24in deep) for hibernating amphibians. Here it’s also bordered by plants that allow wildlife to enter and leave the pond under shelter from predators.
2. PLANT HEDGES A yew hedge has been planted to form a curve behind the pond beds. From a design perspective this detracts from the squareness of the far end of the garden, but this native hedge also provides a wonderful habitat for nesting birds. A hole has been clipped and trained to give a window onto the climber-covered fence behind, but the hedge can also be used to hide a few of the less picturesque plants and weeds that are perfect for wildlife.
3. CREATE COVER WITH CLIMBERS Fences are colonised by climbers. Many – such as honeysuckle – give cover and nesting spots for birds and are a great spot to place open-fronted bird boxes for robins and wrens. No wildlife friendly garden should be without some ivy: as well as homes for wildlife, a mature ivy plant has flowers that give nectar in late autumn as well as berries in winter. And don't forget to add holes either beneath your fence or through its base – 13cm (xxin) is sufficient to provide a wildlife corridor for hedgehogs and frogs.
4. LEAVE LONG GRASS A mown lawn is hard to resist, but this design also includes a smaller second lawn with longer grass to encourage beetles, grasshoppers and caterpillars of various moths and butterflies.
5. MAKE AN INSECT HOTEL As well as piles of logs out of sight behind the hedge, this garden has a more ornamental, but no less useful insect hotel, which includes plenty of hollow plant stems and drilled logs for solitary bees to nest in.
6. GROW A SEDUM ROOF A sedum-covered roof will provide a wildlife habitat and a more attractive view from above. If you’re adding one to an existing structure, check with a structural engineer that the roof is strong enough to support a green roof system when wet.
7. PLANT A FRUIT TREE Apple trees add height and interest and a crop for you to enjoy as well as being a draw for wildlife, which enjoy both their nectar-rich blossom and fruit. The tree in the foreground provides a structure from which bird feeders can be easily hung and all the trees in the garden can be used for mounting nest boxes for birds.
8. COMPOST BINS Two generous compost bins not only allow garden waste to be recycled to feed the soil – and worms – but also provide a perfect habitat for a range of wildlife from tiny creatures to slow worms and grass snakes.
9. ADD FLOWERS Nectar rich planting is used throughout the garden. With such plants it’s best to group them together and site them in the sunniest, most sheltered part of the garden to create the ideal foraging ground for bees and butterflies.
TOP 10 PLANTS FOR A WILDLIFE GARDEN
Hedera helix ‘Glacier’
A fast growing ivy with cream markings that will brighten up shady areas. H and S2m
These plants provide nectar late in the season and are a haven for hoverflies, bees and butterflies. H75cm S30cm
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’
Perfect for nectar-loving insects in summer and berry-loving birds in the autumn and winter. H7m S1m
Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Rouge’
Bees love the flowers and birds love the berries, plus this can be trained on a shady wall to make an eye catching, if thorny, feature. H and S3m
A useful size of tree for small gardens, this is clothed in red autumn berries which the birds adore. H12m S4m
Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’
Abuzz and aflutter with bees and butterflies all summer long, this compact English lavender variety also provides scent and structure to the garden. H60cm S75cm
Thymus ‘Silver Posie’
Adored by bees and other pollinators, thyme also provides groundcover shelter to other creatures such as beetles. H30cm S45cm
Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’
The daisy-like flowers have a long-flowering season which is useful to visiting bees and butterflies. H1m S45cm
A vital early source of nectar for emerging bumblebees in February and March. H10cm S5cm
Ilex aquifolium ‘JC van Tol’
This English holly is self-fertile so no need to have a male holly around to guarantee the red berries loved by birds in winter. H6m S4m
EVER SINCE PLUTO DUG UP Mickey Mouse’s backyard to bury his bone, dogs have made gardeners nervous, but thankfully things are beginning to change. The Dog's Trust was awarded a Gold medal for its dog-friendly show garden at Hampton Court this year. The garden showed how an outdoor space can be a place for man's best friend to enjoy and yet remain a beautiful retreat for its owner too. Admittedly, dogs still aren't allowed at the show itself, but it's a move in the right direction!
There has also been a trend in recent years to develop therapeutic gardens for dogs, with Mayhew Animal Home and Bath Cats and Dogs Home both creating spaces specifically to combat dog stress. Of course, even the happiest dogs need somewhere to relax, breathe fresh air and enjoy a little one-on-one exercise... Here's our design solution.
< THE PROBLEMS
• Very few areas of interest for a dog
• Conifers dominate
• Overlooked by neighbouring properties
• Long thin shape drags eye to the end
THE SOLUTION: Divide the garden into sections
Create interest by dividing the long garden into three equal parts. It makes sense for the area closest the house to remain as a suntrap patio for entertaining, using gravel instead of the dated pavers to create a Mediterranean feel. The middle area is given over to a square of neat lawn, kennel and storage bench, with the area at the far end dedicated to doggy fun – with rough grass, sandpit and bamboo hoop activity tunnel.
1. Add some shade Even in our insipid summers, dogs can all too easily overheat so make sure they have lots of shady spots to stretch out in. Here three deciduous trees cast dappled shade in summer, while a covered kennel in the shadier side of the garden offers scope to escape the heat.
2. Bring in water A simple bubble fountain set among the gravel garden plants provides a natural sound that’s as calming for dogs as it is for us. It’s also a source of water for thirsty dogs as well as a fun play feature to entertain bored hounds.
3. Create calming sounds Soothing natural sounds are created by wooden wind chimes located in the tree - a cheap and easy way to create a calming environment for dogs.
4. Use paw-friendly materials Grass and pale coloured gravel are less likely to overheat on hot days and have paw-friendly textures. If yellow urine patches are a problem on your lawn, try adding an anti-scorch product such as Dog Rocks to a large jug of water and use it to fill your dog's water bowl.
6. Make space for digging If your dog likes to excavate, why not provide a dedicated digging space and praise your dog when they use it? Sandpits work well and offer a soft texture for dogs to explore. They’re perfect places to hide occasional treats for your dog to find, too.
7 Add tunnels to explore A curving low tunnel created from bamboo hoops (or willow stems) creates an exciting path and hiding place for dogs; the natural material blends well with the garden.
8. Plant tough shrubs and perennials Invest in some robust flowering shrubs and tough groundcover plants that will withstand a rampaging beast! See our plant list overleaf for plants they can safely sniff and nibble. Tough perennials include Agastache Blackadder, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and eryngium as well as one or two grasses (miscanthus and pennisetum) and some scented but tough shrubs – lavender, rosemary and thyme
9. Keep toys to hand An outdoor storage bench give dogs a place to perch whilst at the same time providing space to keep a range of toys so playthings can be swapped in and out to stop canine boredom.
10. Let them bask on a double deck kennel A sun deck on top of the kennel with an access ramp will give your dog exercise as well as a higher spot to survey their space.
DAWN'S TOP 10 PLANTS FOR DOGS
1. Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker's Low’ Catnip can stimulate playfulness in dogs as well as cats and makes a great front of border plant. H60cm S50cm
2. Chamaemelum nobile The scent of chamomile is good for dogs suffering from anxiety or skin and stomach upsets. It is best planted in pots to prevent trampling. H30cm S45cm
3. Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ Golden hops is a vigorous climber to grow over large garden structures and is said to have a calming plant on hyperactive and stressed dogs H and S6m
4. Lavandula angustifolia As well as being tough enough to withstand canine attention, lavender is supposed to encourage scar tissue regeneration and reduce anxiety in dogs. H60cm S75cm
5. Mimulus guttatus This marginal pond plant is used as a remedy for animals that are nervous, timid and shy. H30cm S1.2m
6. Petroselinum crispum Parsley acts as a good breath freshener for dogs as well as a useful kitchen herb. H80cm S60cm
7. Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’ Thyme is a healing plant enjoyed by dogs but also a tough groundcover plant for sun. H25cm S35cm
8. Calendula officinalis Marigold is often selected by animals in distress and is a useful self-sower for filling in gaps. H50cm S30cm
9. Salix sp. Dogs in pain often chew willow bark that contains a natural painkiller. Instead of a tree, try natural willow structures that can also double as a sheltered shady spot for a dog.
10. Viola odorata Nervous dogs may enjoy sniffing the scented flowers of sweet violets that also make a great addition to a woodland garden. H20cm S30cm