Excerpt from Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz

Like an expertly blended cocktail, this citrussy mix has the perfect ratio of sweet and sour notes. Taking the bergenia as inspiration with its large leathery leaves in yellow and green, the other plants (hakonechloa, and dicentra at the back) echo the lemony colours. These are balanecd with a squeeze of lime from the hosta and yellow-margined tricyrtis. Top it all off with a decorative pink flower or two and you have a designer cocktail that’s sure to become a spring favourite.
Spring through autumn offers the most exciting colour medley, with both the dicentra and bergenia adding pink flowers to the mix. In winter the evergreen bergenia will turn burgundy, introducing a new hue into the garden when the perennials are dormant. Underplanting the grass and tricyrtis with snowdrops would be a lovely way to add contrast to the winter scene, and they would perform well in this part-shady location. As the strappy bulb foliage dies back, the emerging perennials will quickly hide them from view. For ongoing care, thin out the bergenia occasionally to stop overwhelming more delicate plants, but otherwise the perennials should be able to blend easily for many years.
Best for: part shade and moisture retaining soil


Athyrium filix-femina ‘Dre’s Dagger’
This dwarf deciduous fern has lacy foliage and thrives in moist woodlands in part or full shade. A. filix-femina ‘Vernoniae Cristatum’ is a reliable alternative that may be easier to find. H45cm (18in) S45cm (18in)

Hosta ‘Miss American Pie’
Most hostas prefer moist and semi-shaded conditions like these, but will need protection from slugs. H41cm (16in) S1m (3ft 3in)

Hakonechloa macra ‘Stripe it Rich’
This herbaceous grass cascades into a soft yellow waterfall, each golden blade lightly striped with white. H25cm (10in) S50cm (19in)

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Gilt Edge’
An easy herbaceous perennial for the shade garden. The green leaves are edged with gold and in midsummer freckled purple flowers appear. H60cm (24in)) S30cm (12in)

Bergenia ‘Lunar Glow’ 
This evergreen perennial has new foliage that opens creamy yellow, matures to green, and turns burgundy in winter. Fat spikes of pink flowers in spring. H30cm (12in) S45cm (18in)

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’
This herbaceous perennial is a colourful addition to the shade garden, with apricot-pink stems, pure gold leaves, and rose-pink spring flowers. H and S60-90cm (2-3ft)

This is an edited extract from Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz (£17.99, Timber Press). To order the book for the special price of £16.50 with free p&p (UK mainland only) please contact EFC bookshop on 01872 562327 or visit www.efcbookshop.com

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Contrasts: Bobbly Allium sphaerocephalon with fluffy fennel foliage

Contrasts: Bobbly Allium sphaerocephalon with fluffy fennel foliage

By Liz Potter

The mixed summer border contains a joyous abundance of flower and foliage forms. From daisies and pompoms to stately spires and billowing clouds of feathery ‘froth’ – there’s plenty to excite and draw the eye. Many of the best planting schemes have a pleasing ‘free for all’ look, so it’s surprising how much organisation goes into them.

One quick and foolproof way of making a border scheme hang together is by making deliberate plant contrasts. That is, picking opposites and planting them next to each other to emphasise their key attributes. This might entail partnering a plant with rounded umbel flowers (for example, achillea or orlaya) against one with upright spires (salvia ‘Caradonna’), strappy foliage (irises) or feathery fronds (Stipa tenuissima). Any of these opposites would work well with the rounded umbel flower, so it’s just a matter of playing with the different options until you settle on something that works.

For most of us, this ‘playing with plants’ aspect of design involves a visit to a nursery or garden centre to spend time juxtaposing the different plant forms, without having to commit to buying them! Another useful idea is to visit open gardens to take photos of the successful plant contrasts they’ve used, then simply copy them at home. You may need to do a bit of detective work to find out exact cultivars used, but usually the gardening team is happy to help if you show them a photo.

Try not to limit your contrasts to flower colours alone. Although this is an easy and reliable means of striking a successful contrast in a planting scheme, don’t forget about plant texture and form, height and habit. For instance, tall and very short plants can look fabulous together – just think of any woodland scheme where spring bulbs carpet the soil around a statuesque, coppiced cornus. There are opposites in habit too: mounding and clumping plants provide an excellent foil for more upright or spiky forms: think of the way that strappy crocosmia foliage seems to ‘leap out’ of a border full of rounded evergreen shrubs.

There are some potential pitalls to avoid: you do need to know the site and soil preferences of your opposing plants before you start. It’s no good trying to partner sun-loving heleniums with lush green ferns that prefer damp shade. Instead, find opposites that will love the same growing conditions you have to offer, and work from there.

You need to get the timing right too. For least fuss and best year-round value, choose opposing plants that offer a long season of interest so your contrasts work effectively for as much of the year as possible. Some plants, such as sedums, peonies, hellebores and clematis offer an amazing array of different colour and texture effects throughout the year, and each stage of life can be paired with an opposing partner. For instance, the red spring growth of a peony can be paired with red cyclamen or heucheras, while the later peony blooms and glossy foliage might work well with the spires of foxgloves and delphiniums. It’s all about spotting the opportunities offered by your plants, and partnering them with good neighbours that will bring out their best.


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Grow the plants that love to mingle

Cottage garden plants are famously relaxed and sociable. Here's how to get the look

By Louise Curley

The ‘cottage-style’ of gardening has evolved over the centuries but retains an enduring charm. Born from the need to scratch a living from the land, it became a romantic ideal during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and remains popular today. The exuberant but loose and relaxed style of planting suits our modern lifestyles. It embraces sustainable grow your own and wildlife-friendly ideals, and mingles cut flowers with useful herbs. Any planting style that has a naturalistic feel and embraces self-seeders will appeal to time-poor gardeners who find pristine gardens hard to maintain.
Plants are key to achieving the classic cottage look. Plant them close together to banish bare soil and create the all-important romantic tangle of flowers as they weave through each other. This also has the added advantage of keeping weeds down! Here we’ve outlined the key plants to mix and match...

Minglers include annuals, biennials, some perennials and bulbs with single flower stems and generally not much foliage. If they do have leaves these are delicate and add to the soft relaxed feel that prevents the planting from looking rigid. They’ll drift through your borders and many will self-seed, adding to the relaxed planting style.

Clumpers are herbaceous perennials that stay in one place, creating pockets of colour. They can be used in drifts for a classic cottage garden look or in blocks for a more contemporary take. Some ‘clumpers’, such as hardy geraniums and alchemilla, have a floppy habit. Use these to tumble over edges to soften hard landscaping. Divide every 3–4 years to reinvigorate the plants.

Frothers are the plants that offer lots of tiny florets into your planting scheme – the ideal counterpoint for more solid blooms such as roses and dahlias. Use them to create a billowing cloud of summer colour that seems to float on the breeze. These plants are ideal for path edges where they will soften the hard landscape.

Climbers can be used to make the most of every available growing space – a key element in cottage gardens. Use climbing roses, clematis and honeysuckle to clothe walls and fences or to scramble up over arches and pergolas. Make space for an obelisk or two in your borders and grow compact roses and clematis or annual climbers such as sweet peas or nasturtiums.

Spires add strong structural form and interest to cottage garden borders providing a contrast to the soft, floaty planting around them. They work best when planted in the middle to the back of a border where they can rise above the ‘minglers’ and ‘clumpers’.

Edibles were an essential component of cottage gardens. Nowadays most of us don’t have the time or space for self-sufficiency, but it’s still possible to have both a beautiful and productive garden. Focus on crops that are attractive, expensive to buy and those which taste best when super fresh.

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Get savvy with salvage

Salvaged or reclaimed materials add texture, interest and personality to your garden.

By Fiona Cumberpatch
An old chimney pot planted with trailing pelargoniums, or deep purple petunias tumbling out of a battered copper cooking pot are good examples of using reclaimed or upcycled items to create a characterful outside space. Incorporating old artefacts and ingeniously repurposing them prevents new gardens from looking bland, and will create quirky features and talking points in established plots.
Secondhand doesn’t necessarily mean cheap, though it’s still perfectly possible to spot a bargain at a car boot sale. Set your alarm and get there early, because anything old or antique is usually snapped up first. Antiques fairs are more expensive, but you’ll find a wide selection of gardenalia and you can barter. A specialist salvage yard will offer a huge choice, and items are generally sorted by type, such as reclaimed stone, paving slabs, edging etc. These reclamation yards factor in labour and transportation costs, so their prices might be a little higher.
EBay is still worth trying, though you need to add in the costs of a courier or self collection, as salvaged items are usually too heavy to post. For local bargains, head to selling site Gumtree (www.gumtree.com), or pop into your local auction house on viewing day. If you can’t attend the auction, leave a fixed bid (the highest amount you’re prepared to pay).
For savvy salvage, choose materials that won’t rot or rust. Galvanised steel animal troughs make long-lasting planters, while zinc dolly tubs and old baths are rust-resistant. Vintage ceramic sinks are virtually indestructible and copper pots gain an attractive verdigris patina as they age. Rubber tyres, free from many garages, make long-lasting planters that can be stacked for effect. Anything made from wood or iron will only last a couple of seasons outside at most.  
Where to hunt for gardenalia
1.     The Decorative Salvage and Vintage Fair (29-30 July), Knebworth House, Herts SG1 2AX. www.bentleysfairs.co.uk
2.     Gallops Architectural Salvage, Ty-r-ash, Brecon Rd, Crickhowell, Powys NP8 1SF. www.gallopsltd.co.uk
3.     The Decorative Home and Salvage Show (4-6 August), Cheshire Showground, nr Knutsford WA16 0HJ. www.asfairs.com
4.     Toby’s Reclamation, Station Rd, Exminster EX6 8DZ.  www.tobyreclamation.com
5.     Steptoe’s Yard, Nether Warburton Farm, St Cyrus, Montrose, Scotland DD10 0AQ. www.steptoesyard.co.uk

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Show garden shopping

WE'VE TRACKED DOWN some of the 'must-have' pieces that will create the luxury look at home. Choose from corten steel water features, fabulous fire bowls and ever-so-chic seating

Where to buy...

Blomus fire pit £95 Black by Design 01889 502716; www.black-by-design.co.uk
Exo easy chair £149.99 MY Furniture 0800 092 1636; www.my-furniture.co.uk
Monaco deck chair £130 Oli & Grace 0330 223 3057; www.oliandgrace.co.uk
Corten steel round water feature £1,159 The Pot Co. See www.thepotco.com for stockists
Rusted metal sphere £75 Moore Designs 01403 865950; www.mooredesigns.co.uk
Galvanised landscaping cube £10.43 Tool Station 0808 100 7211; www.toolstation.com
Milan sun lounger £275 Mode Living 0800 999 3830; www.modeliving.co.uk
Helichrysum cushion from £49.50 Botanical Cushions www.botanicalcushions.com
Fitzroy cafe lights £28.99 Lights 4 Fun 012423 816040; www.lights4fun.co.uk
Mini flames fire pit £54.95 London Garden Trading 0800 699 0868; www.longardentrading.com

Perfect plants for small gardens

Plants have to work extra hard to earn their keep in a small garden. Where space is limited, it’s important to think about what they contribute to the overall design – hopefully colour, structure and a long season of interest. 

Don’t fall into the trap of buying a range of dwarf plants, or you’ll end up recreating Lilliput, with the garden flowering gaily around your ankles! Although it’s important to bear in mind a plant’s eventual height and spread, you can always keep their size in check by annual pruning. Instead, choose a range of palnts that will create layers of interest, with tall shrubs and climbers to make the most of the vertical space, and smaller plants that will flower for ages, in shade where required.  

Our top 10 plants


1. Hydrangea quercifolia

2. Erysimum cheiri

3. Clematis ‘Picardy’

4. Euphorbia amygdaloides 

5. Trachylospermum jasminoides

6. Geranium ‘Rozanne’

7. Lamium maculatum

8. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

9. Liriope muscari

10. Lamprocapnos spectabilis


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Make a rustic brick planting circle

A brick circle set into a lawn makes an ideal space for growing herbs, small annuals and perennials. Here, reclaimed bricks have been used to give a cottage-garden look that’s more forgiving if your geometry goes a bit awry. Choose bricks in a variety of hues and colours, then
mix them around to avoid placing similar-looking bricks together. Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Mark out the circle and central planting hole before excavating the soil to the required depth. Add a layer of sharp sand to help get a level finish and lay the bricks on top. Then plant up.  


1. Position the bricks This will help you work out the overall size and radius of your circle, and confirm you’ve ordered enough bricks before starting. Use a stick, garden fork or sturdy parasol base as the circle’s centre point.

2. Mark the line in paint Attach a length of string, cut slightly longer than the circle’s radius, to the centre point. Use it to mark out the circle’s circumference with white lawn paint or a trickle of sharp sand poured from a plastic bottle.

3. Dig out the turf Make your turf recess just deeper than brick height: 10-15cm (4-6in) deep. This picture shows the circle with the central parasol base removed. The central lawn circle will be removed once all the bricks are laid.

4. Check it’s level Cut a plank of wood the same width as your bricks to the radius of the circle. Lay a spirit level on top to check the entire circle is level. Then add a layer of sand to help settle the bricks and adjust them easily.

5. Use half bricks first Start by laying half-bricks around the central circle. These prevent large gaps from occurring between each brick, giving a more uniform appearance. Use string to check each row is centred neatly. 

6. Remove some of the bricks This will create neat areas for compost and planting. Dig out the turf from the centre to avoid a tiny circle of lawn in the middle. Either plant it up or infill with paving or tiles.

• This is an extract from The Upcycled Garden by Steven Wooster and Susan Berry (£15.99 Berry & Co). To buy a copy at the special Garden Answers reader discount of £12 please buy the May issue for details.


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Make the most of a small garden

Gardens today are smaller than ever. It’s no secret that urban developers, in a bid to solve our housing crisis, have been squeezing new homes into the smallest of brownfield sites. So it’s lucky that even the tiniest gardens can be among the most visually exciting. Think of the Chelsea show gardens – all designed to fit on a tiny template but packing in masses of perennials, shrubs, trees, water features and seating areas. None of those designers ever skimped on style or colour; they set out to get maximum impact and atmosphere, without overcrowding the space – something that’s critical to making any small garden look appealing and cohesive.

The interplay between hard and soft landscape can make or break a small plot. This is where good planning comes in – drawing shapes on paper to visualise how areas of paving, lawn, gravel and planting might slot together. Go for clean geometrical shapes and outlines; ‘wibbly’ indecisive lines lack the sense of purpose that a sweeping curve can impose.

In a small space you have essentially one view to play with, so make it spectacular for as much of the year as possible. Create an eye-catching seating area so you can sit out in summer, and surround it with fabulous plant combinations offering interest at every level – tall shrubs or small trees with spring blossom and autumn colour interest, flowering climbers to cloak the fences, attractive evergreen foliage for winter structure, and long-lasting perennials for summer colour. Plant drifts of spring bulbs under a deciduous shrub and you’re pretty much covered.

However, it’s all too easy to get a ‘bitty’ piecemeal look and for the garden to look bare in winter. Here we’ve asked three gardeners for their hard-won advice.

5 Top tips

1 Make a plan on paper. This will help you organise your ideas and give you a fixed template to work to. Include the plants you’d like to use, then edit down according to space and budget.

2 Hide the garden’s boundaries. Use climbers to conceal fence panels and plant tall shrubs so they make a visual break across the fence line.

3 Create an exciting journey. Lay a path between planting areas or features so visitors can enjoy exploring. Have it lead to a sunny seating area. 

4 Don’t forget to add height. Taller plants, obelisks and pergolas prevent the garden becoming too flat.

5 Keep the colour schemes simple. Make your plant list with a colour scheme in mind for best cohesion.

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Create a little tulip wow!

By Louise Curley

Nothing can beat tulips for creating a riot of spring colour. Their sheer diversity offers gardeners a painter’s palette of colour, whether it’s the palest pastels or the richest jewel-like hues. Then there’s the type of flower, from the simple beauty of single goblet-shaped blooms to flamboyant parrot varieties, softly-romantic peony-like doubles or elegant lily-flowered tulips. With so many options tulips are perfect for creating a whole host of different styles in your garden borders and containers.

To create the biggest impact plant tulips in groups rather than dotting them about here and there, and in any one area focus on a limited palette of three or four colours which work well together to give your planting scheme coherence. If you’re daunted by the sheer choice then choose failsafe colour combinations such as the darkest of purples with pure whites or clashing orange tones. If you fancy something more subtle, go for viridifloras with their petals flashed with green mixed with ivories and whites.

Tulips also make perfect partners for other spring performers such as other bulbs, the flowers of biennials, spring-blooming perennials and newly-emerging foliage. Or, use the wafty foliage of grasses and dependable evergreens alongside tulips. The key is to choose partner plants that will perform at the same time, then sit back and enjoy a truly exuberant April garden.

Guide to shapes

Single – Can flower early or late season. Distinctive traditional cupped shape with six overlapping curving petals, strong stems and many colour choices. H20-50cm (8-20in) S10cm (4in)

Double – Can flower early or late season. More than six petals arranged in two or more whorls. Shorter stems than singles and fewer colour choices, but flowers can open to 10cm (4in). H20-40cm (8-16in)

Lily – Long petals are reflexed (bend backwards) to create elegant urn shape. Slender stem. Late season, flowering in May. H23-80cm (9-32in)

Peony – Large, double tulips flowering in late April or May. Petals are ruffled and stems usually robust.  H45-60cm (17-24in) S10cm (4in)

Parrot – Petals are ruffled, twisted and sometimes crimped or waved. Flowers mid season April and May in various colours. H30-70cm (12-28in) S10cm (4in)

Fringed – Frayed petals for attractive, ‘ripped fabric’ effect. Flowers late season in May; long-lasting blooms on strong stems. H20-75cm (8-30in)


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Rediscover the rockery!

Alpine gardens have been stuck in a time warp since the 1970s… but not any more! Joseph Tychonievich explores the new styles and how to make a new one

Rock gardening – the art of growing small plants in the company of rocks to create the look of a rugged mountaintop – has been surging in popularity. There are many reasons for this: gardeners today generally have less time and space to garden than their parents did, while rock gardening allows an urban gardener with a balcony or tiny plot to grow a bewildering diversity of different plants in a small space. Maintenance takes a fraction of the time required to deal with a similar number of plants in a large perennial border. In addition, many rock garden plants are notably tolerant of, or even fond of, dry conditions, making them the perfect answer to chronic summer drought.

Aesthetics is driving people to rock gardening as well. The spare, architectural forms and dramatic flowers of alpines are in stark contrast to, and a welcome change from, the lush containers of annuals and thickly planted perennial beds that have dominated gardening for so long. Add to that the fad for ‘fairy gardening’ (which makes use of tiny plants and miniature props) and you’ve got a perfect storm.

Rockery aesthetics

Rock gardening starts with that image of beauty among rocks. Whether it’s a ridge, a cliff face, crevice or big boulder with plants tucked down into the soil behind, the visual effect of a delicate flower set against the harsh austerity of stone provides dramatic contrast. There’s something magical about a seemingly fragile columbine managing to thrive in what appears to be a hostile, lifeless situation.

Exposed to harsh winds, limited water and fierce sun, these plants tend to stay small and compact, forming tight mounds that can withstand the brutality of the climate. At the same time these harsh conditions mean that pollinating insects are few and far between, so when it’s time to reproduce these plants go all out producing disproportionately large flowers to make sure they draw in every pollinator in the area.

In recent years traditional rock gardening has evolved to include plants native to dry desert areas, too. These plants are just as happy in well-drained gardens as alpines are, and look just as lovely growing against rock. So, in the American Midwest, you’re just as likely to find cacti and agaves in a rock garden as you are alpine dianthus and saxifrage. 

Soils and drainage

Most plants growing in a rock garden are native to mountaintops and have adapted to a lack of soil. Drainage is the most important factor in creating good growing conditions for them; whatever soil you use it needs to allow water to drain quickly and easily so the plant doesn’t stay waterlogged. Most critically, water needs to move away quickly from the crown of the plant.

When creating your own soil mix for rockery plants there are three factors to bear in mind.

1. Create a mix of pore sizes. ‘Pores’ are the spaces between soil particles and it’s these that affect the direction and speed of water travel in soil. Smaller pores (eg found in clay soil) hold water better than larger pores (eg in sandy/gritty soil). Because of its surface tension, water passes from materials with larger pores into those with smaller pores – a good reason not to put gravel in the bottom of containers as it will only trap the water rather than help it drain. Porous terracotta crocs, made of clay, are much better at absorbing any surplus water.

So, when building your rock garden, mix the grit and compost together thoroughly so water can drain smoothly through pores of all the same size. It’s usually recommended to combine one-third soil, one-third sand and one-third grit or gravel. The larger pores will ensure good drainage and oxygenation of the roots; small ones will hold a little more water for dry times.  

2. Create a fast-draining surface. Always top your compost mix with gravel or coarse grit so the water will drain quickly from the surface into the soil mix, and away from the plants’ crowns.

3. Choose a deep container. Deeper containers provide quicker drainage at the soil surface than a shallower container holding the same amount of soil. Although shallow containers have a broader surface area, which is better for surface water to evaporate, deeper containers will hold onto a reserve of water deeper down, where the plant roots can reach it.

4. Give the water somewhere to go. Whatever soil mix you use, you need a way for the water to drain out. Raised beds, containers or planting on a rock-terraced slope are all ways of keeping your soil from becoming waterlogged. Elevating your rock garden is also useful from an aesthetic viewpoint: the tiny plants are easier to see when you don’t have to bend down and a lot of flat little plants in a flat little garden can be, frankly, a bit boring. *



Extremely drought tolerant; deer and rabbit proof. Brilliant coloured flowers. Don’t water them when dormant and plant in a pot with sharp drainage or move to a sheltered spot for winter and spring. C humifusa is a clump former with low spreading habit H and S10-50cm (4-19in) 

C. portenschlagiana H15cm (6in) and S5cm (2in)is an iconic rock garden plant. Loaded with small blue star shaped flowers that obscure the rest of the plant. Dwarf species C carpatica is widely available, with a top-notch floral display. H20cm (8in) S60cm (24in)

Tuberous perennials with swept back flowers in white pink and purple, choose from C coum and C hederifolium (both dormant in summer and need to be kept dry) and C. purpurascens which flowers in summer. H and S10cm (4in)

Compact daphnes such as D cneorum H15cm (6in) S2m (6ft) will make small, dense, flower-laden plants. Creeping D jasminea will develop a dense gnarled trunk like a miniature bonsai that won’t outgrow its space H and S20cm (8in)

Massive genus of which D. alpinus has glaucus foliage and intricately patterned blooms. H and S10cm (4in) D. deltoides forms a soft creeping mat of lush green stems and is more tolerant of poor drainage. H10cm (4in) S30cm (12in)

G. acaulis has tight mounds of glossy dark foliage and massive saturated-blue flowers. Must have good drainage; plants dislike hot summer nights. H2cm (1in) S10cm (4in)

Lewisia cotyledon
Strikingly beautiful evergreen plant with intricately detailed flowers. Thick fleshy succulent leaves and many species go dormant during summer heat to conserve water. H and S50cm (19in)

Diverse group with exceptional foliage. Choose from silver saxes, dwarf cushion saxes and mossy saxes. Dwarf cushion saxes are most numerous, many with enormous flowers – S. urbium (London Pride) is widely available H15-30cm (6-12in) S1m (3ft 3in)

Hard-to-harm plants that grow from offset rosettes. Easy and adaptable, drought tolerant, evergreen. Will become more red in cool, sunny conditions. Leaves plump up in damper conditions. H and S10-30cm (4-12in)

Pasque flower
Silvery-leaved Pulsatilla vulgaris produces large, anemone-like rich purple flowers that develop into attractive silky seedbeds. H and S10-50cm (4-20in)


This is an edited extract from Rock Gardening by Joseph Tychonievich (£25 Timber Press). To buy the book at a special reader discount of just £23 contact EFC bookshop on 01872 562327 or visit www.efcbookshop.com before 4 April 2017.

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Help - I loathe orange!

Kendra Wilson solves this age-old dilemma

When people claim to loathe orange (before adding red and yellow to the list), it’s possible that a fear of bad taste is blinding them to the bigger picture. A denial of yellow is to dismiss cowslips and so many other spring flowers that sparkle in the early sunshine. The decadence of late summer would be sadly diminished without dahlias in every shade of velvety red. And orange itself does not have to be neon: pale orange, as seen on crocosmia ‘George Davison’ is positively delicate, peering over a mass of strap-shaped leaves in fresh green.

All sunset colours go well with green, and foliage, according plantswoman Beth Chatto, is even more important than flowers. With their emphasis on form, texture and movement through the garden, flowers take a decided second place, whatever colour they are.

Some richly coloured dahlias, such as the classic ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and relations, are handsomely offset by their dark, almost black, leaves. Flower colour is just one consideration in a border like the one shown here. In a quest for simplification, it’s worth noting that reds, yellows and oranges all go well together. There is harmony in a controlled palette like this. Add a strong contrast, like cobalt blue, and the sunny colours will begin to jar again.

THIS EXTRACT is from Kendra Wilson’s My Garden is a Car Park and Other Design Dilemmas (£12.99, Laurence King) and available at www.laurenceking.com. To enjoy a 35% discount, enter code GARDEN35 at the checkout on the Laurence King website before 31 March 2017


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Take a bee's eye view of blossom

These nectar-rich flowers will brighten up the garden and draw in the pollinators. Val Bourne picks her top 10 trees and shrubs for spring 

Gardeners can get carried with away with perennials and bulbs when it comes to spring flowers. Yet trees and shrubs offer far more flowers for the nectar-hungry bee. They’re enormously important for scale, shelter and perspective too. Without them, your carpet of spring-flowering plants wouldn’t look half as good! Here we’ve picked trees and shrubs for a modest-sized garden – mostly early flowerers that will give you a head start on blooms.


1 Prunus ‘Chocolate Ice’ (Apr-May)

2 Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ (Mar-Apr)

3 Malus – ‘Harry Baker’ (May)

4 Prunus mume ‘Ben-Chidori’ (Feb-March)

5 Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ (Oct-April)

6 Chaeonomeles superba ‘Crimson & Gold’ (Mar)

7 Cercis chinensis (Mar-April)

8 Stachyurus praecox (Feb-April)

9 Forsythia intermedia (Mar-April)

10 Magnolia stellata (Mar-April)

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Create a spring sensation!

Treat yourself to the best of spring colour, texture, taste and fragrance. This month we focus on the key plants and dramatic combinations that will help create a some ‘wow’ in your March garden.

After winter’s palette of grey and brown, gardeners are craving the first signs of life, colour – anything that gives us a hint that spring is on its way. Despite the fact our spring weather can be fickle, the lengthening days and warming sun make March the month to shake off those winter blues. Everywhere you look leaves are unfurling, buds are bursting and new shoots are poking up above ground. 

To make the most of this spring bounty, fill your garden with early spring flowers that will tempt you outdoors, and position a seat in a spot where it’ll catch those first warm rays of sunshine. Perch with a cuppa and take in the birdsong, the sight of brave early-flying bees,
the smells of the garden waking up, and feel your gardening mojo spring back into life. 

Here we’ve looked at a myriad ways to create the perfect spring garden, using small trees and shrubs underplanted with masses of bulbs and early perennials. Naturalise daffodils and crocuses in grass and plant up containers with ready-grown bulbs and spring bedding from the garden centre. Pop a few stems of forsythia or ribes in a vase to watch the flowers slowly unfurl.


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Create a desert landscape

Make a mini desert1.jpg

Plant up this dramatic mini desert in a shallow bowl. Rose Ray and Caro Langton explain how to do it in their new book, House of Plants (£20, Frances Lincoln)

A shallow dish container is the perfect way to display favourite succulents indoors. Group the plants together to make an intriguing desert scene in miniature, positioned on your brightest windowsill.

More elaborate than simply placing potted plants together, a container garden allows you to add textural elements such as dried lichen, lengths of preserved driftwood and attractive stones. These add an extra dimension to the scene, providing a contrast for the complex geometric plant forms.

Since desert cacti and succulents are slow-growing and require similar care, they work very well arranged together in one container. Here we’ve tried to include plants of different shapes, colours and textures for maximum visual variety.

For example, try contrasting juicy aloes with spiky cacti, colourful echeverias with hairy haworthias or low-lying lithops with sculptural euphorbias. Most importantly, pick plants that have similar needs for light, water and humidity so the container is easy to care for as a whole.

When it comes to choosing a container, bear in mind these plants don’t like to be enclosed. They prefer a bright, open setting surrounded by warm, dry air, so pick a shallow dish with a wide neck. Look for a watertight container (if you’re using one made of wood, either apply a thin layer of polyurethane varnish or line the base with a sheet of plastic). A simple metal or plastic tray, dish or bowl will do: young cacti and succulents have very shallow root systems, so the container only needs to be around 10cm (4in) deep. Scour secondhand shops and flea markets for containers with an interesting design or back story.

After a few months, you may find thatsome plants are growing strongly while others stay seemingly unchanged. You can prune any overgrown areas with clean, sharp scissors, eventually replacing those that outgrow the container. If any plants start to suffer, simply remove and replace them.


This is an edited extract from House of Plants by Caro Langton and Rose Ray (£20, Frances Lincoln). To order for just £16 (inc p&p) call 01903 828503 quoting offer code HOP2016. Offer extends to UK mainland only. Overseas orders please add £2.50.


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Plant a romantic parterre

By Liz Potter

Gardeners have been clipping box hedges since Ancient Egyptian times (4,000BC), but it wasn’t until the Tudor era that Britain began its fascination with the knot garden. Inspired by embroidery, heraldry and the formal parterres of renaissance Italy, they were usually laid out using an interwoven pattern of fragrant low-growing herbs such as hyssop, marjoram, rue (Ruta graveolens), lavender, santolina, rosemary and thyme. These ‘knots’ were designed to resemble embroidery patterns, with the infill often left as plain earth or fine gravel.

The large scale parterre de broderie was a natural progression – developed in 16th century France for the royal court of King Louis XVI at Villandry and Versailles. Although such intricate formal gardens were swept away by the English landscape movement, they were rediscovered in the 19th century by the Victorians who recognised that box made an excellent foil for their colourful bedding schemes.

Today the knot garden remains an enduring symbol of the formal tradition and examples are found in gardens large and small – usually close to the house where they can be viewed from above. The infill planting has become less regimented; by using a froth of colourful perennials
you can quickly suffuse your knot with a more relaxed, romantic or homely feel. 

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Diarmuid's Golden Rules

This is an edited extract from Diarmuid Gavin's latest book The Extra Room (£19.99 Gill Books) available from Amazon and all good book shops

Every garden is a journey. It’s a journey for the eyes when you’re stood at the kitchen sink – you’re led through this picture in front of you, your eyes moving from point to point. The idea is that this picture should be intriguing enough to draw you or your visitors into it. When you have your outline plan, arm yourself with your list of requirements and your list of desires – what you need to make the garden work, and what you’d love to have.

Bear in mind my 5 golden rules before you begin to draw.

1. When choosing materials, less is more. Repeat the same material for terraces, patios and pathways throughout the plot. This will give the sense of a unified scheme.

2. In these dampish islands your garden needs to be accessible all year round, so allow for access paths. However, don’t allow the strong lines of these pathways to determine your overall design.

3. Make one main statement for your garden about your surface. The main lines you commit to paper may translate into a lawn, terrace, gravel or deck. Don’t have lots of bits of everything.

4. Use line and shape to lead the eye and the visitor from your house around the plot – unless you’re creating a small formal courtyard-type garden.

5. In general most features in a garden will be secondary to the main lines and may not need to be crammed on to a basic plan. So, understand your overall layout before making additions. Water features, small terraces, buildings can all be incorporated within the planted beds, leaving your primary lines to create the biggest impact. 

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Create a winter wonderland




Colour your garden with glossy evergreens, glowing evergolds and stylish evergreys.

By Melissa Mabbitt  


Midwinter brings a breathing space, a chance to stand back and appreciate the ‘bare bones’ of your garden. Blowsy blooms are a distant memory and stately evergreens come to the fore. Without the froth of summer growth, the strong shapes and cool colours of winter plants can be appreciated in full.

Deciduous plants and bare stems are a hallmark of the season, but look closer and you’ll see there’s still plenty of foliage to enjoy. Evergreen shrubs and trees make the biggest statement at this time of year, but the addition of smaller winter-green perennials can create a tapestry of colour that weaves your garden together into a beautiful whole.

Winter’s wealth of green, gold and grey plants can quickly enliven borders. The coldest months also reveal bare ground. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because space between plants can help to define their form and accentuate their architecture. Of course, too much blank space simply begs to be occupied with something new – and it’s the ideal opportunity to introduce plants that can provide a greater winter presence.

You can even plant your new selections now – all you need is a dry winter day when the ground isn’t frozen. In weeks when the weather is milder the new plants will put on a little root growth and settle in, getting ready for their main growing period in spring or summer.

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Top 10 plants for seasonal scent

SOME OF OUR MOST FRAGRANT plants flower in winter, with scents that pack a surprising punch. Louise Curley nominates her favourites

1. Chimonanthus praecox

A deciduous shrub with spicy scented blooms that dangle delicately from bare stems. The flowers are unique with an outer set of petals, waxy in texture and almost translucent, and inner petals like a petticoat, which are lemony-yellow with maroon streaks. Needs full sun and a sheltered location. Train against a south-facing wall where the added warmth will ripen the wood, encouraging more flowers. Can take several years to flower, but it’s well worth the wait. H and S2.5-4m (8-13ft)

2. Sarcococca

A mass of tiny white flowers heavily perfumed with a vanilla-like fragrance emerge in early winter, hence the plant’s common names of Christmas box or sweet box. Happy in shade and dry soils, this is the perfect plant for tricky spots under trees or next to hedges. The glossy evergreen leaves are welcome throughout the year. Sarcococca confusa forms a large shrub up to 2m (6óft) tall, or choose more restrained S. humilis, which forms bushy hummocks. Plant in moderately fertile soil. H and S1m (39in)

3. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Charles Lamont’

Dense clusters of blush-pink flowers appear on bare stems from early winter through to spring. The flowers are sweetly scented (like marzipan) and perfume the air around them. It’s an upright deciduous shrub, which is happy in full sun or part shade. Needs moist but well-drained soil. Plant in a sheltered spot so that the blooms aren’t turned brown by frost. This cultivar has lighter pink flowers than the better known ‘Dawn’. H3m (10ft) S2m (6 1/2ft)

4. Daphne bholua

For fabulous winter fragrance, daphne is a must. Plant near a path or entrance and you’ll be greeted with a spicy, citrus scent from its whitish-pink flowers. Position in a sheltered, sunny spot to make the most of the perfume. ‘Peter Smithers’ is a reliably evergreen cultivar with dark green leathery leaves. It has an erect habit and forms a medium-sized shrub. H1.5-2.5m (5ft-8ft) S1-1.5m (39in-5ft)

5. Hamamelis (witch hazel)

Witch hazels make attractive shrubs. Give them some space so you can appreciate the goblet-like structure of the branches. Clusters of unusual flowers, which resemble citrus peel and have a spicy fragrance, appear on bare branches. Colours range from pale yellow through to fiery orange and vibrant red. An added bonus is attractive autumn leaf colour. Plant in full sun or part shade in neutral to acid soil. H and S4m (13ft)

6. Edgeworthia chrysantha

This is an unusual, rarely grown plant with flowers that smell of honey and spices. Its yellow, fragrant, tubular flowers are held in spherical clusters on the tips of bare stems. The flower buds are covered in lots of tiny white hairs that give a soft, downy appearance. Hardy to about -5C (23F), so not for every garden. It shouldn’t be planted in frost pockets, and, to give it the best chance of flowering, plant it by a south-facing wall. H and S1.5m (5ft)

7. Mahonia

With their spiky, glossy evergreen leaves and bushy habit, mahonias provide great form and structure in a winter garden. They also produce masses of small, bell-shaped yellow flowers that smell similar to lily of the valley. Blooms are followed by blue-black berries. Plant in full or part shade in moist, free-draining soil. Large cultivars grow up to 4m (13ft); for something more compact look for Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ (pictured). H1-4m (39in-13ft) S1.5-2m (5-6óft)

8. Lonicera fragrantissima

This winter-flowering honeysuckle produces creamy-white small flowers along the length of almost leafless branches. The flowers might be small, but pick just a few stems and you can fill a room with their sweet honeysuckle scent. It makes a sprawling deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub and is ideal for the back of a border. It flowers best when planted in a sunny, sheltered position. Likes moist, well-drained, fertile soil. H2m (6óft) S3m (10ft)

9. Skimmia confusa ‘Kew Green’

Grow this for its fragrant white flowers in April and May that smell like lily of the valley. In winter its buds are acid green and the foliage is fragrant when crushed. This male cultivar doesn’t produce berries, but it’s a useful pollinator for other skimmias. Plant in sun or part shade in fertile, well-drained soil. The leaves will turn yellow if grown on chalky or dry soils, so mulch in spring. H50cm-1m (20-39in) S1-1.5m (39in-5ft)

10. Coronilla valentina glauca ‘Citrina’

A small evergreen shrub with attractive blue-grey leaves that contrast well with the zesty lemonyellow, fragrant flowers produced in later winter. The pea-like flowers have a scent similar to narcissus. Needs full sun and shelter. Try growing as a wall shrub against a south or west-facing wall. H and S50cm-1m (20-39in)

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Top 10 Christmas Gifts for Gardeners

Looking for stocking fillers for your green-fingered friends and family? Here's our Editor's picks

Top 10 gifts for gardeners

1. Darlac Garden ladies bypass secateurs £9.75 The Serenity Shop 0114 247 8326; www.theserenityshop.co.uk

2. Bird feeder frame £7.99 Jeremy's Home Store 01892 525976; www.jeremyshomestore.co.uk

3. Terracotta rhubarb forcer, from £39.95 Worm that turned 0345 605 2505; www.worm.co.uk

4. Chocolate Indra journal £12 Central Crafts 01438 514444; www.centralcrafts.com

5. Colour block concrete plant pot £8 Bells and Whistles at Not on the High Street 0203 318 5115; www.notonthehighstreet.com

6. Rustic Rusty Fire Pit Brazier £59.95 The Farthing 0844 567 2400; www.thefarthing.co.uk

7. Pink pruning gauntlets £34.95 Worm that turned 0345 605 2505; www.worm.co.uk

8. Seed Storage Box £24 Hen and Hammock 01844 217060; www.henandhammock.co.uk

9. Metal Trout on a stake £9.99 Crocus 01344 578111; www.crocus.co.uk

10. Squirrel-proof cloche from £15.99 Crocus 01344 578111; www.crocus.co.uk