Q. How can I create privacy in my small suburban garden?

Trees can create a leafy look that’s perfect if you’re overlooked, says Dawn Isaac 

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Trees are the answer to hiding your garden from interested neighbours; you can plant a few smaller, multi-stem specimens in all but the tiniest garden, creating a mini woodland effect. The key ingredient is patience. As the Chinese proverb says: ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.’ But don't be downhearted. You may already have some established trees that you can add to and plant around. And even if you have an empty plot like this one here, it's encouraging to remember that the younger trees are planted, the better they establish and the faster they’ll grow.
There’s more good news too: woodland gardens tend to be light on the hard landscaping, which means you can avoid the most expensive part of any garden build. Once established, they’re also relatively easy to maintain, provided you mulch well to retain moisture and keep the soil well fed.
Of course the trick is to get the planting right. Start by building up layers, with the top tree canopy underplanted with smaller trees and shrubs, and a low woodland floor layer growing beneath everything else. To break up a green fog of leaves, scatter in some changes of texture and inject some colour. This is relatively easy in late winter and spring as there are legions of bulbs pre-programmed to do their thing before the tree canopy steals the light. For summer and autumn, use the shade-loving perennials listed overleaf. 

BEFORE.jpg

THE PROBLEMS
1 Bare walls make the garden seem boxy and hemmed in
2 Lack of planting means there’s no seasonal interest or colour
3 Absence of trees and tall plants means the garden is overlooked
4 Without plants the entire garden can be seen all at once
5 Large neighbouring house wall is a bit of an eyesore

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THE SOLUTION
By introducing trees and shrubs the garden immediately enjoys more privacy, shade and shelter. These leafy plants create habitats for wildlife and can bring seasonal flowers and berries for colour and fragrance. By planting in layers there’s interest at different levels with plenty to look at and explore.

Frame the entrance Made from peeled oak sections, this rustic arch marks the entrance to the woodland path 

Exploit reflected light The pale colour of this gravel reflects light and makes the path easier to see and navigate. It’s also easier to walk on than bark chippings

Mulch beds Tree roots are greedy for food and water, so mulching beds with organic matter in spring or autumn helps all plants to thrive

Add multi-stemmed trees When a tree produces multiple trunks its energies are diverted, leading to a smaller tree. This makes them ideal for a small garden

Create layers of planting Smaller trees and woodland shrubs create a lower layer beneath the upper canopy, and shade-tolerant species will cover the woodland floor below

Choose a wooden seat A simple seat made from logs and wooden planks fits with the theme perfectly, offering a vantage point to sit and enjoy the garden

Stack up some stumps A pile of cut tree trunks creates both an attractive garden feature and a perfect wildlife habitat in the form of a simple stumpery

Soften the hard edges The hardness of the brick wall has been visually softened by growing an ivy to cover it. This can also be used to clothe the fencing, making the boundaires disappear

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Q. How can I enjoy Japanese tranquility in my garden?

Dawn Isaac brings Oriental flavour to a new suburban plot.

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Traditional Japanese gardens are one of the hardest to create. Every part of them is carefully thought out and planned to reflect a philosophical or aesthetic quality. Of course you could study the art of Japanese garden design and try doggedly to learn all the rules and nuances of the various styles, but this might take years. Instead, throw your hands up and declare you are simply looking for some Japanese inspiration! This way you can take elements that work for you and adapt others to suit your own taste.
For most of us it’s about creating a garden that’s serene and soothing; a space that encourages you to sit and contemplate. A Japanese garden is restrained in its colour palette, and mostly populated with evergreens such as conifers, as well as flowering shrubs, forest perennials, sedges and mosses. If you carefully place these alongside rocks and water, you can create the mini landscapes and picturesque tableaus so reminiscent of Japan. Add to this a teahouse-style garden building, Japanese bridge and lanterns, and the result can look very authentic.

Before Design Solutions.jpg

THE PROBLEM
1. Bare fences and house walls create a hemmed-in feel
2. Lack of planting means there's no interest
3. You can see the garden all at once so there are no surprises


THE SOLUTION

Cloud Pruning
Train trees and shrubs to create clouds of soft foliage floating in the garden with this ancient Japanese technique.

Micro Landscapes
Large, well-worn rocks, mosses and sedges create the micro landscapes and picturesque tableaus reminiscent of Japan.

Teahouse
A garden building which takes its inspiration from the traditional Japanese teahouse adds an authentic feel and forms a focal point for the garden.

Dry Lake
This feature, complete with small islands, is created from gravel that is raked to imitate the flowing movement of water.

Single-rail Bridge
The narrowest point of the dry lake is crossed by a Japanese single-rail bridge, traditionally painted red, but just as commonly left a natural wood colour.

Bamboo Screening
Bamboo or reed screening help mask modern fences and adds an 'instant' Japanese flavour to the boundaries.

Water Feature
A bamboo deer scarer gives a regular hollow knocking sound that complements the serenity of the garden.

Cherry Trees
Flowering cherry trees create a stunning cherry blossom display in springtime, whilst adding a serene and soothing feel to the space.

Stone Lanterns
There are many styles of Japanese lantern, each designed for a different purpose and effect in the garden.
 

Q. How can I give my garden a tropical feel?

Bold planting can transport your plot to the tropics, says Dawn Isaac

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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.

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THE PROBLEM
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

 

THE SOLUTION


Upper canopy
Birch trees help mask neighbouring properties whilst also providing a light shade upper canopy to create a forest feel to the garden

Tropical hideaway
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

Log sections
Reconstituted stone stepping stones replicating cut logs creates a hardwearing path feature set amongst gravel

Meandering paths
Curving paths create a sense of discovery as new views open up around each corner

Bamboo bridge
Large leaved water lilies cover a circular pond which is crossed by a wooden bridge with bamboo balustrades.

Suspended seat
Rattan effect furniture creates a tropical feel whilst being hard wearing and a hanging chairscreates an additional relaxed holiday feel to the space.  

Water feature
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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Q. How can I give my new garden some seaside character?

Newbuild gardens present a wonderful blank canvas... but sometimes it helps to introduce a theme to help you get started, says Dawn Isaac

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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.

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THE PROBLEMS
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

 

THE SOLUTION
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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Q. How can I create more privacy in the garden?

Slatted screens, hedges and transparent grasses will avert the gaze of neighbours and passersby, without spoiling your view, says Dawn Isaac

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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.

Problems

1. Featureless concrete paving bank

2. No gate at front

3. Garden wide open to footpath users

4. Bins and washing on view

 The solution

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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Q. Does a wildlife-friendly garden have to be scruffy?

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

  1. Skinny borders offer little wildlife appeal
  2. Straggly shrubs are overgrown so don’t flower or fruit well
  3. Shaded lawn looks a bit rectangular and boring
  4. Huge trampoline has seen better, bouncier days
  5. Flat roof is an eyesore from upstairs windows

 

 

THE SKETCH by Dawn Issac

THE SKETCH by Dawn Issac

THE SOLUTION

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

Sedum matrona
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

Sorbus aucuparia
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

Crocus tommasinianus
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

 

Q. Can you help me create an attractive dog-friendly garden?

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.

BEFORE PIC

BEFORE PIC

< 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.

THE SKETCH by Dawn Isaac

THE SKETCH by Dawn Isaac

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.

THE SOLUTION - illustration by Gill Lockhart

THE SOLUTION - illustration by Gill Lockhart

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