Formal geometry can bring order to a front garden, says Louisa Gilhooly
SIMPLE AND classic, the formal garden never goes out of fashion. Its clean lines and smart geometry hark back to the 16th-century Italian Renaissance, and the grand parterres of famous French chateaux such as those at Villandry and Versailles. Yet despite these historic beginnings, the formal style is surprisingly well-suited to modern gardens, where the same basic principles of balance, symmetry, straight lines and geometric shapes tend to be more pared back. If you’re a fan of minimalism, this style is for you!
A dreary front garden is the perfect place to start. Touches of formality can be introduced on a very small scale – a simple pair of box spirals in ornate urns, either side of the front door, creates the formal look in an instant. What’s more, the orderly layout is easy to navigate, so visitors are directed straight to the front door.
Formal gardens often have an emphasis on imposing order over nature, using a combination of geometric shapes – rectangles, circles or squares – and straight lines. Beds, borders, layouts and views can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, but must always feel balanced. (Even awkward-shaped plots can have some formality applied, as shown here.)
The strength of this style lies in the underlying framework, usually in the form of hedging, walls and paths, softened by flowers and foliage. By using lines taken directly from the house (such as aligning a path with the front door) harmony is created between house and garden.
Elements such as sculpture, a small fountain, specimen plant or attractive pot are ideal as a focal point to draw the eye. Line the feature up with sight lines from the house, such as the view from the sitting room window. In a formal garden all the elements need to relate to each other, so your focal point can become the starting point of say, a small avenue or the centre of a circular planting scheme.
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Create a more productive garden space with this fruit-filled design, says Louisa Gilhooly
You don’t need acres of land to grow your own fruit. Many fruit trees can be trained up walls or grown as miniature forms, and soft fruit can be grown in pots on the patio. Even the smallest back garden can provide its owner with fruit all year round, space for relaxation and nectar-rich flowers for wildlife.
This design aims to create an attractive cottage-style garden using plants that are ornamental as well as edible. It centres on a working/sitting area, surrounded by fruiting and flowering plants that spill over onto the pathways. Functionality is key and here the different levels of the existing space offer the perfect opportunity for raised planters. The tiny lawn has been replaced with four small beds separated by brick paths and the shed moved to provide an extra vertical growing area in sun. Decorative obelisks will support climbing plants such as gourds or sweetpeas for cutting.
If allowed to grow naturally, most fruit trees will easily become too tall for most small gardens. To overcome the problem, choose trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, which have a more compact habit. These generally grow to around 2m (6ft), or smaller if grown in a pot. You need M27 rootstock for a tiny apple tree, Quince C for pear, Gisela 5 for cherry and Pixy for plum.
Small fruit trees and shrubs will happily grow in pots on a patio. Blueberries intensely dislike alkaline soil, but will grow happily in a tub of ericaceous compost; ‘Top Hat’ and ‘Nelson’ are both self-fertile. Tender plants such as small citrus trees can be taken inside in their pots to protect them from frosts. The lemon ‘Meyer’ is a compact, reliable form.
Growth is restricted by growing in pots, allowing you to grow monsters such as this ‘Brown Turkey’ fig. Underplant a standard potted fruit tree with low-growing herbs or annuals.
Create a seating area A sheltered seating area with a rustic table and mis-matched chairs provides an area to enjoy homegrown meals as well as an outdoor potting table
Plant cordons on the slant These plum trees are trained into a single stem and lean at 30-45 degrees. Plant them in sequence, 75cm-1m apart (29-39in), so the repetition is visually appealing and helps to add a more ‘designed’ feel to the garden. Restricting their growth also results in more fruit. Here I’d use plums ‘Czar’ and ‘Blue Tit’ and the gage 'Denniston's Superb’ against the rear fence.
Train a fan or two Here the fences and the side of the shed have been clothed with fruit trees that have been coaxed into specific shapes to save space and encourage fruiting. A fan shape is best for peaches, apricots and cherries. Espaliers (an elegant structure of horizontal tiers) are best for apples, pears and figs.
Plant stepovers A stepover is a tiny hedge (technically a single-tiered espalier trained into horizontal stems 30cm/12in high) grown along the border edge. They’re usually an apple or pear tree on dwarfing rootsock; buy one ready-trained or prune it into shape. Here I’ve used apples ‘Egremont Russet’, ‘Greensleeves’, Scrumptious’ and ‘Katy’, and pears ‘Concorde’, ‘Beth’, ‘Doyenne du Comice’ and ‘Invincible’ as low 'stepovers’ – a selection that ensures pollination.
Bring in pollinators Annual flower mixes allow you to change the look of your garden each year and will help encourage bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects into the garden. For a cottage garden feel, try cosmos, zinnias, foxgloves, poppies and borage.
Edge borders with strawberries Alpine strawberries are tolerant of partial shade, the fruits are not as large or sweet as the cultivated fruits, but they are very pretty. Use them at the front of the border, lining the edge of a path, or spilling over the edges of a large container.
Grow your own Pimms! This bed in full sun is lined with strawberries ‘Cambridge Favourite’ and ‘Honeoye’. Cucumber ‘Tokyo Slicer’ and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) grown nearby provide all you need for a classic summer drink
Add a sun-loving grape Grape vines need a warm, sunny, sheltered site such as this south facing fence. The strawberry grapevine ‘Fragola’ has attractive foliage as well as delicious fruits.
Find space for a small crab apple Most crab apples are perfect for small gardens. In late spring malus ‘Red Sentinel’ has pretty, scented, single white flowers, followed in autumn by clusters of cherry-like, glossy, deep red fruits that persist well into winter… or if you prefer, made into jelly.
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By Louisa Gilhooly
THERE’S NOTHING more uplifting in the depths of winter than heading outside for a mooch around the garden. Botanic Gardens and National Trust properties across the land have got wise to this idea and are busy developing their own tailor-made Winter Walks – usually a meandering path through shrubs, trees and bulbs chosen for their winter interest. It’s a lovely, uplifting idea, but these grand landscapes don’t always translate well to our own, more modestly sized plots. Besides, it makes no sense to neglect the other seasons.
Here I’ve created a layout and planting scheme that provides real inducement to get out into the garden when the weather is a bit dreary, while offering interest throughout the rest of the year too.
A shot of colour on a cold, grey day livens up your outdoor space immensely. Here a cluster of showy scarlet Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ stems are partnered by the acid-green flowers of evergreen Helleborus foetidus to give a wallop of bold, contrasting colour.
These are complemented by the glossy, burnished-maroon leaves of bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’, an evergreen groundcover perennial that produces magenta-pink bell-shaped flowers in early spring.
Garden fragrance also provides a huge boost in the depths of winter. Catching an unexpected whiff of scent during the coldest part of the year is a wonderful surprise that can make a garden quite magical.
Sarcococca ruscifolia chinensis ‘Dragon Gate’ thrives in shade and never outgrows its space, so is perfect for smaller gardens. The tiny white flowers appear December–March and can fill a garden with the most delicious scent. Sarcococca can also be loosely clipped into shape to create repeating forms, making it a useful, and fragrant, alternative to box.
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Box hedging and topiary can smarten up even the smallest garden, says Dawn aac
Since their heyday in the 16th century, knot gardens have been a favourite feature found in traditional English country gardens. The key element is to create the impression that the low hedges are in fact knotted together – a horticultural trick of the eye. To amplify the effect, you can use high contrast colours such as purple berberis and silver santolina, or go for a more restrained palette as we have here with a standard and variegated box.
There are many other ways to give a standard knot garden a more personal stamp. For a looser and more relaxed effect choose shrubby herbs instead of box, as these tend to form a softer hedge line. The spaces in-between the hedges also offer opportunities. Here we have employed a rill and pool to add movement and interest, but equally, you could use different-coloured gravels and mulches to add interest.
Our knot design includes parterre beds. With their reliance on clipped hedges to make the formal patterns, these are a good accompaniment to the knot garden. However, in parterres, the spaces between hedges are typically filled with seasonal flowers such as spring bulbs, roses and lavender, which brings an extra layer of interest to the design.
TRANSFORM A BLANK CANVAS
When designing a new garden from scratch it can be hard to know where to start. At least with a knot garden you’re sticking to formal geometrical shapes – lines, circles, squares and triangles – to make your knot pattern. Measure and draw the garden to scale on a sheet of graph paper first, then sketch out your knot – try a simple Celtic design, interlocking circles or diamonds, or copy one of the many layouts online. Keep to a symmetrical pattern for simplicity.
Hide fences with espalier trees and climbers Clematis and scented roses add colour throughout the growing season and interest to boundaries, making the garden seem less boxy.
Create the ‘knotted’ look The design uses normal and variegated box plants to provide a subtle contrast in colour. The hedges are clipped to slope down 5cm (3in) at the intersections, which gived the impression the two hedges are woven around each other.
Use water for sound and movement A formal rill and central pond with a small fountain intersect the two sides of the knot garden. This adds another sensory element – reflections, sound and movement.
Place statues on the perimeter Two pale stone statues provide a formal, classical note. They act as symmetrical focal points, adding height at the far end of the garden.
Plant parterre beds To complement the central knot design, a parterre runs around the border of the garden with the box sections interplanted with groundcover plants and bulbs.
Lay gravel paths Pale gravel pathways lead around the garden. The gravel colour is echoed by the stone edging around the planting beds, rill and pool.
Trim up some topiary trees To echo the formality of the garden layout, clipped box topiary sits within the knot, while taller clipped bay trees add height in the parterre beds around the garden perimeter.
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MODERN GARDENS have to work hard these days – especially if you want to grow a mix of ornamental and edible plants all in the same small space. The answer is to create a potager garden, where flowers and attractive fruits and vegetables grow side by side.
In France, where the word originates, potager referred to an ornamental as well as practical space, and brought together not only vegetables and flowers but also herbs, medicinial plants and fruit trees and shrubs, often with some well-clipped topiary on the side.
With gardens short on space today, there’s much to be said for a design style that’s both productive and beautiful. The key to achieve this is establishing a strong pattern in the layout that will still look good even when crops have been harvested, offering structure throughout winter. Formality works well, and helps echo the traditional straight lines so often associated with vegetable growing and cutting gardens.
It’s helpful to include permanent design features that add height, as we have done here with the gourd and bean arches, along with the shaped yew hedge, which shields the compost bins from view.
And finally, never forget to stop and enjoy the view – and the harvest! The garden seat offers a view along the centre of the garden, while a good-sized dining terrace next to the house (not pictured) allows you to eat your produce within the space where it grew.
BEFORE: The regular, rectangular shape of this empty garden is perfect for introducing a formal layout that relies on a concentric pattern of L-shaped, cut-away island borders. No border is wider than 1.5m (5ft) and they’re all separated by even gravel paths of the same width, which means the crops are all easy to access from either side.
Create formal geomtery
The garden is laid out using a strong, geometric pattern that creates an attractive formal garden design all year round.
Divide space with stepover apple trees
Grown on dwarfing rooting stocks, these stepover apple trees are trained as a single horizontal stem and are perfect for growing fruit in an attractive, space-saving way.
Add a bench under a gourd arch
An attractive bench has been placed under a strong wire framework that will support eye-catching, ornamental gourds in autumn.
Create bean archways
Different bean varieties can be grown up a wire archway to create a leafy tunnel as well as providing an easy way to harvest the beans.
Hide compost bins with yew
This elegantly shaped yew hedge adds both year-round structure to the garden as well as usefully hiding a view of the compost bins from the house and dining terrace.
Grow cut flowers Potagers often include rows of cut flowers and here there’s plenty of space given over to growing blooms to cut for the house.
Use companion planting The beds contain a mix of herbs, vegetables and flowers allowing for plenty of companion planting opportunities, such as chives planted with carrots or pot marigolds alongside tomatoes and beans.
Lay sweepable brick paths Basketweave brick paths give a traditional feel and are also practical – any mess made during cultivation and harvesting is easy to sweep up.
Keep compost looking neat Two compost bins, each a cubic metre in capacity, sit side by side to allow for turning. The wooden slats at the front are removable to ensure the finished compost is easy to access.
Train fruit into a fan No space is wasted as even the fences and walls are used to support fan-trained fruit trees, which look attractive all year round, from spring blossom and autumn fruits to their winter skeletons.
THE WIDE OPEN plains of North America might not seem like an easy starting point for a domestic garden, but the work of Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf and others over recent decades has seen this landscape become an inspiration for even the smallest plot.
If you’re lucky enough to border fields, you can visually ‘merge’ with
the wider landscape by framing and borrowing views, but in suburbia you may have to be more inward-looking. However, provided you have a relatively open, sunny site, incorporating plenty of grasses and swathes of herbaceous perennial plants will immediately
give a prairie flavour to proceedings.
Hard landscaping, hedging or topiary will provide year-round shape and interest, and curving paths will echo the planting’s gentle, rolling mounds. A raised deck lets you enjoy the beauty of your prairie from an elevated position, such as from an outdoor rocking chair.
1 No hard standing area to sit and enjoy the garden
2 Large expanse of lawn and lack of planting
means there’s no seasonal colour
3 Neighbouring properties block surrounding views
4 Current shed offers insufficient storage space
Build decking In a sunny spot, a hardwood raised deck provides a useful space for outside dining and entertaining.
Create a veranda Adding swing seats or an outside rocking chair to a raised deck evokes the classic wooden veranda you’d find in the homestead architecture of America’s Great Plains.
Lay curved gravel paths Meandering paths that wind through the planting areas are easy to create with metal-edged self-binding gravel.
Add ranch-style fencing Small sections of classic post-and-rail fencing will not only make the deck safer, but will also evoke the type of boundaries found on prairies.
Plant grasses Ornamental grasses are essential for the feel of a prairie and add height and movement to the space. A good rule of thumb is one-third grasses to two-thirds perennials.
Create blocks and drifts It’s best to limit the number of perennial species so the impact of each is greater. Choose a dozen or fewer species, supplemented with early bulbs to give colour at the start of the year.
Plant for winter interest Adding small sections of fencing or hedging or incorporating some sculpture or topiary will mean the garden has shape and form even when perennials and grasses are cut down at the end of winter.
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THE TRADITIONAL MOROCCAN garden is usually a small open courtyard encircled by the house. However, you don’t need to follow this model to create an intimate garden with a Moroccan feel. Instead, embrace the essence of these gardens by focusing on beauty, shade, perfume and calm – an oasis in which you can truly relax.
In a North African climate, cool tiles are a must but if these stretch the budget you can use them as highlights and choose a more cost-effective main flooring such as stone chippings.
A central water feature lends authenticity and soothing sound effects, as do plenty of architectural foliage plants. Moroccan gardens often feature potted plants but for a lower-maintenance layout you could plant in beds instead. Make sure you add some perfumed species, such as highly fragrant roses.
Finally, don’t stint on colour. For an immediate Moroccan hit, add cushions, throws and even curtains in jewel-like tones. Team these with ornate lanterns peppered with tea lights and you will be transported to Marrakech in an instant.
Use outdoor tiles
Recreate the Moorish tiled look with exterior-grade tiles in geometric patterns. Choose relatively neutral tones to avoid an overpowering look.
Add a water feature
A central water feature is typical of Moroccan gardens. Add a fountain to create a gentle sound and mask background noise.
Create a green oasis
Add bamboo in restricted beds as well large terracotta pots with striking foliage plants such as bananas, Fatsia japonica and Dicksonia antarctica to create the feeling of a green oasis.
Enjoy more shade
Add a shade sail over seating areas to make sitting out a more pleasant experience.
Plant a fig
If you have a south-facing garden or house wall, plant a fig tree. Use a pot or restricted planting pit to keep the roots in check and encourage more fruiting.
Choose soft furnishings
Add plenty of cushions and throws in striped or jewel tones. Look for exterior-grade fabrics so these can be left outside year-round.
Add relaxed furniture
Use low sofas, day beds and coffee tables to create a relaxed atmosphere. Carved wooden versions add a suitably Moroccan feel.
Light up, with lanterns
Intricate metal fretwork lanterns hang from the pergola with tea lights inside to illuminate the garden at dusk.
The house doors are enhanced and brought into the design with colourful exterior curtains hung on etier side of the doors. These match the colours of the cushions and throws.
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Do your bit to help our most colourful pollinators by planting their favourite flowers and foodplants, says Dawn Isaac
BUTTERFLIES are the fabulous divas of the insect world, but like all divas they’re fussy about their needs. They can only fly when the weather’s warm enough, so you need to provide them with a sunny spot. Their wings can also be damaged in strong winds, so it needs to be sheltered too.If this only applies to a section of your garden, you can always develop a small butterfly border within the larger space, using dark-coloured ‘sunbathing’ rocks and manmade butterfly puddles as well as the most important element: plants.
Don’t forget that butterflies are only the final stage in a lifecycle that begins with eggs and caterpillars. This means that a complete butterfly garden needs to include not only nectar plants for the adults but also plant species that feed the early caterpillar stages too.
But don’t worry: although many of these plants are considered weeds (such as nettles and thistles) there are plenty of alternative, better-behaved sources of food that you can grow instead (see below).
Trees can create a leafy look that’s perfect if you’re overlooked, says Dawn Isaac
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.
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
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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Dawn Isaac brings Oriental flavour to a new suburban plot.
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.
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
Train trees and shrubs to create clouds of soft foliage floating in the garden with this ancient Japanese technique.
Large, well-worn rocks, mosses and sedges create the micro landscapes and picturesque tableaus reminiscent of Japan.
A garden building which takes its inspiration from the traditional Japanese teahouse adds an authentic feel and forms a focal point for the garden.
This feature, complete with small islands, is created from gravel that is raked to imitate the flowing movement of water.
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 or reed screening help mask modern fences and adds an 'instant' Japanese flavour to the boundaries.
A bamboo deer scarer gives a regular hollow knocking sound that complements the serenity of the garden.
Flowering cherry trees create a stunning cherry blossom display in springtime, whilst adding a serene and soothing feel to the space.
There are many styles of Japanese lantern, each designed for a different purpose and effect in the garden.
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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