Creating 12 months of interest is the holy grail of gardening. Louise Curley has some good advice
Texture, form and structure are essential elements when designing an outdoor space, but it’s colour that’s the key component. Colour catches the eye, raises the spirits and creates a particular mood. While it’s easy to create a space that’s a riot of colour for several months during the summer, a well-crafted garden is something more enduring, with different hues woven throughout the design to provide interest in some form every day of the year.
Flowers tend to be the first port of call when thinking about colour in a garden but foliage, stem colour, tree bark and berries can all contribute and are essential for those cooler, out-of-season months.
The key is to use every opportunity to layer seasonal colour throughout your planting schemes (see below).
In small spaces it might seem a tall order to have year-round colour, but it is possible. Narrowing down your colours to a handful that combine well will make it easier to plan a succession of interest and will also prevent the planting from looking a bit hotchpotch.
Some colours are easier than others to carry throughout the seasons. Pastel tones, for instance, can be found throughout the year with flowers in a variety of shapes and forms, whereas darker colours such as reds and oranges aren’t as common and can be hard to find at all in early to midsummer.
It’s important in a small garden to grow plants that provide colour over a long period or that have different points of interest for more than one season. A small crab apple tree, for example, has beautiful white blossom in spring followed by attractive autumn foliage and miniature fruits in autumn. An acer such as Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ will provide sparkling spring leaf colour with fabulous fiery red tones in autumn.
If you can, steal space from your lawn and create wider borders. A general rule of thumb is that borders should be as wide as the height of the boundary wall or fence. This creates a visually pleasing sense of proportion and, more importantly, plenty of space for plants and more colour. You could even dig up the lawn completely and make winding paths in between deep borders to maximise your planting space.
Focus your efforts on creating year-round colour on areas that are used or seen most frequently. Think of using these principles of creating year-round colour in a front garden too, to provide a colourful welcome throughout the year. Seasonal containers are particular useful when it comes to adding colour to a small space like a front garden.
5 WAYS TO LAYER COLOUR
1. Underplant deciduous trees and shrubs with spring-flowering bulbs.
2. Grow groundcover plants with colourful foliage and flowers to hide bare soil.
3. Use climbers to scramble over walls, fences and arches. Team a rambling rose or a clematis with a large flowering shrub and use it as a natural plant support, doubling the flower power as the climber snakes its way through the branches.
4. Plant summer-flowering bulbs such as alliums among herbaceous perennials such as geraniums. These will hover above the geraniums forming another layer of colour and the foliage of the geraniums will hide the unsightly fading foliage of the alliums.
5. Flowering shrubs such as abelia and weigela will help you to layer colour, alongside long-flowering perennials, a couple of grasses and bulbs.
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