Thursday, 16 June 2016

Blend or block ? How do you plant ?

It has always been a curiosity of mine as to why most garden designers or landscape architects,  when sorting out the planting schemes of their projects, nearly always plant in  large or even huge blocks of the same closely planted item ? Whilst it might be claimed to have benefits when it comes to maintenance issues,  as in, the plants grow into a tight knit block and so prevent weed growth, this argument is only valid if the plant tends to spread into each other fairly quickly. If it is narrow near the ground and gradually splays out as the height increases then the soil will always be ready for weeds.

  I recall walking, some years ago, from Schiphol Airport terminal to the car park and  admiring a huge block of ferns in one of the spaces about the buildings. The verdant green of the foliage was delightful in an otherwise rather bleak space. What was disappointing was the density of the planting - whilst the leafshape was obvious, the plant form was lost: the lovely curve of the fronds invisible in the squash of a mass of leaves. I was left wondering -how would I have designed that to show the ferns off to their best? I decided I would have spaced them much further apart so that in their maturity one could see the individual plants but underplanted with a carpet of spreading flowering perennial  like Geranium Rowallene, a marvellous long flowering variety that would have, with its lavender toned flowers, enhanced the verdancy of the fern's foliage.

the carpet of blue Geraniums could look terrific partnered with some big glaucous blue leaves of Hosta siebildiana elegans- see previous pic. 

As I see it there is a lot to be said for dispensing with this style of  block planting and adopting a 'blended' style.   A blending method could  be a good way of displaying Hosta's better than the current big group style. Currently we see them planted in large spreads, the gloriously coloured leaves being the principal element of note. The shape or form of the plant is invariably lost in amongst the jumble of bold leaves. Might it not look considerably more striking to space the Hostas very wide apart, say at 1.5 m spacing and then underplant amongst them with something like Geranium perhaps 'Mavis Simpson'  or  Erigeron or perhaps Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or even, if  we want to be really extravagant, the creeping Clematis ' Bijou'.   Last year while visiting Cranborne Manor I was amused and fascinated to see  how good some creeping Campanula [C. portenschlagiana] looked beside a Hosta. The intense blue flowers enhanced the glaucous sheen on the Hosta leaves and led me to wonder how lovely they would look planted with the Campanula as a carpet of blue with Hosta's dotted amongst it. Could look absolutely stunning !
This Hosta would look even more stunning with lots more Campanula all around it.

Roses are another plant that begs for a partner rather than the traditional way of planting- loads all together in big beds often devoid of anything else.  It caught my attention how successfully this had been achieved, also at Cranborne House, with a vast carpet of Dianthus amongst which were planted shrub roses. Ironically the Dianthus show dominated at the expense of the roses. As an alternative one could possibly consider underplanting roses with something like Agapanthus in huge sweeps, the benefit being the Agapanthus flowering just as the shrub roses decline. What a picture that would be.!
A large group of Agapanthus looking delightful, a good underplanting for groups of Roses, and great follow-on show after the rose blossoms are declining. 

More thoughts and ideas on blending to follow soon !

Thursday, 17 March 2016

An arch for an American !

One of the most delightful garden features you can enjoy in a summer garden is to walk under an arch of rose flowers. The sense of being almost completely surrounded by rose blossom accompanied so often by a delicious waft of perfume is a sublime sensation.

 To walk down a path with a succession of arches swathed in flowers is certainly one of those 'wow' moments for the summer.
Wow because the view of arches one after the other is almost like a tunnel of bloom .
Wow because roses are so quintessentially romantic one imagines  being feted by all this floral love. Wow because its just a big bit extravagent !

the delightful R Adelaide d'Orleans on wooden arches at Mottifont. 
Rambling rose American Pillar planted on successional arches giving the illusion of a tunnel .
One can use hedges with arches to act as a host support for roses to clamber across. In the illustration Rose American Pillar was grown over Copper Beech, which ordinarily is quite a dark body of foliage. With the intense colour of the rose and its white eye the combination is stunning. The intensity of colour is balanced by the sombre tone of the hedge.

Another delightful way to enjoy arches of roses is to surround a particular space with arches and grow roses and perhaps clematis on the arches. This next illustration shows it being done in the walled garden at the world famous rose garden in Hampshire- Mottisfont.
 These lovely creations can easily be incorporated into most gardens. Perhaps as an entrance feature into a garden or from one space to another an arch with generous width makes a charming statement. Perhaps one's paved living space or where one might dine outside could be surrounded by arches, the setting becoming that much more romantic. If you have a long garden then a walk could be embellished with a series of arches. The ideas are endless !

Now is the time to plan and plant these garden gems. A word of advice- always makes sure the arches are wider than you think necessary -the arches will become narrower as the plants mature and spreads out a little. Be ready for it !!

Give me a call or email if you'd like help !   07831 121609 /

Thursday, 25 February 2016

GARDENS in the winter can and should be as colourful as in the other seasons. They need to be as everything is so bleak, cold and overcast. One of my favourite plants when designing or up grading gardens  is the Hellebore [sometimes called Christmas or Lenten Rose]. Two varieties are especially good. At the top of the list is H. Warburtons Rosemary.

 It is a really good do-er because the flowers last for nearly 3 months. They also tend to make good fat clumps of flowers quite quickly so you get a lavish show within a couple of years. The other bonus is that the flowers don't droop like most Hellebores, the flower faces slightly upwards so becoming very lovely and more noticeable. This is all happening from mid January through to end of March.

My other favourite is the white flowering Helleborus hybridus.  I always think they look best in big groups so the effect is more striking.  Sometimes I mix or interplant with Brunnera to give a longer flower show . Before the Hellebore flowers finish and before the new foliage is mature the haze of tiny blue flowers of Brunnera's put on a delightful show.  If you have raised beds or  window boxes these are star-performers as the slightly drooping flowers are more visible and if mixed with dwarf daffs like N Tete a Tete create a gorgeous effect.

 When considering where to plant them it is worth using them as underplanting for shrubs that flower later in the year. That means you can enjoy a  show in that space for a longer period  through the year. In the picture above I planted them under a  group of long-flowering shrub rose- R mutabilis. In the picture below they are under Buddleja's.

A useful tip to make the flowers more striking is to cut off the old foliage close to the centre of the clump. It shows the flowers better.

As is seen in the first photo one can use these plants to great effect as an edging plant, especially in borders seen from the house. I alternated white H niger's with H Rosemary so in the winter the whole border becomes most attractive. [Not that you can see them now but in front is a line of the new Penstemon Riding Hood, red and blue in metre long runs. They provide a long flower peformance in the summer.]

If you would like help giving your garden some winter zazz  you can contact me by email at or message me on Facebook.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Roses..climbing up the wall !

 For those who find themselves owning a property with roses growing up the wall one might be foxed as how to get the best from them and keep them from seeking the upper reaches of the walls, if not clambering onto the roof ! As if you can smell or admire the flowers up there!  Do you really want to look at a mess of woody stems at eye level with all the blooms high up?   I think not.

You still have time to get cracking with your sharp secateurs and get pruning. The best tip- cut out , low down, the very oldest stems, usually the thickest and looking the woodiest. Perhaps it might just be one or two. That's fine as you'll be taking out quite a bit of the overall branch network. That will do for the time being. It is enough for the moment.

 You'll notice strong new shoots emerge from below your prune points during the year. During the summer they will race skywards or out into your space. Keep them secured to or perhaps even spread  across the wall. This is your frame work for a serious mass of flowers next year, especially in the case of 'Ramblers' or very likely this year if they are 'Climbers'.

If the idea of tackling your existing roses seems too much, get in touch either via email  or message me on Facebook.  I can come and do it if you'd like. Maybe your walls aren't blessed with any such summer loveliness and you'd like some. Get in touch: I can advise on what will do wonders for your verticals !   The delights of a wall full of flowers is something else. And the scent, well, it is quite sublime !

Here are a few pics of climbing roses at a NT garden in Hampshire- Mottisfont, a few miles north of Romsey. Go visit about June July time !

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The garden in late winter-awash with flowers !

  WHEN I'm designing gardens one of my principal concerns is to ensure the garden looks joyful in thr winter time. It's a dreary time of year, the light is low and the skies so often grey so one doesnt really want to venture into the garden very much.  Fragrance, bright colours and an abundance of flowers seem to do the trick.

IN a garden in the Cotswolds I removed a load of scrappy undergrowth from some trees and carpet planted them with Cyclamen, one variety that flowers for about 10 weeks after Christmas and another that starts flowering at the start of the Autumn term.  My client is delighted twice a year! The bonus of the winter flowering variety is that they are a bit promiscuous; they are growing a family already, with lots of self sown babies !  Another bonus is their enjoyment of bone dry soil conditions. Why is this a bonus ?  Because you are likely to have areas in your garden that are dry, gravel areas or the edges of paths? You can enjoy this wonderful plant too !!

In another garden I edged a raised bed with these same Cyclamen so they could easily be viewed and  enjoyed from the house. Other places where they look good are as edging of garden paths especially if its seen from the house. It is quite fun to mix plant them with the black grass Ophiopogon and ground hugging  gold leaved Nummalaria.
The factor to always keep in mind is to be as lavish as your purse allows; the pleasure you'll experience year after year is and will be enormous.

 If you want  help giving your garden a winter make-over just email me at or
msge me on Facebook.

Monday, 7 April 2014

a flowering tree for the spring

When planning a garden or thinking on ideas to improve a mature or empty garden, the spring is a gorgeous time for an explosion of new year's blossom. One of my favourite trees that has the most stunning , year after year show of incomparable magnificence is the Magnolia.

If your garden is small one can enjoy the blossoms , mostly a range of rich purples,  of  the group named the 'Little Girl' series, with names like ‘Ann’, ‘Betty’, ‘Jane’, ‘Judy’, ‘Pinkie’, ‘Randy’, ‘Ricki’ and ‘Susan. Another lovely variety for small gardens sporting quite handkerchief like flowers is M. stellata and its pink version M. stellata rosea

If your garden is more generously sized then see if you can get varieties called Magnolia Big Dude, M. Spectrum , M. Caerhays Surprise and M. Treve Holman. They all have stunning shows of flowers.

One cannot talk about Magnolia's without a mention of the 'soulangeana' hybrids , named after a French chap Etienne Soulange-Bodin,a soldier in Napolean's army.  A public garden in Hampshire has an avenue of them ,which when in flower is quite stunning...a must see if you are in the area of Ampfield near Romsey. especially in the months March to May.

If you aspire to one or a few of these glorious trees for your garden take a bit of time to see them flowering in their full glory at places like Hilliers Arboretum, Batsford Arboretum, Evenley Woods near Brackley and of course Caerhays  Castle in Cornwall.

You might prefer  some wisdom  as to where the trees would best be placed , what to plant under or near them for year round flowers and how to ensure their best performance, then give me a call- 07831  121609. or email

Whatever you decide be assured they are lovely lovely trees !! Oh yus !

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

the border is starting to perform !

I designed parts of  a friends new garden last year.this weekend.he enthusiastically told me how good it was starting to look and  attached a picture today!/photo.php?fbid=4155712209610&set=a.2034669504868.2122731.1188116732&type=1&theater    Although it has been slightly altered from the original layout the splash of colour that'll last almost to Christmas is starting to get going. By the Autumn it will be a much bigger show..

Thanks Mark..glad the garden is looking good.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Is the Chelsea Flower Show becoming a forum to raise awareness of the nastier political or economic scandels

It seems as though a lot of people are applauding the DMZ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show this year. Compared to the other gardens it was'nt one, rather more a recreation of a snatch of a militaristic government space, brutal, ugly, disturbing, distressing. It made me think of a deserted prison. Prisons are often sad places.[.I know, I have visited some and monitor a couple]. You couldn't help but walk on, quickly in my case , possibly disturbed  because it is a reminder of how lucky we are in a relatively decent democracy compared to the poor souls surviving in the brutal society, in North Korea in this case. It was ugly too: it had to be.

This follows Jane Owen's excellent stand two years ago highlighting the devastation being wreaked in the rainforest of Cameroons and its effects on the local communities. Her completion of the stand in itself was a miracle and  heroic in the face of the opposition she encountered sourcing funding for such an economic hot potato,as it turned out.

The fundamental question is though,  was the Chelsea Flower Show intended to become a Show of conscience with its possible grundge appearance and the conscience taking precedence over the froth and fun of the flowers and gardens. Anne Wareham of the noteworthy organisation Thinkingardens made the remark recently that the flower show was shallow compared to the point made by the DMZ garden. I wonder if this is reasonable, in view of what the show is all about ..Flowers !

Take a look at the pictures on the link to see wht the DMZ garden was about

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

A pleasant piece of Tudor England at Parham House

The gently rolling hills that precede one's arrival at Parham House almost invite the idea that King Henry VIII might have galloped across this land chasing after deer.Interetingly enough it does have a deer park. Furthermore King Heny VIII removed it from the possession of the Monastery of Westminster and gave it to Robert Palmer in 1540. The House seems to stand in  glorious isolation in the landscape,

A walk up the western path leads to the significantly sized walled garden. The plethora of lavishly planted perennial borders , not to mention the Lavender cross, Wendy house, and ornately designed vegetable beds are delightful..there's almost an air of the Edwardian era. 

West of the walled garden  is a maze ,apparently based ''on the beautiful 16th century embroidery on the Great Bed in the house.'' Built in 1991 it was part of the celebrations for the year of the maze. Beyond the maze one just catches a glimpse of a water lily rich lake,although sadly it seems slightly dislocated from the body of the house and gardens.

There is a fantastic collection of charming gardens in both Sussex and its eastern neighbour Kent. If a privately guided tour around these garden gems might appeal please drop me a line

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Prairie packs a punch !

The recent trend of Prairie gardens is all a bit too strongly tied in to the heavy duty use of grasses, a planting style that passes me by. Nevertheless I was curious to see what a Prairie garden in Sussex was all about as the owners Pauline & Paul McBride had twice taken the trouble to invite me to visit it. Furthermore it had been gathering rave reviews. I was curious !

On first impressions it looks like a field on a flat land surrounded by Oaks of good age, the body of which is a great swirl of blocks of mature trees to speak of, no shrubs, conifers, bulbs...just perennials and grasses. Oh my gosh, was this my cup of tea ? Dominating the taller plantings was the ubiquitous Eupatorium, a plant that sports about the dreariest tone of purple you could wish to encounter, along with silvery purple plumes of Miscanthus in thick blocks.

Contrary to my foreboding what became a very satisfying first observation were the generous dimensions of the main drives, no chlostrauphobicly narrrow paths here, instead rather wide and expansive walks. Lovely..Space!  Carving a sharp line through the whole garden is a broad avenue, longitudinally split with a narrow bed of an ornamental waist-high Grass edged in what looked like Alliums. The only sadness here was that neither end had an interesting point of focus, agricultural buildings one end and an inconsequential pile of old compost the other. No doubt this might get addressed in due course. [see 2nd comment] Perhaps a high cone of ground surrounded by a moat for viewing the swirling design might be considered.

The most delightful, in fact thoroughly exciting aspects of the garden are the huge swathes of brightly coloured perennials. A huge block of Orange Coneflower [Rudbeckia fulgida Goldstrum] was blasting a sunny floodlight of gold in one's face, quite irresistible to stand and admire, both from afar and at close quarters. Lavender purple Perovskias with fulsome skirts of pink Saponaria also charmed the eye not to mention the exotic drifts of Echinacea twinned with pink Astilbes or Phlox, and  hot coppercoloured Heleniums as neighbours to  red Persicaria. One could go on ...and on !

Enjoy the pictures, enjoy the lavishness of flowers, enjoy the riot of colour ! This place is a flower fest !

There is a feast of lovely gardens in Sussex and Kent that would make an exciting tour for anyone wanting a privately guided trip around this part of the UK. Please contact me if it sounds tantalizing..a stunning journey awaits you .