Usually, when I write these articles, I’m sat at my laptop late in the evening, trying to produce 400 words whilst battling with umpteen work- and home-related interruptions. This month, things are different – I’m sat outside in brilliant Bank Holiday sunshine with a pad and a pen, surrounded by warmth, birdsong and plants, on the opening day of my new nursery.
I love plants – it’s one of the reasons I became a garden designer. My love of plants came from a love of flowers (I once considered a career in floristry), and a fascination with the biology of plants. It’s truly amazing to me that the tallest tree and tiniest alpine plant both start life as almost identical seeds.
So when the opportunity arose last year to take over an established nursery, I couldn’t resist.
If you were to ask my garden design clients to name one must-have requirement for their gardens, 95% would ask that it be low-maintenance. That means little place for bedding plants like Pansies, Petunias and Lobelia, or hanging baskets that need constant care. My clients’ planting schemes rely mostly on herbaceous perennials, bulbs, grasses and shrubs. And that is exactly what I’m growing – from cottage garden favourites such as Lupins and Delphiniums, through fashionable grasses like Stipa gigantia, to Aliums, Camassia and shrubs such as Wiegela, Lavender and Sambucus. I will be gradually increasing the range of plants, so there should always be something new to discover.
The nursery is in Blackfordby, where I live and work. I’m sure many of you will have known it over the years – in the 1980s it was the site of a tree nursery run by the Vernon family, who eventually moved it to Smisby where it has grown into the Bluebell Arboretum. Over the last few years the site was home to a nursery run by Frank Mulholland, until he passed away. And now I’ve taken it over to grow plants for my business (and indulge my passion for flowers).
As Frank did, I’m hoping to open up to the public most weekends, offering advice and a quiet spot for some contemplation on what’s growing. So if you’re in the Blackfordby area during the spring and summer, keep a look out for my open signs and come in to say hello. I’ll be very pleased to meet you. And you can follow the goings on, including news, opening times and the “What’s Looking Good” list, via Twitter at @blafferby
This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Village Breeze magazine
The eagle-eyed amongst you, especially those who read our Facebook Page, will have noticed I have taken over the nursery in Blackfordby. After 6 months hard work, I’m proud to announce that Blackfordby Nursery will be opening to the public on Bank Holiday Monday, from 10am until 4pm.
Local garden centres need not worry themselves too much – it’s not our intention to muscle in on their turf. I’m not selling ornaments, pets or Christmas decorations, and there’s no tea room. I’m just growing plants for my garden design business, and selling any surplus direct to local garden enthusiasts. I usually favour herbaceous perennials in my planting schemes, and we have a good selection of traditional British perennials, such as Lupins and Delphiniums, as well as some more unusual ones. We also have good stocks of Aliums, Daffodils, some beautiful Magnolias, and a stock of alpines.
There has been a nursery on and off in Blackfordby since the 1980s. The Bluebell Arboretum in Smisby started its life where my nursery is today, and for the past few years the nursery was run by Frank Mulholland until he sadly passed away. I hope to keep the tradition alive for the many customers in Blackfordby and beyond who have bought their plants there.
So where are we? Blackfordby village is situated 2 miles north west of Ashby de la Zouch, accessed by a turn off the A511. The nursery is tucked away behind the Bluebell pub and the Methodist Church on Main Street, Blackfordby. Access is via the pub car park, through the gate adjacent to the beer garden and, thanks to the landlady of the Bluebell, you can park in the car park. As it’s forecast to be such a nice day I’d suggest a cool beverage in the pub garden after a hard day’s plant shopping – an ideal way to spend a Bank Holiday! We hope to see you there.
Last year we designed this contemporary garden in Church Gresley, Derbyshire, and installed half of the planting. This week, after what seemed like an eternity waiting for spring to arrive, we completed the other half.
We’ve planted 150 tulips in cream, pink and a deep plum colour, to complement Heuchera ‘Blackberry Jam’, and 50 Alliums in a cerise/purple. The rest of the planting design is centred on the strong architectural shapes of Phormium, Acer and Miscanthus, which create dynamic lines against the white rendered walls, especially at night with the integral spotlighting.
April showers are on the way, they say. Well, I’ve written enough about our changeable weather over the last few years to know that it could be pouring, boiling hot or snowing in April! So this month instead I thought I would give you a little insight into why I choose some of the plants that I often use in clients’ gardens.
We’ll start with Amelanchier canadensis, also called the Juneberry, Serviceberry, Currant Tree and a whole host of other names. A member of the rose family native of North America, Amelanchier canadensis is a small tree or shrub with truly year-round interest. In April it will be covered in billowing white blossom, and tiny new leaves which are a beautiful pinky-bronze colour. Later these leaves turn green, then red before falling. The flowers are followed by purple-black edible berries (though I confess I’ve never tried one!) Some books and websites will tell you that the Amelanchier prefers acid soil, but I have found it will grow anywhere, so give it a try.
Next on my list of must-haves is the Hydrangea. I don’t tend to use the common mophead types, except perhaps the white flowered variety Mme. E Mouillere. I prefer the panicle-flowered types like ‘Kyushu’. These can get big, but if you prune them each spring, cutting off the last season’s growth close to a bud, you will get large, creamy-white flowers and a plant which won’t take over the garden.
Other April flowering plants that I love are Brunnera, for its forget-me-not flowers and cream splashed foliage; Camellia for perfect blooms; Ceanothus for a sea of intense (but short-lived) blue flowers. Then there’s Daphne for its sweet, jasmine-like scent; Dicentra spectabilis (also called Lady in the Bath – I’ll explain that one another day) for delicate foliage and flowers and Heuchera, of which there are so many colours it’s amazing.
Helleborus orientalis is another favourite, with its perfect down-turned speckled or ruffled flowers. They are commonly known as Christmas or Lenten roses, although there are few that do actually bloom at Christmas – most flower from January through to Easter. They provide invaluable company for snowdrops when little else is flowering. There are lots of new varieties too; most are pink, purple or white or a combination of these colours, but ‘Yellow Lady’ is, well – yellow – and there is a tough lime green version called Helleborus foetidus, the ‘stinking Hellebore’ – guess why?!
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Village Breeze magazine.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Village Breeze magazine.
Well, here we are again. Christmas is a distant memory and the gardening season is starting anew.
March is a great month – there is a lot to do in the garden, but the workload is not as manic as it will be in the months to come. It’s a month for tackling little jobs, like sowing seeds under glass or on an inside window sill, or tidying up the garden after the ravages of the winter.
If you’re really keen, you could mulch your vegetable patch and even start planting some first early potatoes. If you are thinking of adding new shrubs, trees or even a hedge to your garden, bare-root specimens can still be planted in March – and they are much more cost-effective than their pot grown alternatives.
It’s a busy time of year for me and the landscapers I work with. This winter I have been designing pretty much right through the ‘off-season’, and gardens have been built over the milder part of the winter ready to plant in the spring. Things are stepping up a gear again as we look ahead to the summer – but what kind of summer will we get this year?
Our climate really is changing – last year’s record summer wash-out was preceded by a very dry spring. Season to season, it’s becoming harder to guess what kind of conditions our garden plants will have to contend with. The good news is that most plants will survive, whatever weather comes our way, but we may have to choose differently when we select what to plant in our gardens.
Scientists predict our climate is going to be warmer and wetter. So if you have a damp, shady part of the garden, the likelihood is it will become damper still in the future. In these areas you could try establishing plants that are happy by the side of a stream or pond, such as Hostas, Ferns, Primula beesiana, Astilbe and Caltha palustris.
A warmer, wetter environment doesn’t help if you’re hanker after a Mediterranean-style dry garden. However, if you improve drainage by using raised beds and digging in lots of gravel and grit, couple with a southerly aspect and use pale coloured surfaces to reflect the sun, you could still enjoy the look of the south of France. It’s all about adapting to change and using a bit of vision.
In 2011 we were asked to bring a bit of style and interest to the garden of a ground floor apartment in Duffield, Derbyshire.
Our clients wished to have an interesting place to sit and to entertain, with some screening for privacy, as the garden was overlooked by other apartments.
The garden was quite narrow, so our solution was to split the space with planting beds on the diagonal, and to install a pergola to act as a support for climbing shrubs which would, in time, act as a screen and also provide summer shade. The stone planting beds doubled as bench seating and, coupled with a small table, chairs and a barbecue, the garden area was transformed into a space for entertaining and relaxing.
Planting was low maintenance, with evergreens and some perennials for summer colour.
We provided designs and planting plans for the client to build themselves.
Scroll down for before and after images of the scheme.
Anyone leafing through the pages in our gallery could be forgiven for thinking that all we do is design gardens for sloping sites. For example, we designed and built this one in Ashbourne, designed another in Northampton and in 2012 we designed this one, in Swadlincote, Derbyshire.
Swad, as it’s known locally, is very close to home, and is situated in a former coal-mining area. The terrain is bumpy, so if you’re setting up a garden design company around here, dealing with slopes comes with the territory.
The solution to dealing with an incline outside your back door is to cut terraces into the slope to create manageable levels. Here we were able to create a lawn area, separate herbaceous planting areas and two flat entertaining levels, one paved, one a deck.
The original plot was basically a grass covered slope with a rockery down one side (scroll down for a picture). The owners wanted a garden they could use more fully – with planting interest and a seating area away from the house. The finished design included a number of timber raised beds, an extended patio, a water sculpture, lawn and a raised deck at the top of the garden as a space for entertaining and relaxation.
Our design was accepted, and was installed in May 2012 by Alan Watson of Gardenorhome.com, who did a fantastic job. Our client commented on the completed garden:
“Absolutely lush! Between you and Alan you have given us the most beautiful garden. We really are pleased. Thank you.”
To see the transformation, this is the ‘before’ shot of the garden in March 2012:
If you have a garden slope that needs taming, give us a call on 01283 217941, or drop us an email.
Sometimes one garden design leads to another – in this instance our clients saw the terraced garden we’d designed in Ashbourne and wanted something very similar for their own sloping garden in Northampton.
The plot in Northampton was unusual in that as well as a 1:10 slope upwards from the house, the rear garden was bisected lengthways by a substantial brick wall. In seeking to make more of the space our clients spotted the Ashbourne design on our website and got in touch.
It wasn’t quite as simple a job as dusting down the old plans and ringing for some building quotes. The plot was narrower, the slope was less pronounced and the clients’ requirements were different – to remove the dividing wall to create a large entertaining space, with low-maintenance planting and no grass.
With a large wall to be demolished we made the decision to re-use as many bricks as possible as edging for the riven sandstone circles. An artificial lawn was to be encircled with oak sleepers set on edge, as in the original Ashbourne garden. The sleepers also created a raised planting area in front of the fence, where we planted a simple herbaceous scheme, spring bulbs, box spheres and three new trees.
Once the wall was demolished we took advice from the landscaper, White Cottage Landscapes of Northampton, that the bricks would not be sufficiently weather-proof, so we agreed on an antique-style block pavior instead.
Below is a composite shot of the garden, created by merging to photos together.
Completed in August 2012, we designed this contemporary garden for a professional couple living in a new-build home in Church Gresley, Derbyshire.
Our clients had a clear idea of what they wanted – a clean, white, contemporary relaxation/entertainment area with raised planting, a water feature and a means of screening the existing traditional wooden fencing. Being a working couple with little experience of gardening we devised a relatively maintenance-free garden with a lawn of artificial grass.
The plot was a typical new-build back garden; small (10m x 5m), unimaginative and uninspiring. Our scheme features polished sandstone paving, hardwood deck and seating area with integrated storage, spot lighting, a water blade feature and the artificial lawn. The planting has yet to be completed – we’ve split this over the winter to spread the cost – but will incorporates a palette of acid green and purple, with sculptural grasses, two young trees and a small Acer palmatum purpurea ‘Dissectum’. Hard landscaping was by Anthony Cresswell from A C Creations of Whitwick.
Below you’ll see an animated before and after image of the garden.
Earlier this spring we undertook this Design by Post scheme for a couple in Ashby who were in the process of selling their home and moving to the Devon coast. The new property had a small and unloved, sloping area of turf for a back garden, and they wanted to install a modern space for relaxation, including architectural planting and space for sculpture. They were also interested in working with a mixture of hard surfaces. We worked from a survey and photographs supplied by the client and, as well as design work, we provided construction plans to be used by a local landscaping company, and planting plans.
We specified a combination of stained hardwood decking and seating areas with rendered blockwork planters, a plinth for the statue, and Bradstone Ivory sandstone paving. Making the most of Devon’s warmer microclimate, we suggested a primarily green planting scheme (with some white and purple) which included sculptural Fatsia, Trachycarpus fortunei, X Fatshedera lizei, Phyllostachys aurea, Musa basjoo, with some herbacious planting such as Zantedeschia aethiopica, Hosta ‘The Patriot’ and Hosta ‘Thunderbolt’ to be added in the spring.
Here are the before and after shots:
If you would like or planting schemes or a garden designed, but you’re not in the east midlands, our Design by Post service could be the ideal solution.
We’ll give our clients the last word: “…we are very pleased with the garden – many thanks again for the excellent design!”