How many of us have piled on a few pounds over the holiday season? I know I have. How many more have pledged to join their local gym to get back into shape?
Well, if you have a garden there is no need. The time you’d spend at the gym could be spent in your garden, and it could have the same physical benefits at a fraction of the cost.
A University of Virginia study placed gardening alongside other moderate to strenuous forms of exercise, such as cycling or walking, with benefits including improved strength and muscle tone, greater flexibility and lower blood pressure.
And think of the calories you’ll burn – 30 minutes of pushing a lawn mower will lose women over 180 calories and men 235. The same time spent weeding will lose you a further 100 or so. A half hour’s digging, while giving your back, legs and upper body a great workout, burns women 150 calories and men nearly 200.
If you are really keen, Men’s Health magazine even has a Garden Workout plan.
Quite apart from exercise and fitness, regular gardening has been shown to contribute to improved psychological and emotional health. Studies from the University of Bristol have shown a harmless bacteria present in soil has the effect of improving your immune system while also boosting your body’s production of seratonin – a neuro-transmitter associated with feelings of well-being and happiness. Separate studies have shown gardening can also lower stress levels and increase self-esteem.
So a New Year’s resolution to shape up and get fit doesn’t have to mean hundreds, if not thousands of pounds spent at the gym. Half an hour in the garden per day will result in a healthier, fitter you, and better bank balance, and a great looking garden.
Since the last time I wrote I’ve been as busy as ever, but as a family we did manage to recharge our batteries with a break in Edinburgh. As usual, it turned into something of a busman’s holiday, as I found it impossible to not drag the relations around a garden or two.
First on the list was Traquair House in Innerleithen – a lovely spot in Peebleshire alongside the River Tweed. As well as being Scotland’s oldest inhabited house and having it’s own brewery, it has 100 acres of woodland and the most amazing maze – a mix of Leylandii Cyprus and Beech which covers over half an acre.
As a bunch of hedges and paths you might think of mazes as being a bit old hat, but getting lost in it was actually quite relaxing. We couldn’t help laughing like kids at every wrong turn and finding the middle was a small triumph. You can stand on a tree trunk at the centre and look over the top of the hedges to try and plan a route back out (it didn’t work). As one of the largest mazes in Scotland, it is in demand as an unusual wedding venue. You could do a lot worse.
Next – a must-see for me – was the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden. It’s an immense site, crammed with what seemed like every plant listed in my RHS books. Set in 70 acres just a mile from the city centre, the specialist planting areas include a Scottish Heath Garden, the famous Rock Garden with over 5,000 alpine plants, the Queen Mother Memorial Garden and a 165m-long Herbaceous Border, with banks of mass planting the scale of which, sadly, I’ve never had the space to employ in any of my gardens.
My favourite areas were the Glasshouses. There are 25 in total, with 10 open to the public, and each with its own climatic conditions. They are home to a wild variety of tropical palms, orchids, water lillies, ferns and cacti, as well as plants which provide us with a shopping list of staple food-stuffs – coffee, rice, cacao, bananas, ginger, sugar and tropical fruit.
Seeing such an inspiring diversity of plants from all over the world, all with such differing shapes, colours and textures, reminds me how a gardener never stops learning. And it’s given me plenty of ideas and planting combinations to try.
By September many gardens are looking listless. Long gone are the spirited new blooms of spring and the flowering free-for-all of early summer. August’s punishing mix of heat and heavy showers proves gruelling for plants and soil alike, sending the garden sliding helplessly towards autumn.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. With some careful planning there are many flowers and shrubs that will fill your garden with autumn colour and interest during September and beyond.
One of my favourites is the Japanese Anemone. I often specify the hybrid ‘Honorine Jobert’ in my garden designs because it is a real trier. Free-flowering from August to October, it produces an abundance of cup-shaped, single white flowers. It prefers partial shade, and is fully hardy. Cut back once the flowers have faded and mulch in spring for a repeat performance the following year.
Another regular is Anthemis tinctoria ‘E.C.Buxton’, which gives great value in the late summer garden. It combines lemon yellow daisy-like flowers with fine green leaves. It is attractive to butterflies and bees, tolerates drought well, and flowers into November.
If it’s movement and texture that interests you, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ could be a contender for your autumn border. This tall, variegated grass puts out pink-tinged panicles of flowers during autumn, which catch the breeze in a hypnotic fashion. In a couple of years it will reach its full height of 1.5 metres.
A great companion for Miscanthus is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Another hit with the butterflies, its succulent leaves and stems are topped with a froth of pink flowers from August that mature to an autumnal copper by November.
I have a theory which goes like this: during spring and early summer you see a lot of blue and purple flowers, but during late summer and autumn it is warmer reds, oranges and yellows that dominate. As I like to use blue flowers throughout the year, these next two often feature in my gardens: Aster frikartii ‘Mönch’ and Ceratostigma plumbaginoides.
The Aster, also known as the Michaelmas daisy, produces lavender blue flowers from July right through until October. Ceratostigma, or hardy blue-flowered leadwort to give it its unglamorous common name, is a spreading perennial which produces clusters of rich blue flowers through September.
So it’s not all downhill for the garden at this time of year – with plants like these, next September your garden could look fabulous.
We were invited to look at a large front and rear garden in Carlton, Leicestershire. The existing plot (below) was well kept but largely uninspiring. It featured small islands of Zen-Buddhist style rocks and features, but they didn’t blend in with the rest of the garden. The home-owners were keen to keep the Zen features, but also wanted functional spaces whilst ensuring the garden was a tranquil space.
Our proposed scheme made use of the Zen features and the mature trees that were on site, but reduced the existing lawn and paved areas. We expanded on the planting areas and specified natural materials throughout. The focus of the garden was a curved Eucalyptus hardwood deck leading to a Japanese-style Tea House with Cedar shingle roof, from where the clients could relax and admire the garden. The scheme was accepted, and work began in February 2014.
Once the landscaping commenced it became clear the site had drainage issues. We had already identified the need for a land drain, but the problem proved to be larger than we had anticipated. The landscaping team from AC.Creations solved the drainage problem, but as a result the budget wouldn’t stretch to meet the cost of the Tea House as originally designed. Through some creative ingenuity they were able to revise the specification and built a version which fitted into the original budget.
The design of the garden featured two interlocking circular lawns surrounding a circle of stone chippings with a large sculptural rock and inset planting of Acers, Hostas and Pinus Mugo. The larger of the two lawns was bordered on one edge by a sweeping curved hardwood deck, which led to the main deck and the Tea House. The surrounds were planted with Hemerocallis, Salvia, Hostas, Geranium, Helenium, Gaura, with evergreen Euonymus and Buxus. We added to the trees with Amelanchier, and we also added shrubs and grasses for extra colour and movement. In the shaded areas below the existing mature trees we planted Hostas, Ferns, Foxgloves, Hellebores, Tellima, Hakonechloa and Pachysandra.
Surrounding the smaller lawn we installed some sleepers on edge to act as a curved sculptural feature to break up the straight lines of the fence beyond. This area was planted with woodland planting. Adjacent to this we added some natural willow trellis screens to obscure an oil tank.
Throughout the garden we worked with the existing Zen elements collected by our clients, which we complimented with some sympathetic planting. We think they definitely add an air of calm and serenity to the finished space.
Among the elements not shown here, we also installed raised timber vegetable planters and a greenhouse; an outdoor chess board into one of the stone paths; more willow screening and a large herbaceous raised bed in the front garden, surrounding a gravel driveway.
Our clients were very pleased with the finished garden, and said:
The plan became a reality through the craftsmanship of Antony and Mark (AC.Creations). We have been very impressed by the care and attention to detail throughout, from early thoughts to design and production. Thank you to a great group of professionals.”
It’s rare for us to be given a completely blank canvas to work on, but when we were asked to design a garden in Sandiacre, Nottinghamshire, that’s pretty much exactly what we were given, as you can see if you compare the finished garden (above) with the site as we first saw it (below).
The original brief was to include a pond, screening for some privacy from the surrounding houses, space for a greenhouse, and most importantly – some planting interest. The house was shortly having a conservatory added, so the design was to take this into consideration.
After producing our initial concepts the brief changed slightly – instead of an ornamental pond, the clients decided they would like a pond to keep Koi carp.
Our scheme consisted of a grass lawn with some decked areas, with a large pergola covering a seating area next to the Koi pond. We included some large feature planters and timber trellis screens, which enabled us to obscure a greenhouse and some raised vegetable beds, as well as a shed and some bins. The Koi pond itself incorporated a self-contained stainless steel water feature, and we finished off the design with some LED uplighting. The planting scheme included climbing plants to help screen the seating area, and young trees which will, in time, provide privacy from the surrounding houses. The flower beds and raised planters were planted in our trademark herbaceous style, with seasonal bulbs and evergreens providing prolonged interest throughout the season.
In this garden we used some specific materials and finishes. The client expressed a preference for composite decking material, so we selected Ecodek, a British made, solid recycled and durable wood polymer composite decking board. For the raised planters and the Koi pond we used Stonemarket Häus veneer walling and coping.
The Koi pond itself is of a blockwork construction, approx 2m deep, lined with fibreglass, and topped with a solid steel safety mesh, which stops people falling in while also keeping the herons out. The rear of the water feature contains a hidden space for the Koi pond pump and filter. The pond was faced with Häus walling and coping, and is now home to some attractive Koi carp, all looked over by a less than subtle plastic heron.
I’ve been an avid user of the Houzz website and iPhone app for the last year or so. For those of you who don’t know about it, it’s a visual community which brings together homeowners and home professionals. I use it as a source of ideas and inspiration – a place to browse and save beautiful home and garden photos. It’s a sort of Pinterest, especially for home and garden, with over 20 million users worldwide.
Now, we’re on Houzz too! Please check out our profile, and give us a review.
On a sunny morning in June I spent a delightful couple of hours at Blackfordby Nursery with the ladies of the local Women’s Institute, showing them how to make hanging baskets.
I learned how while working at a garden centre many years ago. Soon I was solely responsible for hundreds of bespoke orders, and one day I even had my photo taken for the local paper!
They’re a simple way to bring the colours and perfumes of the garden right to your doorstep. If you fancy making one for yourself, here are my top tips:
2. Use the correct compost. Your plants will be packed in like sardines, so it’s essential to give them every chance of success by using good quality compost. I recommend adding fertiliser pellets and moisture retaining granules to keep your plants fed and moist.
3. Lining your basket. I always recommend sphagnum moss as a liner. It is a natural product with excellent moisture retaining qualities. Once lined, use a plate-sized circle of plastic sheet, such as a compost bag, to form a bowl inside the moss to assist in retaining water.
4. Choose your plants. Not all plants are suitable for hanging baskets – make sure you read the label or ask your nursery for advice. You are looking for plants with a long flowering life. All the popular bedding plants such as Lobelia, Petunias, Geraniums and Fuschia are good. If you have a spider plant, the baby plants on the ends of the runners can be popped in too, and also herbs like Nasturtium and more unusual bedding like Isotoma and Scaveola.
5. Get planting. Start building up the sides of the basket with hanging plants like trailing Geranium, Bacopa, Nepeta or Helichrysum, then add the flowering plants to the top of the basket, spacing them evenly to trail over the edge of the basket, working your way towards the middle. Finish up with a tallish plant like a Geranium or Fuchsia.
6. Water daily, sometimes twice or three times a day if it’s hot and windy. Don’t be afraid to give a bit of a top-up feed later in the season if necessary.
7. Maintenance – deadheading will keep your flowers coming.
If you run a garden club or society and would be interested in a hanging basket demonstration, I run them at Blackfordby Nursery – just give me a ring on 01283 217941 or contact me for more information. I also run demos and classes in garden design, propagation and beginners guides to gardening.
We designed and planted Annette’s new garden in 2013, and she kindly sent us her comments a year later. It’s making clients like Annette happy that keeps a smile on our faces at work every day.
We know that gardens are very personal spaces, and to allow us to transform them takes a great deal of our customers’ trust. So we hard work to understand our customers’ needs and desires for their gardens well before we begin the design process.
Sometimes, despite working very closely with our customers, the journey to the hand-over of the completed garden can be more arduous than they expect. If you have ever had any building work done you’ll know just how much disruption and mess can be involved. In the garden pictured below, 60 tonnes of soil had to be removed by hand before hard landscaping or planting could begin. Knowing how much disruption was caused, it was heartening to receive their feedback:
Not all of our projects involve creating a new garden at once. We also work with customers who want to stage the creation of their gardens – due to size, time or budgetary considerations. We are more than happy to work in this way, as we’ve done in the garden below, where we initially produced a master plan which we’re installing in stages:
Changing your garden can be a daunting prospect. As you can see from these customer testimonials, it’s a much smoother, more successful experience if you work with a company who really love to make a difference. For more information, send us a message or call Anna on 01283 217941.
Those of a certain age will remember the American singer Jimmie Rodgers who, in 1962, reached No. 5 in the charts with the folk song ‘English Country Garden’.
For readers younger than about 40, the song asks “How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?” Jimmie starts by ticking off the usual suspects – roses, hollyhocks, daffodils – and then sticks his neck out with some rather more obscure suggestions like Lady’s Smocks, or Cordamine pratensis (which is really a meadow plant, but we’ll allow it for artistic licence).
After this, things start to unravel a little. I don’t know how many English gardens Mr Rodgers had actually seen. I suggest it’s not that many, as he then starts a role call of our native fauna, including those regular British favourites, the snake and the bobolink.
No, me neither.
Anyway, I’d not given this song much thought over the years, until I was approached in late 2012 by a client who wanted ‘an English country garden that’s easy to maintain’.
The existing garden (below) had a good size herbaceous border and a rock garden with a pond, but little else except a large lawn with a specimen Silver Birch in the centre. The brief was to create greater visual appeal, with more planting in a relaxed country style. Consideration was to be given to enlarging the patio and providing an additional seating area away from the house. One specific requirement was ‘no straight lines’ – the client wanted more traditional curves and hidden areas. Planting was encouraged to be full, almost wild in nature.
I have a soft spot for the traditional English garden style, from the herbaceous borders of Gertrude Jekyll to the abundant tapestries of planting at Great Dixter. The trouble with that style is that it tends to be high maintenance. I needed to devise something that wouldn’t need a team of full-time gardeners to look after.
My scheme features a much reduced lawn, and a larger gravel garden with plants set into it, which are encouraged to set seed. The specimen tree was kept, and under-planted with shade-tolerant plants and spring and autumn bulbs. Traditional herbaceous flower beds surround the gravel garden, and the rock garden and pond was enlarged, with a simple trickling waterfall adding movement and sound to the garden. A small seating area was included away from the house, encased in a stone semi-circular wall and planter feature. The shots below show the newly built garden and some of the initial planting.
The garden is now starting its second full season, and here are a couple of shots of the planting and the pond from spring of 2014, with a quote from my client at the end.
And the answer to the question “How many kinds of sweet flowers grow, in an English country garden?” – in this one, we planted about 70.
You’ve seen them in public parks and on roundabouts. You’ve seen them outside council buildings, spelling out slogans of civic pride and shaped into lurid municipal crests. Loud and needy, demanding to be the centre of attention, they are bedding plants – the spoilt children of the gardening world.
But surely everybody loves bedding plants? Well, I suppose they do. The trouble is, I don’t have the time for all the pampering, fussing, preening and watering that goes with them.
Bedding plants are high maintenance, and that’s a problem. When everyone wants a low maintenance garden, who has the time in their routine for daily plant watering and weekly feeding? Unless you are retired or spend a lot of time at home, the vast majority of us don’t.
Then there is the dead heading. To get the best from petunias, geraniums and busy lizzies you should snip off dead flower heads to encourage the growth of new ones. If you have a spare hour in your day for that, then good luck to you.
And then there is the issue of cost.
On the face of it, bedding plants are a cheap way to create an attractive display of flowers. But they’re not. Bedding plants are expensive, and I’ll tell you why.
Yes, you can get a poorly watered polystyrene slab of pansies for a few quid at the supermarket these days. But plant them out in April and see how good they look after a late frost. Chances are, you’ll be back to the supermarket next week for some more. And when those pansies have gone over, you’ll have a hole in your display that needs filling with… more bedding plants. And once the autumn frosts hit us, most of your display is destined for the compost bin.
It’s easy to spend £60, over the course of a season, in filling and refilling a decent sized pot with spring bedding, then replacing it with summer bedding and then again with winter pansies. That will give you flowers for one year. For a similar effect, spend £25 on a mix of perennials and bulbs. You’ll have a display that will give you pleasure for many years, at a fraction of the price, without the constant attention that bedding demands.