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.
Back in the Autumn, whilst up to my eyes in work, I received an invitation to deliver a talk to a small group of ladies. I accepted without hesitation, secure in the knowledge that I’d have ages to prepare – the event was not taking place until the following March.
I’ve given short talks before, but this one needed to last for an hour. That should be fine, I thought, until I researched how many words I needed to write and got a bit of a shock – 7,000 should do it, said a lecturer acquaintance. Or maybe 5,000 with a few slides thrown in, I hoped. (For comparison, these Village Breeze articles barely scrape past 400 words.)
Luckily my topic, ‘The History of Garden Design’, allowed me plenty of scope to extend myself (and the opportunity for loads of pictures).
I told myself it would be refreshing to immerse myself in the theory and history of design as if I was a student again, and leafing through the old notepads did prove to be an entertaining way to spend the last month or so (of course I left it to the last minute).
So starting with the first garden (of Eden) I set off on a whistle-stop tour of gardening history. I met some interesting folk along the way, like the Egyptian Pharaoh who’s said to have built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for his wife, and the Chinese Emperor who filled a lake in his garden with wine (which is a great idea and I’ll be happy to design one for any readers out there).
On I rambled. Dwelling briefly on the Romans – real gardeners with a love of elaborate water features and new plant discoveries – through the Renaissance and onwards past Tudor knot gardens, filled with flowers and herbs for making posies (which were carried to disguise the terrible smell of the Elizabethans).
I waxed lyrical about the great British designers Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Humphrey Repton, then on to the Victorian plant hunters who scoured the world to bring back exotics for us to impress our neighbours with. Into the last century we met some women designers, Vita Sackville West and Gertrude Jekyll, who combined plants so beautifully.
And there was more – much more, which I’ll save, as I’ve just been invited to give the same talk to the Womens’ Institute. I wouldn’t want to give away the ending! But the talk went well, and almost none of the audience fell asleep…
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember trying to grow beans on a damp piece of blotting paper on the school window sill. Or maybe you grew carrot tops from cuttings, or cress in half egg-shells.
For many people, the fruitless experience of trying to germinate seeds during science lessons put them off gardening for life. And that’s a shame, because gardening is an extremely beneficial hobby, both physically and mentally.
Now school gardening is about to change. From September, gardening will be taught in British schools as part of the National Curriculum. This follows many years of campaigning by organisations as diverse as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), The Sun newspaper, Morrisons supermarket and the Church of England.
Why teach gardening, when teachers’ time is already thinly spread? Research by the RHS points to a wide range of benefits to pupils, from enhanced academic skills, improved motivation and behaviour, to better health and wellbeing.
Gardening won’t be taught by itself – it will be integrated into core curriculum subjects. It is an ideal medium to transmit important lessons in an engaging and exciting way. All curriculum subjects can be approached through the study of growing plants.
To quote a teacher from Esh Winning Primary School: “The garden is a much more enjoyable place to learn than the classroom. Examining a plant is much more meaningful and memorable than looking at a diagram… Food chains are easier to understand when you have watched caterpillars devour your cabbages and then seen a blue tit pick them off the leaves and feed them to their young in your nesting box.”
Of course not all schools will have the resources or space to set up their own allotments, but that shouldn’t stop them. The carrot tops of yesteryear are now ‘root veg volcanoes’ – carrot, swede and turnip tops, decorated and planted into a landscape of compost in seed trays. Suttons’ sell a seed kit of micro-greens which can be planted on a window sill and studied and eaten within a week.
The new curriculum doesn’t start until September, but if you are keen to introduce your kids to some simple gardening activities, there is a list of resources below. As well as teaching them about the natural world, we could be cultivating the next generation of avid gardeners.
The Royal Horticultural Society – Campaign for School Gardening resources
BBC ‘Dig In’ – lesson plans for teachers
Growing Schools – a website dedicated to teaching children outside of the classroom
Activities for children from the Soil Association – a UK charity campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use
Budding Gardeners – devoted to setting up school gardens, by Harrod Horticultural
Outdoor classroom activities from Field Studies Council – an environmental education charity dedicated solely to providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to discover, explore, be inspired by, and understand the natural environment.
This article first appeared in the March 2014 issue of Village Breeze magazine.
All the famous gardens you see in magazines or on the television are the result of thousands of hours of hard work. Few of us are able to toil full-time in their gardens (don’t I know it), and not many can afford to employ gardeners to work on their behalf. With longer working hours, later retirement dates and an ever-ageing population, the lure of the “Low Maintenance Garden” is getting stronger by the day.
We were called in by a client in Donisthorpe, Leicestershire, to bring some life to their dull, featureless back garden. The brief was to create an interesting space with fruit trees and space to grow produce, together with colourful planting, and the whole scheme was to be as low maintenance as possible.
The existing garden was a totally blank canvas – the only feature being a mystery gravel path which lead nowhere – and the plot sloped slightly uphill away from the house. Here’s the garden before we started work:
Lawns can be one of the most time-consuming garden features of all, so we decided to break the space into sections with two circular interlocking, stepped artificial lawns. A gravel and sandstone path lead around the lawns to a sandstone circle seating area, while the outer edges of the garden were planted with herbaceous perennials and shrubs, with ground cover planted into the gravel path to soften the edges.
To give the plant borders a contrasting backdrop on which to perform as they grow, the existing fences were stained black, and we installed some small trellis panels to break the borders into sections.
The planting consisted of a mainly pink/purple palette of Penstemons, Echinacea, Geraniums and Irises, with a structural foliage planting of Phormiums, Melianthus major, Fatsia, Hosta, Euphorbia and Carex. Trees included Gleditsia, Amelanchier, a standard Photinia, as well as a pear and a Victoria plum. Bulbs included miniature and regular Narcissus, five varieties of Tulip in various shades of pink and purple, Alliums and Leucojum, and the path was planted with Erigeron, Thyme, Armeria and Stachys.