Designing with roses

June is perhaps the peak time for roses, and the roses in my own garden are all in full flower now.

This unknown climber pre-dates my arrival. It has a light scent, and deep, velvety red blooms

Much as we love them, we tend to think of roses as being a bit old-fashioned. Too often in the past, roses were used in ways that were sterile and twee, with paths lined with lollipop standards, and hybrid tea rose bushes set out in isolation, often in a desert of bare soil, with heaps of farmyard manure around them.

Nowadays, the trend is for roses to be more of an integral part of the garden. Modern shrub roses, climbers and ramblers mix well with other garden plants, and can work with most garden styles, from the formal to the traditional cottage garden, and even the currently popular ‘prairie planting‘ (sometimes referred to as the ‘naturalistic’ or ‘new perennial’ style). There are roses to suit every style, and in most colours (except blue and black).

Rosa ‘Lady of the Lake’ – a repeat-flowering climber with open blooms, allowing pollinators access to their nectar.

When designing my own garden I chose roses from David Austin. His roses emulate the old, romantic roses, but like all growers, he bred for vigour, attractive foliage, disease resistance, and a long flowering period. Particularly important, he didn’t neglect scent, and most of his cultivars have good fragrance. When designing a garden, this is an important consideration, because scent adds another, very delightful element to a design.

Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ – repeat-flowering, and with a good, strong scent

Modern shrub roses work well in a mixed border, used in much the same way as you would use any other small to medium sized shrub. This is Rosa ‘Dame Judi Dench’ in a border and surrounded with perennials…

The garden is still in its infancy, and both rose and perennials will soon expand to fill the gaps.

In the further border, beyond the grass path, are two more shrub roses; ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ (as above) and ‘Tuscany Superb’; a rich claret, with yellow stamens…

These roses are sharing the border with shrubs including Philadelphus (Mock orange) and Corylus maxima ‘purpurea’ (purple hazel); perennials including verbascums, gaura, acanthus and asters; as well as shorter-lived plants like Ammi major and foxgloves. The border is fronted by young box plants that will grow together to form a low hedge.

Climbing Rosa ‘Constance Spry’ on a metal pergola by Harrod Horticultural

Roses are so familiar to us, we can easily take them for granted. But we shouldn’t overlook just how beautiful and useful they are in the garden, providing colour and scent, as well as lush foliage. There are roses for most situations, including shade, and many will flower from early June, right through the growing season. Climbers and ramblers will cover walls, fences, pergolas and arbours; or grow up into a tree. And shrub roses are perfect for the borders.

Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’
Rosa ‘Claire Austin’

Text & images © Strelitzia Garden Design 2022

Design Ideas From Hodnet Hall Gardens

Visiting gardens open to the public is a great way to pick up ideas for your own garden. Gardens like Hodnet Hall, near Market Drayton in Shropshire. Very few of us have outdoor spaces this big to play with. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make use of some of the design techniques employed there. Here are just a few examples:

1. Contrasting colours.

The twin highlights of a red Japanese maple and an Exochorda in full bloom stand out from a mostly mid-green background. The contrast between them is stunning; the fact that it will only last for the few weeks the Exochorda is in flower only serves to make it even more special.

2. Enticement.

This rustic stone archway and metal gate were surely intended to arouse your curiosity. Who wouldn’t struggle to resist the urge to pass through it to see what lies on the other side?

3. Repetition.

Regular repetition of these cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) along the back of this herbaceous border give it cohesion and continuity. Plants with such strong architectural form are particularly good for this purpose (it helps to have such an attractive wall as a backdrop!) The silvery, grey-green foliage of this ornamental globe artichoke will be topped with striking thistle-like flowers in summer.

The spiky leaves are complemented by it’s smaller neighbours – euphorbia, grasses, melianthus – all have leaves that contrast gently, without being too different. And you may just notice flowers of Cirsium rivulare – another, smaller, thistle nestling among the euphorbia.

4. Include some small surprises.

These trilliums are less than half a metre tall, and grow in shady spots, but with both leaves and petals arranged in triplets, they are as beautiful as they are different.

5. Water.

Okay, so you probably don’t have room for your own lake, complete with resident swans, but water adds great interest in a garden, including sound, movement and reflection.

6. Plant at all levels.

The circle garden has rings of peonies and roses that will provide colourful blooms over a long period (here, they are yet to flower). It’s a central feature in a landscape that has plants of all heights, from low ground cover, right up to tall trees.

This technique effectively pulls a garden up from two dimensions into three, giving it much more interest. It can easily be replicated in even a small garden – you just need to choose the right plants.

text & photos © strelitzia garden design 2022

Evergreen vs Deciduous…

It seems to me there’s always been a tension between the use of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs in garden design. I have to say, I’ve tended to favour the former. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a time when gardens were often filled with boring, uniform conifers; from large, quick-growing hedging plants like the dreaded Leylandii, to a proliferation of ‘dwarf’ conifers (many of which turned out to be rather bigger than expected).

Of course, some plants are more exciting than others, and that goes for both evergreens and deciduous.

Defending the deciduous…
People who favour evergreen plants point out that they give form, presence and greenery throughout the winter, whereas deciduous plants do their thing in the growing season, then shrink back to virtually nothing in winter, leaving the garden all but empty but for a few dead-looking sticks.
It’s true that deciduous plants are much reduced. But bear in mind many of them do something like this before they drop their leaves…

Autumn colours of a Japanese maple at Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan

Add in beautiful flowers during the growing season, and perhaps we can forgive them for being somewhat sparse in their dormant period. But actually, those dead-looking sticks are not as uninteresting as you might at first think. Denuded of leaves, woody plants display a form and structure that is architectural; sculptural, and very beautiful…

A mature beech tree at Hodnet Hall & Gardens, Shropshire

Their branches make interesting shapes. They change with the changing light. When it’s sunny, they cast bold shadows on the ground. They accumulate lichen and moss, which adds shading and texture. And in fact the idea all deciduous plants are dormant in winter isn’t correct either. Some of them flower on bare branches…

Hamamelis x. intermedia ‘Jelena’ (witch hazel) at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales

Others, particularly willow and hazel, produce attractive catkins. And once the leaves have fallen, we discover that many plants have beautiful stems and trunks…

Many trees have strikingly beautiful bark
Acer griseum (paperbark maple) at Dyffryn Gardens
Colourful dogwood stems at the National Botanical Garden of Wales

There’s something both very spiritual, and also rather scary about plants that are dormant during the winter. They speak to us of the transient nature of life. But they also highlight the great joy of renewal in spring; something you might miss if you only have evergreens.

Evergreens – not so boring after all…
While evergreen aficionados point to a lack of winter interest in deciduous plants, those in the opposing camp tend to think of evergreens as being boring. They may have presence all year round, but it never changes…

Vibrant rhododendron flowers in April at Bodnant Gardens, North Wales

Start to think about it, and you realise that evergreens produce some of the most impressive and prolific blooms of all plants, from rhododendrons and camelias, to Olearia (daisy bush), magnolias, and ceanothus (California lilac). And far from being a uniform, dull green, they come in many shades, from dark to light, and leaves with attractive markings and patterns.

Euonymus fortunei ‘Gold ‘n’ Green’

And many evergreens have something else to offer too. For as long as there have been gardens, people have indulged their creative tendencies by trimming plants into interesting shapes…

Domes of box at RHS Garden Bridgewater, Salford

The most useful plants for topiary are evergreens such as box and yew. There is, I suppose, a contradiction here, because how often do you see box, or yew for that matter, allowed to grow naturally, without being shaped? We value these plants so highly, but also see their natural growth habits as uninteresting.

Time to put aside favouritism…
The reality of course is that to maximise the impact and benefits of our gardens, we should make use of the features and advantages of both deciduous and evergreen plants.

Bodnant Gardens in April

In most circumstances the best solution will be a mix of evergreen and deciduous plants, chosen to suit the conditions and to compliment each other as part of a balanced design.

text & images © strelitzia garden design 2022

Last call for spring bulbs…

October and November are when most spring flowering bulbs become available at garden centres and nurseries. The priority for most people tend to be Daffodils (Narcissi) and Tulips (Tulipa species). The time at which they actually flower varies from one variety to another – by choosing varieties carefully you can have daffs and tulips in flower over a longer period. Daffodils will flower from Feb to April, Tulips in April and May.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Daffodils can be planted in the ground in October, but for tulips, it’s best to leave it until some time in November, particularly if your soil is heavy, as the bulbs can rot in damp soil (putting a little grit at the base of the planting hole can help to give more drainage to avoid this).

It’s not too late to plant daffodil bulbs now, or indeed many other, earlier bulbs such as snowdrops, though they may not flower quite as early as if you’d got them in the ground in October. The bad news is that retailers tend to get all their bulbs in at one time, and by now they’re running out. The good news is that they’re now heavily discounting whatever they have left. So while you may not get the full choice now, you can still create a stunning display, and at a much lower cost than if you’d been more organised and got your bulbs earlier.

Tulipa ‘Couleur Cardinal’ & ‘Spring Green’ naturalised in the garden

Many people use bulbs to create displays in pots. When it comes to tulips, growers supply bulbs that have been grown under ideal conditions, so that they will produce a large flower. The following year, the flowers are never as big, so won’t provide such a good display. But so long as you’ve chosen varieties that will naturalise, you can plant them in the garden when they’ve finished flowering, and they’ll come back year after year.

Here are the pots that I’ve planted this year, tucked away in a sheltered position by the house over the winter, and the remaining packets of bulbs that will be planted in the garden:

I’ve put the pots on blocks to keep them off the ground (pot feet are a better option, but expensive!) and covered them with netting to stop squirrels, voles, mice etc digging them up, as they sometimes do. I’ve planted daffodils ‘Hawera’, ‘Ice Follies’, and my favourite ‘Thalia’; and tulips ‘Spring Green, Queen of Night, and ‘Ballerina’.

Tulipa ‘Konigen der Nacht’ (Queen of Night)
Tulipa ‘Ballerina’

For a fuller display, you can mix different types of bulbs in the same pot, with tulips and daffs planted deeper, and smaller flowers such as chionodoxa, snowdrops, scilla, etc. set higher in the pot. I’ve been a bit lax on that front this year – I did throw in some chionodoxa and snowdrop bulbs I had from last year, but it’s mainly daffs and tulips.

The bulbs for the garden are fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary) and Camassia quamash for around the pond, and snowdrops and anemones for the shaded area under the lilac tree and rhododendrons.

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Garden centres and nurseries are also selling summer flowering bulbs, such as lilies, which don’t need to be planted until next spring, and alliums, which should ideally be planted now (though like tulips, they prefer good drainage).

Allium hollandicum

Whichever bulbs you choose to plant, from the diminutive earliest flowering snowdrops, through daffodils and tulips, to the largest, most flamboyant lilies and gladioli; bulbs will give you welcome bursts of flower to look forward to next year.

text & images ©strelitzia garden design 2021

Planning for Winter Interest…

Winter tends to be thought of as a time when gardens go to sleep. Trees and shrubs lose their leaves, perennials die back to ground level, and bulbs are dormant below ground. Evergreens may keep their leaves all year round, but they don’t do anything interesting in the winter, do they? And as for flowers, you’re unlikely to see any until the snowdrops pop up in early spring. Well, actually; you might be pleasantly surprised.

Flowers in Winter
With careful planning you can have plants in flower all the way through what we refer to as ‘the dormant season’. There are a range of shrubs that flower in winter, and surprisingly, many of them are deciduous. Flowers tend to be smaller and less showy than summer blooms, but they stand out more against bare branches. What’s more, winter flowers tend to be strongly scented. Witch hazel (Hamamelis), a graceful deciduous shrub, produces striking, spidery flowers in yellows, oranges or reds in January and February. Winter sweet (Chimonanthus) has fragrant yellow flowers from December to February. And winter honeysuckle (Lonicera) has highly scented white flowers from December to March.

Viburnum x bodnantense makes a large, bushy shrub with attractive mid-green leaves. It has clusters of fragrant pink flowers intermittently throughout the winter.

Winter flowering evergreen shrubs include Mahonia; the bright yellow flowers of which are followed by dark berries, daphne and sweet box. All are high scented.

The cherry tree, Prunus x subhirtella, will provide beautiful blossom during mild spells throughout the winter. And while we’re on the subject of trees…

The appeal of bark & stems
Trees with decorative bark make striking features in the winter, when their colours and textures are more visible.

Decorative bark of Prunus serrula, Betula utilis ‘Grayswood Ghost’ & Acer griseum

Many varieties of Dogwoods (Cornus) have richly coloured stems in yellow, orange, red or black. In the summer, these are hidden, but when the leaves drop off, they shine out and make a striking feature in the garden. Many willows (Salix) also have brightly coloured stems (willows are known as large trees, but there are varieties that are much smaller). For both willows and dogwoods, cutting some, or all of the stems back to ground level in spring enhances the effect (it’s the new growth that carries the colour).

Colouful stems of dogwoods; Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, C. alba ‘Sibirica’, & C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’

And then there are trees and shrubs that produce attractive berries, many of which last well into the winter.

Malus ‘Comtesse de Paris’ (Crab apple), Rosa rugosa, & Ilex auquifolium ‘Argentia Marginata’ (Holly)

In winter, the bare branches of trees and shrubs make for interesting structures in their own right, even without attractive flowers, berries or bark. Evergreens have a more solid presence, and those that have been shaped into topiary decorate the winter garden with their architectural shapes.

Topiary shapes at Erddig gardens in North Wales

Autumn is the perfect time to plant new shrubs and trees, because the soil is moist, and still warm enough to allow roots to establish. What’s more, many are available ‘bare-rooted’ – at a much lower price than potted specimens. And if you’re not able to plant just yet, deciduous bare-rooted trees and shrubs can be planted any time throughout the autumn and winter.

At ground level, flowers are scarce in the winter, and those plants that do produce them, such as hellebores, reticulata irises and cyclamen, are valuable.

Winters in the UK are long, wet and cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy your garden. And it won’t be long before bulbs come into flower, starting early on with snowdrops and crocus, then the various types of daffodil, and on to the tulips, when we’ll know that summer is almost here.

Text, title photo, and that of Erddig ©Strelitzia Garden Design. All other photos are from the on-line nursery Crocus

Flowers into Autumn

Now that the weather is turning colder, and the days becoming shorter, many of the plants we rely on for summer colour have finished flowering. But there are many perennials that flower late, allowing us to extend the season well into autumn. Asters, for instance, will have been inconspicuous in the borders as steadily growing clumps of dark green foliage, but now, they are bursting into bloom…

Most of the asters we grow in our gardens were recently renamed by botanists as Symphyotrichum (I’m sure they don’t deliberately make our lives more difficult!) Another familiar garden plant that was renamed recently, and which flowers at this time of year, is sedum (now Hylotelephium)…

This is a dark-leaved variety called ‘Xenox’. Being relatively low growing, sedums (sorry; Hylotelephiums!) work well towards the front of the border. They are succulents, so quite drought-resistant, and the small, pink flowers are a magnet for bees (though not when I took this photo!)

At around eight or nine feet tall (depending on the variety) a plant you wouldn’t put at the front of the border is perennial sunflower…

While the annual sunflowers that children delight in growing from seed (especially the really tall varieties) will for the most part have finished now, perennial sunflowers are only just starting. Their blooms are smaller and less showy than their annual cousins (both are varieties of Helianthus), but they are a welcome ray of sunshine on a dull autumn day. And the flowers look great, and are long-lasting, in a vase.

There are many more perennials that provide a splash of colour at this time of year. Rudbeckia, for instance (this is Rudbeckia fulgida var. ‘Goldsturm’)…

Japanese anemones, or windflowers (in this case Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’)…

Hesperantha coccinea (another recent name change – I won’t bore you with the details)…

And this is Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’. The flowers are pretty, if a lot more restrained than some of the previous examples, and have a very sweet fragrance. It’s a useful plant, because it’s happy in some shade…

And the list goes on! The message is that with a little thought, it’s possible to design a garden that will give you flowers and scent, and provide for wildlife, all year round.

text & images © strelitzia garden design 2021

Designing for the colour blind

…or more accurately; those with Colour Vision Deficiency (CVD)

This is not something you might automatically think about, but it’s an example of a specific requirement clients may have, and which garden designers will need to consider.

The organisation Colour Blind Awareness say the most common form of CVD is red-green, where sufferers have difficulty distinguishing between reds, oranges, yellows, greens and browns, which all appear dull. This will obviously have an impact on the plants chosen for a client. I have a close family member with what appears to be red-green CVD. Contrary to the description above, he sees yellow clearly (and as yellow is his favourite colour, plants with yellow flowers are an absolute banker).

Reds and greens are a definite problem though, highlighted very well when recently he was bemoaning the lack of blooms on a rose bush given to him by a friend. The plant was, in fact, covered in what appeared to the rest of us as very vibrant, orange/red roses that stood out clearly from the green foliage.

There are other forms of colour blindness, and because people see colours differently, when choosing plants the best approach is to test which colours show up best for the client. A garden designer will always ask for colour preferences in the initial consultation, but for a client with CVD, it makes sense to show them examples, rather than rely on words to describe colours.

In the case of my family member, I was quite surprised to discover that the colour which shows up most brightly is a mid-pale pink, specifically in the form of a geranium – Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’.

Of course, when designing a garden for more than one person, where one of them has CVD, there may be a conflict in colour preferences (though there are often conflicts even where there is no CVD!) In this case, I would say choosing colours that stand out for the client with CVD should be the priority – the colours you choose for them may not be favourites of other garden users, but at least everyone will be able to see them! And there should still be room in the design for a few specimens in the favourite colours of the client that isn’t colour-blind, even if they don’t stand out for the client who is.

Time to get started…

Spring is a good time to have a new garden designed. There is an incredible energy and positivity, with gardens and the natural landscape bursting into growth, and into bloom, all around us. Summer is on its way, and it’s the ideal time to get construction work done without the delays caused by inclement weather.

Having graduated from the British Academy of Garden Design with a Post Graduate Diploma in Garden Design, chosen a company name, and put in place everything needed to start work as a freelance designer, I am ready to get going. In Garden Design, as in most other fields, reputation is vital, and my first few projects will be critical in building both a live portfolio, and a solid reputation for quality and professionalism.

So if you’re considering having your garden redesigned, please do get in touch to discuss your requirements. I offer an attentive, professional service, and a commitment to produce the very best design to suit your needs and to maximise the potential of your garden. And because you will be helping me to build my portfolio and reputation, I can offer preferential rates for my first few clients.