Now is a Good Time…

…to get your garden designed!

You might think that with the weather turning colder and the leaves starting to fall, any plans you have for your garden should wait until next year. But with gardens (as with so many other things in life), it pays to plan ahead.

It can take time to select a designer you want to work with. Once you’ve engaged one and they’re ready to start, the design process, which is interactive, may take a few weeks, possibly more. And when you have a design that is ready to go, you’ll still need to select a reputable landscape contractor. Good landscapers will often have work booked in for weeks, or even months ahead. Although the weather can be tricky, you might find they have less work on over the winter, so they can fit your job in sooner.

The weather might be better for hard landscaping in summer, but I’m sure you would rather have your garden built and ready by the time warmer weather arrives, instead of having to look out on a building site. Additionally, if the hard landscaping is completed by the end of March, any deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can still be planted bare-rooted, which is more cost-effective.

So the message is; start the process now, and you could have a beautiful new garden to enjoy next spring and summer.

Colour Combinations…

There are many criteria to consider when designing with plants, both practical (such as choosing plants that will thrive in the soil and conditions) and aesthetic (like combining leaf sizes and textures). Perhaps the most effective and important visual aspect is the mixture of colours. Most pleasing are combinations that harmonise, such as this pale pink tree peony in front of a ceanothus (C. ‘Puget’s Blue’)…

In a similar colour spectrum, the rich, glossy purple of this tulip (T. ‘Queen of Night’) is set off beautifully by the frothy flowers of Phlox (P. divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’). In their first year, the tulips featured in a potted display in my garden. When they had finished flowering I put them into the beds, where most have survived and will hopefully naturalise. The flowers of tulips treated in this way are rarely as large after the first year (depending on the variety – some naturalise very well) but it hardly matters…

‘Queen of Night’ goes almost as well with forget-me-nots, which are prevalent in the garden at the moment…

Colour doesn’t have to come from flowers – foliage can act as the perfect foil to flowers, as in this happy combination of ceanothus with a dark-leaved hazel (Corylus maxima ‘purpurea’)…

Or this row of chives with the same background…

And different coloured foliage can be used together to similar effect. This is the grass Phalaris arundinacea ‘Feesey’ (commonly known as ‘Gardener’s Garters) contrasting with the same hazel, with the mid-green of a cornus (C. kousa var. chinensis) mediating…

Of course, colour combinations don’t always have to be calming and peaceful. On a visit to the Dorothy Clive garden in Shropshire recently I came across this vibrant (I would almost call it alarming) conflict between orange and yellow varieties of azalea…

After that, you need something calming, so how about this group of Tulipa ‘Purissima’ from my own garden, set against the lush mid-green new leaves of Viburnum x. burkwoodii…

text & images © Strelitzia Garden Design 2023

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

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.