How to … create a garden with year-round interest

 Creating a Garden with Year-Round Interest

Structural design seemed to take to the fore at Bloom this year,but there were many opportunities to admire the planting skills of the designers, particularly those who had horticulture as well as design skills. Of course, Show Gardens do not reflect reality: plants have been held back or forced into flowering in carefully controlled conditions and then massed into tiny spaces to create impact.

Deep Purple

As we all know, however, it is easy to create a lovely garden in May and June: the early flowering perennials such as columbines, cornflowers, lupins and so on are looking at their best, whilst the striking purple of the alliums have pushed their way through to create exclamation marks in the border. So the trick is how to create an impression all year round.

Case Study: Inner-City Front Garden

Of course, a lot will depend on the aspect and soil of the garden but, as a sort of Masterclass in Front Garden Makeovers, I was given the task of creating a a garden with a year-round wow factor in a tiny space: just 3m x 1.5m in front of a typical inner-city, 19th-century terraced house in Dublin. My tools: evergreen shrubs, bulbs and perennials, herbs and annuals.

Alliums and obelisk with the windowbox behind

The garden has the benefit of being south-facing but, in the summer months, is partially in the shadow of a tree in the street. The beautiful, old cast-iron railings were intact and just needed a coat of black Hammerite paint. A cottage style garden seemed appropriate in front of the single-storey house, and a specially-commissioned willow fence was placed as a backdrop to the planting and to restrict a neighbour’s invasive rose bush. The intrusive white, wall-mounted gas meter box was given a discreet coat of matt brown paint. Autumn is really the best time to get started but Spring is fine too. Clear out all the weeds, dig over the soil, adding compost if you can, and off you go.

Evergreen permanent structure is provided by two box topiary plants, a spiral and a box ball, which are trimmed in late May and early September to keep their shape, and a smart bay tree, lollipop-pruned, in a pot creates interest in a corner. It is really important here to consider the future size when planting shrubs in a confined space. Since you want to hold on to as much planting area for your perennials and bulbs, a standard specimen plant creates a focal point, height, and year-round interest. A standard trained Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is another good example, giving interesting leaf colour.

MayJune 2013 021

The biggest mistake made in gardens is the dreaded impulse to over-buy at the garden centre (I’ll have a bit of this and that…), creating a dolly mixture effect: very unsatisfying . The point about using a garden designer is that the planting is planned, creating cohesion, harmony, and balance. I like to consider colour right at the outset, choosing here a colour palette from the blue/purple range, complemeneted by white and some pastel shades. I like to jazz this up in Spring with the lime-green of euphorbias and the exuberance of tulips. So, if nothing else, do try and create harmony in your use of colour.

Then in Autumn, in go the bulbs: snowdrops, purple and white crocuses, white hyacinths, blue muscari, white narcissi, a variety of tulips, and the ever reliable alliums. Good drainage is important so add some grit if your soil is heavy clay. These bulbs will push through the planting to create interest from February to May.

Obelisk with alliums

Obelisk with alliums

Next go the perennials to sleep underground and burst onto the scene when the bulbs have had their day. You must be ruthless with the perennials (space is precious), so root out any who do not perform and watch out for prolific selfseeders (although sometimes a blessing). In this garden I have lupins, foxgloves, and aconitum, which give height early in the season, alongside Knautia macedonica, which leans languidly on the railings; then aquilegias with the foxgloves in the shadier corner; and the lime-green froth of euphorbia and alchemilla mollis. Late perennials will appear, such as the tall, swaying Verbena bonariensis, creating an autumnal scene with the grasses. I have placed a three-cornered obelisk planted with clematis to create height, interest … and to hide the dreaded gas meter.

Aquilegias

Aquilegias

Pots are used to aid the changing scene. Again, choose a style of pot and stick with it to give a cohesive picture. Winterflowering pansies (I like to choose a single colour variety) are underplanted with hyacinths and fill the windowboxes and pots throughout the winter. They will keep going for many months with regular deadheading and feeding.

MayJune 2013 024

The front door is given a smart coat of blue-green paint from the Farrow and Ball range. Pots are filled with lavenders and herbs to greet the occupants as they pass in and out of the house, and a French park chair, given a matching coat of paint, is placed amongst the planting to catch the last rays of the sun.

French lavender

French lavender

Do get in touch (getjardin@gmail.com) if you have any queries, or a garden of your own that would benefit from year-round impact.

(All photography mine)

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