Hot or what!

If there’s a month in the gardening year destined to fall a bit flat it’s November, the light levels are low, the days short and the weather mostly grey and gloomy.

Except my garden is having none of that, even with the sun shrouded by thick cloud there is so much fire in the foliage it’s positively luminous!

That old hat tradition of cutting everything back at this time of year is beyond me, what comparison is ‘neat and tidy’ to the splendour of late autumn foliage. It protects the crowns of the plants, is home and shelter to wildlife and as the fungi and soil organisms begin to do their work so nutrients are decomposed and recycled ready for next spring’s growth.

And how does it look? Hot or what!

Golden October

A glorious autumn Sunday afternoon and with the sun comfortably warm I decided to take my last chance to cut the final patch of long grass in my meadow lawn. I’ve dithered over it for weeks, long after a ‘real’ meadow would have been taken for hay, should I leave its verdant late summer flush to turn to mush in the first frosts or complete my lawn’s return to winter’s boring urban normality and give it all a last mow?

After a sparkling morning dew the rest of the lawn seemed to have dried off nicely but the mower made very heavy weather of it, clogging up constantly with damp compacting macerated vegetation. I realised I’d made the wrong call when it crossed my mind what a nice damp and dense refuge this would have been for amphibians and from the side of the death dealing blades a tiny young frog leapt for its life into the border. It was closely followed by another and then an amber adult emerged more cautiously, a beautiful shining creature and as golden as the fallen leaves. As the struggling mower spluttered to a stop I watched in dismay as dozens of orb web spiders clambered laboriously over the wreck of last night’s web scaffolding and now I’m wracked with remorse. My garden should be a place of safety for wildlife, that’s the whole point of it and why I never tidy up or clear anything away until early spring. Nature isn’t neat and neither should my garden be.

But we all make mistakes, that’s how we learn and this is a valuable lesson, next year’s meadow lawn will have an area left to decay away in its own good time just like the borders, to be home and refuge to as many frogs and spiders as care to take up residence. And on a more positive note, if I saw this much wildlife in these few square metres there must be so much more in the rest of my wild and woolly garden.

It’s been a golden October this year, glowing full of sunlight and colour changing leaves, the clocks go back ready for the dark days return this weekend so I’ve taken plenty of photos to remind me of the light and just how beautiful this season is and how much I love my garden, mistakes and all.

Small but perfectly formed

I love being able to help people make the most of their outdoor space, but often that space isn’t as large as they would like, and lets face it gardens are getting ever smaller as builders maximise the number of homes they can build on the land allotted for development.

It’s often thought that a tiny garden isn’t worth the effort, that so little can be done in the space, but nothing could be further from the truth. No matter its size, our gardens are where we experience nature most closely, the changing of the seasons from the pleasure of the first flower of spring to the falling of the last leaf of autumn. The insects which pollinate the flowers we choose to grow, the surprising frog hiding in the damp shady patch and all the garden birds we tempt with tasty treats.

I admit that small gardens are challenging, every centimetre must be made to earn its keep, every detail is on show and there is very little margin for error. The budget is often tiny too, but the finished garden is non the less a treasured space, an oasis of calm and colour, bringing nature back between newly built brick walls.

In this garden, besides the owner, there was a very big dog to accommodate, so a small patch of potentially muddy grass wasn’t an option, neither were beds of plants for him to dig up (and worse!). So raised beds full of colourful perennials as well as carefully chosen small trees offered immediate height and a sense of seclusion around a central open stone paved space just big enough for a lounging dog and owner.

There is still plenty of ‘pottering’ opportunity with one bed left for next year’s vegetables, spring bulbs to be planted and for tiny plants like alpines or succulents to be popped in among the pebbles.

In the month since it was technically ‘finished’ on a shoestring budget, a nest box, bird feeders, bee hotels, solar lights and reclaimed finds have been lovingly placed in this tiny space and as a designer I’m as pleased with it as I am with the biggest garden. I know that it will flourish because my client loves it, what more could I ask for.

Blackberry time!


Late summer is blackberry time, my garden’s reward to me for fastidiously cutting back all those unfeasibly long bramble shoots which seem to grow overnight throughout the summer. Last year’s pruned branches are now bearing big fat juicy berries, unexpectedly so after such dry weather. In fact this year they ripened early too and so it’s been blackberries with my porridge every breakfast since July and of a quality and size to rival any of those carefully and expensively plastic wrapped ones from the supermarket.


Those from my hedge come naked and are of course free, except if you count the cost in scratched arms and legs. They’re as fresh as it’s possible to get having been picked, run under the tap and eaten within minutes. For me blackberries are the perfect fruity food, foraged in my dressing gown and slippers. No air miles are involved, just a few steps across the grass from the back door and completely organically grown. Actually there is very little ‘growing’ involved apart from my occasional fight back at the brambles to keep some semblance of a hedge and stop them colonising half the garden.

They’re brilliant for wildlife too, my bees made full use of their flowers earlier in the year and from the cheeping sounds coming from the depths I’m sure a pair of sparrows raised a family hidden in the tangle of branches.

Growing in almost any location it’s hard to imagine a more versatile and productive plant, it’s so sad that most gardeners consider it to be a weed.

But I don’t, lucky me!

Bats, bees and other beauties

On warm still evenings as dusk approaches, I like nothing better than to take a cuppa out into the garden, settle down in a comfy chair and await the flypast of the bats. A few birds call to say goodnight before bedtime and I notice that the fragrances of evening become more noticeable than those of the day, the flowers of nearby honeysuckle and white campion are surprisingly sweet. I had thought they would be a magnet for moths which in turn would have attracted the bats, but it’s the red valerian which is covered in dozens of particularly fast flying moths which are difficult to identify, their wings are just a blur as they speed from flower to flower.

I'm pleased the hedgehog is slower, I have a good view and lovely to see him as he ambles past the compost bins, although he can get some speed up if startled.


Along with the honey, bumble, mining, masonry and all the other little solitary bees visiting my garden my wild visitors reassure me that despite such devastating losses, our wildlife continues to suffer, all is not yet lost.


As the seasons change so do the creatures visiting, at the moment my garden is absolutely alive with bees of all kinds and as a reward for my amateur attempts to identify them I was thrilled recently to see and get a photo of a male long horned bee foraging among the catmint.

Now found only in a few locations, for this rare species to visit my garden is a privilege and confirmation of my belief that if I provide nature with a safe, pesticide free place of refuge it will come.


It's wonderful to see such a rare bee but I do hope that he makes himself scarce before the bats come out!







Early summer is a wonderful time of year to be out and about and looking for fresh ideas and new takes on old ones. Exuberant growth and lovely flowers are everywhere, there’s no shortage of brilliant plants to tempt us and examples of how they can be put together creatively.

Inspiration for our gardens can come from any number of places, things we see in the natural and built environment around us, visiting other people’s gardens, and of course horticultural shows which are created especially to inspire us. Chelsea Flower Show is the highlight of many a gardener's month of May and with such a huge amount of tv and press coverage we'd be hard pressed not to see some plant association, landscaping material or ornamental feature that takes our fancy.


But what about the layout of the garden, the canvas upon which we paint our pictures with plants and all the other details we like to add.

The style of other people’s gardens may be perfect for them, the architecture of their house and how it sits in its own particular landscape. Show gardens can be wonderful, thrilling set pieces, but they have no relationship at all to what surrounds them never mind any relationship to our own gardens.


Just like us, our gardens are unique, they sit in their own locations, around our homes, each with a particular aspect and topography and so have their own individual character with particular opportunities and constraints.

For me the real skill of a garden maker is not in the domination of the space and its planting, but in the understanding of all these elements, taking into account what the garden is trying to say by guiding and nurturing and making the most of its underlying essential character.


I recently went to a conference for professional designers and with several international speakers to listen to I’d hoped to find plenty of inspiration there. Two speakers were brilliant but unfortunately it wasn't quite what I'd hoped for and feeling a bit deflated I came home with my own professional advice and the well known quote by Alexander Pope ringing in my ears. ‘Look to the genius of the place in all’.


With the birds singing and bees buzzing around me I conceded to myself that although ideas might come from anywhere and much as I love other gardens, my inspiration is firmly rooted beneath my feet, right here in my own garden.


Keeping a record

The spring garden changes and grows so rapidly that we can almost see the development as it happens, flower buds swelling, fresh new leaves unfurling and a soft haze of green beginning to show over the hedges.

I've always liked to photograph my garden but never progressed beyond the safety of my good old reliable 'point and press' camera. This year I'm determined to master the manual setting on a potentially much better SLR camera my son gave me and what better time to start than now.

It's also a very good excuse to get outside and record the exuberance of spring as it speeds its way through my garden.

Back to winter - briefly I hope.

Well here we are again, winter's back with blast. No chance of any playing in the garden and the seedlings in my greenhouse are well and truly done for, last week's clients might as well have been in Siberia for all the chance I had to get to see them but there is a silver lining behind all those snowy storm clouds. 

My daughter wants me to draw up her new garden so that's tomorrow taken care of and besides having some time to do things I'm always putting off, I think it's good to pause occasionally, maybe even take time to just sit and gaze out of the window, however aimlessly there will be something to see. There are more birds in the garden than usual, very hungry for food and a few surprise visits from a field fare which was lovely to see, the poor frogs which made it to the pond before it froze over are a worry but that's nature for you, swings, roundabouts and beauty in the unexpected.


Well that was yesterday, the thaw started overnight and heavy rain this morning opened up big patches of green sprinkled with the blue of crocuses and as the sun came out they opened right out revealing pollen filled golden stamens. The Hellebore flowers relieved of their heavy blanket are standing tall again and from my hives, only yesterday cleared of enveloping drifts, stream dozens of bees. No waiting for spring in my garden, it's all systems go again here!

New life


Winter’s hand still is keeping a tight hold on the temperatures this month, but the noticeable increase in light levels is encouraging and our patient wait though the darkest days is rewarded as a rummage through the dishevelled undergrowth reveals the emergence of the first flowers of spring.

Pointed spears of daffodil bulbs, the delicate white bells of snowdrops, golden yellow winter aconites, witch hazel and rising from last years leaves Hellebore buds are opening out into the most exotic and beautiful flowers. They are a magnet for the first queen bumble bees of the year, tempted out of hibernation early by a mild spell.


I've never been the type of gardener who shuts up shop at the end of November, cuts everything down to the ground and puts the garden to bed for the winter, to me that amounts to wilful destruction of essential habitat. I admit there are some plants which collapse into a mushy heap at the first frost and are just too messy to live with, but I always leave the majority of perennials in my garden to stand with the ornamental grasses as bleached silhouettes right through the winter, to offer food, shelter and safety to the myriad other creatures with which I share my garden.


In late autumn they are festooned with dew covered orb spider webs, they look fabulous in the frosts, give a home to over wintering insects and are fastidiously picked over by birds searching for any remaining seeds. But they have taken a battering by the strong winds and are looking a bit the worse for wear now so if the weather’s agreeable I’ll get out there to make a start cutting down and clearing up. All that dead top growth has also been protecting emerging new shoots too, so if it stays really cold I'll wait until later in the month or even March and by then there will be a lot more new growth for me to see too.


Unlike clearing up at the beginning of winter, after which parts of the garden are left looking bare and bleak for weeks, we know that despite the cold there is so much new life getting ready for the first signs of spring to burst through the soil and break from branches. Now it's an altogether much more cheerful and uplifting exercise and with sweet birdsong for accompaniment what better way to see off any residual winter blues.


It's not just plants feeling the very first stirrings of new life, this is the month for amorous frogs to come back to the pond to spawn. Those glistening balls of black studded jelly are for me the real beginning of a new year in the garden and just as exciting to see as they were when I was five. I gave up collecting frog spawn in jars many years ago but despite the finger numbing iciness of the water I just can't help it, I still have to get my hands in there!







Not long now.

January plays a waiting game. Not yet time to begin cutting down last season's foliage, yet new growth is emerging and my patience is wearing thin. It's fine when there is snow on the ground or a sharp overnight frost leaves the foliage crisply crusted and shiny, as we view with envy those gorgeous photographs of gardens from colder, drier winter climates than our own displayed in all their winter whiteness.

But today my garden is all sepia, chestnut and dun, very brown and very, very wet. (I live in Wales so it would be wouldn't it, we don't get all that lovely lush green growth without the water to keep it that way.)  Despite the seeming lack of interest to draw me out on such a grim day, a quick walk round the garden to the Hellebore hot spot and mini woodland under the hedge and the pond, which always gives me pleasure no matter the season or weather, I find things to get my camera out for.

This time of year my garden is all about shape and texture, vertical grasses and last year's Iris flower stems, glossy evergreen foliage, reflective rain drops held by the minute hairs of softer leaves and collapsing weaker growth which after a windswept winter and today's heavy rain just can't hold up any longer. Like me my garden is ready for a new season to begin, the birds are already pairing, zipping between trees and singing fit to burst, spring isn't far away.        Not long now.


Good companions

It's always nice to be in good company, among friends and with people with whom we share common interests. We don't often imagine that the same is true of the rest of the natural world let alone the plants in our gardens, but it's a trait of nature which can really help us make the best of the plants we grow in our gardens.

The idea of companion planting, for example planting nitrogen fixing legumes like peas and beans to provide a nitrogen hit for the next crop and leaving clovers in lawns for a greener sward are not new, but how many of us have an encyclopedic knowledge of the planting opportunities and permutations available, I certainly don't.

Some smart people at First Tunnels have compiled a guide to help us plant vegetables, fruit and herbs together to enhance the fertility of the soil, deter pests, reduce the incidence of diseases and most importantly, help us all to grow organically. It's something I've always done and have never had the desire or felt the need to resort to artificial herbicides or pesticides.  Sadly a close look at the shelves of products for sale in any garden centre shows me that my way of gardening is far from common.

The turning of the year encourages many of us to make resolutions and as this is also when we're making our choices for the vegetable growing year ahead, a guide to growing our plants as good companions in an organic and more sustainable way has come just at the right time and here it is.

A Guide to Companion Planting

If we told you there was a way of getting even better harvests, without specialist tools or fertilisers, would you believe it? If we said there was a way of getting bumper crops without extending your growing beds, what would you think?

For a long time, as gardeners, we have relied on fertilisers and compost to ensure bumper crops of flowers, fruit and vegetables. But this one simple change in the way you garden could bring even better results.

Companion Planting

It is a method of planting fruits, vegetables, flowers and shrubs that complement each other.

This means they support each other by either taking different nutrients from the soil or giving out a certain aroma that a pest common to another plant detests. For example, horseradish keeps pests away from potatoes – so, it makes sense to plant them together!

But not all plants work well together. Some just don’t get on at all and this is why you need this Complete Guide to Companion Planting.

It shows you what plants work well together and the many benefits to your garden of following this planting regime. Take a peek!

In the right place at the right time

Yesterday was one of those rare but wonderful times when I found myself to be in just the right place at just the right time. Asked to visit a garden built to my design earlier this year to suggest additions or alterations to the planting, I'd left it quite late in the day. As my client got colder and went inside to warm up I had a chat with the gardener but I still had notes to make.

The temperature and the sun were dropping quickly but as they did the quality of the light changed, the low sun, only just above the horizon washed the whole landscape with the gentlest golden glow. The autumn foliage of trees and ornamental grasses simmered in perfect contrast to the last purple flowers of Verbena bonariensis and Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', the clarity of the air was perfect, the far hills looked close enough to touch, every detail was pin sharp and the garden sang. 

There are times when I wonder if I have the best job in the world and this moment confirmed it.  An amazing landscape setting for a garden and the perfect chance to record something beautiful which from my paper plan has been put together by a great team, now being taken forward by an enthusiastic young horticulturalist and the nicest client I could wish to work for.

How lucky am I to be just in the right place at the right time!


Enjoying autumn

By the time autumn begins to nip, my garden has been showing its early warning signs for months. The leaves of Euonymus planipes, a relative of our native spindle tree, begin to colour in early July, so by the time everything else catches up the whole shrub with its the jester’s hat fruits is spectacular. An Acer palmatum overhanging the pond colours early too, I love it for the grace of its shapely branches and layers of cascading leaves. Its universal popularity is due to reliable and amazing autumn colour so it’s an advantage that for it and its many cultivars, autumn seems to be a very long season.


With leaves glowing just as fiery red but nowhere near as well known, Amelanchier lamarckii is a brilliant little tree, unfussy where it lives as long as the ground is reasonably moist, it’s also smothered in tiny white flowers as the copper young leaves unfurl in spring, so very pretty at both ends of the year. Like Cerics 'Forest Pansy', Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' and Cornus mas, which I am thrilled were planted by a previous owner of my garden many years ago for me to enjoy now, both Amelanchier and Acer palmatum will never be enormous so great trees for small gardens. The Rhus does throw up suckers so not for the overly controlling gardener but they're easy to pull out so for me not a reason to avoid it.


I never mourn the passing of summer, autumn holds so much to give pleasure in the garden. Fruits and berries are displayed like juicy jewels along the branches of trees, shrubs and climbers, ready to tempt the birds in need of as many calories as they can find before the lean months of winter begin.


Most years bring redwings to my garden, they pass through on migration swooping down to the cherry plum in the hedge before a quick splash in the pond and away again. I live in hope of seeing waxwings one day and in readiness I’ve planted a small rowan tree, although it’s much more likely that thrushes and blackbirds will feast on its berries. Goldfinches are regular visitors to the teasels standing tall and sturdy among the swaying heads of the Panicum grasses, themselves food for other seed eaters. Even without the birds to liven things up, their dainty seeds partnered by the skeletal flowers of fennel are enchanting.


On those first dewy mornings of the season when the mist hangs along the Wye, the orb web spiders reveal themselves sitting patiently in the centre of their delicate webs, made visible by the condensing drops of moisture. The season is changing and there’s a chill fungal smell in the air, autumn has arrived and with it a whole new season to enjoy in my garden.


It’s September and there’s a particular quality to the light this time of year, softer than the harsh sun of mid summer which bleaches the colour out of photos and makes us squint. It’s kinder to the plants in our gardens which we often term now to be fading, as they cease to flower and either seed, berry or shade into the colours of autumn.

The beginning of autumn always used to be tinged with sadness for me, as if nature was losing its grip on life, but nothing could be further from the truth. Nature, the very best of re-users and recyclers and of which our gardens are a small part, is shifting into a different gear and preparing for a lower sun, less light and a much slower pace of life in the months ahead.


But first there is a lot of feeding to be done, all of a sudden my garden is again full of birds, conspicuous by their absence over the summer and with no need of a calendar to know that the year is turning, they are on the move. A delight to watch as I ate my muesli this morning, a flock of lovely little warblers with dozens of blue, great, long tailed and coal tits enjoyed their breakfasts in the apple and birch trees just outside the front door. A very lucky coincidence that we decided to eat at the same time.


Late summer and still looking lovely

By August most traditionally planted gardens are sadly running out of steam, autumn colour is still a while away and as summer draws to a close rather than ending in a blaze of glory too many of our gardens are fizzling out like damp squibs.


Choosing plants which flower later in the summer isn’t difficult if we know where to find inspiration, and westward to the prairies of North America is a good place to start.

Asters partnered by Heleniums, Liatris, Echinacea and Rudbeckia, their natural grassland habitat partners, can create some really colourful combinations and if it’s more of a fiery finish we’re after then the red hot poker flowers of Kniphofia and Crocosmia originating from hot and sunny South Africa really turn up the heat.


Looking south and east, Japanese anemones are favourites at this time of year, long lived plants increasing over the years into large sturdy clumps but with the most elegant flowers in subtle shades of pink or white. In semi shade they look wonderful with Hydrangeas, many of which share the Anemone’s Asian origins. I like it best with Hydrangea quercifolia which originates from America and is for me the most refined of the hydrangeas.


One shrub which very few gardeners would consider refined is Buddleja, so easy to grow and a plant I would never want to be without. We all know that by dead heading roses we can encourage them to keep flowering and the same can be done with Buddleja. If the spent brown heads are removed, it will keep its flowers coming right into the autumn providing us with lovely colour and so many insects with food, it’s perfect for late flying butterflies.


Ornamental grasses may not have the same flower power but they add so much interest in other ways, their swaying stems catch the slightest breeze adding movement and structure, although subtle in colour, there are some like Miscanthus that have large flower heads and en masse impress from a distance, while others like Panicum and Descahmpsia are graced by the most delicate of flowers made up of pearl like beads which invite closer inspection.


Versatile and so easy to grow grasses are indispensable and partnered by plants with which they are naturally at home they help keep the late summer garden looking lovely.

The best job in the world.

The first visit I make to see a garden newly built to my design is always an exciting one. Whether it's a small garden or a large one, built to a modest or bigger budget, to see the ideas I first sketched out as my client and I chatted round their kitchen table, then drew up into a workable plan is a real thrill. For it to be there in real life and full colour on the ground, every plant in position, every stone slab or piece of timber right where I'd intended, I find just as rewarding and exciting as the very first garden I designed.

Sometimes I will try something I've not done before, like an avenue of purple beech cylinders to reflect the towers of a castle which can be seen from the garden. Or a client will add something of their own, for example a slate water feature in one of the gardens below, so that there's an element of surprise to the visit too. Sometimes there are parts of the design which work even better than I'd anticipated and then it's such a delight, I really do have the best job in the world.

Bumble bee favourites


As spring became summer and the longest day of the year slipped by, my meadow lawn reached its peak and although now losing its early freshness, the flowers in their season continue to be a pleasure. I am thrilled by the number of bee species attracted to them and by far the most noticeable now are the bumble bees in all their fantastic furry variety. Buff, white and red tailed, common carder and tree bumble bees all with their different coloured bottoms, some quite tiny, others so fat and heavy looking I wonder how their small wings keep them airborne. I wish I could identify more but they just won’t stay still long enough!


Some plants in my garden are remarkable in their ability to attract them, Centranthus ruber, the red valerian and its white relative 'Albus' are firm favourites, enthusiastic bush vetch is too, it scrambles through the borders as well as over the lawn, its beautiful long lasting purple flowers combine so well with blue, purple and cerise hardy geraniums. The shape of the flowers show their relationship to other members of the pea and bean family like lupins, birds foot trefoil and that most beautiful of climbers, Wisteria. They are beneficial to the soil too, fixing nitrogen and increasing its fertility.


Catmint, is another firm favourite, soft blue hooded flowers similar in appearance and related to lavender, rosemary and sage. Luckily for the bees we seem to like these aromatic herbs in our gardens as much as they do. Comfrey seems to be irresistible, it flowers all summer and they love it and from the many uses it’s had throughout our history we humans do too. The leaves are particularly rich in potassium so I grow it to make a liquid feed for my vegetables.


In recent years much of the common knowledge about plants that our ancestors took for granted and made use of daily has been lost along with our appreciation of the intimate connection between our gardens, nature and our own well being. But one thing we do know now is that bees are in decline and it’s in our own interest to help. Just one pot of lavender in the sun, some catmint in a border or a patch of clover left in the lawn is a small but positive way to make a difference and enrich our own lives knowing that bumble bees are busily foraging on their favourite flowers.






A tale of two gardens and attention to detail


I was offered a tour of two well respected gardens recently and I jumped at the chance, especially as lunch and afternoon tea were included!


Our first garden was Stockton Bury Court near Leominster, traditionally designed around the house and outbuildings of a working farm, where the old stone barns and pigeon house give the garden a real sense of age and place, and where the planting sits perfectly around them.

A long view draws the eyes and feet forward through areas of the garden where every opportunity has been taken to encourage visitors to pause and appreciate the finer details which have been perfectly chosen to reflect either the working background and history of the farm or nature of the site.

Taking in the immaculate vegetable garden, with a detour through a hedge to a hidden wisteria covered folly on the way, the path leads past a spring issuing from a bluebell covered bank below which, under the overhanging boughs of an ancient oak, lies a tranquil pond where moss covered rocks enclose the water as if they’ve been there forever.

This mix of skilfully grown and artfully combined ornamental planting and natives allowed to remain around the edges, in a garden so in tune with its own particular history and landscape, is a real gem.


Our second garden, The Laskett has history at its core too but not of its site, this garden owes everything to the life and loves of its owner Sir Roy Strong and his late wife Julia Trevelyan Oman. First impressions are of a garden imposed onto the landscape, the planting sculpted into architectural shapes, the pathways dictatorial and the ornamentation theatrical, but within the confining neat and orderly hedges little surprises lie in store.

There are subtly revealing signs of a mellowing style, where wild flowers have been allowed to seed into gravel, mini wild flower meadows hide behind hedges and below the sheltering branches of fruit trees, in a quiet clearing, are poignant memorials to Julia and beloved family pets.


We can learn so much from a garden about its history, geography and geology. As an integral part of any garden visit if we look beyond the flowers, tea and cake there’s so much to discover about the lives and personalities of the people who made them, and it’s all there to discover in the attention to detail.

Wonderful wildlife

Spring is joyfully hurtling towards summer and everything in my garden that flowers, creeps, crawls or flies is at its busiest as every plant and animal focuses on producing the next generation to ensure the survival of its kind. Within the interdependent web of species that inhabit our gardens each has its own niche and plays its own small part in the balance of nature. That is until we get involved.


Gardens can never be truly natural spaces of course, they are places which to a greater or lesser degree we manipulate to our own ends, but what we must never forget is that in order to thrive our gardens rely on nature’s systems, rhythms, checks and balances. Sometimes though in our short sighted and impatient haste to create a superficially beautiful garden we cause a lot more damage than we realise or intend.


The metaldehyde in slug pellets is cited by the RSPCA as the most common cause of dog death in cases referred to the Veterinary Research Service. By 2011 it was found in one in eight of our drinking water sources and by 2013 one source in England had one hundred times the recommended safe levels.

There is no doubt that we have to change our ways, the use of toxic chemicals in gardens in not only unnecessary but contributes to the decimation of our wildlife, if we stop and think it’s obvious.


If we spray the greenfly on the roses, not only are we killing all the other insects there too, like the ladybirds which predate them, we are depriving the blue tits of their babies’ food. The fewer lady birds and blue tits the more aphids and so despite feeding the adult birds all winter and putting up a nest box for them, through our own actions the downward spiral continues.

The word ‘pest’ is just that, a word used to describe an element of our gardens which we have been led to believe is undesirable but in reality is an intrinsic part of its web of life.


I delight in watching the birds, bees and early butterflies increasing in number as the weather warms, they are as much a part of my garden as the birch tree, buddleja and every other plant I cherish. There are no pests here, just a rich variety of wonderful wildlife.




Artful annuals



It’s often said that combining plants is a form of art and creating artful arrangements of them is a big part of my work as a garden designer, but every spring when I see those regimented trays of traditional bedding plants for sale like begonias and busy lizzies my heart just sinks. Those flat carpets of colour so loved by the Victorians and parks departments are so difficult to place in an informal or naturalistic setting and for me simply stifle creativity.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have any time for annuals, far from it, they can be a wonderful opportunity for a burst of summer colour, shape and texture as well as a brilliant source of nectar and pollen for insects.


This year I’ve discovered seed of annual plants I’ve not tried in my garden before so as well as the usual pink and white Cosmos I’ve ordered the seed of a pale yellow one, Cosmos ‘Xanthos’, the flower colour will tone beautifully with two of my favourites. Nigella, love in a mist, which enthusiastically seeds itself around my garden every year and Phacelia with its lovely early soft blue flowers which bees adore and is just as prolific.

All have delicate feathery foliage so as soon as they germinate there is something to enjoy, the flowers are fabulous and then the seed pods keep the interest going well into winter.


Foliage is important in any combination of plants and so I’m also trying a new variety of an old favourite Papaver somniferum, ‘Lauren’s Grape’. This is the infamous opium poppy but it has so many redeeming features, it’s tall and upright with grey green paddle shaped leaves and swan’s neck flowers which straighten up as they open to reveal silky translucent flowers, as the petals drop pepper pot seed heads swell and remain upright well into autumn.


Annual plants have many attributes, although they only live for one season the seed can usually be saved for subsequent years and the cost of a whole packet full of a new variety is so much less than just one container grown plant. The possibilities for experimenting with them are endless and now we’re in April it’s a brilliant time to give them a try, with thoughtful choices they can give us months of artful interest in the garden through summer and beyond.