Front garden makeover

It's hard to believe this is the same garden. It was overgrown and even dangerous, with a crumbling sunken area and a tangled mess of plants. Drainage was a problem, with frequent flooding into the garage.

The brief included parking for up to three cars, but without looking like a car park. Some planting was requested, with a mixture of evergreens and ground cover.

The final design used varied surfaces, including square and narrow grey pavers, and grey slate chips that could one day be planted.  An alternative would be a large planter in the centre of the circle, perhaps with an olive tree.

The cleverly graded slope, slot drains and soakaway beneath the slate circle solved the drainage problems. The chosen plants included a Sorbus (Rowan) tree that has cream blossom, pale pink berries and firey autumn foliage, several evergreen shrubs and easily maintained ground cover. The plants will soften the hard landscaping in time, leaving plenty of room for off-street parking.

A new design for a large country garden.

It's very satisfying to finish the graphics and illustrations for a new design. There's a kitchen garden, a contemporary garden studio, a generous patio and raised seating around a fire-pit. There's a special Acer border too. The garden is divided by a formal yew hedge, which acts as the perfect backdrop for flowering borders. Although there are already mature oak trees, I've added flowering cherry and crab apple trees for spring interest.

Time to trim Hellebores.

Hellebore flowers are emerging from the ground now. It's time to cut the old leaves to the ground to allow them to show themselves to best advantage. Getting rid of old foliage also deters the fungal conditions that hellebores are prone to. Bin or burn any affected leaves that show evidence of brown streaks or spots. The plants appreciate a mulch dressing later in the year, and a spring feed is beneficial. Having said that, I find that these are among the easiest of plants to grow in a shady site, and so welcome in January. There are many new selections that are bred to face upwards, and lots of lovely shades to choose from. They take a long time to grow from seed, and do not breed true. This is why they are fairly pricey in garden centres. But it's worth buying when in flower so that you can select the best colours. I find the sumptuous dark purple strains can get lost in the garden, so plant them against a lighter backdrop. One of the best new varieties on offer is 'Anna's Red', which will find a place in my garden this year. Taking care of my hellebores is one of my favourite winter tasks, and evidence that spring is on it's way.

The Entertaining Garden


The brief called for screening from overlooking buildings, a large patio, a further dining area, a sunbathing area and a garden room. Lighting was important as the garden to be used for entertaining in the evening.

A clean, contemporary look was achieved with porcelain paving, and raised beds planted with olives, lavender and grasses. There are black bamboos flanking the outdoor fireplace and in front of the white wall, adding texture, movement and screening. A large pergola adds privacy and is painted to match the large garden room. Horizontal trellis is an attractive backdrop to a mixture of evergreen and flowering shrubs, with plenty of ground cover perennials and spring bulbs.

Lighting is used to highlight the eating and seating areas, and adds drama to the planting when viewed from the house.

Tap or click onto the screen to scroll the images.

Autumn glories.

Autumn continues to blow into my garden The leaves of Acers 'Katsura, and 'Golden Dream' look as good on the ground as they do on the shrubs, and Goosey Ghandi appears to be kicking through them on the lawn. My sculpture 'Far Horizons' wades through the golden grass Hakonechloa macra Aureola, and the sun catches the glowing reds of Acer Griseum and Bloodgood. 

Wood work

There is something warm and lovely about wood carvings. These are on display at RHS Garden Wisley. If you haven't got room for a real horse in your garden, this could be the answer. And there is a lesson in garden design here: oversize any decorative pieces that you place outside.

Summer's last hurrah

Now that we're entering a chilly autumn spell, I thought I'd post some lovely late summer garden colour. These were all looking terrific at RHS Garden Wisley just a few weeks ago. I find that late summer-flowering plants give gardens a lasting vibrancy and tend to keep looking good longer than those that flower earlier. Choose Salvias, Penstemons, Dahlias, Rudbeckias and grasses to compliment the brilliant autumn foliage of Euonymus alata and the Liquidamber tree.          CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SCROLL SIDEWAYS

Transformation in Ashtead

It's been a lovely few days, with warm autumn sun, beautiful plants, copious tea and coffee and the company of the local robin population. And not forgetting the planting team! Thanks Joao and Matt.

The 'Before' images show a sad, tired garden dominated by an old garage. The straight path and borders have little of interest, and there is no sense of discovery.

The 'After' images show a generous patio awaiting garden furniture, wide borders with a selection of plants designed to provide year-long form and colour, with trellising, arch and arbour. Shrubs looking particularly spectacular in October include two Acers and Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion', with it's incredible purple berries. Several large shrubs and the fruit trees have been retained to provide an air of maturity while the news plants grow.

Front garden design

It's always a challenge to come up with a front garden design that doesn't look like a supermarket car park, and that retains some interest when the cars aren't there. 

Here the mixture of laying patterns and the inclusion of a gravel circle solves the aesthetic problem. The drainage had been difficult, with the garage regularly flooding. The solution was to use water permeable paving, new slot drains, planted borders to absorb rain, and a soak-away under the gravel. The finished design is ready for printing and the addition of colour. Practical and beautiful!

Home grown lettuce: ''Every little helps!''

I bought these 'Cut and come again' salad leaves from a supermarket for £1. Already germinated and half-grown, they looked ideal as started plants for my raised veg bed.

I carefully pulled them apart into several clumps, and planted them. They were watered regularly, and 10 days later: mini lettuces! Just cut a few leaves at a time, and serve with home-grown tomatoes.

Much cheaper than garden center starter plants, the quality was also better. If you do this every two weeks you'll have salad leaves into the autumn.

My favourite plants (at the moment!)

I'm frequently asked to suggest my favourite plants, and it's such a tough question to answer. But currently these are looking wonderful in my garden, which is South East facing, providing both sunny and shady borders. Here is Agapanthus 'Dr Bruer', Clematis viticella 'Mme Julia Correvon' and 'Polish Spirit', Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle', fragrant climber Trachelospermum jasminoides, and Verberna bonariensis against Pittosporum 'Irene Patterson'. The last two images are of my 'must have' ground cover plants: the golden Hakone grass Hakeonechloa macra aureola, and Geranium 'Rozanne'. Next month there will be others taking center stage who will then become my favourites!

Cobham courtyard

This delightful 'outside room' looked extremely discouraging following a beautiful kitchen extension. The garden was 1m higher than the house, and a depressing sight. Now it's on two levels, and in constant use as an outside dining area and relaxing space. Fragrant climbers are already spreading over the blue-green trellis, despite only being planted two months ago. The plant colours are reflected in the furnishings and painted shed and trellis.

Lavender time.

On my way to survey a front garden in Reigate, I passed Mayfield Lavender farm. The plants are looking at their best, and they sell lovely specimens for just £5. They also sell my favourite lavender soap and hand-wash, along with other garden related gifts. I picked up several plants, including Lavender 'Hidcote' and 'Folgate', as well as their lavender fudge. They are really worth a visit.

Image taken by Stephen Stringer, a runner up for the 2015 photography competition.

Image taken by Stephen Stringer, a runner up for the 2015 photography competition.

Pick your clematis

When you think about clematis, a vase of flowers doesn't usually spring to mind.  However, many have long stems and a bunch can look very unusual and natural in a narrow vase.  I picked these from my garden this afternoon. And here they are in situ in the garden.

An allotment garden

It's great to see progress in my client's garden. Her dream has always been to grow her own produce, so the end of her garden has been designed with easily-maintained wooden raised veg beds. Sandstone paving has been laid around the beds, the greenhouse moved and a garden room built.

Further work will include the ornamental part of the garden, along with a generous entertaining terrace. There will also be woodland shrubs and perennials around the oak tree and garden room at the allotment end.

Quite a difference from when I first saw it last year!

Arts and Crafts garden.

I'm often asked whether I go back to see gardens I've designed and planted. In 2004 I was commissioned for the design, and I'm still involved with it as the garden matures. A real 'English country garden' which sits very comfortably with a beautiful Arts and Crafts house.

Completed Cobham garden

It's always interesting to compare 'before' and 'after' images, to see how amazing the transformation is. This house and garden have had a total makeover, and the borders have just been planted. One of my favourite moments in my design career include those where the planting has been finished, and I am alone with a realised project, months after I first saw it overgrown and unloved.

The brief included a patio to catch the sun, a winter garden viewed from the kitchen, and relaxed romantic planting. The awkward steps needed re-modelling, and the problem of difficult level changes addressed.

The front garden looks quite different too. I'm really looking forward to returning when the plants have matured and grown, and I can design the remainder of the garden, including the studio garden and the side courtyard.

Prune your box by Derby day

It's a useful aide memoire: ''Box should be pruned by Derby Day'', along the lines of "Put slug pellets round your hostas on Valentine's Day"!

Here are the before and after images, after using a small electric hedge trimmer.  I also have a rechargeable cordless type, which saves me cutting through the cord yet again. 

Although I like the fresh green 'fuzzy' look of the new growth, it does look neater when pruned. Clear up the prunings to prevent the spread of fungal disease, and feed and water afterwards to help the plant recover.

Somehow a formally clipped box hedge allows the rest of the planting to look relaxed within it, and gives the garden a cared-for appearance.

The RHS has a lot of useful information about Buxus, see the link below.


Chelsea chop

For gardeners, 'Chelsea' doesn't just mean the Chelsea Flower Show. It's also a reminder to give several plants the 'Chelsea chop', cutting them back by a third in Chelsea week.  This looks drastic, but means more flowers and bushier plants a little later in the season, which will not be so inclined to flop.

Here is my Nepeta 'Walker's Low' before and after I set to with shears.  And Bella rolling all over the prunings, delirious with the smell!  Other plants that respond well to this treatment include sedums, such as Sedum 'Matrona', which tends to flop apart, exposing the middle of the plant.