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.


Treat your pansies

Winter flowering pansies have been flowering their little socks off during this mild winter.  Now is the time to give them some TLC to keep them happy for a few more weeks, until they are replaced by summer bedding plants.

Start by dead-heading the faded flowers, and removing any tired looking foliage. You may find some have succumbed to pansy diseases, in which case remove the plants and bin them. (Do not compost them.)

Then simply water them, as it is surprising how dry the compost can be in May.  For a real treat, add some diluted foliar feed such as Phostrogen.

This lovely wooden box of pansies was given to me at Christmas. Their happy faces are reward for a little bit of pampering!

Cornus cut-back moment

If you haven't pruned your Cornus (dogwood) yet, now really is the time! It's a job I always enjoy, as it gives me the opportunity to get creative with the resulting stems, which in the case of Cornus 'Mid-Winter Fire' are bright orange and gold.

I place them in a container against the background of a black shed, or in a bare patch in the border. They can also be used to support perennials, or direct the growth of clematis as it struggles to reach the wires on the fence. I've seen them simply stuck into the ground at RHS Wisley garden, in a long wavy line between bulbs. You are only limited by your imagination, and although the bright colour will only last a few weeks, it's a good return on a few minutes effort.

The benefit to the plant is that the best colour stems are produced on the new growth. Feed and mulch the shrub after pruning almost to the base. Although it seems drastic, you'll soon see the start of new leaves and stems, promising a gorgeous display of butter-yellow leaves in autumn, and those vibrant stems again in winter.

Tulip time

Sometimes it's all about 'a moment' in the garden. I snapped these images early this morning with my phone, as the dew was sparkling on the lawn. The tulips seem really early, and make a real splash of colour against all those daffodils. The Amelanchier is in flower and the Acers are looking good too. There are nesting jays, blackbirds and blue tits in the garden: spring has truly sprung in Surbiton!

Geurilla gardening on your street.

If the local council have added a tree to your neighbourhood, why not bring extra cheer with a little 'geurilla gardening'? Many garden centres have 'deals' on ready-planted bulbs, which are perfect for planting around the base of new trees, especially when the soil is newly dug. Dwarf daffodils such as Jetfire, February Gold and Tete a Tete will re-appear every year, and you will have made a lasting impact on your area.

Transforming a sad and neglected space.

One of my current projects is an unloved and overgrown garden.  To reflect the extensive changes in the house, there is a new terrace, sunken sun patio, three flights of easy-going steps, and new borders.  All that's needed are the finishing touches to the hard landscaping, and of course, the plants. Before and after images record the transformation so far!

Daffodil time

The terrible Easter weather has now subsided, and you might be tempted outside to assess what's left of your garden. Hopefully all the fences and buildings remain. But some plants took a battering during the storm, and many of the flowers on my Magnolia Stellata look somewhat shredded. Even the daffodils looked a bit flattened, although being tough they are beginning to stand up again. It's a good time to look at gaps in the spring border. It can be hard to remember where to plant more spring bulbs when the borders are full in October/November, so I like to take photos of the empty areas to remind me. I also keep a garden notebook, 'What worked and what didn't'. Then it's easy to recall your favourite bulb and plant combinations, and you can repeat and refine them every year, until you reach perfection!

Plant hunting in deepest Surrey

The things that make a garden designer happy! The vibrant stems of Cornus (dogwood) in a Woking nursery.  The beautiful specimens of Ilex (holly) and the best alternative to box, Ilex Crenata.  Not a bloom in sight in these images, showing that gardens benefit from evergreen foliage and colourful stems to add winter and spring interest to garden borders. 

And the sun is out, the robins are singing and a Tesco Hoisin Duck wrap is waiting for me in the car. (I'd like to add that today makes up for the days when I've bought a lorry-load of plants in the rain!)

A new design

It's a busy time for garden design, and I finished three new designs this week.  There is always a 'Eureka' moment when all the doodling, researching, head-scratching and staring out of the window results in the design concept. And an even better moment when your client likes your ideas!

This rear garden will be built in May, watch this space to follow the progress.