Archives for March 2010

Improve Your Garden Now – Here’s How…

The Easter weekend tends to be a time when a lot of people start to think about their garden. If the weather is nice, every garden centre across the land will be jammed packed with people frantically purchasing plants for their garden.

The serious folks are lining up at 9am on Good Friday and are probably back on the Saturday for yet more plants. And by Monday the ‘Day-trippers’ are out in force, milling about being seduced by impulse buys.

Which One Are You?

The serious shopper determined to get your garden finished by the end of the Bank Holiday weekend or the impulse buyer? It doesn’t actually matter which category you fall into, either one is equally valid. What matters is what you spend your hard earned cash on. You might have a list of things you think you need and still buy the wrong things. And equally, you may be seduced by an impulse buy and strike lucky with a great purchase. Who knows!

A Game of Chance

When you consider what cautious folks most of us are in day to day life, it’s amazing how all that caution goes out the window when it comes to our gardens. Without really knowing what we are doing, we rush off to the nearest garden centre, spend a big chunk of cash on plants, statues and anything else that catches out eye, come home, strategically scatter out new purchases around and then expect the magic of nature to do the rest…. sound familiar? Come on, we’ve all done it at one point or another.

Trouble is, that method doesn’t work particularly well. It is a game of chance doing it that way. If you’ve loads of surplus cash lying around, taking a gamble can be fun. If you haven’t, nothing is more disappointing than spending time, money and effort and not achieving the results you really want.

If Only You Knew!

Most people don’t fully understand garden design. They have a rough idea of what is involved but not really. People assume I arrange plants for a living. In part that is true, but it is only a small part of the job. A truly great garden is so much more than the plants it contains.

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The Secret To A Great Garden Is…

Star Trek Ultimate Edition by *michkelleher on deviantART

The Importance of Space

Space, they tell us is the final frontier. I disagree, at least when it comes to garden design. Space is the FIRST frontier.

When it comes to gardens, people are passionate about plants; they are passionate about garden features. Unfortunately those things are not what make a garden great. They certainly add to a garden’s greatness but they are not the key to it.

What you should be passionate about is space and the use of it. Before you shrug your shoulders, say “hmph” and go back to Twitter, let me tell you why space is THE most important thing you can think about in your garden.

A Whole Lot Of Nothing

The areas of empty space in your garden, like lawn and patios, are exceptionally important to shape correctly to have a great garden. These areas of empty space dictate how the garden is viewed, used and looks.

The Most Common Mistake

Most folks shape the flower borders first and then the lawn is whatever shape is left. Whilst that makes sense logically, practically it’s not the best way to do it. If you shape the empty areas of space first, your main view is then perfectly shaped to lead the eye where you want it to go to make the garden look larger, more interesting and exciting. Rather than a nibbled into with random, incoherent shapes type of lawn.

Resist the Temptation of Things

We all love stuff. We are obsessed with things. Plants and features are wonderful things, so it’s very easy to be seduced by them. Shaping empty space is petty boring in the grand scheme of things but its use is one of those understated givens in a good design.

To give you an example, you may think that the words you see on a page are what makes an article. Whilst that would be a pretty good assumption, there is something as important as the words. Yesyouguesseditspace!Withoutspacethewordsareverydifficulttoreead!

When it comes to gardens, correctly shaping space is even more important to get right than the space between these words.

Your Mission: Live long and create great gardens!

Exciting News!

Finally, The Great Garden Formula Home study course is now available. For a short time it will be discounted in order to get testimonials for the website. Check it out here:

And more exciting news – if you’d like to attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

You can now register on this page:

Is your garden a ‘Sagger’?

A while ago we looked at why it is so important you plan your garden before it’s built. But there is one thing that is crucial to get right before you even get to the planning stage. The dreaded garden survey!

Why do so many people avoid this part? Well tapemeasureaphobia is usually to blame for that. But there is another factor. Let’s be honest, striding round your garden, getting tangled up with a tape measure and genuinely looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards is not one of the most fun things you could do with your free time. BUT it’s really important you get your garden plan to the right size and scale before you design it.

Here’s Why (and an exclusive on how the fashion trend ‘sagging’ actually started!)

I want you to imagine you’ve never bought clothes before and you go into a department store to get an outfit. You see some clothes you like, grab enough for your outfit, pay for it and leave.

When you get home, you try on the top you’ve purchased. It’s a bit big but it more or less fits, not wonderfully, but it will do. Then you come to try on the trousers and find that you’ve inadvertently got them with legs far too short for your legs.

You now have a problem to solve. You’ve got this far and are determined you can get things to work – there is no way you are going to measure yourself and go back to the shop and admit you’ve got the size all wrong; you’re an inventive and determined person and you WILL get this to work out if it’s the last thing you do!

You’re Smart, You Can Find a Way to Get This to Work, Right?

So the legs of your trousers are far too short – you don’t have any spare material so the only solution you can see is to pull the trousers down lower, so they are sagging and the bad fit should more or less be covered up by the slightly big top. Can you picture just how bad that would look (and feel)? Other than quite a current fashion trend, does this sound like complete craziness to you? It will, if you are over the age of 25!

What on Earth Does This Have to do With Gardens?

Now back to gardens, the exact same crazy thing can happen. And very easily, if you haven’t measured your garden correctly or at all. You’ve spent time working out your design on paper, you’re happy it looks lovely, off you go to buy everything you need. Then, when you come to build it, nothing quite fits or looks right – the area is either bigger, smaller or a completely different shape to what you thought it was…. and you’ve got all this stuff you’ve had trucked to your home. Are you going to face the embarrassment of going back to the builder’s merchant and being called ‘Luv’, ‘Dear’ or ‘Mate’ again and admit you’ve botched things up?! I’m guessing, not.

Just in the same way the poorly fitting trousers didn’t produce quite the look you were planning for your outfit, having to totally change your garden design to make everything fit also has equally disastrous consequences. Nothing fits as it should and making adjustments makes the proportion and flow not work well. It won’t ever look as good as it should, or, worse, it’ll look awful.

The mistake with the clothes is pretty minor in the scheme of things – you don’t have to wear them EVERY day, they are relatively cheap to replace and very easy to rectify. Unlike the time and money you spent on the garden. That’s not nearly so easy to get right once it’s gone wrong. And if you’ve spent a lot of time and money on it,  you may be looking at it for a VERY long time…

Moral of The Story

Don’t make the mistakes of a teenager and dress your garden like one! Measure your back yard before you design it.

Spending time getting to know your outside space intimately with a tape measure doesn’t seem quite so bad now does it? If you have no idea how to measure your back garden then head on over to the free garden video tutorials on measuring and how to draw up your plan to scale. Or if you’d prefer to be guided through the entire process with both video and written instructions, take a look at the Garden Survey Mini-Course.

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden  please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).

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Inspirational Gardens part 2 (sort of!)

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Best laid plans

Don’t you just love it when you have a really good idea, one that will undoubtedly be helpful and inspiring for people but there’s a small technical glitch that throws a spanner in the works? Well, I’ve discovered a bit of a glitch with this particular monthly feature on inspirational gardens and the people behind them.

The first one I choose, the wonderful Veddw garden in South Wales, was an easy choice; great garden, lots of accessible photographs and it proved to be very popular. During my interview with Anne Wareham, I asked her to pick the next Inspirational Garden. She’s picked an absolute cracker, trouble is this garden isn’t so accessible. It’s a private garden, one that is open to viewing by arrangement. There is no website, very few photographs online and I’ve not had any luck getting hold of the owner when I’ve phoned! With Veddw, there were so many photographs, I felt like I’d been there. Not the case with this garden.

Gardening flesh

I’ve seen enough photographs to be thoroughly intrigued by Anne’s choice but not enough pictures that make me feel I could do it justice writing about it. So there’s only one thing for it – I need to go and visit it and see for myself how a garden has been constructed using just two main plants. There are other plants in the garden but two plants dominate the design.

Not that I’m a complete tease or anything, but I’m not going to reveal which garden Anne chose just yet. I will give you a clue, though; it’s in Swansea. As soon as I’ve visited it, I will tell you all about it.

Something a little closer to home

Grass Maze – Cambridge Botanic Garden

Instead, I’m going to show you a garden that’s close to my heart. Having moved to Cambridge last year, I do love to hang out at the Botanic garden. The photograph above shows part of their dry garden. Although Cambridge has lots of open green spaces (one of the many reasons I love living here) my favourite is definitely the botanic garden. On sunny afternoons, when I’m finished designing for the day, I pop over with my camera, treat my self to a nice big slice of cake and then wander around the garden taking photos for my plant design album.Cambridge University Botanic Garden, like most botanic gardens, it is more plant focused than design orientated, there are some areas that have been well-designed and a lot of thought has gone into the planting schemes. The Botanic garden is situated on a 40 acre site, right in the city centre, though it doesn’t feel that large. It’s a great place to visit if you are looking for plants and trees to inspire you for your garden. I particularly love how they use grasses in the herbaceous borders. There is a nice mix of traditional and modern influences throughout the garden.

Stipa calamagrostis – Cambridge botanic garden

Where do you suggest?

I’d like to visit lots of great gardens this year. I’m looking forward to doing this. I used to visit gardens all the time when I first qualified, so I’ve done the usual ones like Sissinghurst, Hestercombe and Hidcote. Veddw, of course, is already on my list for the summer. I’d also love to visit less well known gardens. What other suggestions do you have? Do email me or leave a comment if you have a suggestion. Doesn’t just need to be UK gardens; I’m happy to go further afield in search of glorious gardens. Or if you want me to design your garden, check our Worldwide Postal Garden Design Service. 

A view of Cambridge

For those that aren’t familiar with Cambridge here are some of my favourite views.

‘The Backs’ Cambridge

Roll on summer…

King’s College Cambridge


Fancy a Punt!

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden  please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).

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BIG ideas for roof gardens [part 2]

In last week’s blog post we looked at how to tackle a tiny courtyard garden for reader Rachel Scott. This week we are going to look at the second part of Rachel’s question – what to do with a small roof terrace. Plus look out for the special announcement at the bottom of the page…

Most of the design tips below will also be applicable for small town gardens and walled courtyard gardens, not just roof terraces.

Photography courtesy of Simon Leonard

Well, the first thing you need to think about with any roof terrace is the structural integrity. If you require permission to turn the space into a garden in the first place. We’ll assume all is fine on that front, in this instance.

How much weight can it hold?

The answer to that question dictates where you start. If there are no weight issues, you can use almost any building materials (it is sensible not to use excessively heavy materials) and build retaining walls with built in seats and planters. If there are weight concerns, then only place planters and other heavier objects in areas that are load bearing (usually the outer edges). Use lightweight materials. But before you do anything call out a structural engineer to advise you on what you can and can’t do.

How to use the space

As much I have have grown to hate the expression ‘outside room’, this is how you should think of a roof garden. Thinking of it as a room will help you utilise the space properly. In a tiny space like this one (3m x 2m), Rachel’s next job, once she has worked out what she can do weight wise, is to work out what space she needs to function in.

Like planning any other type of landscaped garden, you need to decide the use of the area. Are you going to have a seating area? How are you going to access it? Where is the best location to be in, or to avoid the sun? Once you’ve worked out what you want to do, you are halfway there. If you have a chair and table, set them up and see how much space you have left. If it’s not much, would it be better to build a planter with a seat built in to save on space?

You need to find the right balance between function and looks. Areas need a certain amount of empty space so that they don’t feel cluttered. This is critical to your success. ‘Less is more’, as they say (I vow one day to come up with an alternative phrase).

Use the walls

In any garden, the boundary can be used to your advantage. But in a tiny roof space, you must make the walls your best friend. If you have an interesting exterior wall, one that indents, is it possible to render and paint sections? Perhaps certain parts lend themselves to some outdoor art? Is it possible to attach a canopy on the wall to pull across on inclement weather days?

Get arty

Going back to the ‘outdoor room’ theme, dress the walls like you would for an interior but with about half to a third less stuff. If you are a clutter monkey, make that an two-thirds less! A carefuly positioned ornament or some candles on an exterior shelf blends the inside and outside spaces. Exterior art can be used effectively too. A fairly inexpensive way to create some outdoor art if you aren’t an artist is to get some Ikea canvases and paint them with exterior or yacht varnish, front and back, two to three coats. They won’t last forever but will add that finishing touch to your roof garden.

As well as thinking about how to use every bit of space from the floor to the walls. Also think about the views beyond. Frame the best parts of the view, disguise and hide the parts that don’t look good. If all the views are wonderful, you may still need a windbreak to make the sitting areas more comfortable. Screens like the one shown in the photo above work well or dense planting can sometimes be enough if the area is not overexposed.

Getting the right plants

Of course no garden would be truly complete without the plants. Think very carefully about what you put in; will it survive windier and colder conditions (if on an exposed terrace), for example? Pick plants that look good all year round and can cope with some neglect. By neglect I don’t mean to cast aspersions on your gardening skills or commitment. It’s just a fact that a plant grown in a pot suffers much quicker than one planted in the ground with more soil to support it.

Hopefully that has given Rachel some ideas for her Sydney roof terrace and you as well for your garden.

How to Create Your Dream Garden…

SMALLGDNformulaIf you’d like to know more about how to design a small space garden check out the Small Garden Design Formula. The course covers how to design different shape and size gardens. Once you know the simple tricks that are covered in the course, you’ll be able to transform any small space into a wonderful garden.

Every business has got to have one these days, so here it is - Disclaimer: Please note, the information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to provide accurate, up-to-date, reliable, and complete information. No warranties of any kind are expressed or implied. Readers acknowledge that the author is not engaging in rendering professional advice. By reading this website, the reader agrees that under no circumstances is the author responsible for any losses, direct or indirect, that are incurred as a result of use of the information contained within this website or related downloads, accompanying videos, or other supplementary materials. This includes but is not limited to errors, omissions, or inaccuracies. The material contained on this website is not meant to be a substitute for formal training nor a replacement for professional training or services. Please note some of the links on the site go to affiliate websites where a small commission is earned if you purchase. Please do your due diligence on all linked to products before buying.   Find Rachel on Google+
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