Archives for August 2013

Garden Tour – Madrid Garden Highlights

Caixa Forum, Madrid centre & Retiro Park

You’d have to be fairly crazy to visit Madrid in August, let alone hire a bike so you could blast round the gardens and famous 370 acre Retiro park all in day…

Yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing last week!

Why on earth? Don’t go there, long story, but the short version is I’m two months behind schedule with my garden tour of Spain, so I’m in parts I didn’t expect to be in this time of year. Amazingly, the weather gods were feeling exceptionally kind the day I was there, and the temps never got over 26° C whilst I was scaring tourists and locals on my bike.

Aranjuez Palace Garden - my photographs don't do it justice!

Aranjuez Palace Garden, filled with Cosmos flowers – my photographs don’t do it justice!

Before we get to the best gardens I saw in Madrid itself, I’d like to start about forty minutes south of Spain’s capital in a place called Aranjuez. They call this the Versailles of Spain and I could see why. There’s a beautiful Palace and gardens immediately as you drive in through the narrow cobbled streets.

The garden is free to walk around and I found it strangely entrancing. I say strangely because after weeks and weeks of visiting Spanish gardens, I am all formal gardened out. Or, at least, I thought I was. What I loved about the planting in the this garden is the freedom behind all those formal hedges.

Basically, I’d discovered Cosmos flowers, or rather how great they look planted en masse. I’d never really taken a lot of notice of them before. Seeing them planted almost like wild flowers in with all the formality of the gardens beyond was quite magical.

Madrid City Centre Gardens

My first stop in Madrid was to visit the Botanic garden as I needed more plant photos to add to my plant database spreadsheet I use for the Plant Design Formula.

In all honesty, I don’t tend to hold up much hope, as far as design goes, when visiting botanic gardens as the focus is primarily on plants, not design. I was very pleasantly surprised with this one though.


Once again, a very formal layout, but at least the design elements had been thought about and the planting done in attractive combinations, rather than just rows of plants.


Cycling around Retiro park was a lot of fun as it’s attractively laid out. It’s on an enormous scale and beautifully landscaped, but there wasn’t much in it that’s really suitable for most gardens. The rose garden was worth a look, though I suspect it looks at its best about a month before I saw it!


My final stop, before collapsing in a small pile with a iced drink, was the Sabatini Gardens. Great, if you are a big fan of clipped hedges. Not a lot else to see if you’re not.

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Wide garden design – Case study

wide garden

Wide garden before design

If your garden is wider than it is long, then you need to put a bit more thought in to how you plan it. The problem with wide gardens is their lack of depth, it makes the garden feel confined because the end of the garden is so close.

This is true even if the garden is quite sizeable. You might have a lot of physical space in the garden, but if it’s pointing in the wrong direction i.e. widthways and not lengthways, then visually it will make the garden feel much smaller than it really is.

So how do you design a wide garden?

Step 1 Divide the space of the garden into different areas.

The division doesn’t have to be a wall or fence, it can be very subtle with planting or a pergola. By dividing the space up, it will make each area look longer. So in effect, each end of the house has its own garden.

Now depending on just how wide your garden is, you can divide it into two or perhaps three areas.

Step 2 Choose shapes that will make each of your divisions look longer.

So, for example, using either an oval or rectangular shape in each of the sections of your garden for the lawn, will make that area look longer, because your eyes will follow the length of shape. You can also use interlocking circles or boxes. If you have enough space, then you can consider using the free form flowing curves. However, it is advisable to start off with simple geometric shapes, just to get an idea of the feel of the space.

Step 3 Create interest by having focal points that draw your eye down the garden.

By having strategically placed focal points like a statue, urn, or bench/seating area, your eyes will automatically be drawn to the solid object in between the planting. Adding a focal point to look at occupies your mind with more visual information and that always helps distract your brain from the true shape of the garden.

Case study wide garden


In our wide garden case study example you can see that owner had had a really good go at designing the garden herself. She had put in one nice size lawn shape, and had a good ratio of plants to space. However, the shape she had used for the lawn accentuated the width and made the garden feel shorter, rather than longer.



This transformation could be easily done on the limited budget that was available for this garden. It really is amazing just how much difference getting the correct shape lawn can make to a garden. I know it’s totally counterintuitive, you want to think of your garden as putting things in, like patios and plants, but it really is down to how you shape the areas of empty space. That’s what really makes a difference!

Many thanks to Gillian for so willingly allowing me to use her garden plan as a case study example.

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