[DESIGN SHOW 21] Plant Design Secrets & Beautiful UK Gardens

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In this episode Rachel visits the Beth Chatto Garden near Colchester in Essex and looks at what makes the famous planting schemes work so well.

She also visits a private garden close by to Beth’s garden that is sometimes open to the public at Little Bentley Hall.

And last but by no means least she visits the Waterperry Garden in Oxfordshire and show how to successfully plant in groups.

If you’d like to attend one of Rachel’s FREE online fast track garden design classes, go to: https://www.successfulgardendesign.com/freeclasses

[DESIGN SHOW 19] – Mediterranean garden tour & adding the WOW with colour

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Details of William and Robert’s fantastic mountain Med garden can be found here: https://www.jardinalpujarra.com/the-garden/

If you’d like to volunteer to help in the garden, details of how to do that are here: https://www.jardinalpujarra.com/the-garden/membership-and-volunteering/

And if you’d like to stay at their lodging, details here: http://www.cortijoopazo.com

Here’s what William and Robert had to say about their garden: “It’s a mediterranean mountain garden and as such, enjoys a climate similar to a mediterranean coastal climate, but with the added challenge of cold winters and the affect of altitude.

What we find is that plants that grow here will grow very well if looked after, and those that don’t will let you know by refusing to survive no matter what we do. The hardest thing is to get plants through their first year or two.

We are always looking for volunteers to help us since most of the work is done by just the two of us. Volunteers can be residential or can offer time on a regular basis i.e. one day a week/month/whenever they can.

We also have accommodation here at Cortijo Opazo or at our Green Mountain Yurt. We can prepare meals for guests and try to use produce from the garden if we can.

Most importantly, our garden is open on Fridays from April to the end of October and for events. We welcome groups to get in touch to organise specific visits, which can be on any day, subject to our availability. Groups should be 10 or more. If a group wants to stay over in the area then we can make suggestions as to suitable local accommodation.
There’s plenty to see in the Alpujarras, a unique and fascinating part of Spain, so a visit to Jardín de la Alpujarra could be a part of a bigger trip.

Refreshments always available for visitors.

The beautiful courtyard garden in Jimena de la Frontera house for sale can be viewed here: http://www.peterguyholdings.com/property/beautiful-large-house-in-the-heart-of-jimena-de-la-frontera/

If you’d like to learn how to design your garden, attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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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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Garden tour update

Truth be told, I’ve not seen nearly as many gardens on my tour round Spain, so far, as I would have hoped. Part of it is due to setting out over 2 months later than I’d originally planned! So touring round at this time of year, with the intense heat, is far from ideal, but I am loving the trip so far, nonetheless.


Planting outside of the Alhambra Palace Gardens – Granada, Spain

I’m currently in central Spain having driven up from the south. To escape the 40°+ heat I’ve resorted to camping in tree shaded valleys, in campsites next to rivers. It’s been great to keep me cool, but there hasn’t been many gardens to see in the middle of the wilderness!

Granada was a good place for gardens though. I didn’t go into the Alhambra this time as I have been before, but I did take a look at Carmen de los Mártires garden, which is just a few hundred yards away from the Alhambra and it’s free to look around (and has decent loos right by the main gate -an important bit of info for any traveller!).


Carmen de los Mártires Garden, Granada, Spain

The main thing you notice about Spanish gardens are firstly, there is no grass, and secondly, there’s an awful lot of box hedging. They use water and water features a lot as well, and this helps cool down the atmosphere, which is a welcome relief in the summer months.

Exotic plants from all over the world thrive in these hot conditions. The plants are watered by inbuilt irrigation systems, so they’re not completely self-sustaining though.

How to create a garden without a lawn

In UK gardens, I often advise people to have three-quarters empty space to one-quarter planting. This ratio is approximate, and it can be altered, but it’s a good starting point to have the right amount of space to planting. However, out here, in some gardens that ratio is almost reversed because they don’t have large lawn spaces.

Carmen de los Mártires Jardin, Granada, Spain

Carmen de los Mártires Jardin, Granada, Spain

Because it’s rare to see a lawn in a traditional Spanish garden, what they do instead, if the gardens are of any size, is to have wide paths between the formal planting. The box hedges almost act as lawns visually, as they use them in almost mazelike patterns throughout the gardens, so there’s still a large proportion of ‘green’ to look at.

Layering the planting to create interest

Another common theme is to have layering in the garden. You have the box hedges and flowering plants like Agapanthus, on the lower levels, underneath really tall palms and trees. This layered planting functions on several levels. Visually, it creates a lot of interest because you’re not viewing the garden on just one level. On a practical level, the trees help cast shade and bring welcome relief and escape from the incredibly hot sun.

I may well have to postpone the rest of my garden visits until the autumn, when it’s cooled down a bit. For all those back in the UK who are complaining about 30°s, you don’t know what hot is until you’ve tried driving through central Spain in a bright red oven on wheels, in the middle of the summer!

For those of you who like to do vicarious sight-seeing, here are some of my highlights from the trip so far…


Rooftops of Granada and a colourfully planted side street


Amazing street art of Granada

The amazing town of Segura de la Sierra between Jaén and Albacete

The beautiful hilltop town of Segura de la Sierra between Jaén and Albacete (kinda!)

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Inspiring International Gardens

I’m going to start this week’s blog post by shamelessly stealing someone else’s idea! My good friend Jenny Peterson did a great garden video showing highlights of her gardening year in 2010.  So, I thought I’d do a video of all the fantastic gardens I visited last year. Here it is…

If you’d like to know more about the gardens that are featured in the video please click on the following links:

Alhambra Palace garden Granada Spain

Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden

Burghley House Lincolnshire

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba, Spain

Coimbra Botanic Garden, Portugal

Parque de Maria Luisa, Sevilla, Spain

Jardines de las Reales Alcazares

Exciting News!

I’m interviewing internationally acclaimed, award-winning garden designer and author David Stevens tomorrow for the new podcast series. Do you have any questions on garden design that you’d like me to ask him? If so, please leave them in the comments below or send me an email from the contact page of this website.

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