If you enjoy visiting National Trust stately homes, the chances are you’ll have had a walk around a walled garden, writes Vanessa Drew, Landscape Designer at Tobermore.
Historically this would have been constructed to create a microclimate in which to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers for use in the big house. Most keen gardeners would give anything to have a walled garden like this but it may remain out of reach. However, some people may not have noticed that they already have a walled garden. It may not be Sissinghurst, but a smaller version can still be used to create the same effect.
Many back gardens are bordered by a garage wall. The sun will heat up this wall during the day and the heat will radiate out at night. Against a wall, features such as espalier fruit trees, climbing plants, raspberries, peas and beans, etc. can be grown. The base of a wall is often in a rain shadow and the soil may contain builders rubble and hardcore from construction. In this case, the plants will require extra nutrition and moisture, so a wheelbarrow full of organic matter such as well rotted manure or garden compost can be added.
A lean-to greenhouse could also be used as a summer house to sit in even in winter. A wooden arbour can be positioned against a wall and is planted with climbers. This will act as a focal point in the garden as well as somewhere to sit and admire the scenery. An arbour is quite rustic so this could be combined with a pathway created with a traditional style paving product.
If digging down is too difficult, you could create a raised bed with walling products. Combined with coping stone along the top, this will also act as seating area. If you are building a raised bed against a wall you will need to tank the front of the existing wall to stop moisture from the soil seeping through. If that sounds like too much hard work, simply attaching wall planters will transform the space. These can be used to grow strawberries, herbs and salad leaves or summer bedding such as trailing lobelia and nasturtiums.
Green ‘living’ walls are very popular in European cities, but they require extensive irrigation and artificial fertiliser if they are to survive. Green wall systems are available to purchase but they are quite expensive although very impressive if successful. Plants such as sedum and saxifrage which have very shallow roots are perfect for this idea.
On close inspection you may notice that walling is a haven for wildlife. If you grow evergreen wall shrubs such as pyracantha, cotoneaster, ivy and honeysuckle, you will create nesting sites for small garden birds which are in decline. In addition to this you may notice the tiny nesting holes of solitary bees and mason bees – don’t panic – they are both stingless and totally harmless. Bumble bees like to hibernate in crevices in walls. They are becoming endangered due to people tidying their gardens too much and using pesticides, so they need all the help they can get. Pollinating insects are essential for a lot of crops and fruit trees so please try to encourage them in to your garden.