Author: Vanessa Drew, Landscape Designer at Tobermore
The choice of plants is very important to ensure year-round interest in the garden. Traditional style cottage gardens, herbaceous borders and wild flower meadows look beautiful from June to August. They are often depicted in glorious full bloom in garden magazines and television programmes. However, they are never photographed between November and April when it can be rather unattractive to look at. In addition, these gardens are very high maintenance. They require daily deadheading to ensure repeat flowering and wild flower meadows need to be re-seeded every year as an annual project. For these reasons, I would always ascertain the amount of time a client has to spend on their garden to ensure they are happy with the amount of maintenance. It is an odd phenomenon that we now have more labour saving gadgets than ever before, but no one seems to have any spare time!
Container gardening is also fairly high maintenance. Pots need to be constantly replanted, deadheaded, watered and fed in order to keep them looking their best. The lowest maintenance planting for year-round interest is a good selection of shrubs, trees and hedging. It is vital to choose carefully to ensure the shrubs will not get too large for their space. Plants must be properly spaced apart to allow them to grow to their eventual size. Repeat flowering shrubs, or those which produce berries and/or good autumn leaf colour deserve a space in every garden. Once planted, they can be pretty much left to their own devices with only occasional pruning as necessary.
When designing an outdoor space, it is essential to get the balance right between hard and soft landscaping. Both require a lot of careful thought. Often I am asked to visit a garden which is long established and requires a lot of renovation. Occasionally the clients have just moved in to the house and the garden has been neglected. Or perhaps the clients have been living in the house for many years and have been adding to the planting as they went along.
A common problem in gardens is that there is only plant interest in Spring or Summer. This is a very frequent dilemma because people tend to only visit garden centres at these times of year. They will have a walk around and buy a few plants which are in full glorious bloom, take them home and plant them. Within a few weeks however, the flowers are over and the shrub returns to its original green-leafed self. From this we can see that it is important to research plants in advance and select those that are repeat flowering. Good choices include Hypericum or Lavatera (flowering continuously from June to November). For Autumn and Winter interest, choose shrubs with berries and/or good autumn leaf colour. There are even some plants which look their best after they have lost their leaves as they have wonderfully bright coloured stems. These include Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ (bright red stems) and Salix britzensis (orange stems). For best effect, these last two shrubs must be coppiced (cut down to 15cm high) in Spring because it is the new young stems which provide the best colour.
The eventual size of plants is another very important point to consider. It may look very small and innocent in its pot when you bring it home, but beware that some shrubs can reach 5 metres high (15 feet) and more in a very short time! It is a waste of money if these plants have to be removed after a few years because they are too large for their space. Most plants have large and small varieties available, so be sure to do your research and decide on the variety you need before you leave home.