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Making Hard & Soft Landscaping Choices

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.

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John F replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"We all have a different market place and have to cut the cloth accordingly , I have never being one for throwing my dummy out of the pram if i can't get the price i need i find you only have two choices sometimes . 
1 . Sit at home and sulk 
2. Get…"
5 hours ago
Vic 575 replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"It should still be £60p/h even with a hand mower. You seem quite upset Sean that I have given my honest opinion and advice. It is quite alright if you disregard what I say. I only mention my figures in order to demonstrate the running costs involved…"
5 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"yes, good to hear how everybody does it differently and what works for them"
5 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"relieved lol"
5 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"ha ha never you mind lol"
5 hours ago
Sean Clarke replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"I actually had a female customer say to me once "if you can't get a digger in there, it'll have to be a hand-job". I was both relieved and disappointed that a digger fitted through the gateway."
5 hours ago
Vic 575 replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"A what job?"
5 hours ago
Sean Clarke replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"We all know how much you spend on gear per year and how expensive your ride-ons are, this is mentioned whenever the topic of grass cutting prices is raised, as is the fact that quite a lot of domestic gardens are in actually cut with a regular pedes…"
5 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"a lot of the other gardeners around here actually charge a lot less per hour than i do but prefer the half day/full day formula which i find boring and not as lucrative as i prefer to flit from one job to another, all within a small local area. Vic'…"
5 hours ago
Vic 575 replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"We have had these discussions many times before. I think that the majority of us think that £1 per minute is about right for grass cutting. If anyone wants to work for less than that then I am very happy for them to continue. I really and genuinely…"
6 hours ago
Sean Clarke replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"The £1 per minute formula works up to a certain point, in my opinion it works best up to 45mins-1hr, after that the customer may begin to baulk at the price (this is for regular maintenance, not one-off priced work). So, do you try and fill your day…"
6 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"Yes good to hear what others are charging, some of my lawns take 2 hours due to fiddly shape/ slopes/ multiple grassed areas rather than sheer size, Just can't see a pensioner shelling out 120 pounds every 10 days to 14 days for it to be done. Anoth…"
6 hours ago
Chris & Heather McAlpine replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"I do a couple of domestic lawn cutting jobs which are about 750-800m2 and take about 40 minutes each.  I charge £40 for them so that’s in line with £60 per hour.  It’s not outlandish by any means as I can’t see anyone mowing anything,  apart from a…"
7 hours ago
Kris Baker replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"I agree and what I was trying to say "I wouldn't want to do it on the prospect of £50K turnover ... but, starting out, you could". 
Do people really want to do this long term for less than £50K p.a. turnover? A full time, employed, gardener around h…"
7 hours ago
Sean Clarke replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"With all due respect to you and your £big number businesses, £60p/h as unviable as a start-up gardener? Don't talk rubbish."
8 hours ago
Billybop replied to Darren's discussion New Start Up Venture
"depends on your area i suppose but the 60 quid per hour for lawn mowing is probably based on using a large ride on machine which expensive to buy and run and covers a lot more area per hour rather than a pedestrian lawn mower. Good luck to anyone wh…"
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