Compost – it’s a state of mind

Mon, Nov 19, 2018

As the mucky season is well and truly upon us, what better time to talk about the very best kind of muck – homemade compost?

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White and gold – the Christmas rose

Tue, Nov 13, 2018

Beautiful garden blooms are thin on the ground at this time of year, so this week I thought we might consider one of the most unusual of them – the Christmas rose. Not a rose in the usual sense, it’s a member of the hellebore family, and its botanical name is Helleborus niger. Many keen gardeners will be familiar with its cousin, Helleborus orientalis, whose speckled, drooping flowers are amongst the earliest to bloom in January and February, and which is commonly known as the Lenten Rose. While the Lenten Rose typically has petals from cream and yellow to pink, purple and dusky plum, the Christmas rose’s flowers are usually pure white, beautifully set off by golden stamens and large, sturdy leaves of deepest green.

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Must We Mulch?

Mon, Nov 05, 2018

I’ve noticed when discussing garden plans with clients that there’s a lot of confusion about mulch – what is it, do you need it and how much do you need? It’s not that hard really, and it makes sense when you consider what mulch is for and what it does.

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Bonfire Glow

Tue, Oct 30, 2018

Fancy some flaming autumn colour in the garden? This is a good time to choose trees and shrubs for autumn leaf colour. The hot, sunny summer and mostly dry autumn have allowed deciduous plants to appear at their best this year, and you can view them in all their blazing glory till the leaves come down and they nod off to sleep for winter. Here are a few of my favourite picks for a bonfire blaze at this time of year, with something included for all garden sizes:

Liquidambar styraciflua – also known as the sweet gum tree, a group of these stopped me in my tracks recently on the NUIG campus. Even on a drizzly, grey day they seemed lit from within.

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Taste the difference

Tue, Oct 23, 2018

At an apple tasting in Cheshire recently, my eleven year old couldn’t get enough of the heritage varieties of apple being offered to visitors by a group of National Trust volunteers. Although delighted he was packing in his five a day in as many minutes, I couldn’t hide my surprise, as when offered an apple at home, he typically reacts as though I were trying to poison him. The difference, I suspected, was in the taste – confirmed when I nibbled a few samples myself.

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Acers – How to Ace it

Mon, Oct 15, 2018

The Acer palmatum, or Japanese maple, seems to be high on the wish list of trees for gardens and often when I meet clients to discuss their garden plans it’s one of the plants they’d like included. I’m not surprised as it’s such a pretty, elegant tree – but if you’d like to grow one there are a few things it’s useful to know.

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Narcissi – it’s now or never

Tue, Oct 09, 2018

A few weeks ago we spoke about the tiny, early spring bulbs that flower in late winter and at the very start of spring. This week let’s consider narcissi – known to most of us as daffodils. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the bulb and the earlier it flowers, the sooner you need to get it in the ground to allow root and shoot formation in time for the main event – blooming. It’s still a bit early for tulips as current advice is to plant them when it gets really cold – November or December is fine and you can even get away with planting them in January, as all but the early ones don’t flower till April or May.

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Late Bloomers

Tue, Oct 02, 2018

If I asked you to name shrubs that flower in autumn, I wonder how many you could think of? I’d imagine many of us would struggle as a lot of our favourite garden shrubs tend to flower in spring and summer. Then you have the wonderfully scented winter blooming shrubs, daphnes, witch hazels and lots of other gorgeous things, but we tend to associate the autumn months with fruiting and berrying plants and those whose foliage gives us the spectacular display of gold, scarlet and copper. There are some shrubs that will offer you flower colour at this time of year though and its well worth finding room for one or three in your garden, to keep the flowering season going just that little bit longer. These three will look super alongside bright autumn foliage too. Here are a few to consider:

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Don’t Look Back in Anger.....

Tue, Sep 25, 2018

Now that the Autumn Equinox has passed and it’s absolutely, officially, positively autumn, it’s time to take stock of this summer, or this growing season in the garden, and decide what worked for you and what didn’t. If nothing at all worked and it’s time for a redesign, you know where to find me. (Hint – look at the top of the page). If it was mostly a good year though, and you’re happy with things in general, now’s a good time to plan a few tweaks.

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Soft and Gentle

Mon, Sep 17, 2018

Today I thought we might look at some soft, gentle colours for planting schemes. Softer colours make for a restful scheme, but even if you’re fond of brights and like to have pops of vivid colour in the garden, paler pastel shades are a good way to offset these, and a good way to link groups of more vivid colours.

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Pretty Little Things

Mon, Sep 10, 2018

I know it feels as if summer is only just over and there’s still a lot of this year left to go, but it’s already time to be thinking about next year and planning for the early months of 2019. There’s something special about the very earliest of spring bulbs. After a brown and grey winter, with little colour apart from green, it gives me a great sense of hope to see tiny shoots poking their tips out from the cold earth, ready to burst into blooms of glorious colour. Although they’re tiny, they’re not deterred by cold, frost and rain, they just carry on regardless, and this is one of the reasons why I love them.

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Thinking Big

Mon, Sep 03, 2018

Let’s think about scale today. I wonder if you’ve considered scale in the garden, at least in terms of plants? If not, it’s worth considering, as playing with different sizes can add an extra dimension to the space. As a garden designer, I’m always thinking of proportions – the layout of a garden on the ground has to be worked out until it’s just right before moving on to planting, and the proportions of all the different elements have to work, not just for the property to which the garden belongs, but for the human beings who will be using and enjoying it.

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Throwing Shapes or in Good Form?

Tue, Aug 28, 2018

Have you ever thought about shapes in the garden, or to be more exact, in the planted areas? It’s worth thinking about because a well-planned garden will include a variety of plant shapes to achieve the most visually pleasing look. It can be tempting as a new gardener to focus only on the flowering potential of your new best friends, and I understand this completely, having once been a rookie myself. It’s so tempting to wander through a garden centre and be seduced by the colour, texture and fragrance of blooms, and to fill up your garden with attractive flowers.

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I’ve Got a Crush on You?

Tue, Aug 21, 2018

I love aromatic plants. What’s an aromatic plant? Well, I think of it as a plant you have to do something to in order for it to release its aroma. So you have to crush the leaves or stems or possibly even tread on it, in order to appreciate its unique fragrance. This is in contrast to scented plants, usually with scented flowers – roses, jasmine or sweet peas for instance – that release their scent into the air without any input from humans. But an aromatic plant makes you work that little bit harder – you have to get up close and personal and engage with the plant in order to appreciate the scent it has to offer, unless you’re in a very sunny climate in which case the sun will draw the aromatic oils from the plant.

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Use me!

Mon, Aug 13, 2018

I’ve recently acquired one of those cute little bamboo coffee cups that you can re-use over and over again, and at the end of its life it composts down, apart from the rubber lid. It’s much nicer to drink from than a plastic or metal re-usable container or indeed the single use paper cups it’s intended to replace. It’s getting a lot of use, as I’m on the road a lot visiting clients’ gardens and after a couple of hours on site it’s safer for all concerned if I get my caffeine hit. It made me think just how many of the single use cups I used to get through – many of us have only recently realised that these can’t be recycled because of the thin inner layer of plastic.

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At last... some rain!

Tue, Jul 31, 2018

Although it was lovely to bask in the glorious and seemingly endless sun shine of early summer this year, the rain that we’ve had was well overdue and now we need more of it! The lawns are not in the best shape at the moment, the grass has been dormant for weeks with no noticeable growth and more drought resistant weeds have had free reign to flourish and to spread.

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Midsummer Blues

Mon, Jul 23, 2018

Most of us need more blue in our gardens. This mayseem an odd thing to say but I suspect if you bear this in mind the next time you’re surveying your own garden or indeed someone else's, you might be inclined to agree with me. Pinks and reds, yellows and oranges are inclined to dominate for much of the year and including enough blue to keep a good visual balance can be a challenge. There was a fashion a few years ago for painting anything that didn’t grow in the garden blue, from fences to sheds to benches, and in fact I took it up enthusiastically myself. It can get a little jarring in winter though, so you’re probably better off to stick to subtle greens and neutrals for the furniture and fencing and let the plants add the colour.

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The Wildflower Meadow

Mon, Jul 16, 2018

A flower – speckled meadow is a beautiful sight and I’m often asked to include one in garden designs. I’m always happy to oblige, for a number of reasons.

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Desperate for drink

Tue, Jul 10, 2018

With a nationwide hosepipe ban recently announced, we need to be very selective about how and when we use water in the garden. Even if it rains soon, it will take weeks if not months for reservoir levels to get back to normal and at the time of writing the ban is expected to be in place until at least the end of July. Right now gardens have to contend with unprecedentedly high temperatures, drying winds and plants and trees in full leaf – all things that make them need water more than ever. Garden lovers have difficult decisions to make – which areas need water the most - as there simply isn’t enough to go around. You may be able to eke out supplies by re-using “grey” water, and here are a few tips to help you use any water to best advantage:

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We’re all going on a summer holiday

Tue, Jul 03, 2018

As a weather-obsessed nation we’ve certainly got lots to talk about this year, but personally, I feel sorry for the plants. Our gardens have had to contend with the greatest snowfall in living memory, and now pretty much sub – Saharan conditions, all within the space of three months. If your lawn’s going brown, don’t worry – when the rain comes, as it surely will, the grass will recover and green up fairly quickly.

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