Post category: Garden design


Some kinds of plants have adapted to growing in deep water to one metre and more; they are true aquatics. Water lilies(as shown), water hawthorn and water violet are examples of plant that can be grown in open water. Floating aquatics are plants that float in the water, such as pondweed and parrot feather. Others are marginals; they like shallow water at the pond’s edge; they include sweet flag, flowering rush, bullrushes and easter lily.



Water Plants
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Further up the bank, there is a big group of plants that enjoys wet soil but not standing water for any great length of time. These are usually known as bog plants and include kingcups, certain polygonums, asian primulas, ligularia, certain irises, mimulus, peltiphyllum, gunnera, loosestrife, lysimachia, sedges, and lysichiton.


A hedge is a line of trees or shrubs planted close together and clipped to shape; it can be of any height or width. Many kinds of trees and shrubs are suitable; hedging species only need to be capable of branching when clipped.



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Topiary is the related practice of clipping trees, or shrubs, to individual shapes and it can be very effective. A shrub or tree can be clipped into any desired shape – cones, pyramids, spheres, as well as animal shapes, urns, even tea-pots! In recent times, there has been some interest in creating abstract shapes using this very old technique.




A hedge can be used to mark garden boundaries, and to provide privacy and shelter. If a hedge is made of thorny plants, it will also provide a useful security barrier. Hedges can be used within the garden to create division, making separate areas within the garden. Dark green kinds, such as yew and holly, are often used as a backdrop for borders of shrubs and flowers.

The light green foliage of griselinia or thuya could be used to set off the brighter colours and, conceivably, purple-leaved plants could be used for dramatic contrast with grey foliage and pink and while flowers. Hedges can be used to form a maze – a complex design of dead-ends and wrong turnings.


Great forests of oak, ash, elm, pine, birch and beech once stretched across most of Europe, the dominant plants of the landscape. Their large size and longevity make them very useful plants for large gardens (over 2000 square metres). A large garden without big plants can look very flat and empty.



Forest Trees
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Forest trees are very effective at filling space, both horizontally and vertically. Mature oak and ash trees, for example, can ultimately reach heights and widths of twenty to twenty-five metres. Five or six such trees would fill a large site. Although they take well over one hundred years to reach that size, the covering effect can be achieved more quickly by planting in greater numbers.

Large trees have great beauty and dignity; there is an enduring solidity about them. Trees give the garden shape; they provide its ‘skeleton’. They can be used to provide a good backdrop for smaller ornamental plants, and excellent shelter for many non-native plants that dislike wind. For example, rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. Native tree species help to link rural gardens with the surrounding countryside.




Forest trees are best planted as young transplanted trees; not only do they root more deeply and make finer specimens eventually, but they are cheaper too. Plant them as garden woodland at an average two metres apart each way, but for ornamental purposes, never in rows.

Half the number of trees should be removed after ten or twelve years growth, half again at twenty five years. Forest tree species should not be planted within fifteen or twenty metres of a dwelling house. They can also be planted as single specimens where there is enough space for a large tree to develop.


Garden trees, such as flowering thorns, crab-apples, laburnum, hollies and cherries, are much smaller than forest trees and more suitable for gardens, especially those under 2000 square metres. Few kinds of garden trees reach more ten metres in height and width. Unlike the forest trees, which are mostly native, the garden trees are mainly from other parts of the world.



Garden Trees
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In small gardens, these smaller trees fill the same role as big trees in large gardens – they fill space; they are ornamental; they provide shelter and a good backdrop for other plants. Garden trees make the ‘backbone’ of the garden. Garden trees tend to be more fancy than forest trees; many of them are spectacular in flower, whereas forest trees, mainly, have inconspicuous flowers.

A choice can be made of garden trees to suit every small garden; there are those which tolerate shade, wind, urban pollution, damp soil, dry soil. With few exceptions, they are all hardy – not damaged by frost. No garden, however small, should be without its complement of trees, even one or two. They set the garden off, give scale to other plants, and they have a year-round presence.




Unlike forest trees, which are best planted small, garden trees do best planted as feathered trees or light standard trees, between 1.5 metres and 2.5 metres tall, bare-root but usually potted. Although more expensive, only a few trees are usually planted in a small garden and it is worthwhile to have well-grown quality plants.



Garden Trees
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Unlike the forest trees, which are thinned to select the best specimens, each garden tree will be expected to reach maturity. They can be planted closer to the house, within three metres, but be careful not to block the light of windows. To space neighbouring garden trees adequately, add together their expected heights and divide by two.

Considerable care should be exercised in choosing suitable small garden trees. They should be able to tolerate the conditions of the location, and not be likely to outgrow their position. Carefully plant into well-prepared, good soil. Staking can be necessary.

To provide instant effect in a small garden, semi mature trees up to six metres tall are available. Though more expensive than ordinary standard trees, semi-mature trees instantly lend an air of maturity to a new house, and cost less than a pair of curtains!


Shrubs are relatively low-growing woody plants, ranging in height from a few centimetres to three metres or more. The majority of shrubs are rounded in outline, but shape is very varied – upright, rounded, flat, drooping, and prostrate.



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Shrubs of different sizes can be used in two ways. In big gardens, large shrubs are used to fill in around trees. In small gardens, large shrubs such as philadelphus, buddleia, tamarisk, pieris, lauristinus and forsythia, might take on the same role as small trees, creating a planting ‘backbone’.

A tree has a single trunk; a shrub has numerous stems at ground level. Nature is not clearcut, however, and while there are trees such as hazel that often produce several stems, there are also shrubs such as broom and hebe that have a single stem. Neither is it a question of size. Certain japanese maples are small trees while the much bigger buddleia davidii is always a shrub.

True shrubs tend to regularly produce new shoots from low down on their stems, or even from their roots. But there are suckering trees as well. In general, shrubs tend to be less woody than trees, more twiggy and their wood is not as hard.




Shrubs are the next layer of woody plants, a step down from the garden trees. Some are native to woodland – they are forest shrub layer plants. These tolerate shade to varying degrees. Examples include rhododendron(as shown), camellia, snowberry, cherry laurel, viburnum, aucuba, osmanthus. Notice that many of these are evergreen, taking advantage of the light before the canopy comes on the big trees.

Many shrubs are plants of open ground, in both dry and wet habitats, where there are few trees or no trees. Heathers, juniper, cistus, lavender, thyme, broom, cotoneaster, berberis, roses, potentilla are examples of those which enjoy sunshine and well-drained soil. Dogwood, shrubby willows, sambucus, and some spireas enjoy damp soil.




Shrubs are used to fill out the ‘backbone’ of trees. Shade tolerant types can be used to fill the space beneath trees; those which like more light can be used in borders in front of trees, hiding their bases.

Shrubs have tremendous variety of size and shape, flower and leaf colour, season of flowering, leaf size and shape. The challenge is to plant shrubs so that they associate well with trees, other shrubs and herbaceous plants.

While shrubs are best used with some trees to give height and some flowers to give colour and lush foliage, shrubs can also be planted on their own in some circumstances – for instance, to fill out a piece of ground – or they can be planted just with trees, or just with some flowers.




To space neighbouring shrubs, add together the expected spread of the two species and divide by two. Dividing by three gives a closer spacing and quicker fill-in. The latter estimation is more suitable for groups of the same plant and for the shorter-lived kinds. Long-lived shrubs, and the more choice kinds like rhododendron, magnolia and pieris, should get the wider spacing.



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Shrubs must be planted in conditions that suit them. Some require acid soil; others, dry soil, damp soil and so on. Most kinds like a sunny position and good soil, even those which tolerate some shade. Feeding is worthwhile at planting and every spring for a few years until they are established.


Bare soil is always colonised by plants, principally wild plants because the seeds are likely to be already present in the soil. It is essential to cover bare soil with desirable plants and reduce the chances of wild plants – weeds – getting established.



Ground Cover
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Although the term ‘ground-cover’ is usually taken to mean low-growing, ground-hugging plants, every garden plant provides ground cover. For example, practically nothing will grow underneath evergreen oak, lawson cypress or yew.

A couple of layers of cover gives best weed-suppressing results. For example, a tree layer over shrubs such as snowberry, dwarf laurel, Viburnum davidii, hydrangea, mahonia, skimmia, berberis, pernettya, Euonymus radicans and japanese azaleas; or a layer of tall shrubs with suitable shade-tolerant herbaceous perennials beneath.

The best ground cover plants tend to be good ground colonisers. Some shrubs are excellent colonisers, covering the ground closely, rooting as they spread and shade-tolerant – green ivy, vinca, hypericum, Rubus tricolor, pachysandra, Lonicera pileata, and Cotoneaster dammerii.

There are many good ground-cover perennial flowers. They include hardy geraniums, bergenias, london pride, epimedium, lysimachia(as shown), lamium, brunnera, tiarella, symphytum, lungwort, Euphorbia robbiae and ajuga. These are vigorous ground-cover plants that compete strongly against germinating weeds and tolerate shade as well.


Taller than a hedge, a living screen can be created with a line of trees or shrubs. The term usually refers to a single line of plants of the same type, planted about ninety centimetres apart. A screen can be clipped back occasionally, or left unclipped if there is enough room.



Shelter Belts
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A screen is used when a bigger version of a hedge is required. In urban situations, they might be used to create privacy, but a screen should not be allowed to grow too large if space is inadequate. Screens are more difficult to clip than hedges because they are taller.

A shelter belt is a more extensive form of screen. Although it can consist of one row of trees spaced about 1.5 metres apart, it is better with several rows of trees spaced about 1.5 metres apart, two metres between the trees.

A really effective shelter belt should have six or eight species suitable for the site and soil conditions. The number of each species should not be equal; the composition should be thirty to forty percent of two main species, about ten percent of two others, and the remainder equally divided between two or more minor species.

A mixture of deciduous, coniferous, broadleaved evergreen, flowering, berrying and autumn-colouring trees should be used to provide interest, better shelter and more food for wildlife. The shelter effect is between five and ten times the height of the trees; good shelter for five times the height, some shelter after that. Shelter trees also provide background greenery in large gardens.


Climbers and creepers are woody plants that use trees, rocks or buildings for support. The most vigorous kinds can reach twenty five metres.

Climbers, such as wisteria(as shown), ascend by twining their stems, leaves or tendrils around an object. These cannot climb a flat surface like a wall without additional support. Creepers climb by clinging apparatus such as aerial roots or special tendrils. They can climb a wall without extra support.



Climbing Plants
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Climbing plants can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used to soften walls and fences, and to hide ugly objects such as dead stumps. They can also be grown over the branches of living trees and shrubs to provide extra foliage interest, or additional flower colour.

More unusually, climbers can be used to trail down over retaining walls; if they cannot climb, they trail. They can also be allowed to trail on flat surfaces. Ivy, honeysuckle and clematis are especially suitable for these purposes. Ivy is often used as ground cover in shade.



Climbing Plants
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Being native to woodland, many climbers are shade tolerant. However, many climbers fail to flower well unless they reach the light. The ideal is to start them in a shaded spot and allow them to climb into the light. Most climbing plants dislike exposure to strong wind – ivy and virginia creeper(as shown) are reasonably resistant.


Herbaceous plants do not have a true woody structure. The taller herbaceous plants, ranging from about twenty five centimetres to over two metres, are used as border perennial flowers. Pampas grass, goatsbeard, ornamental rhubarb and giant kale are all capable of over two metres.



Border Perennial Flowers
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Border perennial flowers are big enough for mixed planting with trees and shrubs, the smaller ones towards the front, taller ones to the back. There are perennial plants that tolerate the full range of garden soil and climatic conditions. There is a choice for every set of conditions, but the more extreme the conditions, the smaller the choice.

Herbaceous plants that like dry soil are best associated with trees and shrubs that like similar conditions. Often, they originated in the same plant communities. Apart from growing well, they also look well together because their special adaptations complement each other. For example, plants that like dry soil often have waxy or hairy, grey or silvery leaves; those that like wet soil tend to have lush, broad green leaves.


Using perennial flowers


In natural plant communities, herbaceous perennials form the ground layer of vegetation along with annual plants and bulbs. They can be used in the same way in the garden, filling in between shrubs. The tallest perennials are probably too big for small gardens, unless a virtue is made of their size and they are used in place of a shrub to lend dramatic effect.

Border perennials, with a few exceptions such as bergenia, acanthus, libertia and francoa, almost all die back completely in winter. This factor must be taken into account when using these plants to avoid having large gaps in a border during the dormant season.



Border Perennial Flowers
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For variety of size, outline, foliage, and flowers, border perennials easily outdo all other plants. They are at their best during the summer and autumn. Border perennials are softer in growth, more lush, and more graceful than woody plants. The two plant types used together create lovely subtle combinations of softness and strength.




In the same way as shrubs, border perennials must have the correct conditions. Some prefer dry soil, or moist soil, but most kinds do well in a sunny position in good soil. Some perennials, such as phlox, aster and helianthus, flower best if lifted, divided and replanted every few years; others, such as paeony, greatly resent being disturbed!

Some sorts will need to be supported with canes, or wire, in windy locations. However, if the most wind-prone sorts are avoided, and the others are given the shelter of shrubs, this problem will be lessened.


The smaller herbaceous perennials are suitable for the front of borders, for banks and low walls, and for rockeries. However, within the range of plants below thirty centimetres, there is great variation. The bigger kinds are much more robust and vigorous and can include plants that were woodland or moorland plants originally.



Small Perennial Flowers
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The bigger sorts such as aubretia, arabis, iberis, erysimum, small phloxes, certain campanulas, saxifrages and oxalis can be used in large rockeries where the ‘rockery’ is really just a flower bed with rocks. They are most successful used to trail over kerbs, low walls and banks.

They can also be used as front-of-border plants where the competition is less vigorous than further back, and to fill in the front of border space, providing useful colour in a key location.

The true tiny alpine plants are suitable only for a rock garden, scree beds and raised alpine beds. Where there is no competition, their lack of size will not be a problem. They also make very good plants for trough gardens and other shallow containers, including ordinary clay pots and bowls for the windowsill.


Many kinds of plants have swollen underground parts, corms, tubers, and rhizomes as well as bulbs. All of them function as storage organs to keep the plant alive during the unfavourable season – winter for summer-growing bulbs like lilies and gladiolus, summer for spring bulbs like snowdrops and daffodils.



Flower Bulbs
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Flowers buds are usually formed at the same time as food stores are laid down. This explains their quick appearance, once growth re-starts.




The woodland bulbs – snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen, eranthis, daffodils, scillas, wood anemones and bluebells – are used to provide drifts of colour in spring before the leaves appear on woody plants. The woodland bulbs do well in light shade.

Other kinds, such as tulips, gladiolus, galtonias, camassias, nerines and lilies, are plants of more open ground. They are best used in small groups in open borders among border perennials and shrubs. Some kinds like dahlias and begonias are damaged by frost and are best treated as temporary border perennials, brought under protection for the cold season.

Being quick to flower, bulbs are ideal for use in containers, especially the spring bulbs, which can give a succession of flowers from January to May. Tuberous begonias can be sued in the same way in summer containers.


Annual flowers germinate, flower, set seed, and die in a single season. In their native habitat, their plentiful seeds ensure survival of the species until next time conditions are right for germination. As a result, true annuals tend to be small, quick-growing, colourful plants.



Annual Flowers
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Some annuals are not damaged by frost. Called hardy annuals, they are sown outdoors where they are intended to flower. Frost-prone annuals from warm climates are termed half-hardy annuals. They can only be planted outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.

Many short-lived perennials that might live for several seasons, such as snapdragons, pelargoniums, bedding begonias, bedding busy lizzies and alyssum, are treated as annuals for garden purposes.




Annual flowers are used to give quick colour; some kinds will be in flower a few weeks after sowing. They are planted in flowerbeds on their own, or in small groups in front of shrubs and border perennial flowers to give spots of colour. They are most effective in new gardens, filling up gaps and providing colour until more permanent plants take over.



Annual Flowers
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Annuals make very good plants for window boxes, hanging baskets, tubs, pots and other containers because they come into flower quickly and produce a great splash. Summer annuals give colour from July to November and winter and spring bedding can provide colour from November to May.

Annual bedding plants are best used in simple complementary colour schemes, not a haphazard mix of species and colours. Some foliage plants should always be used with them, especially in containers to tone down the bright colour and set it off properly.


Fruits, vegetables and herbs have in common that they are edible plants. All sorts of plants are involved – trees, shrubs or bushes, herbaceous plants, bulbs. Every plant part comes into the reckoning – leaves, buds, flowers, stems, roots, seeds.



Kitchen Garden
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Although fruit and vegetables are usually grown in a separate kitchen garden, some kinds can be fitted into the ornamental part of the garden. There is no reason why an apple tree cannot be used as an ornamental tree in a mixed border, for example. Rhubarb or globe artichokes could be grown among shrubs or perennial flowers.

Although sometimes suggested, it is not practical to grow the ordinary vegetables, such as cabbage, lettuce and carrots, among ornamental plants. The competition is usually too great; they are not decorative and they are likely to suffer severely from snails. But, herbs such as thyme, sage, marjoram, chives, french tarragon and winter savory can be very successfully used as front-of-border plants.


Grass takes up the largest part of most gardens, covering the soil and leaving the space available for a variety of leisure purposes. But a lawn has a major decorative role too. A well-laid and well-maintained lawn is an ornamental feature in itself and it is a very fine foil for trees, shrubs and flowers in surrounding beds and borders.



Lawn and Meadow
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Fertiliser and lawn weedkiller are used to encourage vigorous grass growth in a fine lawn. Regular mowing achieves the smooth surface that is such an important aspect of the ornamental value of a lawn.

The shape of lawn can be very important. A lawn with straight edges or geometric curves gives the garden a formal appearance, while a lawn with sweeping gentle curves is more informal and decorative in a different way.

Where a more natural appearance is required, a wild flower lawn, or wildflower meadow can be grown. A wild flower lawn is one where the broad-leaved lawn ‘weeds’ are not killed with weedkiller but encouraged by little or no feeding, just an application every two or three years of high potash/low nitrogen fertiliser. Mowing is not carried out as frequently, giving the wild flowers time to flower between mowings.



Lawn and Meadow
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Best suited to large gardens, wildflower meadow is not mown at all until July and then just three or four times more; no fertiliser or lawn weedkiller is used. The first heavy mowing requires a rough grass mower or sickle bar mower, which can be hired.

With a flowering meadow, the aim is to reduce the vigour of grass growth and encourage wildflowers such as cowslips, clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, poppies, and oxeye daisies on dry soil; self-heal, bugle, cuckoo flower, buttercup and hawkbit on damp soil.


Lighting can bring a whole new dimension to the garden. It extends the use of the garden, most notably in summer, and makes it possible to view the garden from inside the house at any season or time of day. Floodlighting is not particularly appropriate for a garden because the glare is too harsh.

Dramatic effects can be created by highlighting key plants and ornaments. Light can be shone on the front of an object or plant and this is known as ‘spot-lighting’. Shone behind an object, it emphasises the silhouette of the object and is known as ‘back-lighting’.

Mood lighting effects are most successful, using small lights in key positions. This is sometimes known as key lighting. Pale flowers especially catch the half-light from lower powered lamps and create a mysterious mood. Lovely effects can be created when a garden pool or waterfall is lit with underwater lighting, the source of which is most effective when hidden.

Lighting has the practical value of making steps, pools and other hazardous places safer. The fittings themselves, whether bollard-type or standards, can be quite ornamental, even unlit. Although lighting particularly complements modern gardens, it is also very effective in older style gardens, providing the lamps are well hidden from view. Electrical installation outdoors should be left to an expert. Low voltage lamps are safest.


Although it is possible to approximate to a natural stream by creating a long, narrow, shallow pool with a circulating pump maintaining some movement at narrow points, it is impossible to make a sizeable artificial stream without incurring large electricity bills!



Streams and Waterfalls
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A small garden stream, or rill, can be artificially built and need not cost much to run because the volume of water is quite small. If the stream bed is terraced to hold the water on the slope, the stream will appear more substantial and its little waterfalls are a feature in themselves.

Many gardens have a natural stream, but relatively few make good use of them. Streams with steep banks are usually ignored for garden purposes because of the danger and are often fenced off, but a natural stream can be a great asset.

A path cut into the bank down by the water’s edge, or built out from it, makes a stream much safer. It also makes a garden feature of it. A stream should be left partly open, partly planted along its banks. The steepest, most dangerous parts can be planted.




The level of the bed of fast-flowing streams falls quickly over a relatively short distance. In the same way that sloping dry land can be terraced, the bed of fast streams can be ‘terraced’ by building a wall across and filling behind it with rock.



Streams and Waterfalls
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If the water flows down across its full width, it is a weir. If it crashes straight down in just one place, it is a waterfall. Though unusual as garden features, they are very spectacular.

An artificial waterfall that needs a lot of water is expensive to install and to run. A small flow of water can be good if it is nicely built. Whether large or small, there is one very important point to bear in mind. Water should not fall from the highest point of the structure. In nature, water never falls from the highest point. To have it do so, spoils the whole effect.


Bridges and stepping stones


Bridges have the practical function of crossing water, but they have ornamental value as well. Simple, or very elaborate, bridges can be made of timber, stone, concrete or metal. Stepping stones are the most basic form of ‘bridge’ and they are very decorative used with a stream or pond.


A wide range of objects from high-quality sculpture to simple containers bring enormous interest to the garden. Objects such as statues, modern sculpture, sundials, armilaries (as shown), seats, urns, wind chimes and even simple groups of nicely shaped rocks can be used in strategic places to add an extra dimension.

Planters, urns and boxes filled with well-chosen plants are a delightful feature. They focus attention on the plants, and if they are good quality, the container is an ornament in itself.



Garden Ornaments
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Good quality containers are usually expensive because they are made of stone, lead, hardwood, cast iron, clay. While these improve with age, containers of poorer quality materials deteriorate. Well-made concrete containers can be very good, suitable for modern style gardens.

Position containers carefully where they will make most impact, but out of the way of people passing. They can be moved around to find the right spot. Always place containers on a flat, hard surface – paving, walls, steps.

Grass and gravel surfaces are too uneven, and the fussy texture of those surfaces close to does not set off the container well. However, containers are especially attractive when viewed with a stretch of grass or gravel in the foreground or background.




Statues, figures, and other objects in stone, marble, metal and good quality concrete are tremendously effective in the garden. They can be used to draw attention to an area, or to divert it from a negative aspect of the garden. Placed at a distance, sculpture emphasises space; placed fairly close, it shortens distance.

Sculpture can be positioned at the end of paths, or on a stand or plinth, to draw attention to it. It can also be tucked away amid plants to create a surprise, a strong contrast, or the impression of maturity.



Garden Ornaments
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The number of objects used should be limited depending on the size and layout of the garden. A small garden that is divided into several areas and has lots of nooks and crannies will justify more placements than a large garden of open layout. The size of objects and their style should be appropriate. Old gardens do not receive modern sculpture happily.

‘Sculpture’ need not be expensive to be effective. An interesting log, rock, piece of cut stone, group of rounded stones, or arrangement of bricks – any of these can be used successfully as ‘natural’ sculpture. They must be of interesting materials, and they must ‘fit’. Old wheelbarrows, pots, kettles, sinks, tyres and such like are not suitable!


Garden Seats



Garden Seats
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The provision of seating has a practical as well as an ornamental value. The points made about using sculpture also apply to seats. A seat is best set on a path or hard standing of some sort. The exception would be in a woodland setting where too permanent a fixture might look out of place. An iron or wooden seat placed on a lawn is always in the way of mowing!


The house itself can be considered the largest, most important garden ornament. As much as the garden sets off the house, the house sets off the garden. It is very important to consider the house when deciding aspects of garden design. For example, paving and walls should be in keeping with the house materials. Climbers effectively link the house and garden.



Garden Buildings
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It is also important to keep garden features in scale with the house. Thus a tiny patio will look ridiculous beside a large house; a large area of paving near a small house tends to look bare and harsh, unless it is softened by plants.




Aluminium glasshouses are most unsympathetic to a garden, because of their materials and shape. A greenhouse can be difficult to fit into a garden scene; polythene tunnels are even worse. Old-style wooden glasshouses perhaps with half-walls of brick can be very attractive, particularly if they have ornamental details, but they tend to be expensive. In general, greenhouses are best hidden away behind a screen.




A conservatory ‘fits’ into a garden much better than a greenhouse. Being attached to the house, a conservatory does not stand out as much as a free-standing greenhouse. This effect also works in reverse with the conservatory helping to link the house and garden, particularly if there are plenty of plants inside, and directly outside, the conservatory.




A summerhouse, or pavilion, is usually a small wooden house, often opening onto a grassy, or paved area with trees around. A loggia is a more elaborate kind of summerhouse – an open-sided small building of concrete, or stone, with a solid roof, often of concrete tiles. A loggia usually opens onto a paved area with, perhaps, a pool or a fountain, and is often contained within a sunken garden or courtyard garden.




A pergola is not a building as such but has a roof of sorts. A pergola is very ornamental when well located, but nothing looks worse when it is badly positioned; for example, a pergola in an open area, perhaps needlessly emphasising a path.



Garden Buildings
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A pergola can be effectively used to screen a paved area from surrounding buildings. However, it should never cover the whole of the area. When associated with a sitting area, a pergola looks best supported on one side by a building or high wall. To be successful, a pergola must have a real function, or appear to have one.


A fence is usually made of timber and is more temporary than a wall. Fences have the same functions of boundary, division and ornament as walls.



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There are many ways of using timber in fences – woven panels, post-and-rail, picket fence, sawn ‘slabs’; each one has its merits. Sometimes, timber poles in palisades, or ‘log rolls’ are used as a retaining wall; but these do not last well in a wet climate!

The quality of wooden fences largely depends on the durability of the timber; oak and larch are among the best. The thickness of the parts and the method of application of preservative will have a big influence too. Softwood should be pressure-treated for long life.




Fences used for division within the garden usually take the form of screens, for example, rustic fence with climbers. Screens are less enclosing than solid fences. Trellis fences are a form of screen made of narrow laths nailed in regular pattern – diamond, square or rectangular.

Trellis is very ornamental in itself, and even more so with climbers. Apart from supporting climbers, the strong patterns of trellis can be used to break up featureless areas of wall.

Good quality metal fences, especially wrought-iron, can be very attractive, and are more likely to be successful when associated with stone or concrete. The colour they are painted has a big influence – white, black and very dark green are best.




An artificial shelter fence can be invaluable in an exposed garden to give plants a chance to get started. There are various brands of plastic mesh shelter material available. These materials are nailed to wooden posts and rails.

A wooden shelter fence, consisting of five centimetre wide laths with a similar gap between the laths, can provide good shelter, and can also be used as a boundary. A shelter fence provides good shelter for five times its height, and some shelter effect for ten times the height.


Gardens take their shape from the ground they occupy. Sloping ground is more interesting to the eye that flat ground, and it also shows off plants better. A gentle sweep of lawn meeting a mixed border at the bottom of the slope, or the trunks of trees ranged up a woodland slope, have more appeal than the same on flat ground.



Banks and Terraces
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The effect of a gentle natural slope is spoiled if it is broken by irregular bumps or dips. Moving soil to create sloping ground is a troublesome business, but well worth the effort.




A bank is a steep slope over a relatively small area. They can be created when a house site, or driveway, is cleared on sloping ground, or when a sloping site is cut into terraces. The front of the terrace is usually left as a steep bank, unless a retaining wall is built. Sometimes, steep banks occur naturally.

Artificial mounds of earth can be used to divide a garden and to deflect noise at boundaries. Steep banks are best planted with trees, shrubs and flowering plants near a house. When low-growing plants are used for ground-cover, they will follow the line of the slope. A few upright plants must always be used among them to ‘lift’ the line of planting.

Earthen banks left after site excavation are a very common problem, mainly because they are rarely taken into consideration at the house design and building phase, but can leave few options and real problems afterwards.

Very often, the problem is made worse by the fact that excavation is often limited and the banks are left too close to the house. And the slope is left in one place and not terraced to ‘step down’ the slope.

The best solution, if not too close to the house, is to plant the bank with a mixture of trees and shrubs. A bank can be largely disguised by planting trees and shrubs, because it is not immediately apparent how tall the trees are … a 5 metres tall tree on a two-metre bank simply looks like a 7-metre tall tree. If the bank is too close to the house, you will be limited to shrubs and perennial flowers to achieve a similar effect.

Grass lawn is not usually a possibility as the slopes are generally too dangerous to mow. 

To establish trees and shrubs, you will have to control all grass and weeds on the banks, either physically or by spraying with Roundup, which does not affect the soil. Weeds must be controlled until the trees and shrubs are well established, usually about  4 or 5 years, using Roundup, and Basta when Roundup-resistant willowherb builds up. 


A terrace is a flat area of ground cut into, or built onto, a slope. Usually, terraces are made by both cutting back into the slope and filling out onto it, using the ‘cut’ material to ‘fill’ elsewhere. Terraces can either ascend or descend the slope. They can be very shallow or quite deep.

Even in the smallest gardens, terracing can be both desirable for its ornamental effect and necessary for its practical function of making sloping ground more comfortable for standing or sitting.



Banks and Terraces
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Terraces are very pleasant to sit or stand on. The view looking down a series of terraces with flights of steps, or upwards against the facing banks or retaining walls, is always interesting and offers great scope for displaying plants.

If there is a drop of more than one metre from a terrace, for safety reasons, it should have some indication of the edge. This could be a coping, wall, balustrade or plants. The greater the fall, the higher should be the barrier.


Although a rock garden can be difficult to get right, and need considerable maintenance, these drawbacks do not put people off. Often built on awkward slopes, and in shady corners, rockeries are usually the worst choice for these locations because it is difficult to make them look natural.



Rock gardens
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A sunny situation is essential. Most rock plants like sunshine; those which like shade do not like the drippy overhang of trees.

To look natural, a rock garden must have significant rock outcrops. It should look ‘rocky’. Some of the rocks should be almost completely buried to give the impression of deep-seated natural rock. If a rock garden does not look natural, it fails. Ideally, only rock from the locality should be used. Certainly, only one sort of rock should be used; lumps of concrete, never!


Scree beds



Rock gardens
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In nature, a scree is the sloping heap of shattered rock that is found at the base of inland cliffs and rocky hillsides. In the garden, a scree bed, or gravel bed, is a form of rock garden – an area of flat or gently sloping ground covered with a layer of broken stone or gravel.

The colour and texture of the stone is attractive and it sets off alpine plants beautifully. Stone has the additional advantage of suppressing weeds and reducing maintenance. Gravel is often wrongly applied as the solution to a weed problem under trees and shrubs. Falling leaves quickly provide rooting material for weed seeds that blow in.

Choose an open sunny position. Scree beds should have at least 5 centimetres of stone to provide an effective weed barrier. Sand or fine gravel should generally not be used because dust and organic material that blows in is washed down to form a rooting layer for weeds. If fine gravel is used, it will need to be regularly raked over to keep it smooth.

The soil beneath a scree bed must be free-draining and open because alpine plants like open soil. Coarse sand, grit or gravel should be added to heavy soil.

A few large stones, perhaps grouped, should be placed on the bed for contrast with the broken rock. Settle them down into the layer of stone. Plants should be spaced well apart and used in groups rather than dotted about. Carpeting and clump-forming alpines are ideal. Scree gardens associate well with paved areas.


Raised Alpine Beds



Raised alpine beds
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Alpine beds are very free-draining, raised beds constructed specially for alpine plants. Generally, only alpine enthusiasts go to such trouble, but raised beds are an attractive feature in any garden.

The sides are usually walls about fifty centimetres high. Ideally, these would be of stone or brick; concrete blocks are unattractive. Likewise straight lines, gentle curves are nicer. Leave little planting nooks between the stones for alpines that like to peep out. Because they are made of hard material, alpine beds are best associated with a paved area. Close to lawns and mixed borders, they look artificial.

Drainage is all-important; as much as twenty five centimetres of broken rock in the base and the overlying soil should have gravel and grit added. The surface layer of five centimetres of coarse grit encourages healthy growth and shows off the plants well. A sunny location is vital.


A garden bed is a piece of cultivated ground, kept weed-free and used for growing trees, shrubs or flowers. It can be of any size, usually positioned within a lawn or paved area. Beds can be raised at the centre to give plants some extra height, and they might have a little retaining wall on one or more sides.



Beds and Borders
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Beds can be formal with roses or bedding plants lined out in rows, or they can be informal with a mixture of the various types of plants at various spacings. An island bed set within a large lawn can be effective but an island bed in a small area can be too demanding of space.




There may not be a great deal of choice in positioning pathways in small gardens but a large garden will usually have some leeway in the positioning of the drive, at least how it curves within the confines of the garden. Even a small adjustment in siting can greatly help to link the driveway into the garden.



Paths and Paved Areas 
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Except in a formal garden, a path, or driveway, should not run in a straight line from entrance to front door. It is much too dominant in such a position. Make paths and driveways cross the garden to reduce the amount of surface that is visible from the road and house. If a path or driveway is in the wrong place, consider moving it – the expense may not be as great as it might seem, and the results can be excellent.

Trees, shrubs, borders or beds planted along the length of path or driveway generally do not achieve the desired result of disguising it. Such planting can actually reinforce the line of the driveway rather than disguise it. A better disguising effect is achieved with one or two plants near the drive to ‘confuse’ the eye, and/or heavier planting at a small distance to draw attention away.


Function of a garden path


Apart from the access path or drive, most gardens have other paths as well. There will usually be a service path in the back garden, to reach a clothesline or compost area, for instance. The same points about position apply. For example, a straight path will divide and dominate a long narrow garden, emphasising its length and narrowness. Curving the path, or having it pass behind plants, helps to fit it in.

Large gardens can have decorative winding paths to bring the stroller around the garden, continuously presenting new vistas. It should not pass by a compost area or other service area. In any garden, even a small one, a dead-end path leading to a false exit, even just turning the corner of a large shrub but going nowhere, gives the viewer an impression of greater space.


Paved areas


Every garden should have part of its surface area paved with hard material. Hard areas allow more comfortable access to the garden, especially during periods when lawns might be wet and unpassable.



Paths and Paved Areas 
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Paving is visually attractive in its own right; it creates a pattern on the ground. Its colour and texture also add to the garden picture. The level surface makes a perfect foil for the shape and texture of plants. Because paving is made of hard material, like the house, it provides a link between the house and the garden.

A paved area is usually placed on the sunny side of the house, where it will be most useful. Even if the back of a house faces north and gets little sun, a small paved area is worthwhile because of the need for access, and the manner in which it links house and garden.

A sun patio can be placed elsewhere, and there is no reason why a garden cannot have a number of paved areas. If a paved area is located away from the house, screening for privacy is essential.


Small changes of ground level in areas of flat ground can be very attractive, having the same ornamental value as terraces. Platforms are created artificially by building a raised level area of soil retained by low walls. Platforms can be covered with gravel or sand, but more usually they are sown down to lawn.



Platforms and Decks 
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Lawn platforms in a small garden should be less than fifteen centimetres but they can be higher in a large garden. By being low, the flatness of the platform is emphasised. If the height is more than fifteen centimetres, steps will be necessary.

Wooden platforms or decks are akin to a viewing terrace, or balcony, in their effect. They are usually associated with a paved area close to the house, or a pond. Building a wooden platform, or deck, on a slope might be easier than building a terrace with retaining wall.

A wooden deck can be very effective built onto very steeply sloped ground, or where there is not enough room to excavate a terrace. Well made decking is very attractive in its own right, but it may become slippery with algae. This can be removed with a wire-brush when dry, or a power hose when wet.


Sunken garden


A platform, being raised, always has open sides, and a sunken area is always closed. If nothing else, the sides of the excavation close it off; it becomes a little garden in itself and can be very attrctive. Further enclosure with hedges and walls can be used to reinforce its individuality.

A sunken garden can be made by digging out the soil from a level area of ground and providing retaining walls on all sides. It can be of any depth, but small ones should be shallow, no deeper than forty centimetres.

The area chosen should have good natural drainage; otherwise, water seepage could be a problem and drainage becomes a major task. Like any garden, a sunken garden might have beds, paving, grass, ground-cover, water features, ornaments – a garden within the garden.


Steps have the important practical function of allowing easier access over sloping ground. But they also have an ornamental function – well-placed steps, even just one or two, can lend great character to a garden.



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The design of garden steps should be appropriate for their setting. For example, a narrow, winding flight of steps is appropriate between large trees on a woodland slope, while steps linking broad areas of smooth lawn should be wide and even.

The materials used must also match the location. Simple log-steps would suit a woodland garden; cut stone slabs, an expensive formal garden.




Garden steps should be wide in the tread, about 30 centimetres, with shallow risers of about ten centimetres, and be made of non-slip material. They are best sited where they will dry out quickly, reducing the slippery growth of green algae.