Paving Comparison: Slate

Like sandstone and limestone, slate is a natural stone which has been used for hundreds of years as a building material due to its durable nature and striking appearance.  Often used as a flooring product inside the home, slate paving can be laid internally and externally so providing a smooth transition from home to garden.

What does it look like?

Photos of slate paving used in a garden designed by Alda Landscapes.

Style

Known for its dramatic and contrasting look, most slate paving comes in the darker shades of various blacks such as blue-black.  However other options are available such as ‘copper slate’ which as its name suggests has a striking combination of blues, beiges, browns and golds running through the paving.

Colours

Compared to some other paving products slate is normally associated with the colour black with other colours such as blue or green trending through the stone. This is why it is considered to be one of the best choices to use in a contemporary garden as it compliments so well a modern design.   However as previously mentioned it also comes in multi-coloured shades such as the ‘copper slate’ (the latter can be sourced through Peppard Building Supplies of Reading 0118 972 2028).

Maintenance

Slate paving is an attractive option for a patio due to its hardwearing nature.  To add to its longevity a protective sealant can be applied once the paving has been laid.

Cost

When it comes to cost slate paving is comparatively expensive – for example it is normally a third more than Sandstone paving.  However for many it’s distinctive look more than makes up for its higher price tag.

 

Paving Comparison: Limestone

Natural limestone has been a key building material throughout the ages and used all over the world – even the Egyptian pyramids are made from this stone.

What does it look like?

Photos of limestone paving used in gardens designed by ALDA Landscapes.

Style

Visually appealing limestone has a less riven texture than Sandstone. One of its attractions as a paving product is its strength and durability – it isn’t as porous for example as its Sandstone competitor.

Surface Finish

Limestone paving comes in three types of surface finish:

  • in a hand cut finish
  • in a tumbled surface finish and edges
  • in a honed or sawn surface finish and edges

The tumbled finish is probably considered to be most suited in a more traditional garden design whereas the sawn surface finish is perfect in providing a modern clean cut look in a contemporary garden.  This is particularly true of the ‘black sawn edge’ limestone paving, once laid it immediately creates a striking modern look to a garden design.

Colours

Limestone Paving Colours - Reduced

Limestone paving comes in a variety of colours for example:

  • Cotswold Yellow limestone
  • Antique Yellow limestone
  • Kota Blue limestone (see photo top right)
  • Black Sawn Edge limestone

(All the above can be sourced from Nigel Belcher – our main supplier of paving).

Maintenance

If low maintenance is a high priority for you when choosing paving for your patio, limestone would be a good choice.  As previously mentioned its natural strength and low porous characteristics keep it looking good throughout the years.

Cost

For all its qualities limestone is generally considered to be a reasonably priced paving product – however it is usually more expensive than Indian Sandstone.

 

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How to cope with a wide / deep border

We often receive calls and emails from people who have recently moved into a new home, feeling overawed at taking on a mature garden with very large and deep borders. Inexperienced gardeners understandable find the prospect extremely daunting and so come to us for our advice.

While deep borders can take a bit of looking after, they are not necessarily high maintenance. So, when thinking about what to do with the borders, here are a few tips and pointers:

Review the planting

Is the border full of large shrubs, which look glorious in their natural shape and are doing a good job at covering the ground and suppressing weeds?

If the answer to this is “yes”, then you might not want to do anything at all! But if the border is half bare / weed ridden, or full of small herbaceous plants (for example) requiring more frequent tending and weeding, then you might want to consider changing the planting to something requiring lower maintenance. Contact us if you need help with a new planting scheme.

Sometimes the problem can be that a particular shrub has taken over too much of the border. Here you will need to consider whether it can be dramatically pruned (a lot of shrubs will stand up to some drastic pruning), or whether it needs to be removed entirely.

Consider reducing the size of the border

Would it be helpful to reduce the size of the border, and thus introduce more space or an extra feature into the garden?

The easiest way to reduce the size of a border is obviously just to convert part of it back to lawn (or gravel, or…). But this exercise can be viewed in a creative way. For example, could the garden be made more interesting at the same time by reshaping the lawn and borders to introduce curves, where the borders are wider in some areas and then narrow down in areas where lawn has been added?

Or, you could add a feature area or seat area within the border, which will enhance the garden but also reduce the planting space?

Making tracks…

How does a path sound? They can add real appeal to a garden (children love them too!)

Installing some form of path through a border can add genuine interest to a garden while also reducing the plant maintenance and helping in terms of accessing the deeper recesses of the borders.

When a border has a path running through it, the front section of the border effectively becomes double sided so that as you walk along the path you can disappear from view behind taller plants located towards the back of the front section of the border. And as you walk along the path, you might want to see some smaller plants located at the path edge in the middle of the border.

The planting can become complex (let us know if you need a hand!)… but very interesting!

Plants, plants, plants…

Are you really a true plant lover at heart?

Not everyone is looking to reduce planting space to reduce maintenance (although no one ever asks us for a high maintenance garden!).

To a plant lover, a deep border is a really exciting prospect and enjoyable to plan and plant – with large shrubs located towards the back of the border forming a mixed and varied foliage tapestry, and with the height of the planting gradually graded down towards the front of the border, perhaps with some neat low edging plants at the front of the border, and a central layer of colourful perennials and smaller shrubs in the middle of the border.

The benefit of a deep border is that plants can be allowed to grow naturally without being constantly trimmed to keep them in bounds. Enjoy the freedom!

There are of course also more general ways of reducing maintenance in deep borders – mulching being an obvious example.

As always, if you need some creative input or simply some help maintaining your existing garden, do let us know.

 

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Plant Focus: Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’

Cotoneasters are generally very easy to grow – and fast growing – evergreen and deciduous shrubs, with white spring flowers, followed by (usually) red berries in the winter.  The various types have a mulititude of uses – as border shrubs, for hedging, and some forms are often used as ground cover, especially on banks and in supermarket car parks.  Perhaps as  result of this, they seem to have gained the reputation for being rather boring, lax plants.  This is a shame because there are some lovely and really useful Cotoneasters readily available, including my favourite: Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’.

Why I like it

Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ is a large evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub, with long, dark green leaves.  It has a mass of white flowers in late spring and early summer, which are very attractive to bees, and a wonderful display of large bright red berries in the winter.  The birds in my garden seem to prefer Pyracantha, Rowan and other berries, so my Cotoneaster manages to keep its berries until we have a spell of really cold weather in January and February – then flocks of hungry Fieldfares  and Redwings devour the mature berries in no time.

Looking after Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’

It is fully hardy, and will cope with any aspect, or any half decent soil, and is happy in sun or partial shade.  As it is fast growing, it does need some light pruning in late winter / early spring to keep it tidy and in bounds.  Left unpruned it can reach 6m high and more.  It can suffer from the odd aphid attack, but compared to the vast majority of plants, it is remarkably trouble free.

Where to use it

It is an incredibly versatile plant – often seen as a specimen shrub in the middle of the border (where admittedly it does need to be given a bit of space).  It can also be trained on a single stem to form a very nice small evergreen tree.  But I think it comes into its own when grown against a fence as an evergreen wall shrub, where it will just need a few wires or anchor points.  Grown in this way, it doesn’t need to be fancily pruned – just trimmed to keep it tidy, but it can also be fanned or trained as an espalier.  It looks really stunning when grown like this on trellis or lattice, where it can make a very attractive screen (eg in front of a shed or vegetable plot), without taking up too much horizontal space.

An Alternative

And if this isn’t enough, there are also similar Cotoneasters  with yellow berries, such as ‘Rothschildianus’ and ‘Exburyensis’, although these don’t have quite the same vigour as ‘Cornubia’.

All in all a very attractive plant that deserves to be more widely planted.

 

Image credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking

patio

Paving Comparison

With Spring’s arrival and having had a few warmer days at last, it is the time of year that many people start thinking about installing a new patio. Here at ALDA Landscapes we have received more enquiries about patios over the last two weeks than we do at other times of the year!… and this generally carries on throughout the Summer.

Over the next few months I thought it would be helpful to look at the different options available when choosing paving.  Often the hardest decision for our clients in the design of a new garden is getting the paving right for their new patio.  Not only does it have to compliment the style of their garden and property but our clients are also concerned to choose paving that is practical and requires low maintenance.

What I plan to do is cover each paving material in a separate blog post (I’ll stick the links below as they’re written), and then I’ll round the whole thing up by doing some sort of a comparison of the different options. Watch this space!

Indian Sandstone

Indian Sandstone

Limestone

Limestone

Slate

Slate

Sourcing your paving

At ALDA Landscapes we will normally source the paving for our clients and provide samples – this comes as part of the design expertise we offer.

Our main supplier is Nigel Belcher Turf and Paving Ltd in Hermitage (01635 202700). Nigel will guarantee the quality of the paving, which cuts down on wastage for us – if there is a problem with the paving he will happily replace it. Being able to see and touch the paving in the flesh helps tremendously in the decision making process and Nigel has an extensive range on display.

As a landscaping company, we don’t recommend buying off the internet, or using a builder’s merchant, as we’re unable to guarantee our clients the same level of quality or service as with our known trusted suppliers. If you don’t live locally, look for a well-respected, local supplier who is willing to guarantee the quality of their stone. Those that work with a lot of professional garden designers/landscapers will be a good starting point.

 

Paving Comparison: Indian Sandstone

Of the many options available for paving, my personal favourite is Indian Sandstone.   Currently it is by far the most popular paving chosen by our clients – in fact I like it so much I chose it for the patio in my garden (in the ‘Mint’ finish) – see colours below.

What does it look like?

Style

As a natural stone, Indian Sandstone is a hard wearing paving product. With its subtle blend of colours, Indian Sandstone compliments most planting schemes.  This is the case whether it is laid in a more traditional garden or a garden with a more minimal contemporary theme; the choice available in colour means that you are sure to find one that suits your garden. In a more traditional garden in Reading for example, we laid Indian Sandstone in the Modak Rose colour and this suited perfectly the age of the property and the cottage garden feel of the planting.

Surface Finish

Sandstone comes in a number of different surface finishes:

  • Riven: Hand cut finish, with a rustic riven surface (generally the cheapest option, as this is how it comes out of the quarry)
  • Sawn: Often sawn on all six sides & either honed or sandblasted to give a contemporary look (generally the most expensive, as it involves the most processing)
  • Tumbled: Processed for a softer finish, with rounded edges and corners – for a vintage, time worn appearance.

Colours

Indian Sandstone Paving - Colours

Indian Sandstone comes in a range of mainly subtle colours. Our preferred supplier Nigel Belcher offers a range of six colours (for traditional riven sandstone) – Autumn Brown, Buff Blend, Mint, Grey, Modak Rose and Raj Mix. Other suppliers may use different names.

Sawn and Tumbled Indian Sandstone are available in similar colours.

Slip Resistance

One of the many benefits of sandstone is that it’s not slippery – even a sawn sandstone patio when wet has good slip resistance.

Maintenance

The main downside to Indian Sandstone is that algae may build up over the years, particularly on a north facing patio which gets little sunlight. Algae can be prevented by using a sealant such as Drytreat which has a 10 to 15 year guarantee.  (ALDA Landscapes is officially registered to administer this product by the company Drytreat).

Cost

Indian Sandstone is the most economical of the natural stones, especially in the hand cut finish, having a reasonable cost compared to upmarket concrete products and limestone / slate. As noted above, Tumbled and Sawn Indian Sandstones are more expensive, as they involve more processing.

 

Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' banner

Plant to Watch – Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

I thought I would just share some details of this plant which was recently brought to my attention by several clients, and which is now cropping up increasingly in garden centres.  It was Plant of the Year at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013.   I am about to try growing it in my garden (and one or two customers have agreed to be guinea pigs too!).  If it lives up to its hype, it could be a lovely and very useful plant.

Mahonia Soft Caress is a compact evergreen shrub, likely to grow to around  1m tall and wide over time.  Unlike other Mahonias it doesn’t have spiny leaves;  instead it has soft, fine finger like dark green leaves, which have a hint of the exotic in them.  It has the same (slight scented) yellow flowers (and blue black berries) as its relatives, but it flowers earlier in the year – August to October.  It will grow in full sun to partial (or even full) shade in any well drained, moderately fertile soil.  One client has teamed it with ferns, a Fatsia and hellebores.

I have seen the odd report which questions the full hardiness of the plant, so time will tell.  It may be that it benefits from the frost protection that a tall tree canopy can provide.  But if it proves to be hardy and reliable, it should have a multitude of uses – general border planting, to flank paths and path entrances, as low hedging,  as a small feature plant (particularly in small gardens), in pots and containers, as part of a lush planting theme… the list goes on!

If you’ve grown Mahonia Soft Caress, leave a comment to let us know how you got on. I am particularly interested to hear more anecdotal evidence on it’s hardiness or otherwise!

Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress'

Image credit: Leonora Enking.

 

Artificial grass update…

As promised an update from last month’s blog on our artificial lawn in Maidenhead ….. the artificial grass is now laid and creates a lawn at the top corner of the garden and a welcome injection of colour at this time of year!

These two photos show a corner of the lawn yet to be laid, and you can see the compacted sand underneath (mentioned in last month’s blog) and then the crucial white membrane (also described in last month’s blog, it acts as a barrier as well as allowing drainage to occur) which is the sandwich between the ground and the final layer of artificial grass. Seen like this the process resembles that of laying an outside carpet and the neat timber edging holds the lawn securely in place.

These two photos show a corner of the lawn yet to be laid, and you can see the compacted sand underneath (mentioned in last month’s blog) and then the crucial white membrane (also described in last month’s blog, it acts as a barrier as well as allowing drainage to occur) which is the sandwich between the ground and the final layer of artificial grass. Seen like this the process resembles that of laying an outside carpet and the neat timber edging holds the lawn securely in place.

The finished garden works well on many levels and this can be attributed to the attention of detail shown throughout the design.  This is demonstrated in the construction of a wooden arbour over a seating area at one end of the artificial lawn to create a feature.

The (semi) finished garden works well on many levels and this can be attributed to the attention of detail shown throughout the design.  This is demonstrated in the construction of a wooden arbour over a seating area at one end of the artificial lawn to create a feature. Staining of the fence and planting/lighting yet to come…

The grey Indian Sandstone used for the paving shows the importance of the use of colour in a garden design.  The subtle grey colour compliments the red brick of the house and ties in nicely with the square area of grey shingle which provides the base for a traditional stone sundial.  Our client didn’t want steps leading to the sundial area so a ramp pathway continuing in the grey sandstone was constructed and edged with timber sleepers, which are an effective way to define areas and add levels in a garden.

The grey Indian Sandstone used for the paving shows the importance of the use of colour in a garden design.  The subtle grey colour compliments the red brick of the house and ties in nicely with the square area of grey shingle which provides the base for a traditional stone sundial.  Our client didn’t want steps leading to the sundial area so a ramp pathway continuing in the grey sandstone was constructed and edged with timber sleepers, which are an effective way to define areas and add levels in a garden.

I think you will agree this garden is both elegant and practical in its design which will keep it looking good for many years to come – and the icing on the cake is a lush green lawn which requires no cutting, comes with a 10 year guarantee and provides hours of enjoyment over the summer months (well at any time of year for that matter!)

 

The Garden Designer’s Garden – February Update

As promised in last month’s blog, here are some photos of my new back garden patio, courtyard, mini formal lawn and veggie “coffins”.

As you can see, the hard landscaping is now all finished...... and the small formal lawn is knitting together well.Next steps will be the planting of a low formal hedge around the (formal) lawn...... and the installation of a feature & low planting in the rectangular bed in the middle of the paving.We are currently researching elegant timber trough planters to sit on the gravel by the garage & house walls (shallow underground pipes here make planting in the ground impractical).We will also be returning the garden furniture to the main patio (and buying some new furniture and containers when finances permit).

In terms of the veggie “coffins”, I am contemplating buying or making some small obelisks – both to continue the formal theme and to use as support structures.

And of course, we are contemplating what to grow in them. Like most of our clients, we don’t have endless amounts of time, so will be keeping things simple this year. But I am hoping to grow a few vegetables which I cannot always find in the shops such as Treviso radicchio, and also a few courgettes – for their flowers as I am a keen cook (again when time permits)!  Runner beans are a must, although I think I might experiment with some dwarf forms in my windy site.  And a few salad leaves.  And……

Then, of course, there is all the planting in the borders between the new section of garden and the main lawn (existing).  Plans are in progress – and the planning and planting is something to be savoured and enjoyed over the coming spring and summer months.

Will keep you updated.

Happy gardening.

 

Daffs

Designing & Landscaping A Garden Designer’s Garden

People always say to me “You’re a garden designer, I bet you’ve got a lovely garden”.

Well, I have a confession to make: I don’t (yet) have a lovely garden.

I have the beginnings of a lovely garden, but it has a way to go.  It is a work in progress – a bit like a builder’s home.

Like so many of our clients, my husband and I have concentrated our efforts (and vast sums of money!) over many years on getting our house the way we wanted it.  Along the way, I have prepared plans for the garden, which have enabled us to start shaping borders and doing some planting.  But the main garden elements – patios, paths and veggie beds, have largely had to take second place to the house – until now. With the house largely complete (in so far as anything is ever complete), we have turned our attention to completing our back garden (the front garden is next year’s project).

ALDA’s most difficult customer yet?

So, at the beginning of January the ALDA landscaping team spent several weeks working with a very difficult customer – me!  The garden is not yet finished – the guys will be returning in a week or so to complete the hard landscaping and border preparation and lay a formal lawn.

So currently, much of the area looks like something akin to the Somme after all the rain – any clients reading this will no doubt think that perhaps I am getting a dose of my own medicine!  But it won’t be long before I can turn my attention to the planting – all very exciting.

A good reminder

Working on my own garden plans over the years, and monitoring their implementation has been – and will continue to be – a very humbling experience and has reminded me that:

  • The final design of a garden is inevitably a compromise. And there is nothing wrong with that.   It is, for example, very difficult to locate every component of a garden in what is theoretically an ideal spot.  In a recent blog I pronounced that vegetable beds should not be located in a windy spot.  My two new large raised veggie beds (currently incomplete, empty and resembling enormous coffins) are sited in a wind tunnel.  It is a lovely sunny spot, close to water, shed etc, easily accessible, close but not too close to the house, and the beds fit neatly in with the semi-formal design of this part of the garden.  But it can be very blustery there and I will have to adapt what I grow accordingly.  The veggie beds are also ideally located for the pigeons – half way between the bird feeding station and the bird bath, so perhaps my love of the birds and bird feeding will wane over the coming years!
  • What you want from a garden changes over the years. People’s tastes alter over time, as do their needs, so it makes sense where possible to keep things a little flexible.
  • The hardest garden to design is your own – because you know it too well and it can be hard to see it differently. This, of course, is good news for us at ALDA Landscapes!
  • Gardens are transient, particularly the planting. However well designed, if not maintained, nature will very quickly take its course.
  • When it comes to plants – you never know enough. There are always new plants to discover – how good is that!
  • And when it comes to growing plants – don’t be afraid of failure. If something doesn’t work, try something else, and learn from the experience. Don’t beat yourself up.

 

Coming up next month: more details and photos of my new back garden (particularly the veggie beds and what I am planning to grow in them)!