Have you ever considered a garden room?

An outdoor roomAn outdoor roomAn outdoor roomAn outdoor room

Tempted by a chill out space in your garden…..?  This summer house built by ALDA Landscapes in 2011 in my garden provides the perfect retreat on hot summer days – in fact it is used from Spring through to Autumn.  An outside garden room offers the perfect space to relax and unwind with a book, or for entertaining friends over a glass of wine or two.

At night, make it a magical space by lighting glass droplet candles hung from the ceiling or from the branches of nearby trees.  Adding a large candle lantern is an easy way to add impact and helps to zone the space.  Another design element in your outside room will be how to place your furniture and planted pots, I prefer to use large terracotta planters spilling over with geraniums.

To extend your stay once the heat of the day has gone why not invest in an attractive outdoor fireplace – one I especially like is Morso’s Kamino fireplace but there are lots of other alternatives such as chimineas made from clay, steel or cast iron and currently found in many shops and garden centres.

Go on… indulge yourself and create a special space in your garden before the autumn nights creep in!


Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'

Plant Focus: Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ – a yellow berried form of Rowan / Mountain Ash  – is one of my favourite small trees (I planted one in my own garden a few years ago – and also one in my parents’ garden in the distant past).  It is worthy of a place in any garden, providing  interest and colour all through the year.


  • Upright, neat habit
  • Light canopied (with mid green pinnate leaves)
  • Creamy white flowers in late Spring
  • Lovely yellow berries in autumn, which start pale yellow and mature to amber. They can last throughout the winter, but are much loved by the birds – the blackbirds in my garden devour them in next to no time.
  • Superb autumn leaf colour – in varying shades of red, orange, copper and purple


Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'Sorbus 'Joseph Rock'

Why I like it:

  • Provides interest & colour throughout the year
  • Doesn’t grow too big! – growing to only 6m high by 4m wide in 20 years
  • It’s light canopied, so won’t cast a lot of shade
  • The creamy white flowers are much loved by bees
  • Low maintenance

Where to use it

  • Ideal in a small garden where space is limited
  • Suitable for most soils

Planting & plant care tips:

Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ can be planted in almost any soil.  It is also pollution tolerant, so good for town gardens and built up areas.

Some authorities state that Sorbus Joseph Rock is susceptible to Fireblight, although I have never had any experience of this problem.

There are also a number of other yellow berried Sorbus eg Sorbus ‘Sunshine’, which has Joseph Rock as one of its parents, and which are also well worth considering.


Image credits: Wendy Cutler

Recessed manhole cover banner

Mastering manhole covers

Mastering the problem of a manhole cover….. manhole covers might not seem the most exciting topic when considering a new paving area in your garden but it can be hugely satisfying finding an attractive solution to what can be an ugly eyesore.  The ideal solution and one we have implemented for many of our clients is to construct a recess cover and so create a seamless transition throughout the paved area.

A recent design project in a front garden in Maidenhead is a good example of how a manhole cover does not need to spoil the look of your paving – it involved incorporating a recessed cover into the design of an Indian sandstone paved area and even though it is an extra large cover, it translates smoothly into the design.

Recessed manhole cover 1

As the photos below of other gardens where ALDA Landscapes have installed recessed manhole covers illustrate, our clients are not limited in their choice of paving materials, these can be achieved equally well when installing brick paving, Indian Sandstone, slate or whatever takes your fancy!

p.s.  What I’m enjoying in my garden this week – Rosa ‘Gwent’: a yellow ground cover rose, which is creeping up over the flower border and starting to travel along the patio.  Sitting with a cup of tea in hand at the end of the day, it’s a real treat to watch its progress!

Beautiful vegetable garden

Making room for vegetables

I have been asked on numerous occasions over the years to give some tips and advice about growing vegetables and how to design a vegetable garden.  Up until now I have held back – whilst historically I have grown many types of vegetable, I do not consider myself an expert, and I have never had an allotment.  But then it occurred to me that perhaps this was the very reason why I should write a blog or two on designing vegetable gardens – because I am in much the same position as my own clients!  So this blog post is the first of a series on growing vegetables and how to incorporate vegetables within a hopefully beautiful garden.

Future posts will explore what veggies to grow, where to grow them and how to grow them, but this introduction is simply a gentle call to action aimed at encouraging everyone to grow a few vegetables, herbs or salad crops in their gardens.


Most of us like the idea of growing a few vegetables:

  • it is rewarding in its own right
  • many vegetables (runner beans for example) taste so much better than anything you can buy in a shop, and are normally cheaper
  • it’s eco friendly
  • you can involve the kids
  • and for foodies like me, it provides an opportunity to grow things that can be difficult to find in the shops

Starting Small

Whilst very keen “grow your own” enthusiasts may opt for large vegetable gardens or allotments, which require large amounts of both space and time, it is entirely possible to grow a few plants in a small space and with relatively little time input.

Small raised beds are one option for growing plants in a confined space, but timber planters, bags, containers are also possibilities. And you don’t necessarily need a separate vegetable garden – runner beans can be grown, for example, up obelisks within a border.  In fact, a number of plants can be grown as simple shrubs or annuals within a border, for example gooseberry bushes, or perhaps things like beetroot with its ornamental leaves.

It must be said, however, that when growing veggies in borders, I do need to curb my natural designer inclination to fill borders – most veggies like a bit of space.

Looking Good

Vegetable areas don’t need to look too utilitarian.  They can be made to be attractive gardens in their own right.  A favourite trick of mine is to make small vegetable gardens semi-formal in style, with some symmetry and perhaps a central feature.  Almost a mini potager! (On a rather more grand scale, these photos of ‘Le potager animé’, Château de Mesnil Geoffroy, demonstrate the point – a vegetable garden doesn’t have to look boring! Photo credit: isamiga76).

Be Realistic

Having shared those photos above, a word of caution: be realistic!  Many vegetables are in effect annuals.  An unused and / or untended large veggie garden can quickly become a weed infested eyesore.  Think about why you are growing vegetables, how much time and space you have, and what veggies in particular you want to grow (and what the minimum needs of these plants are).   Perhaps start off small scale, with a view to expanding your veggie garden as your experience and enthusiasm grows!

Until next time……


Photo credits: isamiga76, Paul Stainthorp, ccharmon, Korye Logan, Greg Traver.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Plant Focus: Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

Following on from last month’s look at Euonymus alatus, this month I want to share another of my favourites with you. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is an attractive, really useful low growing, spring flowering herbaceous perennial.

Whilst it dies back in the winter, it provides a really long season of interest in terms of its foliage and flowers.  Blue forget-me-not like flowers appear from April to early June, followed by heart shaped variegated leaves, which form a neat mound of ground cover into autumn.

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ - Spring flowersBrunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ - Spring flowersBrunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ - Summer foliageBrunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ - Spring flowers


  • Low growing, spring flowing herbaceous perennial
  • Forget-me-not like blue flowers begin in April and continue until early June
  • Flowers are followed by large, heart shaped variegated leaves throughout the summer and into autumn

Why I like it:

  • Long season of interest
  • Neat, interesting ground cover throughout the summer and into autumn
  • Shade tolerant
  • Low maintenance (see tips below)

Where to use it

  • Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is shade tolerant and in my experience much happier in dappled shade than full sun.
  • The flowers look great alongside other Spring flowering perennials such as Primroses, Cowslips, Candytuft, Viburnum plicatum, Geranium phaeum, and Dicentra spectabilis (now sadly renamed Lamprocapnos spectabilis), as well as the unfurling fronds of lacy ferns and maybe the odd Hosta.
  • In Summer and early Autumn, the silver foliage works really well with the bronze leaves of Heuchera, or to lighten the mood amongst the stodgy dark green of Viburnum tinus and other shrubs.  It also looks good with golden foliage – that of Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’ for example.

Planting & plant care tips:

  • It does prefer a good quality soil, so add plenty of organic matter to the soil prior to planting
  • As mentioned above, it prefers dappled shade. If planted in sun, it will benefit from watering in very dry weather.
  • Trim over the plant after flowering and remove the old flowering stems – the plant will then stay a fresh, neat mound all summer. Then simply tidy up the dead leaves in late autumn /winter. It’s as simple as that.


Image credits: Patrick Standish, ALDA, peganum

Purples, oranges and blues at Chelsea 2015

Creations at Chelsea

As soon as I walk into the grounds of Chelsea Flower Show I know I am in for a creative and visually stimulating experience and this year the talent of the designers, plant breeders and everyone involved didn’t fail to deliver!

Grey coloured paving such as slate and limestone seemed to be a popular choiceOne of my favourite show gardens – The Beauty of IslamAlliums standing to attention in the Great PavilionAnother of my favourites - a small purple climbing rose

This year’s trends

So much to take in and yet there were definite trends in landscaping and planting design which stood out and caught my attention.  Grey coloured paving such as slate and limestone seemed to be a popular choice with the designers of the show gardens and it does make a perfect backdrop to show off the lush green planting and the highly coloured planting schemes.

Purple, orange and blue were colours often used together and became a repeating motif in the planting designs used in the gardens – although one of my favourite show gardens – The Beauty of Islam – was based around an effective white and green planting scheme which conveyed a feeling of peace and relaxation.  Water troughs filled with stones also made a regular appearance such as in the Urban Retreat garden and would make a modern statement in any garden.

Jaw dropping perfection in the Great Pavilion

As to the Great Pavilion… where do you start – it was an overwhelming celebration of different plants – you smell the hyacinths before you see them and the rose area was one of the busiest stands and smelt wonderfully fragrant, my favourite being a small purple climbing rose called Violette Rambling Rose.  Different shades of purple alliums stood to attention as you walked by and one of the most jaw dropping stands amongst all this perfection was one displaying multiple variations of the simple daffodil and had won a coveted gold medal.

Chelsea is not to be missed if you are a fan of sculpture or water features in your garden –  gigantic and beautiful drift wood sculptures of horses and dragons appeared around one corner and then close by a stand of copper oriental style flowering fountains gushing water catches the eye.

The only problem with Chelsea is there never seems enough time to see everything before you are rushing to catch the train home!


Image credits: ALDA, Rictor Norton & David Allen

artist or problem solver

Garden Designer: Artist or Problem Solver?

When I meet people for the first time and tell them I am a garden designer, their first response is often something like:

how lovely to spend your time creating & dreaming up beautiful gardens for people!

It seems that they have the impression that I spend my day at the drawing board, a bit like the stereotypical genius artist at the easel, madly creating drawings and sketches for whoever cares to look at them.

The reality of course is normally very different.

Artist or Problem Solver?

I do indeed love creating what I hope clients will think are beautiful gardens that they want to spend time in – this is a truly rewarding part of my job.

But I think of my role as being more of a creative, yet practical, problem solver, and not an artist.

Masterminding requirements


Garden designers need to assimilate a lot of information about a garden and its challenges, and about the wishes of the client, and then devise a garden solution which pulls everything together, and works at a practical level, and which is within budget.

Building on what’s already there


Very few clients want, or can afford to adopt a total “destroy and start again” strategy in their gardens, and as a garden designer, in the vast majority of cases,  I would not want to sweep absolutely everything away and start again – I would always want to build on something within the garden if possible as this is what gives a garden its character and soul.

Therefore, an important aspect of my role is the ability to turn what appear to be negative aspects of the garden into something more positive.  Some of these negative aspects may, of course, not even be in the client’s garden, but on neighbouring property and out of the client’s control.

For example…


So, for example, you have just moved into a new home and inherited a scruffy Ivy clad fence.  You could go to the expense of ripping the whole lot out and installing a new fence.  Or perhaps, if the fence is reasonably sound, you could have the Ivy neatly pruned back (hard – and pruned annually), resulting in a low cost, very wildlife friendly lush green hedge.  In shady areas in particular, this could be a very attractive and low cost option.

Similarly, the tall Leylandii screen could be used as a back drop for a nice statue or other feature.  The native hedge at the boundary but in your neighbour’s garden, which is the source of all the weeds and bramble growing into your garden through the chainlink fence – ok, this is a tricky one!  But you could install a narrow path at the back of the border by the hedge (which would provide access and help limit weed encroachment).  Then you could prune your side of the hedge annually.  You might add some native perennials like Primroses and Cowslips etc at the base of the hedge – and slowly begin to give yourself a kind of “native hedgerow walk”.

Recent blogs such as the ones on coping with dry shady areas under trees and wet, boggy gardens include ideas for doing just this – turning a negative into something more positive, and working with what you have.

Of course, there will always be times when removing something and starting again will be the best  or only solution.  This is often the case, for example, when tall screen planting has been allowed to grow so large, both in height and width, that it is occupying far too much of the garden.

But with a bit of thought, many of the difficult challenges faced in gardens can be solved by working with what you have got.  And at a time when the cost of removing waste is rising rapidly, this can only be a good thing.

Fitting things together

Like the seemingly random photos in this blog – it’s about taking distinct elements, working with what you’ve got, and fitting it all together in such a way that the finished picture just… works!

And that’s why I see my role as being as being a creative, yet practical problem solver.  Not an artist.



Inspiration – Raised Beds

Are you fed up with back breaking days in the garden? Here’s a thought – why not make life easier by installing a raised flower or vegetable bed?

Increasingly clients are asking us to incorporate raised beds in the design of their garden. Rendered flower beds painted white have proved a popular choice and fit in well with a contemporary feel garden. Alternatively raised beds made out of wooden sleepers provide an attractive feature and also double up as somewhere to sit on a sunny day.

In one garden (shown in the first three photos above) the whole design was constructed around a raised bed theme – they provided a much needed feature in a garden which before had just consisted of a lawn. In this garden, we built a floating bench into each of the three raised beds – so they double up as extra seating too!

The bottom right hand photo shows work in progress at a garden in Newbury – more photos to follow.

So for a more laid back (or at least, less back breaking!) approach to gardening, why not consider using raised beds? Contact us to discuss the best options to suit your garden.


Banner - Euonymus alatus

Plant Focus: Euonymus alatus

Every garden designer has his or her favourite/most-used plants, and I’m no different.  But rather than sharing a long list with you, I want to take the time to focus on some individual plants and how/where/why they can be useful.

We’ll start this month with one of my favourites – Euonymus alatus, otherwise known as winged spindle / fire bush.  It’s quite understated… until Autumn!

Euonymus alatus - flowers in May/JuneEuonymus alatus in Autumn - the 'fire bush'Euonymus alatus in Autumn - the 'fire bush'Euonymus alatus Autumn foliage


  • A neat, upright elegant plant
  • Mainly grown for it’s autumn interest as its leaves turn brilliant red
  • Deciduous, but has corky wings on the stems, which provide winter interest
  • Simple small flowers

Why I like it:

  • For its amazing and brilliant red autumn colour
  • Not fussy, just well-behaved and attractive
  • Slow growing and tolerant of a wide range of conditions
  • Low maintenance

Where to use it

  • Sometimes you just need a plant that has small bright green leaves, to contrast with and get away from the constant dark green stodginess of Photinia Red Robin, Mahonia, Yew etc.  Or to contrast with silver variegated or purple foliage.  Euonymus alatus fits the bill really well.
  • As part of an Autumn border or just to provide wonderful Autumn interest in a section of the garden
  • If possible, plant in an area where the sunshine will play on the brilliant red leaves in Autumn

Buying tip:

  • Look for plants that are well branched down to the base.


Image credits: Matt Lavin, Jack Pearce, R. D. Richards, Matt Lavin.

A garden bench dilemma

As part of one of our most recent garden make-overs in Newbury, our client had requested a seating area at the bottom right hand area of her garden.

A floating bench had been discussed at the design stage as her preference.  However, as there was nothing to build a floating bench against – the fence panel not providing the right level of support – we had to rethink the design a little.

With the client’s agreement, I decided the best solution was to build a bespoke oak bench, made to fit perfectly in the space allocated in the plan for the seating area.

The seat of the bench is made from seasoned oak and makes a comfortable and smooth surface to sit on.  The client was delighted with the finished bench and it actually ties in very well with the other wooden elements in the garden such as the pergola.

We hope to add this garden as a featured project once work has been completed and the planting established a little – watch this space!

Bespoke oak benchBespoke oak bench - side viewBespoke oak bench - garden yet to be planted!Bespoke oak bench