Preparing the way for a patio that will last…

From small beginnings big things take shape…….. many clients might not appreciate how important the first stages of a garden design project are to the creation of the garden of their dreams!

Last week ALDA Landscapes embarked on a new garden design at Upper Basildon.  This build will take place over 4 weeks, and involves refurbishing a large patio and terraced areas and also the construction of raised beds incorporated within the paving design.

Over the last few days I have taken photos of our progress to illustrate the various stages involved to ensure the patio is constructed to a high standard and will stay looking good for many years to come!

First of all we start by lining out the area for the new patio.

First of all we start by lining out the area for the new patio.


Next, we start excavating the ground, using a digger and, in sensitive areas (near drains for example), by hand, using spades.

Next, we start excavating the ground, using a digger and, in sensitive areas (near drains for example), by hand, using spades.


Levels are set (also allowing for an appropriate fall – and direction of fall - for drainage) by using a laser level which sits on a tripod.

Levels are set (also allowing for an appropriate fall – and direction of fall – for drainage) by using a laser level which sits on a tripod.


Then the beds and patio areas are marked out as per Alison’s design plan. In this photo, my foreman Andy can be seen making sure the levels are correct by using a staff formation.

Then the beds and patio areas are marked out as per Alison’s design plan. In this photo, my foreman Andy can be seen making sure the levels are correct by using a staff formation.


It is important at this stage in the job to use the right sub-base for the type of soil you are building on to ensure longevity of the patio. A whacker plate and a vibrating roller for the larger areas are used to compact the type 1 MOT scalpings sub-base to ensure an even and free draining surface to lay the paving slabs on.

It is important at this stage in the job to use the right sub-base for the type of soil you are building on to ensure longevity of the patio. A whacker plate and a vibrating roller for the larger areas are used to compact the type 1 MOT scalpings sub-base to ensure an even and free draining surface to lay the paving slabs on.


All the above has taken 4 days’ work for the team as the garden is substantial in size.

All the above has taken 4 days’ work for the team as the garden is substantial in size.


As I write on day 5 we are starting to lay the Tumbled Raj’ Indian Sandstone paving slabs and the effort of the last few days really pays off as the job takes shape. A stage every client enjoys – when the muddy phase is over and they get an idea of how their finished patio will look!

Keep an eye out for next month’s blog when more photos of our progress can be seen!


Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’

Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’

I first came across this newish form of Stonecrop at an open day of our main perennial wholesale nursery a year or two ago, and wow, planted en masse it made a bold, lasting and beautiful impression.  Since then, I have regularly recommended it for clients’ gardens, and indeed have planted it in my own garden and am much impressed.


Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’ is a stunning, intensely coloured perennial, with dusky purple foliage with a grey bloom, and deep smoky pink flowers in late summer that darken through early autumn and hold until winter.  It is also compact (growing to about 50cm high), stocky and easy to manage.

Sadly we couldn’t find many photos licensed for commercial use to show you here, but there are plenty of images for you to see on Google and Flickr:

Google Search - Sedum ‘Jose Aubergine’

Where to use it

Planted in a bold group, it looks good with other late summer flowering plants such as Penstemon ‘Garnet’ and late Salvias.  But I think it really comes into its own when planted with other dusky or hot coloured plants that herald the end of summer and the start of autumn such as golden Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’, deep purple Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’ or paler Aster frikartii ‘Monch’.  It also works well with the grey green leaves and mauve flowers of Caryopteris, or the autumn leaf hues of Euonymus alatus, Ceratostigma, and Liquidambar.  It also associates well with the grey grasses such as Festuca glauca.

Planting & Plant Care Tips

It prefers an open, sunny, well drained site, but will cope with light shade, and, like other Sedums, is much loved by bees.

It needs very little maintenance.  The plants retain a few neat evergreen basal leaves throughout the winter (helpful as you can see where they are!).  The dead flower heads just need cutting off at the base – this can be done in the autumn or early winter, although some people prefer to leave doing this until early spring as the dead flower heads are quite attractive in their own right during the winter months, especially when frosty.

So, go on, be bold and give it a go!


Image credits: Quinn Dombrowski, Google.


Curve appeal

Curve Appeal

Curve appeal……… this month we have transformed a back garden in Maidenhead where curves take centre stage and give a small garden added interest.

The main curve which runs along the edge of the patio, shown in the photo above, is a striking feature in this garden. To achieve this shape, we first overlay the paving, then place flexible rods on top of the paving in the desired outline.  This outline is then marked, before finally cutting along the markings with a mechanical disc cutter.

An Indian Sandstone sett path, laid so it takes you down and around the end of the garden, adds to the curve theme and provides another interesting focal point.  Our client is looking forward to the turf being laid over the next few weeks, providing the finishing touch & achieving the look he wanted.

Another example of how effective a curved pathway can be is in a garden ALDA Landscapes designed and built in the Spring of this year in Newbury.  The photos above show how the path gently snakes down the garden, leading you from the house under an arbour and onwards through the garden, enjoying the planting as you go, before finishing up at the seated area at the bottom of the garden. Again the pathway was constructed using Indian Sandstone sett paving.

So if you want to add interest to your garden why not consider the impact curves can create – whether it’s through the shaping of a curved edged patio, a curved outline to a lawn or incorporating a curve into the design of a pathway.


Veggie Bed 1

Growing Vegetables – Design Considerations

This is the second of a series of design blogs aimed at encouraging people to make space to grow vegetables (see July’s introductory post here).  This time a few pointers on what to think about when planning a vegetable garden.

Key considerations when designing a vegetable garden

  • How enthusiastic are you? Do you just want to grow a few tomatoes or runner beans in a small bed (or maybe just a few containers) somewhere in the garden?  Or are your plans somewhat grander, requiring more space and a dedicated “veggie garden”?
  • What – specifically – do you want to grow? Salad crops? Green Vegetables? Brassicas? Potatoes and other root vegetables?  Fruit?  Perennial crops such as asparagus or rhubarb?  Herbs?  More tender fruit and vegetables? Each of these has different requirements in terms of climate, soil etc.  If you want to grow lots of different things on a permanent basis, then some form of bed system, and perhaps crop rotation would be advisable.
  • How physically able are you? Vegetable growing can be hard work. Would raised beds (not too wide for ease of access) with paths in between make life easier?  Might access be an issue – do you need wider paths?  Should the veggies be located closer to the house so that you don’t need a hike down the garden just to pick a few runner beans or courgettes?

Location, location, location…

Where is the best place in your garden to grow vegetables? This is a critical question.  Ideally the vegetable garden needs:

  • An open site with plenty of light and sunshine
  • To be sheltered from strong winds
  • A well drained, fertile soil, rich in organic matter (and ideally with a very mildly acid pH value)
  • A very hot area or suntrap somewhere if you want to grow tender fruit and vegetables (peaches for example)
  • Easy access to taps for watering
  • Locating sheds, compost areas, and the greenhouse close by might also be useful (if, of course, you want a greenhouse).

Areas to be avoided:

  • Those under tall overhanging trees, which cast shade and prevent both rain and sunlight reaching crops
  • Exposed windy sites
  • Poorly drained, boggy soils prone to waterlogging
  • Very light soils where water and nutrients are easily washed out
  • Excessively acid or alkaline soils
  • Frost pockets

It is, of course, possible – to some degree – to alter conditions within a garden in order to suit vegetables better.   Windbreaks can be installed to filter the wind.  And most importantly, many people opt to grow their vegetables in raised beds as this not only can make life easier physically (e.g. no digging heavy clay soils), it also means that there is much better border drainage and provides the ability to control the quality and fertility of soil within the beds.

Other Design Considerations

  • Do you want your vegetables to be tucked away out of site, or in full view. If the latter, might it be possible to incorporate them more into the design of the overall garden e.g. perhaps growing the vegetables in a small formal garden or potager with a central feature (e.g. bird bath).
  • Might some seating be nice – perhaps a bench to sit with a cup of tea or coffee?
  • Do you need power? To a greenhouse?  For lighting?  For any tools?
  • Does the vegetable garden need any protection – from deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice or just the household pets?

Just a few things to consider when planning a space for vegetables… Coming Up Soon:  A vegetable garden design case study or two – putting the clues above into practice, ideas for what to grow, and some practicalities when it comes to getting your hands dirty!


Photo credits: Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis, Ajith KumarKate Ter HaarJoopeynormanackOfer El-HashaharWinniepixIsabell Schulz.


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