“Beyond my wildest dreams”

One of our recent clients has just sent us these photos…

… and also these kind words:

“I would like to thank the whole team again for transforming my back garden.

The journey began when I googled ‘Alison, landscape gardener, Twyford’.

Thereafter it was site visits and plans during which you took time to make sure my requirements were taken into account. Construction commenced in November and the teams punctuality and tidiness were admired by neighbours.

I was happy to leave the team for a few days and was delighted on my return to see the new boundary fence. The paving on the patio has been admired and now that planting has been finished, the garden has delivered a result beyond my wildest dreams. I am sure I will spend many happy hours in my garden.”



Alison’s Pre-Holiday Update

Well, I’m about to pack my bags and depart to deepest Italy to recharge my batteries, but I will have plenty to do on my return. As you can see from John’s blog this month, he and the team have been building some lovely walls in Whitchurch – and they also left me some nice empty borders to fill!

In fact, as the photos below show, we’ve got more borders to fill – we have been very busy in two gardens in nearby Pangbourne recently, and both of these gardens are waiting to be planted this autumn.

And the same applies for this garden in Wargrave…

So there’s plenty of planting work ahead of us in the coming months! But to give you a taster of some completed gardens – this country garden in Hurst is all planted and coming on nicely:

And finally – remember that garden in Upper Basildon – featured in John’s blog last October & November? Here are a few more recent photos.


A dry stone wall in Whitchurch

Problem: what to do about a crumbling flint wall in a cottage garden

Solution: replace it with a new dry stone wall of Pennine stone

A dry stone wall provided the perfect solution in our most recent design & build project, a garden in Whitchurch, where we needed to replace an existing old flint wall.

It is not often that I am asked to build a dry stone wall, which is a shame as it provides an attractive feature in a garden and it is a pleasure to build – something like completing a giant jigsaw puzzle!

The pre-existing wall, made up of old flint and imitation stone boulders, was crumbling away and the area beneath and around it needed attention. The first job was to knock the wall down, remove an old water feature and clear the area beneath the wall to create a large flower bed complete with soil ready for planting.

The new wall took three days to construct and proved to be a satisfying process, selecting the right stone in size and shape to fit each section along the wall. Our client considered several options when it came to the choice of stone to be used, including Purbeck stone, but in the end settled on using Pennine stone. It is a gorgeous natural looking stone with grey green tones which compliment the client’s period property and traditional cottage garden. The wall will provide an effective backdrop to the plants and shrubs yet to be planted and as a dry stone wall will allow for natural drainage to occur.

Brick pathways & low lying walls

Our brick laying skills were also put to the test again in this garden, when constructing pathways and low lying walls using new bricks which have been made to look like period ones. These red bricks add to the character of this traditional garden and as they are new, it means we can cut down on the wastage during the construction process. They also mean we’ve been able to build our client pathways and walls which will stand the test of time.

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’ - banner

Plant Focus: Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

Another of my favourite plants, this yellow leaved form of the smoke bush is perhaps less well known than its green and purple leaved relatives, but in my opinion deserves a place in all but the smallest of gardens.

Why I like it

It is a medium to large deciduous shrub, with golden yellow, slightly translucent leaves, which are an intense gold in full sun, but more limey yellow in partial shade. The leaves turn wonderful shades of coral, orange and red in autumn meaning that this plant is of wonderful foliage interest for 6 months of the year.

Like other smoke bushes, it has tiny flowers in large hazes of fluffy smoke like plumes from mid summer to early autumn. These are a pale straw green colour and stand out well against the foliage.

Looking after Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

It is fully hardy, unfussy about soil (any half decent moist but reasonably drained soil will do), and happy in full sun to partial shade. It needs very little care other than a bit of pruning to keep it tidy in early spring. If particularly large foliage is required, the plant can be hard pruned in spring, although this will limit the smoke like flowers.

Where can I use it?

This plant works well as a specimen plant in its own right, and even better as part of a specimen shrub grouping, for example with a creamy variegated Pittosporum and bronze leaved Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’. In my garden, it looks good next to a Nandina domestica. It also sits very attractively as a backdrop to blue and purple flowered smaller plants, as well as those with bronze and grey foliage. As with all wonderful deciduous plants, it needs a few evergreen neighbours to keep the border interesting in winter, but this seems a small price to pay for such a lovely shrub.

Photo Credits: Leonora (Ellie) EnkingF. D. Richards (1)F. D. Richards (2)K M (1)K M (2).


Paving Comparison: Yorkstone

Yorkstone is a naturally occurring sedimentary Carboniferous sandstone of extremely good quality.  It is sourced from the quarries of Northern England and has been used in most major towns and cities in the UK including paving the streets of London.  It is also perfectly suited for use in garden landscaping.

What does it look like?

Yorkstone paving in Albert Square, Manchester, and sawn Yorkstone paving at Nigel Belcher Turf and Paving Centre.


Yorkstone paving has a natural strength and timeless beauty.  It comes in several finishes from sawn, riven or hand fettled edges. Perhaps it is the more obvious choice for a traditional style garden which needs to compliment an older property.  However new Yorkstone paving with its six sawn sides and smooth surface could equally suit a contemporary garden.  The designer Matthew Wilson reminded us this year at Chelsea Flower Show of the aesthetic appeal of Yorkstone in his garden ‘God’s Own County – A Garden for Yorkshire’ (pictures on our Chelsea 2016 blog here).


Yorkstone paving does not come in as many colour choices as some of the other paving options on the market.  It comes in a colour range from buff to a blue/grey depending on the bed of stone being worked and this gives the paving its distinctive look.


If you are looking for a maintenance free patio Yorkstone might not be your first choice.  Over time the stone can become dark grey in colour due to the buildup of algae and mould which also makes for a slippery surface.  This can be avoided by applying 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).


The beauty of Yorkstone comes at a price.  Currently it is one of, if not the most expensive form of paving which might explain why it isn’t a more popular choice in garden design.

Photo Credit: © Gerald England & licensed for reuse 


Paving Comparison: Porcelain

Porcelain paving is a relatively new and exciting product to arrive on the paving market and is proving popular due to its many favourable qualities.  Unlike many paving choices available such as sandstone and slate, porcelain is a man-made, mass produced product and imported from countries all over the world such as Italy and Turkey.

What does it look like?

Photos taken of porcelain pavers at Nigel Belcher Turf and Paving Centre


Porcelain paving like many of its competitors is a hard wearing and stylish product.  One of its main attractions is its highly consistent colour and texture variation and its colourfast property.  It is ideally suited, with its straight cut edges and smooth surface finish, to contemporary spaces and as a flooring product provides a seamless transition from indoor to outdoor living.  If you are looking to update your patio a perfect choice could be the ‘Albero Oak’ wood effect porcelain pavers from the supplier Global Stone with their slim line contemporary look.


Porcelain paving comes in a wide variety of colours including black, many shades of grey, through to cream and mocha tones… and even as mentioned above in a wood effect option.


Porcelain scores top marks when it comes to maintenance.  It is stain resistant and impermeable to moss, mould and algae.  This also makes it a perfect choice to use around swimming pools and it also has a slip resistant surface.


The cost of this product could be seen as its downside as it is considerably more expensive than most of its competitors!



How to create a workable garden on a steep slope

Client Brief: create a new level lawn for their children to play on.

Problem: how to create a workable garden on a steep slope.

Solution: build two retaining walls and an intricate series of steps that facilitate a level lawn area.

Gardens with steep slopes are obviously full of challenges – however our recent design & build in Cold Ash proves that you can achieve surprisingly good results.

The most important stage in the build was to construct two retaining walls, one metre each in height to raise the garden by 2 metres overall. This was a time consuming job and difficult to achieve, especially as most days proved to be wet in this early stage of the build. It involved importing 60 tons of grade A top soil all of which had to be moved from the front of the house round to the garden at the back in order to shore up the retaining walls.

Another tricky part of the build was moving the heavy oak sleepers down the steep slope in the wet weather conditions although my foreman Andy came up with an ingenious idea of bringing his bicycle into work. By resting the sleepers on top of the bicycle they were safely steered into place with no injuries to the workforce!

The before photo - there is a lot of work to be done before the transformation!Andy my foreman safely transports the oak sleepers down the slope with the help of Jake and BrettRetaining walls constructed from new oak sleepersA new more level lawn is created as per our clients' briefThe internal pathway leading to the bottom of the garden showing the anti-slip treads

The retaining walls now create an attractive feature at the bottom of the garden, they are constructed from new oak sleepers and in total we used 260  – a record for ALDA Landscapes! Either side of these retaining walls we constructed two sets of steps leading down to the bottom area of the garden, the step pathway on the left was constructed as an internal pathway adding a distinctive feature to the garden, whereas the pathway on the right hand side consists of open steps.

Both sets of steps were topped with slate mulch chippings and fitted with an anti-slip tread to eliminate the possibility of someone slipping in the wet winter months. A cobble path was laid at the bottom of the garden linking these step pathways together and making this area more practical throughout the year.

The build was completed by laying turf on the newly raised area above the retaining walls.

Alison's update

Alison’s Update – July 2016

At this time of year, I like to get out and about with my camera – taking photos of gardens we have recently completed to show people on our website, and in our blogs.  But the inclement weather in recent weeks has meant that I have had to postpone my photo shoots until later in July and August.

So, in the absence of photos of new gardens, I thought I would share a few updates – some more recent photos of gardens we have worked on in recent years.

My own garden

Firstly, a quick update on my own garden (see previous posts here and here).  As you can see the veggie coffins are in full use (blog on lessons learnt to date to follow soon) and proving very productive (too productive if you are a courgette!).  The Box hedge is in and some planting done in the courtyard and planters.  But the main borders are still to be planted.  And it’s a shame the lawn was too wet to cut before this photo was taken!

Alison WIP

Artificial lawn update

Next, you may recall John’s recent blog posts on the installation of an artificial lawn (here and here).  Well, here are some recent photos of the garden  – in Maidenhead – now with plants (we had to do battle with the ground elder prior to planting).  The client’s daughter installed the sheep……!

Open plan front garden

Then, you may also recall a blog of mine back in September 2014 – a case study on an open plan front garden in Hartley Wintney.  Well, the client has just sent us these pics of the garden now.

A lush little oasis

And this is a garden in Wokingham we helped adapt and plant many years ago.  Jim, our senior soft landscaper does the main pruning and sprucing twice a year.  A tidy but lush little oasis.

Hornbeam Close 2016

A front entrance courtyard

And this is a little enclosed front entrance courtyard in Spencers Wood (before and immediately after pics).  We landscaped the back garden a year or so ago, and the clients asked us to “do something nice, simple and low maintenance” with the shady inhospitable front area.  As you can see, we have made it into a little courtyard with some paved feature areas (currently missing their final features!) and some specimen plants with a varied foliage tapestry, including a very nice Japanese Acer.

And a long term restoration project

Finally, a much bigger garden, and a long term restoration project.  We renovated the front drive and entrance of this lovely rambling old property in Tidmarsh a couple of years ago.  Earlier this year, we embarked on the task of removing  and infilling / turfing the dilapidated sunken garden, and upgrading the main terrace.  We also restored the water feature.  As you can see, there is plenty more to do, but the garden is already becoming much more usable and somewhere the clients can relax and enjoy the garden.

That’s all for now.  Watch out for some all new gardens over the next few months!


My Top 6 Highlights of Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The sea of 5,000 red crocheted poppies representing the fallen of World War IMing Veevers Carter's magnificent 3D portrait of Her Majesty, using more than 4,000 bloomsThe multi-coloured riotous planting in Diarmuid Gavin’s 'The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden'

As I look back on my visit to Chelsea Flower Show this May it is the explosion of colour on many levels that stays with me and even surpasses previous years. Whether it is the stunningly moving scene of the sea of 5,000 red crocheted poppies cascading over the steps of the Chelsea grounds representing the fallen of World War I – or the multi-coloured riotous planting in Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’ –  or the magnificent 3D portrait of Her Majesty created by florist Ming Veevers Carter, using more than 4,000 blooms in bands of distinctive colours to create a rainbow effect… Chelsea was a feast on the eyes! My top 6 highlights:

1. Matthew Wilson’s show garden – God’s Own County – A Garden for Yorkshire

Matthew Wilson’s show garden, Chelsea 2016Matthew Wilson’s show garden, Chelsea 2016

Perfection on so many levels I loved this garden for the quality of both the soft and hard landscaping.  Wilson’s unique inspiration for his garden is the medieval Great East Window at York Minster.  The planting design beautifully echoes the colours in the stained glass, to achieve this Wilson explained he had to incorporate the use of white flowers to provide the perfect backdrop to the striking reds purples yellows and blues that appear in the garden!

Not only is the planting impressive but it is matched with the attention to detail in the hard landscaping.  A cathedral like structure at the back of the garden is constructed from wood with turrets made from York stone, leading up to this are what appear to be polished limestone shallow steps with a water channel running through the steps.  This creates simultaneously a luxurious modern feel as well as reminding us of the cathedral theme.  Both the workmanship and materials are derived from the county of Yorkshire.

Awarded a silver gilt medal by the judges, providing controversy at Chelsea this year, Matthew Wilson was then awarded best show garden as voted by the public a decision I very much agree with too!!


2. A concrete seat in the ‘Cloudy Bay Garden’ designed by Sam Ovens


It is for its simplicity and design impact that this concrete seat gets my vote.  It sits beautifully on the red cedar timber and provides a stark contrast to the delicate grasses that dance next to it.  If you look closely you can see the timber markings left after the concrete has been poured into the wooden shuttering that has created its shape.


3. The return of the rose at Chelsea

Roses in Hay Joung Hwang's ‘The L.G. Smart Garden’‘Simple Peach’Elizabeth Casson

Trending in many of the gardens at Chelsea this year was the return of the rose, normally in pale pink to mid pink tones.  It suited perfectly the delicate pink to lilac planting scheme of designer Hay Joung Hwang in ‘The L.G. Smart Garden’.  Pale pink and white roses could also been seen in Diarmuid Gavin’s planting design for ‘The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’.  In the Great Pavilion amongst many great roses my favourite was a mid pink rose called ‘Simple Peach’ and another called ‘Elizabeth Casson’ both from Harkness Nursery in Cambridge.


4. The sculptural bronze seat in ‘The Chelsea Barracks Garden’


In Jo Thompson’s gold award garden sits this beautiful bronze metal sculptural seat.  It mirrors the gentle curve of the lawn and pathway that runs along the back of the garden.  It also ties in with the bronze sculptures that are dotted throughout the garden designed in honour of the Barracks former residents.  Popular at Chelsea the seat was chosen for many of the TV interviews, a perfect place to sit and contemplate this peaceful English garden. Interestingly Jo’s show garden appeared to be the only one with a lawn incorporated in the design adding to its feel of Britishness.


5. The window of water in the ‘Senri-Sentei – Garage Garden’


The importance of water features in garden design cannot be underestimated as revealed in Kazuyuki Ishihara’s artisan garden.  The beauty of this window of water lies in its simplicity – it sits snugly in a vibrant green wall of hedging and allows the viewer a distorted glimpse of the garden beyond through which you can see the contrasting white modern staircase that leads to an upper level. Water features of one sort or another appear in nearly all the gardens at Chelsea – another wall of water appears in Jo Thompson’s garden where water cascades down a large dark stone wall –  to a barely there trickle in the arid conditions of the  ‘L’Occitane Garden’.


6. Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘Harrods British Eccentrics Garden’


In all the perfection of the show Diarmuid Gavin stood out as the designer who brought a sense of humour and theatre to garden design at Chelsea.  His garden was based on the theme of British eccentric inventors such as William Heath Robinson. The crowd loved Gavin’s on the surface mad idea of spinning conical bay trees, window boxes and round topiary balls that moved up and down in what can only be described as a dance sequence.  This event took place every fifteen minutes and after the performance I watched, the door of the red brick building at the end of the garden burst open to reveal Diarmuid Gavin, just like the mad inventor waving to the crowd that had gathered to admire his creation.

For all the fun of this garden Gavin made sure that it delivered in other ways that impressed, for example the hard landscaping of the red brick building was beautifully constructed as was the York stone paving that ran along the water channel up to the black iron gates.  The garden was also unforgettable for its rich and vibrant planting scheme with many tall stemmed flowers vying for your attention.


I hope you agree that my top 6 were worth a mention, it was a hard decision to select just a few out of the many deserving gardens and ideas on show! As you can see a trip to Chelsea is not to be missed, no doubt it will give me inspiration throughout the year and I’m already looking forward to 2017!


Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer' (Rosaceae) flowers and leaves

Plant Focus: Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’ is a really useful, attractive and elegant medium sized garden tree.  Whilst it is deciduous, designers like me often use it for screening, as it has a neatly upright shape, and it is one of the first trees to come into leaf in the Spring.  It also holds its leaves for a long time, until well into the Autumn (it is one of the last trees to lose its leaves), when they normally turn a bright orange-red before falling.

Whilst in leaf, the leaves are a bright, clean looking glossy green.  It also flowers very early in Spring (a mass of white flowers) making it a cheery plant to have in the garden at the end of a long dreary winter.

What is it?

It is actually an ornamental form of Pear, but only very rarely does it produce its small fruits.

Where can I use it?

It is also extremely tough – tolerant of most  soil types, not minding a bit of pollution and very hardy.

Whilst its characteristics have made it popular as a screening tree, it is an excellent general garden tree, and can also be used for avenues, pleaching etc. And whilst it is perhaps not quite as spectacular as some trees (Acers for example), in my opinion it is worthy of a place in all but the smallest of gardens.

You can see more photos (including one of the lovely autumn colour of the young trees) on the Barcham website.


Image credits: Magnus ManskeMatthew Field, Famartin, Daderot