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)!

An artificial lawn in the making…

As a landscaping company we lay a lot of natural turf in our day to day work but we are also asked to install artificial lawns too.  This month we are installing an artificial lawn in a garden in Maidenhead for a client who requires a low maintenance garden.  This does not mean however sacrificing the size of her lawn as will be shown in next month’s blog when the finished results can be seen.

Artificial grass has many advantages over the ‘real stuff’ and can make for a stress free life in the garden with its low maintenance appeal especially in the summer months when cutting the grass can become a bit of a chore.  Read more about the pros and cons in this blog post. In fact artificial grass can be used for many things – from replacement lawns to roof gardens, to putting greens and for areas around swimming pools – to name a few.  The choice of grass available is varied in terms of length, colour and the texture of the grass. For example you can choose a more olive or darker green colour and even a softer feel grass if you so prefer.  For the more adventurous there are even different coloured grasses available, such as red, blue or even black if this fits in with your style (perhaps best used in a contemporary garden or a children’s play area)!!

Back to our garden in Maidenhead – and facing all that the January weather has to throw at us! – we have lots to do before the artificial lawn is ready and this involves making sure that as with all our builds the right foundations are put in place at the beginning of the landscaping.  This involves several stages of prep work before the artificial grass can be laid.

Terram membrane is laid

Terram membrane is laid

The first step was to dig out the area and to lay timber edging to secure the shape of the future lawn.  Next a terram membrane is laid on top of the excavated area.  The membrane is a critical part of the preparation stage as it provides a barrier between the soil beneath and so ensures that the artificial lawn is kept mud and soggy free whilst allowing drainage to occur.  It also stops weeds and tree roots coming through into the new lawn.

 

Scalpings are laid on top of the membrane

Scalpings are laid on top of the membrane

Next, the membrane is covered with type 1 MOT scalpings (shown in the photo above), after which a two inch layer of sharp sand is laid over the scalpings to improve the drainage conditions and then the whole area is levelled and compacted down to achieve a smooth finish ready for the artificial grass to be laid on top.

Keep an eye out for my next blog which will reveal what a change this will make to our client’s garden!

 

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What a difference a new wall can make!

What a difference a new wall can make to the appearance of a front garden!

This was the case at a landscaping job we undertook in Newbury in November of this year.  It was important to our client that the design of the wall complimented the age and elegance of their Edwardian fronted house.  Herein lay the challenge – as only reclaimed bricks could fulfil that brief and it can be hard to find good quality bricks in the right quantities.

But a visit to Brants Reclamation at Brimpton Common came up trumps – we discovered two packs of reclaimed bricks, (from a demolition job in Newbury), that not only proved a good match to those on the front of our client’s house, but were also in good condition!

Our find meant that the construction of the wall could begin, supervised by my foreman Andy.  Andy’s training as a bricklayer regularly comes in very handy.  The dry cast stone pier caps (sourced from a company called Stonecrete Direct), along with the black railings provide the finished effect to the wall.  The railings add to the period feel of the design and provide a sense of security, as well as creating a feeling of space when the client views their front garden from inside the house.

I’m sure you will agree that the before and after photos show what a transformation the addition of a new wall has made to the appearance of our client’s garden.

BeforeAfter 1After 2After 3

 

 

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Growing Brussel Sprouts

“How about writing a blog on growing Brussel Sprouts?” Sarah, our web adviser suggested a short while ago.

“But I’m not an expert on growing Brussel Sprouts”, I replied, “and how many of our design clients want to know how to grow them?”

“It would be seasonal and fit in nicely with our Christmas greeting” she insisted.  “Although they are notoriously difficult to grow…”

Well, that’s another fine mess I’ve got myself into, I thought – as my husband and I sat in bed one night frantically Googling Brussel Sprout jokes in an attempt to make this blog amusing – conscious that it is most likely to be read long after the Festive Season is over.  But the best one we could find – well, the best one that is suitable for reproducing here is “What’s the most popular Christmas wine?  I don’t like Brussels Sprouts!”

Top Tips

So, without more ado, here are our top tips for growing Brussel Sprouts:

  • Brussel sprouts grow quite tall, so pick a sunny or partly shaded site sheltered from strong winds
  • They must have a firm soil to provide anchorage and prevent wind rock.
  • They are happy in most soils, particularly alkaline ones, but avoid very acid soils.
  • They like the cool moist conditions that are typical of a British winter.
  • Like all brassicas they are hungry feeders and need lots of nitrogen to grow well. So, the ground should be well prepared before planting – dig over and add plenty of well rotted manure and compost.
  • They grow particularly well if they follow on from an early crop of beans or peas as these are nitrogen fixing, and will help fertilise the soil. If you use this method, the sprouts can be started in a seedbed and then transplanted to their final growing position in late June.
  • Choose a mix of early and late varieties to give a long picking season.
  • In addition to the spouts, the tops can be eaten as a crop in their own right.
  • Tradition has it that they taste better when harvested after a hard frost – a view with which the RHS agrees.

If all else fails…

But it has to be said that Brussel sprouts are not the prettiest of plants, although they do perhaps have a certain quirky, exotic architecture about them.

They are also very susceptible to a number of problems, which are solvable, but which perhaps make them a faff to grow unless you are very fond of them or a keen veggie grower.

But give them a go – and rest assured, when you get fed up of struggling with wind rock, bird damage, caterpillar devastation, and the problems of cabbage root fly and club root, there is always one failsafe solution:  the veggie section at Waitrose!

Image credit: krgjumper

 

Rosa Charlotte - banner

Learning to love Roses… well, … like them at least

Prospective clients often say to me “please don’t give me any roses – they’re too much hard work”, or “no, definitely not roses – they get too many diseases”, etc etc…  These clients often remember their parents and grandparents spending many an hour spraying their rose gardens and complaining bitterly about the problems of rust, mildew, black spot, aphids and the like.

It’s fair to say that for a decade or two, roses had a very bad press.

Justified or not?

To some degree the reputation of roses being difficult is justified – they are prone to a variety of pests and diseases (although modern varieties tend to be more resistant), won’t thrive in shallow soils over chalk, and when grown en masse in a rose garden can look very bleak and bare through the long winter months.

But grown in small  groups of the same variety within mixed borders (rather than in formal rose gardens), as summer flowering shrubs they are deservedly making something of a comeback.  They have a really long flowering season – starting in June, many will flower in flushes all summer and autumn long, and you may even have the odd plant with a few flowers at Christmas in these milder times.  Not many plants work this long and hard!

They  also hold their leaves late.  Many varieties have the added attraction of being deliciously scented.  And of course, they have a wide variety of flower colours – both garish and uber subtle.   They come in a huge variety of sizes – making them suitable for all parts of the border, except shady canopies under trees.

They absolutely thrive in heavy clay soils, and, as they have a deep root run, are extremely drought tolerant (although they do tend to stop producing flowers during periods of extreme summer drought).  Yes, they will benefit from a feed and a preventive spray in the spring and during the summer months, but they won’t keel over without this TLC.

My favourites?

I do have a few favourite varieties – ALDA clients will recognise these as I tend to use them a lot in my designs because I like them so much:

Sweet Juliet – a tallish David Austin shrub rose with very pale apricot pink flowers, and the most wonderful fragrance; long flowering and still in flower in my garden as I write this.

Kent – one of the disease resistant County Series roses. A neat low but upright growing ground cover rose with white flowers.  This plant mixes well with clipped Box and slightly later Alliums, and other white and mauve flowers in “traditional meets contemporary” themes.

Wiltshire – another County series rose, this time with deep pink flowers. Tolerant of a wide range of conditions, and will grow happily in a raised bed in more chalky areas.

Climbing Iceberg – a really reliable white climbing rose, very free flowering.

Little Rambler – a small pinky-white, sweetly scented rose.  Flowers all summer.

Charlotte – another David Austin shrub rose. Tough, long flowering, pale yellow rose.  Copes with being baked against my conservatory wall!

And there are many more…..

Mixing it up

Roses mix well with other plants – other shrubs e.g. silver variegated evergreen Pittosporums in taller schemes, Clematis up pergolas and arches, or with a lush lower level tapestry around them – think plants such as Lavender, Geraniums etc.

Expert Tip: if you are growing them with lots of other summer flowering deciduous shrubs and perennials, anchor the scheme with a bit of low level structure in the form of clipped Box or Euonymus or Pittosporum Tom Thumb or similar.

Now is a great time to buy and plant roses (provided the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen).  So, go on, give them a try.  Cos they’re worth it!

 

Image Credits: Nesster, k yamada, Drew Avery

 

Forest Europa Prague fence - Banner

A Statement Fence

Mostly when it comes to installing fences, our clients ask us to install traditional fence panels in their garden.  Last week though, on a garden design & build at Emmer Green in Caversham, we installed a decorative, statement fence.

Straight away, this catches the eye and adds impact to the garden.

The fence panels we used are from the ‘Forest’ range; the design is called ‘Europa Prague Screen’ – the panels have a distinctive integrated curved trellis at the top, giving the fence a wave like characteristic and complimenting the slope in our client’s garden, as the photo demonstrates.  This particular design is available in three heights; here we have used 1.8w x 1.8h panels, which also come with a matching gate if required.

Forest Europa Prague fence - main

The panels are made from a smooth, planed timber and the really good news is that they are pressure treated for a longer life, in fact they come with a 15 year guarantee – eliminating the need for annual re-treatment, which means one less job for you to do in the garden!

If this has inspired you to update your fence, it’s worth first checking out the many variations and choices available – why not add a design statement to your garden?!

 

design

Musings on choosing a garden designer

Garden designers need to know a lot about a lot of things.

Just consider for a moment.  He or she has got to have a good breadth and depth of knowledge covering:

  • Plants
  • Materials
  • Construction
  • Lighting
  • Drainage…

… the list goes on.  And not only that:

  • The designer needs to demonstrate their design skills and experience in terms of creative problem solving – ways of overcoming all those things that you dislike in your garden – and ways of giving you all those things you have always wanted!
  • Good 3D spatial awareness is crucial, as are excellent communication skills.
  • Human psychology and diplomacy skills are vital too! Many client couples strongly disagree about what they want in their gardens, and the designer needs to be able to find a path that everyone wants to follow.

So how ever do you go about making the right choice?

A key element is knowing what precisely you need from a garden designer, and even why you are using one.  So, before discussing your garden project with a designer for the first time, ask yourself:

  • Does your project require a designer with a specific set of skills and knowledge? The focus might be on construction, plants, drainage…
  • Are you looking for someone who specialises in a certain style or type of garden (Zen for example), or someone who can work with a wide variety of styles to suit the nature of the garden and your specific tastes.
  • Do you value the design process, or are you just looking for a few ideas and a quotation? If the latter, you may not want to go to the expense of a detailed garden survey and plan and may not need, or wish to pay for the services of a garden designer.
  • How much time do you have? And to what extent are you happy to put faith in the designer’s skills in picturing the end result?
  • What is the budget for the garden? A rough idea is important – to make sure that the designer believes that they can design a garden that meets your needs for the budget in question.
  • Do you want to use an independent designer (i.e. someone who would be able to provide you with impartial advice when trying to select a contractor to do the landscaping work)? Or would you prefer that the design and doing were all under the same seamless umbrella?
  • How best can the designer help you, and do you need him or her to be flexible in their approach? For example, I find that some garden projects are suited to the fairly traditional approach of survey, preparation of layout / overview plans, planting plans etc.  But others need a less detailed and more ‘ideas generating’ approach at the outset, with perhaps more detailed plans following much later.  This is particularly the case for clients considering new builds – here the initial plans may even include consideration of aspects like where to locate the garage, and the plans are often worked on in parallel with the initial plans for the house.  Other projects just need planting detail, a water feature, or another specific feature addressing.
  • When do you want or need the work done – both the design and the landscaping? This can be key as good designers and landscapers typically have a lead time of several months.  Are you prepared to wait?

And how do you find good garden designers anyway?

When looking for a garden designer, it does help if you know someone who can recommend someone they have worked with.

But if not, then local publications and Googling is probably the next best thing.  These days nearly all designers have good websites showing examples of their work, which give some indication of how the designer operates.

And all designers will be happy to provide references – details of previous and existing clients.  It’s definitely a good idea to take references up – previous clients will be able to tell you – warts and all – about the designer in question.

It’s personal

At the end of day, choosing a garden designer is a personal thing.  The key question to ask yourself is “can I (or we) work with this person?”  So consider whether you feel that the designer is listening to you and taking on board your requirements and comments (or is he/she just telling you what you should have, based on his/her own personal tastes and preferences).

It is all about building a relationship with someone – empathy, understanding and trust are all vital – particularly being able to trust someone else’s judgement.  Just like life in general, I suppose!

And of course, if you’re stuck for people to talk to… we’d love to hear from you!!

 

… and one large patio now complete!

Following on from my September blog!… as I promised here is an update on how things have progressed at our design and build at Upper Basildon.  We completed the main landscaping last Friday after a very busy 4 weeks.  Again I recorded the various stages and challenges along the way by taking some photos:

An investment in a large gazebo paid off when the weather turned against us as we started to lay the new paving. The shelter it created enabled us to carry on despite the weather ensuring the build remained on schedule.

An investment in a large gazebo paid off when the weather turned against us as we started to lay the new paving. The shelter it created enabled us to carry on despite the weather, ensuring the build remained on schedule.

 

Most of the paving is now laid and reveals the large scale we are working to. The construction of the trellised arches gives this large space definition and shape. The garden also takes shape with the addition of the raised beds made from wooden sleepers – these are proving a popular trend. A circular area can be seen which will be infilled with a concrete base ready for a water feature to be installed at a later date and a large rectangular area of soil in the centre of the paving is made ready for turf to be laid.

Most of the paving is now laid and reveals the large scale we are working to. The construction of the trellised arches gives this large space definition and shape. The garden also takes shape with the addition of the raised beds made from wooden sleepers – these are proving a popular trend. A circular area can be seen which will be infilled with a concrete base ready for a water feature to be installed at a later date.  A large rectangular area of soil in the centre of the paving is made ready for turf to be laid.

 

A theme running through Alison’s design is curved lines cut along the edges of the patio. This photo illustrates how effective this can look especially as when it is used in this instance to curve the paving around the side of the house.

A theme running through Alison’s design is curved lines cut along the edges of the patio. This photo illustrates how effective this can look – especially when it is used, as in this instance, to curve the paving around the side of the house.

 

Here is another photo which shows how the theme of arches and curved lines in the patio continue throughout the design, this time in a side access to the back garden.

Here is another photo which shows how the theme of arches and curved lines in the patio continue throughout the design, this time in a side access to the back garden.

 

Great care is taken in the finishing touches as Jim makes sure the turf is cut correctly to match the curved lines of the patio on the last day of the build.

Great care is taken in the finishing touches as Jim makes sure the turf is cut correctly to match the curved lines of the patio on the last day of the build.

 

The central lawn is now laid on the final days of the build pulling the finished look together. The placement of a lawn here is an important feature in breaking up the expansive area of paving and providing an injection of colour especially as the planting scheme is yet to take place.

The central lawn is now laid on the final days of the build, pulling the finished look together. The placement of a lawn here is an important feature in breaking up the expansive area of paving and providing an injection of colour – especially as the planting scheme is yet to take place.

 

As the garden comes to completion it takes on a formal feel, helped by the use of arches (five in total!) and the impact of a central lawn surrounded by the smaller flower beds and raised beds.

As the garden comes to completion it takes on a formal feel, helped by the use of arches (five in total!) and the impact of a central lawn surrounded by the smaller flower beds and raised beds.

 

There is a feeling of a job well done and our client is delighted with their new garden which compliments the style of their traditional house.

There is a feeling of a job well done and our client is delighted with their new garden which compliments the style of their traditional house.

As part of next months’ blog, I hope to update you on the completed look of the water feature and talk in more detail about the construction of raised beds.  Watch this space!

 

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.

Description

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.