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Plant Focus: Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’

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

Why I like it

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

Looking after Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’

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

Where to use it

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

An Alternative

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

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

 

Image credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking

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Paving Comparison

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

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

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

Indian Sandstone

Indian Sandstone

Sourcing your paving

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

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

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

 

Paving Comparison: Indian Sandstone

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

What does it look like?

Style

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

Surface Finish

Sandstone comes in a number of different surface finishes:

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

Colours

Indian Sandstone Paving - Colours

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

Sawn and Tumbled Indian Sandstone are available in similar colours.

Slip Resistance

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

Maintenance

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

Cost

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

 

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Plant to Watch – Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

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

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

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

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

Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress'

Image credit: Leonora Enking.

 

Artificial grass update…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Garden Designer’s Garden – February Update

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

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

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

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

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

Will keep you updated.

Happy gardening.

 

Daffs

Designing & Landscaping A Garden Designer’s Garden

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

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

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

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

ALDA’s most difficult customer yet?

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

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

A good reminder

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

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

 

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

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