Plotting, planning and inspiring a dream garden
To paraphrase motivational speaker, Kevin Ngo: If you don’t make the time to work on creating the garden you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with a garden you don’t want.
Pithy thoughts aside, living and working from home has put additional pressure on our indoor and outdoor spaces as we try to outpace ever changing demands.
Perhaps it's wrong to expect so much from our space? Some say “shut up and put up”, but I say we adopt a more proactive approach. So, a change is gonna come.
The Garden - Designing a dream
On my quest to create the ideal outdoor space I enlisted a cast of characters suitably unfit for the purpose - my family. Their task: to produce a series of amateur designs aimed at creating a green space that fulfills all our needs.
Other than compromise and lots of coloured crayons, three elements constantly came to the fore during this process. Elements, I believe, we can all benefit from before embarking on this journey.
The gradual arrival of spring has brought with it the faint whiff of outdoor living again. Whether that’s taking “indoor” toys out, al-fresco dining, enjoying s’mores on a firepit or watching a movie under the stars (hooray for white walls and projectors) we have realised how much we miss the additional space a garden brings.
No matter how small your area, that extra green room is priceless.
Anywhere can become an everyday oasis. The humble balcony with a few well-placed ornamental grasses, or tall plants like bamboo in moveable pots, can be transformed into a shaded, secluded spot inside your urban jungle. Pop in some seating and a sunshade and voila, you have a retreat from your daily workspace. Get creative. How you use it is entirely up to you.
Focus on the sights, smells and sounds of a garden to design a space that maximises the sensory experience.
Start simple by planting herbs. Herbs are hard-working heroes. They offer an inexpensive way to add taste, scent and colour to your garden. Easy to maintain, many plants like laurel, mint and lavender thrive in containers.
Introducing scented plants and flowers to your space encourages their pollinators to follow. Attracting butterflies, birds and bees to your patch is a nice way to slow down and observe nature first-hand. I’m not promising that we can mask some of those penetrative farm odours here permanently, but hey, it can’t hurt to try.
Lastly, let’s not forget sound. Forget the constant drone of work tools here and tune into the gentle sounds of delicate wind chimes, trickling water features, rustling foliage and birdsong. Sound can be controversial but, in general, natural noises are welcomed by most folk.
Form and Function
No one wants their dream to turn into a nightmare. Taking time to observe your garden pays dividends.
Watch the sun's movements, notice where you gravitate to or congregate naturally, recognise if the soil is damp or dry in certain places. All these observations will ensure your design is not only suitable for your lifestyle, but for your environment too.
Measure your space properly and make room for useful items often overlooked, like water butts and compost bins. Ensure you have adequate storage for your needs and consider buying furniture with a dual purpose. A storage box that doubles as a seat or table and chairs that can be folded away ensure flexibility.
Zone in on planting. Considering the hardiness of your plants by zone can help you pick plants that survive and even thrive here. The Royal Horticultural Society's hardiness guide is as good a place as any to start your research.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Incorporate features from gardens you know work and love, but remember to keep it real to you.
The Vegetable Patch - Rotation, rotation, rotation
You make your bed and you lie in it, or your plants do at least. Figuring out crop rotation and planting timescales can make you a better plant parent.
Crop rotation works on the principle that the same plants will not occupy the same space each year. Rotating offers the following advantages:
Reduced spread of soil borne diseases like club-root in brassicas.
Less depletion of soil nutrients. Crops like potatoes can rob soil of nutrients. Planting nitrogen fixing crops, like legumes, the following year can help rebalance this loss.
A natural form of pest control by preventing the build-up of pathogens.
Rotation schemes generally run for three to four years. We are in the third year with our plot and, although it can get a little chaotic, we try our best to stick to the plan.
Divide your plants into familial groups as suggested below:
Brassicas - such as cabbages, turnip and radish.
Legumes - like peas and beans.
Cucurbits - think courgettes, squash and melon.
Root vegetables - along the lines of parsnips, carrots and fennel.
Onion families - including leeks, garlic and chives.
Potatoes - remember tomatoes fall within this group too.
However, like a master class in French grammar, there are always exceptions to every rule in gardening. Perennials such as rhubarb, asparagus, globe artichokes and many soft fruits benefit from their own dedicated area.
So, what are you waiting for? Dream it, design it, do it!
Design your dream with digital help:
Plant like a pro! An app is a practical way to get advice on the go for what to plant and when each season: