Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

Our gardening blog covers a wide variety of topics, including fruit, vegetable and tree stories. Read some of the top gardening stories right here.

Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Choosing the Right Plants for Growing on and Around Patios

Introduction – How to choose the right plants for your patio

Adding an element of life to your patio area is a great idea. It makes the space feel different – not only will plants add colour, but they make a space feel alive. But how do you make sure you are selecting the right plants? There are many guides on making sure you select plants that will survive your space, but we want to make sure they also fit with your design goals. There are normally two styles of designs that you are likely trying to achieve with your space: a traditional area, or a modern area.

Your choice of plants will be different depending on which of these you are aiming for:

A modern space – using plants as art installations

The purpose of modern spaces is to create specific focal points within your space that draw attentions – like an art installation. You should consider tall, strong and striking plants to place on and around your patio. They should immediately draw attention, whether that is through their imposing stature or vibrant colours, the plants should stand alone and work incredibly hard to draw focus.

©Thompson & Morgan

Plants suchas Agave, Bamboo (potted!), of Feather Reed grass are tall and imposing and will draw focus because of their structure. Bamboo is a particularly good conversation piece, just make sure it is potted, as it can really grow out of control if you let it!

©Primethorpe Paving

Alternatively, you can go for splashes or colour to create a visual effect. These colours should be a direct contrast to your patio, so for example if you have a patio with a warm, red hue, then colder colours such as blues or purples should be chosen.

Plants such as Fuchsias, Princess Flowers, or Hibiscus plants are all great options depending on your patio colour. The bright colours will do a great job drawing focus.

A traditional space – let the eyes wander naturally

A traditional space is quite a contract to the modern space described above. The aim of this space is to not draw attention to one area and to let eyes explore the space naturally. The plants you choose here should compliment each other and fit the colour scheme of the rest of the space.

©Primethorpe Paving

The colours of your plants should complement your patio colours rather than create a contrast. If your patio consists of earthy colours, then go with earthy and pastel colours for your plants. Try Tall Tails of Green Jewels for the earth colours and mix them in with Park Princesses. In general, a mix of wild grasses natural coloured flowers is going to go a long way to creating a traditional space. If you are potting plants, ensure the pot colours match the patio as closely as possible to maintain flow. If done correctly, a traditional space is a pure joy. It’s just tough to get it right!

In conclusion – pick a style and get creative

Choosing the right plants can seem daunting, but it shouldn’t. You should enjoy the task of learning which plants may survive in your space and once you’ve got the technical knowledge, the task of choosing which plants suit your garden is an artistic hobby like any other. Express your inner artist and treat you garden as your easel. There is no right or wrong answer if you know the effect you are trying to achieve – pick a direction and then embrace your creative mind. You will love the result.

Perfect gardens: tips for growing veg

freshly-harvested-carrots-veg-growing-top-tips

Growing your own fresh fruit and veg is hugely rewarding
Image: Wollertz

Decided to try to grow your own? Growing veg in your garden takes less effort than you might think and is a cost-effective way to enjoy delicious herbs, fruit and vegetables. 

To help you take your first steps, some of our favourite gardening bloggers have kindly shared their top tips, perfected over many years of trial and error. Here are our handy hints…

Where’s the best place to grow vegetables?

raised-veg-beds-veg-tips-article

Raised beds will solve the problem of poor soil
Image: Derek Harris Photography

Where are you thinking of growing your veg? An old flower bed, new raised beds, containers or maybe a window box? Wherever you decide to plant your produce, the location should satisfy three basic criteria: good soil, some sunshine, and stable growing conditions.

The best soil is a rich loam – it’s fertile and holds moisture without becoming waterlogged. If that doesn’t sound like the soil in your back garden, don’t despair – adding plenty of organic material helps to improve poor soils, and if your soil is prone to waterlogging – build raised beds.

South-facing plots make good veg gardens because they get the best of the sunshine throughout the day. But just because your garden lacks the perfect orientation doesn’t mean it can’t be productive – some veg, like salad leaves and brassicas, prefer slightly shadier conditions. Avoid planting fruit and veg in areas that suffer from extreme conditions – choose somewhere sheltered away from cold winds and pelting rain.

How to choose vegetables for a small garden

Swiss-chard-closeup-veg-growing-tips

Showy veg like chard look pretty in flower beds
Image: Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

You don’t need a big garden to grow lots of tasty veg, but if you’re short on space, it’s important to plant smartly. Mark Willis of the perennially informative blog Mark’s Veg Plot uses a scientific planting scheme he learned from garden writer Joy Larkcom – the Value for Space Rating. VSR takes into account things like crop yield per square metre, growing time, availability of the crop and its quality relative to supermarket purchases. So what’s the best thing to grow if space is at a premium? Mark says:

The best examples of VSR are in the herb department. Herbs don’t take up much space, and they are usually expensive to buy (and never available when you want them).

Richard, producer of ever-popular The Veg Grower Podcast, adopts a similarly scientific approach. Under his scoring system, top marks go to asparagus, tomatoes and garlic, which is great because he likes all three!

In a small garden, Caro Shrives at The Urban Veg Patch goes for small plants that work hard. She says: “Plants that keep on cropping are a good choice; compact courgette plants look good, have vibrant flowers and provide a decent amount of small courgettes without overwhelm.”

If you’re really short of square footage, Youtube presenter Kelly, of Kelly’s Kitchen Garden, suggests vertical growing: “Growing crops like beans, cucumbers and some types of squash up trellis, supports and cane wigwams can save a lot of space.”

And if you have no garden at all? Kelly says that as long as you have a balcony or somewhere to stand a few pots, you can still grow fresh produce in containers or window boxes: “I’ve had fantastic success growing lettuce in containers. By picking individual leaves to increase yield, I harvested 5.5lbs (2.5kg) from a container measuring no more than two square feet.”

Grow what you like to eat

Tomato-Tumbling-Tom-Red-Thompson-Morgan-veg-growing-tips

These tumbling tomatoes are perfect for patio containers or hanging baskets
Image: Tomato ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re lucky enough to have room to grow whatever you like, how do you narrow down the choice? We asked our favourite bloggers that very question – the consensus – though growing expensive or rare veg is a fun and tasty sideline – concentrate on growing what you enjoy eating.

There’s little point cultivating exotic veg if you won’t eat it reckons Pete Polanyk of Weeds up to me Knees. Pete, whose blog offers a wealth of encouragement for beginner gardeners recommends bog standard spuds, tomatoes, runner beans, peas, carrots, beetroots, onions, garlic and herbs. Simple fare maybe, but “they’re a lot more tasty, fresh from the garden.”

Jackie Gulland of Reclaiming Paradise agrees, saying that you’ll be surprised by the flavour of freshly picked produce from your own garden. Although she has an allotment, she explains why she still grows some of her favourites at home:

The garden [is ideal] for picking herbs to throw in your cooking or a handful of soft fruit for your breakfast and for keeping on top of beans and peas which can grow too fast to eat sometimes. It’s great to go out after work and see what there is that you can have for an evening meal, rather than planning further in advance.

Whether you go for the VSR method or simply plant what you think you’ll enjoy, it’s important to feed your soil and rotate your crops. Avoid planting the same thing in the same place each year to help keep your ground fertile and free of pests.

Start small

Small-garden-patch-veg-growing-tips

Just a small patch of soil and a few pots are enough to get started
Image: Joanne Dale

A well-planted plot of about 12’ x 10’ is the ideal size to supply most of a family of four’s summer and autumn veg needs (with a little left over for freezing). If you start small, you won’t get overwhelmed with veg you can’t eat.

If you’re just testing the water to see if you like growing veg, why not follow Pete’s lead? He planted tomatoes in his flower beds next to his dahlias, pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of gardening anarchy.

Other options for the first-timer might include planting a few containers. Richards a great fan of growing new potatoes this way:

They’re easy to look after and, if grown in pots, can be moved around if needed. They don’t take much care – plenty of water and food as they are hungry and thirsty plants, and that’s about it. The flavour of homegrown new potatoes far exceeds anything you can buy too.

You might also consider building a raised bed which doesn’t need to take up much space and can easily produce a significant quantity of your favourite veg. Use good quality seeds and plug plants, avoid planting your veg too close together, water well and reap the rewards.

Growing alone? Caro does too. She says: ”It’s tempting to give up when things don’t work out. Joining a local horticultural society, visiting kitchen gardens and attending courses and talks gave me more confidence. Growing food should be fun!”

5 top tips from our brilliant bloggers

Garden-peas-radish-veg-growing-tips

Kelly recommends cost-effective crops like fresh peas and vibrant radish
Image: Kelly’s Kitchen Garden

  1. “The most cost-effective crops are the ones that are expensive to buy [in a shop] and don’t keep well – such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli and salads…[but] my favourites are still tomatoes and chillies.”  Mark – Mark’s Veg Plot
  2. “Growing your own is a good way to try unusual veg, especially if you have children. I grow yellow beans, oca, spaghetti squash, sweet red gooseberries – none of which is available in the shops – and physalis (Cape Gooseberries) that taste much nicer freshly picked.”  Caro Shrives – The Urban Veg Patch
  3. We have rosemary, thyme and bay in the garden that we planted years ago. They’re easy to grow, you just bung them in and voila, you’ve got fresh herbs when you need them.” Pete Polanyk – Weeds up to me knees
  4. I try and practise successional (staggered) sowing with salad leaves. This gives our household plenty of delicious salad leaves all year round saving us having to buy those expensive bags from the supermarket.” Richard – The Veg Grower Podcast
  5. “Things like peas, radishes, salad/spring onions and deliciously sweet turnips are on my budget list – great for the beginner gardener and take up very little space.” KellyKelly’s Kitchen Garden

If you’re thinking about growing your own vegetables we hope our gardening bloggers and YouTubers have provided the inspiration and advice you need to get started. As Kelly says: “Just give it a go and have fun!”

What to do when your plugs arrive

We’re so pleased to see so many photos on social media of the plug plants that you’re receiving in the post. Some customers – perhaps those of you who are turning to your gardens during this time of social distancing and self isolation – are asking us about what to do with their plug plants when they arrive. We’re aware that many of you may be new to gardening and might need some help and advice, so here’s a quick guide to what to do when your plants are delivered.

What to do when your plugs arrive

  • Unpack your plants as soon as they arrive – even if you haven’t got time to plant them up straight away – they’ll need some air after being enclosed in their packaging.
  • Give them a drink! The plants may well be thirsty after their journey, so moisten the plugs of soil at the roots of the plants if they are dry.
  • Don’t worry if the plants look a little sad on arrival; they should perk up once you give them a drink.
  • When you’re ready, gently tweak each plug plant out of its packaging and plant each one into a 7-9cm pot, filled with a good quality, multi purpose compost. This is what is known as ‘potting on’.
  • Gently press the plug plant into the compost, adding more to top up the pot if necessary. Don’t fill the pot to the very top with the compost – you need to allow for watering.
  • Place your pots somewhere where they will stay fairly warm and get lots of light – a windowsill, or a table near a window is fine if you don’t have a greenhouse or conservatory.
  • Keep the compost moist, but try not to overwater.
  • Your plants will start to grow; getting bigger and stronger by the day.

Once your plants have developed more leaves and are looking more robust – usually in late April to mid May (depending on the weather/climate in your area) – you can toughen them up ready for planting out in the garden by popping them outdoors during the daytime and bringing them in at night. You should do this for 7 – 10 days prior to planting out. This is known as ‘hardening off’. It’s important to protect your growing plants from any possible spring frosts, so do keep an eye on the weather forecast!

After you’ve ‘hardened off’ your plants, they’re ready to be planted out into the garden where you can watch them continue to grow and flourish – just remember to water them!

NOTE: If your plants are destined for baskets or containers which can be easily moved indoors and out again, then you can plant your plants into their final containers a little earlier if they have made good growth. You can then harden them off as explained.

Top tips for Instagram-ready gardens

Person taking photo of garden with smartphone

Get your garden grid-ready with these top tips
Image: leungchopan

Instagram gardening is huge these days. This social media app is a great virtual place to make friends with like-minded growers, swap advice and grow an online audience as you grow your own.

But if you’re not sure how to get started, or would love some ideas for improving how you Insta-garden, we’ve got some amazing tips to share with you.

We asked some of our favourite instagram-loving gardeners for their best advice on growing and capturing Instagram-ready gardens, and here’s what they said:

Dave @greedy_gardens

Dave from greedy gardens standing in his allotment

Dave shares allotment growing with his two green-fingered sons
Image: @greedy_gardens

“My home garden is for the chickens and kids, with flowers around the borders so it will never be award winning. I’ve had my allotment for 5 years now, I’ve learned to grow things that we all like, although I always end up with too many courgettes!” says Dave of @greedy_gardens.

Dave’s priorities are growing things he and his family love, plus keeping his two sons busy on the plot – with a mud kitchen for the youngest and a ‘Minecraft’ related veg patch for the oldest.

With regard to what ‘works’ on Instagram, Dave feels that’s a bit of a mystery: “In the past I have posted what I thought were great photos of flowers only to get very few ‘likes’, then I’d post a muddy carrot and would get loads of likes.” 

His advice is to concentrate on the social side of social media:

I would never consider myself an expert gardener or instagrammer but I would say try and be enthusiastic and interesting. Interact with the gardening community; I think that’s more important and fun than trying to create an amazing photo.

August @augusts_garden

August with her children in the garden

August enjoys teaching her girls about the joy of gardening
Image: @marklordphoto

Seeing my girls faces light up when the seeds they have sown poke through the soil, and then even better when they get to eat their creations, is something I desperately want to share with other families and this is quite simply what motivates me to share photos and posts on Instagram.

August of @augusts_garden loves to grow unusual shapes and rainbow colours to get her girls enthusiastic about growing – and eating – good food. And as market gardener at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire, August certainly knows her onions. She loves bright colours, so her Instagram feed is a treasure trove of fruit, flowers and delicious veg:

“I find so much beauty in nature which Is why I find it difficult to stick to a scheme resulting in a garden bursting with colourful vegetables and flowers. If you look at my page I strongly recommend sunglasses!”

Her main advice for Instagram gardening is to follow your heart:

“I think you have to stick to what you love and trust in yourself even if it’s not what everyone else is posting. It’s not just a picture you post, the words also make an impact. If you love what you grow it’s hard for it not to come across in your posts.”

Amy @amyskitchengarden

Amy standing on her balcony with a box of potatoes

Amy grows amazing produce on her tiny Brighton balcony
Image: @amyskitchengarden

Amy of @amyskitchengarden describes herself as a ‘rookie veggie grower’. She rediscovered her childhood love of gardening last year and started with potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and aubergines. Now she’s getting great results from her Brighton balcony garden (although she openly shares the not-so-great ones too).

“I try not to think too much about my Instagram channel when I’m planning my garden,” says Amy. “I always choose interesting seeds that catch my eye, rather than thinking what will do well on social media… I have to admit, I did buy some rainbow sweetcorn last month because of it’s beautiful colourful kernels too!”

She advises using lots of flowers and bright colours to jazz up your feed. But her main concern is looking after the environment and spreading awareness:

I try to use upcycled materials in my gardening, the most eye catching of which are my big recycled beer keg containers! I’m always keen to do my bit for the environment as sustainability and minimising waste are super important, so whilst my garden isn’t the most ‘Instagrammable’ I think people really enjoy seeing how they can take these tips into their own garden.

Lucy @shegrowsveg

Lucy standing in garden with a pink striped top

Lucy has created a beautiful Instagrammable edible garden
Image: @shegrowsveg

Lucy of @shegrowsveg takes her Instagram presence seriously:

I completely ripped out, redesigned and replanted my garden to showcase what you could do with fully edible planting. I wanted to take the opportunity to show that choosing edible plants did not mean compromising on beauty or design or mean that the entire garden looks like an allotment.

Her grid is full of lush, large veg and vibrant colour. And she loves to showcase specialist and unique fruit and veg that looks great in her photos and inspires her audience.

But, despite her commitment to Instagram gardening, Lucy’s main piece of advice is to follow your heart rather than the likes:

“Don’t make it all about Instagram, remember this is your garden and it should still be a place that makes you happy. People enjoy following accounts that are genuine as opposed to content simply created for a good photo. If you are loving your garden, other people will love it too!”

Will @solegardener

Summers day at South Wood Farm with a topiary garden

Stunning topiary at South Wood Farm, taken by head gardener Will
Image: @solegardener

The garden that Will shares on Instagram is grander than your ordinary backyard or allotment. He’s head gardener at South Wood Farm in Devon, and his Instagram account @solegardener is packed with stunning images of the grounds.

With such an excellent backdrop, it’s not surprising that Will has become an expert in getting the best out of garden photography. He has some advice on composition:

I find wide angle shots of plants or borders with a subject matter or focal point in such as a house/gate/bench always seem to be a lot more popular than just a plant portrait for example.

And his top tip for a successful instagram feed is incredibly simple:

“It sounds obvious but I’m always very aware of the lighting and weather when I’m taking pictures of the garden. Plants never look happy on a grey overcast day (much like the gardener!)”

Vera @growntocook

Vera standing in an allotment holding a pumpkin

Vera keeps a tidy plot on @growntocook
Image: @growntocook

For Vera of @growntocook Insta success starts with a tidy garden: “A well-organised garden with neat beds is generally easier to photograph than a jungle-like planting which can be very delightful in real life, but is not easy to capture well in photos.”

Vera’s kitchen garden comprises 15 rectangular beds which are very practical for the no-dig gardening she practises, while also looking great on camera:

“The photos that get the most likes on my feed are usually aerial shots of our kitchen garden, but the ones that generate most engagement are often those where I share more in-depth information about specific plants.”

Ultimately, says Vera, it’s your humanness that’s going to help you grow an audience:

… don’t be afraid to share your failures. If you don’t want to make them a part of your grid, share them in stories. We all have failures and ultimately, perfection is boring! Concentrate on what you love about gardening in the first place and then share that love with your audience.

Lucy @allotment.postie

Lucy standing on a garden fork in an allotment

Keeping an Instagram account motivates Lucy to visit her allotment on greyer days
Image: @allotment.postie

For Lucy of @allotment.postie, Instagramming is a great motivator to get down the allotment, even when the weather’s rubbish.

She told us that her most popular posts tend to feature pumpkins:

I think because they’re very exciting and satisfying to grow! Flowers are always a crowd pleaser also, and I’ve noticed if you have a personal project people like to follow along.

But as well as growing a following on Instagram, Lucy really values the community and support of other growers. She recommends engaging with other Insta gardeners, asking questions and spreading appreciation.

“The biggest mistake is to not share mistakes. Everyone knows life isn’t what social media shows, but by sharing your mistakes… you can get advice on how to fix it or move on. It may seem embarrassing to share mistakes but everyone has them, even the big names that seem to have it all figured out.”

Shannon @diaryofaladygardener

Shannon wearing bright pink gardening gloves on an allotment

Shannon wears bright accessories in her winter pictures
Image: @diaryofaladygardener

Shannon of @diaryofaladygardener doesn’t let Instagram sway her planting decisions too much.

This year my focus is on things that we’ll actually eat at home rather than what looks best (although I’m still hoping it’ll all look lovely too). That said, I’ve got my eye on an awful lot of dahlias for this year because I got such flower envy from everyone else’s feed in 2019!

When it comes to photography, Shannon takes a lot of photos. For every one photo she posts, she’s probably taken about 30-40. Her advice? Introduce a dash of colour wherever you can: “that’s why my gloves are bright pink and my wheelbarrow has splashes of yellow – the extra colour can really bring a photo to life, especially during the winter months.”

And Shannon also recommends showing yourself in your feed:

“I personally love to follow the people who have really authentic feeds and have themselves in the photos – you can really see how happy growing makes them and the love that’s gone into growing those plants, fruits and veggies!”

Dave and Joy @our_tiny_garden

Dave and Joy holding their baby on the allotment in the winter

Dave and Joy have recently grown from a tiny garden into a large allotment
Image: @our_tiny_garden

Dave and Joy of @our_tiny_garden grow fruit and veg in their small back garden and have just taken on a new allotment. Their Instagram feed is full of colour and beautiful close ups.

We’re growing some coloured corn this year because it looks amazing, and Chioggia beetroot too. Fundamentally though, we grow for taste. And we’re just lucky that tomato plants and tomatoes are super photogenic, and yellow courgettes are delicious too!

We asked the couple for their photography tips and they shared this with us:

“A good camera helps a lot, but it doesn’t need to be an expensive DSLR. All of our photos are taken with a mobile phone camera… Our major tip would be to use natural light. Sunshine if possible, as it lifts the colours and the feel of the photo massively.” 

And when it comes to those stunning close ups, take note of this advice: “Don’t use a digital zoom – Take a larger area photo and zoom in afterwards. This prevents the image from pixelating as much.”

Claire of @sowing_at_the_stoop

Portrait of a thriving garden with green leaves and canes in an allotment

Claire’s passion for growing is clearly evident
Image: @sowing_at_the_stoop

“Having an Instagram page was my way of making me keep up my home allotment and to make sure I spent some time out there every day,” says Claire of @sowing_at_the_stoop.

“It’s turned into much more that .. I’ve ‘met’ some truly great people always on hand with advice or ideas as well as being involved with the Thompson and Morgan trials last year … which I loved!”

When it comes to photography, Claire says:

I think a more natural setting works best with social media… the colourful images seem to be popular or some garden hacks that I share… Summer watering or propagation… that type of thing does well too.

Like many of our Instagrammers, Claire urges you to do what you enjoy: “Do what you love and garden in a way that suits you.. don’t go for the ‘likes’. If you enjoy what you do, that will shine through onto your IG page.”

Rachel @thegoodlifeainteasy

Rachel holding a kale haul and standing in front of a shed

Rachel celebrating her kale haul
Image: @thegoodlifeainteasy

Rachel of @thegoodlifeainteasy (but it’s worth it) colourfully documents her efforts to live as sustainably as possible on her Instagram account. She’s got an organic allotment and some lovely ex-battery hens to help her in her mission.

Despite her large Instagram following and an engaged audience, she doesn’t garden for the Gram:

To be honest, I don’t really think of Instagram when I plan my garden. I just do what I love and what I’ll enjoy, and then share that. So if anything I think my tip would be to be authentic and just share what you love and your passion will come through.

Karen @welliesandwaffles

Karen kneeling in the garden whilst doing cabbage watch

Karen on ‘cabbage watch’ in her kitchen garden
Image: @welliesandwaffles

“I think my most liked photo is actually of some chard roots which were bright pink,” writes Karen of @welliesandwaffles. Colourful images are key to engaging Karen’s audience, but they’re not the only things that count:

I also find that a good description works very well… alongside the photo. Otherwise it’s like having cheese without the crackers!

She continues: “Showing a wide variety of plants, detailed descriptions and adding tips always adds to the post. It takes time and effort to get a garden to look great so show this and take people along on the journey. The gardening community loves a ‘before and after’ photo.”

Jane @plot_life_

Allotmenteer Jane taking a selfie whilst overlooking her thriving allotment

Allotmenteer Jane enjoying her allotment
Image: @plot_life_

“For me, the best images come from something that you’re passionate about. The growing community on Instagram are a wonderful bunch: the best posts are made with an enthusiasm that often transcends the image on a grid,” says Jane of @plot_life_.

When it comes to plants that make the best images, Jane has been experimenting lately, and with some success:

Last year, I experimented with vertical growing: the aesthetics of crops at various heights across the plot was very pleasing to the eye and is something I’ll probably build on this year.

But, ultimately, says Jane, don’t worry too much about what’s going to ‘work’ on Instagram or not:

“Grow what you love: be driven by your personal taste, not by what others are growing or what you feel you ‘should’ be cultivating. You will spend far longer in your garden than the person scrolling through your feed, so make sure you love it!”

@inatinygarden

Inatinygardener holding a bunch of rainbow carrots

Rainbow carrots are a feast for the eyes and the table
Image: @inatinygarden

“I started my Instagram account to encourage people to grow their own, showing it’s possible even in a small space with limited time,” says @inatinygarden.

And for this Instagrammer, it’s the pollinators who govern all her decisions.

I grow a variety of plants in order to have flowers all year round for multiple pollinators… So my advice is, don’t grow for what will get the most likes on Instagram, grow for the pollinators, Mother Earth and last but not least for your own enjoyment!

We’d like to thank all of our wonderful Instagram gardeners for their generous advice. And we hope you’ve found some inspiration to help you start – or grow – your own Insta accounts.

BUZZING WITH EXCITEMENT… GOOD NEWS FOR GARDENERS!

We are in the midst of somewhat dark and difficult times. Newspapers, social media and television constantly reminding us of the troubles that loom uneasily around us. Every day seems like a battle. And yet, there is one battle that continues to fly beneath the radars of far too many of us; let alone the political leaders across our planet.

Soiltary bee on cornflower

©Shutterstock – A solitary bee visiting nectar-rich Cornflowers

Bee populations in decline

Our bee population is in a worrying state of decline. Without bees and other pollinators, there is no pollination of crops, 70% of which feed the world. And without food crops the survival of the human race itself is questionable. If current trends continue some bee species will be lost from Britain altogether; and one in ten of Europe’s wild bees will face extinction. It’s serious.

A number of factors are at play here including the ever topical climate change, the destruction of bees’ natural habitats and the continued overuse of bee killing pesticides.

Wildflower Meadow

©Shutterstock – 97% of our wildflower meadows (a natural habitat for wild bees) have been lost.

Pollinators need food, water and shelter, and since World War II, 97% of our wildflower meadows (a natural habitat for wild bees) have been lost. As such, pollen and nectar rich flowers in our own green spaces provide both much needed food and indeed shelter for the beleaguered bee.

Planting to attract pollinators

As gardeners and plant lovers this is a call to arms. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder, trowel to trowel and do what we do best.  Eliminate the usage of harmful pesticides and most effectively, plant, plant and plant more.

The plants that we so adore, that we spend our last single penny upon are the single most important factor in this worrying dilemma. Luckily, it’s a rousing cheer for us gardeners as we can cheerfully proclaim to our long-suffering but significant other halves, that we are helping to save the planet by buying more plants.

But what plants too choose?  Like many garden centres and online plant retailers, Thompson & Morgan have adopted the beneficial ‘RHS Plants for Pollinators’ logo which highlights plants which will attract pollinators into our gardens.

RHS Plants for Pollinators logo

©RHS – RHS Plants for Pollinators logo highlights plants which will attract pollinators into our gardens.

Scan through Thompson & Morgan’s catalogue and you’ll see the ‘RHS Plants for Pollinators’ logo sprinkled liberally across its pages.

Attract pollinators all year round

As gardeners our endeavour is to attract these precious pollinators into our plots year-round. In the depths of our dreary winters plant cheerful, yellow winter aconites and beautifully scented Mahonia x media ‘Charity’.  Spring heralds the much anticipated arrival of our beloved snowdrops, drifts of golden narcissus, stunning hellebores and a bounty of beautiful tulips, all of which will have the bees buzzing for joy. Summer naturally brings with it a seemingly never-ending parade of pollinating plants; a confection of Cosmos, fantastic fuchsias and geraniums galore. An endless summer bouquet of blooms. And finally, into the listless, mellow days of autumn, delightful dahlias, echinaceas, asters and the ever-popular bee magnet, sedums provide a final hurrah for our busy bees.

Flower border with nectar rich plants

©Shutterstock – As gardeners our endeavour is to attract these precious pollinators into our plots year-round. Cosmos, Dahlia and Monarda are all valuable plants for pollinators.

No matter what size our garden, be it a solitary, veronica packed window box, a hanging basket crammed with a cascade of lobelia or perhaps a single patio container playing host to exquisite agapanthus, there is no excuse. 

It is estimated that there around 27 million gardeners in the UK (from a current population of 64 million). Think of the positive implications of each of us 27 million gardeners planting just one container of pollinating plants.

We have to take action before its too late.  Let’s make sure the sting in this tale is ensuring we still have a bee population that has a sting in their tails.

Weaving the Garden Tapestry

There can be much more to a beautiful garden than masses of flowers.  Although a ‘sea of colour’ border is spectacular it may be fleeting in beauty, and can lack definition through the seasons if it has no underlying form or structure.  

Putting together the shape and outline of different types of plants to create harmonies and contrasts is what can give a garden a distinctive, cohesive look.

Fatsia japonica and Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – A ‘green on green’ combination gives a subtle harmony of two hardy shrubs that will both cope well with shade; left is Fatsia japonica (False Castor Oil) sporting glossy, broadly fingered leaves, while to the right is the newish Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ delicately feathery and full of grace.

Plants are endlessly varied in their forms, ranging from the vertical spires of narrow conifers, down to the mounded shapes of Lavender, giving way to the creeping horizontal mats of Ajuga and Thyme.  Feathery Fennel emphasises the strong form of Phormiums.  Wispy grasses intensify the solidity of leathery Hosta leaves.

Phormium ‘Black Adder’ and Plectranthus argentatus

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Some of the most dramatic plant groupings involve a number of different contrasts, in this case of light and dark, as well as of form — skyrocket verticals set against a softly rounded mound. The wonderfully glossy rich purple Phormium ‘Black Adder’ is underplanted with the felted leaves of Plectranthus argentatus in one of its variegated forms. The Plectranthus hales from Australia and is not hardy (kept from year to year by cuttings in the Autumn), but similar effect would be to substitute the hardy Brachyglottis ‘Sunshine’ (formerly Senecio)

Playing with the geometry of nature, in juxtaposing plants with differing forms and habits delights the eye, and gives the planting a clear framework on which to build the more ephemeral delights of colour and scent.  In other words, the way plant varieties are grouped together is the essence of great gardening.  

Phormium ‘Rainbow Sunrise’ and Canna ‘Australia’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Another dramatic phormium grouping see Phormium ‘Rainbow Sunrise’ against the rounded leaves of the dark Canna ‘Australia’. This duo also gains resonance from the tone on tone colouring of the two plants together.

Although it is a daunting prospect to tackle the redesign of an established garden, in reality plants come and go.  Once you have finished mourning the loss of a favourite plant, the realisation comes that each demise gives a chance for a little improvement to the scheme, by then making a more considered choice of replacement that will enhance and resonate with its neighbours.

Carex trifida and Rogersia aesculifolia

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – A waterside grouping sees a ‘fountain’ of the variegated grass Carex trifida intertwined with the hand-like leaves of Rogersia aesculifolia, delighting the eye from early Spring to late Autumn. Plants adapted to wet or damp conditions often have lush expansive leaves, giving scope for the most interesting foliage combinations.

In small gardens already furnished with many favourite plants, and new ones just waiting to be to tried out, it is tempting to plant just one of each variety, but one plant very rarely looks good — unless of course it is a ‘specimen’ with dramatic or sculptural form.  The ‘one of each’ policy can produce a ‘spotty dotty’ look that is visually too restless, with no repose for the eye.

Dicksonia antarctica mingles equally well with Darmera peltata and Astelia chatamica ‘Silver Spear’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Foliage plants alone are perfect for furnishing parts of the garden, especially shady areas, which are intended to be calm and restful. The delicate, acid green fronds of baby tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica), can contrast equally well with the rounded, handlike leaves of Darmera peltata, or entwined with the strappy spikes of Astelia chatamica ‘Silver Spear’. Interestingly the Astelia, although adorned with glossy silver leaves, does very well in shade, whereas silver-leaved plants usually need full sun.

The key to an harmonious effect is to gather up smaller plants or shrubs in three’s or five’s of one kind, and then use these groups, set against one another, for maximum effect.  Luckily the smaller plants are often very easy to bulk up by splitting clumps, or taking cuttings, ensuring planting for style and substance does not dent the budget too much!

Heuchera 'Big Top Bronze' and Saxifraga stolonifera

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – A subtle combination of two ground cover plants for shade, both with attractively veined leaves. Above is Heuchera ‘Big Top Bronze’, underplanted with Saxifraga stolonifera giving a subtle interplay of scale, tone and form.

Making patterns with leaf colour — the subtle interplay of greens, or silver, or gold — is a never-ending pleasure that ensures a furnished garden even in the darkest months, without the need for the fleeting attraction of flowers.  Just as interesting are the many forms and textures of foliage, from the shiny and glistening spears of Astelias, through to the furry felted mats of Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears), via the satiny leaves of Heucheras, and the broad ribbed leaves of Hostas.  Essentially texture gives us contrast of rough with smooth, matt with gloss, as well as providing another level of interest, that of sensation and touch.

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’, Chionochloa conspicua and Libertia ‘Goldfinger'

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Scale and form again relate to good effect in this grouping of grasses and hostas. The solidity of the massive plate-like golden leaves of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ point up the wispy drooping heads of the grass Chionochloa conspicua (to the right) and give a background of contrast to the ribbon leaves of the grass-like plant Libertia ‘Goldfinger’, to the left.

Endless permutations of form and the subtleties of foliage texture can be harnessed to make the building blocks of a great planting — the answer then is to ‘compare and contrast’ for stunning, enduring effect in your outside space!  

Pennisetum macrourum and Tetrapanax papyrifera

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Playing with scale is another great strategy to give interest and depth to borders. Here the feathery uprights of African feather grass Pennisetum macrourum, are delicately poised against the massive solidity of a Tetrapanax papyrifera leaf. As the Tetrapanax is not especially hardy, in more exposed gardens The False Castor Oil, Fatsia japonica would have somewhat the same effect. The Pennisetum started out as a single plant in the previous year, but was split in the spring to make a substantial group of three plants.

Pennisetum ‘Tall Tails’ and Astelia chatamica ‘Silver Spear’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – No other plant gives the same effect as grasses in the landscape of the garden with their fluttering leaves catching the light, or passing breeze. Grasses are generally pest-free, need no staking, have a long season of beauty, and, if carefully chosen, add airy elegance to a scheme. Here the fountain effect of Pennisetum ‘Tall Tails’, in the foreground, is contrasting with the sword-like silver leaves of Astelia chatamica ‘Silver Spear’.

Tetrapanax papyrifera and Begonia ‘Benitochiba’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Gardening in smaller spaces, using groups of pots on paving or decking, can still offer opportunities to play with leaf shape and colour. Although flowering annuals are the usual way to furnish pots for the summer, foliage plants have a long season of beauty and are less demanding of care and deadheading. Here a young Tetrapanax papyrifera, is teamed up with the gloriously metallic, net-veined Begonia ‘Benitochiba’.

Begonia luxurians and Canna

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – Another idea for a foliage pot sees Begonia luxurians planted up with a dark leaved canna. The fingery brillant green leaves, against the solid ‘paddles’ of the canna would enhance the tiniest garden and give pleasure from May to October.

Sellonia ‘Richardii’ and Bergenia ‘Bach’

©Steve Lambert, Lake House Design – A telling foliage contrast sees the needle-like leaves of the small pampas grass Sellonia ‘Richardii’ poised elegantly above the robustly shiny ‘plates’ of Bergenia ‘Bach’. Both these plants are not fussy as to soil, put up with a certain amount of shade, and have a long season of interest, both in foliage and flower.

6 Lawn Care Jobs To Do This Spring

Spring is an important time in the lawn care calendar.  In order to help your lawn recover from the stresses of winter you’ll need to give it a bit of TLC. If you get your lawn care jobs done in spring, it’ll look fantastic heading into the summer.

When to Start Spring Lawn Care

For most of us in the UK, spring starts in April. Every so often we might experience a mild February or March and the temptation might be to start early. However, it’s common for these mild breaks in the weather to be followed by cold, wintry snaps later on. March is still too early for most spring jobs. That said, you can often get a head start by giving the lawn a topping with the mower and applying a moss killer.

Here are 6 of the most important lawn care jobs to tackle this spring;

1) Start Mowing

Cutting the grass is the most important part of caring for your lawn. So mow regularly while the grass is growing, this means at least once a week and if growth is particularly strong, once every 5 days. Never cut off more than a third of the grass leaf each time you mow. If you remove too much at all once you’ll weaken the grass.

The first couple of times you mow, keep your lawn mower set quite high. Then if you like a shorter cut, gradually reduce the height each time you mow.

mowing lawn

©Thompson & Morgan – Cutting the grass is the most important part of caring for your lawn.

It’s also a good idea to tidy up the edges of your lawn. If they need re-cutting, use a half-moon edging iron. For Once established, edges can be maintained by trimming with a pair of lawn edging shears. For a professional looking finish, you can install a permanent lawn edging.

2) Kill & Remove Moss

Moss and weeds are a common problem in spring and will completely ruin the look of your lawn. Apply a dose of moss killer like Iron Sulphate and watch as the moss dies and turns black over the best week.

Once all the moss hast turned black, rake it out. You can use a springbok rake but a powered lawn rake will make the job much easier.

3) Kill Any Weeds

Weeds can be a real problem in spring. If your lawn is full of weeds, apply a weed killer to the whole area. Make sure it’s a ‘selective’ weed killer which is safe to spray on lawns, otherwise you’ll kill the grass too. Use a spot spray weed killer if you only have one or two weeds.

©Shutterstock - Spraying weeds in lawns

©Shutterstock – Use a ‘selective’ weed killer which is safe to spray on lawns, otherwise you’ll kill the grass too!

4) Aerate to Relieve Soil Compaction

Spring is the perfect time to aerate your lawn, either by spiking with a garden fork or hollow tining with a dedicated tool. This improves drainage and also allows air and nutrients to penetrate the soil. If the soil in your lawn is in fairly good condition, spiking with a fork or aerator sandals will be perfect.

However, if the soil is compacted, aerate with a hollow tiner. This will remove cores of turf from the sward and create hundreds of holes.

This will give the soil particles in your lawn room to ‘relax’ into, improving drainage and the penetration of oxygen and nutrients.

5) Overseed to Fill in Any Bare Patches

The removal of moss can leave your lawn looking quite sparse as the grass will have thinned out. If the problem was particularly bad you could have bald patches where there is no grass at all.

In order to fill those patches in you’ll need to overseed your lawn with new grass seed. As the new grass germinates you’ll see you lawn become thicker and denser. By the time summer arrives, your lawn will have fully recovered.

©Shutterstock - Sowing grass seed

©Shutterstock – Fill bare patches by overseeding your lawn with new grass seed.

6) Apply a Spring Lawn Feed

After a long winter, your lawn can come into the spring lacking in nutrients. It’s important to replace them in order to support new growth and healthy root development. After applying a spring feed you’ll see growth quicken and the grass grow greener.

Top tips for healthy houseplants

Collection of houseplants from Chanel de Koch (TheJoyOfPlants)

Add some greenery to your home with houseplants
Image: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Have you always thought how nice it would be to liven up your home with a selection of stunning houseplants? If you don’t know which plants to choose or how to keep them alive, we’ve got just the information you need to turn your home into an indoor oasis. We asked some of our favourite houseplant bloggers to address some of your frequently asked questions. Here’s what they said…

Why grow houseplants?

Four large fern plants in an airy living room

Houseplants have many physical and mental health benefits
Image: Thejoyofplants.co.uk

Colourful flowers, lush foliage, beautiful shapes and textures – these are just a few of the characteristics that make houseplants so aesthetically pleasing – it’s no wonder we love them so much. But bringing plants indoors is about more than adding interest to your decor. Plants are good for your health too.

Over at The Joy of Plants, Chanel de Kock writes:

Bringing nature into your home has a major positive impact on your mental and physical health. Plants lower blood pressure, improve productivity, ensure a better mood and improve performance at school and work.

And the benefits don’t stop there. Houseplants like aloe vera increase the oxygen content of the air in your home, and spider plants are just one of a number of plants that filter poisonous chemicals like formaldehyde from the air. As Chanel goes on to say: “And when it comes to plants, the bigger they are, the greater the positive effect they have. Simply put, plants make us feel good.”

Which easy-care plants should I choose?

Pink orchids from Gardening at 58

Simon coaxed this orchid to produce the most flowers he’s ever seen on a single spike
Image: Gardening at 58

Jane Perrone is a journalist, blogger and the host of houseplant podcast On The Ledge. She says: “It’s tempting to impulse-buy, but do your research first – finding out where a plant’s native home is and how it lives will give you an idea of the conditions it will enjoy in your home. At the same time, go with your heart. You’ll take far better care of plants that you feel passionately about.”

Think about where in your home you’re going to be growing your plant. The environment changes from room to room, offering different light levels and humidity. Boris Dadvisard of Invincible Happy Houseplants says even your bathroom is suitable for growing plants provided you choose the right ones – he recommends ferns, bamboos from warm, moist tropical climates, ivy and pothos vines which he says are:

Perfect for creating a lush atmosphere in the bathroom, placed around the sink, around the bathtub or hanging from a shelf.

Looking for plants for the kitchen? Boris recommends orchids which love the warm environment and don’t need too much watering: “Once a week, fill your kitchen sink with a few inches of cold water and set your orchids in to have a drink for about 30 minutes. Voila!”

Are you notoriously forgetful when it comes to watering your houseplants? Simon at YouTube chanel Gardening at 58 has the perfect easy-care pot plant solution: “Opuntia cactus which originates from a desert climate will do best on a sunny windowsill and will happily tolerate both low and high temperatures.”

Best plants for low light conditions?

Green 'Aspidistra elatior' from Thompson & Morgan

The elegant Aspidistra copes well with low light and little water
Image: Aspidistra elatior from Thompson & Morgan

Perhaps you live in a traditional cottage, or your house faces the wrong direction to benefit from the available sunlight; here in the UK we have more than our fair share of grey days, but you can still grow plants to brighten up your home.

Chanel at The Joy of Plants says: “Most tropical plants do well in darker spaces – if you think of a forest floor, usually the plants that grow there have limited light due to the forest canopy blocking out sunlight, and usually the darker the leaves, the better they can cope with less light.” 

Simon at Gardening at 58 agrees. He says perfect houseplants for low light include:

His top picks for houseplants for cooler rooms like unheated porches and conservatories include “sub-tropical plants, cacti and most succulents such as: Crassula ovata, Opuntia, Clivia miniata, Cycas revoluta, Aloe vera, Agave and Hedera helix.”

Subtropical houseplants are often more versatile and forgiving than we give them credit for but you should still do your best to protect them from extremes of light and temperature. House plants can’t thrive in darkness unless you invest in plant lamps, and they don’t like to be scorched or frozen to death. As a rule of thumb, if you can live with the conditions, your houseplants probably can too.

How to care for houseplants

Person watering a houseplant

Keep an eye on your houseplants so you’ll notice if they start to show signs of stress
Image: zaleskyphoto

The native environment from which your houseplants originate is the main determining factor in how you should care for them, but as a rule of thumb, Simon says:

Most houseplants found in the shops have been chosen because they grow naturally in temperature and light levels found in our houses, which tend to be at the subtropical range of temperatures.

Weekly watering is generally enough to keep this range of plants happy – but plants which occupy extreme climates in the wild do require more specialised care. For example, overwatering can prove fatal to cacti and underwatering is devastating to damp-loving ferns. Always check the instructions before buying houseplants so that you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

As well as water, plants need food which comes from the soil. Alexandra at Flat With Plants recommends: “During spring and summer feed your [foliage] houseplants every two weeks with a high nitrogen or magnesium food plant. Most plant fertilisers will be safe to use and provide the extra nitrogen. In autumn reduce feeding to monthly and take a break in winter.”

Also remember to take good care of the soil your plants grow in. Simon says that repotting is probably the most overlooked aspect of houseplants: “When you buy your plant it will most likely already have outgrown its pot.” Simon recommends using soil additives like perlite and bark based orchid compost to help maintain the soil’s structure for longer, but every once in a while you’ll need to repot your plants to keep them thriving.

How to care for houseplants when you’re away from home

Houseplant irrigation system from Invincible House Plants

Find an irrigation system to look after your plants while you’re on holiday
Image: Invincible House Plants

While you’re away from home, Boris Dadvisard of Invincible House Plants suggests gathering all your plants in the centre of a room, close to a bucket of water, so they can share humidity. Here are more of Boris’ clever self-watering tips to keep indoor plants healthy while you travel:

  • Lay pebbles in a saucer underneath the pot and soak them with water to store some humidity. The plant can access this extra water while you’re away.
  • The garden twine technique (as illustrated above). Soak a portion of garden twine in water. Stick one end in the soil and place the other end in a bucket filled with water. That’s your water reservoir. Make sure to place the reservoir above the level of your plants, so that the water can run down easily by capillarity.
  • Get some self-watering pots that have a water reservoir built in.

We hope you now feel confident to choose and look after a wide range of houseplants. Remember, if you do have some disasters, don’t worry – as Alexandra at Flat With Plants says:

For any plants you lose, you get the chance to buy another one, and if you’ve succeeded so far why not buy more plants and build yourself an indoor jungle.

Tips for growing flowers in your garden

Floral garden border with different varieties of flowers, colours & shapes

The successful combination of shape, colour, texture and height makes this border sing
Image: Paul Wishart

Flowers bring colour, texture and scent to our gardens and provide a welcome source of food for pollinators. With a little patience you can grow many flowers cost-effectively from seed. Short of time? You can also create an instant flower border in just a few hours using garden-ready plug plants. 

We asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers to share their simple secrets for growing spectacular flower gardens. Here’s what they told us…

Know your soil

PH soil indicator

Find out if your soil is acid, neutral or alkaline
Image: Sergey Kamshylin

It’s easy to snuggle up on the sofa with some gardening books or search the internet to find images of flowers that you’d love to grow. But the old adage, “right plant, right place” is never more true than when it comes to growing flowers. Before you get carried away choosing specific blooms, Alison Levey, of the Blackberry Garden advises:

It’s always good to know what the soil is like in your garden. There are tests you can buy to see how acidic/alkaline it is, and you can also check if it’s clay by seeing if you can squeeze some into a ball.”

Figuring out your soil type is one part of the equation, but you also need to bear in mind how much sun your flowers will get and how much water they’ll need. Over at Carrots and Calendula, Ciar Byrne blogs about sustainable gardening. She says:

I think it’s important to work out what plants will grow well in your garden without too much assistance…plants shouldn’t need too much extra watering, even in dry patches. This year I’ll be trying some more Mediterranean plants including Lavandula angustifolia and Santolina chamaecyparissus.

The easiest way to find out what will thrive in your garden, suggests Alison Levey, is to see what’s growing in neighbours’ gardens around you. It’s not a foolproof test, but it will give you a good guide.

Choose a colour scheme

Purple and orange floral colour combination

Purple flowers with orange California Poppy is a striking colour combination
Image: Passenger Window

Planting your garden is a bit like decorating your house,” says Carol from The Sunday Gardener, “you plant to your preferred style and colours – what you like to look at.” You can opt for maximum drama or peaceful unity, but in either case, here are some tips:

  • Choose a style:There are so many styles to choose from ranging from the cottage garden, to stylish prairie planting to architectural plants,” says Carol. Figure out what style you’re most drawn to and keep everything consistent.
  • Choose something to repeat: Carol says, “a good rule to bear in mind, whatever your style, is to have a theme and repeat it. This can be one plant, or a small number or recurring colours – but repeat planting and use of colour gives the design structure and avoids it looking bitty.

Select the right flowers

Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

This half-hardy perennial will fill beds and borders with colour from May to October
Image: New for 2020, Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

Once you’ve identified your soil type and situation, decided on an overall style, and chosen your colours, it’s time to think about specific flowers. A combination of annuals and perennials usually provides the most successful display, starting with the tallest at the back and the smallest at the front. Holly Taylor, T&M’s online manager adds that the best way to use a website for planning is to refine your flower search by soil type, hardiness, amount of sun and colour. That way, you’ll quickly zone in on the flowers that are most likely to flourish in your garden.

For height at the back of your border, don’t overlook the value of climbing plants on a fence, trellis panel or obelisk, says The Sunday Gardener, Carol:

There are so many different types of climber plants to choose from providing a long flowering period. The Clematis group alone has a wide range of flower shapes and flowering times. Another favourite is the highly-scented annual sweet pea, but there are also some less common climbing plants like the annual Cobaea scandens (the aptly named cup and saucer plant). For cooler northern gardens, Tropaeolum speciosum (the Scottish flame thrower) makes a real splash of colour.

Planting shrubs and perennials in your flower border helps to provide year-round structure and can reduce the amount of watering, feeding and dead-heading required throughout the growing season. Gill of Off the Edge Gardening suggests creating your dream border over time and keeping the costs down with clever use of annual seeds:

Whilst waiting for your shrubs and herbaceous perennials to become established in a newly planted border, you may well have a few gaps. The perfect solution is to fill them with annuals! Many are easy to grow from seed and will quickly, and cheaply, provide you with a summer-long carpet of colour. My favourites are cosmos, French marigolds, cornflowers and love-in-the-mist, but there are so many to choose from you can have fun experimenting. Vibrant or subtle, tall or short, simple or outrageous, there’s something out there just perfect for your garden.

Do you prefer annuals so that you can design a completely new display every year? Mike of Flighty’s Plot knows how to get the longest lasting show for your money. It’s simple: “Sow annual seeds in several lots to extend the flowering season.”

Keep your flowers blooming

Deadheading a flower to encourage more blooms

Deadheading faded flowers will encourage more blooms to appear
Image: photowind

Perennial flowers are generally easy to grow and require little attention once they have established. Annual flowers require a little more care – for the best displays you’ll need to feed and water them regularly, as well as remove faded blooms.

Alison of The Blackberry Garden explains:

Deadheading is a key part of my routine in the growing season, it helps encourage more blooms and also helps most plants get more bushy. I don’t use pesticides in the garden so I try to encourage insect-eating wildlife like birds and ladybirds into the garden. I also like to give some of the more hungry plants a regular feed with liquid seaweed as that seems to keep them healthy and happy.

Planting your flowers close together will help reduce weeds and encourage longer stems. And if you’re growing flowers for cutting, add shrubs with interesting foliage to the centre of the beds to provide structure to your flower arrangements as well as the border.

We’d like to thank all of the gardening bloggers who contributed tips to this article. We hope it has given you food for thought and helps you incorporate more flowers into your garden in the coming season.

 

Garden design tricks that make a big statement

Garden at night with lighting to illuminate

Garden lighting can transform an ordinary garden into something extraordinary
Image: welcomia

If you’re dreaming up big plans for your garden in the New Year and you’re looking for clever ways to create dramatic impact, we can help.

We asked our favourite British garden designers for their top tips on how to make a big statement in your outside space. Here’s what they said…

Choose strong architectural plants

Acanthus mollis from Thompson & Morgan

Acanthus mollis brings dramatic impact to a garden
Image: Acanthus mollis from Thompson & Morgan

Let’s start with planting. Whether you prefer cottage garden style or something more contemporary, professional gardeners understand the power of repetition. Russell Page, a hugely successful twentieth-century landscape designer said: “the most striking and satisfying visual pleasure comes from the repetition or the massing of one simple element.”

Jason of Hornby Garden Designs agrees, and likes to use these architecturally dramatic plants in his schemes:

  • Acanthus mollis with jagged leaves and majestic white flowers that bloom from May to August. 
  • Phormium ‘Maori Queen’ (or New Zealand Flax) with strappy pink and green leaves throughout the year.
  • Anemanthele lessoniana (or Pheasant’s Tail Grass) lending green yellow and orange hues to the garden together with sensory movement.
  • Fatsia japonica (or Japanese aralia) with its large glossy palmate leaves makes a perfect specimen feature plant.

Geoff Stonebanks has some wonderful plants in his award-winning Driftwood Garden, but his favourite is also the acanthus: “Centre stage is taken by a large and imposing acanthus, which has incredible towering flower heads throughout the open garden season. Some years it can produce over 20 heads from the one plant.”

“If you’re looking for architectural impact, it has to be all about the foliage,” says Sarah Wilson of Roots and All:

Large-leaved plants such as cannas, begonias, phormiums, ferns, bergenias and palms all look dramatic. Light them to bring out their best features such as attractive leaf undersides, leaf texture or for the shadows the leaves cast on a background surface.

Add height

Topiary in a garden

Topiary brings vertical interest to your garden
Image: Rachel Benn

Clever garden designers create a sense of privacy, refuge or sanctuary within a larger outdoor space through the use of vertical planting and height. This doesn’t necessarily mean fencing the garden in, but applying 3-D design rules to make use of an entire space rather than just planting patches of ground.

Sarah Wilson recommends trying to create a variety of different ‘levels’ of interest in your garden: “Use a trailing plant on top of a wall to add interest where a planting scheme would otherwise be all on one level. A climbing plant can be used to create a green screen or wall. Evergreen climbers are the best – you can clothe an entire wall or trellis panel with a climber such as ivy, to give you a dramatic backdrop year-round.”

Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden likes to use topiary to add height and architectural impact to her own garden:

It can be expensive, but you can also grow your own and learn how to topiarise. We have two holm oaks that we bought as £50 young ‘whips’. It took about five years before they were bulky enough to make a good topiary shape but they are now really distinctive.

Plant containers for instant drama

Geof Stonebanks terracotta pots in Driftwood Garden

Geoff Stonebanks has hundreds of terracotta planters in his Driftwood Garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Long term design schemes can take time to fully mature. While you’re waiting why not fill gaps and add instant colour with container plants, advises Sarah Wilson:

If your garden’s going through a tatty spell or you need to create instant drama for an outdoor party, draft in some help from containers. Placing a couple of well-thought out and freshly-planted containers in key places around the garden, such as either side of doorways or in front of borders, will draw the eye and they’ll become the flashy focal points.

Sarah recommends packing your containers full of plants and focussing on colour harmonies and foliage contrasts. And be bold with your pot sizes. Try using a few large containers rather than lots of small ones to create impact.

Geoff Stonebanks also recommends the use of container plants for dramatic effect, although he continually moves his around throughout the season:

“My garden contains over 300 different terracotta planters, filled with anything from bulbs, small shrubs, annuals, palms and grasses. The trick to using them is to ensure they contain plants and shrubs that ‘peak’ at different times of the year. That wow factor can easily be achieved by moving a fabulous-looking pot from its regular home to pride-of-place in the garden, just as it starts to look its best!” 

Plan for winter

Winter garden scene from Cheryl Cummings

Ornamental grasses lend an air of Narnia to your winter garden
Image: Cheryl Cummings

One of the things that separates professional from amateur garden design is the ability to plan for year-round interest. Even when the leaves have fallen and plants have died back, a garden with ‘great bones’ will have enough structural interest to carry it through the coldest months in style.

Cheryl Cummings uses ornamental grasses to create wonderful winter structure in her gardens:

In the depths of winter the best and longest lasting ornamental grasses are elevated from supporting artists into stars. In a hard frost their fine lines and elegant shapes are emphasised by a dusting of ice crystals. Left standing with the uncut remains of herbaceous foliage until the very end of the season, they provide essential shelter and sustenance for wildlife. And on sparkling cold days they reward us for our restraint with the stunning appearance of Narnia.

Here are four of her favourite grasses to recreate the magic in your own garden:

Add a focal point

Sculpture in Driftwood Garden from Geoff Stonebanks

Use pieces of sculpture to create focal points in your garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Finally, successful garden design is about more than just plants. It’s about using the space to maximum effect and giving your scheme a bit of personality. Here are three tips from our garden designers that will help deliver a professional punch to any garden:

  • Get creative with coloured paint: 

“A pot of paint adds instant wow factor. Give your garden a signature colour and use it on outdoor furniture, fencing, sheds, trellis and pots. It pulls mismatched styles together and can be easily changed when you want something different… Chalk paints can be used on any surface – plastic, metal and wood.” – Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden

  • Invest in a garden sculpture:

“Instant wow factor can be achieved by carefully placing a stunning piece of sculpture in the garden. I have many, in both wood and metal, and the eye is immediately drawn to them.” – Geoff Stonebanks

“Personal pieces of sculpture hold relevance and give pleasure no matter the price tag. They add focus, meaning and charm whatever the weather.” – Cheryl Cummings

  • Add feature lighting:

“Cross lighting is one of my favourite lighting methods. Place two lamps at different angles to the front of a feature tree or plant to create a natural and three-dimensional effect.” – Jon Gower

We’d like to thank all of these fantastic garden designers for sharing their top tips with us. We hope you’ve found some ideas to inspire your own garden plans for the coming year. 

 

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