Border Planting

Four years on, - how my front garden looks

We've been living in Horsley 4 years today.

The saying is - "we've been in our house", - but for me the garden was just as important when we moved, and it was the reason we'd overlooked this property several times in our search.I'd literally driven past it, and not noticed the house was there.

Our back garden isn't huge. 40ft by 60ft on the particulars, which i'd looked over and dismissed because of it.  Not small, particularly by modern house sizes, but it's all visible from my office, and the chickens at the bottom of the garden are only about 12 metres away from me. (great for a spot of chicken tv, when i'm procrastinating over a planting plan)

The front garden is actually as big as the back, but when we arrived you couldn't tell.


This photo is taken from between the house and the garage, looking out to the road. The brick driveway goes to the entrance but is very narrow, and is only wide enough for one car, (and not wide enough for you to get out of it without stepping off the drive). - it widens out by the garage when you're past the evergreen magnolia, - but that meant that although we could park 3 cars, there was a shuffle to get anyone out. So our first priority was to get extra parking.

I also wanted to get more planting borders, - easier to maintain grass ( it was practically all moss when we got here) and easy parking and entrance and exit on to the road.

Like most people, I didn't have the budget to do it all at once, but knowing what I ultimately wanted has made it easier to do work in stages.


The "hedge" of overgrown shrubs was first to go, which gained us about 10 feet of garden, - enough to put in an in and out drive. Borders were created under the trees, and by the driveway.

The 2 magnolia trees are now the statements and focus of the garden, instead of hiding it. Plus as well as having room to park a hideous number of cars on the drive ( there have been 10 at a coffee morning) I have 5 big borders of plants.


As with all gardens, there are plenty of things to focus on for the future. I've loved some plant combinations, and others havn't worked. One of these days, I'll be able to afford to replace the brick driveway, but 4 years on, i'm quite pleased with my front garden. It ticks the boxs of framing the house, parking the cars, and having plenty of space for plants.

It's oh so dry - October drought conditions

I know that this will provoke comments from my gardening peers oop north, and in Scotland where they have had waterproofs on for weeks, - BUT, here in my part of Surrey, we are dealing with drought conditions in October, and actually the only months this year when we've had a decent amount of rainfall have been July and August.

The plants are suffering, as can be seen from these plant pics taken in a garden on Friday.

We are on underlying free draining chalk here in Horsley, but even so, these are in borders that have been prepared and planted within the last 5 years, and where there is someone to water deeply at least once a month, so if your garden is suffering in the same way, - here are some suggestions for solutions

1) Mulch deeply - this only works if you do it while the ground is damp, so that it keeps the moisture in. - By deeply I mean at least 10cms. - If you use an organic matter such as leaf mould or homemade compost, then this will be taken into the soil by winter soil movement and worms.

2) Ensure that individual plants that need extra help (such as Hydrangeas) have a water pipe direct to the root system. -This doesn't have to be fancy, - a 2 litre soft drinks bottle, sunk into the ground upside down, with the bottom of the bottle cut off to receive the water, will ensure that you know that at least 2 litres has been directed to the plants roots each time you water. (and the plastic sticking out should remind you to water!)

3) Install soaker hose - this is great for empty patches before you plant, - or for areas where plants are in a line (like a hedge)


Unlike sprinkler systems, you will not have as much run off (water escaping from the beds). As it is dripping/dribbling out of the hose, it all goes into the ground directly around the hose line.

4) Make sure your garden hose is long enough to reach all the borders, has a lance or sprayer with easy to control spray patterns (think of the water pattern from a tap, or a shower, that is what is wanted) and is an easy to use type. If it takes 10 minutes to unwind and rewind your hose, you are less likely to water when needed.

5) When we've had a dry period, it is easy to think that a day of rain will remedy the situation, but if the ground is very dry, then there is no wicking ability to hold onto the rain when it comes, - so you may need to water over the coming weeks until we get back to normal water soil levels.




Border planting - a front garden refresh

Sometimes a border isn't bad, it just isn't working all the year round.

That was the case with this front garden border, which was the focal point as you pulled on to the drive

It was originally planted up 4 years ago, and although some of the plants are working well, the soil has been compacted by workmen replacing windows, and hidden under scaffolding for 3 months, so it was time for a refresh of the plants and the soil.

The Pittosporum and Heuchera's are providing all year round colour, - but the spring bulbs had actually done too well, which meant that after they were finished, their foliage drowned out the growth of the summer flowering plants.

At the back of the border in the  rainshadow of the house, the soil was bone dry and dusty. The prickly Hybrid tea roses, were making it very difficult to get to the back of the border to weed.

I've solved that issue by - taking out the roses, digging over the soil and removing weeds, watering deeply, adding organic matter, watering again, - then planting dry soil loving lavenders. These will fill all the space at the back of the border behind the roses, hopefully smothering any weeds. I've then planted Alliums underneath them, - the tatty bulb foliage will be hidden by the scented lavender foliage.


At the front, we've gone with more of what aleady works well, so more heucheras - This time Creme Brulee, and Alchemilla Mollis, - transplanted from the back garden where it looks fantastic all summer. Aster purple dome and Rudbeckia Hirta, will provide late summer colour, and the Hellebores which are hidden under the vine at this time of year will provide winter colour when the Vitus has lost all it's leaves


I removed lots of daffodil bulbs, from all through the border, and so I replanted some of them, but in groups, so that we get spring colour, but so that the foliage won't overwhelm new growth coming through.

This was the end result



Planning to make sure it all fits in

New Houses, come with all mod cons nowadays, except that is, a decent sized or landscaped garden.

I was asked by Charlotte, to come up with an idea for how to fit in all her garden requirements to her pocket sized patch.

The obligatory 6ft fences, poor grade grass (i'm not even going to use the word turf) and the overlooked aspect meant that the garden wasn't really being used, and there was a large list of requirements.

As a single mum of 2 girls, with a business of her own, and a love for sports, there was a need for

A shed for storing bikes and windsurf boards, A lawn for sunbathing, a patio for eating on, room for the bins, and access to them all year round, some raised beds for growing herbs, and the rest needed to be as low maintenance as possible, so that it could be dealt with in the evenings (preferable with a glass of wine in one hand).

The Garden looked (mainly because it was) very narrow, and at the moment there was nothing in the garden to draw the eye, so we decided on a small tree at the bottom to help give some cover.

I produced a couple of concept plans, and Charlotte chose this one.

A diagonally set lawn helps to make the garden look wider, and the shed is a pent roofed version with the door at the end, so that the long bikes and boards can all be accomadated, and the bins will be hidden behind. (in the future we can also do a sedum roof) As there will not be much room for plants, i've used climbers and bulbs at the sides, which will soften the fences.

The landscaper was Landscapes Unlimited, and they did a great job of taking the concept and using their expertise to give final details, - including building the raised bed around the manhole cover, and putting wide enough edging around the lawn so that it can be used as a small path in winter.

Here's the result


and from above

The fences are now a Natural Stone colour, and the shed is Sage Green. The golden leaves of the Robinia will gently shade the bottom of the garden in time, - and block out the view of the neighbours at the back, plus Charlotte's clever use of a sail as an awning over the patio will give lunches some privacy.

When we've finished planting all the bulbs this autumn, and the climbers have covered the trellis there will be low maintenance colour year round, and then the 3 ladies of this house will just have to grow their herbs and mow the lawn (with a hand mower).

Border Planting - Summer flowers in dry shady spots

This is the hardest time of the year for shady borders on free draining soil, and here in the Surrey Hills, where the chalk soaks up water like a sponge, it is hard to get anything to give you colour during August.

The spring isn't too hard, with bulbs, epimediums and euphorbias giving bright whites, yellows and pinks.

Early summer is ok, with Alchemilla mollis, Alliums and geraniums flowering in even the driest spots. But by August, the soil is devoid of nutrition, and even the greens seem to have faded.

Here are my suggestions to get those small specks of colour to shine out of your mid summer border.

Hardy fuchsias are fantastic in dry soil, and so rewarding at the back end of the year.

I've sung the praises of Geranium Rozanne before, and although it loves full sun and a rich soil, it will still flower its socks off for longer than any other geranium even in the driest position (it just hugs the ground more rather than making a lovely mound)

The silvery foliage is Brunnera Jack Frost, - it has blue flowers in late March, - I deadheaded mine very promptly, and it is now rewarding me with a few new flowers, - not enough to light up a border, but with the silver, it helps to give a bright coloured patch.

Acanthus could take over in a clay soil, but in a dry border, the flowers are restrained, but a lovely accent in midsummer.

If you think of bulbs as only for the spring, then you're missing out on Cyclamen Hederifolium. My border underneath the evergreen magnolia has these fantastic plants which get a full hour of sun in the morning and then sit in shade for the rest of the day.

and if you'd like a cool blue for the hottest summer days, I totally recommmend this Viticella clematis Betty Corning, that i've been using as ground cover, and which has been flowering since mid June.


Border Planting - The view from the kitchen window

Have you got to that point where the inside of the house is done, but now you need to get the outside to be as stylish.


This was the point my clients had got to in March. The view from the kitchen window was a mismatched border with little light and a child's toy and pots dumping ground

Continue reading "Border Planting - The view from the kitchen window" »

Border Planting - Bold and Brilliant update

At the begining of the year, I showed you how my Bold and Brilliant border, planted last June had turned out so far. Now i've got an update as it's a full year since it was planted.


Last Winter started with a killing frost in October, that turned the dahlias in this border black overnight. But my clients were very sensible and put a thick layer of mulch over them straight away, to help them through the winter. The other half hardy plants - the Salvia Patens and the Pennisetum Fireworks unfortunately didn't make it through the frost

Of the hardy plants, the phormiums suffered the most. Although they weren't killed, they are not looking as strong this year.

However, the Verbena bonariensis, and the cosmos obviously LOVED the soil conditions and have multiplied profusely by seeding themselves.

The Stipa Gigantea and the miscanthus grasses have grown furiously, and the fennel - planted from 9cm pots, are now about 8ft tall.

By mid May with the Alliums in full bloom, the cosmos were big enough to be transplanted to fill all the areas that had spaces from the half hardy plants.


Last week, this was the border, full of bloom, - the only addition this year being one pack of Californian poppy seed.

This time last year, - this is what it looked like


It's also now possible to see that 80% of the Dahlias have survived the winter, - The agapanthus, Sedum and Helenium, and the other grasses, particularly the red Imperata (at the front of the picture above) have done very well

Here's another view


If you'd like a border that reflects your house and personal style, and will have plants that thrive in your soil conditions, get in touch - - 07813 456854


Border Planting - Hiding those 70's concrete features


Sometimes when you inherit a large mature garden. What you want to do isn't always possible or practicable within budgets and timescales.

This was the case in this lovely Surrey Hills Garden. Where the backdrop of mature Conifers and Woodland trees was masking a sea of concrete paths and pools, - long since empty of water and fish, and now covered in weeds.

Continue reading "Border Planting - Hiding those 70's concrete features" »

Border Planting - Dry soils in sunny sites


My fantastic visit to Hyde Hall to gain inspiration from the Dry Garden, was obviously followed by the heaviest rainstorm this year, so my soil is now fairly damp. However I did find and refind some plants that I will be using in earnest in the chalky dry soils of Horsley and Guildford soon.


This combination of Stipa Tenuissima and Salvia East Feisland (OstFriesland) with Californian poppies and Santolina was heavenly. It also proves that strong colours are needed in sites with a dry sunny aspect, as whites and pale pinks woud get lost. I've used Salvia Caradona regularly and think it looks amazing either with bright colours in a sunny aspect, or with cooler colours in a cottage type border.

This Phlomis Russeliana was absolutely basking in the sunshine (and looked glorious as it had been given a large space to grow into)

But this Phlomis was bucking the idea of bright colours and looked no less wonderful for it.


Phlomis Italica is a plant i've used before in a very dry border, and i'll have to find somewhere else to put it soon.


This Centaurea Steenbergii was one I hadn't come across before, but it was going great guns with no extra watering at Hyde Hall.

I use Erigeron karvinskianus a lot to edge borders, and have found that it sulks if not given water to start with, but here it is proving that it can take very dry conditions when established.

Of course the stars of the show were the self seeded stuff, - the Nigella and Verbascums looking amazing



Does my small front garden need a design?

Front gardens have popped up with increasing regularity in my work over the last couple of years.

Not only do people want a good looking approach to the house, they need somewhere to park the cars, easy access to the front door, and as our lives get ever busier, a garden that almost takes care of itself.

Several times i've heard people say that their project is "too small" for a design, but actually, that's where you need to make the most of what you've got.


This house that I designed the borders for in Shamley Green was an excellent example.


Continue reading "Does my small front garden need a design?" »