Clearing away the cobwebs: rediscovering a garden

The beauty of gardening and garden design is that no two jobs are the same. Not only is each space, location, climate and growing conditions slightly different, the origin of each garden also varies greatly. By this I mean that creating a garden isn’t always from scratch. In fact, gardens rarely start with a completely blank canvas; there is often a mature tree or hedge that needs to be sympathetically incorporated into the design.

Of course, the ultimate example of this is undertaking a full restoration project. A garden initially conceived over 100 years ago with trees that are older than any living person on this planet. With it comes a succession of people who have been inspired and contributed to its overall vision. The excitement of starting on a new project like this is thrilling and foreboding; what treasures will we find? can we unearth and improve what others have done before us? will we do justice to the vision of the garden’s creator?

A mature confier has gradually eaten away at the driveway over the years, making it difficult for vehicles to pass.
Lifting the lower branches lets in the light and shows off the curve of the drive.
What is this lovely large Magnolia hiding?
Removing lower branches reveals beautiful architecture, a statue in an alcove and some nice shrubs including Skimmia japonica and Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’.
This walkway is overgrown full of Carex pendula and suckering shrubs.
A bit of digging, pruning & tying in opens up the space and shows off the pencil Taxus baccata.

Restoration, by definition, is the “restitution of something taken away or lost” and is so important before things decay so far that they cannot ever be rediscovered. It is a long process that requires imagination, foresight and lots of resources. The best bit is that we can benefit from the imagination and foresight of its creators all those years ago and hope that in another 100 years time, new generations will appreciate what we have done too.

January jobs

I’m often asked: “what is the best time of year to makeover my garden?” and the answer is anytime you like.. there is no time like the present!

And what better time than January, it’s a new year, a new start and there’s still plenty of time to prepare the garden for summer glory.

Having recently embarked upon a new maintenance/rejuvenation project with one of our clients I thought I’d share with you some of the tasks we are undertaking. Anyone can have a go at these jobs and start transforming their garden. We believe that by starting early in the year, you can kickstart your 2019 garden maintenance routine and fall in love with your garden again.

Firstly cut back all that dead foliage and clear up all those leaves, it might be back breaking but it’s very satisfying and a good way to make visual progress at this time of year. Remember to compost herbaceous waste, it’ll make great mulch next year!

Mixed border before annual clearance

Mixed border after a cut back & weed. Note: Penstemon don’t get cut back until winter frosts are over.

If you have Hellebores start cutting back (and disposing of) the leaves, this not only reveals a gorgeous army of flowers underneath, it also prevents fungal leaf spot, which Hellebores are particularly susceptible to. My advice would be to burn the foliage to make sure the fungus isn’t introduced into your compost

Hellebore flowers revealed

By now, Wisterias should have dropped all of their leaves so you can easily see the buds. Prune back stems to the second or third bud and remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood.

Wisteria before winter prune

Wisteria after winter prune

Now get some heavy duty gloves and prune those roses, the harsher the better. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it. Don’t be frightened, just remember to make an angled cut above an outward-facing bud and you’ll do no harm.

Shrub maintenance is also a lot easier at this time of year, less foliage means you can see what you’re working with. I always start with the three d’s: dead, damaged, diseased. If any of the above apply, get rid. Then take out a third of old stems at the base if the plant is becoming overcrowded. I find the best tools for dealing with shrubs are extendable loppers and a pruning saw.

Viburnum x bodnantense getting some attention

You’ll be amazed at how much rubbish even the smallest of gardens produces. My favourite methods of waste disposal are composting (anything soft/herbaceous) and burning (anything woody/pernicious) but if you don’t have the space or means for this there’s always green waste collection or a good old trip to the tip!

Happy gardening!

Thinking outside the box…

Earlier this year, to our dismay, we discovered an outbreak of the dreaded ‘box blight’ at one of our regular clients gardens. Sadly the symptoms of the fungal infection were abundant in a parterre; designed and planted over 25 years ago!


Before the blight…

After long deliberations it was decided that one half of the mirror-image parterre (the badly affected side) would have to be dug up and destroyed to prevent spread of the disease to the rest of the garden. The other half however (exhibiting only minor patches of dieback) could potentially be saved through a careful treatment and feeding programme.

This provided us with a unique design opportunity; instead of replicating the existing arrangement with a box alternative and waiting another 25 years for it to look “as good”, we decided to literally ‘think outside the box’.


The plan: existing box parterre to the right, new oregano planting to the left.

A new planting design was based on the negative imprint of the original plan, whereby the hedges became paths and the gaps became planting. The design was planted with Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’ (100 plants exactly) to create both height and colour contrast.





Marking out…



Planting calculations turned out perfect!



The finished product- can’t wait for the oregano to fill out the design!

The Beautiful Hamamelis

Gosh, how time flies…  it was December when I last blogged!

Since then we have moved house and enjoyed a long awaited holiday in Trinidad.

We now have a garden, which I am so excited about. All the quirky ideas I have for designs I can now practice on at home – poor Martin! But this will have to wait. We now have 5 designs on the books as well as exciting events at Belvoir (Channel 4 filming), not to mention 3 of our existing clients who are opening their gardens for charity this year.

If you are looking for a design, please do send an email in plenty of time as the waiting list is getting quite long.

So what is happening in the gardens…  the snowdrops are out at last and look at these superb Hamamelis. Sadly these are acid loving shrubs so if you have any lime you need to grow them in pots.





Tennis Court Transformed to a Garden

In February 2013 we started our tennis court transformation.

One of our lovely ‘regulars’ who we have now been working for for over 10 years decided his tennis days were numbered. The Tennis court needed re surfacing and he was unsure what to do; “What would we do?” my eye’s lit up and one of our most challenging projects began.

There were two stipulations; Could we transplant one of the 25 year old pleached Limes, and could we plant a Cedar Lebanon. The rest was up to us.

As the existing area was symmetrical it made sense to run with a formal theme. The pleached lime running alongside the court formed a superb division and backdrop, but one of the Limes impeded our access for heavy machinery and had to be removed.  Transplanting a 25 year old tree half buried under a tennis court seemed out of the question, but our client desperately wanted to save the tree. I didn’t think for a minute it would survive, how happy I am to be proved wrong!

The beech hedge was removed in the centre to make way for the centre isle.

The beech hedge was removed in the centre to make way for the centre isle.

The Cedar of Lebanon arriving from Italy - poor thing it was so cold here.

The Cedar of Lebanon arriving from Italy – poor thing it was so cold here.

Careful manoeuvring over the pleached Lime.

Careful manoeuvring over the pleached Lime.


Digging out the central beds whilst leaving hardcore in for the paths.

Digging out the central beds whilst leaving hardcore in for the paths.

Many tonnes of Top soil added to make up the levels (one of the best things we did as the soil adjacent to the house is shallow).

Marking out the paths using wood and stakes for the edges.

Marking out the paths using wood and stakes for the edges.


We used Everedge, steel lawn edging to create the inner circles.

We used Everedge, steel lawn edging to create the inner circles.

The final design with the Cedar centre stage.

The final design with the Cedar centre stage.

One year later.

One year later.