Super Sakura!

Raise a glass to cherry blossom – the frothiest celebration of spring.

Weeping pink cherry blossom tree in full bloom- Super Sakura!

At The Garden Barn it feels like spring is finally here, heralded by the burst of fresh life that is the annual show of cherry blossom. Sure, there are earlier signs of spring-like snowdrops and early daffodils, but whilst these brave early bulbs bring a rejuvenation of optimism and excitement for the season ahead, it is often still rather cold and grey and monochromatic outside. Even with these little, low-level dabs of brightness it still feels like winter, even if technically it’s not. It’s not until the flowering cherry trees and their prunus family cultivars explode into blossom that we truly feel the vernal season has arrived.

Perfectly timed to coincide with the end of the cold season, the blossoms seem to unfurl from their buds just as the first bumblebees buzz by and grey clouds retreat once more to reveal the sun blushed with a just a suggestion of heat. It’s almost as though all but the hardiest of nature’s realm have been tucked up together through the harsh winter and a collective alarm-clock has pealed out, signalling to flora, fauna and astral bodies alike that it’s time to wake up. It’s because this great awakening seems to happen apace from this time on that seeing great clouds of frothy blossom is like a manifest invitation to the launch party of spring. It’s certainly seen this way by the Japanese, where the celebration of Sakura (the Japanese term for cherry blossom) reaches almost worshipful heights.

Hanami picnics celebrating the arrival of sakura or cherry blossom in Japan

Hanami Picnics under the Sakura in Japan

Throughout the spring, Sakura is celebrated in week-long festivals, starting in late-March in the most southerly and sub-tropical island of Okinawa, following the blossoming northwards through central Japan in April and ending up in the northernmost territories in May. The much-anticipated blossom is monitored by various agencies up and down the archipelago and as soon as the trees in the south release 5 or 6 flowers Sakura Season is declared open on broadcasts across the nation. Friends and families gather for hanami (flower appreciation) picnics and parties in public parks under groves of cherry trees, often lasting all day and well into the night, with the trees lit with lanterns until dawn. The celebrations end as the blossoms gently float down like natural confetti to cover the ground with ‘sakura snow’.

So, if all this talk of pretty blossom parties has you inspired to bring a little springtime sparkle into your garden, we’ve some ideas for stylish sakura design that might just vivify your environment.

Zen & The Art of Cherry Champagne:

Single prunus specimens look particularly lovely when placed next to a pool or stream of gently splashing water. Weeping varieties such as Prunus ‘Kiku-shidare-zakura’ (otherwise known as Cheals Weeping Cherry) pour forth their waterfalls of blossom almost down to the ground, reminiscent of a bottle of pink fizz that’s popped it’s cork, spilling its rosy bubbles into a coupe de champagne. Add a little tranquillity to the scene by offsetting this compact prunus with acer palmatum, providing year-round interest to enjoy from your Teahouse.

Cherry blossom lined stream

Image: Alamy Stock Photos

Got a large, straight stream or formal rill? Lined with cherries along its banks it will look spectacular. How about bathing with blossom? Surround your spa-pool or swimming pond with cherry trees and enjoy a relaxing, rejuvenating Japanese-style onsen bath.

Floral Frames:

For an unusual but gorgeous way to frame your garden and provide enhanced privacy, use flowering cherries as pleached panels; creating an aerial hedge that will give extra-height screening for most of the year and in spring, will top a fence or wall with a wide ribbon of confetti blossoms. Underplant with spring bulbs like muscari and narcissi to repeat the effect down-below and add lavender to the border to continue the show through the summer. Prunus ‘Accolade’ and Prunus ‘Umineko’ both work well as pleached trees and their fiery autumn foliage means your borders will be glorious right through to winter. Accolade has a classic pale pink double flower, whilst Umineko has single, white flowers.

Drawing of a cherry tree avenue

Cherry Walk Plan – part of a planting scheme

Pleached panels or naturally spreading clear-stem varieties are also perfect for planting in parallel rows along a path, uplit with spike lights to turn a pedestrian pass into a cherry walk. Whether it be a formal avenue of pompom trained cherries or a winding cherry trail, your senses will be delighted as you wander through the clouds of confetti and breathe in the sweetly scented air.  Here again, we mirror top with bottom, underplanting with miscanthus, verbena bonariensis and erysimum to blend away hard edges and give year-round colour.

The first signs of spring have arrived at The Garden Barn

For smaller gardens and front gardens, columnar forms of this tree can be paired to frame doorways or entrances. Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ forms a compact, narrow spire, smothered with semi-double shell pink flowers in April and will enchant callers when placed to either side of your front door.

A Study in Simplicity:

Sometimes single spreading specimens, beautifully pruned, are showstopping in their own right and need nothing more than the canvas of a lightly undulating lawn to create a hypnotically eye-catching focal point. At a recent talk we attended at the Oxford Literary Festival, we were enthralled by Fergus Garrett’s (Head Gardener of the esteemed gardens at Great Dixter) tales of the Japanese Master Pruner who visits Great Dixter every year to artfully prune the orchard trees, but cherry trees are wonderfully forgiving and you don’t need to be a master pruner to present a picture-perfect prunus.

Hanami celebrations continue long into the night

In larger landscapes grow in graceful groves, under which to hold hanami picnics on halcyon days. Hang lanterns from lower branches to take the party from day to night in a dreamscape.

Kojo-no-mai cherry tree

Kojo-no-mai

Even smaller gardens can feature an ornamental cherry tree. Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is a petite white-blossomed tree which would pretty-up any patio or courtyard garden, taking well to being containerised.

If you’ve got a bit more space, but only enough for one example then choose a variety that will do double-time. Tibetan Cherries (Prunus serrula) not only have the froth of pastel petals in spring but bark that looks like polished mahogany which peels away in papery bands to take up the attention in winter.

If your garden is missing the fizz of springtime sakura, talk to us about how we can design this much-loved beauty into your landscape or provide master-pruning and care for your established specimens.

Wonder of Water Gardens

Giverny-inspired Monet Water Garden designed by The Oxfordshire Gardener

A view of the early stages of the emerging Giverny-style Monet Garden by The Oxfordshire Gardener

 

Water and gardens go hand-in-hand, it is the stuff of life that gives our gardens their lush verdancy with Sulis bringing natural properties to awaken our vegetable patches with wondrous variety, but water, similarly to gardens, also has a remarkable effect on our psyche. Reflecting in the softly swirling eddies of a silvery river or basking by a pond, immersed in the babbling splash-sounds of a fount, water gardens have the ability to soothe the fiercest spirit and compose the most restless soul. How such sensory enchantment might be multiplied by combining the tranquil contentment of a garden with the playful felicity of water.

Not so long ago there was a sudden rush to install water-features. They tended to be tiny pebble fountains or washing-up bowl sized ponds and the craze seemed to have been provoked by a certain late-90’s guerilla gardening show. Thankfully, the passage of time has sprinkled its magic hose over the advancement of watery focal points and there are now some breathtakingly beautiful ways to create an authentic oasis.

River-Living:

Lucky enough to live by a river? Then you’ll no doubt be aware of the many pleasures that can come from sharing your environment with such a meditative, rolling ribbon of life-force (rare flooding occurrences aside, of course). Yet, how could you make even more of this valuable elemental source?

Pontoons or covered moorings with thatched roofs summon up picture-perfect Constable scenes or how about glazing the roof or igloo canopy for stargazing under moonlit skies, wrapped up in blankets and clutching hot cocoa. Adding wooden posts and rails gives a little built-in security for kids to safely netting minnows from it’s sides. Larger platforms might even accommodate seating or a bar.

Go the full-Constable and plant a natural scheme of well-placed trees along the banks to dapple the sunlight, provide shelter to riverbank wildlife and help to prevent soil erosion. Among our native varieties, members of the salix family do particularly well by water, try White Willow (Salix alba), Purple Willow (Salix purpurea) or Osier (Salix viminalis). If you can find it, then another native water-baby is the Black Poplar (Prunus padus) or if you want something fast-growing then try flood-tolerant Alder (Alnus glutinosa). Whilst not native to our land, Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) has become a classic riverside favourite, gracefully skimming it’s tapering green silks over the water.

Riverside swimming pond

Image: Courtesy of Woodhouse Natural Pools

If you’re looking to pretty-up your river or stream-banks then it’s important to choose plants carefully, we stick to non-invasive native species as these won’t run the risk of upsetting a finely tuned ecosystem. Sourcing marginal plants perfect for pepping up these places include: Water Mint (Mentha aquatica), Water Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides), Yellow Flag Iris (Iris  pseudcorus), Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) and Mallow (Malva sylvestrius). Break up planting and add in some winter structure and form by weaving Common Reeds (Phragmites australis) along the riparian strips.

Pond Paradise:

If you don’t live with a naturally occurring water-source like a river or stream, there are plenty of excellent, inventive ways to invite water into your world, evoking the same full sense of peace.

For the more rustically-inclined, how about creating a pond fed by a gently sloping self-feeding stream? We have sourced large organically-shaped stone boulders into design schemes where you can create levels which leave miniature waterfalls cascading smoothly down to the main pool. Water is then pumped by a hidden hose from the main pool back up to the header pool to fall once again in sparkling rivulets back down the stone-shelves. Add ivy to soften the structure and mimic the fall of the water with it’s tumbling trails of leaves. 

Sound a little large? You can create a simple, stripped-back version by drilling a hole through a large boulder or urn, placing it over a sump and pumping water through it just enough to bubble over the top. Plan it into a space near your house throw open the doors and listen to it’s gentle burble. Hide it in a secret spot or screen it off with willow-work and it’ll offer up the same soothing sounds and unexpected tranquility even in the smallest of spaces.

Travertine stone cube fountain

Travertine Stone Cube Fountain installed as part of a contemporary design by The Oxfordshire Gardener

 

For a more urbane affair, think of utilising the clean, orbital lines of a perfectly circular pond and plan a scheme which repeats the spheroid symbolism throughout. Try domes of lavender, topiary balls of buxus sempervirens. How about a raised deck to oversail the pond, jutting out over the water? You’ll feel completely absorbed by your surroundings without getting wet. We can’t think of a more lovely setting for practising morning yoga or just a spot of sun-worshipping.

Drawing Detail of pond design with overhanging or oversailing quadrant deck

Pond with oversailing deck detail from a garden landscaping project in progress – Spring 2018 – To create a sustainable, environmentally sound water landscape, encompassing planting of aquatic plants with quadrant decked Millboard platform to oversail the pond constructed by The Oxfordshire Gardener

 

For another way to create a more architectural feel look east to those masters of the Paradise Garden, The Persians. Here symmetry and formality rule the day. Make a true water garden by sinking narrow copper rills into paving, leading arrow-straight to a bench or raised planter, soften with a transformational halo of floaty, waving grasses.

A rill set into the lawn of a cottage garden design, oxfordshire

A rill draws your eye along its route

 

Keeping to muted-greens throws attention on the still-shine of the needle-like water and draws the eye along its length, pulling you in towards a place of contemplation. Weave rills in and out of view through paving, remove the odd stone in the terrace and fill with pockets of creeping thyme and/or low-growing sedums for a more casual contemporary look.

In the Swim:

For real water-babies, gaze into a mirror-like pond will only be a bit of a tease. All very lovely to loll by, delighting in golden sunshine and fresh bubbly air, but the most meditative experience comes with being submerged in the aquasphere.

The answer to that most often comes by way of a swimming pool, which will certainly give hours of relaxing exercise (if that’s not too much of a paradox!) as well as being the ultimate way to cool-off during our now regular heat waves, however, concerns over chemical cleaning agents, running and repair costs posed by conventional pools is leading more people to consider natural swimming ponds.

Rather than killing off the micro-organisms in water, swimming ponds use them to carry out the cleaning work required to keep pond water clear and healthy, making these pools attractive to wildlife such as dragonflies and newts. Unlike conventional pools, swimming ponds don’t require as much regular maintenance, draining or repairs and they don’t need to be covered in the off-season sustaining a beautiful view all year, especially when planted up with a aquatic and semi-aquatic scheme. Just imagine floating amongst water-lilies and drifting past cotton grasses. One such one has its own islet, complete with domed wicker seating pod, only accessible by swimming (or a tiny dinghy).

You can convert a disused conventional pool into a more formal looking natural pool. The real vision though is not to simply land a pool in your garden but to carefully blend it into the overall garden design. Through combining the work of specialist companies, such as Woodhouse Natural Pools and Gartenart Swimming Ponds, who create some particularly gorgeous ponds and pool conversions which offer seriously inspiring natural pools that look suitable for sprites, we amplify your vision for a water paradise within a full garden design or into an established garden with sensitivity. 

Garden designed with swimming pond specialists oxfordshire

Image: Courtesy of Gartenart Swimming Ponds

Not a great swimmer, but like the idea of cleansing your skin under a cooling, silky stream? Outdoor showers used to be something we associated with the humid tropics, but as summers warm up they’re becoming more enticing, especially if you hook it up to a hot tap. You can even find some super-stylish solar-heated ones from specialists like Gre. Installing one on the external wall of a kitchen or bathroom is easy and affordable, but if you have great views then consider a standalone shower away from the house. For sleek, contemporary showers try Swiss-based suppliers Architonic. Of course, if your garden is overlooked you’ll need to think about screening with plants or more permanently envelope your shower with stone or slate walls or even a converted beach hut to create a bathing booth! Great for dowsing down muddy gardeners and dirty dogs before they get anywhere near the house.

Ready to dive into a new waterscape? Or perhaps you’d like a hand designing water into an existing garden landscape? We can help bring your plans for a paradise garden to life. Tell us about your garden ideas here.

5 reasons why every garden needs a greenhouse (even if only a mini one)

Is there a gap in your garden that’s crying out for something a little exotic? Perhaps you just can’t find a hardy plant to suit that empty space? Or maybe you want to reap the nutritional rewards of growing-your-own?

There are protected growing environments to fit every garden, from palatial orangeries to compact coldframes but no matter what the size of your outside space, installing a greenhouse can bring many added benefits to a garden, some are straightforward but others aren’t so obvious at first sight and one or two are simply out-of-the-ordinary.

Let The Oxfordshire Gardener’s guide you through the reason why getting a greenhouse might be the biggest boon to your garden and your lifestyle.

1. Broaden Your Foodie Horizons

Perhaps the most obvious reason to add a greenhouse to your garden is to begin kitchen gardening or to extend the productivity and increase the variety of produce you can grow throughout the year.

The protective environment of a greenhouse means you can grow many crops at a time of year that wouldn’t cope with conditions outside, providing you and your family and friends with the year-round benefits of homegrown fruit and vegetables. Indeed, a Kew Gardens Study in 2015 found that homegrown fruit and vegetables not only tasted better than supermarket produce, but are richer in nutrients and antioxidants too. Growing-your-own also affords you the chance to control how your food is grown. You can decide whether or not to grow organically and if you do decide to use non-organically then you can decide on which aids to use and be sure that nothing else has been used.

Even those with limited space may still reap the rewards of an extended season by way of a coldframe. Lambs lettuce, spinach, kale and cabbage can all be sown around mid-February under the cover of a coldframe. Coldframes can also be used to help warm up winter soils ready for sowing by simply placing them over the patch of soil you wish to use.

If you have a little more space, especially if you want to grow tomatoes then opt for something more vertical. A mini walk-in greenhouse or greenframe might suit. And if you have a good-sized garden then a full-sized greenhouse can even see you adorning your fruit bowl with homegrown grapes and peaches.

2) Overwinter Tender Plants

Do you long for a more tropical garden? Is there a plant you adore but simply won’t live through a harsh British winter? If you want to introduce lots of tender or exotic plants to your summer show then having a greenhouse is essential. You’ll need a substantial greenhouse with plenty of shelves and floor space, and you may well want to invest in a heating and ventilation system to keep the temperature consistent too. 

It’s worth noting here that if you plan on using a greenhouse mainly for overwintering then sighting it on an east-west orientation is recommended, as this has the effect of lengthening winter sunshine to the maximum. For growing produce, especially summer crops, north-south orientation is better as this allows both sides of a greenhouse to receive near equal hours of sunlight.

If you have room and want to sow, grow and protect then it might be worth having two smaller greenhouses, each orientated in different directions rather than one large glasshouse.

3) Fill Your Garden From Seed

One of the most cost-effective and satisfying ways to fill your garden is by growing plants from seed. Certainly, you can sow a couple of seed trays and place them on a sunny windowsill indoors but it can limit you to a few varieties when seeds fill up two or three trays. Having a greenhouse gives you the room to sow many more, providing your garden with a riot of colour and an abundance of varieties including lesser-known heritage and heirloom seeds. There are so many seeds that are easy to grow and so many more varieties available as seeds than as young plants.

A point worth nothing if you’re growing perennial plants from seed is that many do not flower in their first year. During the first year they tend to concentrate growth on their roots and stems, but if you’re patient and can wait a year then you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers year-after-year once the first year is out.

You may have already established plants in the garden that are seed-bearing types? Collecting the seed and raising seedlings from it allows you to increase your stock of any much-loved plants. You could share beloved plants with friends or family, letting them enjoy the beauty in their own gardens or replace any dead or diseased specimens of your own.

4) Create an Aesthetic Aspect

There is no doubt that there are some gorgeous glasshouses available and if nothing else then a beautiful greenhouse, thoughtfully placed can conjure up such a peacefully pastoral mood.

Now we’re not suggesting that you go all Marie-Antoinette and build your own Petit Trianon to play the part of Shepherdess in, or that you should have a pretty glasshouse installed just to look at, but it must be said that a well-designed greenhouse, sighted in a pleasing perspective, really can lend added delight to a garden, especially when the design is sympathetic to its surroundings.

Wood tends to look warmer and more handcrafted, and wood-framed glasshouses particularly suit traditional cottage or country gardens. However, whilst they lend an air of quietly rustic elegance or Victorian grandeur they will require occasional upkeep. Much like wooden window-frames, you’ll need to treat or re-paint the frame every few years, though you can minimise maintenance if you opt for cedar-wood. It’s also worth noting that those Victorian domed glasshouses might look gorgeous but wooden struts and posts tend to be wider than metal ones, which, of course, will let less light into the greenhouse. If you’d prefer something low maintenance then aluminium is the key. Not only does it require little attention but the strength of the metal means that struts can be thinner, allowing more light to flood in.

Metal frames lend themselves well to a modern industrial look, but aluminium can also be painted to soften the effect and be more pleasing to the eye in any garden. Some greenhouse manufacturers specialise in producing traditional-style greenhouses from aluminium that look so good that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re wooden. Griffin Glasshouses make gorgeous aluminium and galvanised steel glasshouses in an enchanting traditional style.

4) Nurture Body and Soul:

Growing in greenhouses keeps your mind and body active. Greenhouses need to be well-ventilated to allow fresh air to circulate and replenish the carbon dioxide which plants need to photosynthesise. This means you’ll need to keep in mind when and for how long to open your greenhouse vents, and regularly walk out into the garden to do it whilst keeping an eye on your tender seedlings and how your produce is fairing, tying up and gently living the good greenhouse life. Alitex Greenhouses & Conservatories use a combination of roof and side vents as standard in all their greenhouses to create a ‘chimney effect’ inside the greenhouse which not only encourages air circulation but also prevents unhelpful through drafts. 

You’ll also need to keep your plants well-hydrated and that can mean a spot of weightlifting with a full watering can (and if you have lots of plants then there may be several trips to the tap or water-butt and back.

There’s also the physicality of sowing, potting, moving bags of compost and grit, digging beds in the garden ready for your seedlings and plants to be housed in, all which will keep your body active in a much more enjoyable way than spending an hour pounding a treadmill in the gym. But, it’s a wonderful tonic for the soul too. There is little more satisfying and rewarding than nurturing and caring for something from seed and watching it thrive and bloom.

Even if you are time-poor then there are a plethora of accessories available to help you maximise the benefits of greenhouse gardening whilst minimising the time-consumption. Automatic vents can be very handy, not just to those short of time, but for when you’re on holiday for example, as they can be set to open or close in response to greenhouse temperatures.

rrigation systems take the hard work out of watering: Image: Griffin Glasshouses

Irrigation systems take the hard work out of watering: Image courtesy of Griffin Glasshouses

There are also a wide range of irrigation systems that can be installed, so you don’t have to worry about watering. Large structures are best suited to sprinklers or overhead spray systems, though if you’re planning on propagating great quantities of seeds then a misting system might be the order of the day as this will gently hydrate tiny seedlings without disturbing them. Drip irrigation systems release larger droplets of water at set intervals on the surface or buried within the soil, which is a particularly useful system for plants that do not like to dry out.

For ultra low-maintenance seed capillary mats (or self-watering trays) are deceptively effective. Any plants placed on them ‘suck up’ as much moisture as they need by the capillary action of their roots, which keeps them perfectly hydrated but also encourages plants to grow deeper roots as they reach down towards the water. And they only need topping up approximately once a week.

5) Relaxation, entertaining and other less obvious uses!

The original idea of a glasshouse was undoubtedly to provide a protected growing environment but there are many equally wonderful uses that may not readily have sprung to mind. For example, we recently created a raised kitchen garden for one client and are currently working to double the size of this area in order to accommodate a glasshouse and seating area which they intend to use (at least partially) for relaxing in and entertaining.

We have seen greenhouses used as weather-proof outdoor yoga studios, tranquil meditation rooms, covering ponds, pools and hot-tubs and as inspirational workspaces. Research has shown that productivity increases significantly when we are surrounded by plants and that simply looking at nature has a positive effect on our wellbeing, so what more wonderful, effective place to work than a glasshouse where we can be ensconced in plants and look out at blue skies and greenery at every angle? Add a desk and socket and you have all you need for a day in the outdoor office. Just don’t forget to turn any sprinklers off!

Perhaps our favourite alternative use is as a fabulous place to sit and have drinks or eat with friends whatever the time of year, much like a contemporary version of the banqueting houses so popular in gardens from the Tudor Period to their peak in the 17th Century. We think it’s time for a revival, don’t you?

If you’re planning on installing a greenhouse, glasshouse, orangery or banqueting house, our expert team can help you plan the perfect position and design a productive, truly gorgeous garden to complement it. Talk to us about your plans here.

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Kitchen Garden

A bean arch covered in scarlet beans over a wooden gate in the sunshine

The festive period brings all the fun of Christmas parties, catching up with friends and seemingly endless streams of visiting relatives and all this means we end up over-indulging in all the sweet treats and roasted delights that this time of year brings….and why not?

All good things come to an end though and as the TV Christmas specials disappear from our screens to be replaced by ads for the latest celebrity fitness DVD, our thoughts turn to the ubiquitous New Year detox and what better way to refresh our diet, get us moving and clear our heads with lungfuls of fresh air than to create a kitchen garden. It’s the perfect time of year to get started.

But where to start? Help is on hand with The Oxfordshire Gardener’s handy guide to growing-your-own.

Location

Most vegetables are annuals and need as much energy as they can possibly get in a short space of time in order to develop their crops, so pick a sunny, sheltered spot to site your kitchen garden or vegetable patch. Avoid overhanging trees and buildings or structures that may cast shade at certain times of the day.

Many plants don’t like their roots getting wobbled by the wind buffeting their aerial parts so you may want to provide extra shelter using windbreaks like hurdles, evergreen hedges or trained fruit trees. Make sure any windbreaks are well secured in the ground and are high enough to protect your tallest plants. A 1-metre high break will provide shelter for plants up to 5 metres, 2-metre tall panels will work for plants up to 10 metres tall and so on.

A newly built kitchen garden located in the sun with freshly prepped topsoil and cotswold stone

Preparation

First up you’ll need to completely remove any grass or weeds on your chosen site. If you’re removing grass then it’s worth stacking turf grass-side down and leaving it to become compost. It will make fantastic organic topsoil which you can use to feed your beds with later.

Next, you’ll want to keep the area free of weeds until it’s time to plant, so cover the area with plastic sheeting or fleece. This not only prevents weeds from germinating but also has the added benefit of warming the earth underneath, allowing you to plant up beds earlier than those that are exposed to the elements.

Bright purple-red beetroot with glowing green foliage lit behind by the sun

Design

The classic design for a kitchen garden is four-quartered and it’s a favourite for several reasons. Dividing your plot, no matter how large or small, into 4 rectangular beds with space for paths crossing through the centre allows for ease of access to each bed, it looks orderly and well-structured, plus it makes a cinch of rotating the 4 main types of vegetable crops.

Each of the 4 beds should be allocated to one crop type with one for root vegetables (potatoes, carrots), one for legumes (peas, beans), one for salad crops, herbs and brassicas (radishes, rocket, lettuce) and one for a mixed bag of leafy greens and ‘fruiting’ plants (courgettes, spinach).

Each year you rotate the crop type allocated to each bed so that you don’t grow the same type of plants in the same bed year after year. This avoids disease taking hold and the soil won’t become depleted of nutrients for years on end as different crops tend to take up different variations of nutrients. It keeps your plot healthy and productive.

Creating raised beds for your quadrangle is useful too as raising up the beds means less bending down to tend your garden. They also look rather attractive and make it harder for ground-dwelling pests like slugs and snails to make it into the plot to munch on your veggies.

Whilst the quad design is a classic and a great look for a rustic cottage garden, we’ve created kitchen gardens in a number of non-traditional designs, so long as you can reach all parts of the beds for tasks like weeding then pretty much anything goes. If yours is a more contemporary garden then get creative with modern sleek materials like metal or concrete planters.

Leeks growing in a raised bed with a trowel dug in the side

Soil

Before you can plant up your beds you need to put in a little groundwork. A bit of time spent improving the soil now will see you reap the rewards of better, healthier crops later.

Ideally, you’re looking to create lovely, free-draining soil with plenty of organic material, like manure and compost, mixed throughout, plus a good layer of topsoil to the depth of about 30cms.

If your soil is poor then consider using the raised bed design and filling your beds with entirely with compost and topsoil.

It’s worth finding out your soil type and you can take out the guesswork by buying a soil testing kit from your local garden centre or sending off a soil sample to RHS for analysis.

Vegetables need soil that is full of goodness, but they also like it nice an airy, so if your soil doesn’t drain very well then dig in some grit along with the compost. Cover the whole area with a layer of both and dig in or rotovate. Rotovators are brilliant for larger areas and can be hired by the day or sometimes half-day.

If you have free-draining soil then skip the grit and simply dig in plenty of compost.

Courgette Flowers growing in raised beds

Plant

In early spring it’s time to plant up your newly crafted beds, depending on what you choose to grow. Read labels on any seed packets or seedlings carefully to make sure you’re planting at the best time.

Avoid putting perennial plants in your veg beds as this can make them trickier to rotate, instead, put plants like rhubarb on the edge of more permanently planted beds or borders. Tomatoes and cucumbers need a lot of warmth and sunshine so will do best in pots or beds in sunny, sheltered spots or even better in a greenhouse.

If you’re new to growing-your-own then your efforts will be best rewarded by sticking to tried and tested favourites rather than exotic varieties. Cut-and-come-again salad leaves are a must, try lettuces, mizuna, rocket and mustards. Add some herbs like basil and oregano.

Leafy greens like chard and kale can be planted quite early in spring, as can courgettes and cucumbers. If you have some wigwam supports or create some frames for climbers then peas and broad beans are generally reliable. Beetroot is easy and a good cropper, as are new potatoes and nothing tastes better than a homegrown potato!

Try heirloom or heritage varieties for a rainbow of colour and superb flavour. The Real Seed Company offer excellent heirloom and heritage vegetable seeds for the kitchen garden, specially chosen for home gardeners.

Not only do vegetables grown in your own garden taste better than the mass-produced supermarket kind, but they are also invariably less chocked full of additives and chemicals. Growing your own saves money and is so much healthier, especially if you grow organically. Dug or picked from the soil to plate means your vegetables retain far more vitamins and minerals than those that have been stored and transported to shops, so give it go and kickstart a brand new year with a garden reboot that’s good for you.

And if you’d like a hand designing and installing a kitchen garden our expert team are here to help. Say hello to us here.

Top 7 winter trees & shrubs with splendid barks & foliage

Welcome to the second in our series on plants for creating winter interest in your garden. This week we’ve picked our top 7 winter trees & shrubs with splendid barks or foliage…or both.

Whilst winter might not conjure up quite the number of plants to rival the fantastic displays of the warmer seasons, mother nature has still provided a variety of species to bring the colours of the rainbow to your outside space. Here’s just a few of our favourite winter trees and shrubs who grab winter by the horns and make it their own:

shot-silk white trunks of himalayan birch

1) Himalayan Birch ‘Grayswood Ghost’ (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii)

With white shot-silk bark and slate-black twigs, this slower growing specimen of the birch family reminds us of a charcoal sketch, once fully revealed by the autumn leaf-drop. Especially effective when planted in groups, but also good for slender gardens due to its limited horizontal spread. For maximum effect (and for general care) give the bark a gentle scrub with soapy water once a year to remove any algae and to brighten the white stems.

Orange, yellow and red stems of Dogwood in winter

2) Dogwood ‘Midwinter King’ (Cornus sanguinea)

Create a virtual bonfire in your garden with a fiery display of brightest yellow, orange, pink and red twigs. Dogwood is a deciduous shrub with mid-green leaves and small white flowers in the summer, but it’s only in winter that the glowing glory of its stems are fully appreciated. Plant in sunshine for the best display, though Midwinter King will grow reasonably happily in partial sun. Thin but don’t cut back hard until a few years old. Planted against a backdrop of our next pick Midwinter King will create real drama in the border.

Blackish-purple stems of white dogwood 'Kesselringi' in winter

3) White Dogwood ‘Kesselringi’ (Cornus alba)

A rather misnomered variety of White Dogwood, Kesselringi has beautiful blackish-purple stems in winter, which make for a striking contrast when planted next to Midwinter King. Not just a shrub for winter though, Kesselringi also has clusters of small creamy flowers in summer, followed by white berries and lovely merlot-coloured leaves in autumn. It will do well when planted pretty much anywhere, except deep shade.

Spectacular hot-pink autumn foliage of the burning bush of compact winged spindle tree

4) Compact Winged Spindle Tree or Burning Bush ‘Compactus’  (Euonymous Alatus)

The prize for most spectacular foliage has to go to euonymous alatus ‘Compactus’. For most of the year it appears as a fairly inconspicuous spreading shrub with nice elliptical green leaves and non-showy tiny greenish-white flowers, but my word does it prove it’s worth in the garden in autumn. As the air begins to cool Compactus’ leaves turn stunning hot-pink to bright red before they fall in winter. At the same time, it bears purpley-red fruits which burst open to reveal orange seeds that are often retained well into winter, if the birds don’t strip them first.
Being as compact as suggested it’s a great shrub for containers, allowing you to easily move it to where your garden most needs a shot of colour.

Winter tree Peeling winter bark of the paper maple or acer griseum is reminiscent of a cinnamon stick

5) Paper Bark Maple (Acer Griseum)

As is often the case with acers autumn turns their green mantle of foliage to yellow, then orange and through to deep red, however, this particular variety has another string to its bow. The light brown bark on this small, slow-growing variety peels attractively during the winter, giving it the look of a cinnamon stick. It also offers small yellow flowers in April. Good for small gardens or planted anywhere it can be easily viewed, though avoid exposed sites.  

Big white blooms of the snowball viburnum, burgundy foliage in autumn mean it makes the cut of our top 7 winter trees & shrubs

6) Japanese Snowball ‘Sawtooth’ (Viburnum plicatum f. plicatum)

Big, bold snowball flowers in May make a hydrangea-like show against attractive forest green foliage. The leaves are serrated and it’s this feature that inspired the name ‘Sawtooth’. If this plant was chosen only for its spring/summer blooms and large, deep-veined foliage it would have earned its place in the garden, but the attraction doesn’t end with the warmer weather. Sawtooth’s foliage turns beautifully burgundy in the autumn. This viburnum is not drought-tolerant so keep it well-watered in hot, dry weather, but plant in free-draining soil as it won’t appreciate being waterlogged either.

Glorious pinky-red, bronze-purple foliage of the sacred bamboo or nandina domestica make it a perfect for our winter trees & shrubs top picks

7) Sacred or Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Not actually a bamboo though nandina definitely shares many of bamboo’s habits. Its leaves are pinky-red when young, turning green as they mature, then returning to a more colourful reddish-bronze each autumn and staying throughout the winter. This small evergreen is largely unheard of, though makes a fabulous addition to any garden. Panicles of starry white flowers turn out each spring followed by the added bonus of red berries. Makes wonderful front-of-house plant, plus it has been known to withstand even extreme drought.
A native of the Far East, where it is thought to have the ability to dissipate or deter bad dreams, hence it is thought of heaven-sent.

Missed the first article in our winter garden series? See our guide to winsome winter berries here.

9 fruits & berries for winsome winter gardens

Standard holly trees with balls of foliage and unusual yellow-orange berries

Not-your-average-Holly…

Winter doesn’t have to mean a barren and bare garden, nature has provided beautiful, colourful plants to delight the senses and provide sustenance at every time of year. In the first of our series on creating interest in an Oxfordshire garden in Winter, we take a look at those jewels of the colder months – fruits and berries.

The colourful display put on by foliage at autumn’s arrival is over, deciduous plants have been stripped by the season’s blustery gales, summer annuals have disappeared and gardeners are pruning back and mulching, all of which might have left things looking a little stark. If autumn garden maintenance has revealed some gaps in your garden or left it looking somewhat dull, fear not! Our guide to winter garden berries will help to keep your garden a bountiful, riot of colour through the colder months.

Colour & Scent in the Oxfordshire Winter Garden:

1. Christmas Box or Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa)

 Christmas Box shrub with flowers and berries

Unusually this shade-loving shrub offers up a vanilla-honey fragrance with wispy ivory flowers in winter through to spring. The blooms give way to shiny plump berries in the summer, but we’ve included it here as the berries frequently persist through the winter, often giving you flowers and berries all at the same time. Sweet Box likes moist, though well-drained, humus-rich soil and will tolerate neglect, making it an easygoing all-rounder in Oxfordshire gardens.

2. Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii)

Vivid violet bunches of beautyberries

It’s not called ‘Beautyberry’ for nothing. Happy in sun or partial shade, though it’s worth noting that you’ll need to plant more than one to ensure pollination and therefore, fruiting. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii has possibly the most eye-catching fruits of all shrubs with vivid violet berries appearing in autumn, following the summer bloom of tiny lilac or pink flowers. Some callicarpa are evergreen while others are deciduous, yet even the foliage joins in the show, with leaves appearing purply-bronze in spring, green in summer and rosy-pink as they fade through the autumn. What a stunner!

3. Farges harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii)

Farges Harlequin Glorybowers magenta lobes reveal bright blue turquoise berries

One heck of a name for an equally startling plant. It’s pinky-white almost jasmine-like flowers are highly scented, but they are just the precursor to the main event. Glorybower’s extraordinary fruits appear in autumn as bright blue berries surrounded by magenta lobes. A vigorous, deciduous shrub, it can grow up to 8m in height and width, so is an excellent spacer-filler.  It will do well in almost any soil, so long as it’s moist, but it does enjoy a little shade and shelter.

4. David viburnum (Viburnum davidii)

Turquoise teal berries in a cluster on viburnum davidii

Evergreen with a low spreading habit, viburnum davidii is ideal in garden design if you’re looking for low maintenance ground cover under roses or naturally leggy shrubs. Clusters of small, white unassuming flowers blossom in spring and develop into phenomenal, almost preternatural berries of the rarest of shades found in the plant world, turning from turquoise to dark teal over the course of autumn and winter. Plant at least 3 for cross-pollination and in full sun for maximum fruits.

5. Common Holly (Ilex Aquifolium)

Spiky, green holly leaves with clutches of bright red berries

Surely no plant better represents winter than the Common Holly with its spiky green leaves and brilliant red berries, but not all Holly’s adhere to this classic Christmas look. There are some unusual and interesting varieties out there to pique your interest, though nearly all grow best on well-drained soil and prefer sunny or partially shady positions. Holly’s, in general, have small, white flowers in spring, but berries are only produced on female plants, so make sure you pick the right gender if you want to see it’s glorious fruits.

‘Pyramidalis Fructu Luteo’ – Has abundant bright yellow berries.

‘Handsworth New Silver’ – Young shoots are purple and it’s creamy-white variegated leaves give an overall silvery look when viewed at a distance.

‘Amber’ – Gorgeous coppery-apricot berries.

‘Elegantissima’ – Variegated leaves are tinged with pink when young.

‘J.C. van Tol’ – Bright red berries against dark green foliage, however, the difference here is that its leaves are spineless, giving you that warm festive feeling without the prickles.

Fruits:

6. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Orange berries of Sea Buckthorn against their spindley green leaves

A native British shrub often found naturally growing along the coastline, Sea Buckthorn is packed full with vitamins C, A and E. Deciduous silver-green narrow leaves with yellow flowers in spring, followed by orange berries through winter, this super-fruit is highly adaptable, tolerant of poor soil and exposure. You will need to give it plenty of sun and plant both male and female plants for pollination though. The berries are rather sour eaten raw but juiced and sweetened with honey or sugar they have a fresh fruity, citrusy taste and can be used to make everything from mousses to jellies.

7. Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae)

Chilean Guava Berries

A very pretty berry indeed and a rarity amongst berries as its pale pink flower is equally pretty. Reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit and we can see why for this delicious delight tastes like strawberry and kiwi. Whilst not particularly well-known here, they are common ‘down under’ where they are known as ‘Tazziberries’. Their popularity is on the rise though with exponents like James Wong, who recently developed a British-bred variety called Ka Pow. The Chilean Guava is a small-leaved evergreen with pale-pink and white bell-shaped flowers in spring which transform into pink blueberry-like fruits, ripening to a deep, dark wine colour in winter. Hardy down to -10 and tolerant of most soils, they like a lot of light and shelter but will tolerate a little shade. Think of them as growing in ‘edge of the wood’ environments and you’ll have the right conditions in mind.

8. Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)

Goji Berries on the vine

You might think that these exotic darlings of the health food industry would be difficult to grow, but in fact, they are really quite easy, once they are at least 12 months old. Seedlings need to be kept warm for the first year and are prone to rotting in compost, so you’re better off buying young plants. Once over a year old they are hardy and will begin producing fruit in their 2nd year with heavy yields from year 4. Goji berries will grow in almost any kind of soil and are surprisingly drought-tolerant. They’ll also do reasonably well in partial shade, though will yield more berries in full sun.

9. Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

ripe black myrtle berries on a bush

A traditional favourite of brides, especially in the Victorian era, as it represented purity and love in the language of flowers. Myrtle is an evergreen shrub or small tree with aromatic leaves often used to flavour pork or game dishes and star-like cupped white flowers which are followed by dark purplish berries. Being a native of the Mediterranean, myrtus needs long, hot summers to encourage it to fruit and whilst it likes to be kept moist, it must also be well-drained and sheltered. The berries have notes of juniper, rosemary and spice and when combined with apples make a dark, fragrant jam. They also make a rather tasty liqueur.

Still not sure how to best make the most of your garden year-round? Let us help to take the guesswork out of creating a beautiful environment. Find out about our garden design and winter garden planting services by clicking here. 

 

Create a Woodland Stumpery

A stumpery complete with green ferns and leaf mould

Have you recently felled some trees and aren’t sure what do with leftover stumps and logs? Do you have a shady area under trees or hedges, where nothing much grows? Don’t ignore shady spots, they’re the perfect place for a wonderfully atmospheric woodland stumpery.

Low maintenance and a great home for birds, insects and hedgehogs, a stumpery is an unusual yet surprisingly effective addition to any garden, large or small.

Ingredients:

Tree Stumps (at least one, but as many as you like or have, depending on the size of the area to be filled)

Driftwood and/or logs (again as many as you like or have space for)

Ferns

Handfuls of moss

Woodland plants and bulbs (try foxgloves, bluebells, Japanese anemones, narcissi, snowdrops, primroses, cyclamen, astrantia and fritillaries)

Edible fungi spore dowels

Natural yogurt

Leaf mould and compost

Bark chips

Method:

  • Start by forking over the ground to loosen any compacted soil.
  • Incorporated plenty of leaf mould and compost to recreate the rich humus conditions of a forest floor.
  • Choose hardwood stumps and logs, hardwoods are best as they rot more slowly, choose Chestnut, Oak and Beech.
  • Position your stumps (if they aren’t still in the ground where trees have been felled), taking time to stand back, view and rearrange to give the most interest.
  • Try positioning in groups and individually for a naturalistic look.
  • If you have a large space then add logs and driftwood (the more gnarled, the better) intertwined, laid on top of each other or placed in spaces between stumps, you can even use them to create a loose border around your stumpery’s edge.
  • Fill gaps between stumps and logs with compost and plant up with ferns, if your stumps have large hollows you can plant ferns here too, just add a little gravel and drill some drainage holes to ensure they don’t get waterlogged.
  • Remember not to bury the ferns crowns, leave them just proud of the surface or they are likely to rot.
  • Add handfuls of moss around the crowns to help secure and protect them (but don’t cover the crowns), water well.
  • Plant clumps of woodland flowers and bulbs in and around your stumpery, scatter bulbs and plant where they land; group young plants together for an artfully uncontrived feel (see above for flower and bulb suggestions)
  • Add bark chips around plants and to cover any exposed ground to discourage any weeds and enhance the forest floor effect.
  • Daub logs and stumps with natural yoghurt to encourage the growth of mosses, lichens and fungi.
  • You can also buy edible fungi spores to add to your stumpery, giving you a harvest of mushrooms too. Gourmet Woodland Mushrooms offer a wide range of DIY mushroom growing kits as well as excellent customer support. For a real talking point then Mushroom Box offers special ‘glow-in-the-dark’ mushroom spores! Take note that some species of luminescent mushroom are not edible, so please read descriptions carefully.

Need a hand creating your stumpery or woodland walk? Let us help care for your trees and habitat with natural design and planting.

Hand drawn sketch of a woodland design

Make fallen leaves into an excellent soil improver

Making leaf mould is good motivation for raking all those leaves up; the more leaves you have, the more leaf mould you will produce.

Gathering up leaves to make leaf mould

Leaf mould is an excellent soil improver. Be patient though; it takes a year for the leaves to turn into leaf mould, but it’s worth the wait and it’s free as it’s from your leaves!

Here is how it works….

  • Find or create a contained area, box or bin bag, making sure there are plenty of gaps or holes for aeration
  • Place all the fallen leaves into a contained area, box or even bin bag
  • Note that some leaves will rot down quicker than others; oak, alder and hornbeam compost quickly, whilst beech, chestnut and sycamore take rather longer. Evergreens leaves take considerably longer so best to only include small amounts and give them a head start by chopping them up too.
  • Leave until next year and then simply dig this soil improver into the garden

It’s as easy as that! It’s a great way to keep your garden tidy and well-nourished.

Compost bins full of leaves for making leaf mould

The Oxfordshire Gardener designs and installs practical compost bins for all types of garden. Our garden maintenance team makes rich leaf mould for clients and applies it to their gardens, contact us to find out more about our garden services. 

Glorious in the garden now….September

Blooming Anenome 'September Charm' nodding it's head in the wind, is our plant of the month for september 2017. It's glorious in the garden, autumnal sunlight now.

…Anenome ‘September Charm’

At it’s best:

‘September Charm’ flowers in August and, as it’s name suggests, September, making it a top choice for our ‘plant of the month’. Its host of soft pink slightly cupped, yet saucer-shaped flowers are a deeper pink on the underside of it’s petals and are set-off splendidly by its yellow stamens. The flowers are held aloft on fine upright stems that are slightly taller than other varieties, allowing them to gently nod and dance in the wind (which may account for their common name of ‘Windflower’). Winner of an RHS Award of Merit for its many virtues in the garden, it also makes a great cutting flower for vases in the house.

When and where to plant:

Perfectly positioned in partial sun, though it will tolerate full sun so long as it’s kept well-watered, September Charm loves to be in rich, moist but free-draining soil. Whatever you do, don’t let it dry out. Prefers a sheltered position and will grow to 3-4ft tall with a spread of around 2-3ft. In the right location they will naturalise prolifically and can become a bit of a thug, albeit a very pretty one, however this low maintenance plant dislikes being moved around so once planted is best left alone. Mixes well with grasses and other perennials such as asters, it works wonderfully when planted in the borders of a cottage garden style or a naturalistic prairie or meadow planting scheme. Salt-tolerant, this versatile little gem will also look great in coastal gardens.

Pearl-white double-anenome

This pearl-white double anenome makes an attractive alternative to the ballerina-pink of ‘September Charm’

Tolerance and resistance:

Resistant to most insects and disease, plus it won’t be nibbled away by visiting deer or rabbits. This is a hardy perennial, though in colder parts of the country it may need mulching in the winter.

Wildlife:

Anenomes are attractive to both butterflies and bees, so are a good addition to any wildlife-friendly garden.

Curious cuttings:

Often described as Japanese, this type of anenome is actually a native of China, the confusion arises from its cultivation in Japan over many centuries. The plant was first introduced to Britain in 1844 by plant-hunter, Robert Fortune, after he found it growing in China, where it was traditionally used to commemorate family ancestors and offer protection from evil spirits.

If you’d see to know what we chose as our plant of the month for August 2017, simply click here.

How to… create a stunning late-summer planter

The Oxfordshire Gardener shows us how to put together a gorgeous display of late-summer colour

Ingredients:

1 x Dahlia ‘Bishop of Leicester’

1 x Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’

2 x Agastache ‘Black Adder’

2 x Crocosmia

2 x Gaura

2 x Persicaria affines ‘Darjeeling Red’

1 x Physalis ‘Gigantea’

 Method:

  • Fill a water bath or tray with a couple of inches of water, add the plants in their pots and allow them to soak up the water by capillary action for a minimum of 2-3 hours, but preferably overnight. Don’t leave them much longer though as the roots will start to rot when left too long.
  • In a large planter or pot, add some drainage aids such as crocks. In a heavy pot like this one, Simon recommends using some empty plastic plant pots with holes in, placed upside-down as they’re lightweight and it will make moving the planter to its final location a lot easier.
  • Next add peat-free compost, here Simon is using a mix of Melcourt (RHS approved, organic compost, widely available from garden centres) and his own compost mix (1 year old, twice-turned).
  • Starting with your main focus plant (in this case our dahlia), begin removing the plants from their pots, teasing out the roots and arranging in the planter. It’s a good idea to test out the overall effect and style by placing the plants in the planter whilst still in their pots, you can then move them around until you’re happy. Simon has created a naturalistic style by allowing the plants to meld in with one another for a relaxed look and not focussing on planting round the rim.
  • Look at each plant as it’s goes in and snip any old leaves and spent flowers.
  • Once all the plants are in, add more compost in any gaps and press to firm the plants in a little.
  • Give your planter a good watering.
  • Sit back and admire your handiwork!

A gorgeous display of late summer colour in a large terracotta pot

Full late-summer colourful container

Update: Going strong one month on. Here’s how our planter looks in the autumn sun this morning (19th September 2017):

Late-summer container in September and full to bursting with colour

For more late summer colour, click to see our plant of month for August 2017.

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