Glorious in the Garden Now…

pastel orange pin of geum mai tai

Geum ‘Mai Tai’


At it’s best:

There’s a delicious pop of colour in our containers at The Garden Barn at the moment and it’s coming from one of our current favourite plant picks – Geum ‘Mai Tai’ from the Cocktails Series – which has got us thinking about this reliably attractive, though somewhat unappreciated plant.

The large, scarlet blooms of Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ have been around for more than 100 years and are probably the most well-known of all the hybrids, especially since having been championed by Geoff Hamilton during his tenure as presenter of Gardeners’ World in the 1980’s and 90’s, but geums are back with a bang and we thought it time to share our experience and fondness for this versatile and colourful genus.

Geums in general are forgiving and easy-to-grow. At their best from late-spring to mid-summer with some varieties flowering well into autumn.

Originally hailing from arctic and temperate regions of Europe, America, New Zealand and Asia, they are native to mountainous landscapes and woodland edges, especially where there are streams and moist meadows. Our British native types are the subtly nodding bells of Geum rivale (Water Avens) and the delicate, buttercup blossom of Geum urbanum (Wood Avens),  which as their monikers suggest are found near water and woods!

Whilst our UK natives are naturally discreet, though none the less charming, modern hybrids are certainly more eye-catching with larger, often quite brightly coloured, saucer-shaped blooms that can be singles, semis or doubles. These unsung heroes tend towards the warmer end of the spectrum, ranging from reds through oranges, peaches, pinks and yellows, so they look great paired with blooms which are in a similar tonal range or by contrast, on the opposite side of the colour wheel (think blues, blue-greens and violet).

Geum 'Totally Tangerine'

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’

When and Where:

These hardy perennials can be deciduous, semi-evergreen or evergreen depending on variety (especially the case during mild winters) and their free-flowering, clump-forming, naturalistic habits make them excellent plants to de-formalise an overly regimented border and perfect for cottage gardens and containers.

Best planted in moist soils where they will thrive, geums will take happily to most soil conditions, though they won’t put on a great show in very dry situations. As you may guess, rivale types (water avens) are most at home in moist soils and will tolerate shade better than their showier cousins, who prefer full sun.

Most geums mature to around 50cms so work well when planted in the front or middle of a border.

Whilst they occasionally spread by stolons, they respond well to being lifted and divided every 3 years or so, in spring or autumn.

Tolerance and Resistance:

Geums are generally moderately drought-tolerant, once established in the landscape, and are untroubled by pests and disease. You may find them attacked by aphids occasionally, but without much damage caused.

Under very dry conditions powdery mildew may form on mature leaves. These can simply be removed to encourage healthy new leaves to form.


Geums are fantastic for pollinators, providing veritable feasting grounds for bees and butterflies. They are also resistant to the nibblings of deers and rabbits.

Geum ‘Mai Tai’

Curious Cuttings:

The roots of G. urbanum can be boiled up to create a chocolate-like drink. It can also be used as seasoning, making a great substitute for cloves (with a hint of cinnamon). Traditionally, it was used to flavour ale.

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Amazing Tree Houses

It’s not only children whose sense of wonder and adventure shines when scaling the rungs up to their very own secluded getaway, adults too find climbing to a castle in the canopy exhilarating with their very own amazing tree houses.

Often the mention of tree houses evokes visions of rickety shacks, precariously balanced on a branch or two, knocked together with a few old planks and unusable in inclement weather due to the lack of windows and doors (not to mention the gaps between the planks). But no more! Tree Houses have undergone a total transformation and some are practically palatial.  

There is no denying that our love of treehouses has stood the test of time. Orginally popular in Roman times when they were largely platforms or hidden into the trunk of a tree and were used for pleasure rather than purpose, the Renaissance period saw them become a fashion statement in Florentine Gardens, predominantly due to the romantic image that Francesco Colonna painted in his book Hypernotomachia Poliphili. And now in the early twenty-first century, it should come as no surprise that with an ever-growing number of us choosing to spend our holidays at home, embracing the staycation, tree houses have had a resurgence. They really do link us to both the past, the present and the future. In many countries they are still used as homes, as they are not only environmentally sustainable, )but they keep families safe from seasonal flooding and not-so-friendly local wildlife.

It’s no coincidence that these woodland structures are still so popular here in Britain too. Our love of trees is deeper than just the aesthetic pleasure that they provide. Not only are they the largest of plants and the longest living species on earth, they absorb pollutants and carbon dioxide providing us with pure air to breathe. Research affirms that within minutes of being surrounded by these woody giants, the negative ions that they release into the immediate environment help improve our mood, slow our heart rate and notable decrease stress levels, making them the perfect sanctuary to getaway and unwind.

At the Chelsea Flower Show this week we have been delighted to see treehouses taking centre stage. The rustic birds nest inspired treehouse in the RHS Back to Nature Garden, designed by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge with Andree Davies and Adam White, was a real crowd-pleaser. The exterior reminds us of the stunning Bird’s Nest Treehouse at the Treehotel in Harads, Sweden, but in this Bird’s Nest the interiors are less back-to-nature and more a meeting with nature, but in luxurious comfort.

So what can be achieved in tree house design (whether a grand design or a bijoux abode? How about your very own rope bridge walkway or a stylish covered viewing platform? Opt for a spiral staircase to lead up to an design-inspired sitting room for the perfect hideaway to enjoy with friends or a cosy library for time spent in solace with your literary heroes? And let’s not forget the facilities of another tree house we’ve spotted on our travels around the show…this one comes complete with its own champagne delivery system in the form of a wicker basket pulley system just in case you forget the bubbles!

Whether you’d like to give your children the gift of a traditional tree house to while away long summer days exploring, creating magical lands and swinging carefree on a rope swing or you just want a quiet spot to reflect and enjoy the view in the evening sun, we can design amazing tree houses for every eventuality.

If you would like to reconnect with nature in your very own tree palace, then please get in touch with our team and we’ll help you to turn dreamy concepts into reality.




Simon’s Top Jobs for This Week!

Spring has officially sprung, bringing with it an optimistic air of new beginnings. Bulbs are slowly retreating back into their subterranean hibernation, herbaceous borders are expanding at a rate of knots and the heady scent of freshly mown grass is filling the air. 

With this in mind, Simon has shared with us what has been keeping him busy in the garden over the weekend.

Supporting the peonies and delphiniums

As these beauties take flight and grow, it is essential that they have sufficient support. Even the strongest plants will struggle under the weight of their water drenched oversized flowers on a rainy day.

Feeding the olive trees

Olives are enormously popular, who doesn’t love being transported to their favourite holiday spot in the sunbaked Italian olive groves? Feeding your olive trees weekly using extracts of kelp, and other beneficial nutrients will ensure that they have healthy long term growth, and will keep them in fine fettle all year round.

Checking the roses for greenfly

These sap-sucking aphids can suppress the growth of your roses, decreasing their vigour and meaning that they will not perform to their full extent. Their natural predators are ladybirds who will keep them in check, but if you don’t have an abundance of ladybirds hovering helpfully then a spray of soapy water will have the same effect.

Sieving homemade compost and apply

As the sun becomes stronger and (hopefully!) more regular, the ground will dry out quickly. It is invaluable to mulch vulnerable plants, focusing on your new additions, to ensure that they have the best chance of surviving and to keep watering to a minimum. Why not use your own garden/kitchen waste to reduce the cost and help the environment.

Planting up early summer containers

Removed existing tulips, refreshed the compost, planted a naturalistic shady scheme including geum nivrum, dryopteris and anthriscus ravenswing. Underplanting an existing pair of half standard bay trees with lavender and planted up heuchera ‘Black Pearl’, tiarella cordifolia ‘Tapestry’ and Cornus.

Adding to the cut-flower garden

Planting of Dahlias including favourites Karma Choc and Cafe au lait and Centaurea Sweet peas to grow up his wigwam made from hazel coppiced in garden over the winter.

Mowing the lawn

Lawns are often neglected but a well cared for lawn is a thing of beauty. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it is also crucial for the environment, trapping pollutants, cleaning the air and preventing runoff and erosion of topsoil. Simon applied spring lawn care treatment earlier in the week, thankfully just before the much needed showers, leaving a couple of days grace before he mowed his lawn at the weekend.

Planting beans and carrots and peas

Simon has done extensive research over the years and knows exactly what variety of vegetables will go down a treat in his household! This weekend he planted giant red carrots, chosen for their great taste both raw and cooked. Heirloom ‘Havel’ early peas, chosen for their productivity as well as staying sweet for a long time on the plant if you don’t get round to picking them.

Harvesting asparagus

Asparagus might seem like an expensive luxury as it is only in season briefly and comes at a premium in-store, but it is gratifyingly easy to grow and can last for up to 25 years. It takes two years before you can harvest it, but is worth it. Simon was gifted some year 2 asparagus from an old Oxford garden which he has harvested this year, as well as some new spears which he added last year.

Creating wigwams, supports and fine mesh covers

Creating suitable supports for your vegetables not only has the advantage of increased yields, but it also saves space in your kitchen garden. Squash, for example, grows merrily over a structure, but if left unsupported will wind its way through your beds, engulfing everything in its wake.

Fine mesh is not only extremely effective at stopping insects such as the cabbage white butterfly, which can ruin an entire crop, it is also totally chemical free and doesn’t cause any harm to the beneficial insects that are found in your vegetable patch.

Sowing salads

Nothing reminds us more of the taste of summer than picking fresh salad leaves, drizzling a bit of olive oil over them and taking that first crunchy bite. Simon has been busy succession sowing his salads and has been sure to include his favourite, flashy butter oak lettuce, great for picking a few leaves at a time for salads.

Evening watering of the potato pots

Watering your vegetables is essential at the time of year, but remember where you can use grey water and water butts as often as possible. Watering in the evening or early morning is the optimum time as less is lost through evaporation and will not scorch. Adding a dose of liquid seaweed will really help and will give you the best yield possible.  

Dreaming of a beautiful, productive garden, yet don’t have the time to care for it? Get in touch and our team of trained horticulturalists are on hand to help.


Designing for Outdoor Living

Covered day bed and pond

If you want to maximise on outdoor living, especially in the spring and summer months, then there’s no time like the present to plan and prep your garden landscape.

Time spent thinking about how your outdoor areas could become more inviting, usable spaces now, could mean that as the warmer months roll onto the horizon your garden is transformed, ready for you to throw open the french doors and start living outdoors. By the same measure, thoughtful design can also allow you to enjoy the fresh air of a bucolic lifestyle even in the depths of winter, no matter how great or small your patch of ground.

Sweep away the cold, minimalist look that’s been popular over recent years and chuck out plastic furniture. This season, it’s all about natural materials and retro styling with warm, soothing materials. Feed your imagination with our rundown of the latest in outdoor living and let us inspire a garden re-vamp.

Inside Out

Let your indoors spill over into your outdoors. This is a trend that’s really caught our attention, it focuses on the transition from your home to your outdoor space using outdoor rugs, ottomans and tables. More and more we’re seeing items made for outdoor use masquerading as indoor accoutrements or furniture.

Outdoors sofas are no longer hard moulded plastic with pillows and cushions that have to be removed and stored and are only really seen on the odd summer’s day when it’s ‘nice enough to sit out. Modern garden sofas are big, squishy and soft, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d just been dragged out from the living room. But surely you can’t leave them outside? Well, thanks to new generation waterproof fabrics such as weather-resistant canvas, these sofas can be left in the garden, so no more dashing outside to retrieve your cushions at the first hint of rain.

There are also affordable and stylish all-purpose rugs made using durable recycled plastic fibre for outdoor use. Now, that might conjure up the impression of a scratchy or rubbery doormat, but these are far from it. Handwoven with a soft feel and gorgeous designs they wouldn’t look out of place indoors, yet amazingly these rugs are water and mould-proof and can be cleaned by water and mild soap.

Sleek Shelters

No matter how squishy the sofa or how soft your waterproof blanket it is, we’re sure you’re still not going to want to sit outside admiring your new green wall in the middle of a storm. But what if you could enjoy the outdoors in any weather without getting soaked or buffeted by gales?

Outdoor structures can allow you to enjoy your outside spaces even during inclement weather and they don’t need elaborate. A simple wooden gazebo with a roof and open-sides can provide protection from the rain and allow you to sit out all-year round. Or perhaps give cover to a table-tennis or football table? How about walled area with a glass roof and a fire-bowl, perfect for stargazing on cold winter nights?

Perhaps by now, you’re thinking bigger? Invest in a summerhouse or outdoor room that can double as an office or entertainment hub. What about a verandah where you can not only enjoy evenings with friends but which can also provide extra growing space for tender plants. Pergolas can provide structure for climbers to entwine, whilst also offering shade from the baking heat of the summer sun; making al fresco lunches more fun. There are so many clever and creative ways to make your landscape more beautifully usable and invitingly comfortable regardless of the weather or time of year, so why not get ahead of the game and start musing on how you’d like to live better outdoors?

Piqued your interest in designing your garden for outdoor living?  We’d love to talk over ideas for bringing your garden to life with landscaping solutions for all weathers.

You can find us here.

Tulips: Flower Fever & Paradise Gardens

A long Easter weekend is imminent and the air all around is buzzing with the news that this is due to be a double-bank holiday of sunshine and summerly temperatures; a combination that will surely encourage garden-lovers everywhere out into their green spaces to delight in discovering which winter-forgotten plants have emerged from their earthy eiderdown.

As spring daubs the garden with fresh colour, we couldn’t help musing over the flower which best symbolises Easter. And our conclusion? What could it be other than the overtly ovate Tulip?

Easter’s Floral Tribute

Tulip bud

Spring is the season of rebirth and rejuvenation, as nature envelopes the landscape with a fresh green mantle and the Easter festival celebrates the resurrection. We give confectionery eggs in the tradition of times past, when eggs and sugar were prohibited during Lent, and with their pretty pastel petals neatly packed into elegant oviform packages, ready to burst open and reveal luminous colour in a myriad of shades, surely if we were standing in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory then tulip buds would be Easter eggs?

Now, many spring bulbs seem to retreat underground as autumn mists lose out to freezing frosts and they are amongst the first to peek their heads above the ground again in spring, and so, any one of these deciduous wonders could be a contender for the flower of Easter, but it’s what goes on underneath the earth that makes the Tulip our number one.

Tulip seeds take many years to become bulbs, some taking as much as 12 years to develop into flowering bulbs. Once the initial bulb finally flowers, the bulb disappears and a new or ‘clone’ bulb forms in its place along with several bulb-buds, which will, in turn, become bulbs in their own right. What could be more Easter-appropriate than that?


If you’ve seen the recent movie ‘Tulip Fever’ then you’ll be aware that during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century, tulips were extremely fashionable and held in such high esteem that some varieties were changing hands for extraordinary sums of money.

Tulips were coveted for their intense colour, sparking experiments with cross-breeding in order to develop a wider palette of colours. A profusion of varieties was soon available including single coloured and streaked examples.

It was the streaked varieties that were most desired and it’s since been discovered that the streaking effect is caused by a virus known as ‘Tulip Breaking Virus’, hence these varieties are called ‘Broken’. The virus only spreads through bulbs, not seeds, so breeding new varieties can take many years. Perhaps this, teamed with the exhilaration that their extraordinary, flamed appearance would have caused, may be part of the reason that they skyrocketed in price in the early years of their production?

But the Dutch were by no means the first to fall in love with this refined flower. First found in Kazakhstan in the 16th Century, the Tulip was discovered by the conquering Ottoman army who brought specimens back with them to the capital of the Ottoman Empire – Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). Constantinople was the centre of this fantastically wealthy and sophisticated culture and was considered one of the most powerful and beautiful cities in the world. Its gardens, in particular, were famed throughout the civilised world and tulips became a firm favourite, seen as denoting the wealth and status of a garden’s owner.

Most famous of all were the Tulip Gardens of Sultan Ahmed the 3rd, who reigned during the Tulip Period of 1718-1730, when the whole court celebrated the flower in poetry, art and festivals. Each spring, when the tulips bloomed, the city’s great and good would hold magnificent parties which continued as long as the flowers lasted. At the Sultan’s party, foreign dignitaries were awestruck, noting how the blooms were exalted by candlelight. Every 4th flower had a candle mounted in line with its head, causing its petals to gleam with colour, like sunshine through stained glass. Cages of songbirds hung from low-slung boughs of trees, along paths with more candles placed in bottles of coloured glass in front of huge mirrors, reflecting the light through the garden and creating a kaleidoscope of colour. The Sultan even had tortoises with candles attached to their shells roaming through the tulips beds, lighting the way for guests to find the treasures of sweet treats and precious stones which he had hidden there. It must have been like stepping into a fantasy world.

Designing Paradise

If the Tulip Paradise Gardens of the Ottoman Empire sound like some unattainably far-off dream world, then think again. You can step into your own piece of paradise, designed with pleasure and harmony in mind, by utilising the same design principles which form the foundations of Persian Paradise Gardens or simply borrowing certain features and elements to compliment an existing garden scheme.

Paradise gardens are traditionally divided into 4 quarters, usually by the use of paths or waterways like rills, flowing water around the garden from a sparkling central pool or refreshing fountain at its heart. Traditionally, each of the 4 beds created was sunken, often by over 6ft, adorned with fruit trees and underplanted with tulips, roses and irises. The depth of the beds meant that the crown of any fruit trees would be within easy reach and as you leant over to pluck a fruit, you’d be greeted by a carpet of colourful blooms.

Think that a Paradise Garden might seem at odds with the rugged and lush British landscape? You may be surprised to find that many of our greatest and most typically ‘British’  gardens, in appearance, incorporate strong elements of Paradise Garden design. For example, at Wollerton Old Hall we see the finely clipped symmetry of topiary yew pyramids and Pashley Manor in Sussex is noted for the straight lines of its paved paths, softened in spring by masses of pink tulips of all shades.

But you don’t have to completely re-design your garden to take inspiration from the Sultans of Ottoman. You can bring their favourite flower into your scheme by simply lining your walk-ways with tons of tulips or layering up large pots with bulbs, adding tulips as your bottom layer to offer long-lasting spring colour.

Planter of tulips

No matter whether you’re looking for a truly exotic enclave or to bring a touch of Eastern-inspired order to your garden, you really can have your own ‘Paradise Found’ to get lost in.

Talk to us about your thoughts for your garden and we’ll help shape them into existence.

Landscaping on a Grand Scale (plus some suggestions for smaller schemes too)

This spring sees us busily bringing to life some truly grand garden designs and the buzz of sculpting the land into such Miltonic dioramas has our creative kundalini flowing at full pelt, dreaming up new visions for future landscapes.

A positively balmy February, followed by a lovely temperate March (albeit with a bit of a wild ride for a few storm days) has brought many people out into the garden early this year, and many of those found their landscape wanting for lack of the functionality that allows them to fully live out-of-doors… and in a beautiful environment to boot. Some lack areas to eat, some lack entertainment (for both guests and errant children), some lack both. But with a little forethought, time and planning, you can have a garden that will have you and your family outdoors all day long and throughout the year too.  Here are some of our grand design ideas for large scale landscaping (and some pared-back projects for more bijou backyards too):

Ace Al-Fresco Eating:

Plan for a sunken fire-pit with seating

Plan for a sunken fire-pit with seating

We know more than a few people who have already enjoyed the first barbecue of the year, but how can you make cooking and dining outside a more permanent fixture in your daily life?

Creating a spacious sunken fire-pit complete with built-in circular seating and sumptuous burnished fire-bowl offers shelter from flame-wicking breezes as well as enough grilling space to feed a garden party. A removable grill means that you once you’ve fed the five thousand you can load it up with logs for campfire Kum-ba-yahs well into the evening. You could even pop a pergola over the top or a flame-resistant roof (remembering to keep it high enough to be out of reach of flames) for more all-weather feasting fiestas.

Perfect Picket-fenced parterres

The stuff bunnies dreams are made of!

And if you’re into growing your own produce, why not have a kitchen garden fit to grace the pages of Peter Rabbit? There’s something so satisfying and soothing to the eye about a series of uniform raised sleeper vegetable beds, enclosed by low picket-fences and topped with elegant bean-arches over entrances.

Parterre Patios:

Patios, courtyards and driveways needn’t be pedestrian slabs of paviours, break them up with buxus lined parterres, planted with long-flowering plants and herbs to add scent and colour to a stone or gravel expanse. Symmetrical, geometric beds lend a neat formal look to greet visitors at the front of house, whilst more aimlessly (though no less thoughtfully placed) beds give a naturalistic, looser feel, which blend well into garden as you move from indoors to out.

Elegant geometry and proportions in patios

Elegant geometry and proportions in patios

Fear not if you don’t have the space for palatial parterres, small paved spaces can be equally prettied-up by including planting pockets in the design. These are spaces where the odd paving stone or group of cobbles have been deliberately left out of a hardstanding and planted with tread-tolerating plants like creeping thyme or, depending on their size, plants to add drama with height and colour like agapanthus or penstemon ‘firebird’. Firebird’s glowing red flowers look especially glorious in the sunshine and will flower throughout summer and beyond into autumn

Fabulous Furniture:

Once you’ve got your patio parterres in place you’ll need somewhere luxurious and comfortable to sit and admire them. Here bigger is better! You wouldn’t sit for long in your living room if you had to perch bolt upright on a bog-standard plastic garden chair, so don’t skimp when it comes to outdoor lounging either. Make the transition from indoors to out a seamless experience by apply the same principles to outdoor furnishings as you would to interior decorating. Think wide, deep-seated sofas with soft, sumptuous cushions in beautiful fabrics, places where you want to curl up with something long, cool and refreshing whilst chatting to enchanted friends, they’ll be seriously impressed by your style. It’s easier than ever to dress your outdoors as well as your indoors with many brands specialising in elegant outdoor furniture using performance fabrics that look so good you’ll hardly notice the difference between indoors and out.

Outdoor sofas are hard to tell from indoor ones these days

Take the comforts of indoors, outdoors, with generous seating areas

But where to place your lust-worthy new furniture? In your swanky new loggia, of course. Not au fait with the loggia? That’s probably because they have, until now, mainly been the preserve of Mediterranean villas, but the concept is beginning to take hold here in Britain as milder climes become the norm.

A loggia is essentially an open-air living room attached to a property (though not always) which has at least one side open to the elements, with the open side often supported by columns or arches of stone or oak. They can often be found on the 1st floor or roof of a property, though those in this country tend to be attached to the ground floor and lead out into the garden. The idea is to fill them foliage and soft furnishings as well as all the other trappings generally associated with indoor lounging, except here you’ll benefit from fresh air circulating and birdsong permeating the atmosphere. You could wire in a music system and lighting for evenings spent outside or build-in an open fire with chimney stack for chillier times.

Landscapes for Sports & Leisure:

It’s easy enough to put up some goal posts on your lawn and no doubt, many young ‘uns have demanded a mini football pitch recently in order to emulate their heroes on the England Team, but there many more creative ways to make your garden a sporting triumph.

Got some golfers in the house? You might not be able to install the full 18-holes, but if you have a serious golfer in your life how about planning a mini-golf course? Sweeping fairway style lawns lined with majestic specimen trees and few strategically placed holes can lead to woodlands planted at their edges with drifts of marginal plants, each scene connected by packhorse bridges. You could even add your own clubhouse pavilion.

Make a splash this summer

If you’re more of a water-baby, then perhaps you’d prefer to get active in the garden with a classic swimming pool or natural swimming pond? These ponds are perfectly clean, safe pools with space enough to swim, but are chemical-free and surrounded by aqua-loving plants like water-lilies and irises.

Add an overhanging sail-shaped deck to a shallow pond for non-swimmers to trail their toes in the cooling oasis.

Not feeling sporty? Culture vultures might delight in their very own open-air amphitheatre for putting on performances. What better place for children’s party entertainers to showcase their talents or as an intimate enclosure for a private outdoor cinema?

With a little thought, some careful planning and healthy dose of imagination there is so much you can do with landscaping to create a magnificent, engaging and interactive garden… and one that you can really live in.

If you’re interested in creative landscaping for your garden, talk to The Oxfordshire Gardener about the shape of things to come for your kind of outdoor living.

Caring for Charismatic Climbers

Image: Andrew Baskott/Alamy

It’s time to give your vertical heroes some tender loving care and attention, but where to start?!

Once again, we’ve had gardener’s Q&A with our team of intrepid horticulturists to tap their knowledge on how they nurture and care for charismatic climbers all over the region. Read on to discover the whys and wherefores of superb climber health.

The joy that climbers can bring to a space is endless. Creating design elements with climbing plants works with the architectural surroundings of the buildings and boundaries in a garden. Climbers and mature evergreens can soften the overall appearance linking the vertical and horizontal spaces, a smaller space feels more expansive. From dappling the light and creating a mood of calm, scented serenity they cover the hard to reach areas that no other plants can. Climbers are incredibly versatile, as well as adding colour and interest to gardens, all year round.

Image: Mode Images / Alamy

The amount of light that falls on your garden influences the choice of climbers so aspect is the  first element to consider when looking at climbers. On a north-facing wall we offer shade resistant species and varieties such as the Hydrangea seemanni. Whereas for a south-facing wall climbers are in abundance, relishing long days of hot sunshine such as the graceful Wisteria sinensis or Vitis vinifera.

Planting climbers is rather an art. Any newly sourced plant should have enough space between its base and the vertical face that it is eventually going to scale to comfortably put out its roots. More than this though, bricks and concrete absorb water that is much needed for the climbers healthy growth – another reason to give them ample room. Taking time over soil preparation brings rewards.  Dig lovely and deep and loosen the soil to ensure the roots can grow easily to find water and nutrients to thrive in their new home.

Climbing plants need a training system to grow up. Wire will suit a plant that needs to be trained and tied on, but take care not to tie it tight or that your wires are too close to the vertical surface. Leaving a good gap means that you can easily train new growth without snapping it or causing it damage, as well as just being easier to get your fingers around. We prepare the training system at the time of planting ready for the plants eventual size and coverage to grow to.

An Oxfordshire manor house covered with purple lilac wisteria blooms. Blooming is encouraged by masterful summer pruning The Oxfordshire Gardener Maintenance Team

Now is the perfect time to give your current climbers a health check. Having survived the winter, we are busy checking climbers in the gardens are still adequately supported ready for the extra weight of their new growth and full bloom in spring/summer. Replace any damaged or broken wires and tighten where necessary. It is also the perfect time to add mulch and feed where required.

Inspired with these bounding beauties? We design gardens with verdant vertical spaces and maintain them as they grow to full glory.

Raspberry Special: Growing Scotland’s Best Berries

A bunch of scottish raspberries on a raspberry cane

Raspberry – Cascade Delight

                                                                         Image: James McIntyre & Sons

Here at The Garden Barn, we’re rather partial to handfuls of delicious raspberries, especially when still warm from the sun, having been freshly plucked from the edible garden through summer.

Whilst our garden is currently bare of juicy, ruby delights, we’ve been poring over our sourcebook to find some excellent dwarf specimens to add to our enjoyment, and where else to look than the home of ravishing raspberries – Scotland.

Scotland is famous for producing the finest raspberry crops in the world, celebrated for the richness and depth of their flavour and the juiciness of their fruits. But what makes Scottish raspberries so delectable? And how do we re-create the optimal conditions for heavenly raspberry hauls here in Oxfordshire?

Highland Riches:

Raspberries are thought originate from western Asia, most likely in the mountains of Turkey, but were first documented and cultivated by the Romans, who gradually suffused them throughout their empire. However, they don’t seem to have been wildly popular until they were improved through the hybridisation work of British growers in the middle ages.  

At some point over the succeeding centuries, it was noted that soft fruits from certain areas of the eastern Highlands, notably Perthshire, were markedly better tasting than those from other regions of the country. Unfortunately for the rest of us, this seems to have remained a carefully guarded treasure trove until the Victorian era, when the area’s ability to provide the most glorious fruits was truly tapped into on a commercial scale and the taste of Scottish raspberries became more widely available.

The raspberry fields at blairgowrie, scotland

The raspberry fields at James McIntyre & Sons, Blairgowrie, Scotland,

Image: James McIntyre & Sons

In 1890, JM Hodge – a local solicitor and raspberry grower from Blairgowrie –  rented some land from Thomas Thompson specifically to grow raspberries on a larger scale. He formed the Blairgowrie & Rattray Fruit Growers Association, bringing together local producers and beginning industrial production. By connecting up with jam tycoon – Sir William Hartley – Hodge ensured that the mouth-watering taste of Scottish raspberries was known throughout Britain. Blairgowrie, which stands at the gateway to the Highland, soon earned the moniker ‘Berry Town’.

Demand for these jewel-like Scottish treats became so great that in the 1950s they were sent down to London, expressly, aboard their own dedicated steam train – The Raspberry Special.

Perfection in Perthshire:

So, what is it that makes Perthshire so perfect for raspberries?

Some of it is down to the soil, which is lovely, loamy and fertile. Its loaminess lends it the ability to warm up quickly as well as draining well, but the main source of Perthshire’s excellence in raspberry production is the climate.

Being drier than the west coast, yet with good, regular rainfall is a major factor, along with moderate temperatures in summer. Too hot and the fruits ripen too quickly, losing some of the depth of flavour that develops with slower ripening.

Of course, Scotland benefits from long daylight hours in the summer too, which gently boosts the natural growth of the canes.  

Garden Growing:

Dwarf Raspberyry Bush - Ruby Beauty

Petite Perfection: Dwarf Raspberry – Ruby Beauty

Image: James McIntyre & Sons

How do we nurture raspberries in gardens into produce such ambrosial fruits as the growers of Perthshire?

To start, we source raspberry canes grown in the prime growing conditions of Blairgowrie, by a specialist producer with generations of raspberry-growing expertise.

Then, we try to mimic those growing conditions as much as possible, by re-creating a similar environment.

As we’ve seen, raspberries like to be well-hydrated, but they don’t like their feet standing in water (and who would?!), so we prepare the soil by digging deep, loosening it up well and introducing plenty of compost and organic matter. Raspberries prefer slightly acidic soil, so don’t do very well on anything too chalky. Neither do they like heavy clays.

It’s a little trickier to re-create the climate, especially during a blistering southern summer, but raspberries don’t tend to mind a bit of shade, so planting them out of the way of any suntraps and where they might receive some shade during the hottest part of the day helps.

One of the great things about the dwarf varieties we’ve sourced is that they can be planted in containers, making them easy to move out of the searing heat on hot days. The other great thing is that raspberries (even dwarf ones) come as either summer or autumn varieties, so by choosing a few of each, we’ll be feasting on delicious raspberries from mid-summer to mid-autumn.

Would your raspberry canes benefit from some thoughtful, expert care?

Our friendly horticultural team tend to all fruiting shrubs and trees throughout the year, leaving them generous with produce. And if you fancy something a little different, we can install raspberries as an edible hedge for you! Talk to us about how we can help – here

Winter Flowering Shrubs: Bringing Jewels to the Winter Garden

The grey chill of winter doesn’t have to mean a dearth of colour or scent in the garden. A careful, well-crafted planting scheme ensures the enjoyment of a sense-rich scene that delights all-year-round.

As the snow melts unveiling the hardy little aconites and snowdrops peeking through the warming ground, we are busy nurturing winter-flowering shrubs – the stalwarts of the winter garden – ensuring they bloom for as long as possible. Carefully discarding dead leaves and winter debris extends the display of colour whilst also keeping these stalwarts of the winter garden in optimum health by reducing the chance of disease.

In the showy midsummer, when the rest of the garden is in full bloom, the humble Viburnum x bodnantense is deeply verdant though bare of blossom. But come November, these frost tolerant, deciduous delights spring to life, shrouding their bare branches with masses of delicate pink-tinted blooms and giving off such a gloriously heady aroma that you simply won’t be able to resist taking in long, luxurious, deep breaths.

But if you know your varieties then you don’t have to sacrifice leaves for flowers with this star player winter’s treasury, the Viburnum family offers the best of worlds. Viburnum x tinus holds its foliage year-round and what’s more, as winter bites its stems are adorned with not only the characteristic blush-pink blooms, but sports sumptuous blue-black berries too, often simultaneously.

Some winter wonders need a little thinning out at this time of year to encourage strong, healthy shoots and improve flowering as the nights draw in again next winter. Amongst their number is Hamamelis × intermedia, this versatile plant not only provides enticing autumnal foliage, its leaves turning from golden to crimson as they prepare to fall to the ground, but when it has finally lost its plumage, flowers are borne on the leafless branches from late winter to early spring.

Another winter treat comes in the form of Cornus alba. Here, it’s not flowers that offer a welcome flash of brightness but the radiance of its stems.  Shyly, keeping its winter surprise hidden under a cloak of leaves and tiny flowers in the summer months, this Cornus sheds its leaves to reveal dramatic, attention-grabbing red stems, becoming life and soul of the party once again. When spring breaks through winter’s icy grasp, cut it back hard to promote active growth of new stems which will continue to provide a fantastic show for years to come.    

All of this work is meticulously carried out by hand to ensure the health of the plants and to shape them to keep them looking beautiful year round.

As these resilient winter-interest shrubs finish their show and spring bulbs take centre stage, reward them with a good spring feed after their hard winter’s work. Giving the right nourishment gives them best chance to recharge and rebuild their stores of energy for next winter.

Need a boost of winter interest in your garden? The Oxfordshire Gardener can work with you to design, plant and provide continuous care to gardens with year-round outdoor appeal.

Our expert horticulturist tend to winter flowering shrubs, ensuring they look their very best, bringing joy to garden owners right around the calendar. Learn more about how we could care for your garden here.

Hellebores: Winter’s Loveliest Luminaries

Helleborus Niger 

Helleborus niger

Here at The Garden Barn, we think there is little to better the feeling of gazing into the garden and spotting the first signs of life re-emerging. Heavenly hellebores lead the way as they peek through frost-covered beds.

Hellebores come in a broad variety of shapes and colour, from the softly symmetrical to strikingly star-shaped. In hue, they vary from gently freckled whites to dramatic deep reds and moody purples, bringing a much-needed splash of colour to your garden in mid-winter.

When & Where:

Hellebores are not only beautiful, they’re also very versatile. Plant in early spring and position almost anywhere, as hellebores will tolerate most conditions with little complaint. In an ideal world they prefer well-drained, humus-rich soil in partial sunshine (recreating the conditions of an edge-of-woodland environment), but if that’s not something that you can provide don’t let it stop you from enjoying their magical winter grace.

Unlike many perennials, they prefer not to be divided or moved after they have been planted. All parts of the plant are toxic so handle with care. To ensure that you can enjoy them for years to come, take the time to think about positioning them where you will be able to enjoy their wintery beauty to the full extent. If planted in the right spot, hellebores will last for decades. 

a carpet of heavenly hellebores, winter's loveliest luminaries, in pinks, whites and deep plum purples

A carpet of heavenly hellebores

Tolerance & Resistance:

Hellebores can, if necessary, tolerate full sun but, where possible, appreciate being protected from the scorching midday glare in the peak of summer. They can also survive almost total shade, but prefer a bit of dappled sunlight to thrive.

Although they are not widely susceptible to disease or pests, hellebore black spot can occur if the foliage is left on all year, so we cut away the old leaves in the winter before the new flowers and foliage emerge in January (timing dependent on the variety).

As they freely self-seed ensure that they are either positioned somewhere where this is a bonus, not a hindrance or  that you remove the flowering stems before they set seed in early May.


Hellebores are a lifeline for bees. Their open-faced, enticing flowers, full of nectar and pollen, arrive at a time when our winged friends wake from their winter hibernation. They are also deer-resistant and so form a welcome inclusion to our country garden planting schemes.

Helleborus Winter Bells

Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’

Curious Cuttings:

Although commonly known as the Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, the hellebore is in not related to the rose family at all.

With their pretty blossoms and emerald green to pewter foliage they also make a wonderful cut flower bouquet. Combine with other delicate blooms like ranunculus (which is of the same family), anemones, astrantias and an abundance of natural foliage. Or by simply cutting off the head of your hellebores and floating them in a suitably stylish vessel of water, they’ll bring serenity to a table setting at this time of year.

Discover more of our plant heroes, find town & country garden design inspiration and learn about landscaping with nature – Follow our stories here.