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Plant Colour Trends 2019

2018 saw big, bold yellows emblazoning borders. This wasn’t just a splash of sunshine here and there though, no, this was a full palette of yellows from lemon chiffon and pale daffodil to canary-yellow and rich buttery golds. 

Elsewhere plummy, jammy tones lent moody romance to cottage gardens with an abundance of lupin spires adding height and drama amongst softly hued roses and lavenders.

Jammy jewel toned lupins

Will last year’s jam-toned lupins be top of the style stakes in 2019?

But what can we expect from this year’s new introductions? What will the best-dressed borders and beds be wearing this season? With some of the UK’s biggest nurseries and retailers recently releasing the results of their plant trials for 2019, we round-up 3 of the hottest trends in planting scheme colours for 2019, as chosen by industry insiders, style forecasters and by public vote.

A Year in the Country:

The first of the colour trend themes we’re seeing is inspired by the colours of the countryside over the course of a year, but if you think of the British countryside only terms of the muted or heathery, then think again. Look a little closer and you’ll see our surroundings are clothed in a riot of deep, rich, pure colour. Our natural environment provides buttery-yellow-golds in the form of flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) and wild daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), burnt oranges in scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and autumn leaves, right through to the deep, dusky magenta of wild Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) and damson-tinged hellebores.  

chequerboard design of snakeshead fritillary

Oxfordshire’s county flower – The Snakeshead Fritillary

The trick to creating a naturalistic and harmonious country-inspired scheme is to balance these strong colours with intricate patterns and delicate textures. Keep in mind the diminutive mulberry and white chequerboard pattern of the snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), in which nature mingles both rich colour and intricate decoration successfully to make a delicate and understated, yet sublimely eye-catching little plant.

Mixing up your textures in locations where you don’t generally expect them also works to create an artfully relaxed look and feel.

Grasses in windows - plant colour trends 2019

Adding texture with grasses like stipa gigantea can help strong planting palettes feel more naturalistic.

How about adding some sensuous grasses amongst the floral beds of bay windows? Try the sway of a stipa gigantea amongst ultra-violet of geranium ‘Rozanne’ and the backdrop of a tumbling rambling rose. You’ll be able to enjoy its airy movement from inside and out.

Painting with Pastels:

Here the garden becomes a spa for the senses. Mind, body and soul are soothed by a palette of soft, pastels shades in lavenders, pinks, light blues and peaches, contrasted against neutral tones of sage-green, grey, milk chocolate and white. It’s gentle and romantic, and it doesn’t apologise for its big, blousy blooms or sweetly evocative fragrances. Everything is chosen to make you want to reach out and stroke it, breath in its perfume or bathe your eyes in its impossible beauties.

Rosa sweet juliet hits the right tone for plant colour trends 2019

Rosa ‘Sweet Juliet’

Fill borders with headily fragrant roses like apricot-coloured ‘Sweet Juliet’ or blush tinted ‘Chandos Beauty’ and underplant with swathes of lavandula ‘Sawyers’. Dot in spikes of stronger splashes of colour like digitalis purpurea or digitalis alba for a little contrast and form.

Digitalis ‘Alba’

The silver-grey foliage of sage (salvia officinalis) or the shrub bluebeard ‘Sterling Silver’ (caryopteris clandonensis) help complete this scheme’s calming kaleidoscope of peaceful tones.

Homeground:

Can’t decide between the richness of the countryside or the romance of peaches-and-cream? Well, luckily, this year, you don’t have to, because the final colour trend we’re seeing coming through neatly blends the two.

Homeground takes the traditional, classic planting scheme colours of strong blues and pinks, and infuses them with contemporary blush neutrals and modern coppery chocolates.

Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’

Add Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’ amongst hot pinks and cornflower blues. Its rosy-beige blooms somehow seem to dial-up the interest, whilst turning down the heat. The pinkish-brown bottle-brush tails of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln equally softens both texture and spectrum.

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Tired of resting your eyes on the same old scheme? The Oxfordshire Gardener creates stunning planting schemes, together with clients, to suit their landscape, surroundings, lifestyle and desires. Talk to us about your wishes for your garden here.

Potagers: Gardens Where Grace is Practically Perfect in Every Way

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful

William Morris, February 1880

We believe the same to be true outside your houses too.

It’s the New Year, and with all the bouncy optimism of a newborn lamb, you’re determined to blow the cobwebs out of your system and begin the annual health refresh that has become synonymous with the post-festive period.

Knowing the benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables, especially when they’ve been nurtured by the soil in  your own home ground, you’d love your own vegetable patch, but the idea of sacrificing some land to onion sets doesn’t quite have the same appeal as new bed of beauteous blooms, then we have just the answer. With its mix of graceful formality, artful romanticism and thoughtful practicality, the potager is just what you need.

First found in France, the potager originated as a simple kitchen garden, designed by monks to grow all the necessary ingredients to make good, nutritious soup (or potage).  The monks chose to lay out their kitchen gardens in uniform geometric shapes, mirroring religious symbols such as the cross, and to liven up what would otherwise be simple muddy patches they would plant roses, whose flowers served to decorate the statues that adorned the area.

As time passed, with the vision of people such as the esteemed architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who originally designed the potager at Versailles, the original humbler designs took on a grander status. Boasting an impressive 29 plots, growing 20 varieties of apples and 50 varieties of pears, as well as a wealth of salads and vegetables, the potager at Versailles took the monks principles of making the necessary beautiful and elevated them to an entirely new level, making them fit for a king – and no less than The Sun King himself. Today, the potager is recognised as an ornamental kitchen garden which equally honours the practical and the aesthetic.

The potager at Versaillesas it was originally designed. Image: Paris Histoire

Combining fruit, vegetables, herbs and a cutting garden in a visually tantalising manner will ensure that your garden is beautiful and if you plan carefully it will also bring year round visual stimulation as well as productivity. So, if the thought of floating romantically amongst precise parterres of bountiful blooms, whilst also being able to pick your own potatoes appeals, then here’s The Oxfordshire Gardener’s guide to getting your own  little slice of Versailles.

The potager at Versaillesas it is today. Image: Paris Histoire

Using geometric grids and repetition as well as a strong focal point such as a towering arch, brimming with beans, or a planter filled with majestic globe artichokes, lends the fundamental structure which forms the bare bones for any potager. Originally, the potager was based around a simple design of 4 identical sized beds, but it recent years us gardeners have become more adventurous, often implementing free form shapes like circular and L beds, which can work more sympathetically in gardens of an overall more naturalistic format.

In most cases, the beds are either raised from the ground and made of wooden edging or surrounded by box hedging. Paths are often paved, gravelled or bark chipped. With careful forethought and a bit of design flair, it’s also possible to include rain-water barrels and compost bays without compromising the aesthetic beauty of the finished look.

Not only are potagers a fantastic way to grow your fruit and vegetables, but with careful planning and the addition of companion plants, you will also be providing a perfect habitat for bees and insects to live, in turn, this will assist with pollination and reduce the possibility of common diseases.

Designing what is going to grow in each bed is an enjoyable task that takes some research, but don’t worry if you don’t get it exactly right in the first year, because the majority of vegetables require annual rotation, so you have the chance to make changes and improve on the design year after year!

Ready to make a potager a smart addition to your home and health goals? If your senses have been awakened, do get in touch with us andlet us lead you through the process from start to finish. The Oxfordshire Gardener team can design, build and maintain your potager, providing yields of your favourite produce, whilst ensuring elegance is inbuilt.

Too Late to Grapple Grapevines?

Vine pruning is an art shrouded with mystery and master vine-growers are often viewed with awe, even by horticulturalists, for the sheer depth and breadth of their knowledge of the multiple methods of revamping vines in order to bring forth the very juiciest bunches of berries (yes, technically, grapes are berries rather than fruits).

 

Traditionally, the great race to prune grapevines takes place before Christmas in order to prevent the rising sap from bleeding as the plant is cut back, however, in prioritising our clients’ vines, our own poor grapes got lost in a haze of Christmas puddings over the past few weeks.

But all is not lost…pruning our vines now may not be ideal and may deplete the energy of the plant, doing so now is better than not at all.

The many systems of training and pruning vines have evolved in large part through the efforts of winemakers and commercial fruit growers to produce ever sweeter harvests, so selecting the right pruning protocol can prove overwhelming to all but the bravest of gardeners, however a good annual ‘shape-and-shear’ will reap the reward of the plumpest clusters.

Of the two most well-known of the systems, the Guyot system is generally used for grapes grown for wine-making or for large-scale fruit production (visualise the typical image of a vineyard with its lines and lines of short, single stem vines trained with one or two fruiting arms along a wire or cordon). In contrast, the Rod & Spur system trains the vine into a fan shape, which is rather better suited to grapes grown in greenhouses, on pergolas or against walls, hence it’s often the method of choice for vines in garden settings. 

The Rod & Spur system can even be adapted to create a standard-type plant, eventually creating a kind of grapevine roof above the main stem. Perfect for container growing grapes, especially where space is restricted.

Standard Grapevine forming a roof

We create these aerial displays by training the main stem up a stake or sturdy cane, then removing any other stems growing from the base. Over the first couple of years, as with the traditional Rod & Spur system, the vine is allowed to put out side-branches, but in the 3rd winter, we remove all side-branches except those at the very top, which are supported by a round or square frame.

For the most mouth-watering jewels to grace the fruit bowl, we allow only one bunch of grapes to ripen in the 1st crop, with one bunch per side-branch allowed to develop in subsequent crops.

Grapes growing ripe

Untrained vines too need a firm hand and hard prune each winter in order to create the space between its creeping stems which allows light to reach all sites of potential new growth. Grapes are formed on the new growth which bursts forth from old wood, so all vines will benefit from cutting back to the gnarled, old main frame of the plant each year, removing any young growth where grapes were formed in the summer.

With vine-pruning completed, now is just the right time to tackle the winter pruning of fruit trees like apples, pears and quinces. The trained horticulturalists in garden maintenance team can take the hard graft out of keeping your harvest healthy. Find out how by saying hello to us here.

Styling an Oxfordshire Gardener Natural Christmas Wreath

At first glance at this time of year, some gardens can seem as though they aren’t quite the bountiful havens of the summer months. But look a little deeper and you may find that, though less obvious, the winter garden can bring just as much natural beauty to your decor as the cutting garden during June.

Natural foraged materials give a home an enviably subtle sense of style, but they also liven all of the senses. The texture of the tree bark, the comforting scent of the pine needles, the sweet taste of sloe gin and the glorious crackle of the pine cones on the fire all bring their own piece of magic this special time of year.

So don your winter jackets and head out into the cold for a bit of foraging and think how virtuous you will feel knowing you haven’t filled your house with yet more plastic decorations.

Ingredients:

1 x wreath wire base

1 x florist wire

1 x pair of scissors

A bag of moss

Sprigs of fir and pine cones

Sprigs from cornus sanguinea (dogwood)

Several lengths of ivy

Sprigs of red berries – we used viburnum opulus (guelder rose)

A handful of pheasant tail feathers

Method:

  1. Fill the wire base with moss and wrap with florist wire to ensure that it stays in place, this will give you a base to work from.

  2. Alternate between inserting sprigs of fir, dogwood and your choice of ivy into the moss, wrapping wire neatly over the ends to ensure they are securely in place.

  3. When you have gone all of the way round fill in any gaps and cut out any areas that have too much.

  4. Cut the guelder rose to size and insert into the wreath.

  5. Insert the feathers as you wish.

  6. Tie a little hoop of wire to the back on the wire base so that you can hang it onto a hook on the door.

Finally, your gorgeous new Christmas wreath can also double as a centrepiece for your festive table-settings. Add your pheasant feathers at a more vertical angle to give a little height and extra 3D interest, then place a large candle inside.

What to do in Winter: Plan a Productive Kitchen Garden

There’s just 10 short days until the Winter Solstice, when days slowly begin to lengthen, heralding the approach of spring and gardens soon to burst back into life. We’re poised, brimming with anticipation, dreaming of the daffodils poking their heads through the current carpet of frost outside!   

Whilst our team are still busy mulching beds and preparing plants to get through the winter, the colder months offer the opportunity to get ahead with plans for making the most of every garden throughout the most productive half of the year.  If like us, you love a plate full of unbeatably fresh fruit and vegetables, grown in your own garden, then what better time to snuggle up in front of the fire and start plotting out a plan to make the most of your vegetable patch this growing season? The joy of watching carefully nurtured seeds grow into edible treats is hard to beat. The mouth-watering flavours and vast diversity of varieties compared to shop-bought is incomparable.

A practical place to start, when mulling over what to plant, is to keep track of what you put in your shopping basket. If you are aiming to be as self-sufficient as possible, this will give you an idea of which vegetables to plant and how much you’ll need to plant to keep your larder burgeoning. It also means you won’t be wasting space with anything that won’t be eaten. Make sure that you include the flavours that give you the most pleasure because if you’re not salivating with anticipation on the way to the veg patch, then something is amiss.

If you only have a small area or a even just a spare windowsill, it’s still possible to grow your own culinary delights…start with herbs! These botanical beauties are a great way to add flavour to an array of your favourite dishes and many take little care or nurturing. Perennial herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme not only taste great, but also grow well in pots on the windowsill, providing year-round scrumptiousness to hum-drum repasts.

Most of the vegetables that we choose to grow are annuals, thus you have to be fastidious about the timing of planting. Too early and you increase the chances of stunted growth, wilting, surface pitting, foliage necrosis and disease; too late and they won’t have time to fulfil their potential before the temperature drops. If you’re looking to feed your family throughout the growing season making a thorough list of planting and harvesting times is imperative to ensure that you have a clear plan to follow. Think about succession planting. Planned planting in this way prevents you ending up with one big glut, which will have you madly searching out granny’s old pickling recipes or worst still, finds the results of your nurturing filling up your compost bins.

Succession planting takes some thought, preparation and effort, but will give you a wider range of vegetables to choose from throughout the growing season. In essence, you need to stagger the planting process to ensure a steady stream of vegetables for the table. A good example of this is lettuce, the flavour and crispness of homegrown lettuce is incomparable, but it has a brief window of picking, so plant frequently and sparingly to ensure that you have fresh garden salad for all occasions. Barbeques may feel like a distant memory now, but just imagine your family gathered around the barbeque filled to the brim with homegrown corn-on-the-cob, courgettes accompanied by a mouth-watering garden salad, that is what it is all about!

When making your wish-list remember to think about how much of a payoff you will get from each plant. Produce like cauliflower gives you one long awaited meal whereas courgettes are the gift that keeps on giving. Both have their advantages, but if you are short of space repeated harvests will give you more return.

Deciding between growing vegetables with a shorter picking window or the longer lasting staples is down to personal preference. Do you want the immediate gratification of eating mostly, fresh from the garden or do you want to include some produce that will last into the winter months. Root vegetables such as carrots, onions and garlic can last long into the winter months, if stored properly, but are readily available  at local farmers markets, whereas cucamelons and purple sprouting broccoli are perhaps less readily available, though they have a shorter lifespan.

As with all plants, each vegetable requires a specific growing environment and here good research is the key to success. Knowing whether they should be planted straight into the ground or in a greenhouse, if they need to be in full sun or part shade or if they require a lot of water or well drained soil is the difference between having a thriving crop or somewhat lacklustre yields.

A common mistake for first-time growers is not labelling your seedlings, however assuming that you will remember what you planted (and where) is a mistake you will only make once. Not only does it make it more complicated to weed around your mystery seedling without pulling them up by mistake, it is also surprisingly difficult to tell them apart when they are small. That is unless you like a surprise!

The winter is the perfect time to think about getting any hard landscaping projects complete before your garden springs back into life. For example, greenhouses are a handy addition to any garden and are especially useful when it comes to growing vegetables. By increasing the temperature plants that would otherwise struggle in our British climate, such as tomatoes and chillies, have a chance to flourish. Importantly, they also give you the opportunity to start the growing season earlier than you would otherwise be able to as they will protect your seedlings from unseasonably late frosts and cold snaps. If you are growing perennials in pots you can use the extra space to protect them rather than filling your house up, leaving more space for your Christmas tree!  

If the idea of homegrown vegetables on your table inspires you, but time is just too tight, then our Garden Maintenance team are on hand to help. With their expert knowledge, they can take care of your Kitchen Garden all-year-round, ensuring a succession of sumptuous salads and lovely legumes fill your kitchen table.  To talk to us about how we help you create or develop a productive garden, please click for contact details.  

 

Bare-Necessities: Bare-Root Planting Uncovered

Late-autumn through winter is the perfect time for planting bare-root trees, roses and shrubs, but why do we plump for bare-root planting at this time of year? What are the benefits? And when exactly is the best time to plant your bare-root bonanza?

It takes imagination to envisage bare-root stock in full bloom, when they arrive a tangle of contorted roots on show and stripped of their leafy mantle, but there are many reasons that we choose bare-root plants for the gardens we design or care for.

Bare-root planting takes place, in the main from mid-November until March. As the days become shorter and the temperature drops, plants become dormant. There is less sunlight for them to convert into food, and what energy they can convert is needed just to help the plant survive the freezing depths of winter. Plants sense this drop in their food supply and begin to divert their energy away from growing lush and verdant foliage (which would mean there is more of the plant to keep from freezing), and instead, they pour their efforts into forming strong, healthy roots. This is why it’s the perfect time to transplant them bare-root, as it causes the least stress and damage to a plant, as well as offering the greatest opportunity to form a well-established root mass. 

Planting a bare root rose

It gives a plant the best potential starting point from which to spring into action as the warmer season arrives.

To give them the very best chance to establish, we tend to prefer to plant bare-root stock before the end of January, whilst there is still some warmth in the soil, as this gives our carefully hand-picked stock the longest period to concentrate on forming robust, fibrous, rootballs and a good chance to anchor solidly into their new site.

But this is by no means is the only benefit to planting bare-root.  

A far greater array of varieties are available in bare-root rather than potted specimens and they are considerably better value for money. The nurseries we source from specialise in bare-root stock at this time of year,  as they don’t have the added expense of buying pots or the extra delivery charges for transporting containers and compost, which in turn means those expenses aren’t passed onto you.  Container-grown plants are also a good deal more labour-intensive to grow, requiring more watering, feeding and re-potting, as well as taking up more space, all of which increases the cost of producing them. 

Removing the need for plastic pots is better for the environment too, of course, but perhaps the most important benefit of all is that bare-root planting produces strong, healthy plants. When plants are grown in containers their roots tend to circle round and round in the pot, and once sufficiently grown, to the size the pot allows, they must be transplanted into bigger and bigger pots until they are ready to go into the ground.

Plants that are grown for bare-root supply are often grown in nursery beds and are only uprooted when they’re ready for delivery. This means that their roots are freer to grow out in all directions, as opposed to their containerised cousins. Growing directly in the ground lends plants the opportunity to come into contact with a network of micro-organisms that encourage more efficient growth and can mean up to 200% more root mass. In turn, larger root-masses increase the amount of water that a plant can take up from the soil and all of this allows bare-root plants to settle and establish quicker, resulting in more vigorous growth.  

David Austen rambling rose growing over a door way

Roses are well-suited to bare-root planting

Many types of plants can be supplied bare-root, from trees and shrubs to perennials. The most commonly known are fruit trees such as apple, pear, cherry and quince, as well as hedging plants, trees and roses. It really is a brilliantly efficient, effective, economical and environmentally sound way to bring new plants into your garden without compromising on quality. The rose-wizards at David Austen Roses are our prefered bare-root rose supplier specifically for the excellence of their plants, and because of the depth of their knowledge and experience, they are also who we choose to provide specialist, professional rose care training to our team. 

There is one downside to using bare-root specimens though and that is the speed at which they need to be planted. It’s imperative to keep their roots moist, so our horticulturalists get our bare-root deliveries in the ground as soon as possible to prevent them drying out, which can make for a long day of digging, depending on the number of plants ordered, preparing the plants and beds with treatments to enhance growth and sustain soil condition. Then watch as these handfuls of bald twigs burst into life and flourish, transforming empty patches of beds into botanical paradise is its own reward.

 

Marking out the line of a hedge, ready for planting with rootballed taxus

For instant impact, many clients like a more mature plant at this time of year,  to do this we use rootballed plants. Larger, more mature specimens of trees and shrubs, included trained forms such as pleached panels are field-grown in beds, just as with plants for bare-root supply, however, they are lifted from the ground with the surrounding soil intact and wrapped with hessian to protect the rootball and support the mass of their roots. This prevents them from damage or drying out.

Rootball specimens may also have a wire-basket or frame to support them during growth. The wire-basket distributes the weight evenly on lifting and transporting, so they retain their form and structure as we transplant them into the garden. Rootballed plants come with all the benefits of bare-root specimens in terms of cost-effectiveness, varietal availability and plant growth, but with the added benefit of providing an immediate garden revamp. 

The rootballed taxus hedge just a few months later

Instant Impact: The same rootballed hedge just a few months later

Motivated to make more of your garden this winter?  Lost a few plants during the summer’s drought? Our team are busy helping keep gardens flourishing with bare-root stock, carefully selected from our specialist suppliers. Talk to us about how our work this winter can have your garden ready to burgeon this spring.

Images of bare root rose planting and rambling rose ‘Phyllis Bide’ over a doorway, all courtesy of David Austen Roses

Top 7 feature trees for the thinking person’s garden

Whether you are looking to add some structure to your garden, hoping to do your bit for the environment or just replacing an old tree, we have some suggestions for you that will stand out from the crowd and make a stunning statement in any garden.

The horizon has been aglow with colour lately as the trees have treated us to a glorious display this autumn. Nature’s rich array might have whetted your appetite to bring some of it’s tapestry of radiant hues to your own personal eden, but how about picking something arboreally more imaginative?

We’ve been out to our specialist tree nurseries to seek out 7 showstoppers that are just what you need:

1) Liriodendron Tulipifera (Tulip Tree)

The Liriodendron Tulipifera is magnificently architectural, though better suited to a large garden as it grows to a colossal 20 metres tall with a 10 metres spread. The unusually shaped foliage turns a buttery-gold colour in the autumn, perfectly offsetting its chalky-grey bark. When it reaches maturity (approximately 10 years old), enchanting green and white tulip-like flowers will start to appear, putting on a majestic show for the month of July. Well worth the wait!

2) Liquidambar Styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’ (The Sweet Gum Tree)

Liquidambar Styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’ is not only drought resistant (so would have sailed through the unseasonably hot, dry summer we’ve just experienced), but also puts on a spectacular lengthy show in the autumn with its maple like leaves turning a rich crimson. These stunning trees really pop against the backdrop of a glossy green lawn. These sun-worshippers will grow to approximately 12 metres with a spread of 8 metres.

3) Albizia Julibrissin Ombrella (Silk Tree)

In need of something more compact, but don’t want to compromise on eye-catching good-looks, the look no further than the Albizia Julibrissin Ombrella. This tactile charmer naturally matures into a broadly crowned yet petite specimen, with frond-like leaves which give a beautiful dappled shade on sunny days. When the nectar rich flowers appear, from July to September, the silken pink tufts are sure to draw attention without overpowering or appearing gaudy. This particular variety is the hardiest of the Albizia’s, though having originated in the middle-east and south-east Asia, it appreciates being planted in the direct sunlight. This really is the gift that keeps on giving, not only does it not need to be pruned but it also loves to live in poor soil and is very low maintenance. Sold!

4) Corylus Avellana (Corkscrew Hazel or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick)

If you are after something more artful, then Corylus Avellana forms a living sculpture that makes a striking addition to any garden. It is particularly well-suited to a compact space that is in need of some winter interest as it only grows 2.5 to 4 metres in both height and spread.  As the name implies, the branches have a naturally curly growth pattern that resembles a corkscrew. The showy male catkins add an extra aspect in early spring and are followed by edible nuts. The branches are often cut to make striking indoor displays.

5) Parrotia Persica (Iron Tree)

For true year-round interest the Parrotia Persica puts on fantastic show of autumnal foliage, as well gorgeous flowers in late-autumn and early-spring. This deciduous tree is closely related to witch hazel, it is perfectly suited to open woodland and is very happy to take up a spot in partial shade as well as full sunshine. At full maturity (20 – 50 years old) it will reach a manageable 4 – 8 metres in height, but make sure it has room to grow as it will grow to over 8 metres wide.

6) Ginkgo Biloba (Maidenhair Tree)

Also known as the Fossil Tree, this deciduous delight brings an air of ancient sagacity to your garden, being one of the oldest tree species in the world at a mind-bending 350 million years old. Ginkgo is slow-growing tree that originates from China, it will reach a full height of 15 to 25 metres and 4 to 8 metres in width, and although it starts life a slender tree, as it ages it spreads and becomes irregular in shape. In autumn, this prehistoric tree will fill the horizon with yellow-lobed luscious leaves that will leave you longing for more.

7) Clerodendrum Trichotomum (Harlequin Glorybower)

Last but definitely not least is the Clerodendrum Trichotomum. This versatile plant can be either a tree or a bushy shrub and grows 4 to 8 meters in height and width. Having also originated in China, it prefers to grow in a sheltered sunny spot and will thank you with a fabulous long display of tubular white flowers that are offset by a fleshy maroon calyx. The blossoms are soon followed by bright blue small fruits to ensure that your garden is not short of colour right through summer and autumn.

Inspired to add a form and majesty to your garden? We design, precisely source and plant soft-landscaping schemes for gardens across Oxfordshire and beyond. Talk to us about transforming your green environment.

Meet Stewart Knight: Designer & Curator of Gardens

Stewart Knight

I can’t put my finger on what is it about Stewart. There’s something completely unassuming, yet equally authoritative about him that immediately evinces you with the feeling that you’re in safe hands.

Having studied Horticulture at Pershore College, then moving to Ohio to work in garden construction before returning home to Britain to design and build gardens, perhaps it’s his experience as both plantsman and hard landscaper that gives this garden designer his completely down-to-earth but thoroughly learned feeling.

Stewart and his partner have won three RHS Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, a Gold Medal at the New England Spring Flower Show and five Chelsea Silver Gilts, so I guess I’d expected quite a designery-designer, if you know what I mean? Just a touch egotistical or precious perhaps. But not a trace of it here.

As we sit down to chat over a coffee it’s clear that Stewart is a designer who creates gardens with the owner as their paramount feature. It’s this that makes me want to probe him on just what that means and how he goes about the process of designing a garden. Here’s what he had to say…

Designing a garden seems so complex, there are so many factors to consider. What style of garden should you have? Which plants should that include? Where do you start?

The starting point is always the client. I sit with the client and just listen to them, asking them to reflect on how they live. Sometimes I play devil’s advocate in order to help a client focus on what they really need from a garden rather than their vision of a ‘show’ garden.  Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that, regardless of budget or the space available, everybody can have a beautiful garden, but a beautiful garden also has to be practical and it has to suit the owner’s lifestyle.

So how do you stay true to a client’s vision of their dream garden, whilst also making sure they have a garden that’s usable and sustainable?

It’s not unusual to be asked to create low-maintenance gardens by busy families, who don’t have much time to spare. Often they’ll request ‘no lawn’ because they think they’ll need to spend hours mowing it and caring for it, but lawns are actually pretty low maintenance. Yes, there are times of year when they need more attention, but it’s only in summer that it requires regular mowing. A lawn also provides a soft expanse for children to play on and if you remove the lawn entirely, you’ll more than likely find that your children won’t spend nearly so much time outside. It’s these sorts of fundamentals that I try to tease out by asking questions and thinking about what those ideas will mean in practice.

But what if client is dead-set on a particular garden style that’s not necessarily a great fit with their lifestyle?

A garden always has to come from the client, I design it with them, not for them. It’s possible to make any style of garden work for anyone if you follow 3 principles. First, start with the practical. What needs to be in the garden? Usually, this starts with etablishing a seating area such as a terrace, as every garden needs somewhere to entertain friends and family, eat al fresco or just to sit and be in the garden. There’s no point in going to the effort of making a beautiful garden if you only ever look at it from inside. Secondly, explore the features. Would the client like water in the garden? Or raised beds for growing produce? Perhaps they want to incorporate a glasshouse or outdoor studio? Maybe they have their heart set on one or two mature specimen plants? They’ll need to be sited to display them at their best, whilst also enhancing the garden as a whole. Finally, we arrive at the style. It’s only once you’ve addressed the practical and established the features that you begin to wash the desired look and feel of the garden over the design. By working this way you can adjust any garden style to fit an individual’s life, whilst still retaining the clear influence of the spirit of that style.

Can all gardens be designed to stimulate the senses, no matter the time of year?

In short, yes. I design planting schemes in two stages. First, I give the garden structure using trees and large shrubs. Planted individually, these offer the garden shapes and forms which give year-round interest. Once I’ve got the structural plants sited, I’ll begin to infill around them with bulbs, perennials, compact shrubs, grasses and herbs, creating a canvas of colour. Adding good splashes of evergreens, grasses and ferns ensures that you don’t end up with a spare, barren garden over the winter. I use what I call ‘luxury plants’ sparingly. These aren’t particularly costly plants, they are plants that have a short flowering season, like delphiniums or peonies. I wouldn’t start a design with ‘luxury plants, but let the client add them in as we create the canvas.

Are some gardens harder to design than others?

Sure. Established gardens usually have some elements that the client wants to keep, whether that’s certain plants or garden structures. That’s not a problem at all, but new build gardens are pretty much a blank canvas and that can make it easier as there is nothing dictating the design. Smaller gardens are more challenging too, especially rooftops as you have to be mindful of weight loads when choosing which composts and plants to use. It’s the same rule-of-thumb for smaller spaces as larger landscapes though. Think about where the seating will go and planting to fill the areas, all the time maximising the space by turning the garden on a 45o angle. This tricks the eye into seeing the area as more spacious. With large acreages, you don’t tend to design all of the land, you focus on the main areas around the house that are going to be most used. I like seeing large lawns planted with drifts of bulbs and seemingly artlessly placed trees. They’re not actually artlessly placed, of course, but I like them to look as they simply grew there. The further away you move from the house, the more naturalistic I like a garden to become, so that it almost blends away seamlessly into the rural landscape.

Finally, can you share some insider knowledge with us?

Firstly, don’t get hung up on style-names, just describe the kind of garden you’d like to a designer. People often confuse cottage garden style with English country garden style or use the two interchangeably, but they’re quite different. English country gardens are softly planted but they’re planned and designed; beds and borders are usually framed with box or a plant that retains the beds structural form in the winter.  Cottage gardens have little or no structure, they’re more plant-based.

On a similar note, people can be put-off when they hear the term ‘contemporary’. They think of starkly minimalistic gardens with avant-garde features, but that’s not the same thing. Contemporary means clean lines, sure, but it can still be set with soft and traditional planting.

Lastly, remember that you are not a collector of plants, you have a plant collection. Curate your collection for the best display, think about the overall look of the garden and choose plants that will pull their weight, flowering over long periods or providing winter-interest. You’ll achieve a much more beautiful garden.

Stewart Knight has more than 25 years experience in designing and curating client’s gardens from their dreams into living embodiment, with both beauty and practicality. As such, he is our trusted designer for exceptionally well-crafted gardens.

Find out more about garden design here.

 

Great Grasses: 4 Hand-Picked Garden Heroes

Whether you’re planning your very own prairie paradise or require some structure in an already burgeoning bed, grasses can give a garden just the right mixture of flourish and casual sophistication.

Creating a naturalistic look by growing swathes of grasses not only adds movement to otherwise static beds but gives height and a repeated framework year-round. Our Garden Designer and Head Gardener got their heads together and handpicked a few favourites:

Image: Trevor Chriss

The Deschampsia cespitosa is a charismatic tufted grass that revels in the sunshine but is not totally adverse to a bit of time in the shade. With ethereal purple tops, it grows to approximately 5 foot and is the perfect choice to create a clear focal point in your beds right through to winter.

Image: Clare Gainey

If you are looking for something tall and alluring then the Stipa gigantea, as its name suggests, really is a giant! Reaching approximately 8ft, this grass is the perfect choice for introducing movement in a bed and is well-suited to being underplanted. This majestic golden grass floats over the garden with an air of importance, as if surveying its territory.

Morning light tufts of grass

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

If you are looking for something a little smaller you may be more interested in the beautiful mounds of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’. These little beauties look perfect in the late-season when the rest of your garden is getting put to bed for the winter. Their slender blades bend at the tips to make a fountain like display, and when frost catches them they create a sparkle in the winter; a sight to behold. These mounding grasses also include another Oxfordshire Gardener favourite, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’, which we use very purposefully to frame flowers and provide consistently beautiful and healthy leaves all year round.

Tufted swathes of grass hameln

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’

Majestic grasses bring more than movement and form to your garden, the seed heads are also beneficial for the wildlife and create a perfect habitat.

Grasses are a true sensory delight, whether you’re inspired to bring a prairie-style to your Oxfordshire garden or weave them through a cottage garden, but each species of grass requires its own tender loving care, from mulching in the autumn to cutting back in the spring and removing unwanted seedlings.

But whether you prefer to leave your grasses tall and willowy to catch the frost and bring a bit of fairytale magic to those crisp winter mornings or keep them short and wait for the regrowth next spring, our team of experienced professionals are on-hand to help keep your green spaces looking their best year round.

Should you require any assistance, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Lawncare: Extraordinary Lawns

Autumn is the perfect time for lawn care.

Lawns have taken a real battering this summer, scorched to cinders by weeks of blistering heat and desiccated by months without so much as a drop of rain. But as this year’s seemingly endless summer fades from our immediate consciousness, autumn tempests are rolling in from the Atlantic bringing with them every type of rainfall. From early morning mizzle, that whilst appearing reasonably harmless somehow manages to soak you so deeply that it feels as though its seeped all the way through to your bones, to the lavish downpours full with a sense of foreboding, it’s not only us that are getting a soaking but our long-suffering lawns too.

Having slaked their thirst, lawns are springing once again into action, verdancy returning and growth surging forth again, however whilst grasses have remarkable resilience and will bounce back quickly after a few days of rain, there are still signs of the damage done by summer’s sultriness and their powers of recovery can be enhanced with autumn lawn care. This is why autumn (and spring) are the times of year when we offer our clients lawns some TLC with a healthy dose of lawn care.

Lawns are often overlooked features, yet these ubiquitous plant-communities are the workhorses of the garden, providing soft though generally hard-wearing surfaces for walking, wheeling and fun-and-game filled summers, but just like the other, more showy specimens in your garden, these colonies of tiny plants still need some care to keep them looking their best. But given their amazing resilience and the practical, usable nature of their lush expanse, rather than paying minimal attention to an indistinguishable green mass, why not make the lawn a key feature of your garden?

Read on for 3 ways to make your lawn extraordinary:

1) Create your own grassy knoll

Grassy knoll topped with glass sculpture lawncare and extraordinary lawns

Whether it be a vantage point to survey all before you or as a focal point to display a sculpture as in the example above, creating your very own Jarn Mound to climb adds interest to an otherwise flat landscape.

Prefer to burrow down than hit dizzying heights? How about a turfed amphitheatre?

Drawing of a garden lawn amphitheatre

 

2) Pattern-Cutters:

Lawn mown with unusual jubilee design based on the union jack

Prefer to keep your lawn level? There’s still plenty of scope to do something creative. With some proper lawn care, your lawn should look lush and plentiful, so how about making use of all that healthy growth by mowing a pattern into it. The ‘Jubilee Lawn’ above is a stylised, yet naturalistic Union Jack design, which our team keep looking smart by closely cutting sharp, straight diagonal pathways through grass allowed to grow long, but you could utilise circular shapes mown into ornamental grasses for sitting and enjoying watching the long grasses shift and sway in the wind. 

3) Shape-Up:

Contemporary circular lawn design

Lastly, think about shape and form. Adding sinuous curves to lawn boundaries with circular, lozenge-form or free-form shapes lends a sensuous, dreamy-feel to the gardenscape, whether it’s clean-lined contemporary style or softly billowing cottage garden borders. It’s not only mood that can be influenced by clever use of shape and form, but perspective too can be used to it’s the best advantage. Unexpected lawn shapes give a totally different aspect and can be used to make smaller garden feel bigger and large gardens feel more homely. For example, laying a rhombus-shaped lawn on a diagonal plane really opens out a smaller garden, whilst creating a number of smaller curvier lawns and beds within a large garden breaks up the space.

Left you longing for a more extraordinary lawn? Our garden maintenance team help to keep clients existing lawns looking their very best. If you’d like some regular, expert horticultural care in your garden, you can find out more about our services here.

Inspired to create a more artful lawned landscape? We’d love to hear your thoughts for your garden. Please get in touch with us here.