Late-Summer Colour Refresh: 7 Plants That Work to Brighten Borders into Autumn

Whilst our garden-nurturers have been out tending to gardens lately, they’ve noticed that the intense heat & drought of this summer has led many plants to exhaust themselves somewhat early, or worse still, expire completely. Plants that would usually be in full bloom throughout August, keeping beds and borders colourful all season long, have faded away or simply not been able to cope with the extreme conditions and died, leaving noticeable gaps in planting schemes and gardens looking a touch monochromatic.

Thankfully, horticultural help is at hand and our team have been handpicking plants to plug the gaps, perk up pots and refresh colour well into autumn.

Has this summer’s heatwave got your garden going over early? We’ve drawn upon the knowledge and experience of our team, as well as the expertise of the passionate plants people at our chosen specialist plant nursery, to bring you their collective wisdom on which plants they’re picking to emblazon beds and borders from now until the first chills of winter roll in:

1. Agastache ‘Blackadder’

perk up late-summer colour in the garden with the Soft lavender spikes of agastache blackadder

A perennial The Oxfordshire Gardener team favourite, Agastache adds height and colour to sunny spots in the garden with a mass of long-lasting deep-violet lances which are speckled with tiny lavender-hued flowers. Looking good right now, it should continue to provide eye-catching beams of amethyst into October, but leave flower spires on the plant after flowering to bring interesting winter architecture too.

Find out how to use Agastache ‘Blackadder’ in our recipe for a stunning late-summer container. Watch here.

2.  Japanese Anemone ‘Praecox’

Pretty soft pink japanese anemone

This pretty ballerina is a silky-soft hot pink and though it often flowers earlier than other varieties, it keeps going longer, flowering through October. Perfect for shadier sites, especially to underplant mid-sized shrubs and trees, as this little dancer is lower growing than most of its close relatives.

3.  Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’

Creamy-blush of Dahlia Cafe au lait

Dreamy-creamy blush-pink tones swirl through the myriad petals of this ravishing beauty, as they’re unlocked from their glossy green buds through August and September. Though it may need some protection in winter, Cafe au Lait will reward you with plentiful, saucer-sized blooms. Here at The Garden Barn they’re currently welcoming visitors to our door as the star ingredient in this year’s late-summer planter recipe and much-admiration they’re receiving too.

4. Liriope muscari

Purple stems of liriope muscari

What an uber-useful little plant this is. Providing luxuriant ground-cover all year round, liriope muscari puts on a show at the end of the summer, sending forth prolific spikes of royal purple pinheads, like jewelled sceptres, which slowly open revealing tiny flowers,  all the way until the opening frosts of winter. Excellent for edging paths and borders in areas of light shade, they will tolerate a little dryness too. They grow well year on year, we lift and divide in the spring to create new clumps and prevent them muscling in on other plants nearby.

5. Perovskia ‘Little Spire’

blue lilac flowers of perovskia

Like all Perovskias, Little Spire’s lilac-blue spikes are attention-grabbing, though as the name suggests this variety is more petite than others and therefore less likely to need supports. Its flowers are not dissimilar to lavender, with which it also shares a love of being planted in similar conditions. Position where it will receive maximum sunshine, in poor but free-draining soil and Little Spire will sing out during late-summer and early-autumn.

6. Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’

Blue fluffy flowers of shrub ceanothus

Growing up to 3m tall, this hardy, evergreen shrub will certainly fill any large gap and becomes so abundantly flowering from August to October that it can look like a flocculent blue cloud from distance. If you’ve been left with bare patch on a sunny south-facing wall, then Autumnal Blue is also great for training.

7. Helenium ‘Butterpat’

Butter- yellow daisy flowers of autumn colour favourite helenium butterpat

Finally, if you’re missing a real splash of sunshine colour, then Helenium ‘Butterpat’ will be your tonic. The daisy-like flowers are utterly charming. Gloriously warm, butter-yellow petals are topped with bun-shaped noses and are held aloft by stiff, upright stems. Butterpat is compact, bushy, a bee-magnet and blooms later than most other varieties, freely-flowering from July to September. It will be happy in almost any soil, but prefers not to be too shaded. Best in full sun or slight shade.

Our Horticulture & Garden Maintenance Team keep gardens rich with interest and marvellously healthy throughout the year. If you’d enjoy some regular, expert garden care, then we’d love to hear about your garden. Talk to us here.

Working Wonders on Wisteria: A Summer-Pruning Masterclass

With the searing heat of July on the wane, the gentle, hazy descent into the mellow-gold of autumn begins, but before we say goodbye to summer there’s a major job to do in the gardens…. August is the perfect time to tackle summer-pruning wisterias.

Master-pruner and all-round plant-whisperer, Alex James, The Oxfordshire Gardener’s Senior Horticulturist, gives us his expert advice on this timely task.

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

Alex, the team is abuzz with talk of wisteria pruning at the moment, but why do we prune wisteria in August?

Well, wisteria will flower if left unchecked, but flowering can be improved when it’s pruned biannually, once in late summer and once again in winter. The late-summer prune is generally thought to be best undertaken in August.

Aerial Wisteria grown free-standing benefits from summer pruning

Apart from encouraging blooms is there any other reason to summer-prune wisteria?

Pruning twice-yearly also helps to keep over-vigorous extension growth in check.

Sounds good! So much do you cut back at each prune?

In August, we cut back extension growth to within about 15cm (6ins) of the main ‘framework’ of the wisteria. For the winter prune, we’d cut down again to 2-3 buds.

A masterclass in pruning and caring for wisteria

One of the most common complaints we’re asked to look at is poorly flowering wisterias. Other than pruning, are there any other reasons a wisteria might lack blossoms?

If a wisteria has been regularly and properly pruned but still fails to flower then poorly conditioned soil might be the culprit. Established plants will benefit from an annual application of fertiliser in spring, but they shouldn’t be overfed and the fertiliser must be well-balanced. A fertiliser which is high in nitrogen will encourage leafy growth at the expense of flowers, whereas using tomato food or a sulphate of potash is more likely to encourage flowering.

Another cause of poor flowering can be extreme drought. Wisterias are generally drought-tolerant, however, they can suffer if they are planted in a rain-shadow and little moisture (i.e. on a wall under deep-set eaves), though this can be helped by giving them a good watering and mulching, which helps to conserve soil moisture.

The Oxfordshire Gardener shows you how to master caring for wisteria

Finally, do you have any other top tips for planting and caring for wisteria?

First and foremost wisterias need plenty of sunshine to grow and flower well, so they shouldn’t be planted on north or east-facing sites. Other than that, if possible, plant them where they are least likely to be confronted by dry conditions, vastly fluctuating temperatures and frost, as this can cause flower buds to drop in the spring.

Wisterias look gorgeous when trained against a house, however, they actually much prefer to grow free, so try simply planting one in your borders and watch it flourish as a standalone tree or loosely woven structure.

Wisteria is better grown free-standing

Is your garden getting a bit out-of-control? Talk to us here at The Oxfordshire Gardener about your green spaces and let our garden maintenance team work their magic on your plants, trees and shrubs. You can reach us here.

Landscaping For Young Ones: Gardens That Grow With Your Family

Rustically elegant treehouse in the spreading branches of a large tree

With schools either just breaking up for summer or shortly about to do so, if you have children or young people at home, then you may have found yourself dreading the overwhelming task of endlessly planning days out and other ways to keep them occupied. The time, effort and, not to mention, money that it takes to prize your little darlings away from their screens can be daunting and draining, but with a little forward planning and creative thinking, you can give them a reason to get out in the garden every day.

Whilst it might be too late to shape the garden for holiday high-jinks this summer, just think of the hours and pounds you’ll save during future holidays by investing in a playscape that will keep your young people actively engaged for days on end…and safely within the bounds of your own garden too.

Anklebiter Adventurers:

For the smallest members of the family, the key is in providing a diverse landscape full of intriguing features which invite interaction and provide plentiful food for eager imaginations, without cluttering up space or dominating the garden at the expense of adult enjoyment.

Grassed mounds with crawling tunnels encourage tots to get into the landscape, and if placed with care, can give porthole views of particular plants for artful adults to enjoy. Creating level changes with mounds, steps, decking and bridges also lends the garden 3-dimensional complexity, challenging young minds and bodies to explore and adapt to the changes in topography.

Turn Sandpits into Raised Vegetable Beds

Extend the life of outgrown sleeper sandpits by turning them into smart raised vegetable beds

Raised sandpits keep both sand and toddlers safe from spilling out and constructed from weathered sleepers can be turned into smart raised beds, once children have outgrown them. Sand also provides textural variance, stimulating senses and building robust motor skills. Think stone, cobbles, bark and logs;  add constructions in bricks, hollow blocks and timber, softened by swishing grasses, all of which give developing brains a sensory adventure, aiding the advancement of balance, grip, strength and resilience. Let little ones go barefoot in safe areas, as direct contact with different surfaces allows them to collect information in ways that shoed feet can’t match.

Steps and textures in landscaping

Introducing changes in textures and levels stimulate young senses as well as helping to build motor skills

Now, you might be tempted to stuff your garden full of exhilarating features, but spare a thought to the simple pleasures too. Childhood researchers have noted that children spend less time and exhibit less exploratory behaviours in outdoor spaces which are cluttered or busy with fixtures and features, so leave obstacle-free, open areas of lawn for small people and their big imaginations to play and run free, leaving grown-ups to luxuriate at their leisure.

Young Persons Paradise:

As tots turn into tweens, gardens can grow with them. Landscapes offering opportunities for exercise out-of-doors, as well as places of privacy for quiet contemplation, work well for youngsters no longer needing constant supervision.

Get their adrenalin pumping with a mini woodland bike track. They’ll be out there for hours challenging friends to time-trials, plus they’ll be screened off from view, leaving you with some peace and quiet, unless you’re a bit of lycra-warrior too, then you’ll get just as much fun off-roading round your woodlands.

If can’t quite devote an entire woodland to keeping your children entertained, then how about an aerial deck? Where you have a large leftover stump, top it with a circular deck to create a reading platform (this would also make a rather lovely place for you to soak up the sun whilst sipping on a cocktail, don’t you think?).

Boulders stacked

Drill some holds into large boulder faces for a spot of backyard bouldering

Leaving the woods behind, you could incorporate a bouldering base. This doesn’t have to be the type you find in climbing centres, constructed of geometric walls and brightly-coloured holds, we recently supplied natural boulders to a garden that would make great surfaces for bouldering and companies like US-based TradLabs make real, uncut, natural rock holds that can be bolted into place for a more inconspicuous garden gym. Dress the surrounding areas with plenty of sand, bark chips or soft grass to make for safe landings and your kids have their own outdoor climbing centre without spoiling the scenery.

Perhaps your youngsters would like some solitude? A willow teepee makes for a naturalistic hideaway, where dappled light shades the occupant from the glare of the summer sun and cool breezes rustle through its leaves quite restfully. For more year-round usability, little beats the time-honoured treehouse. Whether plush and palatial or enchantingly rustic, treehouses provide a place for younger members of the family to take some time-out or to gather with friends to plan exhilarating adventures. You only need one or two mature trees for simple designs, though its possible to construct veritable treetop villages, if you have a decent sized copse.


A lofty spot for clubhouse meetings or tranquil time-out

Got a water-baby? Surely, the ultimate in landscaping for sport and play must be a swimming pool or swimming pond? Fantastic whole-body exercise, great fun with pool parties or simply splashing about and cooling off in holiday heatwaves, you could even build a covered pool or a pool within a conservatory for year-round use. Installing a pool or swimming pond might just be the pinnacle of planning for a garden that all the family will love.

Long, hazy summer days spent romping around Arcadia. This is the stuff of childhood memories they’ll be reminiscing on well into adulthood and beyond, as well as inspiring garden goals for their own green utopia one day.

Talk to us about your family’s hobbies and interests, and together we can design a garden that your children will never want to leave.

Glorious in the Garden Now…

White agapanthus umbell

… Agapanthus

At it’s best:

We not sure about your garden, but here at The Garden Barn, the star of the garden is in no doubt and it’s our showstopping agapanthus.

A native of South Africa where it tends to reside in coastal, clifftop locations, this plant likes to cosy into crevices and ledges where there is little soil but plenty of fresh, salt-tinged air; making it particularly useful for coastal gardens in milder parts of Britain, though it will grow happily in landlocked locations too.

Agapanthus exudes exoticism with its majestic, spear-like stems crowned by a magnificent umbel of starry flowers, and it’s at the peak of its floral power in July and August. Most commonly found with blue flowers, though white is a popular choice, you can also find varieties in mauve and lilac shades as well as soft pinks.

When and where to plant:

Agapanthus has both evergreen and deciduous varieties which they vary in their hardiness (see below for more on this), however, during the growing season, all varieties will respond best to a sunny but sheltered position. They like to be well-watered but will not do well if water-logged, so make sure to plant them in soil that drains well.

This is a plant that likes its roots to be snug. Slightly restricting its space seems to encourage flowering, as it mimics their native craggy environment and this makes it an excellent choice for containers, just don’t let it become root-bound. Divide and re-pot with fresh compost every few years to prevent it outgrowing it’s home.  It can be grown in beds and borders too, and here they are more likely to reach their full size, though they may take a while longer to coax into flower than container grown plants.

Can be planted at any time but planting in spring will give them a head-start.

Tolerance and resistance:

Slug and rabbit resistant, and not widely susceptible to disease, agapanthus is, however, prone to frost damage. Deciduous varieties are generally hardier than evergreens by virtue of the fact they naturally die back in the winter but read any plant label carefully to be sure. All varieties will welcome a winter-mulching of straw or protection by fleece if kept outdoors. Plants in containers would benefit from being moved to greenhouse or conservatory to over-winter.


white butterfly flying towards a white agapanthus

The butterflies and bees in our garden absolutely adore them.

Curious cuttings:

The name ‘agapanthus’ is derived from the Greek words ‘agape’, meaning love and ‘anthos’, meaning flower and it has long been revered in its homeland of Africa for its mystical powers. Considered a plant of love and fertility, houses are filled with pots of agapanthus by people hoping to enhance the happiness of their homes.

And did you know that wrapping aching feet in agapanthus leaves can soothe them after a long walk or too long spent in uncomfortable shoes? We haven’t tried it, but we’re planning to test it soon!

agapanthus at the garden barn

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Super Sakura!

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

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

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

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

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

Hanami Picnics under the Sakura in Japan

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

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

Zen & The Art of Cherry Champagne:

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

Cherry blossom lined stream

Image: Alamy Stock Photos

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

Floral Frames:

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

Drawing of a cherry tree avenue

Cherry Walk Plan – part of a planting scheme

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

The first signs of spring have arrived at The Garden Barn

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

A Study in Simplicity:

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

Hanami celebrations continue long into the night

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

Kojo-no-mai cherry tree


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

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

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

Wonder of Water Gardens

Giverny-inspired Monet Water Garden designed by The Oxfordshire Gardener

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


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

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


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

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

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

Riverside swimming pond

Image: Courtesy of Woodhouse Natural Pools

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

Pond Paradise:

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

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

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

Travertine stone cube fountain

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


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

Drawing Detail of pond design with overhanging or oversailing quadrant deck

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


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

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

A rill draws your eye along its route


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

In the Swim:

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

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

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

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

Garden designed with swimming pond specialists oxfordshire

Image: Courtesy of Gartenart Swimming Ponds

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Broaden Your Foodie Horizons

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

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

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

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

2) Overwinter Tender Plants

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

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

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

3) Fill Your Garden From Seed

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

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

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

4) Create an Aesthetic Aspect

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

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

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

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

4) Nurture Body and Soul:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Relaxation, entertaining and other less obvious uses!

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

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

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

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

The Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Kitchen Garden

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Courgette Flowers growing in raised beds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Create a Woodland Stumpery

A stumpery complete with green ferns and leaf mould

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

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


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

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


Handfuls of moss

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

Edible fungi spore dowels

Natural yogurt

Leaf mould and compost

Bark chips


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

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

Hand drawn sketch of a woodland design

Make fallen leaves into an excellent soil improver

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

Gathering up leaves to make leaf mould

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

Here is how it works….

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

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

Compost bins full of leaves for making leaf mould

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