Adam Frost’s top tips for your garden redesign

I asked garden designer Adam Frost  about garden redesign. Especially if you have a middlesized garden and have recently moved in.

(‘Recently’ in garden terms can be years, as we often do the work on the house first, or life is just too busy to do more than keep the garden under control.)

We met when he spoke at the Painters Forstal Garden Club. Before the talk started, we repaired to the hall’s mini-kitchen to discuss middle-sized gardens amid catering size packs of Rich Tea biscuits.

Adam Frost - the Middlesized Garden interview

Surrounded by Rich Tea biscuits – it was a great treat to meet Adam to chat about garden redesign. He gave the Middlesized Garden some fab tips and he’s also a wonderful speaker (as you might expect). His advice is both inspiring and practical.

Adam Frost, of course, is a well known (and well loved) face on BBC Gardeners World. He has won seven Gold medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. And recently he started the Adam Frost Garden School in his new home in Lincolnshire.

So I asked him what his advice was to anyone planning a garden redesign for their middle-sized space. ‘Middle-sized’ on this blog is under an acre, but the average garden size in Britain is currently around 50ft long, so that was what we were talking about.

Or watch the video…

If you prefer watching a video, this also has Adam’s tips:

Don’t do anything when planning a garden redesign!

‘Get to know your garden before you do anything,’ says Adam. He himself has recently moved into a new house and garden. Before doing his own garden redesign, he’s followed his own advice:

‘When we moved into our house, I walked the space every evening and every morning, so that I really understood it.’

You might think that a garden designer would prioritise creating a wonderful garden before anything else.

‘But it’s better to understand it first,’ he advises. ‘Find out where the sun comes up, and where it goes down. Where are you drawn to in the garden? Is there anywhere you don’t really like? Why is that? Have you got a good view? Or something you want to hide? Is privacy an issue?’

‘Give it a whole growing season before you make changes. Don’t be in a hurry to slash and burn. You may inadvertently take out something that could have been a godsend.’

If you’ve been in your house for some time before deciding to ‘get the garden sorted’, then you’ve already done that bit. But it’s probably worth writing it all down.

Forget your prejudices

‘Forget any gut reaction you have on things you don’t like.’

This certainly resonates with me. When we first moved in, we were determined to get rid of a large cypress ‘Leylandii’.

After all, no-one ever has a good word for a Leylandii. However we keep this one under control by pruning it every few years. It adds evergreen structure to the garden and blocks an ugly street lamp. If we’d ripped out – and we so nearly did – the glare on our terrace would have been close to unbearable.

And once you have removed a mature tree, it can take years before its replacement can properly fulfill its role.

‘For example,’ says Adam, ‘you might instinctively want to remove a hedge and have a fence, but you’d be taking out a massive wildlife habitat. It’s really worth thinking about, and being sure that you’re doing the right thing.’

Every garden has a micro-climate

Every garden, no matter how middle-sized, has a micro-climate. Adam quotes the experience he had of growing four rows of kale. The kale nearest the garden wall grew more than twice the size of the other kales, because it was close to the warmth of the wall. And each row of kale got smaller and smaller as it got further away from the warmth of the brick.

Equally, you may find some pockets of cold.

Frost on garden privacy

Adam quotes ‘noisy neighbours’ and privacy as issues you may want to address in your garden redesign. To counteract noisy neighbours, he suggests adding a water feature and creating a cosy, secluded spot. You won’t lose all the noise but there’ll more of a sense of privacy.

And when it comes to privacy from over-looking windows, he cautions against planting trees against the fence at the bottom of the garden. ‘It could take 10-15 years before a tree is big enough to block a sight-line,’ he says. ‘But you can achieve an intimate, private feeling by planting smaller trees or shrubs round the terrace where you sit.’

A garden needs layers

‘Good gardens have the right amount of layers,’ he says. He believes that a good garden in the UK ‘reflects an English woodland. A woodland naturally has four layers.’

‘First you have your mature trees – your oaks and beeches. Then there are the smaller, younger trees.’

After that you’ll see the equivalent of shrubs – in some woodland you’ll see rhododendrons or hawthorn, growing sideways to make the most of the light. Then there are ferns and bracken – the equivalent of the herbaceous border.

And finally you get the lowest level – the snowdrops, bluebells, anemones and more. This is your bulb layer.’

I can see what he means. Think about a garden you’ve seen that doesn’t have any mature trees – just shrubs and herbaceous plants. It doesn’t feel right, does it?

It’s all about the soil

When Adam started to speak to us all in the hall, he asked how many of us had tested our soil. Only about half a dozen hands went up. There were about 100 people in the room.

I’m sorry to confess that I was not one of those who had tested their soil. He explained that it was essential. When he moved into his own new garden, he tested the soil in dozens of places, and even though he thought he could tell what it was like just by what was growing there, he still had quite a few surprises.

Experts have been telling me to test my soil for years. so I went online to research best soil testing kits. Going by the number of reviews and stars on Amazon, and also by checking soil testing kit reviews, I bought three soil testing kits.

They are the Moon City 3-in-1 soil tester and The Soil Test Kit with the Soil PH Test Kit . I will report back on them soon.

NB: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay.

Plan your foliage before your flowers

If you have a gap, Adam suggests you forget about the colour of the flowers. Think about the leaf shape. ‘Put a plant with a different leaf form in the gap.’

This is a fascinating exercise. I have an empty space in the middle of a border. It is so difficult to avoid thinking about flower colour – it’s almost like trying to write left-handed if you’re right-handed.

But I am repeating ‘different leaf shape’ over and over again as a mantra.

Plan your planting by starting with the foliage

Leaf contrast – I absolutely love this combination, and with the exception of the Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, it is all about foliage. It was, however, a lucky accident – I didn’t plan it that way.

Plant for wildlife

‘We’ve lost 97% of our wildflower meadows in the last 10 years,’ says Adam. If you’re planning a garden redesign, then design in the wildlife, because our gardens can help fill that gap. And planting for wildlife doesn’t have to mean having a wildflower meadow.

Meadow planting for wildlife

A patch of meadow planting at our local Stonebridge Pond Allotments.

There are two posts that may be helpful here: what makes a good wildlife garden and how to plant a mini-wildflower meadow.

Or if you prefer video – here is how to plant a mini wildflower meadow and more tips in a tour of the wildlife-friendly Abbey Physic garden in from bare earth to wildlife sanctuary.

Repeat shapes and colours

In the talk to the Painters Forstal Gardening Club, Adam showed us how important repetition is. He advised us against planting a clump of one thing followed by a clump of another.

Instead he showed us how effective it is to repeat several groups of plants along a border.

He also advises simplifying borders by repeating the same colours along it. While doing your garden redesign, think about how you plant, not just what you plant.

Think about what word fits your garden redesign

Adam suggests summing up your garden with a word. It could be ‘calm’ or ‘romantic’. ‘Then,’ he says, ‘assess something you want to buy against that word. Tell yourself that if it’s not ‘romantic’ or ‘calm’, then it’s not coming home.’


‘Don’t chase the dream that it’s got to be perfect all summer,’ says Adam. ‘Enjoy the moments, find your own way, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.’

Adam’s talk to the Painter’s Forstal Gardening Club was enormously enjoyable and helpful, too. You can find out more about his garden design service, garden school and availability for talks on

Catch up with the BBC Gardeners World here.

And do join us on the Middlesized Garden every Sunday morning (leave your email in the box) or the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel every Saturday. Thank you!

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Garden redesign - top tips from garden designer Adam Frost

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What are the risks when you blog for money?

Do you blog, vlog or podcast for money? And if so, are you doing it legally?

Or are you risking your blog being removed from Google listings?

Perhaps you get sent products for review? Surely that doesn’t count as an ‘advertisement’?

This isn’t just about bloggers. You need to know the rules if you’re doing videos, podcasts and social media posts….because things are happening out there.

What are the risks when you blog for money? #blogging

Every so often, I do a post about blogging rather than gardening. And now the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is getting increasingly interested in the relationships between bloggers/influencers and brands, so it’s time for a blogging update.

The ASA has been working with bloggers, including Kat Molesworth of Blogtacular to make its rules on advertising and disclosure clearer. There’s been a recent re-release of the rules that cover how to blog for money: ‘They’re the same rules,’ says Kat. ‘But they’ve made them easier to understand.’

Download the ASA’s guidance here. Please note that this post doesn’t constitute legal advice. It’s your responsibility to check the guidelines and to consult a qualified lawyer if you’re in any doubt.

But I don’t do advertising…do I?

In the Garden Media Guild magazine recently, there was an interview with Graham Paskett of Paskett PR, who handle a number of garden brands. When asked what he disliked about the garden media industry at the moment, he said ‘the increasing blurring between editorial and advertising.’

In fact, the ASA is quite clear on what constitutes advertising and what doesn’t.

However, it is much more complicated than it was. There are rules. However, quite a few people (digital media agencies, in particular) are failing to respect them. And that makes it more difficult for everyone.

I have had literally hundreds of emails from media agencies this year wanting to work with the Middlesized Garden. As soon as I make it clear that I follow the ASA rules and Google’s guidelines, they vanish.

And then – a few weeks later – I see their clients’ products on other blogs and not following the ASA regulations properly. Which means they may also be risking the wrath of Google.

Blogtacular - this blog means business

Natalie Lue of the Baggage Reclaim blog talking at Blogtacular about how to earn from your blog.

I recently attended a brilliant workshop on how to blog for money (This Blog Means Business), run by Blogtacular, where this subject was covered.

Disclosure: Blogtacular haven’t paid me in any way. In fact, I paid them. And it was well worth every penny – there’s an annual Blogtacular event every year, and if you want to blog, I strongly recommend that you go on their mailing list to hear about early-bird tickets. 

What’s disclosure?

If you run a blog, vlog or podcast or you post on social media  (even if you don’t blog for money) you need to know about disclosure.

If you read blogs, watch videos, listen to podcasts… it’s a good idea to understand disclosure. So you can tell if you’re being sort-of fibbed to.

And if you work for a company that deals with bloggers, vloggers or social media influencers in any way, you really, really need to know about disclosure.

Disclosure is explaining the money to readers. You have to be clear, and you have to do it at the earliest possible opportunity.

What you need to know if you blog for money #blogging

You have to explain the money….

For example, you – Ms or Mr Blogger-Vlogger-Influencer – write about choosing garden furniture. You’ve been paid a fee by John’s Kentish Garden Furniture Company. So you base it around their garden furniture (although, of course, your opinions will be your own).

So you must make it clear that you have been paid. Or you can label it ‘advertisement’, ‘advertorial’ or ‘ad’.

You are legally required to do that at the beginning of the post, video or podcast, NOT at the end.

And it can’t be weaselled over – ‘with thanks to John’s Kentish Garden Furniture’, ‘collaborative post’ or some other vague wording. You blog for money and John paid you. Readers need to know. At the earliest possible opportunity.

But surely then nobody will read it…?

Successful bloggers/vloggers usually say that they would only work with companies they’d be proud to work with. Full acknowledgement – upfront – is part of that.

One of my all-time top 10 posts is The Best Plants for Amazingly Low Maintenance Garden Pots. It was sponsored by Phostrogen/Baby Bio.  It’s had over 64,000 page views since it was published in May 2017. The sponsorship disclosure comes immediately after the intro, with product information at the end. Being upfront about it doesn’t seem to have harmed the post.

Work with brands in a creative way

I enjoyed working with Phostrogen and Baby Bio. There was no issue – we were completely upfront about the sponsorship, and it’s been one of my most successful posts.

Admittedly, some people won’t like the fact that you blog for money. We are a bit squeamish (or snobby) when talking about such things in Britain. But we don’t like being misled, either.

What if it’s an ongoing relationship?

Suppose you have a long-term collaboration with a brand. Do you have to explain it every time you mention them on your blog, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?

The guidelines say that even if regular followers know you’re sponsored, the commercial relationship needs to be clear to anyone who comes across a post and who isn’t a regular follower of yours. Recently a beauty blogger was ruled against by the ASA because of an Instagram post about a beauty product, which didn’t have any indication it was an advertisement. In her Instagram bio, it said that she was ‘brand ambassador’ for the beauty company, but that wasn’t enough.

What about affiliate sales?

In the US, most people understand what an affiliate link is. So you can say ‘affiliate link’ and that’s enough disclosure. (Affiliate links count as ‘advertising’, btw).

Here in the UK and Europe, you need to explain it. You don’t have to go into as much dreary detail as I do. Now that I’ve discovered that I am saying too much (at Blogtacular) I’m going to scale it back.

But, once again, the disclosure must come as soon as it’s needed. So if, halfway through a post, you recommend Monty Don’s book Down To Earth, with an affiliate link to Amazon, then you have to disclose that you may get a small fee – at that point or earlier.

This mention of  Down To Earth  is indeed an affiliate link. I usually say ‘Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it doesn’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.’

In fact, to comply with the rules, I just have to say ‘Links to Amazon are affiliate – find out more here’ with a link through to the full disclosure.

Or you can do it near the beginning of the whole post, as the Empress of Dirt blog does.

You have to display a badge saying you’re an Amazon affiliate (there’s one on the top right of this page), but that’s not enough on its own. Nor is burying the info at the bottom of the post. You risk violating both ASA rules and Amazon’s own disclosure guidelines. They may close your Amazon affiliates account without paying you.

Considering that my affiliate link explanation is so long, you’d think it would put people off. But I still make about £70 a month from Amazon affiliate links.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad, as I don’t know what other bloggers earn. But I will be interested to see if making my explanation shorter increases my income from Amazon. I might find (perversely) that it doesn’t, but will report back.

But it’s not just the ASA – there’s also Google

If you vlog, podcast or blog for money and you write about a company that is paying you (in any way), Google guidelines say you must use ‘no-follow’ links.

If you break this rule and are found out, then Google will stop listing you. It will also de-list the company that paid you.

A company or blog that doesn’t appear on Google is virtually invisible.  Companies and blogs all want to come high up on Google when someone searches for something – and certainly when someone searches for their actual name.

If your company is called John’s Kentish Garden Furniture, you would like to appear if someone searches for ‘garden furniture in Kent’.

And you certainly want to appear if someone puts John’s Kentish Garden Furniture into a search engine because it means they not only wants garden furniture, they want your garden furniture.

But a few years ago, a big flower delivery company found itself not even ranking for its own name for a few months, let alone for ‘flower delivery’. Google had taken it off its listings.

What is follow and no-follow?

I often link to Posy Gentles’ garden consultancy website, because I think she’s very good at garden ideas and I often quote her. The link is an ordinary ‘follow’ link which means Google can see it. I’m effectively saying – to both you and Google – that I am personally recommending Posy.

How to understand follow and no follow links

Posy Gentles consulting – I can quote her with an ordinary (follow) link, because it’s a personal recommendation and I haven’t been paid in any way.

Websites that have ‘follow’ links from reputable sites rank higher up when you search on Google.

But if I’ve been paid in any way, then Google says it should be a ‘no-follow’ link or both parties risk being taken out of Google’s rankings completely (no-one knows if the flower company was de-listed due to follow links or whether there was another issue, by the way).

You, the reader, can click through on a ‘no-follow’ link and get all the information or buy the product. You won’t see any difference between a follow and a no-follow link.

But Google won’t follow it and it won’t improve the company’s ranking.

And here’s where it all goes horribly wrong…

Media agencies want to build their client’s follow links to push them up the Google rankings. So they offer to pay for follow links. Sometimes they want them ‘inserted’ into a post that’s already published. Or they insist that sponsored blog posts must have follow links.

Now here’s the thing. The media agency is not risking their own company being de-listed by Google. They’re risking your blog being de-listed. And their client’s website. I often wonder whether client companies realise what’s going on.

Because I don’t think I’ve ever known an actual gardening company or brand suggest circumventing these rules. Also, it’s rare for professional PRs to insist on follow links, too. But the pressure from other media agencies is relentless.

So if your company has engaged an agency, find out exactly what they’re up to. They may say it doesn’t matter. Or they may say it’s perfectly legal to pay for follow links. Which is correct. It’s not illegal, but it does have serious consequences if Google finds out.

And the Googlebots get very suspicious when they see a sudden increase in follow links to a particular company’s website.

To find out how to do no follow links, see Dummies or How to add a no follow tag to a link.

Er…what about ‘anchor text’?

Anchor text is a really sneaky one. You write your post about choosing garden furniture. When you say garden furniture, you highlight it and link it back to John’s Kentish Garden Furniture’s website (why did I invent a company with such a long name? Let’s call it JKGF).

If this is a follow link, then this helps JKGF to rank for higher up in Google when people search for ‘garden furniture’ online. The words ‘garden furniture’ are the anchor text. The reader has no idea that the link has been paid for.

The agency breezily says – in its email to the blogger –  that it’ll tell you what words to link to in the post. The word I particularly link to at this point is ‘delete’. It’s in the top right of my mailbox….

So you always have to say when you vlog or blog for money?

Yes. Blogs, vlogs and podcasts don’t usually sell subscriptions. And we probably don’t get much out of taking standard banner advertisements (I haven’t tried it yet). There are various other ways of running a blog for money. A company can pay you to do social media. You can get a fee for affiliate links. Or you can use it to promote your other work or launch your own products.

And there are the softer ways of payment – free products, invitations to events, press trips…

What are the risks of blogging for money

The green bag was sent to me by the RHS as part of its gift range. It included Burgon & Ball tools, a mug and a scented candle diffuser. The quality is very high – as you would expect. But, however reputable brands are, I believe we need to see, handle and use things before recommending them.

The ASA definition is that an advertisement = payment + control. Payment can be product, vouchers or trips etc as well as money.

If a company gives you anything on the understanding that you will do something specific in return, then that is an advertisement. You must say so.

But it’s not an advertisment when…

If you get sent a review product, but you decide whether and when you review it and what you say, then it’s not an advertisement (provided that the company hasn’t asked for any sort of control, such as copy clearance or particular links).

The photo above shows a bag sent to me by the RHS with products to review. They had no idea when or if I was going to review the product. There were no demands as to links or wording. It doesn’t count as advertising.

You have to disclose you were sent it for free, but most bloggers do anyway.

I think it would be almost impossible to recommend a product without trying it. Blogs are very personal and you can’t put your name behind something you’ve never used. Nor can you buy every product you want to write about. And I think both readers and legislators recognise that.

It’s not fair…

When you read a travel article in a national newspaper or magazine, does it make it clear that the trip has been free? Right at the beginning? Or is it in the small print at the bottom of the article?

And what about those huge glossy advertisements? It’s well known that there’s pressure (strongly resisted, though) for their company’s products to be included in ‘editorial’? I think we garden writers are lucky that there is less advertising in gardening than there is in fashion/beauty, so we’re much less likely to be on the sharp end of this one.

Do the book review pages say that all the books reviewed have been sent for free? Or the beauty products? Newspapers and magazines don’t usually buy products for review, so pretty much everything will have been sent in free, but I’ve never seen that disclosed.

So perhaps it’s not fair that those who blog for money must sometimes work to higher standards of transparency than the traditional mainstream media.  The answer, however, is to complain to the ASA, not to risk your own blog by flouting the rules.

Working with brands can be so exciting…

Working with brands can be very exciting, provided that it’s not just about links, click-throughs and money. When a brand or a blogger comes up with an idea, and both sides contribute (time, effort, creativity, contacts, expertise and – yes – finance), the results benefit the blogger, the brand and the consumer. There’s no need to try to deceive anyone.

The current #allotmentfashionweek run by blogger Grow Like Grandad is a good example. It’s fun, different and upfront about its sponsorship from Empathy Rootgrow. It looks great.

So what now?

If your company is paying an agency to ‘improve its Google ranking’, do please pass this round for discussion.

And if you think we should be open about who pays us when we podcast, vlog or blog for money, then please do share this post. If we all stand together, we can say ‘no’ to misleading demands.

We can be open and proud about saying ‘Yes, we blog for money.’

And if you don’t think I’ve been fair or accurate, please let me know on Twitter, Facebook or here in the comments. Thank you!

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If you blog for money (or you want to) you need to read this!

The post What are the risks when you blog for money? appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

Which garden tree is absolutely perfect for you?

How to choose the right garden tree?

I think we all dither over this because trees seem like such a big purchase. More like buying a sofa than buying a vase, for example.

My favourite garden trees

My three favourite trees – the yellow leaves are Robinia frisia (False acacia), the red is Cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’ and the on the right is a Silver Birch ‘Jacquemontii’. They are all quite tall, so they give a ‘middle-sized’ garden a sense of proportion. However, if I had a different garden, I wouldn’t necessarily choose these three.

So we turn to the lists – the 8 perfect-for-privacy garden trees, for example. But these don’t always take into account your soil or situation. However, they’re a good start…note down any tree that appeals to you, but carry on with the research.

Choosing the perfect garden tree

You need to ask yourself – and/or a qualified gardener, tree grower or other professional – three questions. Firstly, what trees will grow well in your climate and soil? If your area is particularly dry, wet or windy, these factors will really affect which trees will do well.

Secondly, how big do you want the tree to grow?

Trees in pots

Trees in pots at Hilliers Nurseries in Hampshire. Tree growing nurseries are an excellent place to find advice on which tree is right for you. Visit or talk to several!

Thirdly, do you want an evergreen tree or would you prefer the glorious changes of colour you get with trees that shed their leaves in autumn?

You can answer the second and third questions yourself, but the first will mean looking at neighbours’ gardens and doing an internet search for ‘tree nursery near me’. Ring them up or drop in. There’s nothing like an actual conversation with a real person to give you an idea of what your options are.

Do some research first

Your perfect tree isn’t the same as my perfect tree. So it is worth doing the research rather than making an instant decision. You’ll probably find that the same few tree recommendations pop up several times. So that will be your shortlist – it’s easier to choose from three or four tree varieties than hundreds.

I have bought quite a few trees since moving to this garden fifteen years ago. They haven’t all been successful. I think that’s because I originally made quick decisions from Top 10 lists or the first recommendation I got rather than doing proper research.

For example, acers always feature on the top 10 best trees for small gardens – but I’ve had four acers die in this garden.

Autumn colour trees

Autumn colour. The small tree in the foreground is a paperbark maple (acer griseum) in the middlesized garden. Beautiful colouring but it always struggled to do well and eventually turned into a brown twig.

Online tree specialists

Many online tree companies have good advice on choosing trees.  Barchams have a ‘Tree Finder’.

Hilliers have lists of trees recommended for specific situations, such as ‘car park trees’, ‘drought-tolerant trees’ and ‘narrow crown street trees.’

Practicality Brown also have a tree finder. And the Woodland Trust have a useful listing of garden trees, with their characteristics, including how many centimetres they grow a year.

And even if your particular situation isn’t on the website, you should be able to contact a good tree company by email or phone to ask for advice on a tree for your garden.

If you go to a garden centre or nursery, and they can’t tell you much more than what’s on the label, try somewhere else. Label information is useful but usually too generic.

Buy locally grown garden trees

In the UK we’ve had Dutch elm disease, then ash dieback and now oak processionary moth. Box blight, box tree caterpillar moth and more…they are all consequences of our poor bio-security. Pests and diseases travel easily these days.

Exotic garden trees

These are New Zealand cordylines growing amongst European pine and fir trees in Australia. They were imported in Victorian times, but bio-security is now very tight.

When I go to Australia the bio-security is extremely tight. You’re not even allowed to bring in muddy boots, let alone plants or uneaten sandwiches or anything that could be called ‘alive.’

In the UK and Europe there are far fewer safeguards. If you live in a country with poor bio-security, buy a tree that hasn’t travelled very far. The RHS now has a list of seven types of plants which can’t be used at its shows unless they are UK grown because they are liable to spread pests or diseases.

And if your tree has been grown close to home, it’ll probably also be more used to your climate and soil. Win, win.

So should I buy ‘native’ garden trees?

‘Native’ trees are not the same as ‘locally grown’ trees. You could buy a Dicksonia tree palm grown locally in Kent, but it doesn’t make it a ‘native’ tree. Silver birch, on the other hand, is a native tree.

Garden trees to support wildlife and diversity

An avenue of silver birches at Doddington Place Gardens on a frosty morning. Silver birches are ‘native’ and the top UK trees for supporting diversity and wildlife.

The definition of a ‘native tree’ is one that colonised the UK immediately after the ice age (10,000 years ago) before we were cut off from Europe by the English Channel. These include alder, ash, common beech, blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel and holly, plus many more.

Trees brought in by early settlers (from around 8,000 years ago up to present day) are ‘non-native’. They include Douglas fir, London plane, apple and pear trees and holm oaks, along with many more.

There has been lots of research by the RHS and others as to whether ‘native’ plants and trees are better for wildlife than those which originated elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, the results aren’t entirely clear. The best trees for wildlife and diversity in the UK are silver birch and hawthorn, which are both natives. But most non-native trees are also good.

The important thing, say researchers, is to plant trees. Any tree is better for wildlife than no tree at all.

Can I buy a large garden tree for instant coverage?

A larger, mature tree will have more trouble getting established. A small, young tree may outstrip it over just a couple of years, depending on how good you are at planting a tree properly.

I bought a 3.5 metre Liquidambar styraciflua three years ago. And 1.5 metre Silver birch two years ago. They are now the same size. The liquidambar has been pushed over by the wind several times, so it doesn’t seem to have rooted properly. It’s not looking entirely happy. The silver birch is flourishing.

Buy trees small

The Liquidambar styraciflua (with the mid-green leaves) has been blown over to the left. We added more staking (it already had three stakes and a pole). It then blew over to the right. It was too tall, and had too big a leaf canopy for the root system. I wish I’d bought one half the size (and price).

A large, mature tree will cost more and has less chance of success. My Liquidambar cost me £149 (I’m so glad Mr Middlesize doesn’t read this blog). The silver birch cost £39.

And if you buy a large tree, you need to invest in a proper tree staking kit, too.

However, specialist tree companies, such as Barcham Trees and Practicality Brown have ways of planting mature trees that gives them a much better chance of survival.

If you want a large, instant mature tree, pay an expert to plant it. Otherwise buy small, young trees.

The best time to plant trees is between October and March.

How much do trees cost?

I did some research on the cost of a silver birch. You can buy a 40-60cm high silver birch from Tree-shop for less than £3 or one that’s 150-180cm high for £31.

If you want a larger tree, you can get a 3-4.5 metre silver birch from Ornamental Trees for £159. More unusual mature trees can cost several hundred – or even thousands – of pounds.

Not all trees survive, however carefully you choose. It may be worth planting two or three smaller trees, with a view to taking one or more out when they get bigger.

Monkey puzzle tree

This monkey puzzle tree is about 7ft high. My friends Anne and Mark grew it from seed, and had it in a pot for 2-3 years. It’s now about five years old. A 60-90cm tree would cost around £100 from a shop, so this would be several hundred.

See trees in video

I’ve made a video about choosing your garden tree. It has a tour of the trees in my garden, how we chose them and what we did right or – more often – wrong.

It may help you when deciding on which tree to choose, or you may find that you already have your perfect garden tree if you cut it into shape. Some of the points made in this post are repeated at the beginning of the video, so if you want to skip to the garden tree tour, then fast forward to 2 minutes, 38 seconds.

Let me know what your best and worst garden tree experiences have been, either in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook. And if you love trees, do share this – we need as many gardens to grow trees as possible. Thank you!

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How to find out which garden tree is perfect for your garden.

The post Which garden tree is absolutely perfect for you? appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

Do you make these September garden mistakes?

I sense that the September garden isn’t anyone’s favourite.

Vita Sackville-West abandoned Sissinghurst for the Mediterranean in September. Alan Titchmarsh refers to ‘the depths of September and October’. There’s a distinct drop in the number of gardens open via the NGS. And so on.

But is the September garden intrinsically difficult? Or is it just too far away from the excitement of spring, early summer and the big flower shows? Then we go on holiday, and when we come back…

The September garden

The Middlesized Garden in September. The main colour border is on the right, with dahlias.

But one of the great pluses of doing a garden tour – in blog, video or personal diary – is that it makes you focus on what’s really going on now. And now is almost the end of September.

So let’s have a tour of my September garden mistakes. They may help you too.

Mistake 1 – made last autumn!

You can’t fault September gardens on colour. I’m passionate about dahlias, and they are at their best now. But this year I have learned very useful lessons about them this year.

Dahlia 'Con Amore' in the September garden

Dahlia ‘Con Amore’. It was mulched last winter. I think it’s planning to take over the world. Dahlias are at the heart of my September garden but perhaps I should go for a wider colour range?

We’re in Kent, which is roughly a USA hardiness zone 8b. So I don’t dig up dahlias. I cut them down and mulch them. However last year I got distracted halfway through and only mulched half of them.

The mulched dahlias survived, bigger and better than ever. The dahlias that weren’t mulched either died or emerged late, looking very much smaller. After I talked about this on my August garden video tour, several fellow bloggers commented that their dahlias had also suffered from the nine-week drought through the summer.

Healthy plants which have been mulched or fed survive drought better than those which are a bit underfed. It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

But it was clearly a double whammy for the un-mulched dahlias in this year’s September garden. Last year I had a bed packed with dahlias of varying but roughly equal heights. Now I have a bed of very large and very small dahlias. And the small dahlias are in the middle of the bed, ringed by the large ones. It looks like a collapsed souffle.

Mistake 2 – not re-thinking colour regularly

Video-ing and photographing the garden on a month-by-month basis also helps me focus on how colour is working. I have dark red ‘Rip City’ dahlias, hot pink ‘Con Amore’ and an orange dahlia that no-one seems to be able to identify. The orange one is very vigorous. I do wonder if it’s accidentally regressed from something else. It is currently rioting around the main border, swamping all other plants.

Unknown orange dahlia in the Middlesized Garden

Unknown but vigorous orange dahlia. I put it on Twitter asking for ID and everyone was super-helpful about retweeting it (thank you!) but nobody seems to know.

However, looking at the photographs,  I think that red, orange and pink is beginning to look a bit heavy. Next year’s September garden would benefit from some of the shot-silk and sunset patterned dahlias I’ve seen in gardens like The Salutation. I do have the very beautiful coral-peach ‘Henriette’ but it is one of the ones suffering from lack of mulch and is very small this year.

Dahlia 'Henriette'

This photo of dahlia ‘Henriette’ standing proud in 2017 really underlines how much this plant has suffered from the 2018 freeze and drought. This year it is barely a foot or so off the ground. I haven’t been able to take any photos of it, because the flowers themselves look a bit ragged.

Mistake 3 – not trying anything new

I’ve relied almost wholly on dahlias for my September garden colour. But I can see that I need to expand my planting horizons. recently visited Borde Hill gardens for inspiration on late season planting. I was impressed by Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, which flourished in several very different areas of the garden.

Rudbeckias for September colour

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ in a herbaceous border at Borde Hill Gardens. ‘Goldsturm’ was also happy in a patch of shady woodland, in an exotic area and amongst perennial grasses. So versatile!

Rudbeckias in shady woodland.

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ in shady woodland at Borde Hill.

I’d also like to try cannas and persicaria.

Mistake 4 – not taking advice seriously

Back to the Middlesized Garden again. I do take advice. Honestly. But I’ve decided that advice falls into three categories. There’s advice you simply have to take. If you don’t, it doesn’t work. Whatever it is (gardening, blogging, marathon running…)

Then there’s advice that is basically a counsel of perfection. You should take it, but lots of people manage to muddle along without doing so.

And there is advice that might have worked once, and has become enshrined in folklore. But eventually someone does some proper testing on it, and decides that even if it mattered once it doesn’t any more. I am thinking of the tests ‘Which Magazine’ ran on whether you really need crocks in the bottom of pots, for example. They discovered it made no difference.

So it can be difficult to decide which advice to take. Now I have discovered that ‘squash doesn’t like root distubance’ is  ‘first category’ advice. I planted two ‘Black Futsu’ squash seeds, then realised they were too close together. But how does a squash know it’s being moved? If I’m very careful? I moved it, trying to persuade the squash that absolutely nothing was happening…

When gardening advice really works...

The mound of leaves in the foreground is ‘Black Futsu’ squash. A few feet away is its much smaller twin, literally a third of the size.

Ha! The squash left in its original place is more than three times the size of the one I moved three feet away. If the seed packet says a ‘curcubit’ (squash, cucumber, courgette) doesn’t like root disturbance, it really means it.

And should you clip roses with shears or prune with secateurs?

This isn’t so much a mistake as a choice. I have a row of ‘Cecile Brunner’ roses. They are quite time-consuming to dead-head so I did one side with secateurs, tackling each stem individually. On the other side, I clipped everything briskly off with shears.

Cecile Brunner roses pruned with secateurs and shears

A row of ‘Cecile Brunner’ roses. I clipped the ones to the right of the bird feeder pole with shears. The ones on the left were individually cut with secateurs. That was six weeks ago.

The side that was carefully pruned with secateurs has come back into flower several weeks’ earlier. And it’s a more airy shape. The clipped side, however, has just as many buds – it’s just taking it longer to get there. I suppose it’s a question of what you prefer.

I checked these results with a rosarian. He agreed that roses will come back, whether you prune them with clippers or secateurs. However, he pointed out that if you’re pruning alot of roses, it isn’t necessarily quicker to use shears, because you have to clear up all the fallen rose heads afterwards. ‘When you prune one by one, you throw the discarded heads away as you go.’

Mistake 5 – neglecting your September garden topiary

I actually haven’t made this mistake, as we do sharpen up our topiary around this time every year.

Jake Hobson of Niwaki spoke about pruning topiary at The Landscape Show. While different plants need topiary pruning at different times, he advises sharpening it all up in September. These shapes are so important for the winter.

Topiarised holm oak and holly 'Golden King' in the Middlesized Garden

Holly ‘Golden King’ and one of the topiarised holm oaks. They are now about 12ft and 16ft tall respectively.

We planted two holm oaks in 2010. They were just young whips and cost £50 each. It took about 5-6 years to get them into a good topiary shape. And this year (Year 7) is their best cut ever.

We get Salvatore, a topiary expert, to give our trees their hair cut. He has also carved a ‘wedding cake’ shape out of a lump of Holly ‘Golden King.’ It took about 2 years to get this cut crisp, as Salvatore cut it out of a mature bush, and the shape won’t be perfect to start with.

Mistake 6 – forgetting about foliage

It depends on the weather, but on the whole we don’t get those glorious leaf-changing displays in the September garden. But the foliage still has a huge role to play. But if you have neglected garden chores, such as dead-heading, then plants grown mainly for their foliage can really save the day.

If I had some good foliage plants in the main border, then the dahlia problems wouldn’t have looked as bad.

I can’t claim to have planned it, but I do love this shady north-facing border (below) and its foliage contrasts. Personally, I think shady borders are much easier than sunny ones, because they grow so much more slowly, have fewer weeds and are generally less trouble. Once a plant is happy there, I find I barely have to touch it.

Beautiful leaves for the September garden

There’s still lots of green in September – I particularly love this combination of leaf shape and colour in my ‘shady’ bed. Clockwise from top: liquidambar, rosa glauca, crocosmia, hydrangeas ‘Hot Chocolate’ then ‘Annabelle’. It’s pyracantha in the background. I didn’t plan it – it evolved over years. If a plant is happy in a shady north-facing border, then it seems to be very little trouble.

Mistake no 7 – not understanding what the specific plants need

We don’t all have to be experts, but if there’s a particular type of plant you love, then it’s worth finding out more about it. Labels on plants are often fairly cursory and general.  Sometimes plants are more flexible than the label suggests and will thrive in a wider variety of conditions. Sometimes not.

So, if you love dahlias, I can recommend Naomi Slade’s book Dahlias, published by Pavilion Books. Learning more about where a plant has come from and how it’s developed really does help in understanding where and how it will do well in your garden. It also has inspiring photos of particularly beautiful dahlia varieties, taken by Georgianna Lane.

( Note: you can buy Dahlias online via this link. Links to Amazon are affiliate links so I may get a small fee if you buy. But it doesn’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

A new home-made table

Enough of the self-flagellating mistakes for a while. Let’s celebrate what we’re really enjoying in the September garden. Mr Middlesize has made us a new table for the pergola.

Last year, we roofed the pergola with corrugated iron to make it an all-weather space, but couldn’t find the right size table for it.

A home-made pergola and table to go with it

We can now seat 8 under the corrugated iron roof of the pergola. The table is painted in Farrow & Ball’s Black Blue, to match our front door, back door, log store, bin store and shed.

So Mr Middlesize made one with a ply top and trestle legs (he did make the legs in order to get the proportions exactly right). I thought of doing a ‘how-to’ but it’s more complicated than it sounds. You need DIY skills. And if you have those, you probably know of better ‘how to’ carpentry sources than a gardening blog.

But it may be useful to know that he used high quality marine-grade 12mm ply, so that the table wouldn’t bend or buckle. To make the trestle legs, he used ‘two-by-one’ pine battens (because they measure 2″x 1″ or, more correctly, 21mm x 44mm). Sometimes called PSE (Planed Square Edge). The total cost was around £40-50, but it took Mr M around three days.

We had two sets of garden chairs, one in Farrow & Ball’s Hardwick White and the other in standard garden-centre green. So I painted the green ones in Hardwick White to match them all up.

Salvias are a garden saviour

Salvia Love & Wishes in the September garden

Salvia ‘Love & Wishes’ is now planted, and has a wonderful second flush of flowers.The small white roses in the foreground are ‘Cecile Brunner’ (the secateur pruned side).

I haven’t grown many salvias before, but they really earn their place in the September garden. I bought these three pots of Salvia ‘Love & Wishes’ to cheer up my display of pots when we were open for Faversham Open Gardens in June. They spent two months in their pots, then I clipped back their flowers and planted them in the border. (Subsequently, I read that you shouldn’t dead-head salvias – or am I dreaming that?)

I’d been warned that you can plant perennials at almost any time, but if you plant them in summer, then you really do have to water them as if they were still in pots. I suspect that’s another piece of gardening advice that can never be ignored – especially this summer. I watered regularly and they have rewarded me with a truly wonderful second flowering.

In the background you can see the low blue mounds of clipped lavender. We pruned it in late July this year, but in other years, I’ve left it as late as early October. The advantage with a late July pruning is that we have the lovely blue leaf colour. Last year’s late-pruned lavender was brown until March (here’s why lavender can be pruned ‘into the brown’).

More September garden in the video

There’s a full tour of the garden in this video, as well as a look at Naomi Slade’s ‘Dahlias’,

Pin for reference

Do you make these 7 mistakes in your September garden?

The post Do you make these September garden mistakes? appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

The top 2019 garden trends from GLEE

What do the 2019 garden trends mean for your garden?

I’ve just visited GLEE, the horticultural trades show in Birmingham. The future is looking good for us ‘middle-sized’ gardeners.

The urban garden is top of the 2019 garden trends

The age of the urban garden has arrived.

Products are being launched to make gardening easier.

But, above all, the age of the urban garden has arrived. The average size of garden in the UK is fifty feet long, but new build houses will have much smaller gardens. The gardening industry is responding with new products and plants.

Starring the urban garden

Fifteen years ago, when we first got a garden, the trends were driven by the large country gardens. Gardening advice to a newbie gardener might have included tips such as ‘no matter how small your estate, it’s essential to have at least three acres of woodland.’ (I’m not being quite fair, as that is from a very old book, but you get the idea…)

And I went to a lecture given by a top head gardener who referred to her own personal garden (one-third of an acre) as ‘absolutely tiny.’ That was almost twice the size of our garden which, at the time, looked worryingly big to me.

outdoor room and indoor garden

2019 garden trends: the outdoor room meets the indoor garden. Courtyards, terraces, outdoor rooms, patios…

Even five years ago, I did a media training workshop with a group of garden designers who were very reluctant to admit publicly that they mainly worked in small urban gardens. They seemed to fear that they wouldn’t be taken seriously unless they worked in large country gardens.

Garden pot inspiration

The countryside comes to town…

That is no longer the case.  The urban garden and all its quirks are at the heart of the 2019 garden trends. The words ‘vista’, ‘drifts’ and ‘double borders’ have been replaced by pots, table planters, automated irrigation, robot mowers and smaller varieties of plants.

Pot, pots and more pots

I spotted Burgon & Ball’s contemporary hanging pots, Laura Ashley and Sophie Conran’s designer pots, retro pots and recyclable pots (still not enough of these). There were pots as room dividers, country pots, traditional pots and more.

Hanging planters - 2019 garden trends

The hanging basket grows up and gets sophisticated….hanging planters from Stewart at GLEE.

When you buy plants from the nurseries in black plastic pots, they aren’t recyclable because of the black pigment. So there was a range of taupe pots on sale, which are being adopted by Hilliers, Waitrose and more. Haxnicks also displayed recyclable bamboo pots. They gave journalists a recyclable bamboo travel mug, which won’t, I hope, recycle itself while full of tea.

Burgon & Ball contemporary hanging pots.

Burgon & Ball hanging pots. Very pretty.

Ingenious ways of growing things

There were a number of table planters at the show, and this can only be good news for anyone wanting to grow salads on their balcony or terrace. Some have easy take-on-take-off cloche covers, which makes me want them in my own garden in order to keep the pigeons off the spinach.

The Veg Trug at GLEE

The Veg Trug table planter at GLEE

I was interested, however, to see very few vertical ‘green walls’. Did I miss them at the show or has this been a very short-lived trend? I do like seeing plants grown up the sides of buildings (Stratford International Station has a good one). But I have my doubts as to how easy green walls are to look after.

(note: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

Vegebox, with an easy, lift-off cloche cover

And the Vegepod, another table planter, with an easy, lift-off cloche cover. Available from Marshalls.

There were also ordinary-style raised beds with mini polytunnel-type cloche covers. You need to be careful about size with these. Smaller isn’t always better.

For example, I bought a reduced-size (4ftx 6ft) polytunnel a few years ago. I’ve found it infuriating because it’s very difficult to access when the plants are fully grown, so it just turned into a mess. My advice is either to buy a polytunnel you can walk into or a small enough cloche to remove easily. ‘Middle-sized’ does not work when it comes to cloches and polytunnels.

Although do feel free to contradict me.

2019 garden trends in plants

I spoke to Wyevale Garden centres, who said that the top trend is for bee and pollinator-friendly ‘cottage garden’ plants. But as gardens are so much smaller, they’re selling dwarf versions of popular plants. That includes Allium ‘Millenium’, which is almost as diminutive as chives.

‘Patio fruits’ are a big new trend. I like the idea of dwarf mulberries and blackberries. But I saw a couple of multi-fruit ‘patio’ bushes on a stand (I can’t remember which). I’m a little doubtful about this trend, as I’m not sure whether a fruit tree with three different kinds of fruit on the same rootstock will actually deliver flavour and a decent harvest. But maybe I’ll be proved wrong.

Plant foliage has been big in the world of garden bloggers for a while. And this trend is now ‘trickling down’ to the ordinary gardener. This is where the great country gardens do still lead the way. Head gardeners (see Philip Oostenbrink’s garden here) are developing, experimenting with and championing plants with distinctive shaped and coloured foliage.

2019 garden trends - dramatic foliage plants

Dramatic foliage is a big trend for 2019 and beyond.

The result is that when you and I go to the nursery or garden centre, we feel an irrestistible desire to buy phormiums. I know. I did it just recently. It was as if an alien had taken over my credit card. But when I got home, it seemed so right. That’s fashion for you. Even if you think you’re immune, you’re not.

Foragers’ cocktails and home-made tea

Romeo Sommers, the creative director of GLEE, identified a real expansion of grow-your-own in the 2019 garden trends. He predicts that we’ll be growing our own tea. That’s not just dipping some mint in hot water, but actually growing tea plants for our own home-grown green tea.

He said that restaurants will make an increasing point of growing their own ingredients, and telling diners about it.

And then there are herbs in cocktails. I love the idea of his phrase ‘foragers’ cocktails’, but even if you’re not brave enough to forage, you can pop sprigs of rosemary into your gin-and-tonic. My best gin-and-tonic this year had lovage in it.

And, of course, edible flowers are still big, big, big. Botanist James Wong sometimes fumes on Twitter that too many Instagrammers are using non-edible flowers on food and that someone will be poisoned one day.

Natural dyes from plants - a future trend for gardners

Natural dyes from garden plants – Yasmin Hossain of Juniper & Bliss dyed these napkins at home with her home-made dye from avocado skins.

Romeo Sommers also mentioned a growing trend for home dyeing fabrics using plants from your garden. I’ve written two posts about dyeing from plants here, but I think it’s a trend that has alot further to go. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys sewing, crochet or knitting and who also loves their garden.

Gardens for relaxation – gardening goes high-tech

The small and middle-sized garden of tomorrow is for relaxing in, according to the research. So technology is automating garden jobs. The top two tech gadgets are automated irrigation systems and robot lawn mowers. Both can now be controlled from mobile phones. And both are more suited to smaller urban gardens rather than estates with three acres of woodland.

And eco-friendly…

As well as the recyclable pots, there were several new peat-free composts (the RHS endorses the Melcourt range) and also glyphosate-free weedkillers from Evergreen, SBM, Assured Products, Neudorff and more. Solar lighting can now be controlled from a smart-phone, and it’s more practical – Duracell say their best-seller in solar lighting is solar security lighting because people can install it without having to drill through a wall for cabling.

And colourful…

Small and middle-sized gardens can be easily seen from the house, and may partly be ‘outdoor rooms.’ So the idea of accessorising gardens with coloured furniture, fences, pergolas etc is growing. And Romeo Sommers believes more of us will extend our interior decorating themes out into the garden.

Vibrant colour in gardens

A vibrant shelf of pots as a room divider -but is that on a terrace, patio or inside? It doesn’t matter any more.

Garden furniture ranges used to be ranges of wood, plastic or metal in natural shades, green or white. Now you can get chairs and benches in pastel pinks, citrus yellows and greens and more. Or you could paint your garden furniture yourself.

Add colour with garden furniture

Pastel pink retro garden chairs from Premier’s Outdoor Living collection.

And of course Instagram…

Instagram has done a huge amount to publicise gardening and plants, particularly in urban gardens. It’s hugely influential in promoting dramatic foliage, houseplants and beautiful gardens. That seems set to continue. If you haven’t joined it yet, it only works from a smartphone. Get the Instagram app, sign in (it’s easy), then start following people (@the_middlesized_garden_blog, for example!)

Enjoy a video tour of GLEE’s 2019 garden trends here

 Pin for reference:

2019 garden trends from GLEE, the insider's garden trade show

The post The top 2019 garden trends from GLEE appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

The best professional tips for late summer garden colour

Have you run out of gardening steam by the time you get to the late summer garden?

I know I do, which is why it’s so inspiring to visit a top professional garden, such as The Salutation in Sandwich. And here head gardener Steven Edney shares his tips for late summer garden colour with The Middlesized Garden.

Dahlias in the late summer garden at The Salutation.

One of Steven Edney’s favourite dahlias – Dahlia ‘Pink Pat and Perc’ at the Salutation. I’d love to know why it’s called that – was it developed by a couple called Patricia and Percy? If you know, do tell.

Firstly, when does a late summer garden start and end? My definition is that it starts with the first dahlia opening (usually around mid-July). It ends with the first frosts, when the dahlia foliage collapses into a blackened heap. The Salutation has over 400 different dahlia varieties, and holds an annual Dahlia Festival in the middle of September (15th/16th in 2018).

So the ‘late summer garden’ equates to ‘the dahlia season’ in my opinion, although Gardeners’ World defines it as September and October. I visited the Salutation in early September, and it was glorious. There’s clearly no excuse for saying that ‘the garden is over’ at this time of year.

Which dahlias for your garden?

Steven says that single dahlias are the easiest to grow. ‘They don’t need staking, and they’re more drought tolerant.’ As most of the UK had a nine-week drought this summer, this is worth knowing. The Salutation is particularly famous for its dark-leaved dahlias, such as this beautiful ‘Hadrian’s Sunlight’ dahlia below.

Dahlia 'Hadrian's Sunlight' - dark leafed, single dahlia at The Salutation

Another of Steven’s favourite dahlias – the single-flowered ‘Hadrian’s Sunlight’, which has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. ‘It’s available from Halls of Heddon, which are in the Scottish Borders,’ says Steven. ‘So it can withstand growing quite far North. I think the foliage is particularly lovely as it’s matt.’

However if you want to grow dahlias as cut flowers, the showier double, pom-pom, cactus and other varieties last better in water, he says.

To find out more about dahlias, their history, classification and how to grow them, I can recommend Dahlias, a beautiful book by Naomi Slade, with stunningly beautiful photographs by Georgianna Lane. It features several hundred different dahlias, in glorious colour. Just as seeing a plant in its natural habitat can teach you how to grow it better, finding out more about your favourite plant also helps you understand it.

(note: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

But the late summer garden is more than dahlias

I’ve always relied on lots of dahlias to carry a late summer garden off. However, visiting the Salutation has opened my eyes to the other dramatic plants available around now.

Late summer garden colour - ginger lily and helenium

I really love this combination of ginger lily (Hedychium) and Helenium with the large leaves of Melianthus.

The Salutation house and garden were designed together by Edwin Lutyens in 1912, and much of his original layout remains. Although he was famous for his partnership with Gertrude Jekyll, this is one of the few houses and gardens completely designed by Lutyens himself. Restoring a historic garden isn’t like renovating a period house. Gardens grow and plants change, as does the weather, pests and diseases. So head gardeners try to carry on with the spirit of the original garden designer rather than planting exactly the same plants he or she planted.

The Salutation gardens, designed by Lutyens

There would have been herbaceous borders in Lutyens’ time, too, but many of today’s plants are different.

Steven and The Salutation’s interpretation of Lutyens’ spirit is that he was always innovative and open to new ideas. So Steven has introduced unusual varieties of common plants. And he’s also created some exotic areas. Ginger lilies, cannas and large-leaved plants give shape as well as colour to the late summer garden at The Salutation.

Why unusual varieties?

Most professional gardeners today would like us amateurs to buy more unusual plants. It’s important for diversity. And I see complaints on Twitter that too many ‘top 10 plants for…’ lists reduces the popularity of otherwise excellent plants that don’t happen to make the list. If people don’t buy a wide range of plants, then growers don’t grow a wide range of plants. Everyone gets less choice in the end.

Cosmos 'Cupcake' - grown at the Salutation

Cosmos is another good late-season flower. This is ‘Cupcake’, growing at The Salutation – I would call it ‘unusual’, but Steven says that it is fast growing very popular!

But it’s not just about having more choice. There are lots of unusual varieties at The Salutation, such as Canna ‘Bethany’ (see further down this post). That’s partly because Salutation is in a particularly dry area and is almost coastal. So Steven needs plants that will grow well in such conditions, as well as heritage varieties. He says that people can be frightened off by the label ‘unusual’ or ‘rare’ because they assume that it means ‘difficult to grow.’ In fact, rare plants are no more likely to be ‘difficult’ than their common cousins. ‘We now label plants as “seldom grown”, rather than “rare”‘ he says.

(Read Australian gardening expert Stephen Ryan on buying and growing rare plants if you want to know more about having unusual varieties.)

Cannas are easier than you think

Exotic, colourful and sculptural, cannas are getting fashionable. But many people worry about their hardiness. Steven says that if you live in the milder parts of the UK, you should be able to leave them in the ground over winter. ‘Once the foliage has collapsed with the frost, we fold it over the plant to help protect it, then we pile mulch on top.’

Grow cannas for late season colour

With exotic orange flowers,dramatic structure and stripey green/yellow leaves, Canna ‘Bethany’ is a show-stopper for this time of year, especially planted with a low-growing variegated leaf trim.

The main problem with cannas, according to Steven, is that they are ‘quite greedy’. They need an extra thick pile of manure as mulch and lots of water. ‘If people have trouble with their cannas,’ he says, ‘it usually boils down to feed or water.’

He says that they are mainly sun-loving plants, but will often grow in light shade. ‘If the shade is too heavy, they may not flower,’ he adds. ‘Although you’ll still have the foliage.’

Steven also uses cannas as a summer hedge, creating private spaces in the gardens with a row of cannas that grow to around 6ft high. In winter, the foliage dies down so you get the light. It looks wonderful. Now where can I grow a row of cannas…???

Remember the shape, structure and foliage

‘Think about the shape of the flower and the foliage when planning for late summer garden colour’, says Steven. ‘You’re going to live with the leaves for months, while most flowers only last a few weeks.’ That’s what makes cannas such a great plant. He says he’d still grow them for their wonderful leaf patterns even if they never flowered.

Canna Bethany - late season colour at the Salutation

Canna ‘Bethany’ close up – I don’t think I could forgo those flowers, however beautiful the leaves!

Tall red amaranth and frothy panicum

Shape and structure – as well as colour. Tall amaranth (an unknown seedling) with Panicum ‘Frosted Sensation’ frothing around its base. Beautiful!

Iresine grown outside for its late summer foliage

This red foliage is Iresine, which is usually grown as a house plant. However, it can be grown outside in summer in sheltered, warmer parts of the UK. Steven says it’s too big to take indoors in the winter, so he takes cuttings every year.

Contrast leaf shape and shade

A wonderful contrast of leaf shapes and shades of green in a foliage-only part of the ‘jungle garden.’

Persicarias are another good late summer garden plant

Persicarias are good as a contrast to the vivid colours and showy shapes of dahlias and cannas. Steven considers persicaria to be an excellent late summer garden plant – he describes it as ‘wispy, elegant and bombproof’. It’s another plant that’s growing in popularity, and there are RHS trials due from next year.

Exotic colours and shapes - persicaria at the Salutation

Persicaria’s slim upright red spikes and mounds of low-growing leaves provide a good contrast to the larger leaves of ginger lily and ricinus in this bed at The Salutation.

‘Persicarias will cope with temperatures down to minus 20 celsius, with full sun, with light shade and a range of soils from heavy, wet clays through to light, sandy or silty soils,’ says Steven.

More glorious late summer garden here:

Take a stroll around The Salutation in this video – it really is looking beautiful.

The Salutation hotel and gardens are open every day of the year (gardens from 10am-5pm). There are also gardening events and workshops, such as the Dahlia Festival (15th/16th September 2018). And you can also see head gardener Steven Edney’s own garden with his partner Lou Dowle, when it’s open for the NGS on 30th Sept 2018 – it’s a wonderful tropical garden in East Kent.

Also open at the same is Canterbury Cathedral head gardener Philip Oostenbrink’s garden, which featured in The Middlesized Garden’s Why a Successful Small Garden Needs a Big Idea.

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Professional tips for late summer garden colour



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No dig flower borders – easy, weed-free and brilliant

I’ve always wondered about ‘no dig flower borders’ for annuals, shrubs and perennials.

Not that I ever do much digging. But I wondered if the principles of no dig veg and no dig flower borders were the same. Was I doing the right thing by mulching my borders but not digging it in? What else do I need to know about no dig borders?

So I visited Charles Dowding, no dig guru and author of many books, including Organic Gardening, the Natural No Dig Way (pub by Green Books).

Charles Dowding and Alexandra Campbell talking about no dig borders in middlesized gardens.

Visiting Charles Dowding to find out more about ‘no dig borders’ for flowers in middle-sized gardens.

Charles is known for his trials, carried out over around thirty years, comparing yields of dig and no dig vegetable beds. He runs workshops, writes books and has a fantastically successful YouTube channel. It’s all based at Homeacres, a three-quarters of an acre in Somerset.

No dig vs dig veg growing by Charles Dowding

Charles always has a couple of ‘dig vs no dig’ beds. He grows exactly the same plants at the same time, and measures their yields. He also assesses how many weeds they have and how healthy they are. In this trial, the dug bed has far more weeds than the ‘no dig’ bed.

The basic principle of no dig gardening

Charles maintains that digging the soil destroys its structure. If you lay a few inches of compost or manure on top of the soil once a year, the worms and micro-organisms will dig it in naturally, he explains. He weeds manually or with a hoe, just on the top inch or so of earth. For perennial weeds, such as bindweed or couch grass, he covers the whole bed in light-excluding mulch so that the roots die.

The principles are the same for no dig flower borders as they are for no dig veg beds.

He plants seedlings with a dibber, dropping them straight into the hole without disturbing the soil around them.  His trials show that undisturbed soil, which is fed with compost, will be firm, easy to plant into, will have fewer weeds and better yields of vegetables.

No dig tomatoes at Homeacres

Charles’ extraordinarily healthy no dig tomatoes, growing in his greenhouse where they are underplanted with marigolds.

It is a simple and easy way to garden – you can find out more about it in Organic Gardening – The No Dig Way. You’ll find lots of useful information about when and how to plant each different vegetable. And it also helps you make the most of a small plot by inter-cropping and successional cropping.

I was sent a review copy by the publishers, and can highly recommend it. It’s packed with useful growing information, how to deal with pests and diseases and the results of Charles’ experiments. This is not only about ‘no dig’ but also about whether you really need to do crop rotation, and other aspects of growing veg.

(note: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy, I may get a small fee but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

No dig for flower borders

And he says the same principles apply to no dig flower borders with annuals, perennials and shrubs. At Homeacres there are flowers everywhere, from ‘companion plantings’ of marigolds to purely ornamental cosmos, zinnias and roses.

‘The main difference between no dig flower borders and no dig vegetable borders is that vegetables are very hungry feeders,’ he says. ‘So I’d use less compost when mulching a border with shrubs and perennials. And in a vegetable garden or allotment, you may be growing more than one crop, which you won’t do in a flower border with perennials and shrubs.’

No dig flower borders work on the same principle as 'no dig' veg beds

No dig flower borders are brilliantly healthy – zinnias and marigolds amongst the lettuces at Homeacres.

I asked him if annual flowers might use up more nutrients in the soil than perennials? After all, they are dead-headed to produce more flowers and they can be grown successionally.

‘It’s a fair point,’ he says. ‘But even annual flowers won’t need as much compost as vegetables, because they are usually smaller and their growth is less strong.’

Some people think that no dig means using more compost, and that it will be ‘too rich’ for flowers. But Charles says that it doesn’t. ‘People only think it’s more because they can see the compost lying on top. In the UK, there are now huge numbers of professional no dig flower growers. I’ve never heard any of them comment that the no dig method makes it too rich for flowers.’

Clearing no dig flower borders with bad perennial weeds

What if you have a border that is really badly affected by perennial weeds?

Charles uses the no dig method to clear borders of perennial weeds, such as couch grass, bindweed and ground elder. He advises starting around February. Dig up your plants and pot the ones you want to keep, carefully picking all the strands of perennial weed root out of their root ball.

Once the bed is clear, cover it with a light-excluding mulch. First add a layer of compost, then add horticultural plastic or cardboard on top. If you use cardboard, it will rot down and curl up, so you’ll need to replace it from time to time. (Some people use old carpet.)

By about the end of June, some perennial weeds, such as marestail, will have given up trying to grow. If you’re prepared to lose one bed for a whole summer, keep it covered until August to get rid of couch grass weeds.

No dig veg in a small garden

Charles Dowding has a 25 sq metre/270 sq ft patch, where he trials growing veg in a typical small garden. It’s divided into three beds, each cropping an average of four different vegetables, plus some flowers.

Then keep a watchful eye

However, it takes bindweed roots several years to die, he explains. As it’s unlikely you’ll want to keep your border covered for that long, he advises checking it once a week after re-planting for any emerging bindweed. Carefully pull out as much as possible with a trowel. Roots do come out more easily in a well-mulched border. He has completely rid a large bed of bindweed in this way.

I have one large bed that is heavily infested with bindweed. So I’m thinking of doing exactly this. I won’t even have to dig up any plants as they have been completely smothered by the fiendish vine. But I’ll mulch it and cover it with plastic until the end of next summer. It’s at the back of the garden, so I won’t miss it as much as I would miss the main big bed in front of the kitchen window.

Annual weeds and no dig flower borders

‘You want to be weeding out annual weeds almost before you see them,’ he says. That means starting to look out for the very first weed seeds emerging in February. Don’t wait until you feel overwhelmed by weeds. The fact that weeds are growing is also a sign that you can start planting seeds, too.

To weed without disturbing the soil, Charles runs a hoe lightly over the surface. This breaks off the emerging leaves from their roots. The weed seedlings die on the surface of the bed. There isn’t even any no need to dispose of them.

See this on video:

You can see how Charles plants, hoes and more views of Homeacres on this video:

One of the main benefits of ‘no dig’ is that you get fewer annual weeds. When you turn the soil, weed seeds are brought to the surface and they germinate. If you don’t dig the soil, the weed seeds stay underground. And if you can get rid of the annual weeds that do grow, early enough in their cycle, you will soon have surprisingly weed-free soil.

Charles says the main difference between his current ‘no dig’ and ‘dig’ bed is that the ‘no dig’ bed has far fewer weeds. He uses a Dutch oscillating stirrup hoe (see the video).

I rely on self-seeding plants in my borders, so I will have to balance my love of these with my desire to be more weed-free. After all, weeds are just self-seeding plants that you don’t want.

Don’t disturb the soil when planting

I watched Charles plant out a tray of spinach seedlings. He made holes with a dibber, and dropped the seedlings straight into the hole. He finds seedlings are more likely to succeed than sowing seed into the soil. I agree – I have almost never managed to grow anything from seed when sown directly into the soil. Plant seed in trays or modules first, then transfer once the first secondary leaves have emerged.

The same principle applies to annual flower seeds, such as cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers, in no dig flower borders. Grow your seeds in modules or trays, then plant out with a dibber.

No dig planting with a dibber

Charles using a wooden dibber to make holes that are exactly the size of seedling roots. You can plant annual flower seedlings into borders in exactly the same way.

If you are planting shrubs or perennials in no dig flower borders, Charles advises digging a hole big enough to hold the rootball of the plant ‘but no bigger’. He doesn’t think that loosening the soil around the area helps the plant grow at all. He believes plants grow better in firm soil.

Can you walk on no dig borders?

I am always diving into my borders to dead-head or pull out a weed. So I was worried that I was damaging the soil structure. But Charles says not: ‘Healthy soil is firm enough to walk on. One of the beauties of no dig gardening is that you can walk onto your beds to work without damaging the soil structure.’

In fact, we were even told to park on the grass when we arrived. And when we left, Mr Middlesize asked Charles if he could guide us out when reversing. ‘Oh, just drive across the lawn,’ said Charles. Mr Middlesize was quite traumatised. ‘I’ve never met anyone who let you drive across the lawn before,’ he said, as he did a three-point-turn on the grass. I explained that firm, healthy soil could cope with it.

Charles Dowding’s courses and books

You can learn more about no dig gardening with Charles Dowding’s courses, talks and books, including Organic Gardening, The Natural No Dig Way. Books can be bought online, in bookshops or from

Or catch up with his excellent YouTube channel on growing organic no dig vegetables. It’s a very clear and informative YouTube channel, and I’ve often consulted it to find out more about how to grow veg.

While you’re there – do subscribe to the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel too. My ambition is to be equally clear and informative about gardening in a middle-sized garden, with tips, ideas and inspiration for those of us whose gardens are…well, not very big.

And join us every Sunday morning on The Middlesized Garden blog. Just fill in your email on the top right of this page and we will whizz into your inbox when the sun comes up. Thank you!

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No dig flower borders are easy, weed-free and brilliantly colourful


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August in the Middlesized Garden – my garden failures and successes

August in the Middlesized Garden is a bit of a mixed bag.

August has been called ‘the Sunday of summer’, and there’s a lazy, idle feeling about the garden at the moment, which I will show you in video.

The highs and lows of  the dahlias

The dahlias are out, but they are not the brilliant display of colour that I usually see in August in the Middlesized Garden. For the first time, there are significant gaps.

I don’t dig up my dahlias. I cut off the foliage and cover with a big pile of mulch. Last winter was very harsh (remember The Beast from the East?).  And I was too busy to finish the job. I piled mulch on about half my dahlias. They survived.

Dahlia Rip City in the Middlesized Garden

Dahlia ‘Rip City’. I mulched about half my dahlias last October. They survived the harsh winter. The half I didn’t mulch have died. Oh, well, a gap in a garden can be quite exciting.

The dahlias I failed to mulch have died. At least it proves that mulching helps your dahlias survive. Read this if you don’t want to dig your dahlias up for winter or watch this, if you prefer finding out how not to dig up your dahlias in video.

And I cut lavender ‘into the brown’

When I first grew lavender in this garden, it quickly got straggly. Why couldn’t I have neat tailored mounds like I saw in professional gardens?

Lavender cut 'into the brown' in 2017

Lavender cut ‘into the brown’ in The Middlesized Garden in 2017. You have to look close up (closer than this photo permits!) to see the tiny grey lavender buds, some of which are very low down.

Once I asked professionals about it, I discovered that ‘don’t cut your lavender down into the brown wood’ doesn’t mean ‘be very cautious when you prune your lavender.’ You can, in fact, cut back quite hard provided you leave lots of tiny buds lower down.  Now our pruned lavender looks neat, sculptural, and really quite ‘brown’ in places.

Here’s the best way to prune English lavender (video) or if you’d rather read about it, here’s the post here on how to prune your lavender.

Lavender in the Middlesized Garden 2018

Exactly the same clump of lavender in the Middlesized Garden in 2018.

Last year, we didn’t cut the lavender back until September, but we cut it back hard. This year, we’ve cut it back at the beginning of August, as soon as the flowers turned grey and the pollinators went elsewhere.

The ‘white bed’ is pink

I’ve put considerable effort into creating a ‘white bed.’ I did see some white in it this month – it was a bindweed flower that had crept up to strangle something. Otherwise the pink Japanese anemones that I’ve tried to dig up twice are dominating the scene.

Japanese anemones flourish in August in the Middlesized Garden

Japanese anemone or Anemone x hybrida. It dominates the ‘white bed’ during August in the Middlesized Garden. Don’t let its delicately pretty looks fool you, this is a Sherman tank of a plant.

But do have a longer stroll around the garden in the August in the Middlesized Garden video. We will be taking a short break and normal posts on the Middlesized Garden will be back on 2nd September. Have a wonderful August, and do join us on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel, where we will still be uploading every Saturday.

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The Middlesized Garden in August - success, failures and tips #gardening #gardentips



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30 inspiring ideas for beautiful garden seating

Garden seating is so much more than just a place to sit.

A bench can be a focal point, work like a piece of sculpture, can punctuate a hedge or lawn or be a place to enjoy a view.  Garden seating can be about creating privacy or about entertaining friends and family.

Above all, garden seating is at the heart of the garden. But do we sometimes forget this? I’ve seen lots of gardens and their places to sit over the last year. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the benches, tables and chairs we choose make a huge difference to the garden.

You don’t have to spend lots of money

Some of our garden chairs were bought at auction by my mother, in the 1970s. We have had to repair them from time to time.

Vintage French chairs

Vintage chairs – £20 each from a depot vente in the South of France. But putting them on top of the car would have caused considerable wind resistance and a higher petrol cost. Depot ventes are second-hand warehouses – look them up if you’re in France.

We bought four French chairs in a depot vente in France, and drove back with them on top of the car. I suspect if you added the extra petrol cost of going from the South of France to England, then they weren’t such a bargain.

But auctions and junk shops can be a good source of garden furniture, especially if you think more about what the furniture is made of, than what it’s made for.

Use office furniture for garden seating

A friend of mine bought a second-hand glass and metal office table and uses it in the garden. Second-hand office furniture can be very cheap.

Use garden furniture colour to create atmosphere

The colours you use in your garden seating areas make a huge difference to the atmosphere you create.

Use colour in your garden seating

A design by Martyn Wilson at BBC Gardeners World Live. The bright orange table and chairs really creates a vivid splash in the garden. The atmosphere would be quite different if the garden furniture was in another colour.

Pink garden table and chairs

A dusky pink table and chair set in Yasmin Hossain’s courtyard. Her company, Juniper & Bliss, specialises in dying natural fabric with sustainable plant dyes. Really pretty.

A bleached-out Nordic grey garden bench

Wenche Imink uses ‘Wet & Forget’, a garden furniture cleaner, on her garden furniture to achieve a slightly bleached Nordic look. (links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

Grey painted swing bench to echo the grey roof tiles

Gardening writer Francine Raymond of Kitchen Garden Hens paints all her garden furniture either yellow or grey to go with the house, which is yellow brick and grey tiles. The pink cushions reflect the pink roses nearby.

Think about your bench when planting…

Or maybe it’s the other way round? Think about your planting when you’re deciding what colour bench or garden seating you want?

Think about planting and garden furniture together.

A pretty blue bench outside the back door at Doddington Place Gardens echoes the colour of the hydrangeas behind.

Red and orange flowers and garden bench

This bench in Whitstable Open Gardens was painted in red and orange stripes – exactly the shades of the flowers in the foreground. Was it a happy coincidence or planned?

Blue bench at Doddington Place Gardens

Another blue bench, blue hydrangea garden seating area at Doddington Place Gardens.

The planting echoing the bench colour at Sussex Prairie Gardens

A purple bench at Sussex Prairie Gardens. The benches at Sussex Prairie Gardens are inspirational in the way they set off the planting.

Garden furniture and architecture

You can reflect the architecture of your house in your garden seating area.

A Lutyens bench for a Lutyens house

The Salutation at Sandwich is designed by Edward Lutyens. Of course, the garden benches are Lutyens, too! If you can’t manage quite such an exact period match, Lutyens’ era was between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Although a Lutyens bench would probably look good near any style of house.

Lutyens bench in a long thin town garden

This Lutyens bench in Mel and Emma’s garden (from Whitstable Open Gardens) makes a charming seating area near a patch of meadow grass. This is a long thin town garden behind a Victorian house.

Garden seating as a focal point

A bench or garden seating area makes a good focal point for a garden – or for an area of garden.

Garden seating as a focal point

Should you have a long avenue of trees – or any other part of the garden needing a focal point – then a bench offers both focal point and seating area. At Doddington Place Gardens

And you need a focal point or points in every size of garden. Pheasant Farm, below, is under an acre, but it has several different areas with benches as focal points.

Benches as focal points in smaller gardens

A garden bench as focal point in Pheasant Farm garden (open for the NGS by appointment).

Gothic-style garden bench

A very pretty Gothic-style bench in the front garden at Pheasant Farm, creating a focal point for the lavender.

Stone bench as focal point

We have two stone benches as focal points for the borders on either side of the parterre. They can get a bit overgrown to sit on, but I think the beds look better with a bench in the middle.

Garden seating as sculpture

Many garden benches are places to perch while enjoying a drink or a chat. They’re not necessarily for lounging on with a book. So you can risk an exciting-looking design to give your garden sculptural interest in the winter.

GArden seating as garden sculpture

My friend, Amanda, bought this bench by Sculpsteel to use both as garden seating and as a sculptural statement to enjoy looking at.

Sculptural garden seating

This beautiful wavy ‘bench’ can be viewed either as sculpture or as a place to sit.

Garden seating as storage

When space is short in a garden, then it makes sense to use the space under the benches for storage. It doesn’t always have to be built in or covered up.

Garden bench as log storage.

Garden designer Charlotte Rowe’s own garden, where she stores logs under a bench.

Use the space under the bench for storage

My brother Hugo and my sister-in-law Anna store things under their garden bench and table.

Built-in bench and storage

Or you can have built-in storage and seating, like this garden by AZ Landscaping Services at BBC Gardeners World Live.

Garden seating as part of the hard landscaping

I have seen some very successful garden seating which doubles up as part of the hard landscaping elements. People can perch on a broad edge to chat, but it doesn’t look particularly like a bench when no-one is around.

Raised bed edges as seating

Charlotte Rowe’s garden – the main image shows the garden without people, with white raised bed borders. The top image shows Charlotte’s guests using the border edging as a perch. A great way of maximising space in a small area!

Low walls are generally a good way of dividing up the space, offering a place to perch and also somewhere to leave drinks or snacks.

Rocky retainer wall as bench

This way of retaining stones inside a metal cage doesn’t look immediately welcoming as a place to sit, but it looked great at the Santa Rita 120 garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year.

Upcycle leftovers into garden seating

When my brother, Hugo, and my sister-in-law, Anna, used railway sleepers for decking in their courtyard garden, they had some left over. They turned them into a simple garden bench (which is also a focal point).

Railway sleeper bench

Hugo and Anna’s railway sleeper bench. It has a mirror behind it.

More garden seating ideas

Solid wood bench

A solid piece of beautiful wood used as a bench in Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015.

A small bench to enjoy the view

You can fit a small simple bench in without disturbing a beautiful view. At Doddington Place Gardens

A quirky bench

A quirky ‘horses’ bench in the roof garden of the Ham House Hotel in London.

Mis-matched vintage garden chairs

A garden seating area with a collection of different chairs (pulled together with a pink theme).

Matching garden seating

Matched set of garden seating – this is Tom Hill’s garden design for Ascot Flower Show.

Space-saving minimalist chairs

Minimalist garden chairs – these tuck discreetly under the table because they have no arms and a sleek design. In the courtyard garden of Dan Cooper, blogger at the Frustrated Gardener.

Do subscribe to the Middlesized Garden blog for lots more garden ideas. Just write your email address in the box on the top right, and we will pop into your inbox every Sunday morning. And there is more garden inspiration on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel, with a new video every Saturday.

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30 inspiring ideas for garden seating

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How to create a garden for entertaining

I’ve just visited a dramatically gorgeous garden for entertaining – and it’s also a plant-lover’s heaven.

How to create a garden for entertaining

Dan Cooper’s lush and jungly garden for entertaining. It has shelter from the seaside breezes, scented plants and an outdoor kitchen. The variegated leaf in the foreground is Coleus ‘Henna’ and it changes colour depending how much sunlight it gets.

The garden belongs to Dan Cooper, who blogs about urban and coastal gardening in his blog, The Frustrated Gardener. He opens the garden once a year, on the 4th and 5th of August for the NGS.

Houseplants and writing desk

Dan Cooper’s writing desk – an inspiring area for a garden blogger to write in.

Two gardens for entertaining

And while many of us have a front garden and a back garden, Dan’s home is unusual – it has two side gardens. He recently bought the house next door and knocked through.

Broadstairs is a charming historic town, with houses and streets growing higgeldy-piggeldy up from a beautiful sweeping beach. A quirk of architecture means that both of Dan’s gardens are tucked away around a separate entrance door on either side.

Viking Bay in Broadstairs

Viking Bay in Broadstairs – the historic houses rise up the hill in a variety of sizes and eras.

One garden has an outdoor kitchen and a large generous dining table.

Outdoor kitchen and dining table in a garden for entertaining

Overhead view of the dining table and outdoor kitchen. The tree on the top right is Phillyrea latifolia and the one on the left is a narrow-leafed bay tree (Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia).

The other is called ‘the Gin-and-Tonic garden’ because it has a small table and chairs for enjoying an evening drink.

A pretty terrace for entertaining

Dan’s Gin-and-tonic Garden – a perfect place to enjoy an evening drink. The red rose is ‘Dublin Bay’ and the clematis is ‘Forever Friends’. Very appropriate for a Gin-and-Tonic garden.

Both are crammed with flowers and plants, many with unusual foliage.

Plants for privacy in a garden for entertaining

Dan has made his garden private and sheltered for entertaining by using lots of tall plants. Like any seaside town, Broadstairs can be windy, so he’s chosen a few unusual evergreen trees to create a year-round windbreak and the sense of being tucked away from the town.

Use plants to make your space more sheltered

One of Dan’s evergreen trees is this ‘Phillyrea latifolia. ‘It naturally cloud-prunes itself’ says Dan, although he does tidy it up a bit too. Its open shape filters the wind and lets light through.

Choose an unusual tree with interesting bark

The Santa Cruz Ironwood tree (Lyonothamnus floribundus) has stretchy peeling bark – the blackbirds love to strip it off for their nests in spring. The airplants are attached.

Choose tall, large leafed plants for privacy

It’s a small garden and most of the plants are in pots. Dan’s tall large leafed plants make the area feel private.

His theme is broadly ‘exotic gardening’ – definitely one of today’s hot new trends. (There’s advice on creating an exotic garden in a cool climate and an unusual tropical garden, also in Kent, in previous posts.)

How to install an outdoor kitchen

Dan has a basement kitchen. Having people round meant a lot of going up and down stairs during the evening. He also works as a buyer for John Lewis, with a four hour daily commute, so entertaining needs to be as relaxing as possible. The solution was to build an ‘outdoor kitchen’ in the garden for entertaining.

He prepares food beforehand in the main house kitchen, and cooks on the built-in barbecue/hob in the garden. There is also a sink, worksurface area and some storage.

An outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

Dan’s outdoor kitchen makes a big difference to entertaining. Note the small ‘splashback’ between the slate tiles and the base of the kitchen units. The dahlia on the left is called ‘Firepot.’

‘Make sure that you use good quality tanalised wood for an outdoor kitchen,’ advises Dan. ‘My kitchen isn’t under cover, so it gets rained on, snowed on and is hot in the summer. However, because I used the right wood, it has lasted for ten years.’

‘But don’t let the wood touch the ground directly, or it will rot. I’ve created something like a splashback in slate at the base so that water on the ground doesn’t rot the wood.’

He also advises you to minimise the number of joins on your outdoor kitchen work surface. ‘We started off using the same slate tiles as we had on the ground, but the joins all leaked. Now I have a piece of granite with just one join and there are no leaks. A kitchen unit outside will swell and shrink as the weather changes – it’s quite different from a kitchen inside. So it’s easy for cracks to appear.’

How to create an outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

A view of the outdoor kitchen from above. The worksurface is granite and there is only one join. You can just see it on the top right hand side of the picture.

Marine-grade stainless steel

It’s also essential for any metal in outdoor kitchen equipment – the hob, barbecue and even the taps – to be of marine grade steel, so that they can survive the weather, including Broadstairs’ salt air.

Use marine grade steel in outdoor kitchens

A collection of exotic plants near the sink. Even the tap is of marine grade steel.

Plants in a garden for entertaining

We’ve already mentioned evergreen shrubs and trees for privacy and shelter. Dan also likes scented plants. A splendid Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) welcomes visitors at the gate, perfuming the air in summer and creating an evergreen wall the whole year round.

Choose scented plants in a garden for entertaining

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) covers a wall at the entrance to Dan’s garden, greeting visitors with its rich scent.

Having unusual and exotic plants also creates interest.

Ginger lily (Hedychium) – Dan hopes it will still be around for the open gardens day on the 4th and 5th August

Choose interesting plants in a garden for entertaining

Guests always ask after interesting plants, such as this variegated leaf Begonia.

Furniture in a garden for entertaining

Dan has a table made of recycled oak, so it will go more silvery with age. He’s also chosen light, easy-to-wash, arm-free chairs, which tuck neatly under the table. Big garden chairs with arms would have taken up much more space.

Chairs for entertaining

Recycled oak table and light, easy to clean chairs which tuck under the table and save space.

Fridge or no fridge?

Dan decided not to have a fridge in the outdoor kitchen, but he does have a sheltered spot on the worksurface where an ice-bucket can sit.

Keep cold drinks in the shade.

A shady spot is very useful for storing an ice bucket and cold drinks.

See more of Dan’s garden on video:

Dan Cooper’s garden is open for the NGS on August 4th and 5th 2018. Or catch up with him on the Frustrated Gardener blog or YouTube channel, Twitter or Instagram

And we’ve somewhat neglected the Gin-and-tonic garden, so here’s a shot of it:

Dublin Bay rose and Forever Friends clematis

A close-up of Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ and the Clematis ‘Forever Friends’.

And if you visit Broadstairs, don’t miss…

Don’t miss an ice-cream or an ice-cream sundae at Morelli’s, the traditional ice-cream parlour on the sea front.  We treated ourselves to an evening swim and then had a Salted Caramel Nut Sundae. A heavenly way to round off a delightful evening.

Ice cream sundae from Morellis, Broadstairs

You can just about justify this if you’ve had a swim in Viking Bay, Broadstairs, first.

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How to create a garden for entertaining

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