Recently we had some friends over for a lunch party and without prompting, two of the male guests, (why is it a bloke thing? I don’t know why it’s a bloke thing, but it’s a bloke thing) quite independently, gazed at my lawn and said with a hint of envy “Nice lawn. How’d ya manage that?” Being summer, most of the grassy areas that pass for garden lawns have browned unevenly, and can’t decide if they are actually composed of grass or random broad-leaved perennials. Mine, however, was looking good: a deep velvety green, plush and even. Not a weed in sight or blade out of place. It’s a lawn you want to lay down on, a lawn begging for a picnic.
“Oh,” I said nonchalantly, “I vacuumed it this afternoon.” I wasn’t kidding.
Out and About in Sussex, England: musings on creative pruning
Most of the hedging in my garden is in the formal, rectilinear style, but I really like cloud-pruned hedges too. Here are a couple that are on public display, that I pass on my travels around Sussex…
The playful Honeysuckle hedge (Lonicera nitida) above had just been clipped. I drive past it every day on my way to work. It forms the boundary to a long thin garden of an isolated cottage near Chichester, West Sussex. It is all the more striking as the plot sits, bravely isolated, in a sea of featureless farmland.
The random curved mounds are interspersed with more angular forms, producing an effect reminiscent of the stone work of an ancient civilisation. I like the contrast with the looser form of the young oak tree that rises above like a storm cloud. Even the odd-length bleached wood poles add to the composition, whilst preventing drivers churning up the turf as they pass on the narrow lane. Continue reading
The centre piece of my vegetable garden is this formal pond, which was started in 2012. It’s overall size is about 6′ x 11′, but this is an illusion as it is actually two ponds, with the bridge covering the dry land between the two. Each pond is created from a rigid fibreglass preformed pond liner.
We took advantage of the fine weather over Easter to begin paving the paths around the raised oak vegetable beds. This had always been part of the original plan but as the gardens are almost entirely DIY we can only undertake a certain amount each year.
These paths are pretty much the final part of the vegetable garden construction. We are very pleased with the effect, and are sure you will agree that they have transformed the area creating a really classy feel. Getting rid of the grass paths has also removed the awkward chore of mowing around hundreds of feet of raised bed edges. At last the paths are dry and comfortable underfoot!
We are using Freshfield Lane clay pavors. They are a bit easier to lay than bricks – For one thing they are solid (i.e. don’t have a frog) so bed down firmly on the compacted sharp sand, and, unlike bricks, they are pretty well exactly twice as long as they are wide, allowing them to be laid in neater patterns. Being brick (clay) they are a bit more expensive than concrete pavors, but they look a million times better!
I’ll add to the slide show above as we make progress…
The Greenhouse Path – this post shows the simple method we use for laying our brick paths.
Click below to see close-ups of the work…
Raised beds do not need to be simple rectangles!
I use raised beds in many parts of the gardens here at Rosemary Cottage. They serve both practical and aesthetic functions, and when designed well with good materials they are relatively quick to construct, durable and easy to maintain or even dismantle if a complete re-design should ever be wanted.
Neat rows of lettuce and salad leaves.
Why use raised beds?
Raised beds give definition to a growing area, outlining the bed and frame the plants. In winter they can give stucture to the garden even when the soil is bare. On a more practical note, you can work them without walking on them – good for the soil and good for keeping your boots clean. Tall sides help prevent soil from spreading onto the path when you dig. The soil in raised beds is often raised above the surrounding ground level, improving drainage and bringing the plants closer to the eye. This in turn reduces the amount of bending needed when working. Deep beds do not need to be filled to the brim with soil, however, as there are benefits to leaving a good space between the soil and top of the boards so you can add compost, mulch or manure, without it tumbling onto the paths. In my vegetable garden this gap is enough to allow young seedlings to develop with shelter from the wind, and I have made a number of netted ‘lids’ which lie across the top of the beds to protect young plants and keeping cats and birds off.
Raised beds can prevent soil spreading onto paths when digging.
A final and important aspect of raised beds is that they help you organise maintenance into manageable chunks. Weeding, tidying or clearing a single bed provides a clear start and end point.
Planning for paths
In my gardens raised beds double as path edging. I like dry-laid, permeable hard landscaping, because it is quicker and less messy to lay, can be lifted and relaid or repaired easily, and drains freely. Raised beds with paths is therefore a great combination providing design flexibility and simple DIY practicality. It can look very good too. Compacted gravel can provide an ideal path in this situation as it is cheap and easily fills any shaped gap between beds. Dry-laid bricks or paviors look great, but are more expensive, and you may have to do a lot of cuttingto fit uneven gaps between beds.
Brick paviors dry-laid between oak raised beds in the Woodland Garden
A partial view to the landscape beyond is tantalising and greatly adds to the character of the garden, but you can have too much of a good thing…
The ‘borrowed view’ is a design technique that maximises the sense of space in the garden by bringing glimpses of the landscape beyond into view. The key to its success is to get the balance between foreground and farground right. It must be only a glimpse or the view will dominate and the magic will be lost.
The privet hedge at the end of our vegetable garden used to be lower. It was about 4ft high all the way along and the fields and hills beyond created a stunning view. When we let the hedge grow and it started to block out most of the view visitors protested that they would have kept the hedge low – they couldn’t understand why we would want to obscure any of it. Yet when we cut the semicircular ‘window’ they exclaimed how beautiful it was and it put a definite smile on their lips.
When the hedge was low and the view wide open visitors attention immediately went to it, skipping over the foreground with the effect that the garden appeared smaller and less significant. Not a desirable effect if you have put a lot of effort into your garden design! As the hedge grew the garden increasingly became the centre of attention – visitors eyes could no longer wander into the distance, and instead they admired the garden. Much better. Finally, the hole cut in the hedge allowed a partial view of the distant landscape, bringing back into the garden without causing total distraction; in fact the partial view makes the garden feel bigger still, and introduces a sense of mystery and space that neither the low hedge or tall hege alone could create.
Below are some views from different angles and at different times of the year.
From time to time visitors to my garden ask in a puzzled way why I have logs in my ‘flower beds’ . I assume they are not used to naturalistic styles of gardening, so I try to explain: “Oh, It’s a woodland garden you see, and they enhance the naturalistic effect. These kind of plants would be seen with fallen branches in their natural habitat…” Sometimes they nod in appreciation, other times they seem unconvinced… I wonder what you’ll think?… Here are some photos:
In many ways logs are the most natural features of woodland settings. Whilst they often have interesting shapes and textures in their own right, they look particularly good as a backdrop for woodland plants, providing them with an anchor from which to grow. Also, they can help separate clumps that might otherwise merge. In winter they provide interest when many plants have died down; the remaining evergreens, bare earth and skeletal plant-remains have a zen-like beauty.
Real woodland floors are scattered with logs and fallen branches, which in time become hosts for a variety of life forms – insects, mosses, lichens and fungi. As they rot down they slowly release the nutrients that woodland plants need. They protect the soil from the sun, providing a cool root run for adjacent plants. My logs have spawned many different and interesting fungi. I have seen many different insects use them as sun station, and admired as creeping plants like violets and woodruff clamber up them to better reach the light.
For all these reasons, I like the logs in my woodland garden. I hope you do too.