Overhaul Your Garden

Fancy changing the look of your garden? These three different styles are easy to achieve in even the smallest of plots!

Do you have a town garden or rolling lawns surrounding a country pile? Do you have a standard suburban garden of predominantly lawn with a border around the edge, or is your pocket handkerchief patch just big enough for a few plant tubs? Whatever style or size of garden you have, you can change it. Autumn is the perfect time to plan and make decisions about what you want to do first.

If you want to improve the colour, texture and movement in a garden there are three things to consider: plants, water and stone. Here, I take a look at three styles that could be just the ticket.

PLANTS FOR COLOUR

There is an easy way to ensure that there is always going to be colour in your garden. Just visit a garden centre once a month for a year and buy something that is in flower. Plant it in your garden and in time you will have twelve months of colour.

We are now entering autumn, the season with relatively few flowering plants – so how do we achieve lots of colour? Well, to most gardeners, autumn means one thing – the changing leaf colours on trees and shrubs. Ok, there are many that give a hint of brown and then all the leaves fall off, but there are equally as many of them that change from green to fantastic golden yellows, through to oranges, fiery reds and bright purples. Then there are the trees and shrubs grown for their autumn berries; little jewels hanging in a dazzling array of colours.

Here are my six must-have plants for autumn colour:

» The smoke bush (cotinus coggygria) is probably the best known in its purple-leaved form ‘Royal Purple’. The species itself has green leaves that turn to shades of red and orange in autumn. It can be pruned back annually to restrict its size and stimulate bigger leaves
» Fothergilla major is a slow-growing shrub with bottlebrush-like white flowers in spring, before the leaves emerge in early summer. They turn a brilliant orange-yellow in autumn
» Do not ignore Japanese maples (acer palmatum); the finely cut leaves of green, pink, red, orange or purple throughout the growing season are reason enough to grow them, but a few go mad in the autumn, too

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» Varieties of gaultheria mucronata are low-growers and thrive on acidic to neutral soils in partial shade. They supply some of the best garden berries which last well into winter
» The best shrub for blueberries is viburnum davidii. It is a low-growing evergreen with clusters of small oval-shaped berries of deep metallic blue
» If it is purple you are after, go for callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii. ‘Profusion’ – it produces a bonanza of funky lilac-purple berries that last well after the last leaf falls.

To help you plant:

Use mycorrhizal fungi (such as David Austin’s own brand or Rootgrow) when planting trees and shrubs. Mycorrhizal fungi help plant roots to take in goodness, which effectively means you do not need to feed the plant so much when it is in its growing stages.

ROCKERY FOR TEXTURE

You can give structure and texture to a garden by putting in a path, patio, wall or raised beds. However, the most natural-looking ‘hard landscaping’ feature is a rockery. Done well, it can look as natural as if it has been there since the dawn of time and the builders simply constructed your house right next to it.

The Japanese are regarded as the experts on rock gardens. It is fascinating to see the way they use their outdoor spaces, whether it is a serene water garden or a dry landscape garden, they will usually start with the stones and rocks. In a dry landscape garden, the shape, size and colour of these rocks will dictate the way the garden develops; they may symbolise land or an island, while other carefully selected stones may be placed to represent a waterfall. Smoothly raked gravel represents the sea, broad rivers or lakes.

The plants are then chosen to accompany the hard landscape. For example, irises may be planted on the ‘banks’ of the ‘water’.

In Japanese gardening, many trees are regularly shaped, not just to maintain them to the confines of their spaces but to bring out the beauty of the trees, and to show off their trunks and branch structures.

If this high level of maintenance does not appeal to you, just leave out the trees.

Traditional British-style rock gardens are one of the ways to display small plants to great advantage. It is not difficult to get the conditions right for the plants and create an attractive environment that looks authentic and natural.

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Whether you bring in the services of a landscaper, or you treat the project as a ‘do-it-yourself’ task, creating a rock feature is incredibly satisfying.

Incidentally, it is not difficult to assess the amount of rock required. A site measuring say, 150 square feet, may sound big but is only approximating to an area twelve feet across and deep, and can be made into a hugely worthwhile rock garden by using between two-to-three tonnes of stone in various shapes, sizes and weights.

To finish off a rockery:

After you have laid the rocks and planted up a rockery, always put down a layer of gravel (such as Westland Garden Gravel) over the soil and under the plant leaves. This ‘mulch’ helps conserve moisture in the soil, reduce weed growth and it makes the whole structure look absolutely fantastic.

WATER FOR MOVEMENT

Be it a cascading waterfall, a tinkling fountain or a bubble jet in a pond, the addition of a water feature to a garden adds an appealing focal point. If space is limited, consider a bubbling millstone or trough filled with water and aquatic plants.

Any form of water in the garden will be a haven for wildlife. Even a small, self-contained water tub or mini-wall fountain will attract wildlife. Insects, birds, amphibians and small mammals are drawn to water like metal filings to a magnet. Frogs and toads will be attracted to ground-level water, and as a bonus reduce the number of slugs in your garden.

Make sure the sides of your pond are set at an angle, so that frogs, toads and newts can get out of the water as they will drown otherwise. Stones and masses of tall water plants, such as irises, will help these creatures too.

A pond should not be thought of as just another bit of garden – it is a complete world of its own!

To help you install a pond:

Flexible liners are the best option. Available from garden centres, aquatic centres and online, these are essentially waterproof sheets, available in pre-cut sizes in packs or on rolls where you can take any length to suit. The best reliability comes with rubber (or butyl) sheeting and it means you can build a pond of any shape or size – also meaning that the only limit will be the scope of your imagination.

Graham Clarke