Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Simple Planning Techniques

Engaging the Grey Matter
Monkey puzzle in the wrong place
      An old rant of mine concentrates on the lack of creative thought that goes into a lot of gardens; Most people spend much time looking at the way the living room is set out, giving careful consideration to the ease of viewing the telly (for many years now the usurper of the fireplace as the main focal point of the room), the way the curtains match the carpet, the placing of pictures and so on. Then they get to the garden and this suddenly becomes the territory of the expert, with the average Joe thinking of himself as out of his depth because he doesn't know any Latin names (don't worry, Mr Gove will put it back in the National Curriculum) and relapsing into the 'see what next door's done with it' method. This leads to a monotonous continuity of square front lawns. These are surrounded by beds occupied by black-spot infested roses subtended by the occasional bedding plant and a lot of bare soil which may as well have a sign up saying 'vacancies - weeds welcome'.

      My point is that many elements of planning the garden are exactly the same as planning inside the house. It comes down to common sense: if we want plants for winter interest they are best enjoyed when positioned in full view of the house because weather often keeps us in at that time of year; if we leave areas of bare earth in the beds, weeds are going to move in; a graceful curve to the edge of the beds is more satisfying than the neighbour's straight edges; a thoughtfully placed tree or shrub can hide an eyesore. See? - it's not rocket science, is it? Any fool can manage the basics, with results that encourage further exploration.
Leyland cypress can get out of hand
      Avoiding pitfalls is often easier than you think ('think' being the operative word). It may seem a good idea to put a monkey puzzle tree in your ten foot front garden but THINK! it's a tree and, guess what, trees get big. That particular one can get to 80ft. high, with a spread of 30ft. The only possible justifications for planting it in such a daft place are a. you are so old you will snuff it before the living room goes dark or b.you intend to sell the house (preferably to someone you don't like) before that eventuality. THINK before you plant a leyland cypress hedge - they are excellent for that function but, at the end of the day, they are trees and will need regular clipping. The plant gets a bad press but it's the silly bugger who plants it then goes away who really deserves it. On the other hand, it pays to be aware that you can be too enthusiastic about cutting back a hedge of this sort: it won't regenerate from old wood, so if you go too far, you end up losing any privacy it provided, create brown, unattractive patches, or, more extremely, killing it. The answer is to prune it little and often. If that's going to take up too much time, plant something slower growing, like box or holly.
Narrowing grass walkway at Hidcote
      There are techniques for making an area look bigger than it is: I was at Hidcote Manor a couple of weeks ago and here a  grass sward between an avenue of trees has been made to look more impressive by planting the trees gradually closer together towards one end, creating the illusion of distance. The effect can be improved further by employing dwarves to walk around at the far end. If you don't happen to have a manor, you can replicate the idea by making your borders wider at one end of the garden than at the other. Curving the edges, replacing the common, boring, straight line, gives the eye further to travel and the  simple practise of planting stronger colours close to the main viewing point, and more pastely shades further away adds to this effect. Taking chunks out of an existing lawn in order to create curves can seem a bit daunting at first. The job can be messed up by making them too small so that, when you stand back, they are over- busy, resembling the serrations of a knife edge. To get round this, lay a hosepipe or washing line where you are going to remove the turf, then step to the end of the garden to check the foreshortening effect. Keep adjusting this till you are happy, then spade out the scallops secure in the knowledge that it'll look right. I would suggest that blokes don't mention the washing line bit to their wives - I found they can be touchy about such things.

      Another simple thing you can do is create secrets in the garden. A site where you can see every feature from one point is usually pretty boring. If you create a bed which curves out of sight, perhaps behind a shrub or tree, a viewer will be tempted to step out into the garden just to see what's out of sight. It doesn't matter if there's a brick lavatory there  - the object will have been achieved and the garden will be more interesting.

      Come to think of it, with the state of my bladder, a lavatory wouldn't be a bad idea.




  1. Not a straight line in ours John but knowing what's winter or summer or May or September is beyond me. Please recommend a good local gardening course;

  2. Guy next door is insisting that I take down shrubs near boundary to 2 metres. Can he do that? Says it's a light problem.

    1. Sticky one, this. The council can take action against you if they deem the plants are affecting the neighbour's 'enjoyment of his property' but that is a bit of a hazy definition. What are the plants causing the problem? Would you like me to take a look and see what I can suggest?