Garden top tips: 10 things my parents’ garden

28/04/2017 · 9 comments

in Garden

My parents are quite frankly awesome gardeners and cheeky though it is I thought I would share with you the 10 top tips I have gleaned from watching them. My love and appreciation for gardens first developed when I spent an extended summer holiday with them about 20 years ago. They had just moved to picturesque Somerset and their new garden was vast and ripe for a new vision. Together we spent many days touring the important and influential gardens of their local area. We saw the inspirational colour palette Hadspen, when it was at the height of its power. The cottage garden of Margery Fish at East Lambrook, the statuesque hedges of Montacute House and the lovely Tintinhull House and Garden.

In the past two decades my parents have invested huge amounts of time and skill into their space. It is a private joy to them and any friend who has the privilege of spending time in it.  The garden could very well be a visitor attraction of its own.

Different gardens, different scale

There are some major differences in our gardening experience. Their plot hats many levels and many acres. Our garden is a relatively small suburban garden. My parents spend huge amount of time and effort working their land and their experience and knowledge is extensive. We on the other hand spend little time in the garden and a fraction of the investment. But there are some valuable lessons I have learned from watching and listening to them.

1. Create views

The very best gardens break up the space available to them to create different rooms and a variety of views. When I look at my parents garden I catch a glimpses of a very well considered scenes. There is something to look at and appreciate in the foreground, middle distance and background. Perhaps one of the best investments we made was our fairly inexpensive white garden bench. It creates a focal point at the end of our garden, a bright contrast against the dark green backdrop of the trees at the bottom of the garden. We also have somewhere lovely to sit at the end of the day during the summer.  A happy place for chatting and relaxing.

2. Feed and Mulch

In previous years we have not done enough of this, but I think the principle is finally getting through. I believe that our soil is much easier to work than the unyielding clay of my parents garden. But my, oh my have they invested in their soil. After years of digging compost and manure into their borders you can certainly see the benefit. Their plants are like monsters; huge, robust, disease free. If they were athletes you would say they were on steroids. The investment and sheer effort that has been made to improve the soil pays dividends. I promise that this year I will try to do better.

3. Borrow the landscape

One of my favourite views in the world is the view from my old bedroom in Somerset, across the garden and then into distant fields. Utterly English, utterly peaceful. Often when we think about our garden we forget that we do not live in a secluded box, but the distant views and trees have a borrowed benefit on our private landscape. In our own garden we benefit from the most glorious magnolia tree next door. From the back of our house we also enjoy the views of an elegant and huge eucalyptus and a tall silver birch. If you are able to consider the gardens around you and use the distant trees and shrubs to inform your own patch then your garden will feel so much larger.

4. If you don’t like it – ditch it

The garden we inherited had some rather good mature shrubs. But I have to admit I didn’t always warm to them. However I felt guilty at the thought of digging them up and throwing them away. Watching my parents garden, I witness that when a plant has overgrown its welcome or doesn’t fit into their planting scheme it gets the heave-ho. Obviously if you can remove a plant without destroying it and find a welcome new home, all to the good.

5. Watch your neighbours

There is a vast climate difference between the sunny hillside of Somerset and the slightly colder weather of the North West of England. Some of the plants my parents grow very successful are just too tender for our weather. Our climate and growing palette is far more akin to the Lake District. Ferns, acers, rhododendron, azaleas all do well. I have often had a quick nosy in the neighbouring gardens to see what is thriving and surviving. Whilst I might covet that large and healthy agapanthus which thrive in the ground down south, I know they will only survive in my garden in pots. Quite a bit of heartache can be avoided by choosing the plants that will survive and thrive in your plot and then celebrate the diversity of visiting friends and family whose garden in a different weather.

6. Think about the small delights

Ornaments in the garden often get a bad press. I believe the gnome is still banned from the Chelsea Flower Show. But a few well chosen artifacts or small garden sculptures strategically placed can bring a little joy and amusement to your space. I can still vividly remember the excitement of trying to find all the garden gnomes in my grandmas suburban garden. There are no such ‘items’ in parents garden. But they do add in the odd well chosen feature or ornament. These things add a sense of play and interest. Quite simply they bring a smile to my face.

During the summer we have a party for friends and I really enjoy hiding small wooden animals, painted stones or wire birds in the undergrowth.  Our garden treasure trail is a hit with young visitors and has even become a bit of an institution. Have a look at my blog post from last summer Let’s not get too po-faced about our space and instead create a bit of surprise and delight.

7. Give you plants more space than you think

When we re-planted our garden about 3 years ago I felt unnecessarily affronted by bare earth. I crammed far too much in our borders and didn’t give each plant the valuable space it needed. Gardening is not an instant art and three years on, the plants have really filled out. Patience is indeed a virtue, as is reading the plant label to see how large your mini-specimen will be when it grows to maturity. I need to now make some painful decisions to thin out some our our borders. It would have been far less expensive if I had listened to the sage advice of my stepmother.

8. Before you plant – soak

Oh this is absolutely a top-tip. Give your new plants a thorough soak in a full bucket of water before you transplant it into the soil. I have followed my Father’s instruction on this matter and I know it has benefited the plants I have introduced to our borders.

9. Can I have some of that?

Being cheeky can help you enormously when you need to develop your garden. My folks are brilliant at sharing their plants and will give me sound advice on ground cover and what we call in our family a ‘good doer’. This is plant which is disease free, helps to suppress the weeds and has a long growing/flowering season. I have pulmonaria which has made its way from my Granny’s garden, to Somerset and is now admirably covering a dodgy corner of our garden in the wet North West. Now that plant is a survivor and an admirable ‘good do-er’.

I have also benefited from some beautiful roses and geraniums which have outgrown their position. The cheapest and most delightful garden centre you could imagine. Check out the plants in the gardens of your family and see what you might be able to ‘borrow’.

10. Enjoy it

Having fun in the garden, celebrating, playing, eating, chatting and dreaming is so important. I have precious memories of my parent’s garden; our wedding, my son and my nephew playing, parties and family lunches. All of the work that goes into that garden is born out of love. Perhaps the most potent horticultural skill. I will never have the vision or design skills of my parents, but I have inherited their love of being in the garden and that is a gift I hope to enjoy forever.

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