Advantage of Raised Plant Beds
The advantage of Raised Beds
We garden on a heavy clay soil which is slow to warm up in spring and easily gets waterlogged even in summer. The result of this is late vegetables and not great yields. Over the years we have worked in literally tons of compost and horse manure and although we see some improvement, the problems are not resolved.
This year I have built 3 raised beds about 8 m long by 1.2 m wide. There is 150mm hardcore in the bottom, covered by upside down turves, and then 450 mm soil and compost. We finished the first of these in mid July and a few weeks later (to allow for settlement) I planted a few trial seeds the spinach and beetroot are growing so much faster than seeds I planted at the same time in the ground, we have been cropping spinach for 5 weeks now and that in the ground is not yet ready.
Over winter I intend to cover the soil in the raised beds with black polythene, this will both absorb the suns rays and heat the soil and will hopefully keep most of the rain away from the bulk of the soil. I will keep an eye on this and if necessary will makes some frames of clear roofing sheet that will keep all rain off and act like a greenhouse.
In spring the black polythene comes off, seeds planted and greenhouse lids replaced. Watering will be manual to start with but I am hoping eventually to use a drip system. I am expecting miraculous results, I will let you know the truth next year!
The Victorians were the champions of the well groomed garden irrespective of its size, and the cheapness of unskilled labour was probably in no small way responsible for this.
Most gardens will have had a large number of paths (frequently of gravel) going in many directions to give a large choice of routes to be followed. Paths would have been edged, usually with stone or brick in order to keep the trim, well-manicured look.
Clipped hedges, privet or yew, were popular as was topiary. Small box hedges contained parterre beds. Evergreen shrubs were preferred to deciduous for their year round interest and greater neatness of form. Specimen trees were popular and this was the time the monkey puzzle tree hit the height of fashion.
The lawn was an essential item, ideally large and an excellent item to show how fastidious you were in garden maintenance. A large lawn was usually broken up with specimen trees or a gazebo.
Boundaries were either well clipped evergreen hedges or white painted picket fencing. The white paint would be extended to cover any metal work - seats and aviaries for instance.
Planting concentrated on roses and elaborate bedding schemes, the changing of which was yet another way to show off your wealth. Tulips in season were very popular, being a very formal plant when in serried ranks.
Water features, particularly if complex were popular and statuary ideally with allusion to mythology were acceptable.
Town gardens are frequently small, and often overlooked by neighbours upstairs windows at least. Further town dwellers are usually more concerned with style and chic than the average country, so maybe here are some pointers that may lead to some suitable styles for town gardens.
Surprisingly, the most successful way to make a small garden seem large is to cram it pretty full of plants, this can have the added benefit of suppressing weeds and reducing maintenance requirements. So a winding path leading from one area to another, hopefully only one of the areas being visible at a time will be good.
Planting height is going to be a hard call. If you are worried by being overlooked, then the higher the planting, the more private you will become but beware, is all this high planting going to make your garden shadier than you want, and your house darker than you want. Be aware that you need less height to shield one area of the garden from another, that you will to avoid prying eyes from upstairs windows.
Maybe a satisfactory compromise is to say nothing higher than 2 metres, but then in any areas you especially want to be private (such as outdoor eating areas) create a screen either with 2m high plants, or trellis with climbers and then provide some sort of roof, say in clear corrugated plastic sheeting. This will give you the added advantages of avoiding bird mess on your furniture, and protection from those short, sharp summer showers. Do however pay attention to what will happen to the rainwater that comes off the roof, ideally direct it into a water butt that can supply some of your watering needs.
The areas that you create will depend on your own particular requirements of your garden think lawn, vegetables, shed etc.
Now think about what you will do to introduce the necessary degree of chic. Single colour planting scheme, large leaves, white stone and paintwork or blue, use of areas of stainless steel (expensive), topiary, sculpture. Whatever you choose, do it a lot!
What age are the children and what do they enjoy? Swings, sand pits, trampolines and climbing frames can make a very useful addition to a child friendly garden if the children are young but will not do much for a sophisticated teenager.
Most children like to explore, so if a garden has paths that disappear from view either because of trees and shrubs or long grass or even contours, younger children will probably run off with excitement to explore and even older children will probably be interested enough to walk round, even if pretending not to be enjoying it! If you have an area of long grass try cutting complicated paths through it with the mower.
A series of objects, be they trees, sculptures, planters or even just brightly coloured sticks planted in the ground can provide an added dimension to a game of tig, can provide obstacles to dribble a football around or ride a bike round.
If you have a large garden, a patch of grass for football, is likely to be popular, and over the years the games played can change cricket, French cricket, badminton, short or padder tennis, golf putting and croquet, possibly even bowls if your grass is smooth enough.
The more serious child might well appreciate an outdoors chess or draughts game. If you are doing this, find out about the fascinating game Quarto which is played on a 4x4 square grid one quarter of a chess board. You will find what you need on Wikipedia.
Fun sculpture is a good way to entertain children maybe a spiders web made from thin rope, or fantastic animals made from small logs joined with stainless steel rods, For the more scientifically minded you can fix up a sensor which will cause a water jet to squirt or maybe trigger sounds when you pass.
Gardens in the country tend to be larger than most town gardens, and generally tend to follow typical country interests such as vegetable and fruit gardening, interest in nature and wildlife and possibly even minor farming hobbies like poultry, horses or beekeeping.
Frequently country gardens are a bit rough around the edges and this is very good for the wildlife. Copses can be left pretty much untended and nettles and thistles allowed to grow here nettles are very popular egg laying site for many butterflies and moths, and, incidentally make quite a tasty spinach substitute when young. Piles of wood and logs provide winter shelter for insects and hedgehogs.
Closer to the house the garden will be better tended with outside eating areas, maybe a barbeque and seating overlooking the most attractive areas. Patios adjoining the house can be flagged, but if further away may look better in a more natural finish such as bark or woodchip. Paths too may well be less formal than in a town garden.
Flower and shrub borders can be as colourful as you like, but there are perhaps some plants better suited to the more urban garden things such as begonias, surfinias, anything with pink variegated foliage etc.
As you move further away from the house, space can be found for vegetables and poultry, ideally out of immediate sight, but served by a good pathway. Note that there are automatic devices available nowadays for opening and closing access to the hen hut which can be invaluable in keeping the birds safe from foxes on days when you have a busy schedule.
Further away still, maybe a wildflower meadow which may form a useful link into the countryside beyond the garden.
Water features, buildings and statuary should be kept reasonably simple and utilitarian.
Mediterranean Style Garden
This style is very achievable in the English climate, mainly because a lot can be achieved by hard landscaping and also because a lot of the typical Mediterranean plants are quite hardy enough to survive in our cooler climate.
Walls surrounding a Mediterranean garden will invariably be rendered and painted, usually either blue or white, or even a mixture of the two. Smaller garden walls may be covered in ceramic tiles, also blue and white, and frequently topped with pantiles.
Paths and patios are frequently tiled (ceramic) if small, often terracotta in colour or beige with bright colour highlights. Note that grouting between terracotta tiles is usually black and this does indeed look much better than white or natural cement. If using ceramic tiles for walking surfaces do be certain to get the non-slip variety, smooth ceramic tiles will be extremely slippery when wet.
Because many Mediterranean gardens are small, planting is frequently in pots, again usually terracotta but in poorer areas anything goes, paint cans, plastic containers, food tins, anything. The ubiquitous plant used in courtyard gardens throughout Southern Spain is the pelargonium, these will not usually survive outside in an English winter, but many will be fine in an unheated greenhouse.
Other common plants in the larger gardens might include day lilies, bamboos, paeonies, lavender, cistus and acanthus.
Mediterranean grass is usually coarse and kept much longer than an English lawn. Water features are not common as water is a precious and fairly expensive commodity, as well as evaporating fast in the higher temperatures. If anything, go for a narrow straight rill, with a small fountain.
Eating out is normal in the warmer climes, so some sort of patio table and seating would be found in a shady area. Statuary and sculpture would usually only consist of an urn or an old olive oil jar, certainly nothing fancy unless the owner iss very rich.
Classisal formal garden
This is the garden for you if the one thing you really love doing in the garden is clipping little hedges! The basis of most gardens of this type is the parterre design of beds in very geometric shapes surrounded by box hedging.
Typical planting in the beds could be roses, lavender, bulbs (especially tulips), early bulbs are replaced with perennial or annual flowering plants. Most important is to have large blocks of the same colour and the same form. Low growth is preferable as it is easier to keep it neat and compact. Tall straggly plants are not to be part of the scheme.
Trees and bushes should be clipped and kept neat nature under strict human control is the effect you are after. Topiary is especially suitable, as much as you like, and this can be used to exercise your creative and individualistic talents.
Paths and any patio should be of clean lines, formal flagstones, not crazy paving or gravel. Grass is quite acceptable but it should have straight, neatly trimmed edges and be kept short at all times. Long grass and wildflower meadows have no place in this type of scheme.
Water features should again be of geometric shape and of clean lines ideally edged with flagstones. Long thin rectangular waterways tend always to look good. Fountains can feature, and if the area of water is large enough, multiple fountains and water based stone statues can look very good.
Statuary should be formal and made of stone. Planters and other accessories can be of wood or stone, and again should conform to the classic geometric designs, and the plants they contain should be kept neat and controlled.
This is not a style that can be achieved half heartedly, at least one thing has to make a bold statement, and if it can be the whole garden or at least a substantial part of it, so much the better.
A good starting point might be the use of hard landscaping in modern materials of startling colour. The recurring use of the same or even a contrasting strong colour can be made to emphasise the effect. Modern materials can certainly be plastic, glass or metallic, even ceramic, but colour can be used to give more conventional materials a modern twist, think blue gravel or purple concrete or orange wood.
Shapes and structures could be square or rectangular, or perhaps very sophisticated geometric curved shapes, but the more normal random curves could well be out of place.
Planting is an interesting challenge! You could use one colour of planting or very large blocks of, for instance, cube clipped box hedges. Just using say grasses or ferns. Clearly Astroturf in place of lawn would work well can it be obtained in a colour other than green? perhaps a thought too far! Create your own plant shapes from foam rubber?
Statuary and sculpture will give you the opportunity to create a really stunning effect. Big and bold is probably good, again based on right angles or complex geometric curves. Try looking to surrealist art, Dali et al for inspiration.
Whatever you do, think big, bold and repetition. Finally make as sure as you can that your plan is a good one before taking any irrevocable steps!