There's no such thing as a no-maintenance garden but there are plants which will work harder for you. We review our favourites with tips on where they will perform best.
Without a doubt, one of our favourite ways of keeping up with what other gardeners and designers are doing is to go and visit them. Here are some of the many gardens to go and see. Try and be open minded as, even if you don't necessarily see yourself pursuing the same style of a specific garden, there may be small details you can include. Remember - the design is in the detail.
The Old Vicarage at East Ruston in Norfolk is an absolute treasure trove of inspiration and we highly recommend a visit. The garden is divided into multiple smaller areas. On my first visit, I rarely stood still as there was a real sense that the garden kept calling me to discover more. Through arches, around corners, under pergolas and ivy clad tunnels - catching glimpses back to the house or out towards the church. This garden is about as quirky and flamboyant as any could be, and I defy you to name a plant which has not been included in this wonderful place.
Great Dixter in Northiam, East Sussex, is a classic traditional garden originally created by Christopher Lloyd. He prided himself on being a true gardener although he clearly had an eye for design.
One of his more well known philosophies can be summarised from a quote in his book Foliage Plants':
It is an indisputable fact that appreciation of foliage comes at a later stage in our education, if it comes at all.Christopher Lloyd
This is something we wholeheartedly agree with. Flowers are fleeting so it's important not to dwell too much on a small moment in time, but consider how a combination of plants will work together visually over the year.
For a lesser focus on the garden and food for thought regarding garden art and sculptures, we absolutely love the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden in Dorking. It was very quiet when we visited which created a sense of otherworldliness. It was hard to believe we were in the middle of Surrey!
Admittedly, I was somewhat astounded by the mass of Giant Hogweed in the garden. Under the dappled trees, its architecture can be truly astounding, but this is not a recommendation for it as Giant Hogweed is highly invasive. However, the overwhelming presence of green makes this a restful and restorative visit.
Marks Hall Arboretum is another wonderful garden. They have a central area which includes a walled garden, a winter walk, lakes, a flower garden, and much more - and this is surrounded by a quiet woodland. Biannually they also run a Sculpture Exhibition. The Arboretum is home to 3 National Champions (the largest in Britain for either height, girth or both) and 110 Essex Champions! And there really is a sense of majesty as you roam around the gardens, but thoughtfulness also in the way each space has been laid out. The last time I visited, it was a hot summer day and I laid on the grass for an hour feeling totally at peace despite the presence of other people around.
And last, but by no means least, is The Place for Plants in East Bergholt, Suffolk. This has a special place in my heart as I worked here in the early days. The garden is run by the same couple who started the plant centre and they have planted many trees in their last 20 years of ownership. They have a special connection with Rhododendrons, Camellias and Magnolias so spring is a perfect time for a visit. However, they also hold the National Collection for Deciduous Euonymus which makes autumn a beautiful scene here too. There are 20 acres of arboretum and it is rare to see the garden busy; a true hidden gem.
Flower Shows are a much better way of seeing multiple styles and influences in one day as well as getting a flavour of the current trends. Chelsea of course is the mainstay, but it can be easy to be overwhelmed here. Don't forget that these designers are the best in the business and have generous sponsors to support the production of the gardens. Main Avenue Gardens typically cost upward of £250,000 so it will be little wonder if you feel you have no idea what to take away from the full design. Details to look out for include the use of colour tones, planting form combinations, what hard landscaping has been used, and how many different varieties of this you see. How is the garden supposed to be used? How has height been introduced? Where is the seating? Where does your eye naturally draw to? The list goes on. The RHS usually post details of the plants on their website, and keep your eyes on the BBC coverage as they interview designers so you can learn their rationale.
An easy solution to compiling mood boards for your garden is online, and Pinterest is an inspiring resource. Again, focus on the details. If you want a built-in kitchen in your garden, start a mood board just for the cooking area. If you only want purple and white plants, do another mood board for these. Only once you have several boards for each different area should you go back and start to consider the practicalities. Look at each image and ask yourself if you prefer this more or less than the last; this is a great way to whittle down to a short list. If you're not sure where to get started then have a look at some of our boards.
Visiting plant nurseries will help ground your expectations and keep things practical. It also gives you a chance to see the plants perhaps out of flower, i.e. not in their prime. Availability can be a sticking point, so if your local nurseries don't have a plant you're looking for, then ask them why. Try and visit mid-week during term time as it's much more likely that you'll be able to get some help from the nursery when they're quiet.
The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden
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