Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Planting a Hedge

Now you’ve chosen the right plants for your new hedge (click here to see my suggestions), you need to prepare the ground and plant them. A hedge is simply a row of trees or shrubs planted close together, so you prepare the soil and look after them the same as you would any other tree or shrub.

Dig over the area to a depth of at least one spade’s depth. Break up the soil, remove any large stones, weeds, and old roots. Dig in a generous helping of compost. Well rotted stable manure, leaf mould, the contents of your home compost bin, green waste compost, or spent mushroom compost are all good soil conditioners. When digging in the compost throw on a handful of fish blood and bone per square metre.

Hedging plants are commonly sold as bare rooted ‘whips’. This means the plants are not in pots and have no soil around their roots. They can survive perfectly well like this whilst being transported, but don’t leave it too long before you plant them. If you receive the plants and can’t plant them immediately, dig a hole anywhere in the garden, put the plants in and roughly tread in the soil around their roots. This will keep them alive and healthy until you’re ready to plant them.

The recommended planting distance for bare root whips is at 45cm centres, which means that the centres of the plants are 45cm apart. You need to be fairly precise, so get a tape measure and space the plants out accurately. If you’re planting along a boundary with a pathway, plant the whips far enough from the boundary so they have room to grow without encroaching on the right of way. Decide how wide you want the hedge to be when it’s mature then place the plants half this distance in from the boundary.

Do not plant the whips too deeply, cover the roots but do not bury the stem. Make sure the plants are upright, then firm in the soil well around their roots to make sure there is no air left in the planting hole. I usually tread around the plants to make sure they are nice and secure in their new homes.

Water the hedge well and apply a thick mulch over the planting area at least 50mm deep. There are loads of things that can be used as a mulch such as chipped bark, green waste compost, cocoa shells and some newer synthetic materials. Mulching will help seal in moisture, keep down weeds. I like to use something compostable for mulching so that it breaks down and provides nutrients for the growing hedge.

For the next couple of years while it is establishing you’ll need to keep the hedge well watered. I always keep the mulch blanket topped and the planting area weed free. All plants benefit from the occasional application of a long acting fertilizer and hedges are no different. I like to feed my hedges a couple of times a year with some fish blood and bone which I simply sprinkle on the surface around the base of the plants.

If you are plagued by rabbits or deer you can buy stem guards that are cheap, simple to fit and protect against casual nibbling. My experience with deer is that you’ll have to be a bit more robust to keep them away. You might need to put up a temporary fence and although this looks ugly it can eventually be removed and may be the only way of allowing the plants to mature. There are plenty of on-line sources for stem guards, just type spiral stem guards into Google. Here's the Web link to a supplier I found.

Hedges should be cut at a slight angle from top to bottom; this angle is called a batter. The top of the hedge should be slightly narrower than the base to ensure the top growth doesn’t prevent water and light reaching the roots of the plants. I have Beech hedges and tend to cut them when they look untidy, usually twice a year in the early and late Summer. Formal hedges will need cutting more often than looser shrub hedges. The RHS has some great advice on when and how often to prune hedges.

So go out this weekend and make space for a hedge. If you need help get in touch. You can email me at, or visit my Web site for all other contact details.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Plants I Keep Meaning to Plant

There are plants I really love and keep meaning to make room for in my garden. I’ve just been reading an article about Trilliums and reminded myself how much I love them. Ever since I first saw their unusual lily-like flowers shining out of the dappled shade I have wanted some in my garden. They would particularly like conditions in one part of my garden which gets quite a bit of shade from a Beech tree. I just need to juggle a couple of ferns into a different space and I’ll have the perfect place.

The trouble is that they are best transplanted as they start to die back in late June or early July, just when us garden designers are super busy. At this time of year I’ve always got several projects in various stages of design or build and I forget about my careful plans for my own garden, or run out of time to put them into action.

Trilliums are woodland plants and as my garden backs onto a small wood they would work really well. They don’t like to be too wet or too dry which is a tricky balance, but you can help out with mulching and good soil preparation. I’ve got a plentiful supply of leaf mould which makes the perfect mulch and compost for Trilliums. I also know where to get some pine needles, which when composted with some other organic matter suits Trilliums well as a mulch or compost and provides really good drainage.

Trilliums come in a variety of colours, although most commonly in white and all shades of red from dark purple through to pale pink, there is also a yellow variety. You can get double flowered varieties which are gorgeous. Some Trilliums also have wonderful ornamental leaves with dark spots on them. They look exotic, but are not difficult to grow and make a fantastic understory in a woodland planting scheme.

Apparently the Trillium is the wildflower symbol of Ontario – well, you learn something new every day.....

Here’s a link to a site that supplies Trilliums on-line.

If you need any help with any area of your garden, from planting advice please to full garden design, please get in touch by emailing me at, or visit my Web site for other contact details.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Choosing the right plants for a hedge

A well kept hedge not only looks good, but is one of the most positive things you can plant to help out wildlife. A hedge provides a home for a diverse array of small mammals, birds, insects, plants, and fungi. Maintaining a hedge is relatively easy compared with tending a large lawn, or a mixed herbaceous border.

But what plants make the best hedges? This depends largely on where the hedge is and its purpose. If you’re trying to create a smart front boundary a more formal, clipped hedge works best. If you have a formal garden which you’re trying to screen or compartmentalize then, once again, blocks of clipped hedging usually work best. If you have a less formal garden or want to create a boundary adjoining open countryside a wildlife hedge is perfect and a wonderful habitat for all kinds of wild critters.

You can make a hedge out of almost any shrub. A hedge of Lavender looks and smells wonderful and is brilliant for attracting insects to the garden. I also like to see shrub roses like Rosa ‘Hansa’ planted in blocks to make a fragrant, informal hedge. You can use evergreens like Choisya, Aucuba, and Ilex (Holly) to make a looser, shrub hedge. If you are using shrubs to create a hedge you will need to prune them with secateurs. Don’t let shrub hedges get overgrown, you’ll eventually have to cut them hard back and they’ll look sad and bald.

I’m not a big fan of Laurel. I know it makes a robust, fast-growing evergreen hedge and is cheap to buy, but if it’s not cut back ruthlessly it looks ugly. Laurel also doesn’t respond well to being cut with a hedge trimmer because its large leaves get sliced in half and go all crispy at the edges. Not a good look. Instead, I often use Bay. It is a type laurel (Laurus nobilis), but makes a much better hedge than ordinary Laurel (Prunus Laurocerasus). Bay has smallish, matt, dark green leaves which not only look gorgeous, but smell lovely and can be used in cooking. Bay grows rapidly without becoming as woody as bog standard Laurel and its smaller thinner leaves lend themselves much better to a haircut.

Yew makes the most stunning hedge and wins on so many levels. It has very small, evergreen leaves, which allows it to be cut into crisp shapes. You get a great architectural effect from blocks of Yew hedging in a garden. Yew makes fantastic walls for a garden room, you can easily cut doorways and arches through it, and it makes a dense habitat for animals, birds and insects. Yew is relatively slow growing and this puts people off using it for hedges, but you will get around 30cm growth in a year.

I also love Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and Beech (Fagus) which are very similar looking plants. Hornbeam is more drought tolerant than Beech so may be a better bet in these uncertain climatic times. Copper Beech makes a very interesting alternative to the straight green Beech or Hornbeam and gives a striking backdrop to shrubs and herbaceous plants. Although Hornbeam and Beech are deciduous they retain their dead leaves throughout the winter, so they are not totally bald and make an evocative rustling sound on windy days. Beech and Hornbeam make great nesting places for birds and hedgehogs are often to be found snuffling about in the dead leaves at their base.

A true wildlife hedge contains a mixture of native hedging species that provide a habitat designed to be aesthetically pleasing and also good for all different kinds of wildlife. It is a mixture of native species traditionally found in country hedges. Common plants in a native hedge include Hawthorne, Field Maple, Dog Roses, Blackthorn, Quickthorn, Spindle, Hazel and Dogwood. These plants often have wonderful blossom in spring, then fruits in the autumn. Others, like the Field Maple (Acer Campestre) have fantastic autumn foliage colour.

Buckingham Nurseries supplies individual hedging plants and also native hedging mixes. If you want to create a wildlife hedge, just visit their site, input the length of hedge and choose your plants. They’ve got loads of information on hedges and how to plant them. They supply many different types of hedging plants at really good prices. If you want to plant a ready made hedge there are several companies out there that will do this for you, but it will not be cheap.

If you need help planning a hedge, or sourcing the plants at reasonable prices, why not get in touch and let me help? Email me, or visit my Web site for other contact details.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Big Thanks to Thames Valley Animal Welfare

This is an unapologetic plug for the Thames Valley Animal Welfare(TVAW) – it’s my blog and I reserve the right to write occasionally about things that affect my life other than garden design.

I’m a cat person – I think you either are or aren’t, you either get cats or you don’t. My mother is also a cat person. When my Dad died four years ago Mum had her gorgeous cat Sammy to keep her company and help her through her loss.


Sadly, at the relatively young age of 11 Sammy succumbed to renal failure and had to be put to sleep. My Mum was heartbroken and feeling a bit lonely in the house on her own for the first time. There was nothing else for it but to find her another cat to fill the large Sammy-shaped shoes.


So, I’m writing this blog to say thanks so much to everyone at the TVAW for introducing us to the fantastic Fred. I phoned them to ask about another cat that I’d seen in their column in my local newspaper. When I described our requirements for a large, animated teddy bear of a cat, Anne immediately suggested Fred. She told me he was a great big, soppy, cuddly cat and she wasn’t lying.


I also want to thank Catherine who’d been looking after Fred for making the introduction of cat and parent so easy. She brought Fred over to Buckinghamshire, removing the need for my Mum to drive round the dreaded Bracknell ring road, which she absolutely hates. As soon as we saw him we were smitten. Within a few minutes he was in the car and is now firmly ensconsed in my Mum’s Naphill home, being spoiled rotten and making the place his own.


Thanks again to everyone at the Thames Valley Animal Welfare for letting us have Fred. If you’ve got a space in your house for a cat please get in touch with the TVAW (01494 484527/01189 721871) as they’ve got loads of lovely cats looking for good homes. I also want to mention the Cat's Protection League who gave us our cat the esteemed Carmen-Electra (Ellie to her friends).


Welcome to our family Fred, you’ve really landed on your feet.


Saturday, 6 March 2010

7 Tips to Revive Your Garden

Our gardens can soon start to look tired and neglected, especially when you've got children or dogs running around outside. Here are some tips for how to quickly and cheaply revive your garden.

1. Sort out the lawn: nothing looks more depressing than a neglected lawn. As soon as the lawn’s dry enough mow it, rake out all the dead matter and aerate it with a fork or hollow tine aerator. Apply some weed and feed, tidy up the edges, and sprinkle on some grass seed if you’ve got bare patches. Your garden will look better and if your lawn is small it’ll only take you an afternoon.

2. Paint the fences: a fresh coat of paint will immediately cheer up your garden. I always paint fences black. Don’t be afraid of dark colours they don’t work the same in the garden as they do inside the house and plants look great against black.

3. Put in some edgings: I like to have a hard edge around borders and lawns, it helps maintains their intended shape and gives you something to mow up to. If you’ve got dogs or kids running around it stops the lines of the garden becoming blurred and untidy. Mortar in some brick on edge or granite setts to keep the outline of the garden sharp. Use plants to soften the hard edges.

4. Prune overgrown shrubs: most people are afraid to hard prune shrubs, which then get very leggy, outgrow their allotted spaces and generally make the garden look unkempt. With only a few exceptions you can cut back shrubs hard, they might look a bit sad for a few weeks, but they will regenerate quickly and look much better.

5. Cut hedges: boundary hedges should frame the garden and look much better when they’re kept neat and tidy. As with shrubs, if you don’t cut your hedge back at least once a year it will get very untidy. Keeping a hedge trimmed is a simple way of making the garden look cared for. If you haven’t got time, or don’t want to risk getting up a ladder, there are plenty of people in the phone book who will come round and do it for you.

6. Hide compost bins, storage areas and oil tanks: a simple piece of trellis with some evergreen climbers will give you a storage space for anything that has to be in the garden, but you don’t want to look at. Even better, invest in a new shed, paint it black, hang some baskets on it and store clutter out of sight. A new shed also gives you an opportunity to install an extra water butt.

7. Re-lay pathways: if your gravel pathways are full of garden detritus and looking tired give them a facelift. Just removing the old gravel and investing in a few bags of new gravel will make a difference. However, a small investment in some new paving will transform the garden. You can do a half way solution by putting in a brick edge and using some paving slabs with gravel margins. If you’ve got a resident handy-person you can do this yourself - Paving Expert is an excellent source of information for all paving tasks. If not, call in a local landscaper and get them to do it for you.

If you need help cheering up your garden for the summer visit my Web site for telephone contact details or email me

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Changing the Color of Hydrangeas

The long-lasting blooms of hydrangeas look fabulous in a mixed border. Even when the heads have faded they still look good and are great for flower arranging. Hydrangeas make an excellent flowering hedge. I admit they are a bit uninspiring in winter, but I’m prepared to put up with that because their flamboyant flowers look so gorgeous. I especially love Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ with its huge creamy white heads. I’m a big fan of Hydrangea paniculata – some of the newer forms like ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Limelight’ are very interesting.

I’m not keen on pink flowered hydrangeas, if they must be a colour other than white or white with a hint of something else, I prefer them to be blue. How many times have you planted a supposedly blue hydrangea only to have it come out pink? Exactly how annoying is this? The good news is that you can do something about it because the colour of hydrangea flowers is dictated by the type of soil you plant them in. If you have acid soil you will get blue blooms, if your soil is alkaline your hydrangeas will be pink.

Not all hydrangea varieties can change color, those that are naturally white will remain white no matter what type of soil they’re grown in. Only those that are naturally blue or pink can be made to change colour. So, if you want your pink hydrangea to have blue blooms you must increase the acidity of the soil and vice versa.

It is the aluminium in acid soils that makes the hydrangeas blue. Garden centres supply several different products that make hydrangea blooms blue and they all contain aluminium sulphate. Water the plant well, dilute the product as per packet instructions, and then apply the product around the plant. You’ll need to do this regularly throughout the growing season. Mulching the plants with grass clippings or used coffee grounds will also help to reduce the pH level. Don’t use fertilizers containing bonemeal or phosphates. Also be aware that concrete leaches out lime into the soil which raises the pH level, so don’t plant your hydrangeas near concrete paths or foundations.

Lime in the soil stops the plants from absorbing the aluminium. So, adding powdered limestone and wood ash will help make the soil more alkaline and you’ll get pink blooms. Ask at your local garden centre for a fertilizer high in phosphorus as this will also prevent the plant from taking up aluminum.

Having said all this, changing the pH of the soil is not easy and you must continue applying the product around the plants. If you don’t keep on treating the soil the plants will revert to their chosen colour.