Author Archives: admin

Living Wall

In the smallest of spaces, a green living wall creates instant impact.  It connects us to nature and gives us an ever-changing ‘plant painting’.  Just having a show of plants at close range provides a feeling of well-being and interest. 

Carpet of lush planting on living wall

Carpet of lush planting on living wall

Living Wall – Islington

Hanging on a sturdy metal-framed fence, this living wall is the outlook through beautiful new patio doors of a flat in Islington.  It uses rigid planting boxes with special substrate and an automatic irrigation system.  It is very easy to maintain.

Planting in progress, shows troughs of living wall

Planting in progress, shows troughs of living wall







I thought of the planting design as a green textured carpet with a simple flowing pattern of plum heucheras and green Heucherella ‘Tapestry’ which has lovely dark markings.  The strappy leaves of liriope give an extra dimension and flutter in the breeze.  The fern, Polystichum blepharum provides a dark green backdrop of glossy leaves.

Most of the planting is evergreen so that the living wall looks good all year.   The lower levels get very little sunlight, so shade loving plants are used.   Flowering interest is provided by delicate pink and white plumes from the heuchera and heucherella,  blue flowers of ajuga and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ and white flowers of the silver cascading Convulvulus cneorum.    As the plants grow, the living wall will be completely covered with foliage.

Detail of planting in the living wall

Ferns and liriope add texture, pale pink flowers of heucherella add interest.

Rock and Gravel Garden Feature

Sloping seaside gardens provide the opportunity to include a rock and gravel garden feature.   This cottage garden by the sea in Ventry, Kerry, Ireland, includes species plants which are close cousins to those that occur naturally.   The rocks are mainly local sandstone with a few with white quartz.

Slope for Rock and Gravel Garden

The previous garden had an irregular sloping lawn. The garden was re-landscaped to have a gently sloping lawn and a steeper but even slope for the rock and gravel garden feature.   We took care to arrange the rocks in a natural way and use them to retain pea shingle.   Moisture retention is crucial with drying salt winds and sandy soil . The pea shingle is therefore laid over geotextile to provide a mulch and weed barrier for low maintenance.

Rock and Gravel Garden

Local rocks arranged with pea shingle and marine plants

Plants for Seaside Rock and Gravel Garden

We chose Eryngium planum (tall blue sea-holly), silene schafta ( pink sea campion), armeria maritima ( sea thrift), different thymes, lavender and stipa tenuissima as the main plants.   It gives a lively and natural feel to the rock and gravel feature. They are all salt tolerant and low maintenance.

Lavender, grasses and sea holly

Lavender sets off the rock garden below.

Colourful Planting-Front Garden

Using a colourful planting design makes for a welcoming front garden that gives pleasure every time someone walks to the front door! Here in Hampstead Garden Suburb we abandoned the less attractive main area of lawn and what a difference it’s made!

Hampstead Garden Suburb Front Garden

The garden looks much better with less lawn

Colourful planting links the two sides of the front garden

Uninteresting front lawn

The uninteresting front lawn – as was.

The new planted bed is surrounded by a narrow gravel path. This sets off the colourful planting and makes access for maintenance very easy.   The lawn to the other side of the path has been retained and has a small planting bed to echo the larger one.




Surprisingly, there is less maintenance in looking after the plants than a lawn which needs cutting every week as well as feeding and weeding to look good.  The plants just need the spent flower heads removed to prolong the colourful planting. Weeds are suppressed as the planting takes over.



Evergreens for year round presence

Ferns, hebe rakaiensis, Lavandula Dutch Group   (silvery foliage, long very fragrant flowers) and Heuchera ‘Tapestry’  (marbled leaves, pale pink foamy flowers)  provide year round interest in the front garden.

Hebe and lavender with colourful planting

Hebe and lavender provide evergreen structure.






Lilacs, purples and pinks

Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ ( silver leaf and tall lilac spires) ,  Veronicastrum  sibiricum (tall with fingers of lilac spires), Rosa bonica (soft pink clusters all summer), Verbena bonariensis (tiny purple flowers on airy stems) provide softness at different heights.  And its great for honey bees!

Veronicastrum sibericum attracting the bees,

Tall veronicastrum buzzing with bees









Magenta Penstemmon

Penstemmon ‘Garnet’ has beautiful magenta foxglove-like flowers.  The blooms appear over several months so give colourful planting over a long period.

Magenta penstemmons and white hydrangea

Garnet penstemmons give vibrant colour









White Hydrangeas

The mops of white hydrangeas are elegant and stunning in their own right.  White Geranium sanguineum and Gaura lindheimeri add further whiteness to provide contrast in the planting design.

New colourful planting

Why keep a lawn in the front garden when you could have this colourful planting instead?

Cedar Screens

Ceadr screens are attractive in their own right

Cedar screens at different levels in sloping garden

Cedar screens provide a very effective way to cover unsightly boundaries.  They are very attractive in their own right and provide a backdrop for a wide range of planting. Cedar is a long lasting and low maintenance softwood. Here in Highgate, the cedar screens have been used to obscure garages and a large shed. 



Highgate Garden

Garage Cedar Screens

The garden is sloping so we designed the cedar screens to step down across the back of the garden. The lateral slats give a feeling of width and are closely spaced to almost completely obscure the garages behind.   The gaps between the screens create a softer line and provide spaces for tall evergreen shrubs.

Attractive glossy evergreen magnolia with Hebe 'Lisa' and Penstemmon 'Garnet'

Glossy magnolia with flowers buds, Hebe ‘Lisa’ and Penstemmon ‘Garnet’

The planting includes a beautiful Magnolia grandiflora ‘Gallissoniere Praecox’ which has huge goblet-shaped white scented flowers. A few are in bud now.  In front of the screens, apricot pebbles set-off Penstemon ‘Garnet’ and Hebe ‘Lisa’.




Bright sun provides great shadows on the cedar screens

Shadows add to the interest of cedar screens

The shadows cast on the screens are interesting too.  This picture also shows tall Achillea filipendulina ‘Cloth of Gold’ with its flat bright yellow caps.






Shed Cedar Screens

Cedar screens partly obscure the shed.

Cedar screen with fruit trees partly obscure the shed

The new shed is in natural pressure-treated softwood. The cedar screens around this have a wider spacing.  In time, they will be covered in jasmines, buddleja and roses.  The quadrant border is edged with Lavandula x intermedia Dutch Group. This has long lavender flowers and a strong fragrance.  A pear and a plum tree are planted in the border.




Yucca, buddleja and yellow jasmine on shed screen

Yucca, buddleja and yellow jasmine on shed screen

The long border with apricot pebbles includes Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’, Buddleja ‘Royal Red’ , hebes and jasmines.


A Bunch of Daffodils (Narcissus)

Which daffodils do you love? All daffodils are ‘narcissus’.  Here are some you might like. The slender ones look very pretty in gravel borders and rockeries.  Narcissus ‘Hawera’ is lemony with multiple heads and appears in mid spring.  ‘Baby Moon’ is a brighter yellow,  taller and arrives later in spring.   Plant them both in drifts for the best effect.  

Drift of Narcissus 'Hawera' in gravel border

Drift of Narcissus ‘Hawera’










Narcissus ‘Thalia’

This is a classy one. Refined and elegant milky white flowers – two per stem, appear in mid April. They smell delightful too.


Elegant milky white flowers of Narcissus 'Thalia'

Elegant milky white flowers of ‘Thalia’










Narcissus ‘Pimpernel’

These orange trumpets just make you smile.  This grows to about 35cm and works well in clumps in grassland.  It flowers from late March.

Cheerful orange cups of Narcissus 'Pimpernel'

Cheerful orange cups of ‘Pimpernel’










Narcissus ‘Pipit’

This daffodil has pale lemon flowers with a distinct creamier colour trumpet.  The lemon fades attractively as the flower ages.  It flowers in April and is also good in grass.

Narcissus 'Pipit'  has lemon yellow flowers fading to creamy white from the centre.

Lemon yellow ‘Pipit’ with creamy white trumpets










Narcissus poeticus 

Narcissus poeticus with Narcissus 'Baby Moon'

Narcissus poeticus with ‘Baby Moon’

A real beauty.  White  petals with a tiny golden, red rimmed cup.  It flowers in May but is well worth the wait.  They are great in a border.

Spring Flower Jewels

Spring is coming and some of the loveliest early spring flower surprises are the little flower jewels that we had forgotten from last year.  They appear unexpectedly in bright and striking colours.

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata 'J.S. Dijt' lovely jewel colurs

The jewel colours of Iris ‘J. S. Dijt’

These are so gorgeous. Two I love are : Iris reticulata ‘J.S.Dijt’ –rich purple with a central yellow/orange mark surrounded by indigo and white dashes on each fall  and Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ – the palest blue with dark blue dashes and yellow markings. Find a sunny, well drained spot in your garden for half a dozen of these flower jewels. They are only 10-15 cm tall.

Iris 'Katharine Hodkin'- delicate blue flowers in early Febrary

Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’- delicate blue

Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)

Eranthis hyemalis and Galanthus nivalis

Bright yellow winter aconites and snowdrops

A bright yellow flower jewel on a frilly green collar provides a welcome ray of sunshine. These do well in a dry, sunny area under deciduous trees and associate well with tiny snowdrops.  These are very short, about 7.5cm tall.




Helleborus foetidus

There lots of hellebores that associate well with spring bulbs but the unique appearance of Helleborus foetidus is of special merit.  It has narrow dark evergreen foliage and a profusion of small pale green bells with narrow purple rims that last from mid winter to mid spring. It grows to about 70cm tall.  Hellebores prefer dappled shade and a rich soil.  Plant clusters of bright flower jewels between them to create a lovely effect.

Pale green bells with red rims

Pale green bells hang prettily on Helleborus foetidus

Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey’

Erica x darleyensis 'Furzey' winter heather by the sea in Kerry, Ireland.

‘Furzey’ winter heather by the sea in Kerry, Ireland.

Here in Kerry, Ireland this winter flowering heather adds such a note of cheer when all else has died back. ‘Furzey’ is a jewel with lilac pink flowers which deepen to mauve pink.  It associates well with junipers and low growing mountain pines. It’s a wonderful plant for a country garden or a rocky area.

The Best Time for Garden Design

The garden design process and its implementation takes time – a few months from the initial survey to planting.  The best time for garden design is often the winter as it can then be landscaped and planted in spring ready for enjoyment as the weather warms up.  Spring or autumn can also be a good time for garden design. A spring design may have your garden ready in late summer and an autumn design will be ready for implementation early the next year. In the summer, look at your garden at its best and reflect on what you would really like. The steps and time for garden design and implementation are usually as follows:

Garden Survey

Good to survey when growth is reduced in wnter and early spring

Early spring survey before new seasons growth

First the garden must be accurately measured. This includes the different levels in the garden and the positions of existing features, major shrubs and trees. Other items to record are views from the house, soil type, drainage, aspect, and locations of utilities.  Late autumn, winter and early spring are good times for a survey as the planting is less dense and the garden is more accessible.   A survey usually takes a few hours depending on the size of the garden and a similar time to draw it all up.


Garden Design Concept

With ideas based on everything you would like and the feel of the garden, a concept can be developed.  A ‘mood board’ of images will convey the concept. An outline plan looking down on the garden is drawn to give a clear idea of the proposed garden layout. It usually takes a couple of weeks to get the ideas thought through and the outline plan prepared.

Garden Design Detail

Good detailing is so important to make sure all the features such as paving, walls, and structures can be built well and in the materials required by the design.  A plan drawing and construction details will be prepared. The time for this depends on the complexity of the design but can be a few weeks.  The best time for garden design drawings is anytime as the work is not weather dependent!

Tendering for Landscaping

Steps in dark dolomitc limestone

Construction of steps, walls and paving is best in mild dry weather

Landscapers will need to visit the garden and study the drawings and requirements specified in the tender documents.  Depending on the complexity, allow a couple of weeks to get the bids in and another week or so to review them and decide who is best for the job.  Landscapers get very busy in spring so getting ahead if you want a new garden in the summer is crucial.




Landscaped in winter ready for spring planting

Landscaped in winter ready for spring planting

Medium-sized residential gardens can often be re-landscaped in about 4 to 6 weeks.  This depends on the extent of the work, the amount of labour that is needed to achieve the work, the accessibility of the garden and the weather.  Some landscaping can take place in the winter months but the weather is often more suitable for paving and other hard landscaping in spring and autumn.




Looking good in mid-summer

Early planting rewarded in mid-summer

Getting plants in the ground in early spring gets them off to a great start.  The planting design will have been prepared on a separate drawing showing all the sizes, locations and names.  The plants are then ordered in time for planting to begin very soon after the landscaping is finished.  The planting may be completed in a few days. Most planting is best done in spring or autumn as it is difficult to establish new plants in weather that is too hot and dry or too cold.


Autumn planting

Autumn planting – trees get best start while dormant

Winter Flowers

Winter flowers are often spectacular, unusual or scented to lure the few pollinating insects that are around.  I like to see them near my house or along a path where they give a great boost on a winter’s day.  Look out for lovely winter flowers in parks and give them a sniff, you’ll be surprised how gorgeous some of them smell.  Here are a few winter charmers you may enjoy and the good news is they are all low maintenance.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Yellow scented racemes of  Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Yellow, scented racemes of Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Delightful crowns of scented yellow flowers appear in late autumn and persist through winter.  The flowers are tiny on long racemes at the top of the architectural evergreen spiny foliage.  I have seen bees visiting mine.  It likes a shady spot.




Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

Posies of white flowers emerging from pink buds of Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price'

White flowers sprays emerging from pink buds of Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

White posies of sweetly scented flowers emerge from pink buds to decorate this dark-leaved evergreen shrub over a long period in winter.  Blue-black berries follow-on.  It makes a large shrub in sun or part shade and can be pruned to make a hedge or clipped ball.




Camellia x williamsii  ‘Golden Spangles’

Deep pink single flowers on Camellia x williamsii 'Golden Spangles'

Deep pink single flowers on variegated Camellia x williamsii ‘Golden Spangles’

This is a lovely upright shrub with golden markings in the centre of glossy deep green leaves.  The buds form early and the rich pink single flowers can last from late January to early April.  Unlike some camellias, it is not ‘blousy’ and its variegated foliage is interesting all year.  Put in a shady place with slightly acid soil but not east facing as frost and morning sun can damage the blooms.



Rhododendron ‘ Christmas Cheer’

Heads of soft pink flowers on Christmas Rhododendron

Heads of soft pink flowers on Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

These gorgeous soft pink heads of flowers are just what we need soon after Christmas.  Its such an easy compact plant for slightly acid soil and dappled shade. It works well with Camellias and Acers.





Cyclamen coum

Delightful pink flowers of Cyclamen coum

Silver marked leaves and pink flowers of Cyclamen coum

Dear little pink or white flowers arise in profusion from tubers from late winter.  The leaves are dark green and rounded and often marked with a silvery pattern.  Plant them in dry shady borders  or under trees.

Circles in Gardens


Curved beds with leafy plants for a long season of interest

Curved lawns and borders create interest in a rectangular plot.

Using circles in gardens can add a feeling of width and interest to a rectangular plot. In this garden in Finchley, North London, we have three main circular shapes – two in grass lawn and one in a circular patio.  The circles create wider planting beds and different aspects for a range of plants. 

Planting was finished in October 2014. At the beginning of May 2015, the white birches and small acers are in leaf and the garden is maturing nicely.


Finchley  Garden

Circular Patio



Cucular patio and vegetable area

Circular patio and curved brick path

A simple sandstone circle is set off with an outer circle of sandstone setts.  The curved path in clay pavers goes to the shed and continues the circle motif.   The wooden sleepers edge a raised bed for vegetables, already full of young produce,  and provides useful informal seating.  





Circular patio with lavender and box.

Circular patio with vegetable area

This picture shows the curved beds beside the patio with lavender and box hedging.  The loquat is flourishing and the fruit trees have blossomed already.  In the summer, a mix of taller flowering shrubs and perennials, will add more colour to make this a delightful place to sit in the sun.




Circular Lawns and Borders

Curved lawns provide interest and invite a journey down the garden

Curved lawns invite a journey down the beautifully planted garden.

The small circular lawn joins the patio and the lavender hedge links them both.  The larger lawn is part of a larger circle. It creates a broad sweep and has two large curved plant borders within it.  The circular patio also reflects the curve of the existing patio by the house.

Planting towards the front of the two curved borders includes bergenia, foxgloves, ferns, hellebores and heuchera. At the back are shrubs with two white multi-stemmed birch trees in one and three colourful acers in the other. 

Side Gardens


Lattice trellis with rose obelisks and underplanting

Lattice trellis with rose obelisks and underplanting

A corner plot provides a great opportunity to develop a side access into a useful and attractive side garden which links the front and back gardens.  We included a new screened boundary in our design for this side garden in Mill Hill and light paving to give a bright aspect for sitting out.



Mill Hill Garden

Boundary Hedging and Fences

The side garden is next to a residential road and has a protected hawthorn hedge inside mesh fencing along its boundary. The hedge has been pruned and supplemented with new hawthorns for greater density.  It is on a raised bank with retaining sleepers and a new lattice trellis fence on the inside provides extra privacy.

Planting Design for Screening and Interest 

Obelisk with Rosa 'Golden Showers'

Obelisk with Rosa ‘Golden Showers’

Variegated Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’ , cone shaped Box plants and rose obelisks planted with Rosa ‘Golden Showers’ will grow to provide good coverage against the lattice screen.





Heucheras, geraniums and Stipa

Lively plant combination of heucheras and geraniums

These shrubs are interplanted with Heuchera ‘Lime Marmalade’, Geranium ‘Max Frei’, Stipa tenuissima and thymes. The scheme is cheerful and provides a long period of interest.





Patio and Pathway

Pathway to shed, gaTe and veg area

Limestone paving to shed, veg area and gate

We chose Vintage Limestone as a robust and light paving. The side garden is wide enough to have a patio area on to the lawn at the rear of the property.   The sunny end even has space to grow some vegetables and herbs. Beside the vegetable area is a useful shed and attractive gate and railings which match the front of the property.