A garden full of ideas

Show gardens can be excellent sources of ideas and inspiration if you want to improve your own garden, and you can copy as little or as much as you like.

This show garden, designed for demonstration purposes, contains all the most popular garden features – a patch of lawn, a patio large enough to hold a table and chairs, per-golas, trellis and some pretty shrubs, flowers and climbers. While such show gardens, with their many different boundary walls and fences, may be a little too complex to copy exactly, they still contain masses of ideas for you to extract and simplify, lor use in your own garden, especially if you’re keen on DIY projects.

You can see show gardens at major gardening shows and home and garden exhibitions, and they are often featured on television gardening programmes. Likewise, visiting gardens in locally or nationally organized open-garden schemes is equally valuable, as a source of inspiration and ideas.

In this show garden, the purpose-built pergola surrounding the central lawn is the most dramatic feature, adding instant height and a sense of depth, and creating the potential for a dense jungle of climbers. Though shown newly planted, roses, clematis, honeysuckle,and jasmine will eventually cover every trellis panel and clamber up every post and along the connecting beams.

Diagonal layout

A scheme based on diagonals adds richness and interest to a small back garden. By running ar an angle to the surrounding walls, the layout makes it difficult for the viewer to take in the whole garden at one glance, hence disguising its small overall size.

The amount of work involved in the construction of a layout based on diagonals is virtually the same as for a layout that runs parallel to the surrounding walls, since it is simply a rightangled layout swivelled through 45 degrees.

Small triangular corner areas created by the layout can be put to good use for siting unattractive but essential items such as a shed and compost bin, camouflaged by climber-covered trellis panels.

As a bonus, diagonal layouts are as exciting to look down on, from upper rooms in the house, as they are to walk through.

Assessing your garden

Knowing your garden s strengths and weaknesses is the first step to planning a garden that meets all your family’s needs and makes a perfect setting for your home.

W hether you are faced with a bare plot or an established garden needing renovation, the more familiar you are with your garden, the more likely you are to maximize its potential. If you have just moved house, try to live with your garden for at least a year before making important changes, so you can learn its strong and weak points, as well as what your priorities are. You can still keep it clean and tidy, and plant cheap and cheerful bulbs and annuals to fill gaps while you wait to see what comes up and consider long-term plans. Or buy and grow shrubs or small standard trees in large pots or tubs – you can always plant them in the open ground once you’ve decided on a layout.

Before even beginning to consider creating your new layout, try to take reference photographs, such as a panorama shot from the centre of the lawn, or views overlooking the garden taken from the house. Take photographs in the winter as well as during the growing season, so you can plan for winter interest.

Existing plants

Established trees and shrubs add height, depth, character and privacy to a garden and though they are often taken for granted, their abrupt removal can leave a garden barren. Awkwardly placed ones can sometimes be moved while dormant; excessively big, overgrown or misshapen ones may be improved by pruning. Think twice before removing mature shrubs or trees; it is costly and risky to buy in replacement mature plants, should you change your mind later. Some trees are protected by law and you need planning permission before pruning or removal can take place, so check with your local planning authority if in doubt.


A south-facing slope warms up earlier than the equivalent level ground. In winter, a north-facing slope is hardly warmed by the sun’s low rays. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the pattern is re-versed.) Sun-loving plants won’t succeed in dense shade, and vice versa, but again, there are many plants tolerant of both.

Vistas and eyesores

A near or distant pleasant view is worth framing with tall plants on either side. A garden seat could face the view, or a path be redi-rected towards it.

Eyesores, such as a garage or shed, can be camouflaged with climbers or dense shrubs. Eyesores outside the garden may need to be screened by fixing trellis or woven panels on top of existing walls or tall trees.

Evergreen trees and shrubs give total camouflage but may block out light. And though it can be tempting to plant quick-growing conifers, such as leyland cypress, to hide eyesores, the conifers themselves can quickly outgrow their allotted space, become bare at the base and overshadow the garden. Quick-growing conifers also tend to be short-lived. Deciduous plants offer reasonable screening and let in light in winter when light levels are low.


Soil type doesn’t really affect the layout but certain plants do grow best on certain soils – rhododen-drons, for example, like a free-draining, acid soil. Try to choose plants accordingly. Many attractive plants grow in a wide range of soils. Any soil, however poor, can be improved. Unless an area is permanently waterlogged, drain-


Age shouldn’t really affect the lay-Local weather conditions out, and even a waterlogged patchMaximum and minimum temper- can be improved by installingatures and the dates of the first drains. Or you could plant theand last frosts vary from place to patch as a bog garden, perhapsplace and year to year. (If new to even incorporating a small ornathe area, ask neighbours or a local mental pool as the focal point.garden centre.) The amount of annual rainfall also varies. It is unwise, however, to depend on the idea of frequent artificial watering of moisture-loving plants as a matter of course, in view of the imposition of possible watering bans in times of severe water shortage. But in a small garden watering can usually make up the difference.

Bear local climate in mind when choosing permanent plants and when timing the planting out of summer bedding and tender vegetables, such as tomatoes and runner beans.

Man-made features

New layouts obviously must in-corporate permanent buildings and large-scale features, such as brick garages and driveways. Smaller features, such as sheds, modest greenhouses, bird baths, paths, gates and even ornamental ponds, may be repositioned, re-placed or removed.

If a paved path is in the wrong place, patches of worn-out lawn nearby often show where the path should be positioned instead.

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