Friday, 28 August 2009

Social Gardens

This year I re-designed my own front garden, mainly because it was looking tired, and many of the old plants needed replacing. While planning what we wanted to do with it, I was also thinking that we don’t get much afternoon sun in our back garden in the late summer/autumn, when the sun is getting lower. It occurred to me that we could include another seating area in front of the house, which is south-west facing, and catches the afternoon & evening sun. Since our living rooms don’t offer a full view of the front space, sitting there allows me to appreciate the hard work I put into the new design, allowing more than the usual passing glance as I walk to the front door.
It’s been a revelation, as my wife and I sit having a cuppa in the afternoons or a glass of wine in the evening. Neighbours have joined us for a chat; complete strangers walking by speak; even someone I worked with years ago came past on his bike, recognised me, and stopped to catch up. It seems we’ve been missing a trick here in increasing the sociability of our neighbourhoods. I think maybe we’ve re-invented the equivalent of the old American idea of “sitting on the stoop”. Once you get over any self-consciousness of being on display, sitting in the front garden becomes a real pleasure. Why not give it a go? Give yourself a whole new view of your front garden, and start to meet more of the people who pass by your house.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Visit to Future Gardens

Butterfly World near to St. Albans, is home to Future Gardens, a series of conceptual gardens which I visited at the weekend. The gardens themselves are great fun for kids as well as being thought-provoking and enjoyable to wander through – more so IMO than show gardens, which can only be viewed from one angle. They ‘re all the more interesting for being semi-permanent – staying for the whole season, so you see them differently depending on when you visit, in the same way as their predecessors at Westonbirt and the similar international gardens at Chaumont in France and Metis in Canada. A better description than I could give of the gardens can be seen in Cleve West’s “Independent" article, but my particular favourites were Nest , by Jane Hudson and Erik de Maeijer – a wonderfully meandering garden in such a small space, The Exoskeleton by Paul Dracott - loved the large timber frames towering over the planting, Nature’s Artistry Autumn’s Edge by Fiona Heron – unusual bullrush-type structures wave magically in the breeze, and the H Garden by Bruno Marmiroli – another meandering space, with a surprise orange structure which opens to reveal three stylised trees.

Butterfly World, by the way, is an ecological project worth keeping an eye on. The wildflower meadows are great to wander through, and the eclectic permanent gardens by Ivan Hicks are a joy. There is a small hot-house with exotic butterflies at present, but eventually the site will have a tropical dome – “the biggest butterfly walk-through exhibition in the world”. The cafe was pretty good (a tip on deterring wasps – the staff were burning coffee grounds in bowls to smoke them out), and there was a large plant sales area too, where I was pleased to see a display of the designer pots by a friend of mine – Jonathan Garratt.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lawn Care

Now's the time people start to look at the sorry state of their lawns and wonder what to do about it. Of course, there are many professional companies who will come and sort out major problems, but for those who just want general advice, I've had a leaflet which I've given to clients over the years. I'll share it with everyone here:

Newly Turfed Lawns - DOs and DON’Ts

· DO keep it watered in dry periods until it is established - especially the first 6-8 weeks BUT don't make it waterlogged!
· DO allow a few weeks for roots to establish before allowing "traffic" on the lawn
· DON’T mow for at least 3-4 weeks, until growth of about 2 inches (50mm) has been made;
· DO take care with first few mowings not to lift the turf, especially at the edges
· DON’T use feed or weed products for the first 6 months (i.e. if lawn was laid in autumn, OK to weed & feed the following spring & vice-versa)
· DON’T scarify or wire-rake the lawn for at least 12 months

A Calendar of Lawncare

· Jan-Feb.: Leave it alone! Try not to walk on it, especially if it's frosted
· Mar.: First mowing, with blades set to high cut. Feed with high nitrogen lawn fertilizer
· Apr.: Gradually lower height of cut
· May: Apply weedkiller if needed. Lower cut to summer levels (3/4" = 20mm)
· June: Feed & weed treatment - approximately 6 weeks after May weedkill
· Jul-Aug.: Mow 2-3 times per month
· Sept.: Mow 3-4 times. Feed with LOW Nitrogen (N) high Potassium (K), high Phosphorous (P) lawn fertilizer to condition it for winter. Turfing and/or re-seeding if necessary
· Oct.: Raise height of cut. Autumn maintenance, as described overleaf
· Nov.-Dec.: Last (high) cut, then leave it alone. Sweep off fallen leaves

Autumn maintenance

This is best carried out in late September to October - though it can be done at other times providing the grass is growing strongly (i.e. warm & moist conditions - not hot & dry or cold & wet). The procedure is:

· Scarify the lawn
· Mow in same direction as scarification
· Leave it 3-7 days to recover
· Scarify, then mow, again - but in direction of 60-90 degrees to the first sequence. This will probably take out as much rubbish as the first time
· Spike the lawn to aerate it
· Brush in (using a besom) a top dressing of autumn lawn fertilizer (i.e. low nitrogen) plus compost & horticultural grade washed sharp sand mix

*Scarification: This is raking out (using a spring-tine rake or machine) the accumulated "thatch". The thatch must be collected and removed to allow light and air to the grass blades. It also helps the weeds stand up, and hence get cut by mowing.

*Mowing: Don't cut too short - not more than 1/3 off the height at one time. Mowing is best done regularly rather than left to get long and then blitzed. Remember that mowing is taking nutrients out of the grass (like collecting a crop), so you must feed the lawn to replace the nutrients. Use a mower that collects the cuttings (either rotary or cylinder) unless a mulch-mower is used which re-distributes the clippings as a fine mulch.

*Spiking: This lets air into the soil, and allows waste gases out, it removes compaction, and improves drainage. Spiking needs the soil to be moist, and is best done with a hollow-tined aerator, but can be done with an ordinary garden fork. Ideally follow spiking with a top dressing, using horticultural sharp sand & compost to prevent the spike holes closing up again. It gives real benefit, but it takes several months for this to show!

Remember: Grass won't grow well if in the shade or on poorly-drained ground. If you have a lot of shade, or water-logged soil, call us for specialist advice.

Remember too that some herbicides can be harmful to wildlife, especially aquatic creatures - always follow the manufacturer's directions, and if in doubt keep well away from ponds, streams, ditches, etc.

"Lawn sand" is the cheapest ready-mixed product which will "instantly" kill moss - though it has no effect on other weeds. It contains sulphate of ammonia (feeds the grass) and sulphate of iron (kills the moss and greens up the grass) in a sharp sand carrier. Be careful to apply it to correct dosage and evenly spread - it will leave blackened, scorched grass if excessively applied. It's best applied in the early morning, whilst dew is on the ground, in Spring. Don't use in Autumn, as it will soften up the grass. The lawn should be watered if there's no rain after 2 days. Note that it works by "burning off" surface moss, but the roots are not touched, so it is NOT a permanent solution.

Look in garden centres for other lawn weedkillers. Some are specifically for treating moss and/or clover. They will generally take 1-2 weeks to work and may need a second application 4-6 weeks later. The effects generally last up to 6 months. Moss is often regarded as a separate problem (the cause of it should be dealt with) and therefore "weed & feed" products often don't deal with moss - though some "triple action" ones do!

Don't mow for 3 days before/after applying weedkiller. Ideally, apply a high nitrogen lawn feed 10-14 days before a "straight" weedkiller. This gets both the weeds & grass actively growing. The weeds are more susceptible then to destruction, and the grass is better placed to grow into vacated biospace. Most products will require watering in if there has not been rain within 2-3 days of treatment. After about 2-3 weeks rake out the dead moss/weed using an electric lawn rake or (with some effort!) by hand, using a spring-tine rake, otherwise it will not allow the grass to grow properly.

Monday, 17 August 2009

School Gardens

There's been an upsurge of interest in school gardens recently, due both to the interest in promoting healthier eating in our children, and in encouraging environmental studies. The Royal Horticultural Society is running a campaign, supported by Alan Titchmarsh and Chris Collins. The Kids Garden has some great ideas too, as does Growing Schools. Some of the large supermarkets are supporting these schemes, and the National Trust has joined with the Yorkshire Bank to promote greener school gardens in Yorkshire, as part of their greener gardens campaign.
I recently designed a wildlife garden for a school, which can be viewed here. I can't help feeling that the development of school gardens must be beneficial on so many levels, for both young people, teachers, school neighbours, and the environment in general.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Growing Our Own Food

Current news items about the effect of climate change on food availability, the need to produce greater quantities of crops nearer to home, and the end of the “cheap food” era must surely mean an increase in many people wanting productive areas as part of an overall garden design. The integration of veggie patches with ornamental gardens (if we want to be posh about it, “potagers”) is nothing new, and can be an attractive idea – though some people are put off by thinking it’s a lot of work. I’ve done projects in the past using raised beds, which can reduce the work and overcome poor soil conditions, linked to the ornamental garden by, for example, a pergola walkway. I recently visited a company called Living Leaves, who have developed a complete system for producing veg, herb & salad crops – including neat raised beds, planting plans for all-year-round crops, plants delivered to your door at just the right time, plus monthly email guides. Integrating a system like this within an overall design can give a novice client confidence that they can grow wholesome, fresh food themselves – without it being too much work, and at less cost than buying from a supermarket.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Article on Rain Gardens

I've just had a piece published in the local magazine about rain gardens. The gist of it was:
"We’re all aware of the village roads flooding after heavy storms and we’re constantly being told of climate change and its consequences.
You may not know about last autumn’s change in planning regulations, which means that anyone paving more than five square metres of front garden has to do so in a way that prevents rainwater running off onto the highway and, therefore, into the storm water drains. Estate and property developers now have to give consideration to rainwater management, including using SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) to minimise the effects of rainwater during heavy downpours.
The intention of these new planning measures is to have as much rainwater as possible returned into the ground, where it can be soaked up and used by plants before naturally returning to brooks, streams and rivers. This allows the water to move in a delayed, slowed and cleaned manner, instead of as a deluge carrying pollutants from hard surfaces into the drainage system.
(You may think that this is only a problem for the cities, but consider the following small calculation. The population of the village is 2116; assuming an average of 4 people per household this gives 529 dwellings; if they are, on average, similar “roofprints” to my house, the rainwater falling on the village's roofs during a 2-hour heavy storm amounts to about 350,000 gallons (just over 1.5 million litres) – or enough to fill a 25m swimming pool 3 times over! OK, many dwellings will have soakaways instead of pouring this into the drainage system, but just imagine how much more water falls on roads, paths, drives, car parks, ...)
Whilst this new emphasis is a positive step, it still treats rainwater as a problem to be “managed”. Many people are now thinking differently, with rainwater being regarded as a resource. The established use of water butts connected to downpipes via diverters for use in the garden is increasing in popularity, although many of you will know how quickly a water butt is filled in a storm, still leaving the excess to flood into the drainage system. Some people have invested in larger rainwater “harvesting” systems, such as underground storage tanks beneath permeable-paved drives, although these are very expensive, and complex to install.
In their book “Rain Gardens” (Timber Press, 2007), Sheffield University’s Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden describe new concepts that combine environmental benefits and aesthetics where rainwater is not seen purely as a resource or as a problem, but is instead a visible, celebrated part of our gardens."

You can see a rain garden I recently designed here.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Blooming Good Gardens at the New Forest Show

Last week was fun. I and four other garden designers had a stand at the New Forest Show. Business was brisk, especially on the Tuesday - the weather forecast was poor for Wednesday so maybe everyone decided that was the day to visit. We had many seemingly genuine visitors, and gave out sets of leaflets and business cards.

The week would have been perfect, had it not been for traffic problems. The first day I was on the stand, I lost my car in the evening...although I knew exactly where I'd left it. Security had other ideas though...and then on the last evening, when we wanted to dismantle the stand, heavy traffic, and an off-site road accident, led to grid-lock on the showground.