8 Professional Tips for Novice Gardeners
If this past year has sparked an interest in making more of your outdoors, this expert advice will lay the groundwork
Professional advice from: Patricia Tyrrell of Patricia Tyrrell Living Landscapes; John Brennan of Yorkshire Gardens; Peter Reader of Peter Reader Landscapes
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If you were dressing your living room or bedroom, you wouldn’t just think about the flooring, you’d consider all the layers, from curtains and pictures to cupboards and cushions. Patricia Tyrrell suggests you treat your garden in a similar way and think of your plants like the furnishings of a house.
“Low-growing, mainly perennial plants should be the carpet and therefore purchased in largest numbers,” she says. “Shrubs are the furniture, so you have to be careful about the quantity and leave space around them in order that they can be appreciated for their individual forms and not grow together into an untidy mass. Trees are the ceiling and windows, creating the roof and framing the views.
“Just like in a room, the shrubs and trees should sit on the carpet in a layer,” she continues. “It would look pretty silly if you cut a square out of your carpet to sit the sofa on and the same applies in the garden.”
At the same time as having a sense of how you’d design your interior, however, John Brennan suggests you also consider the fact that gardens are constantly changing.
“Not only is what you plant going to grow and spread, it’s also going to change over time,” he says. “If it’s a tree or shrub, it will get larger and also cast more shade, which will affect what’s planted nearby.”
Before you purchase anything for your garden, it’s worth spending some time in it to find out where the sunny and shady areas are, so you can choose your plants and position your seating accordingly.
“Draw a little map and mark in the shady areas in the morning, at noon and in the evening,” Patricia suggests. Note whether each area is mostly in sun, mostly in shade, or in part-sun, part-shade. “Then, when choosing plants, it becomes much easier to identify where they will grow best,” she says.
“This is also a useful exercise for identifying areas of the garden for a patio or seating to get the morning or evening sun; a shady area where you can locate your garden shed, or a place that gets the sun all day for vegetables or a greenhouse,” she adds.
Peter agrees, saying, “When buying plants, do your research, and go for what will grow well in your garden conditions. Don’t just buy what the garden centre has to offer. ‘The right plant for the right place’ is the garden designers’ mantra.”
“Large-leaved plants with cooler-coloured flowers probably originated from woodlands and will look better in the shade,” he says. “Hot-coloured flowers look good planted next to grasses to give a natural, prairie feel, while herbs often prefer poor soil and look good planted through gravel.”
Patricia and Peter both suggest you shouldn’t buy one of everything, but several, preferably in odd numbers – three, five, even seven.
“Mix them around the garden,” Peter says. “Repetition pulls the space and design together and creates harmony.”
Whether you have deep or shallow beds, it’s wise to fill them with your favourite plants, or nature will step in.
“If you leave bare soil in your garden, nature will fill it with weeds,” Patricia says, “so it’s important to try to achieve a complete ground cover. Not only will your garden be more colourful and interesting, it will also be easier to maintain.”
The sense that there’s more to explore beyond what you can immediately see is a trick many designers use to make a garden feel bigger than it is, so consider partially hiding an area.
“If you have a garden where all parts are visible at once, you could think about partitioning it, either physically with screens or hedges, or through different planting styles with different atmospheres,” John says.
You might also like 6 Ways to Elegantly Link Different Areas of Your Garden.
All our experts recommend you try to consider different flowering times and changing leaf colours.
“If you visit a garden centre, don’t purchase all the plants that are in flower, as you’ll end up with a garden that only has colour at one time of year,” Patricia says.
John adds that a range is important so other plants take over when early flowerers have gone past their best. “Bear in mind plants will change throughout the season, so what you’re buying from the garden centre may look great now, but may look very different in six months’ time,” he says.
“Plan for interest for the whole year,” Peter agrees. “Select a mix of plants that flower at different times or have two seasons of interest, such as spring blossom and autumn foliage colour, so there’s always something of interest going on.”
Have you found yourself more interested in gardening recently? Did you find these tips useful? Share your thoughts and garden photos in the Comments.