I help many garden owners who feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to do with the basic planting and layout of their borders.
Sometimes this can be lack of knowledge and confidence, coupled with not much time so that their garden becomes a chore coupled with a nagging feeling that at some point someone needs to get out and tackle it!
If you don’t want to get the professionals in, here are some handy tips for getting brave and getting a handle on what goes on in your borders!
This is a good time of year to start taking a good hard look at what to keep, what to move and what to ditch as well as what to replant in the coming months.
1. Be Realistic
It’s no use thinking you have Prior Park Landscape at the back of your house when you actually have very limited space. We can all be deluded about our own gardens, so look at the constraints. How dry or damp is the area? Does it get much sun or is it in the shade? What kind of soil do you have? Much of Bath is neutral to alkaline meaning that most plants will happily grow here. You can easily test the soil with a kit bought from any garden centre. If you are digging in a new border, think about how you will view it from your house, what position it will be in, is there room for extending it later? What kind of micro-climate do you have in your garden? Is it sheltered or exposed?
2. Getting Tough
Sometimes it can be a good idea to take a firm view of what your planting is made up of. Sometimes we can become over sentimental about plants especially that rose the mother-in-law gave us, when really they might be in the wrong place or taking up too much room. Sometimes it can be easier to start from scratch when you have a border full of massive plants just taking up space. Maybe get a strict friend round to help you to draw up a list of what to axe! Essentially you need to really love what is growing in your garden or get rid. Life is too short to have a garden full of plants you don’t care about.
3. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Take note of any weeds that are growing and get them out. You need to make sure they are as permanently gone as possible by hand weeding, then leaving for a couple of weeks and seeing what grows back. If necessary and if you have particular problems with ground elder or bindweed use the tested method I learnt whilst training of putting the vegetation, whilst still attached at the root, into a nappy sack and spraying a squirt of weed killer into the bag, tying in a knot and leaving for two weeks. This means the chemical is contained, does not touch any other plants and will permanently eradicate your pernicious weeds. If you don’t want to use chemicals, keep hoeing and weeding until you feel sure that the ground is as clear as possible.
4. Get mixing
To give your plants the best start in life you need some really good soil, and to get this start by assessing what your soil is like. If it has a lot of clay in it, you particularly need to get adding plenty of rotted organic matter such as leaf mould or mushroom compost. Once you have planted your border then use more matter as thick mulch, putting on at least 5-6 inches deep, as worms will eventually drag this in as well as prevent moisture loss from the ground and suppress some weeds. In my opinion there is little more satisfying than a well dug border, with good soil waiting to be planted!
5. Take note
It’s easy to revamp a tired border by adding additional planting as well as perhaps a bench or sculpture. Photograph your border before you start and get the measuring tape out to assess exactly how much space you have, this will help you to calculate the number of plants you might need to buy. Use your imagination and start designing by getting inspiration from gardens you have visited or images in books and magazines. How do you visualise you garden? Calming Japanese? Teaming with wildlife? Stuffed with colour? Vastly grand like Dyrham? Whatever your taste, your garden will also tell you what you can realistically do with it; however, this should not stop you from trying out something different. Think about the plants you like, colours and shapes and sizes and start a wish list.
6. Get Shopping
Make your wish list for planting, go mad, then go back and edit it down. Check the size of your plants and make sure you have space for them. There are lots of good websites which will give you dimensions as it is easy to go for things which sometimes need a border all of their own.
Think about how the border will look throughout the year and make sure that you choose varieties that will give you the interest you need depending on how often you see the border. The basic rules are to plant in groups and to use swathes of planting rather than using little bits of one here and there, this can end up looking messy and in the long term is harder to keep looking good. Less can be more in terms of not using too many varieties. Don’t overlook planting bulbs too as these will extend flowering periods as well as the obvious spring and summer interest. Put these in after you have done all your main planting, as it’s easy to forget where the bulbs are and digging them up accidentally.