Fire Pits, Garden Design, How To, Make over, Nick Dickinson

Garden design

If you’ve ever sat down and tried to work out how you can redesign your garden but felt that it’s all too overwhelming, then you are in the right place.

What I’m going to take you through is a simple self help system that will give you the same tools that a professional garden designer uses that will result in a scheme for your garden that you will recognise as your own.

Most of the enquiries we receive at Elementa Design are from clients who have either inherited a layout from the previous owners that doesn’t suit them, or just feel that the garden they might have tinkered with is still lacking in interest, functionality and form. Their priority now is to put this right by engaging a designer to introduce the wow factor that shows a professional has been involved.

It occurred to us recently, after meeting with a new client who said that she wouldn’t know where to start designing her own garden, that I thought I should jot down what we actually do as designers to create these wonderful spaces.

There are of course years of experience, technical construction know how and confidence to produce that wow factor, but you can go a long way down the path of garden design yourself if you followed these simple steps.

1. Surveying the area

Everything starts with getting a better understanding of what you already have. You’ll have to establish what you can and can’t do in the context of the site you have. Call it site assessment.

Walk round the garden for a couple of minutes taking in a visual brief to remind yourself of those boggy or shady areas that plants struggle in. Are there any areas that might have rubble or old garden features below the soil that need avoiding? Where are the areas of shade or baking sun?

Now clear the kitchen table, make sure you have a little peace and quiet for an hour or so. Find a large piece of paper. An A3 sketchpad would do but otherwise improvise with the back of some Christmas wrapping paper, or something that gives you plenty of room to experiment. You’ll also need some basic tools such as a scale rule, a small set square, a pencil and a large eraser. You’ll then need to pace out the garden. Don’t worry at this stage about tape measures, remember that a good long stride is a metre, so as long as you get rough proportions correct along with the positions of the doors, windows and other major existing features then that’s good enough for the time being. At this stage only plot the items that are immovable. That’s the practical things complete. Now you can do the creative side.

2. The Brief

To take the brief I find it helps to take a sheet of paper and put a vertical line down the middle and another line intersecting that to form a cross, or four quadrants as in the example below.

Garden design brief

You’ll see that there are specific titles in the quadrants; the top half deals with the existing garden and the bottom half gives you an opportunity to list those items that you do or don’t wish to see introduced into your new garden. Be as obvious as you can with your observations of the existing layout.

The bottom left hand quadrant should list those items and features that you’d like to see featured in your new garden that aren’t already there. This can be a wish list containing such things as water features, seating areas, BBQ area, shade sails, wooden planters and so on. Conversely, in the bottom right hand quadrant should go all those features and items that you wouldn’t like to see featured in the new garden. These may be items such as a particular yellow flower, statuary or more pots or containers, more lawn than you already have.

Patio heater

A lot of clients in the summer months are looking to plan to have features that can stand out in the winter months. Interestingly enough a lot of our garden design in Gloucestershire projects have incorporated both fire pits and halogen heating lamps adjacent to the seating area to add that wow factor and ensure you can enjoy your garden without necessarily wearing 4 layers in those chilly winter months. These are two of the stand out products from Primrose that we incorporated into our projects this year.

Firebowl

3. The Design

Given that sitting in the garden is an enjoyable and popular pastime for most people, it’s important that the seating area is easily accessible. Garden furniture can bring a sense of comfort to a garden. One of our most popular products that we have recommended to clients this year has been a corner Rattan sofa set that often seamlessly fits into both a country or town house garden. If you require something a bit smaller that could perhaps be suited to a focal point in your garden then a pair of stunning sofa chairs can be the perfect while adding that bit of luxury to another part of your garden.

Rattan sofa set

4. The journey – or joining the dots

Every garden should have a flow, by that I mean if the terrace is near the house then the next feature should draw you to it via a path or strong visual link that takes you to the next position in the garden. Perhaps now it’s time to look at your list of features and garden design ideas that you’d like to see incorporated in your living space.

You may have for instance a swing seat, water feature, planters or just a small bistro type table and two chairs that you can linger at. We call these areas honeypots as they give you an opportunity to stop, sit and just take it all in. The idea is to be able to walk round the whole garden, however small, to enjoy and sample the various honeypots, perhaps with a cup of coffee or something stronger after work. Here are our ‘Top 2’ honeypots this summer which we have included in our projects and strongly believe you should too.

Pergola Swing Seat

Designed to offer you a chance to really relax in your garden, this two-seater swing seat has been a client favorite of ours as featured in this garden design in Cheltenham below.

Pergola swing seat

Stainless Steel Glass Water Cascade

Incorporated into our formal designs, this stainless steel water cascade is made from high-grade stainless steel and glass, which added that wow factor when placed alongside a curved planting area.

Glass water wall

5. Focal points

These are much talked about and they are important. By definition a focal point is a feature or item that draws the eye to a distant point, partially obscured to create mystery in some cases. These can be something as simple as a pot, a tree, a bright stainless steel water feature or even just a white metal bench in the distance inviting you to go and sit. It needs to send a strong message so choose carefully and make sure it’s large enough to be able to dominate that space so when viewed from a distance it has the proportion to do the job.

6. Keep it simple

I know it sounds obvious, but the keep it simple rule should be adopted everywhere. If the design of the garden is strong enough it doesn’t need over embellishment. The curves in the garden whether it be gravel or lawn, the shape of the flower beds, keep it bold. Be courageous with fingers of planting beds that come out mid garden creating strong shapes. Big sweeping curves work far better than little wiggles that can also be a nightmare for those having to do the mowing.

7. The review

Hopefully by now you’ll have the features that you want dotted around the garden, some obscured from each other if you have the space and bold profiles defining the margin between planting and the central areas. You’ll see that it then all begins to make sense and with luck you’ll recognise it as something resembling what you wanted to achieve.

Now you can produce a fair copy of your sketch and put a little bit more definition and discipline into the design. You could then take your piece of paper out into the garden on a dry day and mark the positions of the main features with sand or marker paint. You can then ‘walk through’ the new shapes and see how it feels. Begin to select your garden furniture if you’re not using your existing furniture and walk around so that you feel you have enough space on the seating area. Sit at the end of the garden and see how the shapes work there as well.

The most extraordinary and magical process is yet to be enjoyed. The garden that has come from within through this process of design will then be brought to life in front of you and will continue to mature and bring years of enjoyment. There is nothing more magical and satisfying.

Nick Dickinson

Nick Dickinson of Elementa Design has been creating beautiful gardens for four decades now. Nick is an award winning garden designer who is able to take a brief, however sketchy, and transform your garden into something that will really stimulate the senses.

Composting, Flowers, Garden Design, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Wildlife

For hundreds of years farmers have used companion planting as a method to help improve their yields and get the most out of their fruit trees. This organic solution does far more than simply prevent pests from eating your fruit. Certain plant combinations serve a whole host of benefits including increased pollination, weed prevention and improved soil nutrition. Additionally it is a great way to cover the space under a fruit tree offering more colour and variety to your garden!

The Basics

As fellow gardeners I’m sure you recognise it is important to try and keep a natural balance, even in your garden. A key premise to companion planting is trying to avoid monocultures by planting a variety of different plants together. Among other things, you make it difficult for pests to find their desired food and spread amongst your crop.

For the Love of Fruit

Many people believe that it is difficult to grow anything under a tree. However, there are a great variety of plants which naturally thrive in this space. With that being said it is important to remember that if your fruit tree is trying to establish itself it is important to water it regularly, especially if you plan on planting more plants around it.

Fruit trees constantly come under attack from various pests because of their delicious fruit. They also require extra levels of potassium to help stimulate bud and fruit growth. If you want to avoid using chemical fertilisers or pesticides here is an essential list of companion plants for your fruit tree:

  • Chives – The scent of chives provides a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects and yet is attractive to the more beneficial pollinators. Additionally chives have been known to prevent apple scrab which is a notorious scrounge of apple fruit. A cautionary note is that chives are aggressive growers and so they will require maintenance to stop them invading the entire bed.
  • Nasturtium – A real favourite in the world of companion planting. This is a great plant to lure away aphids and particular caterpillars from your trees. It is a sacrificial crop. Nasturtium requires minimal nutrients, sun or water and so is brilliant for diverting pests while keeping your fruit tree strong. It has also been known to repel codling moth, a particular scrounge of apples.
Companion Planting - Nasturtium
Nasturtium in bloom
  • Fennel – This plant is fantastic for attracting pollinating and predatory insects. Hoverflies, ladybirds and parasitic wasps all love fennel and they love aphids and caterpillars even more. Plant this in your garden to help wage a natural war against these pests. Fennel can of course also be used for cooking and has been known to carry medicinal properties.
  • Dill – Very similar advantages as fennel; it attracts a host of predatory and pollinating insects… and it can also be used in cooking. Win win!
Companion Planting - Dill
A Hoverfly resting on a Dill plant.
  • Comfrey – Not only has this plant been used medicinally by people for nearly 2,500 years it is an amazing miner of soil providing nutrients for your tree! Being a deep-rooted plant it draws nutrients from the soil and then can be cut back and the clippings used as an organic mulch. Comfrey is drought, frost and pest resistant and grows well in partial shade so is perfect for the space under your tree. I would recommend trying to plant the ‘Bocking 14’ variety developed by organic pioneer Lawrence Hills. ‘Bocking 14’ being sterile won’t self-pollinate and spread all over your garden.
  • Chamomile – This beautiful flower deters pests with its strong scent while drawing in pollinators. Being drought and frost resistant and also not afraid of a little shade makes it perfect to plant around a tree. If suffering from a pest infestation a triple strength chamomile tea can be brewed and used as a spray for the affected area.

    Companion Planting - Chamomile
    Chamomile
  • Daffodils – Flowering early in the season daffodils are perfect for bringing in and supporting those pollinating insects. For a splash of spring colour plant in a circle around your tree at around 1ft from the base.
  • Lavender – Truly a favourite amongst all pollinating insects, including and especially bees; it’s strong scent also confuses pests. Lavender not only looks great in your garden but can be used for various DIY product such as soaps or teas. Or you can simply pick it and put it into a bowl for around the home to create a calming aroma.
Companion Planting - Lavender Flowers
Some bees thoroughly enjoying the pollen rich Lavender flowers

Understandably when it comes to food, especially food you’ve devoted labour and love to, you are cautious about spraying it with potentially harmful pesticides or even using fertilisers. Companion planting therefore offers an age-old organic method to ensuring healthy fruit trees while adding a touch of vibrancy and colour to your garden. You may also end up with some extra herbs to liven up your dishes!

Jorge at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Garden Design, Gardening, George, How To, Make over

Whether you’ve recently moved house, or just looked outside for the first time in months, anyone can find themselves facing a neglected garden. It’s intimidating. Overgrown plants, out of control trees, more weed than lawn – where do you start? There are a few things worth bearing in mind, and preparation is key, so here is our advice on how to restore a neglected garden. Take on the challenge!

How to restore a neglected garden

Tips for restoring a neglected garden

1 – Be patient
It’s best to wait a full year before you get started if possible. See what the garden looks like in all seasons, which areas become shady or full of life. What appears to be a pile of twigs now may blossom into a beautiful tree come spring.

2 – Make a list
While you’re waiting, observe what you like and dislike about the garden. Write it all down – plants, trees and any other features.

3 – Create space
When you’re ready to tackle the garden, the first step is to clear the area. You’ll see exactly what you have to work with and it will make designing your new garden much easier. It often helps to do this over winter. Try to compost any organic matter you clear for later use.

Weeding the patio

4 – Leave the trees
Cut back overgrown hedges and weeds, but hold back on the trees at first. They can be very difficult to fully remove (you’re often left with a huge stump that’s worse than before) and take so long to grow and establish that it’s difficult to replace them.

5 – Choose which plants to keep
A weed is any plant you don’t want – so dig it up. Remember that plants can be moved if you’d prefer them somewhere else, just treat them with care. This will save you money too. If you need help identifying plants, ask in the Primrose Gardens community.

6 – Take it a step at a time
If you work methodically on one area of your garden at a time, you will see the fastest improvements – which can be great motivation! Work to a design plan, keeping in mind where structural changes like decking, raised beds and sheds will go.

Pruning

7 – Prune
Pruning back existing plants gives two benefits – it makes more space and encourages fresh growth. If you’re unsure which plants need pruning or how to go about it, ask on Primrose Gardens or email our gardening expert.

8 – Rejuvenate the lawn
Depending on how long your garden’s been neglected, the lawn could be in any state. Start by mowing the grass and trimming the edges to get it tidy. Then reseed any bare patches or lay down new turf if you need grass in additional places.

9 – Know your budget
Before you go crazy on the spending front, be mindful of your budget so costs don’t get out of control and grind your project to a halt. Landscaping can get very expensive, especially for large areas, but planting is relatively cheap – especially if you grow from seed.

Garden theme

10 – Pick your theme
Deciding on a consistent theme for your garden will make all the difference in taking it from standard to exceptional. Visit show gardens and exhibitions like Hampton Court or watch gardening shows for inspiration.

11 – Add finishing touches
Finally it’s time to take your garden from usable to somewhere you really want to be. Clean up and paint or varnish the woodwork. Plant up any gaps in the flowerbeds. Tidy the borders with edging. Add some furniture for comfort and decorations to express your style.

Maintaining your restored garden

Once the hard work is done, of course you want to avoid the garden ever falling into the state it was in when you started. In the simplest terms you need to keep on top of anything that grows getting out of hand. This is what makes the garden look messy and can cause plants to become overcrowded and rot. Make sure you mow the lawn regularly and trim the edges. Prune plants and trees as necessary each year. Weeds are unfortunately unavoidable, so make time each week for getting rid of them.

Maintaining restored garden

Aside from that, you just need to look after the non-living items like you would do in the house. Keep the fences, furniture and patios clean. Furniture covers will protect your chairs and tables from the elements. Don’t be afraid to give woodwork a new coat of paint to keep it looking fresh. Experiment with new colours and styles in your blooms.

If too much maintenance sounds daunting then it’s worth keeping this in mind while you’re redesigning your garden. Choose options that will make your life easier down the line. Hardy plants can be mostly left to fend for themselves and won’t require as much of your time. Straight-edged lawns are much quicker to mow than curves, or perhaps you’d rather have artificial grass to eliminate the issue entirely.

Tools for restoring your garden

What will you need for your garden transformation? Here are some of the essentials:

  • Hedge trimmer
  • Lawn mower
  • Edge trimmer
  • Pruning shears
  • Fork
  • Spade
  • Gardening gloves

… But there may be many more specialist items depending on the scale of your project, from chainsaws to industrial diggers!

Tools for restoring garden

Embrace the challenge

So there we have it – our tips for getting through your neglected garden restoration. If you’ve ever tackled an unloved outdoor space, let us know what you learned along the way in the comments below. But most importantly, don’t be intimidated. See it as a fun challenge, whether you’re an experienced gardener or this is the first time you’re getting your hands dirty. It’s liberating – after all, you can’t make the garden any worse than it already is!

George at PrimroseGeorge works in the Primrose marketing team. As a lover of all things filmic, he also gets involved with our TV ads and web videos.

George’s idea of the perfect time in the garden is a long afternoon sitting in the shade with a good book. A cool breeze, peace and quiet… But of course, he’s usually disturbed by his energetic wire fox terrier, Poppy!

He writes about his misadventures in repotting plants and new discoveries about cat repellers.

See all of George’s posts.

Celebrations And Holidays, Competitions, Current Issues, Decoration, Events, Flowers, Garden Design, Garden Furniture, Gardening, Gardening Year, Hampton Court Flower Show, Liam, News, Planters, Planting, Plants, Ponds, RHS, Water Features

The Primrose team attended this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show to catch up with and discuss the latest gardening trends as well as engage with some of the nation’s favourite horticultural festivities. We endured the sweltering heat and odd glass of champagne to hopefully bring you the inspiration for your perfect garden.

Tropical

On display at this year were a vibrant showcase of exotic landscapes seemingly plucked from some far-off jungle and dropped onto the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. However, tropical gardening is something which is growing in popularity in the UK and not just the odd palm tree.

Tropical plants are, in fact, surprisingly hardy and many of them can tough it out through a British winter. Creating a tropical aesthetic in your very own garden provides a sense of exotic escape in what can be an otherwise cold and stressful routine. More and more urban dwellers are looking to bamboos, ferns, sarracenias and zantedeschias to create these backyard get-aways.

Many of these tropical varieties are used to battling it out below the canopy for little light and nutrients and so can thrive even in the heart of the concrete jungle. For gardens everywhere tropical planting offers height, depth and an abundance of life. Water-features and lighting perfect the ambience offering various tones and sounds.

Prairie Planting

A major trend at this year’s show was Prairie Planting; the combination of wild flowers and grasses in a seemingly loose planting scheme. Pockets of meadow teeming with wildlife were a persistent feature offering a wholesome, wild but almost gentle beauty.

There are an abundance of prairie plants which are native to the UK all of which are hardy enough to thrive in poor soils in times of drought and frost. Therefore, they make a perfect low-maintenance garden with a more natural aesthetic. Eryngiums, Echinaceas, Achilleas and Salvias among others offer a rich pallet of colours while various grasses deliver height and texture.

The prairie garden is also a fantastic way for you to join the noble crusade of saving our native bee and butterfly populations. Already an incentive which is sweeping  the country, prairie patches are being planted in local initiatives to save our ecosystems. With some bordering and creative features thrown in prairie planting also helps make an award-winning garden too.

Reclaimed

Here is a trend which certainly taps into the prevalent vintage culture of today. Adding a certain character to outdoor spaces it creates a more relaxing atmosphere allowing the mind to wonder amongst the assortment of bizarre objects strewn across the flower beds.  Big concrete planters, weedy patios, even bits of recycled car parts and vintage furniture make an appearance.

Once the hardware is in the garden is certainly easier to manage than a pristine and strictly coordinated garden while keeping a sense of style and purpose. Ground covering and climbing plants are encouraged to grow over. One may find a bike wheel or an old Coca-Cola sign amongst the wild grasses. There is certainly space to let your imagination roam.

Along with prairie planting, Rust was a consistently strong contender throughout the show and the reclaimed aesthetic is a natural ally to both these features.

Jorge at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

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