Composting, Garden Design, Garden Edging, Gardening, How To, Insects, Liam, Make over, Planting, Trees

In this step-by-step guide we’ll not only show you how to mulch but explain the different kinds and what will work best for your plants and garden. Mulches are a thin layer of organic or inorganic material placed over a bed or the soil surrounding plants. The more attractive ones may grab your attention and look like a great addition to formal landscaping, but the practical uses are vast. 

Mulches are used primarily to improve the soil around plants, reduce weeds, increase fertility, help the retention of moisture and during winter can protect the roots of the plant from damaging frosts. Using the right mulch for your plants can help eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and fertilisers which is fantastic for your garden’s biodiversity. This all contributes to a healthy, great looking garden you can be proud of.

Now that Autumn is approaching it is the perfect time to start planning!

The Types:

You can roughly separate the different types of mulch into two categories; organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches are best for improving the fertility and overall structure of the soil. Over time the mulch will degrade and replenish the soils nutrients including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Organic material also promotes biodiversity and encourages insects such as worms and spiders which will actually keep pests at bay while further enriching the quality of your soil.

For this reason an organic mulch is fantastic for plants try to establish themselves or are just generally hungry. Roses for example love a good organic mulch of well-rotted manure. More on this to follow.

Inorganic mulches are used to protect the soil around the plant and can also have an aesthetic edge to them. The benefits include locking in water to the soil, keeping weeds at bay and unlike some organic mulches it won’t wash away which is brilliant if you are planting on a slope.

Bark and Wood-Chippings

Here is a mulch which is attractive but also helps improve your soil’s nutrients and structure as it rots down. It also allows water to flow through it without binding throughout the year and really is a fantastic for pretty much all plants and circumstances. The only issue with it is that it is difficult to move or work around and so is best for around trees where you won’t be doing any more planting. Bark and wood-chippings will last you through the year and maybe even two depending on the grade, see how far it has broken down and replace if necessary.

Wood Chippings Mulch

Leaf-Mould

Leaf-mould is arguably the most nutritious and nature-friendly mulch you can apply. Pretty much every plant loves it and what’s more it can be completely free! It may not look like the most attractive mulch but apply in Autumn and by spring it will have blended in with and really enriched your soil. The only major drawback is that leaves do take some while to decompose and if you plan to DIY this is something you plan for a year in advance.

Collect as many leaves as possible in black bags and cut some small holes to let the air in. Ensure the leaves are thoroughly wet as leaves break down through fungi. Come next Autumn you’ll have some of the finest and richest mulch money can buy… not that you have to spend a penny! Of course, leaf mould is available to purchase in fairly substantial bulks.

Compost

There are two main reasons why compost can make a great mulch: 1) It is packed full of nutrients ready to leach down into the soil and 2) It is something you can make yourself free of charge. Additionally it helps with keeping the soil moist and fending off weeds. One thing to look out for however is that no weeds have made their way into the compost as these will simply sprout up from the compost and steal your plants nutrients.

Manure

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, when it comes to roses and other phosphate hungry plants nothing compares to some well-rotted manure. Like a compost that has gone through a far more strenuous decomposition process it is packed full of nutrients and its dense texture protects the roots and keeps the water locked in. It is also a really great mulch for trees and shrubs although to prevent waterlogging it may be worth mixing with some sand to allow for greater drainage.

Manure – As is Comes From a Stable or Farm

Gravel, Slate and Stone Chippings

There really isn’t a great difference here between them as you will want roughly the same thickness of layers. Stone mulches are fantastic for drainage and keep the soil underneath moist. It is also brilliant for retaining heat and so should be used for plants that are used to very hot conditions and can be worked into a Mediterranean themed garden well. Overall many stone mulches look fantastic and can maintain a pristine look for formal garden structures. They do not however add any nutrients to the soil and can become too hot during summer for more tender plants and young trees.

Rainbow Foras Tumbles Coloured Pebbles

When to Mulch

The best time to apply a mulch is in Autumn, as you come into bare-root season, and spring. You will need to apply the mulch when the ground is relatively warm and moist, avoid periods when it is frozen or waterlogged. When the ground is good to dig and plant, it will be good to mulch which is very handy!

How to Mulch

  • Before you apply your mulch first you have to prepare the soil. Clear the ground of any weeds and give it a watering if the soil appears too dry.
  • If you are reapplying a mulch now is a good time to break up any old layers which may have matted to allow better water penetration.
  • Then cover the ground in a layer of mulch roughly 2 inches thick. Avoid mulching right up to the stems of plants and trees as this can cause them to become soft and rot.
  • Level out with a rake to an even finish. This is imperative, some people mulch little mounds, especially around trees. This will cause the bottom of the trunk to grow soft and rot while also drawing water away from the roots.
  • If you noticed that your mulch has matted over the year and become a hard layer, simply break  and fluff up a bit.

You can apply a fertiliser on top of the mulch through the year if you wish. Follow these rules and you should be all set!

Liam 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, Liam, Plants, Trees, Wildlife

Cherry trees are one of the nation’s, if not the world’s, favourite species of ornamental tree. However, there is another tree which flowers heavy, remains small but also gives the added appeal of bright and colourful fruit; the humble crabapple. Often overlooked by gardeners a crabapple tree is fully hardy and well suited to the UK climate with a fantastic spring bloom. With smaller growth than most cherry trees they are perfect for a more modern, compact garden. The benefits and aesthetic achieved with a crabapple tree can be a refreshing surprise.

In many ways the crabapple serves a national duty. Native to these shores they tolerate the worst of the British weather and can be grown in almost any soil type as long as it is well-drained. Nearly all are recognised wildlife benefactors and so are fantastic for up-keeping our national biodiversity. There really should be a crab-apple for every home!

Crab-Apple Blossom
Beautiful Crab-Apple Blossom

Most crabapple varieties produce a bloom heavy enough to rival that of any cherry tree and can come in a variety of different tones. You may get light white or deep pink, sweetly scented flowers. Flowering in Spring they are one of the first to add colour to the garden. This is an essential helping hand to pollinating insects coming out of winter. All of this keeps the rest of your garden healthy and looking great!

What a crabapple gives you over an ornamental cherry tree however is the colourful, jewel-like fruit which can hang on well into winter and even through to the new year depending on variety. The tree therefore gives you a rich and varying pallet of tones potentially for over half a year! The deeper roots of a Crabapple also make them a safer bet to maintaining a healthy lawn than a cherry blossom.

But that’s not all, the fruit serves more functions than those purely aesthetic. Despite the fact that nearly all varieties are far too sour to eat in their natural state crabapples serve a host of culinary functions. Rich in pectin crab apples are used for making fantastic jams and jellies which can be served on bread, scones or used to compliment various meats. And if you won’t eat the fruit, birds and small mammals certainly will in those tough winter months.

If you already own apple trees then you’ve just been given another huge reason to love the crabapple. Crabapples can cross pollinate nearly all other varieties of apple as long as they both have a similar flowering period. It is for this reason that crabapples are often dotted around apple orchards to offer variety and pollinate the edible cultivars enriching their flavour.

Bird Enjoying Crabapples During Winter

So there you have it; if you have an ornamental cherry (or two) in the garden, or if you are just looking for something a bit different then look no further than the crabapple. Hardy, beautiful and versatile they continue to serve us well and are becoming increasingly important as our gardens become smaller and our native species come under increasing attack.

Liam 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, How To, Plants, Sean Riggs

The key element of having a good landscape is making it look natural. However, the beauty of nature lies in the chaos it presents and how organic it is at all times. This implies that creating a natural landscape design not only involves thorough planning, but also requires the use of organic materials for its better growth.

Landscape design
The end result would comprise of a beautiful landscape made out of native plants and will also have sustainability features. Here are a few tips for designing a landscape that focuses on natural, sustainable plants:

1. Make use of native plants

Keeping the native growth intact is one of the first steps towards a natural landscape. The native plants are more adaptable to the weather around and require a lot less maintenance as compared to the new, brought in plants. These plants can handle extreme conditions like drought in their area and are thus sustainable in nature. Apart from that, the natural growth of these plants adds to the beauty of the design and gives a more natural feel to the landscape.

2. Add edible plants onto the landscape to make it sustainable

A landscape can become sustainable only by adding a mix of edible plants to the already growing native plants. Trees providing fruits and nuts are very popular in landscape designs as not only they adapt well to the landscapes, but also provide food for the community around. Edible plants are becoming a major part of the landscape design these days in the form of individual vegetable gardens as well as community garden plots.

Snail eating strawberry

3. Take inspiration from the surrounding native landscape

A landscape must always be designed on paper or a screen first to understand how it might really look. Using a landscape design software will allow you to draw a plan of your site before moving further with any decisions. One can always take inspiration from the neighboring and surrounding landscapes to get a clear idea of what needs to be made. This will help one understand the nature the plants need to take along with maintaining the aesthetic appeal of the landscape as well.

4. Make use of all the space available

Open spaces play a major role in natural landscapes due to their disorganized nature. These landscapes include logs of wood lying here and there, meadow grass, and a couple of pathways to walk into. Landscape designing software can help the designers plan the area out well, leaving enough room for open spaces and the plantations to breathe in. Empty spaces also allow the plantings to take a course of their own, giving the landscape a more rugged look.

5. Stay away from pesticides and fertilizers

A fully functional and sustainable landscape intercepts rainwater, keeps the air clean, forms a micro climate, and also provides grains for the community around. However, use of pesticides and unnatural enhancers may make them grow faster but doesn’t make them last longer. The chemicals have a harmful effect on both the land and the plants they’re used on. The fruits and nuts obtained from edible plants too aren’t free of these chemicals and could prove harmful. Thus, a natural landscape should be designed and grown with the help of organic materials.

Sean RiggsSean Riggs is a seasoned entrepreneur and technologist with over 20 years of experience in building, operating, scaling and managing technology focused businesses. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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.

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