Gardening books for Christmas gifts 2017

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Here are 5 gardening books on my Christmas List this year

I always put gardening books on my Christmas list. They’re the perfect gift for me, and for all gardeners. At this time of year, when the sun hasn’t come up when I go to work and has long since set before I leave for home, the opportunities for gardening become squeezed. With a book, you can visit other gardens, learn new techniques, and improve your own skills whilst the winter garden rests untended outside.

As the proud owner of a gardening bookshelf that dwarfs our local bookshop’s offerings, you’d think I wouldn’t have space for any more titles. You’d be wrong. We’re building a new bookcase next year and there are so many books I’ve come across this year that I’ve made a gardening books Christmas List.

Previous Christmas gardening books wishlists

Gardening books for Christmas gifts 2016

8 Books for my gardening bookshelf Christmas 2015

Epic Tomatoes

by Craig LeHoullier

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I’ve learnt about my namesake Craig LeHoullier from Jennifer Ebeling‘s (6ft mama) podcast – Still Growing. I’ve been listening and interacting with Jennifer for over a year now and I really like her interviews with interesting people. Craig has a wealth of experience growing tomatoes and is particularly involved in finding and breeding heirloom varieties that are in danger of being lost. Most importantly he’s clear on the merits of a tomato for different uses in the kitchen as well as ease of growing. I’m hoping to find a robust outdoor bush tomato to use the space on my allotment.

The Garden Photography Workshop

by Andrea Jones 
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I heard about this book listening to Andrea on Peter Donegan’s Sod Show Podcast this year. I really like photography and I occasionally take to my garden with SLR in hand. It would be great to improve my amateur skills.

The Thoughtful Gardener

by Jinny Blom

This book on garden design has had some strong reviews so I’m keen to see what it’s like. I’m a big fan of Jinny Blom’s planting and it would be good to see how she plans, and implements, her designs.

RHS Genealogy for Gardeners

by Simon Maughan and Ross Bayton

I have the two other books in this RHS series of plant geekery. Latin for Gardeners was released in 2012, with Botany for Gardeners following in 2013. These small, beautifully illustrated, handbooks are the perfect thing for plant nerds to get a better understanding of the science and history of gardening. I’m hoping that Genealogy for Gardeners will be just as good.

allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

Tender – Volumes I & II

by Nigel Slater

Now I know that, technically, this isn’t a gardening book. I’d say it’s gardening adjacent. I’ve had my allotment since April and I’m hoping for big things next year. The whole point of the allotment was to provide some fresh, seasonal food for us to cook and eat. I’ve mastered my sauteed Cavelo Nero with garlic and it’s become a staple in the weekly meal plan. I’d like to do more with what I grow and I’ve read some amazing reviews of these two books.
allotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstonesallotment, amazon, andrea jones, Book, books, books for gardeners, bookshelf, bookshop, Christmas, Christmas gifts, Christmas list, Christmas presents, Cooking, Craig leHoullier, Garden Design, garden photography, gardeners, gardening, gardening books, genealogy, gift ideas, gifts for gardeners, harvest, heirloom, heritage, Jinny Blom, Nigel Slater, Produce, reading, RHS, tomato, tomato growing, tomatoes, Waterstones

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017

I’m making the most of my RHS membership for a day out at RHS Garden Wisley

 

As we are members of the RHS we get free entry into the four main RHS gardens. There’s nothing better than a day out to see RHS Garden Wisley and to watch it evolve from one year to the next. This visit was special as it was the first visit for us with our new daughter to the garden.

My last post about RHS Garden Wisley

There have been some big changes around the garden. The new Exotic Garden was top of our list to see.

The new Exotic Garden

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins
The fountain sits at the centre of the Exotic Garden

The former rose garden was re-landscaped and planted earlier this year. We saw it in April when the old layout was still visible but the roses had all been removed.

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins
Leaves of Amica zygomeris
Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins
Bananas form a grove at the lower end of the garden

It’s impressive to see how much work has been completed in such a short space of time. The garden will fill in and mature over the years.

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins

Dahlia imperialis in a mixed exotic border

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins
The main central axis of the Exotic Garden

The site of the new centre for horticultural science and learning

Garden Visit: RHS Garden Wisley August 2017. RHS, garden, garden visit, horticulture, sunflowers, runner beans, gardening, garden blog, exotic garden, sculpture, plant trials, garden tourism, hortitourism, pumpkins
A large planting of pumpkins and sunflowers

At the top of the hill where there used to be a large lawn, is a new planting of pumpkins and sunflowers. They’re informally planted with meandering paths between them. The varieties are well labelled and there are signs showing the different types being grown.

There were kids running around the site, clearly excited by all the different types of pumpkins.

Trial Beds

I love seeing the AGM planting trials that are always taking place at Wisley. I have two special posts looking at the Zinnia and Echinacea trials taking place coming up.

The runner bean trial was interesting as I’m still researching the varieties I’m going to try and grow on the allotment next year. I’m always drawn to edibles that have ornamental value. These two runner beans had large straight pods with healthy foliage and attractive flowers.

I’ve only grown Zantedeschia once; when we lived on the Isle of Wight. It hasn’t really caught my imagination since. That was until I saw these two varieties growing in the trial beds. ‘Montevideo’ had blood-red stems and a fun drooping flower spathe. ‘Sumatra’ had cherry-red spathes.

The glasshouse gardens

I’m on the lookout for new plants to go in the Far Garden at the cottage and we’re looking for bright / exotic plants. I would like some more tall perennials and Rudbeckia maxima caught my eye from meters away.

Other botanical garden visits

Queens Park, Toowoomba

Singapore Botanical Garden

Melbourne Botanic Garden

Containers at the front of the Cottage

Containers at the front of the Cottage

Two agricultural feeding containers are the main planting interest at the front of the cottage

This year is all about reclaiming my garden from the weed wonderland out the back and the barren, baked wasteland at the front. As I’ve previously described, I have been taking stock of what has survived two years of tenants and reclaiming ground from the onslaught of new weeds. This week I am doing an update on the front of the cottage.

An overview of the cottage’s garden areas

A big clear-out in the far garden

Getting control and structure sorted in the immediate garden

What I returned home to

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Looking up the lane

As there is no earth at the front of the cottage, I installed two agricultural feeding troughs to be a simple but vernacularly correct addition to the front of the cottage. These get baked in the sun and have to cope with more breeze than round the back of the cottage. There’s a suffering clematis left over from the previous owners in a planter that looks to have given up the struggle.

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Right of the front door

We returned to find that the young wisteria has succumbed and some annual weeds were installed. Mostly though this area was the best of the bunch in terms of jobs to be done.

Giving the containers a freshen up

The goal for these planters was to have a slightly wild grass planting scheme which would cope, or even better, thrive in the drier and windier conditions. They would also look good through winter and wouldn’t need too much maintenance. The two main living areas of the house look out of these windows on to the lane, and by extension, can be looked in on from the lane. I wanted the planters to be sufficiently visually interesting to draw the eye away from whatever was happening inside the house and to form a light screening for us looking out. Importantly, I didn’t want to block any light.

Containers at the front of the Cottage
A teucrium in a terracotta pot beside one container
Containers at the front of the Cottage
Hebe, iris and grasses
Containers at the front of the Cottage
Salvia and stipa

Plant List

Stipa tenuissima

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foester’

Salvia x sylvestris ‘Rose Queen’

Hebe (unknown variety)

Euphorbia myrsinites

Rose ‘Moody  Blue’

Teucrium (unknown variety)

Iris (unknown variety)

Physalis alkekengi

Plans for the front of the cottage

I’m going to source a climbing rose to replace the clematis. I think the pot it’s in is too small. The roots are getting too hot and dry for it to ever thrive. We’re still deciding on a colour (and may paint the cottage a different colour so that has to be decided before I can purchase anything). I think we’ll get another metal planter to match the two large ones as I think a third type of container would be too much visually.

Book Review: Real Gardens – Adam Frost

Book Review: Real Gardens - Adam Frost

Book Review: Real Gardens

 Adam Frost

Book Review: Real Gardens - Adam Frost
Book Review: Real Gardens – Adam Frost

Adam Frost is cropping up all over the place at the moment, fronting a hugely popular segment in Gardeners’ World – the Twitter reaction has been encouraging – and taking us around the Chelsea Flower Show 2017. It’s taken me a while to warm to him and I don’t know why. However, I’m now firmly in the fan club and listened to him speak at my local Toby’s GardenFest. He came across as very down to earth, humble about his impressive achievements and very approachable. As I’m doing more designing, in my own space and for others,  I was drawn to his book detailing the process and plans involved in designing his seven gold medal-winning gardens at Chelsea.

What it’s about

The book aims to show the inspiration for each of the gardens and also taking a look at Adam’s own experiences in developing them. It’s as much about him as the gardens themselves.

Book structure

Each garden is given its own chapter. Information about the concept, the inspiration, the sponsorship and the build are all covered. The plants used are described in the text but there’s also a section showing some key plants used in the design in more detail. Built components are given in plan form drawings should you be tempted to recreate them. A garden plan image is provided to make sense of the layout. Smaller boxes are dotted about taking some information that’s not directly about the garden into an aside should you want to know more. Examples of this are a mini-biography of Frank Lloyd Wright and John Clare, the inspiration for Adam’s 2012 garden. These add a depth of information that doesn’t clutter the focus of the book.

Readability

This book would fall into the coffee-table-book end of the spectrum. It’s easy to read but is much more engaging than the normal offerings in this category. Adam’s warm and self-deprecating text draws you in and he comes across as thoroughly likeable. Importantly, there’s no grandstanding or peacock about his description of these gardens.

Resources

The drawing plans of the garden structures, although interesting, would likely only appeal to a small number of readers who would go out to build and recreate some of the hard landscaping. More useful would have been a list of suppliers for materials, rills, obelisks, plants etc so you could start work on sourcing items for your own space. I loved the garden design plans and seeing the finished gardens alongside these is great.

Summary

A beautifully presented garden design book. The images are stunning and the text explains the ideas and skills used to create the gardens. Adam’s story is equally engaging and the whole book is a treat for fans, designers and gardeners.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants

Returning to a garden occupied by tenants is a little like playing Weed Bingo

After getting the house ship shape it was time to get into the garden. I’ve already tidied the Immediate Garden, replanted the front containers, filling the greenhouse, and now it’s time to tackle The Far Garden.

This area is our main summer eating area and it gets the evening sun which is perfect for lazy drinks at the end of a hard day.  The idea is that it’s going to be a bright, colourful space to immerse yourself in. I like the idea of tall planting enclosing you in a space. It’s private; you can’t be seen by any of the neighbours, and it’s quiet. That’s the dream. The reality of returning to the garden was a little hard initially. I’m not sure my tenants had a good idea of what weeding should entail and we seem to have accumulated a few more perennial weeds.

The view from above

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Far Garden from above

This gives you an indication of the space as a whole. It’s a not-quite-square square, paved with beautiful flagstone and bordered on two sides by dry stone walls. The End Border is a slim dry and sunny patch. The Right Border gets a lot of sun and is backed by the neighbour’s shed (which is due to be replaced at the end of the year which will cause some disruption initially but will be a good opportunity). The Left Border is moist and supports some shadier conditions.

The Left Border

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Left Border: Before

The dominating feature has become the Buddleia in the middle. I think it’s a Buddleia x weyeriania variety and was grown as a cutting from the in-laws’ garden in Surrey. The idea was that it gets cut back each ear to provide a shortish colourful shrub at the back of the border but it obviously hasn’t received the brief. The Acer isn’t a favourite of mine but since it is so established I’ve decided to leave it in place. That too is getting too big for the border to accommodate.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Left Border: After

Even though it’s the wrong time of year, the Buddleia had to be pulled back into line so that’s been the biggest change. The Acer has been trimmed and the weedy undergrowth cleared. You can now see the Rose ‘Moody Blue’ struggling for light and another small Acer looking unhappy. I have a Echinops ritro at the back that I’d forgotten about and wouldn’t have been seen behind the Buddleia.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Left Border: Current plant contents

This child-like sketch is my plant plan. There’s still a fair amount in here and I’ll watch to see how they recover after being unearthed. I’m hoping the extra light and water will bring them on a bit.

The End Border

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Far Border: Before

The Vinca had completed dominated this far end of the garden. Most of the interesting plants were craning forward to get away from it.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The End Border: After

The hedge above this border is due to be cut shortly and that will tidy the whole garden and hopefully bring a little bit more light in again. The dry stone wall looks lovely but I think some crafty sowing into the gaps might make more of the space. I have two Eryngium planum middle centre, both grown from seed, with slightly different foliage patterns. The tall spire is another Eryngium, I think probably paniculatam (for a while I was sure it was agavifolium). These were all sown from the same mixed seed packet as the planum and I love them all.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The End Border: Plant layout

I’m sad to see my Australian Mint Bush ( Prostranthera rotundifolia) doesn’t seems to have survived but it was looking great when I left. I know where to get some more, however. The Salvia ‘Hot Lips and’ and Nepeta are still there, just a little flattened by competing with the vinca.

The Right Border

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Right Border: Before

As much as a like the flowering currants, they’re not behaving the way I wanted them to. The idea was they’d provide a vertical element to reveal the garden as you take the slight turn to get in. They’re reaching over the box and giving a crowded feeling. The climbing rose is being as pesky as normal – flowering on meter-long growth that’s way too high to pick or enjoy. It had a thorough prune 3 years ago but not much since. I’ll likely take it back down when the shed and it’s trellis support get removed at the end of the year.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Right Border: After

I can now add Bindweed, Wood Avens, Brambles, and Nettles to my weed-list. I had none of these two years ago and it’s a real shame. I’ve pulled out as much as I can but I’m watching like a hawk for regrown so I can attack it again. The Alliums are bravely coming on though and the Larkspur never fails to perform. It’s such a good substitute for Delphiniums who get slaughtered by the slugs each year.

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
The Right Border: Plant List

I’ve got the bamboo on a watch-list too. Depending on how ugly it gets this year there may be more work in the top right corner to do. The Box balls are now trimmed and looking handsome which is really pleasing.

Overview

Uncovering The Far Garden: Recovering the garden after two years of tenants
Far garden from above

The Australian dining set has been pulled out of the way to allow maintenance of the garden, and broom the flagstones, but I’ll re-position it now to create useable seating. There’s a lot of replanting and soil care needed in this bit of the garden but I feel I’ve made a huge start in bringing it back into line.

 

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden

Starting the tidy up the cottage garden – it’s time for a change with the box topiary

The first time I really took notice of box hedging was seeing it Monty Don’s garden on Gardeners World. Before that, it had gone unnoticed, the white noise of the garden, and passed over for the more dynamic and exciting flowering plants behind.

Exploring a garden through the year, particularly winter gardening, gives you an appreciation of form and structure.  Pouring through coffee-table books can provide great inspiration. Look at page 169 of Diarmuid Gavin’s Planting and the argument for strong topiary shrubs is won; It depicts a wintery scene after the grasses have been knocked by frost, their bronzed, hoary foliage horizontal to the bold upright of Beech columns. Once you have your eye in, these subtle punctuation points become clearer; it’s like seeing the puppet strings and understanding the show better.

Box Topiary: A question of shape and style

Are you a sphere-lover? Cone aficionado? Novelty peacock?

I like the classics; the box balls and the rectangular. If I ever get the dream acreage I’m going to put in a Piet Oudolf inspired grass and perennial garden with upright beech columns to give drama.

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
Columnar hedges at RHS Wisley in Surrey

The planting at Wisley is saved in the memory bank should I need it.

A reminder of what I’m working with

As I have previously shared, in MyPottingBench Returns Home, the ‘Immediate Garden’ is the long shady area of the garden immediately outside the back doors. It was overgrown and very messy when we returned. The box balls were shaggy and looked to be blending into the borders.

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
Looking up towards the Far Garden
Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
A better view of the main bed

After some tinkering…

I have decided to change the shape of the box balls. I have lots of dumpling-shaped plants – the astrantia, the geraniums – and I thought it would be nice to bring a fresher feeling. Although the balls now have first day back at school haircuts and are looking a little shocked.

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
The box balls are now box cubes
Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
The shuttlecock ferns and gladiolus now stand proudly

Giving the box more definition has actually improved what they’re defining in the border so the whole thing seems more orderly.

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
A sole allium making the most of the green background

I have pinned back the climbing roses and clematises against the supports which helped to bring some order to the space. This restored the upright and the box cubes now echo that.

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’ showing the pastel colours this area is supposed to contain

Re-shaping the box topiary made it easier to see what else was in the garden. My immediate reaction on seeing the beds was that it was pure chaos. I was wrong. There was some weeding needed, which I have done, and some spent flower heads that have been chopped. What’s left is fine.

There’s not too much more I am going to do much to this area this year as it’s looking okay. The plan is to add in some annuals as there is a lot of green and not much colour due to arrive. I can then spend the winter planning for next year!

Box Topiary: Tidying the Immediate Garden
The door to the Far Garden is closed as that’s a mess

I’m debating on whether to paint the back fence to bring some more colour into the garden. We’ll see.  It’s also the gateway into the Far Garden at that is going to be a much bigger task to bring it in line.

 

 

 

MyPottingBenchBlog returns home

MyPottingBenchBlog returns home

After two years of tenanted care, the garden is okay but needs some TLC

 

It was a sweaty palms, dry mouth, situation when I opened the back gate of our cottage garden. Our tenants had been lovely to the house; they’d loved it like their own and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

We’d been warned that they weren’t ‘gardeners’. A ‘them and us’ label that creates instant bonds with some but can leave a stony silence at parties. The parting comment from the letting agent was, I think, meant to be a reassurance; “They’ve basically kept it tidy, you know, cut things back”. My chest felt cold, I think I remember some buzzing noise, and then I was sat in the car grasping the cold keys with white knuckles.

The MyPottingBenchBlog Cottage Country Garden

Let me first re-introduce you to my space. My garden.

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Basic plan of the garden

I mentally divide the garden into four main areas. It’s longer than it is wide, the house along the eastern boundary, and mainly laid to large stone slabs. Most of the hard landscaping was here when we moved in over 4 years ago. The furthest garden is called either the Top Garden or the Far Garden but neither name is definitive. The other areas I have called the Utility Area, Immediate Garden and Front of the Cottage simply for simplicity sake as they don’t have formal names. There’s no plaques denoting historical significance to the divisions.

The Front of the Cottage

Let’s start at the beginning.

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Right of the front door
MyPottingBenchBlog returns home
Looking up the lane

We have two water troughs under the two front windows. The door is offset owing to the fact that this used to be two cottages. The planting in these has always been a little wild and drought-tolerant as they get a lot of sun and wind from passing cars. There’s a dead wisteria and a measly-looking clematis.

The Utility Area

Up the drive and through the gates brings you to the Utility Area which is home to my self-constructed Greenhouse/Cold Frame/Glasshouse (See details of its construction here). There’s a shed and raised beds under glass.

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The potting bench in its home – a greenhouse / cold frame hybrid.

The Immediate Garden

So-called as it’s immediately out the back door and the only part of the garden visible from inside the house.

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Looking up towards the Far Garden

 

The garden is long and narrow. The Crabapple tree was planted by us and looks to have gotten its roots done which I am thrilled about.

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A better view of the main bed

The idea is that this shady space will be home to white / pastel flowers and woodland plants.

The Far Garden

Right at the end of the garden is our sunny bit of the garden. The colours are supposed to be bright and tropical.

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View from the top – Left, End and Right borders

The garden is a U-shape of borders, the Left and Right borders are the deepest, surrounded by stone walls.

 

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The End Border

The End Border is narrow and dry with an evergreen hedge rising high above it.

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The Left Border

Currently taken over by a Buddlia that’s missed its last 2 yearly haircuts.

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The Right Border

Dominated by a white climbing rose that’s testing my patience.

Work to be done

There’s the usual weeding, cutting back, tidying and pruning to be done. More importantly, I need to scour the borders to remind myself what’s there and what has survived the passive neglect of the past two years.

I’ll take each area in turn and detail the tidy up before sharing some plans for rejuvenating this special space. Don’t worry, there will be spreadsheets, lists and planting plans.

Allotment Layout Ideas – When the first ten designs aren’t right

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 08

How many allotment layout ideas do you have to go through before picking up the spade?

The answer in my case was 10.

Ever the planner, and looking to avoid tiring revisions to beds and paths after the hard work was done, I put pen to paper, or finger to the mousepad, and mocked up some ideas.

Key priorities when deciding on your allotment layout

  • It has to maximise growing space
  • The paths must give me adequate reach into the borders
  • The water butts shouldn’t be in the far corner
  • Be mindful of shade cast by sheds and other structures
  • It should be easy to construct

Allotment Layout Ideas 1 and 2

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Simple and symmetrical

The paths were wide on this plan but I liked the symmetry. The allotment is 10m x 10m and I love a strong structure in a space. I was concerned about the depth of the central 4 beds, however. I also wasn’t sure there would be enough space around the shed and water butts for practical access. The fence is located along the bottom of the image and the main allotment path runs along the top line. I hadn’t measured out the allotment at this point so I wasn’t sure how much access from the sides I would get.

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Improving the size of the central beds.

By centralising the utilities I was able to wrap the beds around the middle. Aesthetically this pleases me and gives the central beds more accessibility.

Allotment Layout Ideas 3 and 4

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Moving the shed to the back fence I can reduce the impact of shading

I was worried that placing the shed in the middle of the plot for aesthetics would mean I would have to have shady borders behind it (the sun comes from the top of the image). This change pulls it right down to the bottom. It’s still symmetrical though.

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
Getting into the finer details

I was worried that the wide central main path was too generous and the access paths were measly and tight. This change tweaks that for better access.

Allotment Layout Ideas 5, 6 and 7.

These are all variations on the themes above. I’m tinkering with flexible growing spaces with more smaller beds that can be optimised for different plants, looking to standardise the central beds to make them easier to construct, and doing away with separated outside beds.

Allotment Layout Ideas 8, 9, and 10 – the oddballs

I was starting to worry that my fixation on having an attractive, read symmetrical, design was compromising the utility of the space and complicating the construction. However, after playing with other layouts and asking for a second opinion from my better half (the verdict being that these look like ‘prison grounds’, ‘graveyards’ and ‘old-man-ish’) these were dumped from the shortlist.

The walkaround

After getting eyestrain from too much time on the laptop I hiked my pregnant wife and bored aunty to the allotment for some fun with string. I had bought a spool and reel from the lovely lady at Twool. With my aunt doing a good impression of a boundary post, we measured out the various beds (quite tricky with a 3m only measuring tape).

A few things became apparent;

  • I needed more space around the shed
  • I didn’t have access from the sides as the neighbouring plots are back to back without a path between
  • The outside beds would have to be smaller to be accessed from inside the plot
  • I wouldn’t need access across the outside beds to tend from the other side
  • The front border may have to be narrower or replaced entirely by a stepover apple.

Final Allotment Layout

Allotment Layout Ideas - When the first ten designs aren't right
The final allotment layout with suggested planting for this year

This is the working plan for this year. Permanent planting will go around the narrower outside borders, including asparagus, fruit bushes, and eventually, trained fruit trees.

The beds near the shed will be permanent herbs and cut flowers.

The four main beds will be the focus of the crop rotation.

The front borders are theoretical at the moment until I get my long measuring tape to ensure I’m not encroaching on the main site path. If things are a squeeze I may train a stepover apple along the front to provide a boundary. The maximum height of a fence on the site is 1.2m so I’m going to train fruit to this height to form a living fence and enclose the space a little.

You can see how things have started with my Garden Update 6th May

 

Project 1 : Complete

Project 1 : Complete

The final instalment on the transformation of mum’s courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.

I’ve now finished the regeneration of this shady dark corner of my mum’s courtyard garden.

The main issues we took on were;

  1. No-where to sit
  2. Dogs use the garden as a toilet
  3. Dark corner
  4. Limited planting
  5. Uneven, ugly, crazy-paving floor which was a safety issue as well as unsightly
  6. Level changes
  7. Access required through space

 

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
The white wall has brightened the space and sets off the green climbers

Previous updates;

Mum’s Courtyard Garden Redesign

Destruction Phase

Planting complete

How did we do?

The white walls really brighten and tidy the space. It now looks like a planned garden area as opposed to a leftover storage area. The seat was bought off amazon and softens the square boundaries.

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
The main corner seat and planted zinc bath

Taking a step back – you can see another layer of slate rocks was added to the steps to form a restraint for the new gravel. This achieved a few things. Firstly, the gravel leaves a simple uniform base to unclutter the space (this was especially needed after the single raised bed idea was thrown out in favour of vintage agricultural reclamation). It also meant that an area near the step that pools water is now raised to avoid it getting slippy and means one level here rather than 3 smaller steps down.

Hard landscaping

The gravel is Blue Slate Chippings (sourced from a local company who delivered it very quickly) and it’s perfect. There were companies offering it cheaper than what we paid (£170 for 850kg bulk bag delivered inc VAT) but we liked the idea of supporting a local business and that we’d be able to pop down the road to get a few more matching bags if we ran out. 

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.

Taking a step back to see the new steps retaining the gravelA wide shows you the change where the large storage structure was. This space is now much larger to the eye. It also gives a home to the tree fern. From here you can see the two trees which shall grow above the fence line on clear stems. This will free up space for planting below and allow the canopies to block the view over neighbouring homes.

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
A wider view showing the Tree Fern and the wider profile after removing the structure

The unusual shapes of the grain hopper and zinc bath add interest but also perform a practical role of lifting plants up and away from the dogs’ attentions. The plants in the main beds have been chosen to be more resistant to dog urine with thicker leaves (ferns, euphorbia, etc).

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
This beautiful hosta lives in the grain hopper and brightens this shady wall

 How this space links with the rest of the garden

The main sight-line from the courtyard and the bench runs to the greenhouse. That area wasn’t originally due to be redone at this time but we had a lot of gravel left over so decided to go with it. The gravel here makes the path look wider and forms a link between the two areas. When we replant the border on the right the plan is to include some plants that will feature in both areas to achieve the same unity.

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
The view back to the greenhouse with the gravel linking the areas

You can see below the way the layout of the garden is in two parts. There is the main terrace outside the patio doors, where the seating area has been created, and a lower area, with greenhouse, shed, pond, and a small herbaceous border. By continuing the gravel all the way to the shed we clearly delineate two separate areas and reduce the number of surfaces to just two instead of three.

The final instalment on the transformation of mum's courtyard garden from grey, dingy, unloved space into a light, floriferous, quiet space for relaxation.
This view is perpendicular to the one above and shows the level change within the garden

In Summary

I’m really pleased with how things have turned out and I’m pleased that my mum loves her new sitting area. It was interesting negotiating design changes with the garden’s owner – I didn’t get my way on the raised beds but I still like the finished product – and it’s nice to see the finished product for all the effort put in.

Project 1 : Planting complete

Project 1: Planting Complete

After a few changes of direction and some very heavy lifting, the bulk of the work is done

It’s been a busy week working on the courtyard garden. At this stage, the majority of the planting is in place. Nearly two days of negotiation was needed to make sure everything is in the correct place. We’ve veered away from some of the original plans as more inspiration was given by a local nursery stocking some zinc planters. The raised beds were researched, and researched, and eventually discarded. Not until we’d gone through sleepers, breeze block and mortar, and dry stone walling did we throw it aside for what you see now.

Previous updates;

Mum’s Courtyard Garden Redesign

Destruction Phase

Jobs completed

  • Walls painted – again
  • Planters purchased
  • Planters filled
  • All planters planted up
  • Border deepened and edged.
  • Climbers tidied

Plant Lists

* repurposed from the original garden

Boat / Bath Planter

Project 1: Planting Complete
Boat Planter and the Border Behind

Sorbus aria Lutescens – White Beam

Choisya ternata

Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’

Helleborus hybridus

Digitalis purpurea*

Border behind Boat / Bath Planter

Clematis x cartmanii ‘Joe’

Bay Tree

Under and behind the seat

Project 1: Planting Complete
The corner seat around the apple tree

Digitalis purpurea*

Apple Tree* – Likely a Bramley but we’re unsure as it was here when the house was bought.

Griselinia littoralis variegata

Hosta

Ferns

Cyclamen*

Grain Hopper Planter

Project 1: Planting Complete
Grain Hopper Planter

Hydrangea seemanii – climbing hydrangea

Prunus avium Plena

Hosta ‘Paul Revere’

Viola tricolor

Circular planter

Project 1: Planting Complete
Dicksonia antarctica in a circular bucket planter

Dicksonia antarctica – Purchased nearly 20 years ago from Trebah Garden in Cornwall. This poor specimen has been dragged from house to house and we’re hoping it’ll pick up in this new home. It’s been thoroughly watered.

Concrete planter

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Variegatus’

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Solomon’s seal’*

Digitalis purpurea*

Railings

Holboellia coriacea – likely to be too brutish for the main courtyard garden but it can be seen below on the railings that go around the main terrace.

Project 1: Planting Complete
The garden waiting for gravel

Jobs to be done

  • Lay gravel when it arrives
  • Glass of wine