Best buddies grow together
Creating a balanced garden is all about team work and timing, says Marie Staunton
Experienced gardeners will impart plenty of advice if asked, and some will volunteer it without prompting. By listening and observing, you can save yourselves a lot of hard work.
How many of us planted up our garden only to realise that we planted for a particular season, and for the rest of the year the garden looked, well, less than spectacular?
Planning a garden that will look good year-round comes with experience and a realisation that unless you have some idea of when plants flower or break into leaf, you have very little chance of creating a garden that has something new coming into focus nearly every couple of weeks.
Succession planting and clever use of architectural-type plants mean that you disguise what's dying back and shift the focus to what's looking the part at a given time.
Take, for example, the artichoke: in spring, teamed with hellebore, it is without flower, but it gives height, and the silver-grey leaves reflect the sun, making it a good choice in any border.
This is a plant that won't smother out the hellebore flowers; instead, it will enhance the wonderful colours of the flowers beneath.
As the hellebore becomes only leaf again, the artichoke takes centre stage and the dark-green leaves of the hellebore serve to highlight the silver of its leaves.
As I have said many times, it's only by trial and error – and, of course, visiting gardens – that you start to build up a planting-partnership plan of your own.
Introducing bulbs into your garden is one of the quickest ways to achieve colour from late winter through to June. But timing is everything, and a little bit of homework done now will achieve fantastic results.
This week, I give you a list of flowering times of the various bulbs so that you can decide where to plant them for maximum effect.
The other main focus at this time of the year are trees and shrubs with interesting flowers and foliage – you can maximise their impact by planting them where they become a focal point.
Sometimes, in an effort to plant up a new garden quickly, we choose inappropriate plants that end up dominating a small garden, instead of enhancing it.
Japanese acers and the small Magnolia 'Stellata' are both good choices for a medium-sized garden.
Slim but tall evergreens, such as the Thuja 'Smaragd', will give the height needed to take the eye away from an ugly wall or fence.
The rest is window dressing: climbers and espalier fruiting trees will give a nice backdrop along perimeter walls or fences.
Once the bones of the garden are in place, take a look at what grows well, and takes your fancy, in your local area. If you want to succeed at gardening, you need to work with what you have – otherwise, it will end up being a very expensive learning curve.
Camellia will never do well in our soil here but I love them, so I grow them in pots and that's something you can do, too.
Well-maintained pots will add another dimension to your garden and they tend to be easier to manage. They are perfect for nice sunny balconies or even shaded ones, for that matter.
With careful planning, there really shouldn't be a dull moment in your garden.