I'd love your gardening advice
Long-time readers might remember my God of the Garden (ahem!) post where my husband transformed our back garden (it looks SO neat in those photos - I can't quite believe how much the garden has grown up since then. The laurels at the back of the garden are now over 12ft high and completely obscure the house you can see in those photos - I never really noticed them growing....a bit like the children who featured in that post, who now tower over me as teenagers).
Unfortunately, our front garden was never overhauled in quite the same way. I've noticed online that in the US and Canada, people really use their front gardens and spend time in them, often having a proper porch with seating; in England they generally seem more decorative than functional and so we've always been slightly mystified by the front lawn we inherited twelve years ago when we bought the house. It's was covered in weeds, but even after we returfed it, it quickly became a strange mossy thing that baffled us with its wilful dedication to looking hideous. We used to go on walks and play hunt-the-lawn-that-looks-as-awful-as-ours in an attempt to reassure ourselves that this was normal, but we soon realised that our lawn was unique and that we were quite alone. And this picture was taken before the heatwave began in earnest.
We have a really long, thin driveway that runs the entire length of the house and have always thought we'd pave over the lawn and the path to our front door at some point to make a more usable driveway space, but when we started looking at the gardens we really loved locally, we realised they're all ones that have kept the garden as a garden, so we decided to stay with our impractical driveway and turn the lawn into some flowerbeds bordered by little pathways. After a six year hiatus, my husband felt oddly excited about the prospect of marking out paths and laying paving again.
On the left, you can see the original path from 1927 that goes up to our front door. It's quite cracked, but has an odd charm that would make me sad to dig it up, so we spent a morning at a reclamation yard looking at old tiles that might sit beside it sympathetically. We very nearly came away with some red hexagonal paving bricks that spoke to my love of English paper piecing, until my daughter rightly pointed out that the scale of them was too big for how small our paths are going to be, so we've gone for some old square tiles. They're paler, but I'm hoping that won't matter so much once it's all planted up.
So, this is our half-finished front garden - I can currently hear my husband tamping down more tiles as I type, which seems a curious activity when it's thirty degrees outside, but he seems to like it. There are going to be four new beds (where you can see the patches of earth). Two rectangles diagonal to one another and two squares. The rectangles measure 0.8m x 1.5m and the squares are 1.5m x 1.5m and it's my job to fill them. My usual approach to planting is based around hebes. I think we have well over 30 hebe of all kinds between our front and back garden and they're my very favourite plant - I love that they're evergreen, low-maintenance and produce masses of flowers a few times a year (we have some that flower in summer and others in autumn and winter). They have served me well as a one-stop plant and have filled the gaps in the back garden. Although I'm keen to continue with this hebe-concentric gardening to some extent, I also feel I could be missing out. So, I have some questions about how I can step out of my comfort zone with these new beds and I'm hoping that the green-fingered amongst you might be able to give me some advice.
As it's a front garden that we'll walk through all year, I want to try and avoid any fallow, bleak periods in my planting, but I also want to celebrate each season with annuals and perennials. And it's here that I'm confused. I'm aware that you need some evergreen shrubs to give a permanent backbone to each bed, but the annuals and perennials bit is confusing me. On our back patio, I plant up masses of pots in spring and summer, but I tend to let most of them lie fallow in winter, save for the odd cyclamen, so I don't feel like I've gathered much experience of in-the-earth planting.
These are the thoughts and questions flying around my head:
- How can you preserve a space for swathes of annuals like daffodils and tulips, without having large areas of bare soil for the rest of the year?
- I've seen some amazing displays bordered by a low box hedge, but I'm not sure I'm disciplined enough to keep a box hedge neat and I don't understand how to plant one so that it all joins together to form a hedge. Are there any other alternatives for less structured gardens that would do this same job? Or some other way of creating a space for annuals?
- Are there annuals for winter, as well as spring and summer? Maybe this is how you end up without the bare soil problem?
- Perennials confuse me: you have a beautiful plant and then it dies back and reappears the next year...but that must mean a lot of half-dead looking plants in the long in-between periods - how do you plant to minimise the appearance of the gaps this creates? And how do you decide which season to have your perennial in? Do you plant one for each season in each bed to give a good overall spread, or do you go all out for it looking amazing in one particular season?
- How do you remember what's an annual and what's a perennial in order to know what to pull up? I'm guessing you must make a plan of the garden to refer back to and update it each time you plant something new?
- Because of our little paths, I don't want plants that are going to overflow too much, although I do like that slightly messy english country garden look. Any ideas for lovely compact or upright plants? Or just ones that fill a space really nicely without taking over?
- If I was planting against a fence, I'd try to do that clever thing that proper gardeners do where they actually think through having tall plants at the back, medium height in the middle and low ones at the front, but these beds aren't quite like that as there isn't a back and I don't want the front beds to completely obscure what's in the back beds and so I feel unsure what to do about different heights. Any thoughts?
- Or should I plant low to high and enjoy a different view depending on whether I'm going up or down the path and not worry that the front beds obscures the view of the back beds?
- Where do you shop for plants? We have an amazing nursery locally that we visit regularly, but I'm seeing all sorts of plant names that I don't think are available there. I'm wondering if there's a good online source where I can fill in the gaps. Is Crocus any good?
- It's an odd time of year to be planting perhaps? Lots of the plants I've researched don't seem to be available...it seems like there may be some waiting involved in planning out year-round beds?
I'll leave you with a photo of one of the pots on my back patio that's in bloom at the moment and a thank you for your time if you're able to answer even one of my loopy questions.
Ps. The hebe at the top of this post are in a bed to the other side of the path that leads to our front door - they make me so ridiculously happy that if all else fails I could continue to be a one-trick pony, but I feel compelled to at least try to learn some new tricks...