Garden Completicus

Thank you so much for all your gardening advice in answer to the last post - it was so helpful and I learnt so many interesting things. In the comments, Wendy suggested that we bring in the experts, which was a novel idea as we usually do things ourselves, even if that means some trial and error. But, we did unwittingly end up bringing in an expert and that experience now makes me wonder what else we could make lovelier by consulting experts (this could actually be the beginning of an expert addiction).

The Sunday before last, when the intense heat was dramatically broken for a day, we drove off to an independent plant nursery that we'd never been to before. The extreme weather meant that we were the only ones there, so we had the luxury of the owner's undivided attention and, serendipitously, she also happened to be a talented and experienced garden designer; we couldn't quite believe our luck and spent a really happy few hours with her, even though we were all drenched and there was something oddly comic about persevering in discussing plants over howling wind and through lashing rain.

We showed her some photos of the space that we had and she helped us plan out plants for the two diagonal square beds (I felt overwhelmed by the idea of trying to do all of them in one go). She said we should focus on evergreens so that the front garden didn't look bleak in winter and that we could then infill with seasonal things if we wanted to. We started with a Viburnum Tinus standard tree for both beds, which will have clusters of small white flowers when it gets cooler, and then built a collection of plants to go around them: Euonymus Fortunei 'Harlequin', which is a low-lying rambling plant with green and white leaves; Heuchera with big showy red leaves; Pittosporum Tenuifolium golf balls of greenery; Sanguisorba 'Tanna' with heavy dark red heads balancing on wispy stalks; and red grasses that I can't remember the name of. You can see just those first two beds planted up in the photo above.

The following week, we went back to the same nursery to tackle another two beds. This time, we chose different things for each bed so that it didn't begin to look too uniform and formal. In one bed, we created a little box hedge and filled it with three box balls of different sizes to give a cloud effect - I'm looking forward to adding in white cyclamen around those in winter. In the other, at the back right, we chose an Acer Bloodgood tree, which will turn a fiery red in Autumn (we have one in the back garden that my father gave me as a gift and it's a total delight), although it doesn't show up so well in the photo as it's currently a dark purple. Beneath it, we planted Sedum 'Matrona' that has green foliage, red stalks and will be covered in clusters of reddy-pink flowers at some point, so it speaks nicely to the colours of the acer; Teucrium Fruticans, which I had to be persuaded on as it's slightly chaotic before being trimmed back to good behaviour, but has nice grey-blue leaves that make me think of eucalyptus; Cerastium 'Snow in Summer' that will flower next spring; and something else that I can't remember.

Here are a few photos of it once those beds were planted up. My husband has since clipped the hedge, which makes a difference to how neat it looks. The garden designer's suggestions were a long way from the cottage garden style I'd been imagining and asking questions about in my previous blog post, but I love what she came up with. She listened to our likes and dislikes and was able to explain really quickly why certain plants would and wouldn't work and removed the many weeks of indecision and pondering that would have occurred if we'd been left to our own devices.

When I consider that the photo below is what it looked like before, I'm really thrilled. This was a small project in comparison to my husband's last, but felt no less impressive for the transformation it brought. How is this possible when he can't put up a curtain pole without the air being filled with dust and swear words as the hole in the wall gets bigger and bigger? I'm beginning to think he has selective capabilities (Nb. I realised as I wrote that that I do too: although I can make clothing from scratch, I still take jeans to the tailor to be hemmed and my birthday present a few years ago was some curtains made by someone who wasn't me).

I've went along on the trips to buy reclaimed tiles, sand, hardcore rubble and plants, but mostly I've just perched on the oak sleepers now and then with Nell at my feet, chatting to him while he's worked. Nell, by the way, has loved this project and enjoyed trotting up and down the driveway and lying in the sun watching people go by as my husband has tamped down tiles. She seems to sense that being allowed in the front garden without a lead is a privilege that requires best behaviour and she's more than risen to that challenge. When she was smaller she seemed to seek out shade, but as a middle-aged dog, she flops down and lets the sun warm her golden hair, pressing her chin to the ground contentedly and sighing from time to time, following your movements with her eyes.

It's been a project of extremes for my husband: most of the time it's been done in 30+ degree heat...

...but then at other times it's been quite wild and wet and required the wearing of full waterproof trousers; I stayed inside with the teenagers and watched Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces, as I lack the right trousers and dedication to the cause. 

There are two beds to the right of the path that had some old hebes in that had become woody at the base, flowering only at the outermost parts of each branch. When I rang a nursery that specialised in hebes, the man advised that rather than digging it up and replacing it, we should cut it right back to about 30cm while it's still in flower to try and force it to put on new growth immediately that would tell us if it was salvageable (if you're thinking of doing the same, know that it needs an entire bucket of water over it for the first few days and then regular watering afterwards until it's reestablished). We were excited to see beautiful little leaves forming all over the once-bare sticks within twenty-four hours. On the heels of that initial success, we trimmed back all the hebes that are in the bed in front of our living room window that were starting to show signs of doing the same, which has made it look horribly bare, but will hopefully bring long-term gain. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

In the comments to the last post, Deborah mentioned 'lasagne planting', where you stack several layers of annuals to flower consecutively - I was really taken by that idea and am hoping to make a lasagne in a pot, which I think will be my first foray into bulbs. I'm going to wait until September to pick my bulbs when the new Sarah Raven catalogue might be out. I've grown things from her seeds before (sweet peas and cornflowers) and they've always done well, even if the results were slightly curious due to my refusal to thin them out - you can see their crazy selves at the bottom of this post with my lovely grandmother for scale.

My husband is now turning his attention to our back garden, as although he overhauled that several years ago, he has some ideas for a little remodelling in the back corner to give us more space to eat outside and perhaps incorporate some sort of handmade solar-powered water feature.

In other thoughts, you may remember my post about blogging recently. Serendipitously, Abby Glassenberg happened to release an ebook all about blogs and blogging in that same week and when she saw my post she kindly sent me a copy. We've been away (camping with old school friends) and out and about a lot over the last few weeks, but I finally got a chance to sit and enjoy reading it yesterday and can heartily recommend it if you're thinking of starting your own blog or if you're trying to build a business around one. It's called The Creative Blogging Cookbook: What you Need to Know to Grow Your Business Through Blogging. Abby goes through everything you'd need to know providing lots of information, links and references, but isn't overly prescriptive, which I love; the essence of blogs is that they're unique to each author and Abby totally respects that and champions finding your own voice and rhythm.

In finding the link, I happened to see Abby's most recent post on dressmaking, which features her gorgeous garden in the background - I'm always struck by how cramped our houses and gardens are in England by comparison and was left swooning. It's a really interesting post in its own right, with or without the garden stalking.

Is anyone going to the Festival of Quilts this week? It's one of the highlights of my year and I'm hoping to go on Friday with my daughter if I can stand comfortably by then - I was brushing my teeth this morning when I leant forward slightly and felt an intense pain in my spine. It was so curiously painful that I saw an osteopath within a few hours and have been immobilised for much of the day (I've always found walking is good for a bad back in the past, but with this she advised avoiding movement), but I'm dosing myself with Arnica and Neurofen and hoping to still make it - the idea of missing out on all that inspiration would feel quite devastating.

Florence x


  1. Very neat, and what luck to get great advice from a designer. Once established those plants will fill the space beautifully.
    I never thought I could be interested in quilts, but was so inspired by Cassandra Ellis' books, I am developing a real fascination. Hence starting to follow related blogs such as your own. I hope to make it to the West of England quilt show at the end of this month.
    I finally made it to the American Museum in Bath a couple of weeks ago, specifically to see the 1718 quilt. What a beautiful connection with the past.

  2. oh Florence I'm sorry to hear your back isn't well!! I hope you'll be back up to snuff in no time and able to enjoy the Festival of Quilts.

    I'm SO tickled for you that your foray to the nursery brought forth a fruitful discussion and hopefully relationship with the owner. When we're out of our depth, that's of course why we go somewhere to seek out help, but always fearing that we won't find the RIGHT hands to be put into -- but you've obviously landed gloriously. Your garden looks wonderful, and now you're in a totally different "place" than you were just a few weeks ago.

    And a huge BRAVO to your husband for working in those extreme conditions. That is true dedication!!

    Hope all is well and you're feeling better soon. x

  3. Florence, it looks beautiful! You and your husband have done a fantastic job. What a difference!

  4. It looks absolutely wonderful....well done.

    Linda (France).


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Florence x