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I think my old fashioned garden might need updating

How do you recognise a 1970s garden?

What does the term ‘old fashioned’ or ‘outdated’ mean, in terms of gardens? It’s very easy to spot garden styles, just by the planting. Walk through a public park that hasn’t been updated for a few decades and look at the plants. There might well be some overcrowded ‘dwarf’ evergreen conifers that are now four metres high or so. Lots of shrubs. Some Acers, if the soil is right. Definitely rose beds, maybe Cordyline, pampas grass and perhaps some empty winter beds that will soon be filled with summer bedding. Is this an outdated style?

pampas grass growing in a garden Pampas grass was popular back in the 1970s and 80s and it does have a place in modern gardens, in the right situation.

municipal planting of colourful bedding is a labour intensive way to garden Summer bedding is a labour intensive way to bring colour to gardens and parks. Few people have time to plant and maintain such beds.

Well yes, in terms of garden design, it probably is rather old fashioned. But outdated gardens can be sought-after, if you re-vamp and use different terminology. Re-brand them as ‘traditional’ or ‘Victorian’ in terms of bedding and they will be completely on-trend. After all, a traditional cottage garden is highly valued and the concept is now back  in fashion. You only need browse around those wonderful gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show to realise that there’s a place for re-modelled older ideas as well as contemporary.

chelsea flower show garden with foxgloves, evergreens and orange flowers is on trend The cottage garden look, with the addition of a few evergreens for structure, is completely up to date

A garden time warp

If your garden is stuck in a time warp from the 1970s, it’s not too difficult to give it a bit of a makeover. You might need to remove some of your overcrowded conifers in order to show off the nicest ones to their best advantage. Don’t consider them a waste of space, birds and wildlife love these dense nesting places and they do bring mature structure to a space that can be worth its weight in gold. In fact, you can plan your garden around the plants that you want to keep. You need to be careful not to pile up soil higher than their trunks or stems, nor take away too much around them which will render them unstable.

garden with shaped conifers and sweeping lawn. The conifers in this rather pleasant garden, have been shaped in order to bring a contemporary twist to what would be a rather standard space.

What is a cottage garden?

You could extend the ‘traditional’ theme by introducing a cottage garden herbaceous border, using self-seeding plants which have bright and bold flowers. Colours can clash, it’s all part of the charm. Include tall perennials such as hollyhocks, delphiniums, lupins, foxgloves, Lavatera, Phlox, hardy geraniums, Peonies, Echinacea, Verbena and things like Cosmos. They can fill every inch of soil and all help to support each other if you don’t want to do any staking. It's an old fashioned idea but it is perfectly at home in our modern world.

painting of a cottage garden with herbaceous border and property in the background Traditional cottage gardens have evolved, but they've never fallen out of popularity.

Hard landscaping

The paving is another matter, and one that might need a little more thought. If you have the dubious benefits of crazy paving in yellow, red and pink,  it might have to go. Especially if it’s now posing a trip hazard. This could be the moment to invest some well-earned cash into some good quality hard landscaping, as you will reap bountiful rewards. Tearing up the old and replacing with sleek stone will give your garden an immediate lift. Think clean lines and geometric shapes if you want to be contemporary. Organic shapes have their place, but it’s easy to end up with random curves that don’t quite blend together. Unless, of course, you have the skills or money to design your entire plot in order to make sure everything goes together.

porcelain paving in a modern garden Porcelain paving is one of the most recent additions to the range of garden hard landscape surfacing options.

Look upwards too

Vertical structures such as arches and pergolas can be added in order to soften the look of a garden, provided they are placed in positions that are easy on the eye, then clothed in climbers to help them blend. What about those boundary fences that nobody seemed to mind back in the 1970s? They could so easily seem to disappear with the aid of climbing plants. Keep things simple. Don’t try to put too many features into a small place, and put practicalities at the top of your list. You need your garden to be both useful and beautiful. It’s entirely achievable, whatever plot you start out with.

wooden garden arch is ideal for climbers A garden arch can add a lot of interest, provided it is well-placed. Now it just needs lots of colourful climbers to make it feel like it belongs.