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During RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which normally takes place during the month of May, it’s both likely and understandable that the majority of people either visiting or watching the show won’t ever own a garden that could be viewed as anywhere near similar to the gardens on display. This could feel a bit depressing for many who would like to emulate the sights they enjoy at Chelsea. Few people have enough funds to redevelop their plots to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The Main Avenue gardens at Chelsea can easily cost £250,000. For a garden that lasts barely a week.
A costly business
A professional design or makeover for an average garden doesn't come cheaply, despite some of the TV makeover shows hinting that up to £5,000 might be enough! It's not unusual for a small to medium-sized garden to cost around £25,000, when you take into account paving and retaining walls, yet alone soft landscaping using plants. This can be equivalent to the cost of an extension, or at least a new kitchen and bathroom. So it's important to convey all your wishes accurately when you first have a meeting with a garden designer.
But there are elements at garden design shows that anyone can take home for free. They come in the form of ideas and inspiration. Make a note of plant companions that you like, i.e. which plants look great next to other plants. Notice the shapes of permanent and semi-permanent features such as lawns, paving, sheds, pergolas, trees and shrubs. Look at the colours to see what pleases you. Take note of the general ‘flow’ and circulation route around a garden. Many of these things can be changed at home for very little cost.
What represents an average, or ‘normal’ garden?
Most newly built properties come with a ‘landscaped’ rear garden. The design isn’t something that’s going to make you swoon. Most developers budget for a lawn, a patio and maybe a bed, or maybe not. Unfortunately, the majority of builders aren’t landscapers or gardeners and the lawn will often be laid onto compacted ground which has been compressed by diggers. The soil will contain bricks, concrete and probably a fair share of plastic and rubbish. Unless you are lucky, the patio might well be the cheapest blocks or paving available.
Over the years, subsequent owners will probably improve their patch to a certain degree. Some will do so knowledgeably and others will just use the space they have without feeling the need to change it. Most gardens have areas that work and spaces that aren’t quite right. It’s very rare for the whole garden to be designed into something that fits the needs and wants of the inhabitants.
So you are not alone!
Plants to perk up your plot
Non-gardening folk often need some ideas when they are looking to introduce some new plants into their garden. The key thing they require is ‘low maintenance’. it is unheard of for people to ask for high maintenance gardens! The thing to bear in mind, with any space in a garden, is the aspect and the conditions. i.e. does it get the sun? Is it boggy? Is it coastal/windy/sheltered or shady?
Here’s some suggestions for low-maintenance plants in a sunny spot:
Most Erica types of heather can survive in general soil, provided it’s not too wet. Other types of heather might require acid soil. These have fallen from favour in the past, but their popularity is on the rise! Plant heather in groups, choosing several of the same variety, then contrast with another variety so that you can enjoy flowering at different times.
There are so many gorgeous hardy geraniums available, making it possible for you to fill your entire garden, if you wish! They love the sunshine and form delightful, flowering mounds which produce flowers for most of the summer. Just be careful which plants you select as some can be rather invasive. Avoid Geranium macrorrhizum, for example.
They come in all shapes and sizes. What’s more, these are evergreen shrubs so they’ll give something during winter too. The flowers are blue, purple or white, depending on the variety. One of the hardiest types is a Hebe from the Garden Beauty Series which all form neat mounds to about 65cm high. they have rich purple flowers in spring. There are Hebes with variegated leaves too, including H. ‘Heartbreaker’, so you can use these to make excellent foliage contrast.
These are shrubs that are known as the butterfly bush because the summer flower spikes attract butterflies. Ideally, Buddleja should be deadheaded when flowers have faded as this will keep them coming. They also need cutting back in early spring or they tend to become very woody. Other than that, they are really easy to please and beautiful when flowering.
There are all sorts of Iris, some suited to damp, shady places and others that love the sun. They look beautiful in many different situation. The bearded types are sun-loving and their vertical foliage makes a great contrast with fluffy, mounded shapes.
Cistus or rock rose.
These sun-lovers are so easy to maintain, provided they are planted in free-draining soil in a sunny spot. Some Cistus can form large mounds. Potentilla are similar and some of these are smaller in stature. Potentilla ‘Red Ace’ is particularly attractive, with rich orange flowers.