Sunday, 24 June 2018

Podcast: Men who stare at orchids

The latest episode of the #wildflowerhour podcast includes an interview with a man who has created a wild orchid haven in his back garden, a look at Orchid Hunter Leif Bersweden’s adventures studying orchids for his PhD, and another one of those lovely readings from Zoe Devlin’s book, Blooming Marvellous.

from #wildflowerhour

Sunday, 17 June 2018

June spotter sheets

How are your children getting on with our junior section, #HerbologyHunt? Here’s our June spotter sheet – happy hunting!

Click on the image below to download the sheet.


from #wildflowerhour

Sunday, 27 May 2018

How to start a successful garden from scratch

Starting a garden from scratch is both a challenge and  a privilege.

When Sarah Langton-Lockton bought her 1920s house, the garden was overgrown to the point of dereliction. It all had to be cleared, except for one camellia and one small tree.

Within two years, it was good enough to open to the public, and now, just three years on, it’s open for the NGS Kent on June 2nd, along with two other local gardens. That’s quite an accolade And it’s been achieved in a remarkably short time.

Sarah created this garden from scratch in just a year or two.

Sarah created this garden from scratch in not much more than a year or two. Now it’s open both for the NGS on June 2nd and for Faversham Open Gardens on June 24th.

If you’re creating your garden from scratch, you may also be faced with a garden is just a plain lawn, either because it’s newly built or because the previous owners weren’t interested in gardening.

A garden from scratch means you can start at once

When you move into a new home, garden experts always counsel you to wait a year to see what’s in the garden. It’s great advice because trees and shrubs planted years ago can give a garden maturity and texture. If your predecessor was a keen gardener, then you will undoubtedly have some gems that you won’t want to get rid of.

But if it’s clear that nothing is there, you can start immediately.

Although, to be fair, you’ll probably take a year to move in and ‘do’ the house, which is what Sarah did.

What shape is your garden?

Garden planning starts with your garden shape. Is it long and thin, rectangular, square or wide and shallow?

A greenhouse on one side

The extra width of Sarah’s plot meant she was able to put the greenhouse on one side, halfway along. It’s serves as a charming focal point as well as for growing.

Sarah was particularly excited about planning the garden, because it was a double width plot. ‘All my life I’ve gardened in long, thin London gardens, so having the extra width was wonderful. But I had to think about how to break up the space differently.’

She decided to have one ‘long border’ on just one side, but to make it deep and generous. She is influenced by Great Dixter, where the Long Border looks good all year round.

‘I wouldn’t compare myself to Great Dixter,’ she says. ‘But I hope there is a Great Dixter-esque feeling about this border.’

Be generous with your main border

One generous border along one side – a tribute to Great Dixter. Even if your garden is long and narrow (especially if it’s long and narrow!), one really good border on one side is better than two meagre ones on both sides. The pink flowers are Thalictrums ‘Black Stockings’, ‘Elin and flavum glaucum.

Break up the space

The way you break up the space in your garden is key to how spacious it looks. My mother always used to think that a room or a garden would look bigger if you had as much open space as possible, especially in the middle.

But, in fact, the opposite is true. When you break up a space, the eye pauses before moving on. It’s more of a journey, so it seems bigger.

And last year, I went on a one day garden design course with the KLC School of Design. The tutor explained that you need to think about mass (ie sheds, trees) and void (lawns, terraces) in your garden before planning which flowers to plant. There’s more about designing your garden in this video.

A garden from scratch means the veg beds can go anywhere!

Three charming veg beds cut across the garden halfway along. Behind them the back of the garden is wilder, with a still-developing rockery at the very back.

Sarah took the brave step of running the vegetable beds across the middle of the lawn. I think this is something of a growing trend, because veg beds are beautiful in themselves.

Beautiful plant supports

Don’t you love Sarah’s beautiful plant supports in the veg beds? They’re from Plant Belles.

Once again, if you start a garden from scratch, you can do what you like with your veg – you’re not constrained by where your predecessor has decided to put them.

What materials to use?

You will have to decide between brick, stone, gravel, seashells, lawn etc – and how much of each you want.

‘Lawns aren’t very fashionable these days,’ says Sarah. ‘But I think they are a good foil for plants and flowers, so I wanted open areas with lawn.’

She added a brick path down one side of the garden, to the greenhouse. She has lovely old brick walls, so has used similar style of brick for the path – in small gardens, it’s important not to introduce too many different elements or it can feel fussy.

Use a limited palette of hard landscaping materials when starting a garden from scratch

Sarah has mainly used brick for her hard landscaping, echoing the old brick shed, the traditional green house and the garden walls.

How to choose plants when creating a garden from scratch

Sarah is a great believer in ‘right plant, right place’. So she chooses sun-loving plants for her sunny border and shade-loving plants for the end of the garden.

Many perennials will plump up in just a year or so. And you can fill gaps with annuals.

Irises are a good choice for a new garden.

I love this combination of pale blue (Iris pallida subsp pallida) and dark purple irises in Sarah’s border. Irises often flower in their first year and are a good choice for a new garden. They like a sunny spot.

Sarah’s combination of annuals and perennials meant that the garden looked abundant even in its first year. We opened it for Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day just four months after it was a muddy puddle, and it was picked for the NGS in just two years.

Climbing perennials can take longer to get established, but are good investments

It takes climbers, such as roses and clematis, a bit longer to get established. Sarah’s climbing roses are probably at their best this year. This is Tea Rose ‘Sombreuil’.

A garden from scratch - reflect your own taste in accessorie

Sarah’s garden is uncluttered but there are a few pretty touches, such as this vintage railway petrol container used as a water butt.

You can see Sarah’s garden, as well as Posy Gentles’ garden (which I’ve often written about on this blog) and also 17 Norman Road when they’re open for NGS Kent on June 2nd, 10am-5pm.

Posy Gentles' garden

Garden maker Posy Gentles’ garden will also be open on June 2nd.

Norman Road garden, open for the NGS and also for Faversham Open Gardens

17 Norman Road is also open on June 2nd. All three are walled gardens.

Behind the gates of more private urban gardens:

You’ll find more Kent town gardens for ideas and inspiration in this video:

Pin for reference:

How to create a successful garden from scratch #gardening #gardendesign

The post How to start a successful garden from scratch appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

Friday, 25 May 2018

Podcast: Plants ARE cool

In the latest #wildflowerhour podcast, Isabel Hardman challenges Dr Jonathan Mitchley of the University of Reading to explain why plants are important and even cool. We also hear a reading from Zoe Devlin’s lovely book, Blooming Marvellous, and find out about why Dom Price from the Species Recovery Trust likes to lie down in fields and stare at ants.

from #wildflowerhour

Monday, 21 May 2018

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 – what it means for your garden

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show or ‘Chelsea’, as it’s known in the gardening world, is our Fashion Week.

#RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 - Chris Beardshaw's beautiful garden for Morgan Stanley

Chris Beardshaw’s design for Morgan Stanley and the NSPCC – just a beautiful garden at every level with abundant planting and a calm but positive use of colour.

The celebs may dip in and out, but the trends percolate down into our gardens – it’s probably more influential than any other show in the world.

I spent yesterday morning at the Chelsea Flower Show as a roving reporter for BBC Radio Kent’s excellent Sunday Gardening programme. Exhibitors were still putting the last minute touches to their stands, and the garden designers were anxiously tweaking their creations.

BBC Radio Kent Sunday Gardening at RHS Chelsea 2018

The BBC Radio Kent Sunday Gardening team, from left: me, Phil Harrison, Jane Streitfeild of the NGS, Steve Bradley and Louise, who kept us all organised.

Supershoes Laced with Hope Garden

Designer Laura Anstiss putting the finishing touches on the Supershoes Laced With Hope garden with Frosts.

Spirit of Cornwall garden at RHS Chelsea 2018

One of the puzzling things about going round while it’s still being constructed is knowing what’s meant to be in the garden and what isn’t. This ladder does look rather wonderful here. But it disappeared later so presumably not…in the VTB Spirit of Cornwall garden by Charles Stuart Towner.

Then I went round the show again to see what I think is going to be big in ‘ordinary’ gardens over the next few years.

Garden designer Paul Hervey-Brookes

Paul Hervey-Brookes titivating the Viking Cruises Wellness Garden.

All very different at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

There is a definite wind of change blowing through the gardening world, judging by this year’s RHS Chelsea

The grasses and structured hedging of the past few years has almost completely been swept away.

Instead there are huge beds full of flowers and colour.

Vivid colour at the David Harber and Savills garden at RHS Chelsea

The David Harber and Savills Garden by Nic Howard

Supershoes Laced with Hope garden

While I don’t normally want to see graffiti in gardens, I loved this garden for Supershoes Laced With Hope.

Yellow is an emerging garden colour

At Capel Manor College, their display is called 50 Shades of Gold. I spoke to one of their designers who said ‘A few years ago, I’d never have considered using yellow in a garden.’ Their display is a celebration of yellow flowers of all kinds across all seasons.

And I spotted yellow in a number of other gardens, too, including Sarah Price’s garden for Morgan Stanley.

Yellow in the Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden

The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate garden, with yellow oilseed rape (!) in the foreground. All our mothers would be scandalised.

Yellow in the beautifully abundant 'Stihl Inspiration' garden

Lilac and yellow in the beautifully abundant Hillier ‘Stihl Inspiration’ garden.

Yellow in the LG Eco-city garden

Yellow in the gorgeous LG Eco-city garden by Hay-Joung Wang

The free-standing arch

Taking that show gardens are a very pampered version of small town gardens, it’s interesting to see how many feature a free-standing arch. Adding height halfway along a small garden gives it a sense of proportion and gives the eye somewhere to pause, thus making the garden feel larger.

Japanese garden arch

The exquisite ‘Hospitality Garden’ for G-Lion by Kazuyuki Ishihara. Love that moss!

Urban Flow garden by Tony Woods

This arch in the Urban Flow Garden by Tony Woods of Gardenclublondon is made of a specially fired porcelain so it doesn’t need any maintenance and lasts forever.

Eucalyptus and logs arch

I rather like this arrangement of logs, arch and eucalyptus – sorry, can’t remember who’s it is, let me know if you do.

Corten steel

Beautifully textured corten steel has been around for a few years, but at RHS Chelsea 2018 it is big, big, big.

Corten steel at Hillier

Water feature with corten steel in the Stihl Inspiration garden for Hillier.

Corten steel screens

Corten steel screens for Stihl Inspiration, Hillier at RHS Chelsea

Corten steel pots at Capel Manor College

Pots of corten steel at Capel Manor College.

More on video:

Pop over to the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel to see more:

If you’ve watched RHS Chelsea 2018 or been to the show, what did you pick up as a trend? What was your favourite garden or new product? Let me know in the comments below or on social media – Twitter is @midsizegarden and Facebook is The Middlesized Garden.

Thank you!

Pin for reference:

New trends from the 2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show #gardening


The post The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 – what it means for your garden appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

Sunday, 13 May 2018

A seashell garden path – is it the best and most attractive option?

A seashell garden path is probably the most environmentally friendly path option you can choose. It’s relatively cheap and you can lay it yourself.

And it’s not just for ‘seaside gardens’, either.

A seashell garden path is eco-friendly and cheap

A seashell garden path made from cockle shell mulch in garden maker, Posy Gentles’ garden.

The shells are a by-product of the shellfish industry, so you’re immediately recycling.

And, like gravel, shell mulches allow rainwater to drain into the ground, so it’s not contributing to run-off.

A new path or renewing an old one?

If you have a gravel path, it may need renewing. We had our gravel paths topped up in 2010, and I reckon they are about half earth now.

Gravel path before the seashell mulch was laid

After eight years, our gravel paths are half earth…that’s Lottie, by the way.

Meanwhile my friend, garden maker Posy Gentles, was creating a new path in her garden. She decided to use cockle shell mulch, so we decided to try it too, to revive our mucky-looking gravel paths.

The garden path 'after'

The same garden path after we laid 20mm of seashell mulch on top.

Why not gravel?

Gravel is good! It’s a much more environmentally-friendly surface than stone or concrete. The RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign is trying to get us all to stop concreting over our front and back gardens.

They say that ‘paving over Great Britain is harmful to wildlife, damages the nation’s health and contributes to flooding.’

If you cover everything with hard landscaping, then you create run-off problems – when it rains, the water can’t soak into the earth properly. So it all rushes down our road (that’s what it feels like) and floods the basement of the house at the bottom. Well, that’s what happens here, anyway.

Gravel, sand and other mulches, such as bark or seashell mulches, allow plant roots to survive and water to drain freely. A gravel drive or front garden is much better for the environment than one that is completely paved over.

Close up of the seashell garden path mulch

Close up of the seashell garden path mulch.

However, gravel does have to be extracted from lake, river and ocean beds, so it is using up natural resources. Seashell mulch is a byproduct of the seafood industry.

How to find a seashell garden path

It’s not easy to find seashell mulch. I couldn’t find any stocked at garden centres. so Posy ordered it online from Gardenscape Direct, who deliver around the South East of England.

Our garden paths 'before'

There is a gravel and pavers path just to the right of the silver birch. Plus a gravel path running along the edge of the lawn to the pergola. But you ca barely see either as they are now about half earth.

If you live elsewhere, you can probably find someone to deliver in your area by searching online for ‘shell mulch’ and ‘seashell mulch.’

We had to calculate the volume of seashell mulch we needed. Mr Middlesize does the maths round here, and he estimated that we have 60 square metres of paths. And we thought that a depth of 20mm would be about right.

There’s a useful ‘how much do I need’ calculator on the Gardenscape Direct site, so we order two one-ton bags, to be delivered to our front garden.

Ordering in bulk

Ordering manures and mulches in bulk saves money, but you have to think about delivery. We have a walled garden in town, surrounded by other gardens. Our garden can only be accessed by a narrow, ancient walled alleyway.

Seashell mulch in bags

Two one-tonne bags of seashell garden path mulch and one of mushroom compost land in the front garden one morning.

So the seashell mulch (plus a one ton bag of mushroom compost) had to be craned over the front fence into our front garden. Posy had her one ton bag craned onto her front path. These things need consideration if you’re going to go the DIY route for paths. If you hire landscapers, then they’ll probably wheelbarrow the mulches in from their truck with a wheelbarrow.

The hard work

Poor Mr M is also in charge of heavy lifting round here, and it took him 3-4 hours to wheelbarrow the seashell mulch from the front garden to the back. He tipped the wheelbarrow loads into piles in the garden where we wanted them.

It’s also worth saying that he prepared the paths beforehand, with a massive weeding effort. Although a mulch helps suppress weeds, it’ll be much more effective if poured on a path that is already weed-free.

Then we raked the piles over the paths. Cockle shell mulch isn’t as heavy as gravel, so this was a relatively easy job. If the path is just gravel, even I can rake it out (and I have a bad shoulder at the moment). However where our paths were partly flagstones and partly gravel, it was much more fiddly. It probably took about another two hours.

You can see Mr M hard at work in this video here:

Mr M says that ‘a young man could do it all far more quickly.’

Creating the path from scratch

Posy had two young men (her sons) to help. The three of them wheelbarrowed and raked her seashell garden path into shape in around four hours.

Posy's recycled shed and seashell path

Posy’s recycled shed with its seashell garden path and pavers in front.

That included levelling the ground. If you’re making a path, you need to level it, or the seashell mulch will all be washed down to one end. You also need to level paths to make them safe for walking, and in order to set stone or concrete pavers in safely.

Posy didn’t lay the seashells on fabric or any other base, so she needed more seashell mulch than I did. She thinks around 40-50mm would be about right for a completely newly laid path (as compared to our 20mm for us to top up an established path.)

The verdict?

The seashell mulch was about a third cheaper than gravel (it cost us about £200, including delivery, to cover 60 sq metres of path). And laying it doesn’t need any DIY expertise.

I think the colour brightens the garden up, but in a natural way, so I’m pleased with it.

After laying the seashell garden path.

This photo looks down on the garden from a window, and you can see how the seashell mulch garden paths add definition and brightness.

Our dog was initially hesitant about walking on it, but is now completely happy about having a seashell garden path.

The shells break underfoot, so the path will compact quite quickly, becoming finer and less ‘seashell-y’ over time. It will ultimately be absorbed into the soil, although I don’t know how long that will take.

Shell mulch used as a garden surface

The shell mulch brightens this bench area.


We found the shells harder to spread in the paths that had stepping stones in them. Where you’re creating a new path (as Posy did) or if you’re renewing an all-gravel path, then seashell mulch is very easy to lay.

But trying to get the shells to settle well around pavers caused much swearing from Mr M. He has asked me ‘not to do experiments in future’.

However, it would have been exactly the same if we’d renewed the paths with gravel. Mr M cleared away some of the soil and gravel before we laid the seashell mulch down, but we are hoping that it will settle around the pavers over time.

Posy added pavers at the same time as laying the mulch, so they were able to make sure pavers and shells all came up to the same level.

Next Sunday…

Next Sunday, I will be with Steve Bradley and Phil Harrison on BBC Radio Kent Gardening, covering the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, so the blog will come out on Monday. Do tune in, and ask some questions!

Pin for reference:

A seashell garden path is easy to lay yourself, inexpensive and eco-friendly


The post A seashell garden path – is it the best and most attractive option? appeared first on The Middle-Sized Garden.

from The Middle-Sized Garden

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Hedgerow challenge – the highlights

I don’t know about bustling, the hedgerows the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland must have been heaving, as so many of you took part in the hedgerow challenge!

Billowing swathes of Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris can typically be found making a frothy ‘skirt’ at the base of the hedgerow. Our featured image is a striking photograph of this plant by Grantham Ecologist.

May is such a lovely intoxicating month, from the very first opening of the hawthorn, a glorious floral profusion ensues, seemingly all at once!

You spotted bluebells, red campion, greater stitchwort, garlic mustard, cuckoo pint, forget-me-nots and speedwells and so much more!

Jane Rock found a gorgeous kaleidoscope of colour in her selection of hedgerow plants in the image above.

You can see the rest of your wonderful finds in the collection below.

Thank you so much for taking part.

from #wildflowerhour