Saturday, 15 September 2018

The top 2019 garden trends from GLEE

What do the 2019 garden trends mean for your garden?

I’ve just visited GLEE, the horticultural trades show in Birmingham. The future is looking good for us ‘middle-sized’ gardeners.

The urban garden is top of the 2019 garden trends

The age of the urban garden has arrived.

Products are being launched to make gardening easier.

But, above all, the age of the urban garden has arrived. The average size of garden in the UK is fifty feet long, but new build houses will have much smaller gardens. The gardening industry is responding with new products and plants.

Starring the urban garden

Fifteen years ago, when we first got a garden, the trends were driven by the large country gardens. Gardening advice to a newbie gardener might have included tips such as ‘no matter how small your estate, it’s essential to have at least three acres of woodland.’ (I’m not being quite fair, as that is from a very old book, but you get the idea…)

And I went to a lecture given by a top head gardener who referred to her own personal garden (one-third of an acre) as ‘absolutely tiny.’ That was almost twice the size of our garden which, at the time, looked worryingly big to me.

outdoor room and indoor garden

2019 garden trends: the outdoor room meets the indoor garden. Courtyards, terraces, outdoor rooms, patios…

Even five years ago, I did a media training workshop with a group of garden designers who were very reluctant to admit publicly that they mainly worked in small urban gardens. They seemed to fear that they wouldn’t be taken seriously unless they worked in large country gardens.

Garden pot inspiration

The countryside comes to town…

That is no longer the case.  The urban garden and all its quirks are at the heart of the 2019 garden trends. The words ‘vista’, ‘drifts’ and ‘double borders’ have been replaced by pots, table planters, automated irrigation, robot mowers and smaller varieties of plants.

Pot, pots and more pots

I spotted Burgon & Ball’s contemporary hanging pots, Laura Ashley and Sophie Conran’s designer pots, retro pots and recyclable pots (still not enough of these). There were pots as room dividers, country pots, traditional pots and more.

Hanging planters - 2019 garden trends

The hanging basket grows up and gets sophisticated….hanging planters from Stewart at GLEE.

When you buy plants from the nurseries in black plastic pots, they aren’t recyclable because of the black pigment. So there was a range of taupe pots on sale, which are being adopted by Hilliers, Waitrose and more. Haxnicks also displayed recyclable bamboo pots. They gave journalists a recyclable bamboo travel mug, which won’t, I hope, recycle itself while full of tea.

Burgon & Ball contemporary hanging pots.

Burgon & Ball hanging pots. Very pretty.

Ingenious ways of growing things

There were a number of table planters at the show, and this can only be good news for anyone wanting to grow salads on their balcony or terrace. Some have easy take-on-take-off cloche covers, which makes me want them in my own garden in order to keep the pigeons off the spinach.

The Veg Trug at GLEE

The Veg Trug table planter at GLEE

I was interested, however, to see very few vertical ‘green walls’. Did I miss them at the show or has this been a very short-lived trend? I do like seeing plants grown up the sides of buildings (Stratford International Station has a good one). But I have my doubts as to how easy green walls are to look after.

(note: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

Vegebox, with an easy, lift-off cloche cover

And the Vegepod, another table planter, with an easy, lift-off cloche cover. Available from Marshalls.

There were also ordinary-style raised beds with mini polytunnel-type cloche covers. You need to be careful about size with these. Smaller isn’t always better.

For example, I bought a reduced-size (4ftx 6ft) polytunnel a few years ago. I’ve found it infuriating because it’s very difficult to access when the plants are fully grown, so it just turned into a mess. My advice is either to buy a polytunnel you can walk into or a small enough cloche to remove easily. ‘Middle-sized’ does not work when it comes to cloches and polytunnels.

Although do feel free to contradict me.

2019 garden trends in plants

I spoke to Wyevale Garden centres, who said that the top trend is for bee and pollinator-friendly ‘cottage garden’ plants. But as gardens are so much smaller, they’re selling dwarf versions of popular plants. That includes Allium ‘Millenium’, which is almost as diminutive as chives.

‘Patio fruits’ are a big new trend. I like the idea of dwarf mulberries and blackberries. But I saw a couple of multi-fruit ‘patio’ bushes on a stand (I can’t remember which). I’m a little doubtful about this trend, as I’m not sure whether a fruit tree with three different kinds of fruit on the same rootstock will actually deliver flavour and a decent harvest. But maybe I’ll be proved wrong.

Plant foliage has been big in the world of garden bloggers for a while. And this trend is now ‘trickling down’ to the ordinary gardener. This is where the great country gardens do still lead the way. Head gardeners (see Philip Oostenbrink’s garden here) are developing, experimenting with and championing plants with distinctive shaped and coloured foliage.

2019 garden trends - dramatic foliage plants

Dramatic foliage is a big trend for 2019 and beyond.

The result is that when you and I go to the nursery or garden centre, we feel an irrestistible desire to buy phormiums. I know. I did it just recently. It was as if an alien had taken over my credit card. But when I got home, it seemed so right. That’s fashion for you. Even if you think you’re immune, you’re not.

Foragers’ cocktails and home-made tea

Romeo Sommers, the creative director of GLEE, identified a real expansion of grow-your-own in the 2019 garden trends. He predicts that we’ll be growing our own tea. That’s not just dipping some mint in hot water, but actually growing tea plants for our own home-grown green tea.

He said that restaurants will make an increasing point of growing their own ingredients, and telling diners about it.

And then there are herbs in cocktails. I love the idea of his phrase ‘foragers’ cocktails’, but even if you’re not brave enough to forage, you can pop sprigs of rosemary into your gin-and-tonic. My best gin-and-tonic this year had lovage in it.

And, of course, edible flowers are still big, big, big. Botanist James Wong sometimes fumes on Twitter that too many Instagrammers are using non-edible flowers on food and that someone will be poisoned one day.

Natural dyes from plants - a future trend for gardners

Natural dyes from garden plants – Yasmin Hossain of Juniper & Bliss dyed these napkins at home with her home-made dye from avocado skins.

Romeo Sommers also mentioned a growing trend for home dyeing fabrics using plants from your garden. I’ve written two posts about dyeing from plants here, but I think it’s a trend that has alot further to go. It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys sewing, crochet or knitting and who also loves their garden.

Gardens for relaxation – gardening goes high-tech

The small and middle-sized garden of tomorrow is for relaxing in, according to the research. So technology is automating garden jobs. The top two tech gadgets are automated irrigation systems and robot lawn mowers. Both can now be controlled from mobile phones. And both are more suited to smaller urban gardens rather than estates with three acres of woodland.

And eco-friendly…

As well as the recyclable pots, there were several new peat-free composts (the RHS endorses the Melcourt range) and also glyphosate-free weedkillers from Evergreen, SBM, Assured Products, Neudorff and more. Solar lighting can now be controlled from a smart-phone, and it’s more practical – Duracell say their best-seller in solar lighting is solar security lighting because people can install it without having to drill through a wall for cabling.

And colourful…

Small and middle-sized gardens can be easily seen from the house, and may partly be ‘outdoor rooms.’ So the idea of accessorising gardens with coloured furniture, fences, pergolas etc is growing. And Romeo Sommers believes more of us will extend our interior decorating themes out into the garden.

Vibrant colour in gardens

A vibrant shelf of pots as a room divider -but is that on a terrace, patio or inside? It doesn’t matter any more.

Garden furniture ranges used to be ranges of wood, plastic or metal in natural shades, green or white. Now you can get chairs and benches in pastel pinks, citrus yellows and greens and more. Or you could paint your garden furniture yourself.

Add colour with garden furniture

Pastel pink retro garden chairs from Premier’s Outdoor Living collection.

And of course Instagram…

Instagram has done a huge amount to publicise gardening and plants, particularly in urban gardens. It’s hugely influential in promoting dramatic foliage, houseplants and beautiful gardens. That seems set to continue. If you haven’t joined it yet, it only works from a smartphone. Get the Instagram app, sign in (it’s easy), then start following people (@the_middlesized_garden_blog, for example!)

Enjoy a video tour of GLEE’s 2019 garden trends here

 Pin for reference:

2019 garden trends from GLEE, the insider's garden trade show

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from The Middle-Sized Garden

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The best professional tips for late summer garden colour

Have you run out of gardening steam by the time you get to the late summer garden?

I know I do, which is why it’s so inspiring to visit a top professional garden, such as The Salutation in Sandwich. And here head gardener Steven Edney shares his tips for late summer garden colour with The Middlesized Garden.

Dahlias in the late summer garden at The Salutation.

One of Steven Edney’s favourite dahlias – Dahlia ‘Pink Pat and Perc’ at the Salutation. I’d love to know why it’s called that – was it developed by a couple called Patricia and Percy? If you know, do tell.

Firstly, when does a late summer garden start and end? My definition is that it starts with the first dahlia opening (usually around mid-July). It ends with the first frosts, when the dahlia foliage collapses into a blackened heap. The Salutation has over 400 different dahlia varieties, and holds an annual Dahlia Festival in the middle of September (15th/16th in 2018).

So the ‘late summer garden’ equates to ‘the dahlia season’ in my opinion, although Gardeners’ World defines it as September and October. I visited the Salutation in early September, and it was glorious. There’s clearly no excuse for saying that ‘the garden is over’ at this time of year.

Which dahlias for your garden?

Steven says that single dahlias are the easiest to grow. ‘They don’t need staking, and they’re more drought tolerant.’ As most of the UK had a nine-week drought this summer, this is worth knowing. The Salutation is particularly famous for its dark-leaved dahlias, such as this beautiful ‘Hadrian’s Sunlight’ dahlia below.

Dahlia 'Hadrian's Sunlight' - dark leafed, single dahlia at The Salutation

Another of Steven’s favourite dahlias – the single-flowered ‘Hadrian’s Sunlight’, which has an RHS Award of Garden Merit. ‘It’s available from Halls of Heddon, which are in the Scottish Borders,’ says Steven. ‘So it can withstand growing quite far North. I think the foliage is particularly lovely as it’s matt.’

However if you want to grow dahlias as cut flowers, the showier double, pom-pom, cactus and other varieties last better in water, he says.

To find out more about dahlias, their history, classification and how to grow them, I can recommend Dahlias, a beautiful book by Naomi Slade, with stunningly beautiful photographs by Georgianna Lane. It features several hundred different dahlias, in glorious colour. Just as seeing a plant in its natural habitat can teach you how to grow it better, finding out more about your favourite plant also helps you understand it.

(note: links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

But the late summer garden is more than dahlias

I’ve always relied on lots of dahlias to carry a late summer garden off. However, visiting the Salutation has opened my eyes to the other dramatic plants available around now.

Late summer garden colour - ginger lily and helenium

I really love this combination of ginger lily (Hedychium) and Helenium with the large leaves of Melianthus.

The Salutation house and garden were designed together by Edwin Lutyens in 1912, and much of his original layout remains. Although he was famous for his partnership with Gertrude Jekyll, this is one of the few houses and gardens completely designed by Lutyens himself. Restoring a historic garden isn’t like renovating a period house. Gardens grow and plants change, as does the weather, pests and diseases. So head gardeners try to carry on with the spirit of the original garden designer rather than planting exactly the same plants he or she planted.

The Salutation gardens, designed by Lutyens

There would have been herbaceous borders in Lutyens’ time, too, but many of today’s plants are different.

Steven and The Salutation’s interpretation of Lutyens’ spirit is that he was always innovative and open to new ideas. So Steven has introduced unusual varieties of common plants. And he’s also created some exotic areas. Ginger lilies, cannas and large-leaved plants give shape as well as colour to the late summer garden at The Salutation.

Why unusual varieties?

Most professional gardeners today would like us amateurs to buy more unusual plants. It’s important for diversity. And I see complaints on Twitter that too many ‘top 10 plants for…’ lists reduces the popularity of otherwise excellent plants that don’t happen to make the list. If people don’t buy a wide range of plants, then growers don’t grow a wide range of plants. Everyone gets less choice in the end.

Cosmos 'Cupcake' - grown at the Salutation

Cosmos is another good late-season flower. This is ‘Cupcake’, growing at The Salutation – I would call it ‘unusual’, but Steven says that it is fast growing very popular!

But it’s not just about having more choice. There are lots of unusual varieties at The Salutation, such as Canna ‘Bethany’ (see further down this post). That’s partly because Salutation is in a particularly dry area and is almost coastal. So Steven needs plants that will grow well in such conditions, as well as heritage varieties. He says that people can be frightened off by the label ‘unusual’ or ‘rare’ because they assume that it means ‘difficult to grow.’ In fact, rare plants are no more likely to be ‘difficult’ than their common cousins. ‘We now label plants as “seldom grown”, rather than “rare”‘ he says.

(Read Australian gardening expert Stephen Ryan on buying and growing rare plants if you want to know more about having unusual varieties.)

Cannas are easier than you think

Exotic, colourful and sculptural, cannas are getting fashionable. But many people worry about their hardiness. Steven says that if you live in the milder parts of the UK, you should be able to leave them in the ground over winter. ‘Once the foliage has collapsed with the frost, we fold it over the plant to help protect it, then we pile mulch on top.’

Grow cannas for late season colour

With exotic orange flowers,dramatic structure and stripey green/yellow leaves, Canna ‘Bethany’ is a show-stopper for this time of year, especially planted with a low-growing variegated leaf trim.

The main problem with cannas, according to Steven, is that they are ‘quite greedy’. They need an extra thick pile of manure as mulch and lots of water. ‘If people have trouble with their cannas,’ he says, ‘it usually boils down to feed or water.’

He says that they are mainly sun-loving plants, but will often grow in light shade. ‘If the shade is too heavy, they may not flower,’ he adds. ‘Although you’ll still have the foliage.’

Steven also uses cannas as a summer hedge, creating private spaces in the gardens with a row of cannas that grow to around 6ft high. In winter, the foliage dies down so you get the light. It looks wonderful. Now where can I grow a row of cannas…???

Remember the shape, structure and foliage

‘Think about the shape of the flower and the foliage when planning for late summer garden colour’, says Steven. ‘You’re going to live with the leaves for months, while most flowers only last a few weeks.’ That’s what makes cannas such a great plant. He says he’d still grow them for their wonderful leaf patterns even if they never flowered.

Canna Bethany - late season colour at the Salutation

Canna ‘Bethany’ close up – I don’t think I could forgo those flowers, however beautiful the leaves!

Tall red amaranth and frothy panicum

Shape and structure – as well as colour. Tall amaranth (an unknown seedling) with Panicum ‘Frosted Sensation’ frothing around its base. Beautiful!

Iresine grown outside for its late summer foliage

This red foliage is Iresine, which is usually grown as a house plant. However, it can be grown outside in summer in sheltered, warmer parts of the UK. Steven says it’s too big to take indoors in the winter, so he takes cuttings every year.

Contrast leaf shape and shade

A wonderful contrast of leaf shapes and shades of green in a foliage-only part of the ‘jungle garden.’

Persicarias are another good late summer garden plant

Persicarias are good as a contrast to the vivid colours and showy shapes of dahlias and cannas. Steven considers persicaria to be an excellent late summer garden plant – he describes it as ‘wispy, elegant and bombproof’. It’s another plant that’s growing in popularity, and there are RHS trials due from next year.

Exotic colours and shapes - persicaria at the Salutation

Persicaria’s slim upright red spikes and mounds of low-growing leaves provide a good contrast to the larger leaves of ginger lily and ricinus in this bed at The Salutation.

‘Persicarias will cope with temperatures down to minus 20 celsius, with full sun, with light shade and a range of soils from heavy, wet clays through to light, sandy or silty soils,’ says Steven.

More glorious late summer garden here:

Take a stroll around The Salutation in this video – it really is looking beautiful.

The Salutation hotel and gardens are open every day of the year (gardens from 10am-5pm). There are also gardening events and workshops, such as the Dahlia Festival (15th/16th September 2018). And you can also see head gardener Steven Edney’s own garden with his partner Lou Dowle, when it’s open for the NGS on 30th Sept 2018 – it’s a wonderful tropical garden in East Kent.

Also open at the same is Canterbury Cathedral head gardener Philip Oostenbrink’s garden, which featured in The Middlesized Garden’s Why a Successful Small Garden Needs a Big Idea.

Pin for reference:

Professional tips for late summer garden colour



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from The Middle-Sized Garden

Saturday, 1 September 2018

No dig flower borders – easy, weed-free and brilliant

I’ve always wondered about ‘no dig flower borders’ for annuals, shrubs and perennials.

Not that I ever do much digging. But I wondered if the principles of no dig veg and no dig flower borders were the same. Was I doing the right thing by mulching my borders but not digging it in? What else do I need to know about no dig borders?

So I visited Charles Dowding, no dig guru and author of many books, including Organic Gardening, the Natural No Dig Way (pub by Green Books).

Charles Dowding and Alexandra Campbell talking about no dig borders in middlesized gardens.

Visiting Charles Dowding to find out more about ‘no dig borders’ for flowers in middle-sized gardens.

Charles is known for his trials, carried out over around thirty years, comparing yields of dig and no dig vegetable beds. He runs workshops, writes books and has a fantastically successful YouTube channel. It’s all based at Homeacres, a three-quarters of an acre in Somerset.

No dig vs dig veg growing by Charles Dowding

Charles always has a couple of ‘dig vs no dig’ beds. He grows exactly the same plants at the same time, and measures their yields. He also assesses how many weeds they have and how healthy they are. In this trial, the dug bed has far more weeds than the ‘no dig’ bed.

The basic principle of no dig gardening

Charles maintains that digging the soil destroys its structure. If you lay a few inches of compost or manure on top of the soil once a year, the worms and micro-organisms will dig it in naturally, he explains. He weeds manually or with a hoe, just on the top inch or so of earth. For perennial weeds, such as bindweed or couch grass, he covers the whole bed in light-excluding mulch so that the roots die.

The principles are the same for no dig flower borders as they are for no dig veg beds.

He plants seedlings with a dibber, dropping them straight into the hole without disturbing the soil around them.  His trials show that undisturbed soil, which is fed with compost, will be firm, easy to plant into, will have fewer weeds and better yields of vegetables.

No dig tomatoes at Homeacres

Charles’ extraordinarily healthy no dig tomatoes, growing in his greenhouse where they are underplanted with marigolds.

It is a simple and easy way to garden – you can find out more about it in Organic Gardening – The No Dig Way. You’ll find lots of useful information about when and how to plant each different vegetable. And it also helps you make the most of a small plot by inter-cropping and successional cropping.

I was sent a review copy by the publishers, and can highly recommend it. It’s packed with useful growing information, how to deal with pests and diseases and the results of Charles’ experiments. This is not only about ‘no dig’ but also about whether you really need to do crop rotation, and other aspects of growing veg.

(note: Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy, I may get a small fee but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

No dig for flower borders

And he says the same principles apply to no dig flower borders with annuals, perennials and shrubs. At Homeacres there are flowers everywhere, from ‘companion plantings’ of marigolds to purely ornamental cosmos, zinnias and roses.

‘The main difference between no dig flower borders and no dig vegetable borders is that vegetables are very hungry feeders,’ he says. ‘So I’d use less compost when mulching a border with shrubs and perennials. And in a vegetable garden or allotment, you may be growing more than one crop, which you won’t do in a flower border with perennials and shrubs.’

No dig flower borders work on the same principle as 'no dig' veg beds

No dig flower borders are brilliantly healthy – zinnias and marigolds amongst the lettuces at Homeacres.

I asked him if annual flowers might use up more nutrients in the soil than perennials? After all, they are dead-headed to produce more flowers and they can be grown successionally.

‘It’s a fair point,’ he says. ‘But even annual flowers won’t need as much compost as vegetables, because they are usually smaller and their growth is less strong.’

Some people think that no dig means using more compost, and that it will be ‘too rich’ for flowers. But Charles says that it doesn’t. ‘People only think it’s more because they can see the compost lying on top. In the UK, there are now huge numbers of professional no dig flower growers. I’ve never heard any of them comment that the no dig method makes it too rich for flowers.’

Clearing no dig flower borders with bad perennial weeds

What if you have a border that is really badly affected by perennial weeds?

Charles uses the no dig method to clear borders of perennial weeds, such as couch grass, bindweed and ground elder. He advises starting around February. Dig up your plants and pot the ones you want to keep, carefully picking all the strands of perennial weed root out of their root ball.

Once the bed is clear, cover it with a light-excluding mulch. First add a layer of compost, then add horticultural plastic or cardboard on top. If you use cardboard, it will rot down and curl up, so you’ll need to replace it from time to time. (Some people use old carpet.)

By about the end of June, some perennial weeds, such as marestail, will have given up trying to grow. If you’re prepared to lose one bed for a whole summer, keep it covered until August to get rid of couch grass weeds.

No dig veg in a small garden

Charles Dowding has a 25 sq metre/270 sq ft patch, where he trials growing veg in a typical small garden. It’s divided into three beds, each cropping an average of four different vegetables, plus some flowers.

Then keep a watchful eye

However, it takes bindweed roots several years to die, he explains. As it’s unlikely you’ll want to keep your border covered for that long, he advises checking it once a week after re-planting for any emerging bindweed. Carefully pull out as much as possible with a trowel. Roots do come out more easily in a well-mulched border. He has completely rid a large bed of bindweed in this way.

I have one large bed that is heavily infested with bindweed. So I’m thinking of doing exactly this. I won’t even have to dig up any plants as they have been completely smothered by the fiendish vine. But I’ll mulch it and cover it with plastic until the end of next summer. It’s at the back of the garden, so I won’t miss it as much as I would miss the main big bed in front of the kitchen window.

Annual weeds and no dig flower borders

‘You want to be weeding out annual weeds almost before you see them,’ he says. That means starting to look out for the very first weed seeds emerging in February. Don’t wait until you feel overwhelmed by weeds. The fact that weeds are growing is also a sign that you can start planting seeds, too.

To weed without disturbing the soil, Charles runs a hoe lightly over the surface. This breaks off the emerging leaves from their roots. The weed seedlings die on the surface of the bed. There isn’t even any no need to dispose of them.

See this on video:

You can see how Charles plants, hoes and more views of Homeacres on this video:

One of the main benefits of ‘no dig’ is that you get fewer annual weeds. When you turn the soil, weed seeds are brought to the surface and they germinate. If you don’t dig the soil, the weed seeds stay underground. And if you can get rid of the annual weeds that do grow, early enough in their cycle, you will soon have surprisingly weed-free soil.

Charles says the main difference between his current ‘no dig’ and ‘dig’ bed is that the ‘no dig’ bed has far fewer weeds. He uses a Dutch oscillating stirrup hoe (see the video).

I rely on self-seeding plants in my borders, so I will have to balance my love of these with my desire to be more weed-free. After all, weeds are just self-seeding plants that you don’t want.

Don’t disturb the soil when planting

I watched Charles plant out a tray of spinach seedlings. He made holes with a dibber, and dropped the seedlings straight into the hole. He finds seedlings are more likely to succeed than sowing seed into the soil. I agree – I have almost never managed to grow anything from seed when sown directly into the soil. Plant seed in trays or modules first, then transfer once the first secondary leaves have emerged.

The same principle applies to annual flower seeds, such as cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers, in no dig flower borders. Grow your seeds in modules or trays, then plant out with a dibber.

No dig planting with a dibber

Charles using a wooden dibber to make holes that are exactly the size of seedling roots. You can plant annual flower seedlings into borders in exactly the same way.

If you are planting shrubs or perennials in no dig flower borders, Charles advises digging a hole big enough to hold the rootball of the plant ‘but no bigger’. He doesn’t think that loosening the soil around the area helps the plant grow at all. He believes plants grow better in firm soil.

Can you walk on no dig borders?

I am always diving into my borders to dead-head or pull out a weed. So I was worried that I was damaging the soil structure. But Charles says not: ‘Healthy soil is firm enough to walk on. One of the beauties of no dig gardening is that you can walk onto your beds to work without damaging the soil structure.’

In fact, we were even told to park on the grass when we arrived. And when we left, Mr Middlesize asked Charles if he could guide us out when reversing. ‘Oh, just drive across the lawn,’ said Charles. Mr Middlesize was quite traumatised. ‘I’ve never met anyone who let you drive across the lawn before,’ he said, as he did a three-point-turn on the grass. I explained that firm, healthy soil could cope with it.

Charles Dowding’s courses and books

You can learn more about no dig gardening with Charles Dowding’s courses, talks and books, including Organic Gardening, The Natural No Dig Way. Books can be bought online, in bookshops or from

Or catch up with his excellent YouTube channel on growing organic no dig vegetables. It’s a very clear and informative YouTube channel, and I’ve often consulted it to find out more about how to grow veg.

While you’re there – do subscribe to the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel too. My ambition is to be equally clear and informative about gardening in a middle-sized garden, with tips, ideas and inspiration for those of us whose gardens are…well, not very big.

And join us every Sunday morning on The Middlesized Garden blog. Just fill in your email on the top right of this page and we will whizz into your inbox when the sun comes up. Thank you!

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No dig flower borders are easy, weed-free and brilliantly colourful


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from The Middle-Sized Garden

Saturday, 11 August 2018

August in the Middlesized Garden – my garden failures and successes

August in the Middlesized Garden is a bit of a mixed bag.

August has been called ‘the Sunday of summer’, and there’s a lazy, idle feeling about the garden at the moment, which I will show you in video.

The highs and lows of  the dahlias

The dahlias are out, but they are not the brilliant display of colour that I usually see in August in the Middlesized Garden. For the first time, there are significant gaps.

I don’t dig up my dahlias. I cut off the foliage and cover with a big pile of mulch. Last winter was very harsh (remember The Beast from the East?).  And I was too busy to finish the job. I piled mulch on about half my dahlias. They survived.

Dahlia Rip City in the Middlesized Garden

Dahlia ‘Rip City’. I mulched about half my dahlias last October. They survived the harsh winter. The half I didn’t mulch have died. Oh, well, a gap in a garden can be quite exciting.

The dahlias I failed to mulch have died. At least it proves that mulching helps your dahlias survive. Read this if you don’t want to dig your dahlias up for winter or watch this, if you prefer finding out how not to dig up your dahlias in video.

And I cut lavender ‘into the brown’

When I first grew lavender in this garden, it quickly got straggly. Why couldn’t I have neat tailored mounds like I saw in professional gardens?

Lavender cut 'into the brown' in 2017

Lavender cut ‘into the brown’ in The Middlesized Garden in 2017. You have to look close up (closer than this photo permits!) to see the tiny grey lavender buds, some of which are very low down.

Once I asked professionals about it, I discovered that ‘don’t cut your lavender down into the brown wood’ doesn’t mean ‘be very cautious when you prune your lavender.’ You can, in fact, cut back quite hard provided you leave lots of tiny buds lower down.  Now our pruned lavender looks neat, sculptural, and really quite ‘brown’ in places.

Here’s the best way to prune English lavender (video) or if you’d rather read about it, here’s the post here on how to prune your lavender.

Lavender in the Middlesized Garden 2018

Exactly the same clump of lavender in the Middlesized Garden in 2018.

Last year, we didn’t cut the lavender back until September, but we cut it back hard. This year, we’ve cut it back at the beginning of August, as soon as the flowers turned grey and the pollinators went elsewhere.

The ‘white bed’ is pink

I’ve put considerable effort into creating a ‘white bed.’ I did see some white in it this month – it was a bindweed flower that had crept up to strangle something. Otherwise the pink Japanese anemones that I’ve tried to dig up twice are dominating the scene.

Japanese anemones flourish in August in the Middlesized Garden

Japanese anemone or Anemone x hybrida. It dominates the ‘white bed’ during August in the Middlesized Garden. Don’t let its delicately pretty looks fool you, this is a Sherman tank of a plant.

But do have a longer stroll around the garden in the August in the Middlesized Garden video. We will be taking a short break and normal posts on the Middlesized Garden will be back on 2nd September. Have a wonderful August, and do join us on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel, where we will still be uploading every Saturday.

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Saturday, 4 August 2018

30 inspiring ideas for beautiful garden seating

Garden seating is so much more than just a place to sit.

A bench can be a focal point, work like a piece of sculpture, can punctuate a hedge or lawn or be a place to enjoy a view.  Garden seating can be about creating privacy or about entertaining friends and family.

Above all, garden seating is at the heart of the garden. But do we sometimes forget this? I’ve seen lots of gardens and their places to sit over the last year. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the benches, tables and chairs we choose make a huge difference to the garden.

You don’t have to spend lots of money

Some of our garden chairs were bought at auction by my mother, in the 1970s. We have had to repair them from time to time.

Vintage French chairs

Vintage chairs – £20 each from a depot vente in the South of France. But putting them on top of the car would have caused considerable wind resistance and a higher petrol cost. Depot ventes are second-hand warehouses – look them up if you’re in France.

We bought four French chairs in a depot vente in France, and drove back with them on top of the car. I suspect if you added the extra petrol cost of going from the South of France to England, then they weren’t such a bargain.

But auctions and junk shops can be a good source of garden furniture, especially if you think more about what the furniture is made of, than what it’s made for.

Use office furniture for garden seating

A friend of mine bought a second-hand glass and metal office table and uses it in the garden. Second-hand office furniture can be very cheap.

Use garden furniture colour to create atmosphere

The colours you use in your garden seating areas make a huge difference to the atmosphere you create.

Use colour in your garden seating

A design by Martyn Wilson at BBC Gardeners World Live. The bright orange table and chairs really creates a vivid splash in the garden. The atmosphere would be quite different if the garden furniture was in another colour.

Pink garden table and chairs

A dusky pink table and chair set in Yasmin Hossain’s courtyard. Her company, Juniper & Bliss, specialises in dying natural fabric with sustainable plant dyes. Really pretty.

A bleached-out Nordic grey garden bench

Wenche Imink uses ‘Wet & Forget’, a garden furniture cleaner, on her garden furniture to achieve a slightly bleached Nordic look. (links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)

Grey painted swing bench to echo the grey roof tiles

Gardening writer Francine Raymond of Kitchen Garden Hens paints all her garden furniture either yellow or grey to go with the house, which is yellow brick and grey tiles. The pink cushions reflect the pink roses nearby.

Think about your bench when planting…

Or maybe it’s the other way round? Think about your planting when you’re deciding what colour bench or garden seating you want?

Think about planting and garden furniture together.

A pretty blue bench outside the back door at Doddington Place Gardens echoes the colour of the hydrangeas behind.

Red and orange flowers and garden bench

This bench in Whitstable Open Gardens was painted in red and orange stripes – exactly the shades of the flowers in the foreground. Was it a happy coincidence or planned?

Blue bench at Doddington Place Gardens

Another blue bench, blue hydrangea garden seating area at Doddington Place Gardens.

The planting echoing the bench colour at Sussex Prairie Gardens

A purple bench at Sussex Prairie Gardens. The benches at Sussex Prairie Gardens are inspirational in the way they set off the planting.

Garden furniture and architecture

You can reflect the architecture of your house in your garden seating area.

A Lutyens bench for a Lutyens house

The Salutation at Sandwich is designed by Edward Lutyens. Of course, the garden benches are Lutyens, too! If you can’t manage quite such an exact period match, Lutyens’ era was between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Although a Lutyens bench would probably look good near any style of house.

Lutyens bench in a long thin town garden

This Lutyens bench in Mel and Emma’s garden (from Whitstable Open Gardens) makes a charming seating area near a patch of meadow grass. This is a long thin town garden behind a Victorian house.

Garden seating as a focal point

A bench or garden seating area makes a good focal point for a garden – or for an area of garden.

Garden seating as a focal point

Should you have a long avenue of trees – or any other part of the garden needing a focal point – then a bench offers both focal point and seating area. At Doddington Place Gardens

And you need a focal point or points in every size of garden. Pheasant Farm, below, is under an acre, but it has several different areas with benches as focal points.

Benches as focal points in smaller gardens

A garden bench as focal point in Pheasant Farm garden (open for the NGS by appointment).

Gothic-style garden bench

A very pretty Gothic-style bench in the front garden at Pheasant Farm, creating a focal point for the lavender.

Stone bench as focal point

We have two stone benches as focal points for the borders on either side of the parterre. They can get a bit overgrown to sit on, but I think the beds look better with a bench in the middle.

Garden seating as sculpture

Many garden benches are places to perch while enjoying a drink or a chat. They’re not necessarily for lounging on with a book. So you can risk an exciting-looking design to give your garden sculptural interest in the winter.

GArden seating as garden sculpture

My friend, Amanda, bought this bench by Sculpsteel to use both as garden seating and as a sculptural statement to enjoy looking at.

Sculptural garden seating

This beautiful wavy ‘bench’ can be viewed either as sculpture or as a place to sit.

Garden seating as storage

When space is short in a garden, then it makes sense to use the space under the benches for storage. It doesn’t always have to be built in or covered up.

Garden bench as log storage.

Garden designer Charlotte Rowe’s own garden, where she stores logs under a bench.

Use the space under the bench for storage

My brother Hugo and my sister-in-law Anna store things under their garden bench and table.

Built-in bench and storage

Or you can have built-in storage and seating, like this garden by AZ Landscaping Services at BBC Gardeners World Live.

Garden seating as part of the hard landscaping

I have seen some very successful garden seating which doubles up as part of the hard landscaping elements. People can perch on a broad edge to chat, but it doesn’t look particularly like a bench when no-one is around.

Raised bed edges as seating

Charlotte Rowe’s garden – the main image shows the garden without people, with white raised bed borders. The top image shows Charlotte’s guests using the border edging as a perch. A great way of maximising space in a small area!

Low walls are generally a good way of dividing up the space, offering a place to perch and also somewhere to leave drinks or snacks.

Rocky retainer wall as bench

This way of retaining stones inside a metal cage doesn’t look immediately welcoming as a place to sit, but it looked great at the Santa Rita 120 garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year.

Upcycle leftovers into garden seating

When my brother, Hugo, and my sister-in-law, Anna, used railway sleepers for decking in their courtyard garden, they had some left over. They turned them into a simple garden bench (which is also a focal point).

Railway sleeper bench

Hugo and Anna’s railway sleeper bench. It has a mirror behind it.

More garden seating ideas

Solid wood bench

A solid piece of beautiful wood used as a bench in Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015.

A small bench to enjoy the view

You can fit a small simple bench in without disturbing a beautiful view. At Doddington Place Gardens

A quirky bench

A quirky ‘horses’ bench in the roof garden of the Ham House Hotel in London.

Mis-matched vintage garden chairs

A garden seating area with a collection of different chairs (pulled together with a pink theme).

Matching garden seating

Matched set of garden seating – this is Tom Hill’s garden design for Ascot Flower Show.

Space-saving minimalist chairs

Minimalist garden chairs – these tuck discreetly under the table because they have no arms and a sleek design. In the courtyard garden of Dan Cooper, blogger at the Frustrated Gardener.

Do subscribe to the Middlesized Garden blog for lots more garden ideas. Just write your email address in the box on the top right, and we will pop into your inbox every Sunday morning. And there is more garden inspiration on the Middlesized Garden YouTube channel, with a new video every Saturday.

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30 inspiring ideas for garden seating

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Saturday, 28 July 2018

How to create a garden for entertaining

I’ve just visited a dramatically gorgeous garden for entertaining – and it’s also a plant-lover’s heaven.

How to create a garden for entertaining

Dan Cooper’s lush and jungly garden for entertaining. It has shelter from the seaside breezes, scented plants and an outdoor kitchen. The variegated leaf in the foreground is Coleus ‘Henna’ and it changes colour depending how much sunlight it gets.

The garden belongs to Dan Cooper, who blogs about urban and coastal gardening in his blog, The Frustrated Gardener. He opens the garden once a year, on the 4th and 5th of August for the NGS.

Houseplants and writing desk

Dan Cooper’s writing desk – an inspiring area for a garden blogger to write in.

Two gardens for entertaining

And while many of us have a front garden and a back garden, Dan’s home is unusual – it has two side gardens. He recently bought the house next door and knocked through.

Broadstairs is a charming historic town, with houses and streets growing higgeldy-piggeldy up from a beautiful sweeping beach. A quirk of architecture means that both of Dan’s gardens are tucked away around a separate entrance door on either side.

Viking Bay in Broadstairs

Viking Bay in Broadstairs – the historic houses rise up the hill in a variety of sizes and eras.

One garden has an outdoor kitchen and a large generous dining table.

Outdoor kitchen and dining table in a garden for entertaining

Overhead view of the dining table and outdoor kitchen. The tree on the top right is Phillyrea latifolia and the one on the left is a narrow-leafed bay tree (Laurus nobilis ‘Angustifolia).

The other is called ‘the Gin-and-Tonic garden’ because it has a small table and chairs for enjoying an evening drink.

A pretty terrace for entertaining

Dan’s Gin-and-tonic Garden – a perfect place to enjoy an evening drink. The red rose is ‘Dublin Bay’ and the clematis is ‘Forever Friends’. Very appropriate for a Gin-and-Tonic garden.

Both are crammed with flowers and plants, many with unusual foliage.

Plants for privacy in a garden for entertaining

Dan has made his garden private and sheltered for entertaining by using lots of tall plants. Like any seaside town, Broadstairs can be windy, so he’s chosen a few unusual evergreen trees to create a year-round windbreak and the sense of being tucked away from the town.

Use plants to make your space more sheltered

One of Dan’s evergreen trees is this ‘Phillyrea latifolia. ‘It naturally cloud-prunes itself’ says Dan, although he does tidy it up a bit too. Its open shape filters the wind and lets light through.

Choose an unusual tree with interesting bark

The Santa Cruz Ironwood tree (Lyonothamnus floribundus) has stretchy peeling bark – the blackbirds love to strip it off for their nests in spring. The airplants are attached.

Choose tall, large leafed plants for privacy

It’s a small garden and most of the plants are in pots. Dan’s tall large leafed plants make the area feel private.

His theme is broadly ‘exotic gardening’ – definitely one of today’s hot new trends. (There’s advice on creating an exotic garden in a cool climate and an unusual tropical garden, also in Kent, in previous posts.)

How to install an outdoor kitchen

Dan has a basement kitchen. Having people round meant a lot of going up and down stairs during the evening. He also works as a buyer for John Lewis, with a four hour daily commute, so entertaining needs to be as relaxing as possible. The solution was to build an ‘outdoor kitchen’ in the garden for entertaining.

He prepares food beforehand in the main house kitchen, and cooks on the built-in barbecue/hob in the garden. There is also a sink, worksurface area and some storage.

An outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

Dan’s outdoor kitchen makes a big difference to entertaining. Note the small ‘splashback’ between the slate tiles and the base of the kitchen units. The dahlia on the left is called ‘Firepot.’

‘Make sure that you use good quality tanalised wood for an outdoor kitchen,’ advises Dan. ‘My kitchen isn’t under cover, so it gets rained on, snowed on and is hot in the summer. However, because I used the right wood, it has lasted for ten years.’

‘But don’t let the wood touch the ground directly, or it will rot. I’ve created something like a splashback in slate at the base so that water on the ground doesn’t rot the wood.’

He also advises you to minimise the number of joins on your outdoor kitchen work surface. ‘We started off using the same slate tiles as we had on the ground, but the joins all leaked. Now I have a piece of granite with just one join and there are no leaks. A kitchen unit outside will swell and shrink as the weather changes – it’s quite different from a kitchen inside. So it’s easy for cracks to appear.’

How to create an outdoor kitchen in a garden for entertaining

A view of the outdoor kitchen from above. The worksurface is granite and there is only one join. You can just see it on the top right hand side of the picture.

Marine-grade stainless steel

It’s also essential for any metal in outdoor kitchen equipment – the hob, barbecue and even the taps – to be of marine grade steel, so that they can survive the weather, including Broadstairs’ salt air.

Use marine grade steel in outdoor kitchens

A collection of exotic plants near the sink. Even the tap is of marine grade steel.

Plants in a garden for entertaining

We’ve already mentioned evergreen shrubs and trees for privacy and shelter. Dan also likes scented plants. A splendid Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) welcomes visitors at the gate, perfuming the air in summer and creating an evergreen wall the whole year round.

Choose scented plants in a garden for entertaining

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) covers a wall at the entrance to Dan’s garden, greeting visitors with its rich scent.

Having unusual and exotic plants also creates interest.

Ginger lily (Hedychium) – Dan hopes it will still be around for the open gardens day on the 4th and 5th August

Choose interesting plants in a garden for entertaining

Guests always ask after interesting plants, such as this variegated leaf Begonia.

Furniture in a garden for entertaining

Dan has a table made of recycled oak, so it will go more silvery with age. He’s also chosen light, easy-to-wash, arm-free chairs, which tuck neatly under the table. Big garden chairs with arms would have taken up much more space.

Chairs for entertaining

Recycled oak table and light, easy to clean chairs which tuck under the table and save space.

Fridge or no fridge?

Dan decided not to have a fridge in the outdoor kitchen, but he does have a sheltered spot on the worksurface where an ice-bucket can sit.

Keep cold drinks in the shade.

A shady spot is very useful for storing an ice bucket and cold drinks.

See more of Dan’s garden on video:

Dan Cooper’s garden is open for the NGS on August 4th and 5th 2018. Or catch up with him on the Frustrated Gardener blog or YouTube channel, Twitter or Instagram

And we’ve somewhat neglected the Gin-and-tonic garden, so here’s a shot of it:

Dublin Bay rose and Forever Friends clematis

A close-up of Rosa ‘Dublin Bay’ and the Clematis ‘Forever Friends’.

And if you visit Broadstairs, don’t miss…

Don’t miss an ice-cream or an ice-cream sundae at Morelli’s, the traditional ice-cream parlour on the sea front.  We treated ourselves to an evening swim and then had a Salted Caramel Nut Sundae. A heavenly way to round off a delightful evening.

Ice cream sundae from Morellis, Broadstairs

You can just about justify this if you’ve had a swim in Viking Bay, Broadstairs, first.

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How to create a garden for entertaining

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