Are your plants looking sad? Does your garden lack the wow factor? Now spring is upon us we start to think about the garden and how we can give it some much needed TLC, but where to start? So I thought I would ask my son (the gardening one) for his opinion on the 5 common mistakes his clients make in their gardens and his thoughts on the solutions. I have been guilty of all of them! Gardens, like interiors, are very subjective and we all want different things, but these common mistakes apply to all gardens, whatever your design thoughts and colour preferences.
1. Light levels
Planting position is the key to a happy plant. A sun lover in the shade is going to be very sad and become sickly so check the sun levels in the different parts of your garden before purchasing plants. Shade and sun lovers apart there are many plants that fall in the middle that will tolerate part sun/part shade with the accepted measurement of this to be about 4 to 5 hours of sun a day but there is a big difference between early morning sun and hot afternoon sun. In essence this is not an exact science and some experimentation will be necessary.
Overcrowded plants are sad plants and you are cramping their style! This is an easy mistake to make and the temptation is always to fill up the available space when planting but 2 years down the line you will be digging plants up because they have outgrown their allotted space. Easy enough to do with small plants but a big job with trees and large shrubs, as I can testify to! Fill up the spaces with annuals for the first year if you can’t bear to look at bare soil.
3. Soil structure
Get to know your soil. Is it acid or alkaline, is it heavy clay or sandy soil, or are you really lucky and have the perfect structure of soil? There is a whole science to this but to keep it simple don’t put a free draining sun lover like lavender into heavy clay soil! There are areas of my garden where the soil is heavier and I have put a layer of grit under the plants when planting to help the drainage so the roots are not sitting in wet clay. My soil is alkaline so the couple of azaleas I have are planted in pots in ericaceous compost. You can dig out a much bigger hole in the ground and fill with ericaceous compost (and feed with ericaceous plant food) if you desperately want an acid lover in alkaline soil and I have been successful with this in the past.
4. The dotty look
Plant in groups of three or five to give strong clumps of each variety otherwise it looks very dotty with lots of single specimens spaced about. Plants in 9cm pots are a lot cheaper than the standard 2 litre pot but will take another year to catch up. Repeat clumps of certain plants throughout the borders helps to give some continuity. Grasses are good for this as they give a restful green sway amongst brighter specimens.
5. Plant structure
Gardens need contrast, just like interiors. Think about adding height with tall shrubs, trees and obelisks. Too many plants of the same height are boring too look at. The eye needs to travel up and down and around to make a view interesting and also each plant group stands out more then. Think about the contrast of rounded shrubs against more open and branching shrubs and add plants like verbena bonariensis between to give height and summer interest. Lots of foliage plants are essential for long term structure with perennials between for seasonal interest.
Photography: Amelia Brooks
‘5 Common Mistakes made in the Garden & How to Overcome Them’ written by Jacqui Brooks
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