Date: 1 May 2006
Originally published in: Healthy (UK)
Written by: Kim Wilde
Thinking of starting your own garden? Begin small and plan carefully, says Kim, Gold Medal winner at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
Nearly 10 years ago I stared out of the windows at the back of my house and saw nothing but rough grass on our windy hill. I felt completely daunted by this blank canvas, and couldn’t for the life of me imagine it ever becoming a garden.
So I sat with a pile of gardening books and found myself falling in love with the subject. How I wish I knew then what I know now! For a start, I was far too ambitious with vegetables and created eight raised beds, which proved horribly high maintenance.
Complete ignorance about soil meant my plants stubbornly refused to flourish in our clay soil. Not to be defeated, I took myself off to horticultural college and embarked on a condensed course in planting and design.
Our garden has flourished ever since, and with some careful thought and planning, yours will too.
If you’re bursting to make an impression on your garden this summer, make a wish list of things you need, like sheds or washing lines, and exciting additions you’d love, such as a water feature.
Style, of course, is very much down to personal taste, but you should consider your location (are you town or country?) and the style and materials of your house. An urban garden may suit a tropical paradise with funky foliage, or something minimal and contemporary. Houses in more rural areas could happily accommodate a Mediterranean style using aromatic plants, such as lavender and santolina. An alternative is a traditional cottage garden style with roses and honeysuckle.
Sticking to one style is not a hard and fast rule (there are very few of those in gardening), but a mish-mash of styles will look restless and cluttered. Big gardens are the exception – you can accommodate a series of garden rooms, all with an individual style.
Try creating a storyboard of images you’ve seen in garden magazines. This should include your preferred hard landscaping materials, such as stone or gravel, garden styles and planting combinations.
Most gardens include a patio area, perhaps with a dining area sheltered by a pergola, and a sunny decking area for taking in a few rays.
Look to see where the sun rises and sets, as this will dictate to a large extent where seating areas are best placed (a west-facing corner is perfect for a sunny seating area). It will also indicate where plants will thrive or struggle. Other ideas include small paths, water features, lighting and places to grow vegetables and herbs.
Different levels can look great, so if your garden is on a slope, tiered flower beds could be a practical solution too. Just as you have different rooms inside your house, the same principle can apply to the outside. A garden divided into smaller units using hedges, arches and a trellis will be a lot more interesting than one where you see the whole garden at once. And last, but not least, don’t forget the needs of children and pets!
A well-designed garden could add thousands to the value of your house, but it needs to be approached realistically. A well-thought-out plan now will save time and money in the future, and could turn out to be one of the best investments you’ve ever made personally and financially.
Kim’s top 5 garden plants
- Choisya Ternata A lovely evergreen shrub with white, scented flowers. It’s useful for providing structure in a border, and is tolerant of poor soil.
- Alchemilla mollis Excellent deciduous groundcover plant, with scalloped, felty, apple-green foliage. Also tolerant of different soil conditions.
- Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ With grey-green foliage, and umbel-shaped flowers that butterflies love, this plant needs a sunny spot.
- Geranium ‘Johnson’s blue’ Not the brightly coloured bedding plant, but the ground cover that flowers for weeks during the summer.
- Lavandula Angutifolia ‘Hidcote’ One of my ‘must have’ plants that will thrive on rubble.