5 really obvious ways to make your garden better

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: September 13th, 2015 In: Gardening know how

Now is a good time to sit down and make a list of what worked and what didn’t in your 2015 garden. You’ve got all winter to plan and get ahead. And if you do, you’ll avoid expensive impulse buys.

Photograph your garden in all seasons to keep a record

The middle-sized garden in summer 2015. I have been trying to decide whether Stipa ‘Gigantea’ is really doing much – this picture has convinced me to keep it.

1) Use a phone or camera to keep a monthly record.

Go round the garden at least once or twice a year, noting down what works and what doesn’t. Mid-September is a good time, as it’s starting to get straggly. Take photos, and find a way of filing them so you can look back.

Keep a record of successful plant combinations

One of my favourite plantings this year. I’ll definitely do zinnias again.

If you have a blog, there are various blog challenges that make this easy, such as Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.You write a post with photos of what’s looking good in your garden on or near the 15th of the month and link to the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post. Gardeners all over the world link their blogs, so you can see what’s blooming in other areas. If you don’t write a blog, just make sure that wherever you keep your garden photos (eg on file on your computer), they are both captioned and backed up. Captions with dates and descriptions are the key to finding your photos again – jpg1235 means nothing, while ‘snowdrops February garden 2015’  can be searched for with ‘snowdrops’, ‘2015’ etc.

Keep a photographic record of your garden

The garden from the bathroom window in 2014. I wasn’t particularly happy with this view – something not quite right about the proportions…

Photograph your garden from above

I like this better. Everything is filling out and the balance between lawn and beds feels better. The artemisia has gone from the bed, though, and I think it would be good to get it back. The garden in 2015 from the bathroom window.

2) Think about the vertical elements

I think one of the reasons I prefer 2015 to 2014 in the above photographs is the vertical elements. We decided not to break the garden up into rooms, but to leave it fairly open. But at the beginning the lawn did look a bit like an airport runway – all flat greenness and paths. Slowly adding obelisks and topiary with a distinct upward point has really helped break up the space without ‘boxing it in’.

Think about the vertical elements in your garden.

I moved these two pots from elsewhere in the garden. I was given one of the box cones and bought the other, which is why they don’t quite match – but they’ll be fine by next year. I think they’ve really defined the space. You can experiment by moving obelisks around before making a final decision.

3) Give one bed a year a thorough makeover

Our north-facing bed is a quiet one – mainly different shades of evergreen with white. Over the years we failed to notice that the pyracantha was taking over, reaching several feet away from the wall and swamping many other plants. Some had even died. Over the winter we had it cut back and cleared. It was horrible job (I didn’t do it). Sackfuls of pyracantha were taken away. It was one of those jobs after which people say ‘The garden’s looking nice.’ Then we reply ‘oh, we’ve cut back that bed.’ They look puzzled. ‘Oh, I hadn’t noticed.’ The main bed is next. I usually leave my dahlias in over winter, and some survive but others don’t. So over the years, it has all become a bit monochrome, with Dahlia ‘Chat Noir (Black Cat)’ taking over, and my lovely purples and pinks slowly disappearing.

Dahlia 'Black Cat' survives cold or wet winters - in my garden

These dahlias (‘Chat Noir”) have been in for five years. They seem to survive cold and wet winters. But it’s time to reassess this bed completely because while Dahlia ‘Chat Noir’ (Black Cat) has flourished, alot of the other dahlias have disappeared.

4) Support is the key

Support is one of those things I had to learn as a novice gardener. Yes, I did read the ‘jobs for this weekend’ in the gardening section of every newspaper and magazine. I even meant to get around to supporting my plants. But in the end I always found myself propping up plants that were already flopping, especially at this time of year. Last-minute supports always give the impression that the plant has a comb-over. Not a beautifully proportioned mound of blooms.

Woven plant supports

Beautiful woven birch cuttings used as supports at Doddington Place Gardens. You can use your prunings to make natural-looking plant supports for free – you can buy something permanent.

Last Christmas I was given some Crocus vouchers and I spent them on fluted plant supports. They’re like upturned lampshade frames and come (came?) in three sizes. I placed the largest ones over the newly-pruned hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ in spring. The supports soon disappeared under the emerging foliage. I plan to get more, although it will get expensive. I found the largest ones better than small or middle-sized (the latter weren’t quite big enough for my largest peonies), but prices hover above and just below the £50 mark. Although they’ll last for years. Or I could weave twig supports over my dahlias and hydrangeas. If I ever get round to it. Support is an area where you either spend time or money. Your choice. Cheap and easy doesn’t seem to be an option. For individual flowers, the single ‘shepherd crook’ from Plant belles  are wonderful. They invisibly prop up the most statuesque of flowers. And they’re brilliant for those of us who don’t think about support until it’s too late, as they can be popped in any time. Cranbrook Iron also do plant supports, too.

Support your garden plants

You can’t see the Crocus fluted plant support under the huge flower heads – but this time last year they were almost touching the lawn.

5) Pots need sorting more than once a season

This is a really obvious point for those who have fabulous pots. But for those of us who never get their pots right (me), it’s something we actively need to remember. I made a big effort to get the terrace pots looking good at Easter. I planted various things that would come out at various times. Big mistake. Those with beautiful pots give them a complete re-vamp twice a year. Or more. They whizz pots in and out of hidden corners when they come into and out of flower. They empty out the potting compost (all of it!). Heaven only knows how they do it without giving themselves bad backs.

Sort your pots out twice a year

Everything looking nicely organised….

Plants in pots need to be replaced regularly

The same view in September – everything is overgrown and tatty. I should have done more swapping and changing of my pots…

Pansies are long-lasting pot plants

Contrast my muddle with Hilary Talbot’s delightful pot with pansies, lavender and helichrysum – the season is clearly coming to an end and the helichrysum is yellowing, but it all still works.

There are probably lots more really obvious ways of making your garden look better (weeding, weeding and more weeding) – do let me know yours. And I’d love it if you could share this using the buttons below – thank you!

3 Comments

  • Hi Alexandra, first off, great blog, great job, great garden too! What you are doing here is increadible. It inspires me! Anyway, your garden is good. There are not too many patios or hardened floors. It is good. Naturally that way it will act as natual air conditioner. It will help you with the humidity, cold, warm or whatever it is. In lanscape designs, it is better to preserve anything we could. That is energy eficiency on my book.

  • Janet says:

    Thank you for this information. I have started gardening for the first time this year and virtually started with a blank canvas even though I have been here 21yrs, it was just lawn with know character, but now my hubby’s thrilled and my friends are impressed.i will do what you’ve said and take photo’s and make a diary of it thank you again.

  • Matt says:

    Good tips, Alexandra. I definitely find the more effort I make with pots, the happier I am with the results I get.

Leave a comment

Just to prove you're a real person, please complete this simple sum * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.