8 beautifully simple garden ideas that really work
The Diggers Club Garden of St Erth demonstrates simple garden ideas to home gardeners.
It’s a charming and very domestic-scale garden. Every idea in it could be taken back to your garden, wherever you live, to work in small and middlesized gardens everywhere.
In case you were thinking of St Erth in Cornwall, this St Erth is the name of a cottage and garden near Daylesford, Australia. But the ideas work whatever your climate.
1: Focus your efforts where you can see them
If you’re short of time or space, then focus your efforts near the house. Aim to create a dramatic, brilliant splash of whatever you love best in the beds nearest your doors and windows. That way you can see your favourite part of your garden most of the year.
The only herbaceous borders at St Erth are in a neat square directly outside the back door. As you open the door, you’re greeted by a blaze of colour from easy-to-grow perennials.
2: Use shape and texture to achieve easy-care effects
Colour in gardens means hard work. Flowers need feeding and dead-heading. Even the longest-flowering ones are only ‘at their best’ for a few months a year. They may need regular replacing. If you rely on colour for the effect all over your garden, you’re going to be doing alot of work.
That’s why it makes sense to focus your colour efforts where you can see them. In the rest of the garden, you can achieve a wonderful effect by making the most of different foliage and bark shapes and shades.
3: Simple garden ideas and combinations work so well…
Instead of having lots of different plants jumbled together, why not try just two? We spotted an attractive combination of three silver birches simply underplanted with hellebores. It looked so effective and needs almost no care.
4: Don’t be afraid of underplanting under trees…
People sometimes think they can’t have a beautiful garden if there are too many trees in it. The St Erth garden shows that you can have a really quite woody garden and still have lots of different plants.
People sometimes seem to be afraid of trees. They worry about whether the roots will damage their property or fret over the shade they cast.
But trees are absolutely vital to cities and towns. They convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, protect against wind and weather erosion, and are one of the best defences against global warming. And trees give your garden a sense of permanence and scale.
Most trees will not damage your buildings. Just don’t plant them bang next to the house.
5: Make the most of vertical space…
St Erth was one of the first certified organic gardens to be opened to the public in Australia. Its fruit and veg areas have lots of lessons for the domestic gardener.
You can make a very small patch of ground extremely productive by using vertical space. At St Erth there is an area around 6-8ft wide and long. They’ve combined poles and string to create a support structure around 6-7ft high. In shape, it’s rather like an upright portable clothes dryer….
Other ways of making the most of a small space for vegetable growing is to major on cut-and-come again crops. Sarah Raven has a good system of easy veg growing for year round success, which helps you work out what fruit and veg will give you the most return for the least space.
6: Grow food up ornamental arches…
There were a number of decorative arches used for growing food. One had pumpkins growing up it, and another created an ornamental support for grape vines.
7: Combine food and flowers in the same bed…
Maximise your use of space by combining food and flowers in the same patch.
8: You can fit an espaliered fruit tree in almost anywhere…
There’s a cafe at St Erth. The area outside is divided up by espaliered pear and apple trees. This is one of the best simple garden ideas for very small spaces. You can use a single espaliered tree or a short line of them to shelter a terrace or cover an eyesore, such as a compost bin. They don’t need to be any higher than 4-6ft, and you’ll get fruit too!
Find out more about growing espaliered fruit trees here. And discover the small garden with a hundred espaliered fruit trees here.
A small espaliered fruit tree screen can be an attractive option for creating more privacy in your garden.
9: Add quirky touches…
Every garden needs a few slightly surprising touches. At St Erth I really liked a gate made of old tools.
10: Visit other gardens when you’re on holiday…
You may take your holidays in a different climate, but there’s still so much to learn from gardens in other countries. I’m based in Kent, England, but the St Erth garden in Australia has many plants that are familiar to me, such as echinacea. It also has a collection of exotic plants. With the return of exotic plants to English gardens, it’s interesting to see them in context.
Another inspiring garden to visit is Le Jardin Agapanthe in Northern France.
The Diggers Club has three gardens open to the public. I’ve visited the one at Cloudehill, which is much grander than St Erth. It has stunning borders, and also makes a very good use of modern sculpture. If you can’t get to Olinda, near Melbourne (Australia), then take a look at this video:
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