Garden secrets you can steal from your neighbour’s garden…

June 21st, 2015
Posted In: Garden style & living

One of the best ways to make your garden look good is to find out your neighbour’s garden secrets.

Etiquette is tricky in the middle-sized world when it comes to what you ‘see’ in a neighbour’s garden.  If your neighbour sun-bathes topless, then it’s invading their space to comment on their herbaceous border.

But a local Open Gardens event gives you a licence to snoop – in the nicest possible way. Because what grows well in their garden will probably also do well in yours.

poppy in neighbour's garden

I don’t suggest you steal plants – although this poppy is in a neighbour’s front garden. Every year I consider nipping a seed head off and scattering it in my garden….it’s so beautiful

A neighbourhood Open Gardens is always a bit of a festival. Our Faversham Open Gardens & Market Day is held on the last Sunday in June every year.

You don’t have to copy your neighbours, but it’s always useful to see what works and what doesn’t in gardens of a similar size and climate to yours.  So what sort of tips will you be able to pick up?

Garden secrets – how to garden on a steep slope…

Abel’s Acre is a community garden in Faversham.

It’s basically a large, steep rockery, with amazing colour throughout the year. Some of the Abel’s Acre gardeners will be on hand to answer questions about community gardening and how to garden on a steep slope.

When I looked up the RHS advice on gardening on a slope, the recommendations do look a little gloomy – hedera and eunonymus and other sturdy, worthy plants.

But Abel’s Acre is a riot of colour almost all year round. They plant a mixture of perennials and annuals: pelargoniums, geraniums, thyme and alyssum. These are flowers which all thrive in hot, stony sites. There’s also lavender and carnations. And masses of California poppies which seed themselves into every pocket.

Abels Acre June

This striking planting shows that you don’t have to be restricted to gloomy greenery if you garden on a slope: sisirychian, salvias, geums, and lots more give this almost year-round colour.

Abels Acre slope planting

On a smaller slope opposite, the Abels Acre community gardeners plant iris, sisyrinchian, quaking grass and lots more.

Cannas on Abels Acre

What to do with a forgotten corner…

Posy Gentles had a concrete yard at the side of the house, where washing, bins and general clutter lurked. When she discovered that the concrete was creating a damp problem in the kitchen, she decided to make the most of having to dig it all up.

She turned it into a brick courtyard. It’s an L shape around a typical long, thin kitchen extension. She divided the long part of the L into sections, so it now looks less long and thin.

And the brick is much more attractive than the cracked concrete. The bench and chairs are on a brick circle, then there is a border in front of the bench, making a visual division between this area and the rest of the garden (although you can see through and walk round it).

Side courtyard

The walls of the house are painted a very soft pink, and the door a nice garden green. So the courtyard really works with the colour scheme of the garden.

You can do a lot for wildlife in a town garden…

One of the best garden secrets to uncover is to find out how wildlife lives in your garden, and how to encourage it. See here to find out what makes a good wildlife garden,

And if you’re interested in gardening sustainably, find the 15 most important sustainable gardening tips here.

Wildlife garden at 99 Upper Brents

Frances Beaumont’s garden is only around 80ft x 20ft, but she has won a Gold Wildlife Award from the Kent Wildlife Trust. Bird houses – like this – need to be quite secluded and on a sheltered (not too sunny) wall. Everything is easily achievable and the garden hums with birds, pollinating insects and even – at night – a few hedgehogs. See it at 99 Upper Brents.


Dirt on a shed roof so that birds can dirt-bathe. And they love the physalis berries Frances plants too.

You can create a ‘meadow garden’ in a small space

Julian and Amanda Mannering’s house was built in the 1980s.

Like many people with new-builds, the garden was left full of builders’ rubble – which made it perfect for a meadow garden.

A mini meadow in a town garden

The central lawn in the Mannering’s garden is now a mini meadow, with paths cut through it.

‘The main thing about creating a meadow in a lawn is that you’ve got to reduce the quality of the soil,’ says Julian. ‘But our soil was never very good anyway.’

Just to make sure, however, they planted yellow rattle in with the meadow flowers from the start – it’s a plant that helps stop the original lawn grass taking over.

Find out how to make a mini meadow in your garden here.

Meadow garden

Amanda and Julian Mannering have a walled town garden. In the centre, instead of a square lawn, they have a patch of meadow with a path cut through it. All around you can see the sloping roofs of Faversham’s medieval buildings, so it is quite clearly in a town. But the texture of the meadow works beautifully with the aged roof tiles and higgedly-piggedly buildings.

Garden visiting – and opening your own garden to other people – is a very positive thing to do: Lucie Neame opens her garden for the NGS, and says that both opening your garden and garden visiting is ‘therapeutic, both for visitor and for owner. People are full of joy at being invited into your personal space. With decent cuppa and a large slice of coffee and walnut in them they are British at their Best.’

Open Gardens

Tea, cakes and a chance to see behind closed doors – the British garden-lover at his or her best…

There are usually around gardens open, both in Faversham’s pretty historic streets and in the 20th and 21st century houses around the town. And there’s a garden market with plants, collectables, vintage gardening tools and accessories and local food in the Market Place.

Tickets from the Fleur Visitor Centre, 15 Preston St or look out for our stall in the Market Place on the Open Day itself. £6 a head or 2 x £10

And, of course, the biggest and most professional private open garden scheme in the UK is the NGS. Buy the NGS Yellow Book, with its list of private gardens to visit here. NB links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.

Other books revealing private gardens include The Secret Gardens of the National Trust, and  The Secret Gardeners  by Victoria Summerly. This features 25 gardens owned by 25 of the UK’s foremost artistic and creative celebrities. And Secret Gardens of East Anglia by Barbara Segall and Marcus Harpur is a wonderful book about some of East Anglia’s most talented private gardeners.

Pin to remember garden secrets

Garden secrets from your neighbour's garden


6 comments on "Garden secrets you can steal from your neighbour’s garden…"

  1. Bridget says:

    Thank you, we had a fabulous time at the open gardens today and you are right, we got lots of ideas for our own garden. We visited gardens 17 to 31 and should have left more time to do some others.

    So many different and wonderful gardening styles and settings.

    We enjoyed the tea and cakes too!

    Please pass on our thanks to everyone who participated

    1. thank you for coming! And next year, we’ll be back so you can catch up on those missed gardens.

  2. rusty duck says:

    If I didn’t have to travel across the widest bit of the country to do it, I’d be making an appointment with that slope. One day, mine will look like this, I hope! It’s a difficult job designing a planting scheme for a steep hill, especially when plants rarely respect the average heights printed on the label, but get it right and the effect can be stunning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 + = 11