Spring has sprung at last, but if winter’s taken its toll on your garden and it’s in need of some serious TLC, help is at hand. We’ve asked leading garden designer Sam Brown for a few of her expert tips to help you update your garden style and inject that essential “now” factor.
I want year-round interest in my urban garden. What do you suggest?
‘Use foliage plants, such as clipped box, which will look great all year. A row of box cubes or balls always looks stylish and will suit both a formal and country garden. Phormiums, astelias, bamboo (Phyllostachys) and tree ferns will create an instant architectural focal point, but remember to cover them with a few layers of fleece when there’s a threat of frost in exposed areas to keep them looking their best.’
My fences look a mess – how can I give them a new look without spending a fortune?
‘Tidy up shabby fences by cladding them with rolls of willow or bamboo screening for a rustic, country style, or if you are looking for contemporary clean lines but don’t want to go the whole way with rendered block walls, achieve the same effect by covering your fences with marine ply and painting them with a high-build textured masonry paint.’
How can I make my tiny garden look bigger?
‘Keep interest within the garden to prevent the eye going straight to the boundaries. Make the seating area as generous as you can, then pack the rest of the space with as many plants as possible to create a lush oasis… you don’t have to think miniature because the garden is small. Also grow climbers on the walls and vertical features to disguise the garden’s limited dimensions.’
My garden’s looking drab – how can I give it a boost?
‘Use colour on walls and fences – you can always paint over them if you hate the result! Colour can change the mood of a garden. For example, dark colours will create a dramatic backdrop for plants, while subtle stone tones have a calming effect. I often take my Farrow and Ball chart along to a paint specialist to get exterior masonry paint mixed and use tester pots to monitor the effect of my chosen colours to see how they look in both sun and shade.’
What type of water feature would you recommend for my little city garden?
‘On a roof garden or in a city, a simple trickle of water from a small spout will draw the ear away from any local traffic noise. Water cascades also look very chic in small spaces, but make sure they’re not too powerful for the size of your garden – you don’t want to drown out conversation and be running to the loo every five minutes!’
My garden is all on one level. How can I make it look more interesting?
‘A pergola will give instant height to a garden and can either stand alone as a sculptural feature or you can use it as a support for scented climbing plants to create a shady seating area. Also hang candles and outdoor lights from it for a starlit effect in the evenings.’
I want to include some play equipment for my kids, but don’t want the garden filled with plastic toys. Any suggestions?
‘When thinking about your children’s play area, look for natural features in your garden that you could use. Is there a fantastic tree that you can hang a swing from, or a natural hollow or dip in which to make a den? Or maybe a corner of the veg patch that your children can use as a digging pit? A bark-striped Sweet Chestnut balance beam over a shallow ditch is a very simple idea yet effective play feature, and helps children improve their co-ordination. Alternatively, lash a few timber or bamboo poles together to make a wigwam den structure and let the kids use their imagination.’
Former design partner of TV gardener Jo Swift, Sam swapped the city smoke for life in the country a few years ago, and set up her own design practice, Gallium Garden in the beautiful town of Chepstow on the Welsh borders.
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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert
View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert