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A great garden - whichever way the wind blows

PUBLISHED: 14:33 18 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:59 20 February 2013

A great garden - whichever way the wind blows

A great garden - whichever way the wind blows

Modern gardening practice means that planting for year round interest offers opportunities rather than restrictions, says Nicholas Newton

Modern gardening practice means that planting for year round interest offers opportunities rather than restrictions, says Nicholas Newton

Perhaps one of the most instructions when I take a brief from a new client is to create a garden with year round plant interest. There was a time when this would have meant an almost automatic inclusion of ornamental conifers, dwarf or otherwise, and heathers. That style of planting was popular some 25 to 30 years ago and it was subsequently adapted to include other evergreen shrubs and those grown for their winter bark colour. Since then, our knowledge and experience of using a much wider range of plants has moved on.
Apart from the fundamental need to have something of visual interest throughout the year, there is also the important quality of having elements to mark the seasonal passage of the year and this is all the more important for the urban resident. For a while I lived in Newcastle in a ground floor flat without sight of vegetation in any form. I decided it was time to leave when I realised that the only way I could tell if it was windy was if a piece of litter blew down the street past the window. Such was my reaction to this dire situation that I ended up living on the Northumberland moors with a view of Hadrians Wall. Now I was surrounded by an awful lot of green landscape, and on many days a great deal of weather rushing past the window.
The value of evergreen foliage is not to be underestimated, but it is the deciduous shrubs with their transient foliage, and the rise and fall of herbaceous perennials that are perhaps more poignantly redolent of the annual cycle of seasons.
I know that many people have their preferred seasons of the year but I prefer to look for the plus points of all of them, especially in gardening terms.
Spring is a time for re-emergence and awakening from the dark days of winter and also a time of rapid change in the garden almost on a day to day basis. Bulbs are an important component of the early season plant list and it almost seems that if you blink for a second too long you will miss the explosive appearance of their flowers. Bulbs have to get a move on because nature knows that all too soon trees, shrubs and other herbaceous plants will be coming into leaf and they will soon be cast into the shade of taller canopies. Shade is also the key to the longevity of other spring flowering perennials where their flowers will persist longest in the moist, humid, rich conditions under the canopy of taller plants. It is no coincidence that it is these woodland and woodland edge type conditions that give the best early season flower displays. These flowers also have to bloom early to attract pollinating insects before they are hidden from view under developing tree and shrub canopies. If the conditions are right the flowering year will get off to an impressive start with plants such as Hellebores, Dicentra, and Epimedium together with their contrasting foliage offset against the unfolding fronds of ferns.
By the time spring rolls into summer the range of flowering plants greatly increases and the choice will very much depend on prevailing growing conditions, the character of the property and the preferred style of the garden. The final choice of plants just needs to show a little restraint and continue to seek to achieve a contrast in form and texture. The next critical phase in achieving the objective of maximum seasonal interest is the roll over into autumn.
Ornamental grasses are a valuable component of any dynamic plant mix and they will have a prominent role through the late summer period as they reach their maximum height and show their flower and seed heads to best effect. Some will carry these features right through to the first frosts.
If spring is the season of birth and summer the season of abundant life, then autumn is the time of decay and decline into the death of flowers and stems. But this needs to be seen as something positive to be enhanced. Indeed there is a lot to be said for consciously choosing plants that show worthy dying characteristics.
There was a time when the traditional approach would be to clear the border of decaying foliage. More recently, opportunities have been sought through the development of new varieties of plant, and a change in gardening practices, to encourage the declining phase of the growing cycle to persist until finally battered down by winter gales and lashing rain. That in itself is no bad thing for it keeps us connected with the outside.

Nicholas Newton is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers and may be contacted on 01728 638903 for further information or


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