Garden Design: A Seven-Week Series


Garden designer Martin Brady begins a weekly series on garden planning. This week: Assessing Your Plot …

So the good weather arrived just as we were confined to barracks. Is is bound to rain for all of May? Let’s hope not. Staying at home has brought us outdoors and now gardens everywhere are bustling with activity, ready for new additions or improvements.  

Dedicated gardeners have always known the joys of quality time spent pottering in the garden. From springflowering blossoms to winter hellebores, there is interest in the garden to keep us engaged all year long. We can’t wait to bury our hands in the soil, preferring the outdoors to indoors. But while we are mostly content when in the garden I don’t know a gardener who admits to being totally happy with their garden. We can’t or won’t sit still, redesigning, moving paths, craving particular varieties or colours over another then deciding white is probably better, eventually developing an obsession with snowdrops, these are all standard preoccupations for the gardener. Speak to any gardener and they will always tell you their garden looked better last week before you called / before the rain ruined the tulips / the Magnolia was destroyed by the wind.  

When casting a critical eye over your garden, not knowing where to start might stop you in your tracks before you begin. Removing shrubs and plants you have never liked or which you inherited when you first moved in is the best place to start. There is no excuse for holding on to the shedding Cordyline your other half always complains about every time he – or she – cuts the lawn.  

After years of looking at and designing gardens, I believe most gardens need more planting, lots more. Fill your garden with plants. Why have bare soil or empty beds when there is such a dizzying amount of plants to choose from  plants that will add more colour, more interest, finally give you more privacy from the neighbours unsightly extension while doing your bit for the birds and the bees. Let go of garden fashions, forget the trends, grow what you want until you know what to grow. Learn by trying. Don’t feel daunted by Latin names and too much choice. Relax – gardening is meant to be your escape, your calm time away from todays stresses and anxiety now more than ever.  

If you have inherited a garden from a previous owner, assess what is already there, and start one small step at a time. If you have existing treeschoose plants that tolerate shade and normally flower in spring. Remember that wildflowers and herbaceous plants, along with traditional cottage garden flowers, prefer full sun without competition from shrubs or hedges.  

Don’t leave your walls bare unless they are particularly fine walls. If you have been staring out at an ugly block wall for ages, cover it with an early flowering quince or screen it using a sweet scented shrub such as Philadelphus or Choisya 

Those of you with empty or almost empty gardens are lucky to have a blank canvas. Plant some trees – even if you think your garden is too small – you won’t regret it. Cherry blossom flowers don’t hang around for too long but when in flower, no display compares to a broadspreading Prunus Yedoensis or Tai-Haku. Often found in older gardens, apple blossom, with its soft pink buds opening to clean white petals, follows the flowering cherry and is a huge draw for pollinators.  

Japanese maples, with their vast range of shapes and foliage colours add interest in spring with freshly emerging foliage which eventually turns to blazing autumn shades.  

You can bury your mistakes and while gardening may be cheaper than therapy, I say don’t keep the receipts just in case you are asked to prove it.  

Follow Martin on Instagram @martinbradygarden 

More from Martin next week …. 


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