×

Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom / : (by Monty Don, 2019) -

/

Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom /   :   (by Monty Don, 2019) -

Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom / : (by Monty Don, 2019) -

, , 50- . , . , , , , , , . , . , , . . , , , . .
" , 50- . , , . " ().

:
: 177
:
Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom / : (by Monty Don, 2019) -
:
2019
:
Monty Don
:
Monty Don
:
:
/ / upper-intermediate
:
upper-intermediate
:
07:38:30
:
64 kbps
:
mp3, pdf, doc

Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom / : :


: Down to Earth: Gardening Wisdom

:

( , ).


Introduction I began _proper_ gardening at about seven but had always played in the garden, and at its best, gardening for me still has exactly the same allure that going out to make camps did as soon as I was old enough to run around outside. But gardening was not always at its best. In fact, throughout my childhood I saw it as another chore that had to be completed in order that I would be free to play in the woods and lanes around the Hampshire village where I grew up. This was chalk country and I now realise that the vegetation of that very particular geology shaped my world as much as any other aspect of my upbringing. Beech woods, hazel coppice, fields waving with soft green barley and the glassy flints that pocked the chalk defined normality. Around the same time that I was considered old enough to contribute to the onerous business of running a large garden, I was sent away to boarding school. Although a mere 18 miles away, the soil there was thin, sandy and very acidic. From it grew rhododendrons, heather and pines. My homesickness was as much a deep longing for the chalk landscape of my village as for my family. But gardening came to me when I was about 17. By then I had acquired _ by default _ a working knowledge and could grow vegetables, make compost and keep the place looking fairly tidy. One day in early spring I was preparing the ground for sowing carrots when I was filled with an ecstatic sense of being exactly where I wanted to be, desiring nothing but this completely fulfilled moment. Fixed somewhere between simple happiness and mystical ecstasy, this sense of completeness in the garden has never really left me. That night I dreamt that my hands grew deep down into the chalky loam and took root. I awoke refreshed and knowing absolutely that all my future sustenance and fulfilment would be _ must be _ rooted in the soil. But this has always been private and deeply personal. Other than at various stages as a student when I worked in France and England to help finance my studies, I have never earned my living as a gardener. I am an amateur and speak only from knowledge gained from private study and over 50 years of personal experience. I will admit to being completely infatuated with gardening and obsessively studying, with a large library that I refer to constantly. That sense of putting my hands deep into the earth and growing a beautiful garden solely for the pleasure and satisfaction of myself and my family has never left me. But I believe that all good gardens are as much about the people that make them as the plants growing in them. You are an integral part of your garden. It will not exist without you. So this book is an attempt to set out and share some of that personal knowledge that I have built up over the years. It is not intended as a text book or a definitive guide. Everything is based upon my own practical experience, combined with the deep sense of meaning that gardening has brought to my own life. I have visited many gardens all round the world and have learned that gardens have to come from the heart or else they will never reach the head. You have to please yourself first and foremost or else you run the risk of pleasing nobody. And chasing after an ideal _finish_ to a garden is doomed to disappointment. Every garden is a work in progress and is as complete as our lives are today. It changes. Always. It can always get better. It often gets worse. Be part of the change. Be flexible. The process of making a garden is like a river running through your life. The place stays the same but the water, even on the stillest days, always moves. I am always being asked for the _right_ way to do things or the _correct_ answer to a horticultural question. It seems we long for experts to dispense information and knowledge from on high that can then be slavishly followed. It really is not like that. Personal experience counts for a lot but the more you learn, the more glaringly obvious it becomes how little you know. The right answers are few and far between and are nearly always very much less interesting and informative than the right questions. Failure teaches much more than success. Everyone makes mistakes all the time. Not making the same mistake twice is the key. Even the greatest master _ the true expert _ is only scratching the surface of the incredible complexity and subtlety in their garden. So scratch that surface yourself if only to find out how little you know. Back yourself. A lot of success in growing anything well is a blend of confidence and intuition. Have confidence in your intentions and build intuition by exercising it. Pay attention. Look carefully. Gradually, knowledge and intuition will combine to inform each other and make the next observation more meaningful. And so it continues. It is easy to cast yourself in the role of a conductor, controlling every note and beat of the garden. But modesty is the only appropriate attitude. Even the best gardener is not so much a conductor as a cross between the caretaker making sure the light bulbs are replaced and the member of the audience with the best seat in the house. Life is short and absurd and run through with pain and sorrow. But even in the face of real suffering, gardening can make our days shine with joy. Gardens heal. When you are sad, a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated, a garden consoles. When you are lonely, it offers companionship that is true and lasting. When you are weary, your garden will soothe and refresh you. I have had a very fortunate life. I have made gardens with someone that I love and this has brought me great happiness. You need luck to be happy. But make a garden and you increase your chances. I hope that this book helps make your garden. The Seasons Know and go with the seasons. Do not fight them _ you will lose. This will not always be convenient, so learn to be flexible. And measure the seasons by your own backyard. When is it spring in your garden? How does winter lie there? At what point precisely is the shift from spring to summer? These are real questions and have precise answers that are different in every garden in the world. It is your autumn, your east wind, your shower of rain. A good tip is to photograph your garden as much as possible and review the pictures out of season. It is a very useful way to map the seasons in your own garden. It is also an invaluable record of what was planted where and an aid to next year_s planting plans. You will be astonished how memory plays false, both for good and ill. Spring Wait till your garden is buzzing before planting or sowing too much. After a long and dark northern winter, we all yearn for spring and celebrate every little sign _ the first snowdrops, catkins, daffodils in the park, primroses flowering under a hedge _ but the most critical indicator is the presence of bees and other pollinating insects. Two things happen in spring: the nights get shorter and the air _ and critically the soil _ gets warmer. The first process of lengthening days is inevitable and begins in mid-winter. But most spring plants do not really get going until warmth appears, too _ not least because pollinators are few and far between in cold weather. Traditionally farmers would go out into a field, drop their trousers and sit butt-naked on the ground to test the soil. This might raise an eyebrow or two down on the allotment, but the principal is sound. Wait until the soil is not cold to your touch before sowing any seeds outside. Ignore the date _ plants do not read calendars _ but pay great attention to the feel of the earth and trust your judgement. March is the month of bulbs planted the previous autumn. Plan for that, enjoy them and do not force the pace. Be patient. Plants or seeds grown later in spring, when the soil and nights are warmer and the days longer, usually catch up and grow strongly and healthily. Nothing in gardening is so exciting or encouraging as the lengthening days of April and May. Really take note of this increasing light and the way that it shines within the garden so you can plan for next year. As a rule, spring flowers are best grouped and bunched together to make a localised but powerful hit. Most of the garden is still bare, so if you spread your spring flowers thinly, they can be overwhelmed by wintry emptiness. But if you make one area full of bulbs, hellebores, primroses, pulmonarias or any other early-flowering plants, then it sings out. As a rule, spring flowers are best grouped and bunched together to make a localised but powerful hit If you have very little space, pots planted with bulbs can be grouped together to provide that spring impact. As early as late January or in February, Iris reticulata varieties have intense colour, while snowdrops and _T?te ? T?te_ daffodils all grow well in pots and can be induced to flower a little early to create a focussed display. If you are not busy in the garden in spring, then you are probably wasting precious time. Yes, spring flowers were planted last autumn. But you can fill a whole long summer with a few weeks_ work in spring. You can get away with planting almost anything from snowdrops to hedges in early spring. Get it in the ground before the end of April, and it will grow and flourish. It is the time when you can do almost anything and at the very least get away with it. Although there is a lot to do in the veg plot, pickings can be thin and it is for good reason that mid-April to mid-June was called the _hungry gap_. Winter crops are finishing and summer ones yet to begin. It takes careful planning to get round this, with successional sowings of leaves like rocket and radish that grow quickly in cool weather as well as filling the ground ready for harvests later in summer. Summer Summer has two mini-seasons in most north European gardens. The first is a short but distinct period starting at the end of May, lasting no more than six weeks and finishing around the end of the first week of July. Throughout June the days are at their longest, the light at its brightest and all the deciduous foliage, be it of an aquilegia or an oak tree, is full but still fresh. Roses are at their best, large-flowered clematis are glorious and plants like irises, foxgloves, alliums and lupins crown the borders. There is a real sense of the garden coming magnificently into being but still rich with the promise of more to come. But although June days can be hot, the nights can be surprisingly cold and these sharp variations are often more damaging to tender plants than the actual temperature itself. Plants from closer to the equator _ tomatoes, pumpkins, dahlias, cannas _ will react badly to this and their growth can slow right down, which is when they become prone to attack by predators. Plants from the northern hemisphere, however, are responding to the long days, and as the nights get shorter _ albeit hotter _ they will start to set seed. In practice, this is when the second summer mini-season begins, and lasts well into September. There is a gardening convention that August is a difficult month but that is not the case where I live. The Jewel Garden really hits its stride in August and September despite the shortening days, because the nights are warm. Dahlias, bananas, zinnias, tithonia, sunflowers, helianthus, nicotiana and cosmos are flowering exuberantly. This is when the falling light levels coupled with heat make the rich colours like plum, caramel, purple and ruby red glow richly. The Jewel Garden in high summer Autumn The year turns in on itself on 23 September, which is the autumn equinox. Day and night hang, too briefly, in balance, then tip towards the dark and the year is lost. Autumn can be beautiful. It can be rich with colour and smoky light, and it can be full of flower and fruit, but autumn is always sad. The party is over and the light all over the northern hemisphere is slipping away. Autumn in Herefordshire smells fruity and alcoholic. A cidery tang floats through the air as thousands of orchards, many still made up of giant standard trees under-grazed with sheep, all hang heavy with their ripening fruit. My own garden with, in all, over 50 different varieties of apple, is dominated by them and although we gather a year_s supply and carefully store them, the ground in the orchard lies strewn with falling fruit, which the dogs gorge on _ with appalling digestive consequences. It is not the chill in the evening air or the lashing autumn rain that carries the message of winter to plants and birds and _ I am certain through my own experience _ to humans, but the slightest change in day length. We can mollycoddle winter seedlings, using mulches, cloches, fleece and windbreaks to keep them cosy. But none of this is any good without enough light. Whilst swallows fly south and humans repine, plants are more stoutly practical. Those such as roses, ash and apples have their winter hardiness increased by exposure to shorter hours of daylight, so any of them grown under artificial light, even with temperatures that exactly mirrored those in natural daylight, would be less hardy than identical plants grown under only the sun. Despite the way that light, colour and human and plant energy are all on the wane, it is important to do as much as possible in autumn to set up the year ahead. As one door closes, another _ rather smaller and more distant _ opens. It is not so much a time to put the garden to bed as to gently prepare it for action. This is when you should be planning for next summer, planting, moving and ordering plants. The more that you can get down between now and Christmas to prepare for spring, the better it will be for you and the garden. Of course, the great controlling factor is the weather but the beauty of this time of year is that most jobs can take place at any time over winter. If you have time, energy and enthusiasm, it is always best to make the most of the fading light. Autumn leaves There are not many Americanisms that I like but one which I love is the word _fall_ for autumn. In every way it perfectly suits the season, with its falling leaves. The degree of colour-change in fall is dependent upon late-summer weather, when hot days and cold nights stimulate the production of chemicals closely related to carbohydrates that produce red pigmentation. The leaves convert starch to sugar to feed the tree, but cold nights stop it moving from the leaf back to the roots. This accumulation of sugar in the leaves often results in red pigmentation and, as the green chlorophyll begins decomposing as the days shorten, so the red comes to the fore. The greater the difference in temperature between day and night _ in other words the hotter the days between late July and early August _ the more extreme the leaf coloration will be. Yellow leaves are coloured by a different process. This is essentially the removal of chlorophyll _ which produces green pigmentation _ to reveal the yellow that is there all the time. The yellowest of all autumnal trees is the English elm, which you will only see in a juvenile version or in a hedgerow as, since 1975, all mature trees were killed off while young ones succumb to Dutch Elm disease at around 20ft or 15 years old. Incidentally, trees with yellow summer leaves will always be slower-growing than trees with green leaves as they are starved of the supply of sugars and starch that the chlorophyll helps deliver. The leaves fall when cells break down in the layer between leaf stalk and twig. A corky scar forms over the wound that this causes, protecting the tree from infection. Some trees cannot form this scar tissue so they do not drop their dead leaves until the new ones are ready to push them off the following spring, which is why beech and hornbeam keep their russet leaves all winter. Poplar, birch and willow fall early but oak can hang on well into December. Evergreens do not change colour but very few hang on to their leaves for more than a year. In practice _evergreen_ means that the leaves can overwinter before being renewed in spring. However, although they do eventually fall to the ground, do not add evergreens to your leafmould pile as they take much longer to break down. Leafmould Leafmould is always useful and you can never have too much. It is low in nutrients but excellent for improving soil structure. This makes it very useful in homemade compost and as a mulch for woodland plants, as well as a general conditioner for a heavy soil. For some reason, no one has ever commercialised it, although there is absolutely no reason why they should not do so _ it is, after all, much easier to gather fallen leaves and make leafmould than rip up and destroy rare peat bogs to market the peat. However, unlike good compost, which needs turning regularly and has to be made up of a good mixture of ingredients to get the right balance, leafmould is the easiest thing in the world to make. Garden compost is made by a mixture of bacterial, fungal, invertebrate and insect activity, stimulated by heat and oxygen, which is why you have to turn it. But leafmould is largely made by fungal activity and is _cold_, insofar as it does not need heat to spur the fungi into activity. You just gather deciduous leaves, make sure that they are thoroughly wet, put them to one side and let them quietly get on with the process of decomposition. If the ground is dry enough, mowing up leaves is an excellent idea because it chops as it collects them and they have a greater surface area, which means they rot down faster as well as taking up much less space. In fact, I mow nearly all our leaves, very often depositing them on a long brick path in the garden, setting the blades of the mower high, and _mowing_ the path, gathering up all the leaves as I go. They then go into a large chicken-wire container so they have as large a surface area exposed as possible. Most years there is enough rain to keep them moist but in a dry year, I put the hose onto them every month. Either way, we invariably have perfect leafmould by the following October, when the container is emptied into bags. The resulting leafmould is used as mulch and also throughout the year as part of our potting mix. The wire bay container is then empty and ready for the new batch of leaves, to start the process all over again next autumn. I appreciate that lots of gardens are not large enough to have a permanent large wire container for leaves. In this case, the answer is to put the leaves in a black bin bag, leaving the top turned but not tied. Make sure the leaves are really wet and punch a few holes in the bag to drain excess water. The leaves will rot down very well and can be stored behind a shed or tucked away in any corner for a year to quietly convert to a soft, powdery material that smells faintly of a woodland floor on a sunny autumnal afternoon. Every fallen leaf is gathered and stored in a chicken-wire cage to make leafmould Winter Much as most humans might prefer winter warmth, our gardens are much healthier if they can have a few months of really sharp cold weather. Cultivated soil left in clods will break down and become lovely friable tilth simply through being frosted. Best of all, the dozens of fungal spores that afflict our warm, damp gardens are blitzed by sustained cold weather. Overwintering aphids and slugs and snails die off. A month of sustained cold in the garden does more to get rid of pests and diseases than a lorry load of chemicals could ever do. And cold ground makes life much easier for the gardener. Mud becomes solid. You can walk dry-shod and push wheelbarrows full of muck or weeds over it. There is, of course, a price to pay for this. The semi-tender plants that most of us grow in our borders, like salvias, penstemons, melianthus, jasmines, camellias and bay, will all suffer if the temperature falls much below _5C. However, there are other plants _ from as diverse a range as garlic to primroses _ that need a cold period in order to trigger their spring growth or germination. Most temperate garden plants have adapted effective means to counter cold. Deciduous trees and shrubs drop their leaves and stop all but small root growth. Herbaceous plants will survive frozen ground perfectly happily because they have shut down all growth and gone into a state of hibernation. Annuals die as plants but leave a mass of seeds that will survive the cold and grow in spring. Biennials establish well enough to overwinter before growing fully the following spring. Heavy snow is an excellent insulator, protecting plants beneath its blanket. It also is an important source of winter moisture if it thaws slowly enough to soak into the soil. But it can do a lot of damage to evergreens, especially topiary, and should be knocked off _ after you have taken your pictures of them magically frothed in white. Heavy snow is an excellent insulator, protecting plants beneath its blanket Although extreme cold _ below _12C _ will start to kill off a number of otherwise tough plants, cold on its own is not the biggest problem in winter. It is cold combined with wind and or wet that can turn a robust situation into horticultural disaster. Wind chill can make all the difference to survival. Even a 20mph wind _ officially classed as no more than a _fresh breeze_ _ will turn freezing into _7C, and _5C into _13C, which is into the red zone for many plants. Hedges, shrubs or even temporary netting that will filter the wind, can make a huge difference. In fact, the microclimate within a garden or even within different areas of a garden can vary greatly and mean otherwise quite tender plants survive harsh weather. This boils down to one word _ shelter. Evergreens are particularly vulnerable to damage from wind in winter because they are constantly transpiring and losing water. If there is a cold, dry wind, that water will not be replaced, and it is not uncommon for hardy plants, like box or holly, to have their leaves turn parched and brown, or even for the plant to die of winter drought, especially on roof gardens. This can happen very rapidly if the soil that they are in is frozen, as the roots will not be able to take up any water at all. One of the best solutions in very cold, dry weather is to spray the plants with water, which then freezes and forms a protective film around the leaves. But there are times when the lack of wind is disastrous to the gardener for precisely the opposite reason. If your garden is on a slope with a building or wall at the bottom, cold air will flow down the hill, meet the wall and eddy back up _ exactly like water. If your garden is at the bottom of a slope or in a natural basin, then it is important to let the wind in where you want it, flow through and get out again. Hardy plants can manage down to extreme temperatures such as _15C and can sustain cold of about _5C for weeks or months. Half-hardy plants do not, as a rule, tolerate any temperatures below freezing but can withstand the general, lingering cold that characterises much of April or even May, while tender plants do not survive below _5C. Our long autumn and spring prepare plants for winter and summer alike. This is why sudden frost can have such disastrous effects _ especially in spring. A plant that might withstand a month of bitter sub-zero temperatures can have half its growth killed by a few degrees of sudden frost in May. It sounds strange but, the longer and hotter the summer, the better trees and shrubs will be able to survive the cold of winter because their wood will have fully ripened. Too rapid a thaw will kill a plant as effectively as too rapid a freeze. There must be time for the frozen water around the cells to slowly permeate back into them, otherwise the cells will be ruptured _ hence the disaster caused by a really late frost, when the early-morning sun is hot and hits the frozen tissue before the air temperature has gradually risen and thawed it slowly. Any protective layer is effective against light frosts, so cover or wrap tender or exposed shrubs, perennials and even vegetables in horticultural fleece. Insulate the ground with newspaper, straw or a good layer of compost. This stops the surface roots freezing and is particularly important for evergreens. Wrap pots and statues in a protective layer to stop them cracking in frost. The garden in winter Plants that survive cold especially well Trees: Ash, beech, birch, black pine, ginko, hawthorn, holly, lime, maples, Norway spruce, oak, sorbus, Thuja occidentalis, willows Shrubs: All Alba, Gallica and species roses (other than spring-flowering ones), Buddleia davidii, euonymus, heathers (acid soils only), Kerria japonica, mahonia, philadelphus, Spiraea thunbergii, many viburnums, winter jasmine Herbaceous and perennial plants: Most true herbaceous plants including: bugle, Echinops ritro, Iris sibirica, Geranium endressii, G. sanguineum, hellebores, Lamium maculatum, primroses, Pulmonaria saccharata Climbers: Clematis viticella, Hydrangea petiolaris, Lonicera periclymenum, Wisteria floribunda Annuals and biennials: Agrostemma, cornflowers, nigella, Shirley poppies, sweet rocket Bulbs: Crocuses, Iris unguicularis, Lilium regale, muscari, scilla, snowdrops, winter aconites Birds in winter The relationship between garden and birds changes when the leaves start dropping. For a start, the birds are more visible. They crowd the branches as a series of shapes. The outline of a small tree will suddenly break as a flurry of birds scatters, scared off from gobbling berries. Winter bird sound is much harsher than in summer _ a series of warnings rather than wooings. Occasionally a robin will astonish the afternoon with a burst of song, but November in my garden tends to shuffle with staccato sound, like overhearing an argument in another room. Winter is heralded by the arrival of the fieldfares and redwings just as surely as summer is certified by the first swallow. But whereas the swallows, supple as mercury, arrive with a kind of soaring familiarity, the fieldfares are a curious mixture of truculence and shyness. Everything about them is harsh and jerky, yet I like them. They are of the season. They adore the apples left in the orchard best of all and will fiercely defend a tree surrounded by windfalls from other birds. They also do a lot of good, eating snails, leatherjackets and caterpillars. The other winter thrush, the redwing, is smaller, daintier and altogether less intrusive. Whereas the fieldfare has an instantly recognisable grey/mauve head, the redwing is only really distinguishable from a song thrush when in flight, when the red flash under the wing is very visible _ although its tendency to flock, like the fieldfare, is a giveaway. Weather We gardeners have to be on intimate terms with the weather. We deal with it all the time. We look up and read the sky, look around and measure what has happened and how it is playing out. As far as the garden is concerned, weather is neither particularly good nor bad. It just is. Plants adapt and nearly always recover from a rough time. Most survive anything if they are planted in the right place. The gardener cannot always get out and do the jobs exactly as planned but usually it really does not matter that much. Be flexible. Pay great attention to the weather and respect it but be patient. Bend to it rather than rail against it. Rain has many horticultural meanings. Frost tells a story that may take weeks or even seasons to play out. Temperature is critical but subtle. Learning these stories is part of a good gardener_s armoury. The wind Every wind comes brandishing a different weapon and every garden has its vulnerabilities depending on planting and aspect. Get to know the wind. Sometimes it will be a fierce adversary and occasionally your friend, but it should always be familiar. Have a mind map of the wind in your garden and be aware of the implications of its direction. In my garden, southerly winds are generally welcome because they quickly dry everything out _ but it means we scurry round staking because they also buffet. Westerlies invariably bring rain and sometimes storms, northerlies carry snow, and the spring easterlies are devastating in their ability to cut like a blade of ice through everything _ including the walls of the house. Wind chill can turn an otherwise perfectly acceptable temperature into a lethal blast. It can desiccate foliage and stress plants as well as misshape them. Be ready for this and create shelter where possible. If a planting is ailing, always check its exposure to wind even if plants around it seem fine. Get to know the wind. Sometimes it will be a fierce adversary and occasionally your friend, but it should always be familiar Gardeners also know _ or should know _ the detailed variations within their own backyards. Microclimates really matter within all but the tiniest garden. There are always bits of an otherwise seamless lawn that crunch underfoot with frost whilst the rest is still soft. Two identical plants within a yard of each other can fare completely differently because just one catches the wind that is funnelled through a gap in a hedge the other side of the garden. Good weather for me is measured not by what I wear above the knees but by how I am shod. If I can walk round the garden without wellies, then it is a good day. But if I can garden carelessly, stepping from border to path to lawn with nary a second thought, wearing lightweight shoes, then the weather is perfect. Nature There is a traditional approach which assumes that gardening is some kind of battle to be won or lost. In this world view, the _good_ gardener is the one who triumphs over nature. This still exerts a strong force, aided and abetted by the purveyors of poisons and devices for killing as many creatures as possible in the garden. Whether it be slugs, ants, vine weevils, ground elder, couch grass, wasps, moles, greenfly, cold, mildew, drought, honey fungus _ the list could go on _ nature is out to ruin your domestic bliss. Only eternal vigilance and _ of course _ this snakeskin oil, so brightly and attractively packaged and so seductively advertised, can rescue you and your lovely garden from total disaster. This is nonsense on every level. You need nature more than she needs you. It is not an equal relationship. Serve her well and she will look after you. Abuse her and everyone loses. Every living thing _ flora and fauna _ on your land is accountable to you. That account must be paid. The books must balance so never take out more than you put in. Doing no harm is usually more important than trying to do good. Often the best course of action is to do nothing whilst you watch and wait. Be modest in all things _ including protecting the environment. It can usually get on just fine without your help. Preserve the precious and rare. It is always the outliers _ the rare, the small, the tenuous _ that go first and when they go, they are very difficult to get back. What always survive are the most common and resilient. This means that species decline faster than individuals _ in other words you end up with more of less. Diversity, not the number of plants or animals, is always the best measure of ecological health. Cultivate insects. Regarding insects as _bugs_ or _pests_ is absurd. They are the most important visible wildlife in your garden. Value them accordingly. Create suitable habitats, provide food and never, ever, kill insects indiscriminately. Revere fungi. Gardeners tend to regard all fungi as harmful. But do not be frightened of them. Only a tiny, tiny proportion do any harm at all and the vast majority are essential for life in the garden. Soil without fungi is barren. Fungal filaments can reach parts that even the tiniest roots cannot, and fungi form partnerships with all kinds of plants, from mosses to trees, taking elements from deep in the soil so plants can benefit from them and fungi can then feed on the sugars in the plants. Mushrooms and toadstools are the fruiting forms of fungi that then spread their spores. Insects are the most important visible wildlife in your garden. Value them accordingly We are ignorant and new knowledge is exposing how little we know. Discoveries are coming in that are astounding and revolutionary. For example, we now know that bacteria inside certain leaves are nitrogen fixing and that trees can take their nourishment from up to 11 miles away. Eleven miles! Have an open mind and do not cling to established knowledge or conventions. The virtues of untidiness Be untidy. Leave long grass, fallen leaves, rotting wood, patches of weeds, grass growing in the cracks, moss on the stone. These are all key habitats for important components of a healthy garden. Always have some long grass growing. Nothing is more beneficial to insects than long grass. Ideally you have grass of varying lengths to provide a wide range of habitats, but a square yard of long grass will make all the difference. Worms are as good a measure of soil structure and fertility as anything. There are over 25 species of earthworm in Britain and all play a huge role in tilling the soil. Their industry is staggering: worms move between 100 and 200 tons of soil a year per 2.5 acres, which is as much as any plough can do. Whether we appreciate it or not, the earth is literally moving beneath our feet. There is still a general tendency to think of anything that _disturbs_ our soil, like earthworms, moles or ants, as pests that need controlling or eliminating. But these burrowers play an essential role in opening out the soil and incorporating organic material in it. So the next time a mole rearranges the architecture of your lawn, don_t curse but be thankful for the work that it is doing for you. Most so-called _pests_ are nearly always a symptom rather than the disease. Instead of trying to get rid of them, work out what you are doing to make them so welcome to your garden. Almost certainly you have upset the restraining, self-regulating balance. This is not _ yet _ a disaster. It can be regained _ but not by isolating and zapping pests. Cultivate bees. No bees, no garden, no humans. You do not have to keep bees yourself to attract them to your garden. Bees like flowers that are wide and open, and a range of these for as long a period as possible from spring through to autumn, will provide a steady supply of nectar for them. Garden as you would be done by. The planet is not a remote concept but is right here. The Earth is your back garden. So do the right thing. Everybody wins. Bumblebees love Knautia macedonica Place Do not strive to make your garden like anywhere else on this earth. Copy, steal ideas, imitate and derive as much as you like, but only to create something that is unique and imbued with its own profound sense of place _ otherwise you can end up going nowhere. Imbue your plot with your life, your loves, your quirks and foibles. Make it uniquely your own. Every garden must have its own personality, its own atmosphere and a real, tangible sense of not being anywhere else in the world. So always look to local materials _ stone, wood, plants _ first. Be true to the place. We are ephemeral and make things that do not last. The place endures. It is the relationship _ the tension _ between these two that creates something interesting. We bring nothing into this world and take nothing with us _ but leave something of yourself in your garden. Make it personal. Garden your own story. All gardens are made in layers, one on top of another, sometimes over many hundreds of years. They might be gossamer-thin or clumsily thick, but all build up over time like the layers of an onion. You are just another layer. It will remain, perhaps overlaid by many others, but it will act like roots, like organic matter in the soil. It will feed the soul of all the garden layers to come. I would not want any garden of mine to be like anyone else_s any more than I would not want my bedroom to be like a hotel room. I increasingly long for the personal and the idiosyncratic. I want as much as possible to be handmade, one-off and distinctive. I like gardens that have their own accent and their own rules, and are rich in dreams and memories that everyone can share but no one can replicate. What private gardens have to offer that trumps any kind of public space, however sensitively designed, is the way in which the sense of place merges into the sense of self of the gardener. The boundaries disappear. You become garden and garden becomes you. That is the goal of all gardening, where plant and earth and human flesh flow easily one into another in an undramatic union, carried with all the nonchalant joy of birdsong or the rustle of evening leaves. Every garden must have its own personality and a real sense of not being anywhere else. Be true to the place Although a garden has a precise and geographical place, it can never be fixed in time. To try and fix it is doomed to failure. Turn your back and it is gone. We can and must plan and plant for a seasonal future or even years ahead, but time liberates every garden from the tyranny of perfection and precision. Time can promise and tempt and lead you astray, but the fleeting moment is always glimpsed from the corner of an eye. That is not its limitation, but its gift. Nothing to hold, nothing to measure, nothing to compete. Just here, now. Design Think long. Be patient. For three years, few will see what you are doing _ it will all be in your mind_s eye. Then the garden will reveal its true colours and after five years be looking like a youthful version of itself. At seven years, many will not be able to age it at all and by twelve years, everything save the trees will look mature. Thereafter you will be cutting back and constraining more than encouraging growth. Only grow what you want to grow. There is a culture of selecting plants and then working out ways of growing or raising them. Turn this on its head. Find out what thrives on your plot and then make the very best that you can from this. Do not try and be like anywhere else. Be like here. Elsewhere is interesting in its differences. Do not be aspirational. Big is not better _ just different. Scale alters every concept. So a garage for two cars is not the same as a multi-storey car park. Understand your scale and work with it. By the same token, you can often take a big idea from a large garden and extract its essence so it sits easy in your small backyard. The importance of beauty Beauty is essential. It is never a trade-off. Make the most of all beauty and never sacrifice it at the altar of expediency. It is too high a price. Add nothing ugly. Do not accept any existing ugliness as fixed. Remove and change it if possible, otherwise modify or screen it. What we most carefully try and create in our gardens is always a good indication of what we lack. Hence the extraordinary lengths that Australians or Californians will go to in order to have a lush green lawn, or the protection some of us will give to tender plants that come from climates very different to our own. Two plants are usually more interesting than one. How plants interact and complement each other is what makes a garden rather than a collection of botanical specimens. Get to know every tiny idiosyncratic detail. Be aware of the light at every moment of the day and the season. Notice the shadows leaf by leaf. See how some sections of path always seem to be slippery. Notice how some plants, seemingly planted in full sun, cant and crane towards the light. Notice where the thrush sings as the light falls. Do not accept any existing ugliness as fixed. Remove and change it if possible, otherwise modify or screen it Make your garden a tactile place. Plant so you can let your hands touch, dabble and caress sensuous foliage as you pass. And allow different parts of the garden to have their moment in the spotlight and then, when done, retire to the wings for a while. Do not expect it all to do everything all the time. No garden can be performing all the time. Relish the different corners and sections as they come and go. Water improves everything in a garden _ sight, sound, scent, texture, light, range of plants, range of wildlife _ and markedly improves the overall health of the whole mini ecosystem. It could be a small bowl, stream or a lake. They all work. But always add water. Get your structure in early. A good and interesting garden can be created simply by planting hedges interspaced with grass. Then, when you are ready, you can lift the turf as and when you require to create your borders. But plan the structure carefully _ moving a hedge is a tiresome business. Plant hedges and trees when they are still very small. They will grow much faster and better for it, are much cheaper when small and will quickly catch up and overtake plants twice their size. Do not fight lines of desire. Everybody will always take the most direct, easiest route even if it means stepping over the corner of a border or through a gap in a young hedge. Cater for this. Make utilitarian paths _ to the compost heap, tool shed, greenhouse, front gate _ straight, smooth and easy for barrows and muddy feet. But if you want to encourage a slower, more meandering route, then have curving paths and close off the sight line to where they are going _ so you have to follow the set path to find out. Block off any possible short cuts. Grow grass. Mow it and call it a lawn. But do not try and make it _perfect_. Life really is too short. Smooth and green and smelling of new-mown grass when cut is good enough for me. Let your garden be charming. This is such an important aspect of a good garden. Only you can be the judge of this, so look for and relish its charm. Sit in the sun. Choose your places to sit where the sun falls at sitting times of day. If your garden is big enough, have a seat for all suitable sitting occasions _ a cup of coffee before going to work, relaxing in the midday sun, enjoying the last lovely light of evening. Just a perch will do, even if it is in the middle of a border. Make somewhere private. You cannot properly relax in your own garden if you feel overlooked or watched. It might only be big enough for a single seat but create somewhere that is truly private where you can go and metaphorically close the garden door behind you. It will transform your sense of ownership and possession. Divisions and dimensions The smaller the space the more you should fill it. Make borders wide and paths narrow. It is a common mistake to make a thin strip of border around the edge of a small garden as it only makes everything look meaner and pinched. Most small gardens can even be divided up. A long, thin garden can be divided at least once by a wall, hedge or fence accompanied by just a narrow path and perhaps a gate. It will immediately make the garden seem bigger, add range and diversity, and create smaller spaces that are more human. But this rule can be broken with spectacular success. The basic point of reference in a garden is the human body. You should always refer back to this. So 6ft is a good height for a dividing hedge; an arm_s stretch _ 4ft _ is good for a low hedge; a pace _ 3ft _ is right for a narrow path; and a pace and a half _ 5ft _ is the width of two people walking comfortably side by side. Watch the sun rise and set as often as possible. Shape the garden to capture this _ cut gaps in hedges, prune branches. Let the sun in. Neaten the verticals. The eye always runs to the edge of things. Keep these edges straight and neat _ entrances, exits, edges, openings _ and the unruliness contained by them is enhanced, modified and forgiven. Very few gardens are big enough to hold half the plants we would like to grow and most of us have to dramatically limit our range Play to your strengths. We all have the desire to do what we are not good at, to enlarge and expand our range and our idea of ourselves. But there is probably a good reason why you and your garden are not successful at something or other. So keep it simple. Do what you do easily and do it well. Very few gardens are big enough to hold half the plants we would like to grow and most of us have to dramatically limit our range and choice of plants and planting styles simply through lack of space. Make a virtue of this. Edit hard so everything in your garden feels essential. I love the way that even the tiniest garden can be loaded with all the aspirations of its maker and be perhaps flawed, scruffy or odd, but above all individual. When I fly over the suburban landscape coming into land back in the UK, or zoom through a built-up area in a train, I do not see row after row of identical streets but thousands of back gardens, all lined side by side and all triumphantly different. If that means accepting mess and disorder and _bad_ gardening, then three cheers for these things. The brick path in the Writing Garden was originally the floor of an outhouse A sense of place A _good_ garden, above all should have a sense of place. In order to come alive, it must above all, be profoundly there. By this I mean that every garden must have its own personality, its own atmosphere and a real, tangible sense of not being anywhere else in the world. I have often heard people attempt to praise a garden by likening it to another more famous or grander one, but I regard that as failure. The best and most enjoyable gardens are often allotment plots _ higgledy-piggledy and cheek by jowl, often in unremarkable municipal corners, all rented and effectively borrowed for a short growing season, and yet every plot claimed and cared for and loved _ precisely because they are so personal and direct. The transience of gardens Gardens are above all places of flux. The changes are the thing itself, not the spaces between events. Some of that is inevitable and uncontrollable through the agents of seasons, weather and growth. But as a gardener I want to be part of that flow rather than trying to arrest it and pin it down like someone scrambling around trying to lay out pieces of paper in a breeze. I want my gardens to be transient, dancing and always just out of my control rather than pinned to the page. However, as any good gardener knows, nothing is so hard as to give the appearance of doing nothing whilst still retaining the spirit and essence of what you want from your garden. You have to give gardens licence to change _ and the chances are that this will not happen as you planned or even wanted. It becomes _ if you get it right _ something more than an extension of your own costive art and craft. There is a temptation to do what you think you ought to do or what you think others might enjoy. But gardens have to come from the heart or else they will never reach the head. You have to please yourself first and foremost or else you run the risk of pleasing nobody. Some people would start this process by working on a planting list, refining it as they went with a plantsman_s sophistication. But to my mind, individual plants no more make a border or garden than individual colours make a painting. It is what you do with them and how they relate to each other that matters most. Yes, you choose your palette, which in turn is dictated by those plants that you know will thrive in any given situation, but that is only the beginning of an almost permanent editing process. In other words, having prepared the site, decided what to plant, gathered the plants together and chosen where to plant them, dug holes and put them in the ground, nothing is finished. The game is just beginning. The garden in winter seen from the top of the house Walking and Sitting There are two types of garden path. One type is purely functional to take you quickly from A to B on a dry, firm surface. This is ideal to go to the shed or compost heap. These paths invariably follow _lines of desire_ so make the path simple and straight in the first place or make it impossible to deviate from it by blocking the way. The second type of path exists to lead you where you can best appreciate the garden through which it passes. This might be a path that meanders through a border, a very wide path to encourage chat and slow walking or a narrow one to speed things up. It might be of old bricks laid on end that has a cottagey feel or chipped bark for a wildlife area or York paving slabs in a formal garden. In other words, the surface and design of the path will strongly influence how you use it and how you feel about the surroundings. Being aware of all the options and effects they have will help you make the best choices. Finally, a path should always arrive at something or somewhere. Create focal points with containers or plants that make you want to follow the path to them. Sitting Every garden should have somewhere dedicated to sitting, preferably with a table so you can also eat outside. Often the best place for it is at the back of the house _ but it is not the only option. In fact, the key to working out the best place to create a seating area in any garden is to ask yourself when and how you are going to use it. The rule is to follow the sun. If you rarely sit out in the morning, then establish where the sun falls in the evenings between April and October and make your seating area there _ even if that means doing so at the far end of the garden. If it is important to you to have an early morning cuppa sitting in the garden, then map out the morning sunshine. The moral of the story is always work with the unchangeable conditions and make the most of them, rather than blindly follow convention. Every garden should have somewhere dedicated to sitting, preferably with a table so you can also eat outside Although most gardens only have room for one main patio or permanent seating area, make sure that there are places to sit and enjoy the sun throughout the day _ even if it is just a single seat or log set in amongst a border or against a fence. Colour So often you hear people refer to a _riot of colour_ as though that was intrinsically a good thing but in truth, a riot quickly becomes wearying if not downright dangerous. Colours in the garden are there to be selected and managed as carefully as in any painting or wardrobe. Some work well together, others do not. Some appeal to you, others never feel right however much another may love them. The key is to choose your colours and choose them well. Don_t let yourself be accountable to the taste police. If you like a colour _ any colour _ then luxuriate in it. I like orange flowers and would be very sorry not to have tithonias, leonotis, heleniums, eschscholzias, zinnias, marigolds, orange dahlias and cannas, or the orange Buddleia globosa. But I have a good friend who cannot countenance the thought of a single orange flower in her garden. Each to their colourful own. There is never a right or wrong in these things. Just what feels most right for you and your garden. Combine colour carefully. Don_t just chuck it all at a border thinking that the more colour you plant, the more colourful the result will be. Just like a painter_s palette, too much colour quickly muddies. Choose a colour theme, keep it simple and stick to it. Opposites intensify and similar shades dilute and add complexity; use both to create the effect you want. So a brilliant blue iris or a purple clematis will become even more intensely blue or purple if orange tithonia is planted next to it. Likewise, the colours of a collection of old-fashioned roses in various ruffles and flounces of pink, set perhaps amongst mauve Verbena bonariensis or lavender, can have the effect of adding depth and complexity to each other without diminishing the overall effect. The Jewel Garden Light and colour Choose your colours to match the light. The light at different times of day and year affects how we see and react to colour more than any other factor. Use this. So rich plums, burgundies and oranges look better in evening light and best of all in late summer and early autumn, when the mix of light and direction maximises their velvet intensity. Pastels, on the other hand, look best in the much clearer morning light. White is lost in midday sun but looks fantastic at dusk. Under a Mediterranean winter sky, pale, bleached-out greys, blues and sandy shades look subtle and rich with texture. The light is thin but bright and clear. However, in a British winter, you need as much dark green as possible to counter the gloom of brown and grey that dominates once all deciduous leaves have fallen. Use green to create structure, with evergreen hedges and topiary, and you have a winter garden _ stark, strong but rich with colour. Likewise, the soft morning light of a May or June day in Britain is perfect for pinks, primrose yellows and pale blues that glow and shimmer. These would be washed out and lost a thousand miles further south. Similarly, the intense blues, chrome yellows and oranges that look so dramatic in a Spanish or Moroccan garden under the midday sun become lifeless under northern cloud. It all comes back to working with nature _ including the natural light. In my garden we have used colours to define the planting in various areas of the garden. The most dramatic is the Jewel Garden. This uses ruby reds, amethyst purples, sapphire and lapis blues and emerald greens of all shades as the core colours, with gold, silver, brass and bronze touched with the bright oranges of topaz and citrine, and plenty of burgundies and plum colours. The effect is rich, dramatic and lustrous. But it is rarely subtle, is rather late coming into its own in spring and is at its best in low evening light. It works wonderfully well as a vibrant centrepiece but might be a bit overpowering as the sole colour palette of the garden. Colours are affected as much by what you do not use as those you select. For example, in the Jewel Garden we have absolutely no white nor any shade of pink other than magenta (a pink so blue that it is almost purple). The Mound has no red at all yet the Writing Garden _ officially all white _ has touches of pink and pale yellow in spring because it is surrounded by fruit trees smothered in pink blossom and underplanted with thousands of daffodils. Everything needs context. Green and other colours You can never have too much green. Every garden should be set amongst lots and lots of green. All other colours then work from this base. A white garden is in fact a green garden with white highlights. Rich, jewel colours glow from an equally rich palette of greens. Green is endless in its variations and is the colour that begins and ends all planting. A garden that is just green can be _ and usually is _ a beautifully calm and inspiring place. You can never have too much green Pink is the hardest colour to get right but it is worth the attempt. When it works in harmony with all the tones around it, neither too aggressively red nor ominously blue, not sickly sweet and not washed out, it creates a mood of buoyant celebration like no other floral colour. Pink works well with pink, with many shades of green, and with pale blues and white. But pale pinks amongst rich colours are mutually toxic. You have to experiment and allow yourself to make mistakes. When we started planting the Jewel Garden we used white to represent diamond and silver. But it did not work. White is both an absence of colour and a moderator of the colours around it. So we removed all the white plants and now use glaucous blue from the foliage of plants such as cardoons to provide the suggestion of silver. Colours set the emotional mood as much as any other factor. Walking in the Jewel Garden in high summer is like plugging into the mains, charging and recharging all aesthetic batteries with direct energy through the combination of all those rich jewel colours. But just a few yards away _ separated by the cool green corridor of the Long Walk _ the Cottage Garden positively wallows in pastel tones. Mauve, lilac, lemon, pinks of every hue and soft blues combine in an easy jumble of soft shades. This inevitably means that it is a gentle place, short on drama and energy but long on peace and relaxation. Colour has painted the mood. The Writing Garden is notionally a white garden. But such a thing is at best a compromise and at worst garishly devoid of any colour at all. It is terribly easy to overdo white in any border but especially if the pristine, cool purity of a white garden is your intention. The secret is to have just enough white amongst masses of green of many different shades, and no more. The white flowers should ride the waves of green like the surf rather than swamp it like snowfall. Ammi majus has the perfect delicate balance of white and green Marginal colours Some colours are always marginal. Black _ such as Ophiopogon planiscapus _Nigrescens_ _ is fun but tricky, whilst the black silhouette of bare branches against a winter sky has a stark, gaunt beauty. Orange can be very right with other _hot_ colours but also glaringly wrong. And some yellows just don_t seem to work with anything. Magenta is interesting. A plant like the perennial Geranium _Anne Folkard_, with its lemon-green foliage and magenta flowers that run almost like a climber through neighbouring plants, is brilliant in our Jewel Garden for adding energy to almost everything around it. But in amongst pink roses, it seems crass and crude. Try things. Sooner or later you find what colours work as and when you want them to in your garden. The colour of hard surfaces really matters, too. Treat them with the same care as you would any flower in a border. Keep them subtle and muted but where possible, also warm. It is the colour as much as anything else that makes York or Cotswold stone so alluring. Fences can and often should be painted but are best acting as a backdrop rather than a coloured feature in their own right. Shades of grey, green and pink can work well but blue is usually aggressively dominant. A New Plot Before you can begin to plan what you want your garden to become, you must first take stock of what it is. There are a number of stages to this. The first is just go and have a good look. It is extraordinary how quickly we stop looking properly at what is familiar. You must sort the wheat from the chaff and analyse carefully what you wish to keep and what you want to reject. So go out into your garden and consciously look at it as though it was the first time you have ever laid eyes upon it. Then take lots of pictures of it from every aspect. A camera often shows you things that your brain glides over or focuses too hard upon. Plan to remove everything that you are sure you do not want. Never give anything the benefit of the doubt. You do not have to include anything just because it is there. At this stage, the right plant in the wrong place is wrong. Measure your garden (you can simply pace it) and draw an accurate scale plan of the site, marking in everything that is there. This can be daunting but I strongly urge you to try because even the process of doing it is very revealing. Inevitably things will be spaced in ways that surprise you. I guarantee there will be much more or less space in some areas than you have been taking for granted, or the garden may actually be much longer and narrower or more rectangular than you have assumed. Only mapping it out on paper will reveal this. When you have an accurate scale plan of your garden as it is now _ even if it is apparently _empty_ of all but an old shed, a couple of scruffy shrubs and some bad lawn _ then you can start to plot in your ideas and dreams. It is a good idea to use tracing paper for this stage so that the original plan remains unmarked and is always there to refer to. This also means you can have many different tracing-paper versions until you are satisfied that you have got it exactly right. Once you are happy with what is on paper, you can then transfer the plan onto the ground using canes and thick white string. When you have done this, look at it from an upstairs window and live with it for a few days. The chances are that what seemed a good idea on paper does not quite transfer onto the ground. Paths might need widening or curves and angles adjusting. Make the changes then look again. Take your time. It is much easier to rectify mistakes at this stage than it is later on. See what works locally See what is growing well in your neighbourhood _ it will not be happening by chance. If there are pines, rhododendrons, camellias and heathers, then you will have acidic soil and anything alkaline-loving, like lavender, rosemary, lilac or yew, will have a hard time of it. However, if there are lots of spring-flowering shrubs like ceanothus, clematis, lavender and philadelphus, then you will not be able to grow ericaceous-loving plants so easily. You need to be realistic about your soil, aspect and climate. The type of garden you have will inevitably be influenced, in the future if not immediately, by the place where you live, and unless your garden is working with the natural environment, it will not thrive. Plants that need warm conditions will not grow well in an icy, blasted site. Others that need lots of moisture cannot be expected to last in an area with very low rainfall and free-draining soil. This does not mean that you cannot create artificial environments like a pond or a scree garden, but in general it is best to choose the plants that thrive in your immediate neighbourhood. Edit, edit and edit again Many gardens fail because they try and do too much rather than too little. Decide on the one thing that you most want from your garden and make it the central, dominant element, even if that means excluding other desirable aspects. There has to be some compromise and a lot of editing. The secret is to keep the heart of the garden strong and clear, and dispense with all the peripherals. So if you want a cottage-style garden, then create large borders packed with a gentle medley of pastel-coloured flowers, along with herbs, fruit and perhaps some vegetables. If you want a formal, elegant garden, keep it symmetrical, balanced and very simple. Avoid clutter and clashing colours. But remember that a garden is whatever you want it to be. Challenge some of the preconceptions of a _good_ garden. Do you really want a lawn? If you have children, then it is almost certainly a good idea but in a small garden, a lawn is hard to look after and keep looking good. Its function as an open space can often be better performed by a paved area, which will have the advantage of being a firm, dry surface all year round. Similarly, you do not have to have flowers. I have seen stunning gardens that are entirely green. Do not be frightened of being generous with scale. Most flower borders are too small. Make them as big as possible. A few large plants make a space seem bigger, whereas lots of small ones will make it feel crowded. Looking through from the Walled Garden to the courtyard and steps beyond Divide and rule Whilst it is important to keep gardens structurally simple and the layout uncluttered, few gardens cannot be subdivided. In many cases, using an obvious device such as a wall, hedge or fence will work perfectly satisfactorily. However, the subdivisions can be more subtle. A group of pots that you have to walk around can take you into an area of specialised planting either of type or colour. Strategically positioned grasses or shrubs can signpost a change of tone or rhythm. Creating a change of level with steps rather than just following the slope will also create a new space and the potential for a change of planting. However you do it, think of the garden as a series of interlinked spaces rather than as one complete, integral canvas. The best analogy is with a house. Although it can work to spectacular effect, few people choose to eat, sleep, wash, cook and relax in just one vast room. So it is with any garden. Break it down into its component parts. Add height Do not be shy of adding height. Small trees such as crabs, maples and cherries, tall herbaceous plants and grasses that can be cut back hard in winter or spring, freestanding columns covered in climbers, a pergola or summer house _ all can work well, even in limited spaces. Money spent on strong, high fences is a good investment and will provide as much opportunity for a floral display as the borders _ as well as providing privacy and protection. The barriers do not have to be impenetrable. Trellis above a solid fence provides support and filters the wind as well as leaving some connection with your neighbours. Plan for all seasons When we think of our dream garden it is usually high summer and perfect weather. That day will come but the brutal truth is that there will be many more days of cloud, wind and rain, and limited growth. The key to having a garden that still looks good on the dankest winter_s day is to provide good structure using hard landscaping and clipped evergreen plants. This could include topiary, low hedges or just the silhouette of bare branches. How you do it will depend upon your chosen style of garden, but always plan from the outset for winter as well as for your favourite flower-filled season. It also means making sure that certain plants are holding your attention when little else is performing. Early-flowering spring shrubs and trees, shrubs and climbers with superb autumn foliage, shrubs with bright bark, containers filled with bulbs that flower in the first few months of the year, plants that age and weather well like grasses _ all these will extend the seasons. Prepare the soil Time spent on preparing the soil is never wasted. Dig any areas that are to be planted _ including proposed lawn areas _ digging them at least a full spade_s depth and breaking the soil up. They can then have compost or well-rotted manure spread over them and worked lightly into the soil; your garden will grow twice as well as a result. The garden of any new house is bound to have compacted soil as a result of machines being used whilst it was being built. This compaction is usually covered over with a thin layer of topsoil and/or turf but will never go away and will stop almost all plants growing at all well. If you are unable or unwilling to dig for any reason, then at the very least, add a thick layer of good garden compost or well-rotted manure to enrich the soil and improve its structure. A new plot at a glance 1.1. See what is growing well in your neighbours_ gardens as a guide to what will thrive in yours. 2.2. Take careful stock of what you have, including establishing the points of the compass, and plot it on an accurate scale plan of your garden. Use a scale of 1:50 or 1:100. Trace all your ideas over this. 3.3. Plan for the whole year, not just for high summer. 4.4. Use the whole garden, including all the vertical surfaces. 5.5. Divide and rule _ break the plot up into separate spaces. 6.6. Paths should always take you somewhere different: give them a focal point. 7.7. Plan the garden around the best areas for sitting in rather than automatically putting your seating outside the back door. 8.8. Make big borders. 9.9. Keep it simple and edit ruthlessly. The Small Town Garden Most people live in towns and suburbs where space is at a premium, therefore most people have a small garden, and with the population steadily increasing, gardens are likely to go on getting smaller. So it has been pointed out to me _ not always kindly _ that my own garden is too large to have relevance to an _ordinary_ garden. But there is no hierarchy of horticultural pleasure. The smallest garden can be as rewarding and meaningful as the largest. A small garden is doubly precious precisely because it is small, so everything in it is treasured and noticed daily. Also, small gardens can, with careful planning and plant selection, be extraordinarily powerful and fulfilling, whatever their style or the expectations you have from them. I know of plenty of rather empty, large gardens and tiny ones that are fascinating and deeply satisfying to be in. What to leave out The first and most important decision when making the small garden of your dreams is knowing what to leave out. Small spaces can never do everything. The danger is that if you attempt to cram too many different ideas, plants or functions into a small garden, the whole thing becomes a mishmash. Keep it simple. By far the most successful small gardens do one thing very well. If sitting outside reading a book in the garden is your idea of heaven, then base the whole design around that dream. If you wish to eat and entertain outside, then make the seating area big enough for a table and work around that. If you collect plants of a certain type, then make the garden ideal for them. If your children need somewhere to play, then you are going to have to compromise on precious plants. And so it goes. It means being clear, making decisions and sticking to them. This applies to borders as well. Work out the effect you are trying to achieve, be it a riot of herbaceous perennials, the cool sensuality of grasses or a working veg patch, and focus on that. It is also easier and less stressful to look after because everything can be geared in one direction. This is not to say that you cannot have variety and surprise. In fact, not to do so would be boring. But the variety and surprises should work around your core theme or idea rather than compete with it. A small garden is best working towards a lot of seasonal changes that follow in sequence rather than changes occurring in parallel. So plant for all four dimensions: height, breadth, depth _ and time. Use bulbs, annuals, climbers with good foliage as well as flowers _ anything to extend the temporal range of display within the garden and thus maximise the potential of the limited space. Hostas, shuttlecock ferns and primulas thrive in shade Go with the flow Grow what wants to grow. Choose the plants that will thrive in your immediate neighbourhood. So if your garden gets very little light and is in shade for most of the day, make a virtue of that and specialise in plants that delight in shade. Ferns, ivy, mahonias, tiarellas, cyclamen, hostas, hardy geraniums and sweet woodruff are just a few that thrive in the relative dark and which can look superb. Secondly, prepare the soil well. The great luxury of a small space is that this does not take long even if it involves a major effort. Many new gardens are horribly compacted with a thin layer of topsoil covering a multitude of construction-site sins. Prepare the borders properly, get rid of the rubble and compaction, and add lots of organic goodness. You are asking a lot out of your limited space so you have to put a lot in. Unless you want a play area for children, lawns are not usually a good idea in a very small garden. The effort of cutting them does not justify a lawn mower and a scruffy patch of grass will always be just that _ scruffy. The most common mistake that I come across in a small back garden is to have a lawn occupying most of the area with just a ribbon of soil a foot or so wide at the base of the fence. This has the effect of emphasising the lack of space. If you want a lawn, consider having a path between borders that takes you to it as a separate space, or having a circular lawn ringed by generous planting that creates an illusion of more space than there is. Instead of a lawn, it might be better to have a hard landscaped area with exactly the right surface you want _ paving, bricks, cobbles, slabs, or whatever you like. A paved area is also much more useful for a sitting area and much less work. And it makes the ideal place for pots. But you do not need to have an open space at all. The entire garden can be filled with plants, with only a narrow path providing access and a small space just big enough for a couple of seats and a small table, so that you sit surrounded by colour and fragrance. The only rules to follow are the ones that matter to you. Pots A small garden will take both a large number of small pots packed together as well as a few very large ones. Any outsized object or plant can look perfectly at home in a tiny space as long as you are ruthlessly selective about it. If it does not look absolutely right, then get rid of it. Every single thing should delight you. There is literally no room for compromise. You must ask yourself about every individual plant, every paving stone, each pot, whether it is the best use of that particular space, whether it is the right thing in the wrong place. Most of us make decisions about what materials we use as a result of practical limitations rather than absolute choice. We have limited money, time and energy and do the best with what we can get. But the smaller the garden, the less that works. Be painstaking and patient. It is better to use nothing and wait, than use the wrong thing. Aim to get it right all the time and be prepared to constantly alter things in the quest for perfection. This attention to detail is the heart and soul of looking after a small space. Division No garden is so small that it cannot be divided into smaller spaces. A long thin town garden can be made into two or even three smaller square or rectangular spaces joined by a path. A square patio garden could have two levels. An empty rectangular garden could have one area that is open and coolly controlled leading to another that is heavily planted and intense _ or vice versa. This is not say that it should be, just that you should consider the advantages of breaking your small town garden into separate areas. No garden is so small that it cannot be divided into smaller spaces The division could be made with a solid brick wall or with an evergreen hedge like box or yew _ semi-solid deciduous hedges that are ideal for filtering the wind and are transparent in winter _ or even with a low hedge you can see over but have to walk round, or with trellis that you can see through. Any kind of division will invite you on and in, and also create the opportunity for varied planting or colours. Of course, each little bit of the garden has to harmonise with the whole. It cannot be assembled like a patchwork quilt but if one area does not work or is spoilt by one bit of bad planting, the whole garden is not ruined. This approach has its drawbacks though _ it involves more work than a more unified plan and can get fiddly. But the beauty of a small garden is that it responds wonderfully to time put into it. Be generous! One of the most common mistakes people make when designing a small space is to think that everything in it must be small. The opposite is usually true. A few large plants make a space seem bigger whereas lots of small ones make it feel crowded. There are many small trees such as crab apples, maples and cherries that the smallest garden will accommodate, and every garden can include height, especially with tall herbaceous plants and grasses that can be cut back hard in winter or spring so they do not become overly dominant. Use every tiny space for planting. The gaps in walls are ideal for herbs like thyme, flowers like Aubrieta deltoidea and the tiny daisy Erigeron kravinskianus, while the cracks in paving are perfect for the creeping mint Mentha requienii, Alchemilla mollis and the rock rose Helianthemum nummularium amongst others. Climbers Walls and fences are the same height in a tiny garden as a large one so their vertical importance increases as the horizontal area decreases. Every inch of wall or fence should be used. This also makes for many more opportunities for some privacy _ even if it is only a solitary seat _ which I regard as essential if you are to fully relax in your garden. Plant all your climbers at least half a yard from the fence or wall. They will grow much better for it. But plant them close together, every yard or so. You can get away with the inevitable overlap by mixing their flowering seasons. So a Clematis alpina can grow through a climbing rose with perhaps a C. viticella taking over in August. Use ivy and Hydrangea petiolaris alongside a rose like Rosa _Souvenir du Docteur Jamain_ on a shady wall. Mix and mingle them to create the green, soft barrier you need together with colour and scent. I would also invest in really strong trellis to support them. Within the garden, wigwams can support annual climbers like sweet peas, the cup and saucer vine, morning glory or the Chilean glory flower. These will all grow in a container, too. Late-flowering clematis like Clematis viticella can sprawl through shrubs or trellis and be cut hard back every year so they do not overspill their space. Small gardens are often very sheltered, so gloriously scented jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides and Clematis armandii can thrive, whereas they might be too exposed in a large garden. The perfect small garden tree In a small garden, a tree is going to have to work hard to justify its space and must therefore be chosen carefully. The Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, fits the bill admirably, making it the ideal small garden tree, with its low mounds of finely cut leaves glowing with autumn colour. It is as happy in a container as in the ground and, as long as it is sheltered from drying winds and has reasonably moist air, is easy to grow. It does not like chalk or limestone but a good rich neutral to acid soil with good drainage suits it perfectly. A. p. _Atropurpureum_ will eventually reach some 20ft in height and the finely cut leaves of A. p. var. dissectum add a level of finesse to what is already a highly sophisticated tree. It is no wonder that the Japanese revere it. Maples are not prone to any special problems although the leaves can be damaged by aphids, which will make them misshapen. But the biggest problem with any maple is wind scorch. This is especially true if you live by the coast and have salt-laden winds. Grow your maples in a sheltered spot, away from the morning sun so they avoid sun scorch on frosty days and above all are protected from cold, drying winds. Water Quite a small amount of water movement can transform an entire garden, adding music, energy and sparkling light, as well providing the setting for a whole range of planting. A dark wall can host a simple cascade made from a spout running down the wall into a basin from which the water is pumped a few feet back up and round again. This then is the ideal environment for shade- and moisture-loving ferns and transforms a difficult area into a really attractive feature. If you want to be more ambitious, it is perfectly possible to make a stream, complete with pools, rocks and little cascades. All you need is a fall in level from the top to bottom. This can be created in a level site by putting the spoil from the pond at the bottom of the stream at the top of the run and then landscaping the fall/stream with stones and cobbles to make it look natural. The stream can curve and wind through borders or natural contours, or run straight like a canal. The principle is exactly the same as it is for the wildlife pond, using a waterproof liner along the length of the stream with the edges covered by soil and stones. Stones placed in the stream will break the flow and will add texture to the sound as the water gurgles past them. On the other hand, the very simplest moving water feature is still wonderfully satisfying. A bubble of water rising up through a container of pebbles breaks and washes back over and through them into a small reservoir below, and back up again. A simple terracotta urn, filled with water, could have a central fountain that just breaks the surface and then overflows down into a reservoir. The urn sits on supports above a sunken reservoir and a rigid pipe for the water is fed through a hole in the bottom of the urn The Japanese, who mastered the art of making exquisite small gardens more than any other culture, have perfected the delightful Shishi-odoshi or deer scarer. A length of bamboo is hinged horizontally through another, larger vertical section that conceals a pipe bringing water up from a hidden tank. This water spills from another, smaller, bamboo spout onto the hinged wood. The weight of the falling water forces the hinged piece of bamboo down and, as it descends, the water runs out and it flips back under its own weight, banging against a strategically placed stone as it does so and with the bamboo making a musical _clack_. Depending on the rate of flow _ which is easy to adjust, this can be made to happen at a desired interval. Whatever you decide to make in your garden, the secret is to harness the musical element that always accompanies running water. It is not only stimulating but also deeply restful. These small but very effective water features are best planted simply, using predominantly green to reinforce the cool, sensual feel of the moving water. Bright colours distract and diminish the impact. I love the combination of shade, water and ferns. These are a few ferns that work well. Dryopteris filix-mas has elegantly arched fronds and loves shade, although it will adapt to moist or dry conditions. The aspleniums, or spleenworts, with their seaweed-like flat fronds, come in many different sizes, from the tiny Asplenium trichomanes to the dramatic A. scolopendrum (Crispum Group). They are superb plants for damp shade and will grow in the cracks in stone and brick. The athyriums, or lady ferns, such as the native Athyrium filix-femina and cultivars, need some moisture in the soil. The shuttlecock fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is dramatic but easy once established, dying down to a brown knobbly stump in winter from which sprout yard-high fronds in spring. Maidenhair ferns such as Adiantum venustum with its delicate, shimmering fronds, make superb groundcover. Blechnum spicant, the hard fern, and the oak fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris, both relish the shady, damp air of a fountain. The small town garden at a glance 1.1. Be quite clear what you want from your garden. Small gardens rarely do more than one thing well but that can be enough to make a beautiful, completely pleasing space. 2.2. Keep it simple and avoid clutter. If you want lots of different plants, then have large beds and accept that there will be room for little else. Otherwise focus on a core of plants and a planting style, and allow these to come through strongly. 3.3. Get it right. The smaller the garden, the less room there is for compromise. This does not necessarily mean spending more money but usually means spending a bit more time sourcing exactly what you want. 4.4. Always start with a seating area and having established the best spot in the garden for this, work everything else around it. It does not have to be near the house but it does have to feel relaxed, sunny and slightly private. 5.5. Use as many vertical surfaces as possible, both for climbers and within a border. The smallest garden has much the same opportunities for growing upwards as the largest. 6.6. A small garden should be over-planted initially and then thinned as plants grow. Otherwise you have a few years of bare soil. 7.7. Do not fall into the trap of lots of little things. Big plants, containers and materials make a small space seem bigger. 8.8. We can take inspiration from any garden, of any shape or size, and apply it to our own. It might just be a plant combination or the way some steps are made or a climber trained. But there is always something to be learned, however small your own garden. _Madame Alfred Carri?re_ growing on the west wall of the Walled Garden The Cottage Garden Cottage gardens are filled with charm, innocence and a sense of harmonious abandonment. Blowsy, soft, and overspilling with colour and scent, they can and do look superb in any location, urban or rural. No other style of garden works so well to create a flower-filled retreat from the hard edges of modern life. Although the cottage-garden style that has filtered down to us in the twenty-first century is something much softer and more carefree, the tradition of including vegetables, fruit and herbs mixed in amongst the flowers is still central to its spirit. Original cottage gardens were never planned, and part of the secret of the good, modern cottage garden is that it should look as though it has grown up organically without any obvious design to it. It is the planting that creates the illusion of carefree abandon, not the layout. Some key elements Plan the garden around large borders, ideally flanking a path that you can wander down, with colour and scent accompanying you all the way. At its simplest, this can be a narrow path down the centre of the garden, with borders that take up all the space right to the edges _ and that is how I had my own garden in London some 30 years ago. Small town gardens are ideal for this very simple layout but it is essential not to complicate the design. Keep it simple _ a path, either straight or curved (I have a rule that paths that run through borders can twist and bend, but paths that are primarily designed to take you from A to B, should always be straight), and as narrow as is practicable, and with the entire rest of the garden cultivated and planted. That path has to arrive somewhere _ a seat is ideal, perhaps beneath a rustic bower smothered with deliciously fragrant roses or honeysuckle. There should be a sense of the plants taking over the garden, spilling over every path, up every inch of wall or fence and twining into any open window. A word of warning though: this only works for more than a season if the gardener is ruthless and cuts and pulls with unbending rigour. Otherwise the thugs take over and all your more precious plants get swamped. Mix it up There is no need for separate beds for vegetables or herbs. Having large borders makes it much easier to mix small trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables in the true cottage-garden style. By planting the garden as a happy jumble, you avoid the concentration of pests and diseases that monoculture encourages. Sweet peas can climb supportive wigwams next door to deliciously edible climbing beans. An apple tree can provide beautiful blossom in spring, structure in summer and, of course, fruit in autumn. Roses and redcurrants can rub shoulders in the border as easily as rhubarb and rheum. I have edged cottage-garden borders with parsley and red lettuce as well as with carnations and primulas. Herbs like lavender, rosemary, sage, dill and fennel are all useful kitchen herbs that slip easily in amongst quintessential cottage-garden plants like foxgloves, aquilegias, alchemilla, pinks, hollyhocks, lupins, delphiniums, phlox and roses. Mint, however, is always best grown in a container as it can too easily spread and take over a border. Colour Cottage gardens demand a distinct softness of tone. Pinks, lemon yellows, lavender, mauve, pale blues and white should dominate the palette. Many of the traditional cottage-garden plants like roses, pinks, sweet Williams, snapdragons, hollyhocks, delphiniums, lupins and phlox are all naturally within this range of colours and just by selecting them you set the palette for the garden. Pink is the key colour in soft, gentle planting schemes and there are more pink flowers than any other kind to select from. Some of my favourites, such as aquilegias, bleeding hearts, lupins, pink cranesbills like Geranium endressii, G. riversleaianum _Russell Prichard_ and G. x oxonianum _Claridge Druce_, and pink peonies and oriental poppies _ are all archetypal cottage-garden plants. Mix blue with pink and let the spectrum between them of mauves and lilacs have full rein, and you cannot help but capture the true cottage-garden spirit. Campanulas, knapweed, nepeta and Anchusa _Loddon Royalist_ are all good blue perennials. A good blue clematis like Clematis _Perle d_Azure_ can be allowed to scramble through a rose or other shrub and then be pruned back hard each spring. Delphiniums are a must, and the Elatum hybrids are perhaps easiest to grow. If the site is well drained and sunny, then the bearded iris works as a true cottage-garden plant. And if you have heavy soil like I do, Iris sibirica will grow happily in a border. Cottage-garden planting makes a soft jumble of textures and colours Shrubs Flowering shrubs are a key element in any cottage-garden border and lilac, philadelphus, potentilla, buddleia, lavender and clematis all mix well with a wide range of herbaceous and annual plants. If you have a shady area, hydrangeas will thrive. Clematis grow surprisingly well in shade. Although there should be a wide and eclectic mix of plants, cottage gardens are not the place for exotica like cannas, bamboos or bananas. The idea is to capture the spirit of the English countryside in full bloom _ even if in practice that involves using plants from all over the world. Perennials Spring perennials are important because they perform at a time of year when there is not so much competition for space. So primroses, hellebores, pulmonarias, cranesbills, Solomon_s seal, euphorbias and, especially, aquilegias, should be welcomed. In summer, peonies, delphiniums, lupins, lavatera and phlox are all perennials that we grow as much for the way that they make us and our gardens feel more tranquil and softly rural, as for the way that they look so pretty. Summer herbaceous perennials like oriental poppies, phlox, campanulas, nepeta, delphiniums, wallflowers, peonies, alchemilla, asters, cardoons and helianthus look good in great drifts and clumps that can be cut back as they fade, when annuals or vegetables can be added to plug the gaps. Climbers Climbing the walls and through bushes should be honeysuckle and clematis, perhaps a rose or two and a wisteria. Choose varieties that are free-flowering, fragrant and fulsome, even if this means filling your garden with very common plants. The whole point of a cottage garden is to create sensual delight based upon utilitarian simplicity. It is not to show off rare or unusual plants. Annuals and biennials Annuals and biennials have an important part to play in any cottage garden and can be very easily and cheaply grown from seed. Snapdragons, sweet peas, sunflowers, lavatera, nigella, alyssum, cornflowers, larkspur and marigolds are all hardy annuals that can be simply sprinkled onto the soil in spring, direct where they are to flower, and allowed to weave amongst more permanent planting. They avoid all the expense of raising seedlings under cover. Annuals and biennials have an important part to play in any cottage garden Annual poppies, from magnificent opium poppies, yellow Welsh poppies and Shirley poppies, are superb and will pop up in future years having seeded themselves _ often in unlikely places. But these random delights are in tune with all that is lovely about the cottage garden. Half-hardy annuals like cosmos, tobacco plants and annual pinks must be raised with a little protection but a windowsill or small greenhouse is enough to grow hundreds of plants at any one time, and once the risk of frost is past, they can be planted out and will flower right until the first frosts of autumn. Biennials are tough, quick but not flashy, and tend to seed themselves with abandon Biennials are tough, quick but not flashy, and tend to seed themselves with abandon. Forget-me-nots, wallflowers, sweet Williams, Canterbury bells, foxgloves _ both white and purple _ honesty, Brompton stocks, pansies, and sweet rocket can all join the easy jumble of a cottage-garden border. You can either buy young plants in spring or autumn, or save money by sowing seed in spring and raising the plants to put into position in autumn ready for flowering next year. Cow parsley froths in the Spring Garden in May Bulbs, corms and tubers Bulbs such as snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, fritillaries, Solomon_s seal, summer snowflakes, daffodils, tulips and alliums are essential, and later in the year, lilies (especially the Madonna lily), crocosmia, gladioli and dahlias are an important part of the planting balance. Try and weave them through the borders, or use them in containers so they can be moved to where you most enjoy them, then move them to one side after they have done their bit. Some of these, like tulips, dahlias and gladioli, can and will have garish, vibrant colours that seem at odds with the ethos of the cottage garden, but it is not an exercise in tightly controlled good taste. Bright colours are welcome as long as they act to set off the whole and do not unbalance it. The cottage garden at a glance 1.1. Softness is the key to all cottage gardens. This is best achieved by generous drifts and billows of plants and using soft, pastel colours. 2.2. Mix in all and every kind of plant cheek by jowl. Not only shrubs, perennials and annuals mingle together, but also fruit, herbs and vegetables can grow side by side in the same border. 3.3. Go for maximum cultivated space. Surround your seating area with plants. If you have a lawn, make it small and enclosed with borders. 4.4. Grow as much from seed as possible. Annuals and biennials are an important contribution to the cottage-garden style. 5.5. Topiary is another traditional element. Yew is ideal but any evergreen plant can be clipped and shaped. Be playful and witty with it. 6.6. Choose your hard surfaces carefully. Brick paths _ especially recycled bricks _ always look right. If your ground drains well, grass paths are also ideal. Avoid hard-edged modern surfaces like concrete pavers. 7.7. Make a bower, pergola or covered seating area that supports climbing roses, honeysuckle or clematis to create a flowery, fragrant retreat. 8.8. Avoid using exotic plants that stand out as unusual or dramatic. This is not the time to recreate the jungle! Everything should create a harmonious blend evoking a glorious English countryside. The Exotic Garden Ever since exotic plants from all over the world began to be brought back to this country from the beginning of the seventeenth century, British gardeners have yearned to grow them at home. Now that many of us can jet off and visit tropical paradises for ourselves, that urge to create our own exotic garden at home is stronger than ever. And it can be done, even in the coldest, most northern gardens. Any holiday-maker to the tropics will notice just how vigorous growth is and how fast compared to the northern hemisphere. It is that green vitality that you have to tap into to create a garden that feels truly exotic. That tropical lushness is to do with the combination of the heat of the sun, the intensity of light and the availability of water. The first two of these factors are beyond any gardener_s control but if you have reasonable rainfall or can collect rainwater so you can water your key plants if there is drought, then you have a much wider and lusher selection to play with. But enriching your soil will help more than anything else. It is perfectly possible to create an exotic effect with extremely hardy plants and I do this in my own garden. I use the giant foliage of Hosta _Snowden_ and H. sieboldiana, the height of the giant Scotch thistle, Onopordum acanthium, that can reach 15ft in a few months, and cardoons. Both these last two have astonishingly vigorous growth in May and June, and beautiful glaucous foliage that contrasts really well with the rampant foliage of the golden hop, Humulus lupulus _Aureus_. Acanthus is one of those plants that provides an overdose of brilliant lush green but comes with a health warning, for once established, it is all but impossible to get rid of from a border. This is especially true of Acanthus mollis, which is semi-evergreen, surviving all but the sharpest of winters, whereas A. spinosus is decidedly herbaceous and completely disappears between November and April. Both have huge, dramatic spires of flowers that rise up from the great scalloped swell of their shiny leaves. If you then use large containers to position dramatic flowering plants, you immediately scale up the exotic temperature. Brugmansia works superbly well in this way, as do cannas, phormiums and even the humble dahlia. Growing them in pots also means that you can ensure the right kind of soil and drainage, and makes it easier to protect tender plants in winter. Ferns Dry shade is seen as a major problem for gardeners. But many ferns love it and create a richly exotic corner lurking in the shadows. Given protection from wind, the male or Buckler fern will grow almost anywhere, sending up croziers 3ft tall that smell of freshly cut hay, while golden shield fern, Dryopteris affinis, is another superbly statuesque fern that will grow equally well in sun or shade. As with all drought-tolerant plants, water them well for their first year until established. Blechnum chilense is a very robust evergreen fern with leathery, dark-green fronds. Like the shuttlecock fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, which needs damp conditions, it will establish a short trunk, similar to a mini tree fern. In milder areas the real tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, instantly creates the right atmosphere and mood. It will need protecting in winter and the best way to do this is to fold the ferns over the top of the stem and wrap it in fleece. Tree ferns have their roots on the stem so they like humid air rather than moist soil. A spray with a hose every few days in a dry spell should suffice. Palms The Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, always adds a very un-British element to any garden and sets the tone for the planting around it with real ?lan, although it is the hardiest of all palms and will grow in a wide range of gardens. Good drainage will always improve its health and planting it in a sheltered spot will protect it from the wind. The dwarf fan palm, Chamaerops humilis, is also very hardy and will form a shrubby clump that creates a good understorey. Again, good drainage and a sunny, sheltered position will help a great deal. Cordyline australis is not a palm but looks like one, and certainly casts an exotic shade in any coastal or urban garden where the winter temperatures do not fall below _5C. It needs plenty of water in summer but should be kept dry in winter. In good weather it will flower freely. Eucomis bicolor growing in a pot on The Mound Bananas With its enormous and, in the case of Ensete ventricosum _Maurelii_, deep chocolate and plum-coloured leaves, no single plant is more exotically dramatic than the banana. They demand lots of water, the richest growing conditions that you can create, are not hardy, and need a sheltered spot if they are not to be ripped to shreds by winds _ but for all that I consider them essential in any would-be exotic garden. The hardiest is Musa basjoo but it needs a protective wigwam of fleece in cold areas or, like Ensete, should be lifted and brought indoors for protection before the first frosts. For containers, a small banana like Musa lasiocarpa, which only reaches about 4ft but has wonderful, thick, glaucous leaves and is even hardier than M. basjoo, is a good choice. Ensete banana underplanted with blood grass _ Imperata cylindrica _Rubra_ Cannas Their combination of vivid, flamboyant flowers and enormous and striking foliage makes cannas among the most dramatic plants in any garden. I particularly like the mixture of dark or striped foliage with brilliant flowers such as Canna _Wyoming_, which has orange flowers, C. _Black Knight_, which has red flowers or C. _Durban_, which has chocolate leaves and orange flowers. Even if you live in a very mild area, cannas still need lifting and cutting back by mid-November to give them a rest or else they will not flower the following year. Their roots are fleshy and store enough food to take the plant through its dormant winter season. In this country that can be quite a long time because they are not frost-hardy and it is best not to plant them out till the last possible risk of frost has passed. I pack the cut-back plants in spent potting compost or leafmould (vermiculite or even wood chips would do) in a large pot in a cool but frost-free shed, to keep them protected and alive but dormant over winter. They should not be allowed to dry out, so water them every few weeks. I then bring them out of storage as soon as growth appears in spring and from mid-April, I gradually harden them off before their final planting out at the end of May. Cannas like being moist so they should always be generously mulched after planting and watered thoroughly. Each individual flower only lasts a few days but more will be produced from the same flower spike until there are no more buds. The tree dahlia, Dahlia imperialis, will create a huge plant, reaching 15ft or more in rich soil, but it only flowers in late summer after a really good baking. This hardly diminishes its value as it grows anew like a young tree every year and new plants can be taken very easily from cuttings in spring. It is tender so needs lifting and bringing under cover over winter or protecting with straw or fleece in mild areas. Exotic climbers The trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, with its deep, orange-red trumpet shaped flowers, is one of the most exotic-looking of all the climbers that will cope with a temperate climate. Passion flower, Passiflora, is very hardy yet has extraordinary flowers that produce distinct bright orange, egg-shaped fruits. P. caerulea is one of the hardiest but only P. edulis is really edible. Solanum crispum has dark purple flowers in summer from a growth that scrambles up support. S. c. _Glasnevin_ is particularly dark. As long as it has neutral to alkaline soil, Trachelospermum jasminoides flowers profusely on a sunny wall, and exudes a delicious jasmine scent. I grow the annual cup-and-saucer vine, Cobaea scandens, in containers, sowing seed in April and planting out in early June to flower from late July through to autumn. Morning glory, Ipomoea, has the same regime, with I. tricolor _Heavenly Blue_ making scores of brilliant blue flowers. The really exotic I. nil _Chocolate_ has dappled, deep plum-coloured, otherworldly flowers. Exotic gardening in dry conditions Dramatic, dry-loving plants like echiums, yuccas, cardoons, stipas, sedums and melianthus can all cope with drier conditions. These are plants that have evolved to cope with very low levels of rainfall, so hate sitting in wet conditions. This means that the drainage has to be very good. If your soil is at all moisture-retentive, then you will have to add plenty of gravel or horticultural grit _ but not extra organic matter as this will provoke too much lush growth. Agapanthus adds drama and can be grown in containers or in the ground as long as the roots are fairly constricted, otherwise the plant will put more energy into its foliage than its flowers. Melianthus major, the honey flower, is one of my own favourites. This is worth growing for its glaucous foliage but in a sunny, protected corner it will produce deep red flower heads. The Californian tree poppy, Romneya coulteri, will grow to over 6ft with silvery grey foliage and huge white flowers. New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax, is hardy to about _5C and makes a superb centrepiece for a container or border. Of the grasses, all members of the stipa family thrive in dry, well-drained conditions but the most flamboyant is Stipa gigantea with its 8ft-high oaten flower heads that glow in the evening sun. The giant sea kale, Crambe cordifolia, is superb at the back of a border and Verbascum olympicum will reach 9ft in its second year. Echiums grow just as big, with towers of tiny blue flowers. There are over 30 species of aeonium and they look equally good in a container or the border. Such plants work well as a really exotic display in the driest conditions. The exotic garden at a glance 1.1. Prepare the soil well before planting. Get rid of any compaction by digging and adding as much organic material as you can get hold of _ and then top this up every year with at least 2_3in of good organic mulch. Nothing else will help preserve the vibrant lushness that you are striving for. 2.2. Create shelter from prevailing winds. Plants with large leaves can be terribly damaged by wind, both structurally and in terms of growing stress, so good fences, hedges and walls are essential to create wind barriers and microclimates. 3.3. Put in an irrigation system or good rainwater storage. To achieve the lushness that a really exotic garden needs (save in dry conditions), there must be a steady supply of moisture. Generous mulching will help, but consider a drip-feed irrigation system both as a very efficient way of using water and to keep plants irrigated when you are not there. 4.4. Buy key dramatic plants and work round them. Spend your budget on fewer but bigger plants to create the right scale and effect, then infill around them. A few really stunning plants will always work better in this style of gardening than a mass of smaller ones. 5.5. Do not overlook hardy _ordinary_ border plants. A plant does not have to be tender, rare, difficult to grow or expensive to look truly exotic. Onopordums, cardoons, giant hostas and shuttlecock ferns used creatively can hold their own with plants from anywhere in the world. 6.6. You can create an exotic effect in a very dry garden but choose your plants appropriately and go for a consistent look. 7.7. Be prepared to store plants in a frost-free place over winter and have adequate winter protection for plants that are too big to be moved. 8.8. Accept that this style of garden is only at its best for half the year. 9.9. Do not be tentative _ it is all or nothing. A Modern Urban Garden Gardening is by and large a conservative art, taking comfort from the past. But you can create a stylish modern garden that demands very little maintenance and yet is ideal for relaxing and entertaining in. There are two ways of keeping maintenance to a minimum. The first is to use a lot of hard landscaping, which is relatively expensive to set up but once established needs very little upkeep. The second is to use plants that only need pruning or attending to once or twice a year, such as tightly clipped box or yew. The modern garden is essentially hard-edged and free from whimsy. So use either regular stone with sharp cut edges or man-made slabs, pavers or setts of some sort. Symmetry, balance and order suit this style very well. The lines should remain clean and uncluttered, and this dictates the style of planting. The heart of this kind of garden is the sitting and eating area _ the whole garden should lead to or revolve around this. It is a place to relax in rather than to spend a busy gardening weekend. Plants _Architectural_ is the expression given to those plants that shape or frame a setting, and is the kind of planting that set-dresses an otherwise rather hard backdrop. There is a wide range of plants that will do this, from huge bananas to yuccas, agapanthus, tree ferns and cacti. The essential point is that they stand alone rather than being used as a component in the assembled harmony of a border. In general, evergreen plants look constantly good throughout the year and can include flowering shrubs such as camellias, lavender, rosemary, myrtle, mahonia, ceanothus, escallonia, garrya, Magnolia grandiflora, griselinia and Choisya ternata. All these can be clipped or trained. Plants that can be shaped into hedges and topiary, or can be used as cloud pruning, include yew, box, holly, Ilex crenata, privet and Portuguese laurel. These are ideal for a thoroughly modern and yet low-maintenance garden because one annual clip is all that they need to look trim the year round. Bamboos work very well in the modern low-maintenance garden and as long as they do not dry out, need little attention. Phyllostachys nigra is the modernists_ bamboo of choice and is set off well by pools or tanks of black water to match its black stems. The modern garden is free from whimsy. The lines should remain clean and uncluttered, and this dictates the style of planting For colour and drama, bulbs grown in pots work well. They can be moved into position when in flower and then set to one side as they die down and they will, in the main, dutifully reappear the following year. Water In a modern setting, very formal water features, with little or even no planting, can look both starkly chic or, if used with a pump, bring movement and the play of light that adds real interest to what might otherwise be rather an austere setting. A very shallow formal pond, lined in black and edged with stone, will reflect light beautifully. I have seen a pond like this, edged on three sides with high, painted walls so that the reflections are constantly playing, and it was fascinating. Add water falling into the pool and exiting it so that you have the sound of water meeting water, and you have real vivacity. Corten steel tanks that quickly rust make stylish water features and can be made to any size. Rushes, such as the delicate flowering rush Butomus umbellatus, have an architectural quality and irises, such as Iris ensata, I. versicolor, I. laevigata and I. pseudacorus, all look superb rising simply from still water. These can all be planted in baskets and submerged onto the bottom of the pond. Even a small rill can be enough to transform a garden. A rill is a very narrow strip of water, edged in stone or steel that runs along a path, so that you walk either side of it or across it. Again, it is almost maintenance-free once set up. Wildlife Gardening The best thing that you can do to encourage wildlife into your garden is to stop gardening. Let the lawn become a tussocky meadow and the borders strangle with weeds. Let brambles romp and nettles flourish. Hedges should go uncut and should fight it out with elder, self-sown ash and birch. If it looks like an abandoned railway siding, then the job is well done. An immaculate garden is a hostile place to most wildlife. Beautifully weeded borders, with every fallen leaf and twig gathered and disposed of, hedges kept constantly crisp and grass mown to within a fraction of its life may make a certain sort of gardener glow with pride but will provide little comfort for most of our birds, mammals and insects. If you want the natural world to share your garden, some compromises must be made. The goal is to learn to live together and accommodate one another without sacrificing colour, productivity or design. But anyone, wherever they live, can have a garden that is both beautiful and rich with a varied mix of wildlife. And there is a growing need for this because, as agricultural land becomes, increasingly, a species-poor monoculture, most gardens are more wildlife-friendly than the average field. It is astonishing how much birdlife will be added to a small garden simply by planting some deciduous hedging and a selection of deciduous and evergreen shrubs. If you have room for a small tree or two, then so much the better. Most gardens are, by default, rich hunting grounds for a huge range of creatures. But the gardener must try not to be blindly selective about what constitutes acceptable _wildlife_. Slugs, moles, rabbits, urban foxes and mosquitoes are all wildlife, too. Many creatures that seem harmful to your immediate garden might be an integral part of the food chain, enabling the more obviously beautiful birds or mammals to exist. Although there are occasions when the caterpillars munching through your brassicas or the slug that has devastated your hostas might simply be classed as the enemy, in almost all circumstances they are part of a much bigger, much richer picture than your isolated garden problems. Learn to see the garden as a holistic entity of which you, just like every other living creature, are just one small component. So start by not using pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Chemicals are not selective. Good examples are the insecticides that kill aphids _ they will also damage pollinators. Do not use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Respect, care and a delight in the incredible richness of nature is the key to a healthy and fascinating garden. Each predator must have enough to feed on to maintain its controlling presence. So you need some aphids if you are to have ladybirds or lacewings, and you need some slugs if hedgehogs, beetles and toads are to remain to eat them. It is an entirely self-regulating system and it works fine. It is astonishing how much birdlife will be added to a small garden simply by planting some hedging and a selection of shrubs Having stopped blasting your plants with chemicals, there are a few simple but very effective measures you can take. The first thing I would recommend is to allow an area of grass to grow long. Have at least a patch that you cut just twice a year, in July and October. Apart from anything else, this will encourage wild flowers (even if they are only daisies, dandelions and buttercups), which will increase insect diversity. Diversity is more important than the actual number of any one species. A healthy garden has as wide a range of insects, birds and mammals as possible, rather than trophy-hunting the rarity of one or two specimens. A mixed hedge of native species with hazel, dogwood, hawthorn, blackthorn and guelder rose provides nesting cover for birds and insects and also produces nectar from its flowers. I suggest planting plenty of groundcover beneath as it is particularly good for small mammals and invertebrates. Lamium, geranium, vinca and ivy all combine to make a dense and protective layer. Best flowers for bees and pollinators: Agastache, alliums, asters, campanulas, cornflower, cosmos, evening primrose, geum, hardy geraniums, hollyhock, mallow, scabious, wild clary Best shrubs for bees and pollinators: Buddleia, ceanothus, cotoneaster, lilac, mahonia, shrub roses Best trees for bees and pollinators: All fruit trees, blackthorn, chestnut, hawthorn, hazel, ornamental cherry Top 10 nectar plants for butterflies: Aster x frickartii, aubretia, Buddleia davidii, _Oregon Thornless_ blackberry (this is, as the name suggests, less prickly than the wild form), field scabious, French marigold, lavender, marjoram, red valerian, Sedum spectabile Wildlife pond A pond, designed to look as natural as possible, will instantly attract every kind of wildlife into your garden, including frogs, newts, insects, birds, bats and mammals. All of these will actively contribute to the environmental health of your plants as well as providing you with another tier of interest and pleasure. Do not worry about _stocking_ the pond in any way _ just create the right environment and animals will come. The planting that best suits this kind of naturalistic water feature is also one of the most beautiful and charming of any kind of gardening. Making a pond is easy _ you dig a hole, line it with some kind of water-retentive material, then fill it with water. That is it. Finessing it involves hiding the liner with stones and planting, and incorporating shelves for varying depths of water for different types of plants as well as for creating different aquatic habitats. One of the distinctive features of a dedicated wildlife pond is its beach. If you incorporate an area of very gently sloping bank, then you provide both an easy entry and a vital exit for almost any creature, from a water boatman to a thirsty hedgehog. You can easily do this by grading the soil under the liner and using stones, cobbles and finally washed grit to make a very shallow area that arrives at larger stones half-submerged in the water. The beach area should be left free of plants but can take up as little as a fifth of the circumference of the pond itself. A pond, designed to look as natural as possible, will instantly attract every kind of wildlife into your garden, including frogs, newts, insects, birds, bats and mammals An old log might not be your idea of aquatic beauty, but to encourage wildlife, it is a good idea to add one to your pond. Just let it float and very slowly decompose in the water. Beetles love it and frogs will perch on it to bask in the sun. An area of long grass and nettles around the perimeter of the pond provides good cover as well as being caterpillar fodder for a range of butterflies such as red admirals, tortoiseshells, peacocks and commas. Marginal planting, both in and outside the pond, serves as ideal cover for a range of animals. In fact, cover of all kinds is good even if it looks _messy_ to the fastidious horticultural eye, so don_t worry about algae, duckweed or keeping your pond clean and clear. Even a stagnant puddle is a rich resource for wildlife and is far better than no water at all. Apart from anything else, water tends to self-regulate and respond to weather and the seasons without any human help. Removing dead vegetation from the pond Making a pond Choose a site that gets direct sunlight for at least half the day. A round pond or one with flowing curves is likely to look more natural than a square or rectangular one. Allow plenty of room around the pond for planting. Mark out the outline of the pond using string and canes or a hosepipe. Allow for marginal plants by including shallow shelves around the perimeter. Remember to make a section of the circumference extremely shallow to form a beach. Aquatic plants such as water lilies need deeper water, so aim to include a section that is at least 3ft deep. Even a small hole takes quite a few barrowloads of soil to excavate, so plan what you will do with the waste soil _ ideally incorporate it into the garden. Check that the edges are all level. Use wooden pegs and a spirit level and be exact because the water will instantly expose any inaccuracy. If the site is sloping, then you will have to build up one side. Avoid steep slopes falling down into or away from the edge of the pond. When you are satisfied with the shape and size of the pond, remove any stones or roots, and firm and smooth the soil. If you are using a rigid liner this can then be fitted into the hole and the soil backfilled around the edges. If you are using a flexible liner, first line the surface of the soil with geotextile underlay, carpeting underfelt or an inch of sand. Do not stint on this because whatever you use, the purpose is the same: to protect the lining from being punctured. Calculate the size of liner you need by measuring the longest distances along the length and breadth of the pond, then add twice the maximum depth to both measurements. So a pond 10ft x 6ft at its widest points and 3ft at its deepest will need a liner at least 16ft x 12ft. Stretch the liner gently over the pool area and let it ease itself into all the contours, gathering it into folds to avoid creases. Do not start to add water until you are happy that the liner has as few wrinkles as possible. Leave plenty of excess liner, particularly under the beach area and hold the excess liner securely down with bricks or stones. Fill with water, pulling any creases free. Although the water will stretch the liner as it fills, ensuring a tight fit, it will also hold any creases in place. When the pond is completely full, leave it for 24 hours to ensure it is watertight, then trim the liner, leaving at least a foot to spare all the way round. Finally, add stones, soil and plants to hide the liner and create a natural-looking pond. The pond is surrounded by lush cover that is ideal for wildlife Planting a pond A wildlife pond does not need any particular planting as long as there is plenty of cover both around and in the pond. Hostas, ligularias, cornus, Gunnera manicata, rheums, rodgersias, astilbes and irises will all thrive around the margins of the pond and in boggy areas. Purple loosestrife will grow anywhere it can get its feet into water, as will the lovely bright yellow marsh marigold. Plant as naturally as possible and do not be too tidy. A tangle of growth at the water_s edge will provide perfect cover. Some of our native wildflowers thrive best in very wet conditions away from competition with grass. These include marsh marigold, meadow buttercup, yellow loosestrife, comfrey, cuckoo flower, flag iris and greater bird_s foot trefoil. For a wildlife pond, do not add fish as they eat tadpoles. And if you use a pump, it should be very small and disturb the water as little as possible because frogs only lay their eggs in still, shallow water. Grass and wildflower meadows A wildflower meadow can look as beautiful as any herbaceous border, but the flowers in it make surprisingly little difference to the quality of wildlife. It is long grass that is the key to a healthy and varied insect population. Even one square yard will make a big difference. But if you want to go the whole hog, just mow a narrow path down the centre of your lawn and leave the rest to become a glorious wildflower meadow, with plants such as cowslips, kidney vetch, lady_s bedstraw, ox-eye daisy, field scabious, knapweed and meadow cranesbill growing in amongst the grass. Rather than a true wildflower meadow _ which can be tricky to sustain as it requires very low soil fertility _ it is easier to plant spring-flowering bulbs into the grass. This means that a range of bulbs can be seen before the grass begins to grow. Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and species tulips all naturalise well in grass. If the ground is moist, snakeshead fritillaries and camassias look superb. Since the flowers die back by mid-spring, the grass will start to grow long and hide the untidiness of the bulbs as they die. The fresh new grass itself can look wonderful at this stage in the year. Then, some time in July or August _ but never before midsummer _ the grass can be cut. It is important to rake it up and take it to the compost heap, as any cut grass left on the ground will only feed the grass at the expense of the flowers. If your compost bin is too small for the grass cuttings, just make a heap in a corner somewhere and let it quietly compost down _ becoming another haven for insect life as it does so. You can then mow the grass regularly just like a normal lawn, as long as you collect the grass when you do so or let it grow long again before giving it a second cut and rake any time before Christmas. Either way, the grass should go into winter as short as possible. This routine will maximise the chance for wild flowers to thrive in amongst the grass, adding to what will be, in my opinion, as beautiful as any neatly mown lawn _ and much more environmentally friendly. Birds The song of a blackbird or thrush is as beautiful as the most perfect rose and, I think, an essential component of any good garden. But to get thrushes and blackbirds to visit, you must have food for them in the shape of worms _ for which you need healthy, organically rich soil _ as well as invertebrates and insects of all kinds. And to encourage birds, in addition to having a wide selection of flowers, long grass and water, you need trees. These not only provide cover and nesting sites but are also a potential environment for a wide range of wildlife. But you must choose wisely. The London plane, for example, apparently only supports one British insect species, whereas the pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) supports 284. I know that some people are hesitant to plant an oak tree in their garden because they think that it is too _slow_ or that it will not truly become an oak in their lifetime. This is a big mistake. It is lovely from the first and gives enormous pleasure as it grows _ as well as encouraging wildlife. Watching birds is one of the great pleasures of the winter garden. Put out food for them, preferably out of reach of cats, and with some of it protected by a mesh with small enough holes to keep out pigeons, starlings and predators such as sparrow hawks, but with big enough holes for tits, finches and other small song birds to feed in safety. Irregular feeding can do more harm than good so it is important that once you start to put food out _ sunflower seeds, grubs, breadcrumbs and any fat make the best all-round mix _ you continue to do so until well into spring as they can waste a lot of energy flying to your bird table unless that energy can be replaced when they arrive. Nestboxes also encourage birds into the garden. Tits need a box with a round hole placed about 9ft above ground in a sheltered spot, whereas robins like a more open box in a very tucked-away spot such as behind a climber or at the back of a shed. Insects Insects are less conspicuous and less glamorous than songbirds, dragonflies or hedgehogs but are the foundation from which a healthy wildlife garden is built. The American word _bugs_ contributes to a profound misunderstanding of the importance of insects as part of the chain of life. The more varied a garden_s insect population, the healthier it will be. Without a healthy insect population, the whole food chain of birds, mammals and flowers starts to fall apart. Not only do we want more insects _ we need them. Bees It has been estimated that 80 per cent of the western diet is dependent upon pollination by bees, so without bees, the human race would rapidly starve and probably become extinct. Their steady decline is therefore a cause for real alarm. The cause of this decline seems to be a combination of things. The varroa mite has become a major pest, attacking bees at every stage of their life cycle. It sucks the blood of adults and weakens them, making them more susceptible to viral infections. Add to that increasing evidence that agricultural pesticides are harming bees, and you have a potentially disastrous situation. But gardens are a rich source of food for bees and with a little care, they can be made more rich without any trouble or loss of pleasure to the gardener. We can actively _ and, importantly, should _ nurture and conserve the British bee population. You can select plants that not only look terrific but are also particularly attractive to bees. Recent research has concluded that it does not matter where a plant comes from in order to be suitable for bees, so there is no need to focus solely on native species, but how accessible its nectar is does make a big difference. Thus any plant that is open and simple, such as members of the daisy family, or any that are set on a _bobble_, such as scabious and members of the thistle family, are always going to be ideal. Bumblebees have longer tongues so are better adapted for plants that are more funnel-shaped, such as foxgloves. Bees also love fruit trees _ in fact they love any flowering trees _ and they go, too, for all legumes, such as peas, beans, clover and sweet peas. Add to those, dandelions, blackberries, asters, ivy and willow. Remember that bees need pollen and the smaller flowers of unhybridised species are likely to be a much richer source of this than huge show blooms on plants that are the result of elaborate breeding. Honeybees need pollen as close to their hive as possible but they do not need variety. So sequential monoculture, such as fruit blossom in spring followed by a field of rape or heather on a mountainside, suits them perfectly. For the gardener, this means making sure that you plant in some quantity so the bees have plenty of what they like in a seamless succession for as much of the flowering year as possible. Planting in blocks and drifts rather than dotting odd bits and pieces around the garden is what works. Bumblebees are more inclined to graze and will happily go from plant to plant, nibbling a little here and sipping a bit there, with less of the furious business of honeybees. They will happily work their way round your garden without the same need for plant volume and succession. Wildlife gardening at a glance 1.1. Avoid tidiness: leave leaves, patches of weeds, overgrown shrubs and climbers, and dead stems on plants. All this provides essential cover and shelter for insects, birds and small mammals like bats. Create winter cover for larger mammals like hedgehogs by gathering bundles of sticks and leaving in a pile against a fence or shed. 2.2. You must include water in the garden, even if it is only a birdbath. A small pond with plenty of marginal planting and a shallow approach in one section to enable creatures to crawl in and out is ideal. 3.3. Cultivate your weeds where they do not conflict with decorative plants. Many weeds are important food plants, for example, nettles are vital to butterflies such as red admirals, small tortoiseshells and peacocks, whose caterpillars feed on them. 4.4. Long grass is essential. Leave a patch of lawn unmown until at least midsummer. Cut and rake it to encourage wildflowers. Underplant with bulbs like crocus for a brilliant spring display that will also provide pollen for early insects. 5.5. Monoculture is not good for wildlife even though it may create a dramatic display for the human eye. Grow a wide range of flowers with open, accessible shapes and as long a flowering season as possible to provide a good supply of pollen and nectar for insects. 6.6. Avoid all pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Using them to kill specific pests is like using a shotgun to kill a fly and will not only destroy many beneficial organisms, but will also set up a chain reaction of plagues of problems. Strive to help create a balanced environment that is self-regulating. 7.7. Only cut your hedges out of the nesting season _ between October and December is ideal for deciduous hedges. Those that must be cut twice should be cut as lightly as possible for their second trim. 8.8. A selection of umbellifers such as angelica, fennel, chervil and dill, all of which are rich in nectar, is particularly attractive to hoverflies and lacewings, whose larvae in turn eat aphids. 9.9. Not only does compost recycle all your waste material from house and garden and enrich your soil, but it also enhances the bacterial and fungal life in your garden, and this is the base upon which all other, much more visible, forms of wildlife will build. Children Create an area in the garden dedicated to the children that is safe and always theirs, and do not shunt it to the far end of the garden _ small children always want to be near the house. A play area does not have to sit like an ungainly intruder in the garden. It can be horticulturally inspired. Paddling pools can be ponds and sand pits beaches. Overgrown shrubs can be dens or dens can be constructed from living plant material like willow. Make a treehouse, shed or building of some kind that is exclusively for children. Buying a ready-made one is good but making it yourself, however badly, is much more fun and the children will treasure it more. Never try and make children into gardeners _ that will happen in its own good time _ but do encourage them to love the garden A lawn is essential but forget the perfect sward. It must be tough enough to take lots of wear and tear. This means using ryegrass and putting time and effort into ensuring good drainage to minimise compaction. Grow as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Make harvesting a treat for the children and try and eat something from the garden as often as you can. Never try and make children into gardeners _ that will happen in its own good time. But try very hard to make them love your shared family garden because that is the fount of all good gardening. And remember, plants can be replaced. Childhood only happens once and must be nurtured as the most precious part of any garden. Containers Pots add drama, a sense of staging, variety and an architectural structure that works with any kind of planting, from a sprinkle of annual daisies to large trees. Every garden of every size and shape, and in any situation or location, is improved by having plenty of plants growing in pots. They can be positioned exactly where a plant most thrives and then moved according to the season or simply your whim. And pots give you an invaluable element of control over growing conditions such as soil type. So for example, in my neutral to alkaline soil, I can grow rhododendrons and camellias in pots in an ericaceous potting mix. Big pots can become mini-borders or flower arrangements in their own right, combining shrubs, perennials, annuals and bulbs that grow and develop, and provide fresh interest for up to half the year. Pots can also enable you to muster a seasonal display that can look terrific for a short while and then, when the pots have finished flowering, can be moved out of the limelight, where they can scruffily die back into exhausted dormancy while another set of plants in pots takes their place. And if you have a balcony, flat roof or even windowsill, then not only is there an opportunity for growing in containers, but the containers become your garden and can give just as much pleasure as any border. As long as the container has some drainage and an opening at the widest part of the vessel, then absolutely anything that will hold soil and take regular watering can be pressed into service. Barrels have long been cut in half and used for larger displays. Metal pots can be sleek and chic but they can come in the form of recycled buckets and bathtubs. Stone sinks and troughs are shallow but attractive and are especially good for alpines that have shallow roots. I have seen old tea chests, washing-up bowls, drainage pipes, chimneys, dustbins, old baskets, saucepans, cooking-oil containers, a redundant pair of boots and an upturned hat all successfully used for growing a wide range of plants from tulips to turnips, with all, in their own way, looking good. We use the table outside the potting shed to create a vibrant seasonal display of massed pots Potting-compost mixes My very intensive jewel-coloured planting needs plenty of goodness so I make up a potting mixture designed to nourish it right through the summer. This consists of equal measures of bought-in peat-free potting compost, sieved leafmould, sieved garden compost and horticultural grit to ensure drainage. I mix it all up in a wheelbarrow and over the years I have found that big, hungry plants thrive on it. However, a good peat-free potting compost will work fine as long as you supplement it with a weekly liquid feed. But herbs or Mediterranean plants like lavender, santolina, cistus and pelargoniums need a much weaker mixture with very fast drainage to thrive. I would mix a peat-free (and it is essential that you do not use a peat-based compost for these plants as they need alkalinity), bark- or coir-based compost with up to its own volume again in horticultural grit. This will make it very free-draining and will reduce the nutrients _ which are exactly the conditions that these plants love. They will still need watering at least weekly, and a fortnightly feed would do no harm. Fresh compost must be used for every sowing or planting, and any crops that will be growing for more than a couple of months will need feeding. When a plant needs a bigger pot, try and go up just one size so that there is no more than 2in of soil between the edge of the rootball and the inside of the new container. This will avoid the excess potting compost acting as a sump for water. When using a liquid feed, resist any temptation to make the mixture richer. Plants can only absorb so much feed at a time and it should be used as a top up rather than to induce a spurt of growth, which will only result in weak shoots that will attract aphids and fungal problems. Strong, steady growth is the ideal. Drainage All containers need drainage holes. Many plastic pots and window boxes are sold without any drainage holes in them, so these must be drilled out, in the base. Make sure the holes are at least half an inch wide and err on the side of too many rather than too few. There is some debate about the need for crocks (a layer of broken pieces of pot, pebbles or even polystyrene chips) but I always use them if only to stop the compost falling through drainage holes _ which on some larger terracotta pots can be quite big. If you have your pots on a roof or balcony, they will have to be stood on a tray of sorts, to collect the drips, but make sure that the pot itself is not standing in the water as this will negate the effects of the drainage. Raise it up on feet of some kind. Another way round this is to drill drainage holes an inch or so up from the base of the pot and then make sure that the pot is filled with crocks to above the holes so that the water never rises above that level. Watering Watering too much is a bigger problem than watering too little. Poor drainage, followed by erratic watering, are the biggest causes of poor growth. As a rule, a good soak once a week is enough for most plants, save in very warm weather. It is far better to water very thoroughly once a week than to give a shower every day. In fact, daily, light watering can reduce water uptake, especially in hot weather, because the water does not penetrate deeply into the soil, which encourages the roots to grow to the surface, where they dry out much more rapidly than roots that have to delve deep for their moisture. A plant in a pot will need more water than its garden-planted counterpart and a large, fast-growing one much more. I water our pots until the water going in at the top seems to be coming out equally fast at the bottom. If this happens too quickly, it means that either the drainage is too free or, more probably, that the plant is potbound and dried up, and there is not enough soil in the container to absorb any water. In this case, submerge the pot in a bucket of water until the bubbles stop rising. This may take a good half hour if the soil is very dry. Then repot the plant in something bigger so there is soil for the roots to grow into. Irrigation systems are expensive and can be fiddly to set up but they save time and are essential if you are away much. They have individual lines going into each container from a ring hose, and drip water slowly onto the soil directly around the roots of each plant. This ensures that there is minimal evaporation, no splashing and no water damage to flowers, fruit or leaves, and much less water is used than in overhead watering. Never fill a pot to the brim with compost or mulch, otherwise water just splashes off it, especially when it is dry. Leave a good inch for water to make a puddle before soaking in. Container trouble Plants grown in containers can seem especially attractive to pests and vulnerable to disease. This is almost entirely due to the almost unavoidable fact that anything grown in a container is likely to be more stressed than the same plant grown in the soil. It will have access to less water and nutrients, or be overwatered and overfed, and is often more exposed to cold, wind and excess sun, especially on a roof. Hostas are an excellent example. I grow lots of hostas in my borders and have hardly any slug damage at all. But I have a single pot planted with Hosta undulata var. albomarginata that is always ravaged by the end of summer _ even though exactly the same variety grows untouched a yard away. So either choose plants that will thrive in any given position, or place the container where your chosen plants will be happiest. Overfeeding will encourage soft, lush growth that is a magnet for sap-sucking insects like aphids as well as slugs and snails. The idea is to grow healthy plants, which does not mean that they are extra-large or floriferous but that they are resilient and well adapted to whatever position they are in. Vine weevils are often introduced into gardens via plants bought in containers at garden centres. It is worth lifting any plant from its pot before buying, and checking the roots to make sure that no vine weevils are there. Containers for shade Even the deepest shade can hold a container planted with ferns and ivy, and look mysterious and dramatic. However most shady spots have some sunlight so what you plant will depend upon the time of day when the containers are shadiest. Even the deepest shade can hold a container planted with ferns and ivy, and look mysterious and dramatic Morning shade is a protective shroud for plants such as camellias that are easily damaged by bright sunlight on frozen petals, causing the petals to thaw too fast and burst their cells. Shade in midday stops pale colours burning out and all but the most heat-loving plants will prefer shelter from the noon sun. Evening shade is good for white flowers that attract moths rather than butterflies to pollinate them and are likely to smell exceptionally strong and fragrant. A container planted with a woodland plant mix of Alchemilla mollis, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae and heuchera, along with the trailing strands of Vinca minor will be perfectly happy as long as it gets a few hours of sun a day and does not dry out too much. Acanthus mollis and A. spinosus look superb in a large pot _ we have two spectacular examples growing out of an old galvanised bathtub, even though it is placed in deep shade. Both seem to thrive in it although perhaps A. spinosus is a better choice, if very dry. Ferns are a useful and beautiful solution to dry shade and look handsome in pots. Dryopteris filix-mas will grow seemingly untroubled by lack of moisture or light. Soft shield fern is also particularly drought-resistant and most of the adiantum and polypodium ferns will do fine, too. The potting compost soil should ideally be split half and half with leafmould (not compost) to reduce fertility and although drought-tolerant, these ferns will need watering weekly. Maximum use from big pots I have four large pots in the centre of our Jewel Garden that I always plant in autumn with tulips for a brilliant April display. I plant wallflowers over the top of them so the bulbs push up through the wallflower growth, and the result is a fiery display that lasts into mid-May. Then these are removed, the wallflowers composted and the tulips lined out in a corner of the garden to die back and be replanted for cut flowers next year. (I recommend buying fresh tulip bulbs each year for containers to produce the best flowering display.) Then I replant the pots for an arrangement that will last through to November. This means having a strong central plant that will give structure, a mid-layer to provide bulk and an understorey that can spill and twine as well as flower continuously. Pots offer a superb chance to try things out, make combinations and create dramatic effects _ for a season at a time. This obviously applies to hanging baskets, window boxes and tubs, just as it does to any large container that looks best with more than one plant. Big pots like these in the Jewel Garden demand dramatic planting that can be renewed at least once in the growing season Design tips The key to using containers as part of a larger garden _ as opposed to on a roof or balcony, where they are the garden _ is to keep them in context with everything around them. It is a mistake to think of a pot as a wholly independent flower arrangement. It needs to work with its surroundings _ including the colours and textures of the building _ just as much as any shrubs or herbaceous plants in a border. But containers do not have to be instead of or separate from a border. A good-sized pot set in a border, perhaps raised on a plinth of some kind, adds variety and texture as well as enabling you to use plants that are perhaps not suited to your soil as part of the overall border planting scheme. Just because a container is big, it does not mean that it looks good if you pack it with lots of plants. Like a good flower arrangement, the secret is to have a relatively limited choice of plants that harmonise in colour, shape and growing habit. A large container is also the best way to focus the eye where you want it to go, either at the end of a vista _ a pair of pots flanking a path, entrance or focal point create a real sense of expectation _ or as any kind of a diversion that perhaps surprises and detains you. The smaller your garden, the more effective this is. Larger containers such as tubs are ideal for growing climbers, shrubs or even small trees. I have grown climbing roses, clematis, hawthorns, Portuguese laurel and acers in pots that have flourished for years, as well as citrus, bay and large rosemary bushes. A few really large pots make a space look bigger whereas lots of small ones can seem cluttered Large pots are also ideal for annual climbers such as sweet peas, the cup-and-saucer vine, black-eyed Susan and morning glory, using a temporary wigwam of canes to support the growth. But it is important to replace the compost at the end of the growing season as the plants will have used up every available scrap of nutrients. A few really large pots make a space look bigger whereas lots of small ones can seem cluttered, though a cluster of smaller pots that are changed and replanted seasonally focussed around a more permanently positioned large one always looks good, and the repetition of the same plant individually planted in a row of small pots _ I use snowdrops, primroses, crocus, lavender and pelargoniums in this way _ looks really terrific. Container growing at a glance 1.1. Group containers together for massed appeal either in a bunch or symmetrically flanking a path or lining a wall. Small pots repeated can make a big impression. 2.2. Large pots are focal points that draw the eye. Use them dramatically as a theatrical performance. 3.3. Change the planting with the seasons. A good pot is expensive and should earn its keep for as long as possible. Have at least two different plant combinations a year. 4.4. Never reuse old potting compost as all the goodness in it will be used up. 5.5. Do not overwater and always ensure good drainage. A heavy soak once a week is better than a daily sprinkle. 6.6. Pots exposed to the wind will dry out much more quickly than those with some shelter. Hanging baskets are particularly vulnerable as are window boxes and roof gardens. Grouping pots together will provide a lot of protection and slow evaporation. 7.7. Do not overfeed. A dilute feed high in potash will help develop strong roots and flowers. Avoid feeds high in nitrogen as they only encourage lush growth that attracts pests and disease. Climbers One of the ways of making the most of available garden space is by using the third dimension and going up as much as possible. A garden with lots of height is always much more interesting _ and environmentally rich _ than one spread out flat like a carpet. In the medium term, this means planting small trees, using tripods and frames for climbers, and choosing flowering plants _ even very ordinary ones such as delphiniums, hollyhocks, verbascums and sunflowers _ for their ability to grow fast and tall. Most houses have at least one wall that can be planted against and most gardens have a wall or fence around the outside. These are all ideal for training climbers against. You can also easily erect fences and walls within the garden _ however small it might be _ that immediately provide two more vertical planes to grow plants against. In fact, many small gardens have more vertical growing space than horizontal. It is a truth that plants will grow almost anywhere but if you want to make the best of the resources you have, then you must choose those plants that will thrive rather than merely survive where you plant them. The smaller the space available, the more it is worth taking trouble with your choice. Where you have room for six plants of a theme or colour, it hardly matters if one fails. Where space only permits one specimen and that goes pear-shaped, then it blows the whole garden apart. Working with the compass points It is vital to know the compass points in relation to your garden _ and especially so for climbers. A south-facing wall will be on the north side of the house or garden. It gets the full effect of the sun from mid-morning until early evening, which is 9am till 3pm in winter and 10am till about 7pm in summer. The cold winds, from north and east, will not touch it. It is sunny, hot and dry. The base of any wall, even after quite heavy rain, is a dry place. Brick or stone suck up moisture from the ground as well as deflecting a lot of rain. So any plant against a south wall needs extra irrigation and mulching. Many slightly tender plants will thrive _ wisteria, jasmine, some roses, most fruit, ceanothus, eccremocarpus, stephanotis and trachelospermum. But most clematis (with the exception of the very early-flowering Clematis balearica and the evergreen C. armandii) as well as honeysuckles and some roses will find it too hot and dry. A north-facing wall will be in shade for most of the time and certainly during the central part of the day. But this is not in itself a problem although the range of plants that enjoy growing in shade is limited. They all tend to have white or very pale flowers for the obvious reason that this makes them more visible for would-be pollinators. Clematis _Moonlight_ fades to practically tissue colour in full sun, whereas it retains a strong white glow in shade. I have a C. montana that is perfectly happy on its north wall and the flowers of the ubiquitous C. _Nelly Moser_ retain their colour much better out of the glare of sun, although it is perhaps better on an east wall if there is a choice. One of my favourite spring-flowering clematis, C. macropetala, is very comfortable in the lee of a north wall, too. Try C. m. _Snowbird_, which is white. The lovely climbing rose _Madame Alfred Carri?re_ does well on a north wall as do the burgundy red climber, _Souvenir du Docteur Jamain_, and the evergreen rambling rose _Alb?ric Barbier_, which has a mass of small ivory flowers. Ivy will grow in deep shade and the evergreen climbing Hydrangea petiolaris is slow to establish but loves a shady wall or fence, and with its billowing white flowers has real presence. An east-facing wall is both shady and cold, and also exposed to bright morning sunshine _ which can result in frost-burn for any emerging flowers in spring. For this reason, you should never plant camellias against an east wall. However most early clematis, such as the various C. montana, C. alpina or C. macropetala, are very happy on an east wall as will be all honeysuckles and many roses. Flowering quinces make ideal wall shrubs for an east-facing surface and although most fruit trees need heat for the fruit to ripen, a wall facing east is perfect for fan-training morello cherries. Almost all climbing roses love a west-facing wall, as do all honeysuckles Finally, a west-facing wall is ideal in almost every respect. By the time the sun has moved round to the west, the light is carrying much more heat so that a west-facing wall will be much warmer than one facing east, and the light will be much thicker and more intense. Strong colours seem to absorb this quality and reflect it so that oranges, purples and deep crimsons always look best when facing west. So, the late-summer clematis, like C. viticella or C. _Jackmanii_, are ideal, with their range of purple and plum colours. Almost all climbing roses love a west-facing wall, as do all honeysuckles. Camellias fare well and all fruit will ripen well. Sweet peas can do very well against a west wall but it is a mistake to plant them facing south as this will be too hot and dry. Clematis _Etoile Violette_ in full glory in the Jewel Garden Planting and supporting All climbers should be planted well away _ at least half a yard _ from any wall or fence. This might look very odd initially, but if angled back to the wall with a cane, they will soon start to grow vertically and the roots will both have more room to grow and be less likely to dry out. Fix good strong supports for climbers before planting. Roses, wisteria and fruit do best attached to horizontal wires. Use a 12- or 14-gauge galvanised wire and attach it to screw eyes that are at least 1in clear of the fence or wall. This makes it easier to tie in the growth and also allows some ventilation. You will need a horizontal wire every 18_24in. Tensioners will take up the slack of the wire. Clematis and honeysuckle are best supported against a wall or fence by a trellis. This can either be freestanding (but be sure to support it with really strong posts as the wind can catch it like a sail) or screwed to the surface. Like wire supports, be sure that the trellis is not flush with the wall but mounted on blocks so there is room to get your hand behind and tie in growth as needed. I like growing clematis _ especially the late-flowering varieties that are pruned hard every spring _ and sweet peas up bean sticks, making wigwams from four or six good, strong sticks pushed into the ground and secured with string. These can be replaced as needed at pruning time without disturbing the plant. Tying in Clematis _Polish Spirit_ to a wigwam Flowering Shrubs Plant shrubs as you would a tree, in a wide hole with a loosened, but not deeply dug, base. Do not add organic material to the planting hole unless the soil is very heavy, in which case some garden compost and horticultural grit or sharp sand will help open the soil out for the initial root growth. Always mulch thickly and widely with good compost after planting. And always water in very well, even on a wet winter_s day. Allow plenty of space for your young shrubs to grow _ you can always infill with temporary planting of bulbs, annuals or grasses if it looks too empty. Remember that pruning provokes growth, so if you have a lopsided shrub, prune the weaker side back hard and leave the well-developed side alone. This will balance the shrub out. Shrubs are not glamorous in the way that spring bulbs, a hawthorn hedge or irises are glamorous. Too much wood and straggle in their non-flowering months. But most importantly, they provide the essential middle layer that both fills and connects the space between low-growing flowers and trees. Few gardens can exist without flowering shrubs. No other type of plant gives the same range of width or graceful spread in relationship to its height, and its woody structure means that its flowers and foliage are held more or less in space without needing support. Shrubs are tough. Many resist cold, wind, rabbits and human neglect. Many respond gratefully to a modicum of care in the shape of a little pruning and weeding. They take very little from the gardener and give an awful lot back. Shrubberies may have a dank and gloomy Victorian image but there is no practical reason why they cannot brighten and enrich your garden throughout the year _ and for many years to come. Shrubs for shade: The bamboos, camellia, Choisya ternata, Daphne laureola pontica, eleagnus, fatsia, Garrya elliptica, hypericum, Kerria japonica, mahonia, Osmanthus decorus, pyracantha, Ribes alpinum, skimmia, Viburnum davidii Shrubs with scented flowers: Buddleia, Ceanothus x delileanus _Gloire de Versailles_, Choisya ternata, corylopsis, daphne, eleagnus, Hamamelis mollis, honeysuckle, lilac, magnolia, osmanthus, roses, viburnum Shrubs for winter flowers: Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet), Daphne mezereum var. autumnalis, Garrya elliptica, Lonicera fragrantissima, Mahonia japonica, Stachyurus praecox, Viburnum x bodnantense, V. farreri, V. tinus, winter jasmine, witch hazel Shrubs for small gardens that can be regularly pruned back hard: Buddleia, all dogwoods, elder, hardy fuchsias, hazel, Rubus cockburnianus, sambucus, Salix daphnoides, weigela Shrubs with purple foliage: Acer palmatum _Dissectum Atropurpureum_, Cercis canadensis _Forest Pansy_, Corylus maxima _Purpurea_, Cotinus coggygria _Royal Purple_, Malus x purpurea _Lemoinei_, Rosa rubrifolia, Sambucus nigra _Guincho Purple_, Weigela florida _Foliis Purpureis_ Shrubs for lime soil: Berberis, brachyglottis, box, cistus, cotoneaster, daphne, deutzia, eleagnus, escallonia, euonymus, forsythia, fuchsia, hebe, kerria, kolkwitzia, mahonia, osmanthus, peony, philadelphus, potentilla, pyracantha, ribes, romneya, rosemary, rubus, lilac, viburnum, weigela Shrubs for acidic soil: Azalea, calluna, camellia, clethra, heathers, gaultheria, Hydrangea macrophylla, kalmia, pernettya, pieris, rhododendrons The layered blossom of Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum _Mariesii_ Lawns I know that some people (mostly men, it has to be said) are concerned that their lawns should be as near to perfect as possible and any weed is seen as an affront to their manhood, but this has always struck me as a matter of supreme unimportance. All I am after is an even-ish area of green dominated by grass, and a few daisies, clover, dandelions, bents or moss do not trouble me too much. But a lawn is intended to be a mown area of grass. The nature of grass is that it tends to dominate all other plants if it is regularly cut so the fact that lawns are, by definition, closely shorn, means that they are usually more or less grassy. When it comes to mowing the lawn, the most harm that you can do is to cut it too short. The healthiest height for grass is about an inch _ much longer than most people regularly mow down to. Also, do not take too much off in one go, especially in spring. A light trim will make a dramatic difference _ and be much quicker than a less frequent scalping. Making a lawn Lawns thrive on deep, well-drained soil, so the most important thing of all is to dig the ground well and deeply, breaking up any compaction. Good drainage is the key to good grass. Adding as much sand or grit as you can manage before sowing or turfing will do more good than anything else. The surface of your lawn will exactly replicate the surface of the soil beneath it, so rake it very carefully as even thick turf tends to accentuate any dips or hollows rather than hide them. Then tread over the raked area with your heels to flatten any soft dips and rake it again. If you are growing grass from seed, you must decide between a) a perfect lawn or b) hard wear and tear. The two are pretty incompatible. A hard-wearing lawn, suitable for family rough and tumble and more casual use will be based upon ryegrass but the perfect sward you find on bowling or golf greens will be mainly Chewings fescue. This creates a finer, more velvety surface and can tolerate being cut very short indeed _ but is not at all hard-wearing. Shady soil needs a special mix of seed. If in doubt, ryegrass mixes are much cheaper than grass for fine lawns and price is likely to be as accurate an indicator of what you are buying as anything else. When you buy turf it should be moist, green, reasonably thin and weed-free. Long rolls are better than short slabs of turf because they dry out more slowly. Try and get it delivered the same day as you will lay it, but if you have it delivered more than 48 hours before you can use it, unroll the turf on any surface and water it well. The secret of establishing a good lawn is sun, moisture and good drainage. Provide those three things and the grass is guaranteed to thrive, and where grass thrives, almost all else will play second fiddle, including moss, daisies, thistles, bents, buttercups and dandelions. The secret of establishing a good lawn is sun, moisture and good drainage The quantity of sun cannot be controlled but you can cut back overhanging branches and most of the time there is enough rain to provide the moisture. I would never water any established lawn in the UK as they all recover from seemingly disastrous drought. Grass is very tough. However, drainage is the hardest aspect of care to maintain because the very act of walking on a lawn _ let alone riding bikes or playing football or whatever _ will compact the soil. This is why it is a good idea to aerate the turf each autumn and spring, and to brush in sand if the soil is heavy. Sometimes the simplicity of mown grass and clipped hedges is all you need Lawn problems 1.1. Worms are a sign of a healthy soil; their casts can be brushed back into the ground to enrich it. They are a nuisance and unsightly for a few weeks in autumn but do no long-term harm. 2.2. Ants are becoming increasingly common, creating powdery fine little casts, but again do no real harm. Just brush them back into the grass. 3.3. _Fairy rings_ and pale brown toadstools are caused by the fungus Marasmius oreades. Typically, there will be a stimulation of grass growth at the periphery of the infection, causing the grass to turn dark green. The usual cause is something rotting under your lawn such as an old tree stump or root. 4.4. Leatherjackets are the grubs of crane flies. They eat grass roots, causing dead patches. The simplest way of dealing with them is to aerate your lawn well to prevent stagnant soil conditions. 5.5. Red thread disease causes patches of grass to become bleached; the red growths of the disease appear between the bleached grass. 6.6. Chafer grubs eat grass roots causing patches to turn brown and die. Encourage plenty of birds into the garden that will be happy to eat them for you. Pull away infected grass and re-seed or turf. Weeds Want to know which are the most successful plants in my garden? The ones that grow lustily every year, whatever the weather? Almost certainly the same ones that are thriving best in your garden too, namely weeds. A weed is a plant hero, an adaptor and a survivor, coping with any weather and outperforming all plants around it. Some plants did not start out as weeds but were introduced as garden treasures. The most famous of these is Japanese knotweed, introduced in 1825, now officially Britain_s most problematic weed and illegal to plant. Some simply become weeds in a particular garden because they do so well. Anything that self-seeds runs the risk of that designation, as do perennials that creep out sideways like the Lysimachia ciliata _Firecracker_ in our Jewel Garden or the shuttlecock fern that is now swamping my Damp Garden, both of which plants started out as carefully nurtured treasures. But do not despise weeds. They are the best adapted, most successful plants in your garden and are expert at making the most of your soil. Study what weeds you have and where they are growing, and you will learn a lot about the plants that are likely to do best in your garden. 1.1. A rash of docks, mare_s-tail, ox-eye daisies, creeping buttercup and rushes says you have a poorly drained, heavy soil. 2.2. Chicory, bindweed, silverweed and greater plantain are a sure sign of compaction. 3.3. If your soil is acidic, then you will host dandelions, stinging nettles and sorrel. 4.4. Salad burnet, campion, charlock, poppies and nodding thistle indicate an alkaline or limey soil with a pH above 7. 5.5. Nettles are also always a sign of high levels of phosphate and nitrogen, and will always grow in damp areas where animals and humans have congregated. 6.6. Daisies, wild carrot and mullein grow on ground low in fertility. 7.7. You should celebrate if you find your garden overcome with chickweed, henbit or pigweed because they are a sign of rich, fertile soil. However you arrive at it, weeds are there in every garden and take up an awful lot of a gardener_s time and energy. Yet many are beautiful. Dandelions, buttercups, ground elder and daisies all have lovely flowers, especially en masse (which, alas, they so often are). All are the ideal plant for the soil and situation if not for our carefully constructed scheme of things. The good news The good news is that the more weeds you have the healthier and better conditioned is your soil. Secondly, the greater the diversity of weed types, the greater the range of chosen plants that you will eventually be able to grow. A wide range of weeds will also attract a wide selection of insects and do much to contribute to the holistic balance of your garden _ which is the very essence of successful organic gardening. Weeds can also make a good green manure. Cut the flowers off before they set seed, use the top growth for the compost heap, and dig in the roots for a mass of organic material to enrich the soil structure. Some modern weeds have been cultivated for their edibility. Many people eat young nettles in spring as a vegetable (like spinach) or as a soup. I personally find them delicious and they are exceptionally rich in iron. And in the past, ground elder, chickweed and fat hen have all been gathered and even cultivated as vegetables. Who knows what prize veg will be rampant weeds in a few hundred years_ time? Weeds are not only good for wildlife but can also look as good as a manicured border Dealing with weeds I am an organic gardener and do not use chemicals of any sort _ so will not advocate herbicides. But whatever ideology you may have about chemical use, my experience is that most weeds are controllable without them. It goes without saying that prevention is always better than cure. Firstly, always check plants that you buy or are given, especially woody plants that can easily host the roots of ground elder, bindweed or couch grass. The second thing is to avoid the situation getting bad _ or at least any worse. Tackle weeds as and when you notice them. In practice this means that it is a constant job. But I use it as a chance to get close to my plants and to judge the state of the soil, as well as being part of keeping the place looking beautiful. So do not see weeding as a terrible burden imposed upon you but enjoy it as part of real gardening. Chemicals are very good at destroying weeds but they can also destroy plants you want to keep, let alone the micro-diversity of your soil and the insect life of your garden. Weedkillers are pushed hard by chemical companies because they are enormously profitable and often effective in the short term. But in the medium to long term, they are actively harmful to your whole ecosystem and that is not good gardening. We are here to look after and nurture this lovely earth, not blast everything that momentarily stands in our way. There is another approach. Manage weeds so that you control them rather than they controlling you. Here is how. 1.1. Timing: You must remove weeds before they seed. The old adage, _one year_s seeding means seven years_ weeding_ is pretty much accurate. If you cannot dig them up, then cut the tops off _ using a mower if need be _ until such a time as you can get at them properly. 2.2. Hoe: If you grow vegetables, a hoe is essential for removing weeds. The secret of hoeing is to do it little and often. Always hoe on a dry day, preferably in the morning so that the weeds will wilt and die in the sun (they can and will often regrow in the wet). The secret of hoeing is to keep the blade sharp and run it lightly under the surface of the soil in a push/pull action rather than jabbing at individual weeds. If you have a very weed-infested bit of ground you want to cultivate _ and remember, weed-infestation implies good healthy soil _ and the weeds have not yet gone to seed, then a good tip is to hoe the weeds off with a mattock or large draw hoe, rake up what you can and compost it, then dig the whole area over. This will not get rid of the perennial weeds but will allow you to grow a crop of fast-growing and weed-suppressing vegetables like potatoes, beans or squashes, or sow a green manure. 3.3. Hand-weed: A hoe is often too crude a weapon for a border. The answer is to get down on your knees and carefully remove every scrap of weed with your fingers and a hand fork. I love it. You really get to know your soil and your plants, and the seedlings and herbaceous perennials coming through, and you improve an area dramatically without major disruption. 4.4. Roots: The best way to remove all perennial weeds is to dig up their roots. With nettles or brambles, this is actually quite easy. But bindweed, ground elder and couch grass will regrow from the tiniest scrap of root and as these are very brittle, it is easy to break off a piece and leave it in the ground. Do not be discouraged. We all miss bits of root. Just go back if you notice regrowth and take some more out. In time, you will get on top of it, as well as dramatically weakening it and reducing the spread. 5.5. Mulch: Cover every piece of bare soil with a light-excluding but moisture-permeable layer. Garden compost is best of all but anything will do. Well-rotted horse or cattle manure is good but cattle manure can include a lot of weed seeds if it is not sufficiently rotted. If you are using an organic mulch (i.e. one that will rot down into the soil) spread it at least 2in thick. This will not stop existing perennial weeds growing through but will make them much easier to pull up. And although it will not eradicate perennials, it will certainly weaken them. This is important since if some weeds are allowed to get healthy and strong, their spread is phenomenal. Bindweed can cover 30 square yards in one season and one creeping buttercup plant will colonise five square yards in a year. The most effective mulches cut out all light and water from the weeds, starving their growth. Black polythene with a 400_600 gauge will certainly do this. However, as well as looking horrible, it also destroys all other growth so is only useful for clearing ground prior to planting. A woven plastic _landscape fabric_ is a better long-term bet as it allows moisture through, but it doesn_t look much better. When I use these I always cover them with a layer of chipped bark. But on a border, a loose mulch of organic material is needed. Anything will make a difference but for pure weed control, heavy-duty bark chippings are excellent. Personally, I prefer garden compost, mushroom compost, gravel or cardboard covered with grass clippings. For pure weed control, heavy-duty bark chippings are excellent The advantages of these organic mulches is that they also feed the soil and improve its structure, so whilst they inhibit weeds, they also promote the growth of the plants that you value. But whatever you use must be in a thick layer to be effective. Minimum two inches, and ideally twice that or even more. It is always better to mulch a small area well than to try and spread it thinly and widely. If all else fails, it is worth constantly cutting back the growth of perennial weeds. This will weaken them and at the very least limit their spread. Often, especially for bracken and ground elder, this is the only feasible action and it does help. I use a flame gun for our paths and this is very effective. It needs doing about once a month. However, you do have to be careful not to damage adjoining plants through heat radiation. Here is a list of my own worst weeds. Very difficult perennial weeds (require long-term strategy or inspired acceptance): Horsetail, Japanese knotweed, lesser celandine Perennial weeds to take very seriously (dig up every scrap of root and burn): Bindweed, couch grass, creeping buttercup, ground elder Perennial weeds to work at (dig up as and when you can): Broad-leafed dock, burdock, creeping thistle, nettles, spear thistle Perennial weeds that are handsome but intrusive: Comfrey, daisy, dandelion, deadnettle, feverfew, greater celandine, alkanet, hogweed, mallow, plantain, rosebay willowherb, selfheal, silverweed, teasel Annual weeds (never let them seed!): Caper spurge, chickweed, fat hen, goosegrass, groundsel, Himalayan balsam, knotgrass, petty spurge, prickly sowthistle, shepherd_s needle, shepherd_s purse Finally, do not try and eradicate all weeds from the garden. This will not only save you a lot of time and energy but will also greatly enhance the wildlife that feed off them in one form or other. A clump of nettles or the odd thistle, dandelion or ramble of chickweed here and there does more good than harm. Fungus _Fairy rings_ on lawns always provoke a flurry of anxious letters and emails. What on earth can one do about this recurring blight of overlush, coarse green grass on an otherwise immaculate green sward? How can the toadstools that pop up in that grass be eliminated? By the same token I can guarantee a batch of anxious requests, usually in autumn, about how to deal with the horrors of honey fungus or, more often, about the anxieties of not spotting honey fungus in time to save a favourite tree or shrub. In my own garden, box blight has ravaged growth on hundreds of yards of hedges and destroyed over 60 large topiary balls, some of which I have been training and nurturing for over 30 years. This year I cut down four Portuguese laurels because they had silver leaf, a fungal infection that lifts the surface of the leaves and eventually kills the tree. All these are fungal problems. All have got worse over the past ten years and are set to continue getting worse for the foreseeable future. Yet I can honestly say that I welcome fungi in my garden and acknowledge that without it, very little indeed would grow. In just a teaspoonful of soil, you would expect to find around 10,000 species of fungi. These are part of the indescribably complex synthesis that enables plants to grow healthily. Most fungi exist below the ground as mycelium, which have wide-spreading filaments that feed on decomposing matter. So a _fairy ring_ in your lawn marks the extent of the mycelium growing outwards underground like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. The reason that the grass is greener and longer at the outer limit of the circle is that the fungus has used all the nutrients in the soil within the circle, whereas at the edge, it excretes chemicals into the ground ahead to provide it with food, and the grass temporarily responds by growing lusher. When the fungus meets a barrier of some kind it will stop and die, and the grass within it will recover its health. As to stopping or limiting it, nothing is more effective than reducing compaction and providing good drainage. Most fungi thrive in warm, damp conditions and our mild autumns and winters, and damp summers are making fungal _problems_ more common. The truth is that every garden will suffer from fungal problems all the time. But good housekeeping can help a great deal. Light and air should be encouraged within borders and among individual plants. Black spot on roses always thrives in warm, damp conditions. Canker and scab in fruit trees flourish where the drainage around the fruit tree_s roots is poor and where unpruned branches restrict airflow. I welcome fungi in my garden and acknowledge that without it, very little indeed would grow Clematis wilt is caused by the fungus Phoma clematidina entering into a damaged part of the stem. The best defence is to plant deeply with at least an inch of stem below soil level, and to carefully support growing stems so that they do not get damaged by wind. Honey fungus, Armillaria, manifests itself above ground by clumps of tawny toadstools appearing from early autumn at the base of trees or bushes. These toadstools are perfectly harmless but between the bark and wood you will find white mats of mycelium, and around affected roots, just below the soil surface, you will find black, lace-like strands called rhizomorphs. It is these that spread the fungus from dead to neighbouring living, woody tissue. But life depends upon fungi. Every compost heap needs fungi to turn woody waste material like plant stems into crumbly compost. And all dead wood is decomposed primarily by fungal action. So dousing your soil with fungicide is like dropping an atom bomb to kill an individual. It is rarely worth the collateral damage to your garden. Instead, give thanks to the fungi that enable our gardens to grow. Pests The best defence against any pest or disease is a healthy plant. Plants that grow in a soil with good structure, that are not in any way forced against the weather, location or in their growth, are in my experience remarkably trouble-free. The second important defence against inevitable so-called _pests_ in the garden is to encourage and sustain a balanced ecosystem. Leave your garden untouched, and a balance will establish itself containing a vast range of creatures that live with the plants. But by definition, a garden is an unnatural place. One of the skills is to assimilate that tight human control into a balance with the local wildlife. At first, when you _go organic_ and deliberately stop using all herbicides, pesticides and fungicides, there will be a degree of anarchy. Certain pests will dominate. Certain fungal problems or diseases will get worse. Stick with it. You have created an imbalance in your garden and nature is restoring sanity but this involves a certain amount of see-sawing. Expect everything to get worse for the first year and then start to improve thereafter. It takes about three years for there to be a relaxed, self-sustaining equilibrium between plants, pests and predators but once established, it is very easy to maintain. Make the garden a comfortable, easy place for your plants to thrive in rather than a collection of trophies clinging onto life despite rather than because of the soil, climate and position. The best advice for any gardener is always to work with nature wherever you are, however, certain creatures do present more problems than others. Moles Mole numbers are on the increase, possibly due to wet and mild winters extending the breeding season. Moles can move their own weight in soil every minute and they produce a network of tunnels mostly about 2ft beneath the soil surface. The result is earthy carnage to a lawn. However, there are two consolations if your garden is occupied by moles. The first is that it is an indicator that you have a healthy soil with plenty of earthworms _ which are their favourite food, although they also eat slugs. The second is that you will be provided with a good supply of molehills which, mixed with garden compost and sharp sand, make excellent potting compost. Moles are solitary, only meeting up in the breeding season, which is between the end of February and May. Then they will make long tunnels just below the surface of the soil when looking for a mate. Although it is sometimes hard to believe, it is very unlikely that anything other than the largest garden will contain more than two moles, as their average density is about four per acre. Rabbits For anyone who lives in a remotely rural position, these can be a real pest. I wrap fine chicken wire around all my fruit trees because they can easily kill a tree simply by nibbling round the trunk. If rabbits are a major problem, the only solution is to put up a chicken-wire fence round as big an area as you can, sinking it a foot deep into the ground and at least 3ft high. This is expensive and a pain to do, but will make a rabbit-free zone in which to grow the plants that matter to you most. Remember that any enclosure is only as secure as its gate. Rabbits seem not to eat certain plants including hostas, foxgloves, crocosmias, euphorbias, geraniums, irises, kniphofia, peonies and nepeta. Slugs and snails The healthy plant syndrome applies to slugs and snails as much as any pest, and since there are a number of slug and snail predators, from birds, hedgehogs, toads and moles to beetles, let that predatory balance establish itself. One useful tip is to grow fairly large batches of lettuce in blocks. This literally saturates the slug larder. The lettuces grow faster than the slugs can eat them, provided that they are grown initially in a slug-free zone like a cold frame or greenhouse and are planted out when they are growing strongly. The biggest slugs do not necessarily do the most damage. There are four main garden slugs: 1.1. The grey field slug, which will eat anything and will reproduce three generations a year. 2.2. The garden slug is shiny black with an orange belly, and is also omnivorous; its party trick is to eat off bean plants at ground level and riddle potatoes with holes. 3.3. The keeled slug is black, with a thin orange line down the centre of its back; it spends almost all its life underground, feeding off root crops but will also eat what it can when it surfaces. 4.4. The black slug can come in almost any colour but is differentiated from all others by its size, which can reach 8in long. Although this monster looks as though it will eat you out of garden and home, in fact it is the least harmful of all garden slugs. Rotovate to get at the keeled slugs and handpick the field and garden slugs. Leave the poor black slug alone. Caterpillars The only caterpillar that really wreaks havoc in my garden is the cabbage white. There are actually two types: the large and the small white. The large white butterfly lays its eggs on the leaves of any brassicas (cabbages, turnips, radishes) and the emerging yellow and black caterpillars cover them by the hundred, stripping the young plants to a skeleton. The butterflies are attracted by the mustard in brassicas, which the plants develop as a defence against insects. The butterflies take on the mustard taste in their own tissues, which works effectively against predation by birds. The small white lays deeper into the plant and has pure green caterpillars, which do their work less conspicuously but to just as noxious an effect. Spraying the plants with salt water can help, but the best cure is prevention, covering the plants with a fine net from the minute they are planted until October. Otherwise you must go through each plant every day, picking off the caterpillars by hand. Cabbage white butterfly caterpillars feasting on a cauliflower leaf Aphids The best action that the gardener can take against aphids is to encourage ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings into the garden by planting plenty of umbellifers like dill and fennel, or by letting a patch of carrots go to seed. Tits eat a huge amount of aphids as will parasitic wasps. But again, one comes back to the need for healthy plants that do not have too much lush, soft growth, as that is meat and drink to all aphids. The lettuce-root aphid thrives in late summer in very dry conditions. Lettuce will wilt a little and then suddenly completely collapse because the aphids feed off the roots. Lift all the affected plants and compost them, and do not replant with lettuce for another year. The best prevention is to keep your lettuces well-watered. Vine weevils These are second only to slugs and snails as a horticultural hate figure, particularly to plants in containers, yet I confess that I have never had to deal with them in any garden of my own. They are recognisable either from the beetle-like adult covered with yellow specks or the larvae, which are _c_-shaped and creamy white. The adult will eat characteristic irregular holes around the edges of leaves but it is the larvae that do the real damage. The adults are almost all female and will each lay over a hundred eggs in the soil around the host plant from late July. The larvae will then feed on the host_s roots until the following spring, when they pupate. There are pathogenic nematodes that can be watered into the pots at this time of year, and which will attack the grubs. To work properly, the compost must be warm and moist, so water the plants first. The best way to deal with adults is to look for them with a torch at night and pick them off, and before buying any plant in a container, take it out of the pot and check carefully for adults in spring and larvae in late summer. Pigeons Pigeons will strip cabbages, lettuces and peas to a stub unless preventative action is taken. As with caterpillars, prevention is the best answer. If pigeons are really bad in your area, then some kind of permanent netting or cage that can be placed over young plants is a good investment. A temporary net can be made from canes supporting upturned pots, with light netting draped over these, but be sure that there is plenty of clearance between the netting and the plants because the birds will land on the net and peck through it if they can. Failing installing protective netting, some hanging, glittery material that catches in the wind is very effective. We used to use milk bottle tops threaded on string in the days when there were such things, but nowadays old CDs or strips of silver foil will do the trick. Woodlice I have a very soft spot for woodlice. They are the only species of crustacean on this planet that inhabits dry land as opposed to watery places. They feed off decaying wood and are an important cog in the eco-machine that recycles decaying vegetation. However, they can occasionally nibble seedlings in a greenhouse, where the warm damp attracts them. But they much prefer decaying wood and leaves so the best defence is to keep the greenhouse tidy and the plants moving. But the critical thing is that they do far more good for the gardener than harm and in any event they have a range of predators such as toads, centipedes, spiders, millipedes and wasps that will attack and devour them _ hence their defensive strategy of forming a tight little armoured ball until danger passes. Voles Voles can be a severe, if usually unseen, problem. These small mice-like rodents live largely under and in tussocky grass but will eat bulbs, roots, seeds and flower buds, as well as gnawing bark, and can cause real damage without ever being visible to the average gardener. The short-tailed field vole tends to go in for lemming-like population explosions, causes huge damage, then eats itself out of house and home and provides easy meat for the local owl population. Nothing you can do except be stoical and pleased for the boost in owl numbers. Rats Rats do surprisingly little harm short of terrifying and horrifying gardeners. According to our local rat catcher (whose business is rather ominously expanding hugely), sheds and compost heaps are the two places where you are likely to find rats. The answer is to raise your shed a foot off the ground and then buy a terrier that can get under there and sort the rats out. Works a treat. As for compost heaps, I have only ever seen a rat in ours once in the past 20 years. The secret is to chop all composting material up, turn the heap often so it is hot, and never add meat, fats or any cooked material. The result is too hot and unpalatable for rats to take up permanent lodgings. Squirrels When I first moved to this garden, there was just one tree which was a very old and rather gnarled hazel. This bore a quantity of nuts every year, although most would be snaffled by squirrels before they were ripe enough to be gathered and eaten by us. But after a year or two I noticed hazel seedlings popping up, which were nuts that the squirrels had gathered and buried and then forgotten about. These had then germinated and become little hazel saplings. So I started to dig them up and pot them. After a few years, I had about a hundred of them, so decided to plant a little wood or hazel coppice. Now, 20 odd years later, this little wood provides us with all our bean sticks, lots of nuts, and is a beautiful part of the garden, filled with spring flowers like primroses, anemones and bluebells. I suppose I should thank the squirrels for this although it is hard to find a gardener _ and especially a forester _ to say a good word for them, or at least for the grey squirrel. This was introduced into this country from its native North America at the end of the nineteenth century, when ten were released at Woburn Abbey in 1890. They were first considered charming novelties but it soon became apparent that wherever the grey squirrel took residence, the red was quickly driven out or killed. This was primarily because the greys will eat a wide range of nuts and seeds _ as well as eggs and young chicks in spring _ whereas the red will only eat smaller seeds such as pine and spruce nuts. Now grey squirrels are everywhere and do huge damage to forestry _ and garden trees _ by gnawing the bark of trees. All a tree_s food and water is carried from the roots to the branches and leaves via the thin cambium layer that lies between the bark and the wood. Any creature that gnaws a ring around the trunk will cut this supply line and kill the tree. Wasps It is hard to find many good words to say about wasps. Bees sting as a last resort and invariably kill themselves in the process, but wasps will attack seemingly unprovoked and sting repeatedly. Bumblebees are loveable and honeybees noble _ but wasps? Wasps are just scary. Bumblebees are loveable and honeybees noble _ but wasps? Wasps are just scary But good. For a start, there are lots of different kinds of wasps to be found in every garden. Britain has eight kinds of social wasps that share nests and these include the hornet. But there are another 230 species of non-social kinds that live almost solitary lives. They have many guises and lifestyles but most are digger wasps that all have hammer heads and very narrow waists (hence the _wasp-like waist_). They excavate holes in dry banks, which they provision with live prey _ usually caterpillars and aphids but also flies and beetles, and even bees. But it is the social wasps that dominate gardens towards the end of summer. They build exquisitely beautiful nests made from chewed wood pulp that are as light as a feather but strong enough to house thousands of wasps and their eggs. Each one of these delicate, complex constructions is a little wasp township and a miracle of ingenuity. The most often asked question is: what use are wasps? What are they for? You might well ask the same for humans but in general, they are carnivores that eat a large number of caterpillars and aphids. It is only in late summer that they develop their sweet tooth and that time coincides with a huge glut of worker wasps that have finished their nest-building duties and are thus free to hunt for sugar in any form. And as well as predating on garden pests, wasps themselves provide a tasty treat for badgers, buzzards and, above all, spiders which are, perhaps surprisingly, their biggest and most deadly enemy. Earwigs In late summer it is very common to find that the petals of dahlias are clearly chewed and nibbled, often reduced to tattered rags and pale imitations of their supposed glory. The culprits are earwigs that have a distinct penchant for what is _ to them at least _ a juicy and delicious dahlia flower. Conventional horticultural advice is to trap the earwigs overnight by placing an upturned pot or a matchbox on a cane by the dahlia and stuffing it with straw. The earwig goes into this at dawn to rest up, thinking it a convenient safe haven before realising that you, the gardener, are about to come along and extract it from its strawy bed before doing something very unpleasant and probably terminal. But the common earwig is a fascinating creature. Earwigs certainly do not rely upon the dahlia for their daily diet, being pretty much omnivorous and eating other insects that gardeners consider as pests. They thrive in mild, damp conditions, which makes the UK almost ideal for them, but can most readily be found under loose bark or in any woody crevice in great clusters _ attracted to each other by the scent pheromones that they release. The females lay about 30 cream-coloured eggs in underground nests in the new year, and the nymphs hatch out in April, then go through a number of cycles, during which time the female will protect and feed the young until they are large enough to foray out on their own. They seem to like dahlias because in late summer and autumn _ when dahlias are at their best _ the massed petals of the flower heads provide ideal shelter for them and, once ensconced, they nibble a little at their surroundings. Common earwigs have wings and are able to fly but rarely do, whereas there are three other native species of earwig that fly much more often and I _ or more accurately the lamp by my bedside _ have been buzzed by earwigs as I read in bed. One way of telling the difference between the sexes is that males have curved pincers whereas those of the female are more or less straight. Compost The best that you can do for soil _ and therefore for your plants and entire garden _ is to make good garden compost, including as much material grown in your own soil as possible. Compost is like a starter dough. Its most useful role is to top up the soil_s existing bacterial and fungal levels, and encourage the right conditions for plants to access the soil_s nutrients. Its role as a soil conditioner is an excellent side effect _ but one that can also be achieved through using manure or any other organic material. But only garden compost has the richness and diversity of micro-organisms. Organic material does not _rot_ in the soil but is broken down largely by digestion, most notably by earthworms, bacteria and fungi, although scores of invertebrates, insects and nematodes _ as well as slugs and snails _ also contribute to the process. Each of the uncountable organisms that live in the soil _ and it is reckoned that there are billions in every pinch _ take nourishment from the organic matter and move on, so that by the time the organic matter is accessible by plant roots, it has been through a lengthy and _ as yet _ unknowably complex digestion process. Compost is like a starter dough. Its most useful role is to top up the soil_s existing bacterial and fungal levels In light of this complexity, isolating any perceived particular _pest_ or _problem_ is like threading a needle with a bulldozer and will almost certainly harm the ecosystem and structure of your soil. And that harms your garden. When organic material has been completely broken down, what is left in the soil is humus _ and humus is broadly speaking soil that has a high content of long-lasting organic material. Soil of any type that is rich in humus will only need an inch or so of compost added every year as a mulch to provide good growing conditions. Making compost Compost is made from a combination of _green_ material, high in nitrogen _ such as fresh grass clippings or vegetable waste _ and _brown_ matter, high in carbon _ such as straw, dried plant stems and cardboard. Pure _green_ material will decompose very quickly but can turn into a slimy sludge. Pure _brown_ material will take much longer to rot down but will end up in a more manageable state. The ratio of green to brown will vary according to time of year and place, but it is best when it is somewhere between 20_30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Fresh clippings from a lawn are about the _greenest_ matter a garden can regularly provide and these are about 50:50 nitrogen to carbon, so a good rule of thumb is to have at least twice the volume of brown material, high in carbon, to the volume of soft, green material, rich in nitrogen. To that end, it is a good idea to have a supply of straw, bracken, dried stems or cardboard to hand. Making good compost is very straightforward. There are two ways: one fast and laborious, the other slow and easy. For either method, you must gather all the organic material from your home and garden _ meaning kitchen waste (but not meat, fats or cooked starches, as these will attract vermin faster than they will be composted), grass, any and all plant material, green prunings such as summer hedge clippings, cardboard, shredded paper and any animal manure that you have access to. In my garden we use the fast, laborious method. We pile all the organic material up in a collecting bay and then once a week take it out and mow or shred it before adding it to the first compost bay. A reasonably powerful mower does this job very well and dramatically speeds up the composting process. When the first compost bay is full, we transfer its contents to a second compost bay, which stimulates further composting, and we gradually refill the first compost bay from the collecting bay. We then, ideally, turn the contents of the second bay every two or three weeks, but once a month is also practical and effective. By the third or fourth turning _ i.e. after three or four months _ it will have become a sweet-smelling, crumbly, brown compost, pleasant to handle and ready for use. Save your very best compost for growing vegetables and as a component of potting compost. The twiggy, slightly _undercooked_ batches _ and we all produce them _ can be used to mulch around trees, hedges and shrubs. Save your very best compost for growing vegetables and as a component of potting compost If you haven_t the time or ability to turn your compost regularly, you can use the _slow_ method. This involves accumulating a heap _ ideally long and low so it has a large surface area _ of all your compostable material, and leaving it for 12_18 months to slowly decompose. After a year, the interior will have become fine compost. The exterior can then be used to start a new heap. Although easy, this method does require more space than the average garden can spare, and more time. However you make compost, remember that the work is being done primarily by bacteria, with an important role played by fungi. For bacteria to do their work well, they need air and moisture. Turning the compost will provide the air, while moisture can be regulated either by leaving the heap open to the rain or by watering it with a hose as necessary. All garden and kitchen waste is regularly turned from bay to bay until it comes out the other end as perfect garden compost

  • The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw /  .   (by Jeff Kinney, 2009) -   The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The
  • Toy Story 3 /   3 (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story 3 /
  • The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts /   :    (by Gary Chapman, 2010) -   The Five Love Languages: The
  •    .  .   ..,  ..,  .. (2015, 960) + mp3 .

, , .

  • .

  • ,