Monday August 02 2021




Gardening with Hannah Genders

Being bold in the garden

Posted on November 27 2017 at 11:30:18 0 comments


Hannah Genders helps clients ‘go for it’ with a new design.

When drawing up a garden design for clients, one of the most helpful things for them is the chance to develop the garden in stages and not all at once.

It enables a client to implement the design over time, when the funds are available, and means whatever work is carried out will work as part of a whole scheme.

I would estimate that at least half of the projects I undertake are built like this and there is also the issue of planting at the right time.

For instance, at this time of year we are re-visiting projects to add bulbs, followed by trees that are rootball (field-grown) and not container-grown as they are cheaper and can be planted anytime between the end of November and February.

Sometimes, on the other hand, a client will plan to do the work in stages but become so enthusiastic when we’ve completed the design stage they just go for the whole lot! This was the case on a recent project in Barnt Green, a garden design and rebuild for Jan and John Blackhall.

At the initial meeting Jan and John gave me quite a challenging brief. Jan was very direct (and I liked her immediately for it), telling me they had three very lively dogs that needed to run in the garden, but that equally she wanted a vegetable garden, and beautifully-planted borders.

In truth, the garden had been fairly wrecked by the dogs running around it, the lawn was very bare, and they had destroyed any plants that were low enough for them to get hold of.

Jan and John also had an existing swimming pool that they had ordered a cover for, so it could be used for a longer time throughout the year – so this needed to be in the design as well.

In the initial sketch ideas, I proposed an area for the dogs that was fenced off to contain them, and to make this look attractive using cleft chestnut and gates to match.

This gave the dogs just a little under half the garden, a lawn area and a few trees planted large enough for them not to reach the branches!

The swimming pool cover was allowed for and this meant redoing all the paving around the pool. To the left of the pool was an area that was sunny and secluded; the ideal place to have an extended patio.

As it was part of my brief to have well-planted cottage garden borders, I designed these in at the back of this sitting area, where there was plenty of sunshine and enough depth to make a really good display.

Both Jan and John love the heavily-scented old English style roses, so these were incorporated into the planting scheme.

The soil in the garden contains quite a lot of clay, so while Jan was very keen on having lavender, we created the same effect along the front edge of this border with a low-growing catmint called Nepeta racemosa ‘Walkers Low.’

It flowers from May to September and has silvery leaves and light purple flowers in abundance, so it does look like lavender from a distance.

It is called catmint because cats love it – they can lie on it and chew the leaves – although in this case the dogs are likely to keep them out of the garden.

Along with the catmint we planned to have plenty of colour from cottage garden perennials, like Salvia nemorosa Caradonna with its stunning dark blue flower, a brightly-coloured, tall geum called ‘Mrs Bradshaw’, and a little pink dianthus which I found in an organic nursery near me.

There is quite a lot of height in this border and it’s deep enough front to back to take it, but as Jan and John also wanted to have a summerhouse (they chose a breezehouse) at the top of this border we planted some mature shrubs to half-hide the breezehouse and give the garden depth.

The bulbs we planted sweep through this border to give it long-lasting movement and colour: drifts of the very dark purple tulip ‘Queen of the Night’ and a bright red tulip to contrast called ‘High Scarlet’.

As I can buy bulbs at wholesale prices we tend to plant several hundred at a time, adding some real drama to existing planting.

The other great thing about the transformation of this garden was being able to recycle old garden ornaments that Jan and John had collected over the years.

We stood some wonderful old sandstone millwheels in the perennial border and planted around them; we also built a water feature out of two of these larger sandstone ornaments and the water bubbles up through it on the patio near the house.

Along with exuberantly-planted borders, Jan was keen to have a greenhouse and grow some food in raised beds. The greenhouse sits towards the rear of the garden in its own fenced-off area, again to keep the dogs out, and we built a raised bed from new oak sleepers.

The brick path runs from the back door to the greenhouse and it now looks like it’s been there forever.

Jan has also proved to be an excellent veg grower – I’m really impressed with all she can grow in a relatively small space. Her mangetout looked amazing this summer; she grew both the green and purple podded varieties (I had to admit they looked better than mine).

We did manage to get some lavender in, to hide the new swimming pool cover. We designed in and built a rendered wall which had space for planting in the top, and I planted this up with one of the taller English lavenders called Lavendula x intermedia to add height to the wall.

This is an idea you can try if your soil is not suitable for lavender – just create the right conditions in a pot or raised border.

The garden is now pretty much put to bed for the winter; it’s been mulched well and I’m sure it will pop up next year and look better than ever.

Wishing all Village readers a very Happy Christmas and good gardening in 2018.

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