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Getting Creative in the Garden

Written by Steven Howard from N/D Garden Design

Steven is an eco-friendly garden designer and consultant based in Ashbourne, Derbyshire


By May, the garden is a hustle and bustle of life, the busiest time of year for both the gardener and the wildlife that calls the garden home. Most gardeners and garden designers would tell you that, while May is not necessarily the right time of year to start planning your garden, it's certainly a good time to see where changes need to be made in your planting. The early summer gap before the main show in June can be a tricky one to fill but there are a few design tricks and tips to help make sure the garden looks beautiful all year round.


Choosing the right plants for a garden can often be the biggest part of the battle and understanding what will work and what won't work, whether that be aesthetically or otherwise, is why gardeners with good knowledge are so sought after. It's important to remember to utilise what works and not try to force things and then run with it. Grouping three, five or seven of the same plant is a brilliant way of adding continuity, structure and order to your garden. The same can be said for grouping flowers of the same colour. Having lots of different flowers chosen from the same colour palette is a wonderful way of designing your planting scheme but, rather than simply adopting a buy-one-of-everything approach, try choosing three of each to maximise on form and texture. If you notice you have a flower or colour gap in your garden it's a good idea to go to the garden centre or nursery and buy plants which are just coming into bloom. If you do this once a month and buy in groups you'll always have something flowering in the garden.


Permanent Structure

One element of garden design which cannot be overlooked is how to incorporate permanent structure. Topiary, whether it be large and lavish garden sculptures or simple clipped balls or mounds, really add a touch of class and elegance to a garden as well as giving shape and structure through the whole year. Topiary pieces are a versatile addition to the garden, adding a focal point which draws the eye but also giving a neutral backdrop to allow the flowers to perform in front of. Although the more traditional Box (Buxus sempervirens) is becoming a less wise choice, due mainly to the rise of the Box Moth caterpillar, there are plenty of suitable alternatives which work just as well. One of my favourites, which I use in most of the gardens I create, is Pittosporum tenuifolium. Although it grows quicker than Box, it holds its shape well and helps to create structure in the border.


Learning More

Whether you're just starting to learn about gardening or planning a big project over the next few months, there are some fantastic books which might help get the creative juices flowing. Here are a few I recommend which will give you a helping hand in creating a beautiful garden.


  • Dream Plants for the Natural Garden by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen

  • Garden Style by Heidi Howcroft and Marianne Majerus

  • The No-Dig Children’s Gardening Book by Charles Dowding

  • The Cottage Garden by Claus Dalby

  • Resilient Garden: Sustainable Gardening for a Changing Climate by Tom Massey

  • Wild: The Naturalistic Garden by Noel Kingsbury

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