Types of Gardens – For the Impatient Gardener
The Impatient Gardener
To achieve an instant garden requires the combination of design techniques with the correct choice of hard materials and plant species, and most importantly money. Unfortunately many of the techniques used to change a bare patch into an instant paradise can be expensive, but like house furnishing there will be several priorities that the impatient gardener will think worth the expenditure.
Perhaps the most expensive items, and the most instantaneous features that can be incorporated into a garden, are the ‘architectural’ elements. These comprise manufactured or easily built features such as paths, walls and pergolas, which make the skeleton of the garden and also reduce the planting area.
Terraces and Patios
Impatient gardeners are frequently lazy gardeners and after a few hectic weeks installing the garden, they will appreciate a terrace or patio on which to sit and plan future improvements. A terrace can easily be built in a few days, and by using second-hand stone or brick achieves instant maturity.
Whilst building the terrace, incorporate a few carpeting plants in smallpockets between the paving. Good plants to grow include Sagina subulata, a tiny moss-like plant with linear leaves and minute white flowers in summer; the thrift or sea pink (Armeria maritima), with dark green, linear leaves and lavender-pink flowers from June to August; moschata x Peter Pan, with evergreen rosettes and pink flowers in late spring; or thyme ( ), another evergreen with small, dark green oval leaves and small, purplish spikes of flowers in early summer.
No terrace is complete without a seat, or chairs and a table, and room should be found for a couple of garden pots and planters or tubs. At first these can be planted up with bedding plants which can later be replaced by specimen shrubs, such as, which can then be moved onto the terrace during their flowering period.
Paths and Drives
Paths are usually built as soon as possible for ease of access to all corners of the garden. There is a wide range of materials, and choice will depend on the desired finish and also the quantities of money and skills available. For the do-it-yourself gardener, bricks make an attractive, reasonably cheap finish, but to employ a bricklayer will more than double the costs. Paving bricks can be hard baked, or overfired, with colours varying from yellow to reds and oranges. Although usually laid flat in an even or broken-jointed pattern there are other attractive bonds, such as herringbone. In addition to ‘regular’ bricks, laid flat, there is a range of specially made pavers which are usually smaller, thinner and cheaper than bricks.
Stone paving is attractive, but very expensive. Use it in small quantities, perhaps interspersed with brick, and remember that local sources of secondhand stone may be available as many local authorities sell off old paving slabs. Old York stone is uneven in shape and thickness, faults which have to be rectified when laying. Newly quarried stone is of even size and can easily be given a weathered look by washing with manure water.
Broken stone slabs are cheaper and if used with carpeting plants can form an attractive informal path or patio. Reconstituted stone is also cheaper than the ‘real thing’ and is available in a range of sizes, shapes and colours.
Stone cobbles may be used to break up areas of stone or brick. They are usually available in a size known as hens’ eggs, and can easily be made into an edging to contrast with other types of paving, as infill panels or as a drainage channel to collect surface water run-off. Another material, used in much the same way, is granite setts. These are available in various sizes and can be grey in colour (from Scotland or Cornwall) or pink (imported from Portugal). Half setts can be laid in beautiful fan patterns, but this usually requires an expert paviour.
Loose or compacted gravel are easy surfaces to lay, either as paths or beds; and the simplest of instant gardens in a limited space is to imitate the Japanese style and combine two or three sizes of gravel, a few boulders and two or three evergreen trees. Self-binding gravels include red or yellow Breedon gravel, which make an attractive drive or all-weather play surface for children. Gravels also have the advantage of being one of the cheapest surfacing materials available. Unfortunately they are prone to weed invasion, but a well-prepared bed plus suitable weedkillers or light hoeing will keep that problem in check.
Pergolas are another architectural element which will provide an instant feature in the garden. They look impressive built with pillars of stone, brick or oak, with teak, larch or oak beams (depending on money available); these are also available in kit form. Also easily built or purchased in kit form are a variety of screen walls made from glazed clay units, pierced concrete blocks, honeycomb brick, bamboo or timber lattice. Both screens and pergolas can be softened by a wide variety of .
Garden Pots and Planters, Containers and Ornaments
Stone or terracotta ornaments such as tubs and pots can be used to provide a sense of instant maturity to a new garden and can be filled initially withor bedding plants. The African lily (Agapanthus campanulatus) will look spectacular in a pot, with bell-shaped blue (or white) flowers produced from June to September. This plant also has unusual strap-shaped leaves and although generally hardy may need some protection in cold areas. Day (Hemerocallis) are also attractive in stone pots; many cultivars are available with red, pink, orange or yellow flowers plus arching broad grassy leaves which make this an ideal accent plant.
Although stone pots are traditional, the genuine articles are expensive and there is now available an interesting range of reconstituted stone pots. Most surprising, and effective, are ‘stone’ urns made from glass-fibre, which have the added advantage of being easy to move. Also spectacular is a 1.2m (4ft) Ali Baba pot which looks like terracotta, but is also made from glass-fibre.
Another range of garden ornaments with a practical use are seats. Available in teak, red cedar, stone, wrought or cast iron, they provide an immediate sense of place in the garden. For maximum impact the impatient gardener could plant one semi-mature tree in the lawn, surround it by a wrought iron seat around the base, and immediately attain a sense of timelessness that could have taken 30 years to achieve.
Although the architectural elements can give an impression of an established garden, they are not complete until clothed with plants. By careful selection, however, even the trees and shrubs can look established in a surprisingly short time.
For the impatient gardener, semi-mature trees are an easy solution. Brought in and planted from 8 – 12m (25- 40ft) high they are a perfect, if expensive, instant garden. Many of the more popular trees are available in this large size, such as alder, mountain ash, birch, ash, London plane, oak and lime. However, the cost involved, plus the risk of checking growth, often makes smaller-sized advanced nursery stock of about 5m (17ft) better value for money.
There are other solutions. Certain trees such as willow, sycamore and poplar grow extremely quickly. Even if planted young, say 2m (7ft) high, they will rapidly fill out. Eucalyptus is another good, fast-growing evergreen tree. Eucalyptus gunnii, the cidar gum, has unusual glaucous, rounded, bluish leaves when young which become sickle shaped and sage green on older trees.
The weeping willow (Salix alba Tristis’) is another popular, rapidly growing tree (for people with, frequently too rapid). Salix x chrysocoma will quickly grow to 18m (60ft), although careful pruning will restrict its development. Young trees can be planted up to 9m (30ft) high and although they prefer a moist soil will tolerate most conditions. One word of warning: willow roots have a tendency to seek out any water and even slightly damaged drains may prove attractive to feeding roots.
Non-weeping willows also grow rapidly. Salix alba and its cultivars are spectacular, even in small gardens. ‘Chermesina’ and Vitellina’ have bright orange and yellow shoots respectively in winter, which provide an unusual splash of colour. These can be cut back regularly. Both to restrict growth and encourage the following year’s colourful stems.
Conifers such as the Leyland cypress ( xleylandii) grow rapidly and can be used to form a quick screen or a specimen tree. The Lawson cypress ( lawsoniana) is another fast-grower that will quickly add height to a new planting scheme.
It is well worth planting several of the quick-growing deciduous shrubs which can be interspersed with slower-growing ones. Amongst the most effective, and available from nurseries in a large size, are the mock orange (Coronarius), dogwood ( alba sibirica ‘Westonbirt’ ), golden bell bush ( x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ ) and yellow elder (Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’ ). Good evergreens that are usually available up to 1m (3ft) high include x stenophylla, with arching branches covered in golden-yellow flowers in April and May, followed by blue-black berries in August; Ilex ‘Golden King’. A spreading holly with few spines and bright golden leaf margins; and x ebbingei, with unusual dark green leaves overlaid with fine white down, silvery on the reverse, plus fragrant white flowers in October and November.
Ground-cover shrubs are of immense value to the impatient gardener for covering large areas of ground by suppressing. For an instant effect plant very thickly and thin or transplant later.
A fast growing shrub is salicifolius ‘Autumn Fire’, which has evergreen willow-like leaves, and small white flowers in May followed by clusters of red berries in autumn. This succeeds on any soil and will tolerate some shade. The checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) is best on peaty soils and is noted for its thick, shiny leaves and berries.
Ivies are famous for their rapid growth. The common ivy (helix) is most useful to impatient gardeners, forming a dense evergreen . The slightly less impatient can try the Irish ivy (H. h. ‘Hibernica’ ), which has large, bright green leaves.
Also useful as a ground cover is the carpet or Spanish juniper (Juniperus sabina tamariscifolia). Available as a substantial plant, this has a dense, prostrate habit with layered branching and feathery foliage that is greyish green when young, developing to bright green when older.
Shrub roses provide a useful collection of plants for the impatient gardener as they are available in a reasonable size and usually flower in the first year after planting. Amongst those worth a place in a new garden is Rosa x cantabrigiensis, an arching specimen with fragrant leaves and creamy-yellow single flowers in May and June followed by small round orange hips.
Rosa moschata ‘Penelope’, a musk rose, is a sturdy and vigorous plant with semi-double, scented, creamy-pink flowers fading to a paler shade. The coral-pink hips are covered with a grey bloom. Rosa rugosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’ is a good perpetual-flowering rose. Dark rose flowers with crimson stamens are followed by large, globular crimson hips. This rose has a dense habit and grows to lm (3ft) high. Although it prefers well-drained, light soil and full sun, it will succeed in most locations.
Climbing shrubs can soon give an established feel to a garden, especially if they are quick-growing. One climber guaranteed to please any impatient gardener is the Russian vine, (Fallopia baldschuanica , better known asbaldschuanicum ). It can grow up to 4.5m (15ft) in one season, given a deep loamy soil; a deciduous climber with slender twining stems, it is covered with a mass of feathery creamy-pink flowers from July to October.
Other good climbers include Vitis coignetiae, a tendril climber with huge leaves turning brilliant scarlet in autumn, and, a climbing hydrangea that will thrive on a north wall. This has flat heads of white flowers, which cover the plant in June and July.
For a really instant garden the most impressive results can be obtained by using either half-hardyas bedding plants, or rapidly grown from seed. These are all best against an evergreen background and can be used between shrubs that are becoming established. Good examples of popular annuals that provide a plethora of flowers are larkspur, clarkia, godetia, calendulas and cornflowers. Buy young bedding plants in May from a nursery or market garden. Look out for semperflorens, Iceland poppies, stocks, petunias, African and French marigolds, lobelias, verbenas, zinnias and the spectacular salvias.
Making a Start
A lawn is usually one of the first tasks, and using turf will be the quickest way to establish a lawn. If seeding is preferred for economic or other reasons, sow in August or September to produce a usable lawn by the following summer.
Planting of bare-rooted trees and shrubs is usually restricted to autumn and spring, although evergreens can be planted in May and September. By choosing container-grown plants, however, a start can be made any time the ground is workable.
Choose well-tried, vigorous species available from a local nursery. As these establish and rapidly change the shape and character of the bare patch, that is perhaps the time to think of a few slower-growing plants which can be added to complete the picture.