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7 ways to create a stunning garden – with the RHS

We’ve chatted to the Garden Manager at Royal Horticultural Society Garden Wisley to help you create the perfect small plot, even without any gardening experience.

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Our Stonewater Homes are often perfectly suited to busy lives. This means typically we’ll offer a small garden. This size is easy to maintain, but offers you that all-important outdoor space.

You might not have much gardening practise. And if you’ve just moved house, budgets may be tight. That’s fine with us.

We spoke to the good folks at the RHS to get tips for creating a beautiful garden that’s affordable to create and easy to maintain.

 

1. Pots and containers

A great way to add colour and interest to any garden is with the use of containers. Start by adding a couple of pots to your patio. It’s worth investing in frost-proof terracotta pots - they’ll last a long time and add an earthy look.

Planting in containers is easy. See what takes your eye - you might decide to plant some nice bulbs for spring. In summer, add gazanias or petunias, or perhaps a simple evergreen shrub. Most hardy perennial plants will last in a container for a year or two, before you might need to change the soil or give them a thorough feed with mulch or manure.

2. Create small planting beds

If you’ve got a small garden, look around the edges of the grass and think about where you could position beds. If the lawn is square, a circular grass centerpiece with four triangular beds in each corner can look fantastic. Or consider having a strip of lawn down the middle, forming a pathway, with planting beds either side.

We’d recommend pegging out the area first using rope, stepping back and deciding what fits best for your garden shape. Once you’re ready, lift the turf and use a large fork to loosen the soil underneath. You can keep the edges of the bed neat with an edging tool, or an ordinary garden spade.

 

3. Pick a tree

There’s plenty of interesting smaller trees available to suit any garden. For example the Arbutus or ‘strawberry tree’ is evergreen, hardy and stays compact, making it easy to care for.

If your garden is sunny, you might want to consider a small fruit tree. English apple trees come in many varieties but do need pruning. Alternatively, a crabapple tree such as Malus Golden Hornet’ looks spectacular when covered in fruit.

Shady gardens would suit an Acer palmatum, a delicate tree that tolerates partial shade. Or perhaps a Trachycarpus fortunei, a type of hardy palm tree - but make sure to get a decent sized specimen, because this tree grows rather slowly.

4. Sort your soil

It’s worth examining the soil in every garden. Is it dark and rich looking? Or clay-like and sandy? Don’t worry about doing lots of digging. Just make sure you remove any large rocks before you plant directly into the soil and mulch with manure (or a similar organic medium) in February/March. Spreading mulch around the plants helps to break down clay soil and adds body to sandy soil. To feed your plants, sprinkle with a granular feed such as Osmocote or water with a generic liquid feed from the garden centre.

Mulch suppresses weeds, looks nice and feeds your soil year-round. Manure based mulch is most common, but you can use bark chips instead. Be careful though, as some bark chips can actually take nutrients out of the soil. Bracken mulch, for example, is not as high in nutrients as other varieties. If you have fallen leaves in the garden, instead of removing them in the Autumn a clever trick is to mulch on top of them. This traps the leaves, helping them to break down and fertilise the soil further.

5. Create interesting areas

Once your soil is prepared, it’s time to add some interest. We always say, ‘Right plant, right place.’ So, if you’ve got a shady garden, choose plants that like the shade. If you’ve got sun, pick plants that enjoy being baked.

To begin with, choose 3-4 varieties of plants and buy in quantity if they are small. This can create a simple colour palette and make upkeep more straightforward. For structure, try a shrub like Fatsia japonica (a popular evergreen, exotic-looking plant) or a relative Fatsia polycarpa.  For a sunny spot try Hibiscus, which comes in a range of colours and flower all summer long. If you like a challenge, try Dahlia which look stunning in a small garden but need digging up and over-wintering as tubers in cold wet soils.

Perennial plants are worthy additions, returning each year to bloom. We love Rudbeckia, Geranium, Epimedium and lavender. Consider getting some nice herbs; rosemary or thyme return each year and love sunshine. The RHS website is great for further advice: get access to a free personal gardening coach, where you can create lists of flowers and shrubs suited to your garden and monthly reminders to help you care for your plants.

Floral Fantasia bedding display at RHS Garden Hyde Hall

6. Pick up some key tools

To maintain your beautiful garden, there’s only a few key items you’ll need:

  • A sturdy weeding fork and hand fork
  • Pair of secateurs
  • Garden shears for clipping
  • A spade and trowel for planting
  • A garden rake for pesky winter leaves (don’t forget to transfer these to your beds and leave them to rot)
  • A strimmer will do for small patches of grass, but you might want a lawn mower if you’ve got a larger area.

 

7. Easy-care plants to get you started

  • Fatsia japonica - a popular exotic plant which takes care of itself
  • Geranium are exceptionally hardy, easy to grow perennials which come in a variety of colours
  • Iris looks beautiful and although it needs lifting and dividing every few years, it is still very easy to care for
  • Allium bulbs come up year after year
  • Phlox is a purple perennial that creates a meadow-effect of small flowers
  • Roses flower all summer long, if you remember to prune in late winter / early spring
  • Cotinus or smoke tree has stunning purple leaves
  • Ferns such as Dryopteris erythrosora, a gorgeous semi-evergreen shield fern, look exotic and interesting all year round
  • Hydrangea is a classic English flower, just don’t forget to water it in summer

For further advice, head to the RHS advice page which contains sections for beginners and garden design. Or speak with a member of the Stonewater Homes team about finding your perfect garden sanctuary.