So what did you lose last winter? By now you should have a pretty good idea, whether it is shrubs (or parts of them) that have failed to come into leaf, or perennials that just haven’t reappeared from the ground this year.

Last winter was a pretty hard one in the UK. Even down here on the south coast, we actually had snow lying and icy conditions. Further north, things were obviously a bit harder, with deep snow lying for weeks.

Slight signs of life in the cotinus

I have been very pleased to find that virtually everything survived the winter. The plant that seems to have suffered most is cotinus.  Two of my three cotinus shrubs have lost major branches.  Luckily part of the plants have survived, but the shrubs are now looking a little unbalanced.  This weekend, I was going to tidy up some more twigs that I thought had also been lost, but on closer inspection, there appears to be slight signs of life on them.  So, I’m going to wait a couple more weeks to see if they actually will come back to life.

A new hosta (with canine protection)

Other than that, I seem to have been very lucky.  There are very few “holes” in my planting.  There have been a few spots where I could put in an extra plant but really very few.  Thank goodness the days of mass plant purchasing seem to be over.  It wasn’t just the effect on my pocket, but rather the thought of having to dig holes and plant up to forty plants at a time.  These days, it tends to be ten or less in one go.  I bought three new hostas – this one has gone in a place that hisorically has not been good for plant survival.  I’m not sure why it is, but the plant got immediate protection (the metal plant support), just in case it is the dogs that reduce my survival rates. 

Our main herb pot

We always anticipate losing a lot of our herbs, after all they are mainly suited to a Mediterranean climate.  This year, only a thyme and chives made it through, and the mint of course, but that is in a seperate pot.  A couple of new herbs we are trying this year are Sorrel, for salad leaves with very interesting green and reddish leaves (at about 4 o’clock in the photo) and  Hedge Germander, said to be good in vermouth, but I liked its lovely dark green leaves (at about 10 o’clock in the photo). 

Keeping herbs in a pot is a must for us to avoid contamination from the dogs, but it is easier only having bitches.  Luckily when dogs visit, the location of the pot, behind them as they come out of the door and on a small step, seems to mean that it is not an attractive target for leg lifting :).

We were very lucky this winter – hope you were as fortunate.

Now I had Debbie’s brief and pictures of the garden, we needed to talk.  We spent a very happy hour chatting about the garden.

The first job that Debbie has to do is get a soil testing kit and determine whether her soil is acidic or alkaline as this will have a great impact on the sorts of plants she will be able to grow.  Unfortunately she couldn’t think of any plants in the neighbourhood that would give us a quick indication (like hydrangeas which, despite the variety, tend to be blue in acidic soil and pink in alkaline.  The good news is that she lives in an agricultural area and the ground is very fertile, with a clay base.

Area A

Area A

The area by the conservatory is the first one that Debbie wants to work on.  It has changed slightly since the photo was taken as the ground between the fence and the path now has been covered with top soil. 

I felt that the first thing that we had to discuss was Debbie’s comment that she didn’t like climbers as that fence is just crying out to be covered with plants.   I tend not to like bare fences at the best of times, but in this case it is so close to the conservatory that the fence really has to provide an interesting view.

It turned out that Debbie’s key dislike was for plants such as ivy, honeysuckle and clematis, so I suggested that she might want to consider wall shrubs instead.  The one that immediately came to mind for a north facing situation like this was Chaenomeles (the Japanese Quince).  I have previously fan trained these on a fence and they have such pretty flowers in late winter or early spring when we all need cheering up, and then in the summer their deep green leaves provide a lovely backdrop for other plants.  Debbie liked this plant, and as it turned out, had previously contemplated fan training an apple tree.

Now that we had established that Debbie was happy to consider plants on the fence, we had to look at a few other options.  For this, we went to the RHS Plant Selector.  You are able to select a wide variety of features that you want.  As we were looking for plants that would take a north facing aspect, we didn’t make too many selections as not many plants are happy in such a location and we didn’t want to restrict our options too much.  

Once Debbie had an idea of wall shrubs, we moved on to take a look at giving the bed structure.  Whilst the wall shrubs would provide a backdrop, there needs to be more interest at different heights.  To get her thinking, I suggested Miscanthus to give height and winter interest and hardy Geraniums which are the most wonderful robust plants (perfect for dog lovers).

Next, we turned our attention to the short bit of the “L” at the back of the conservatory.  I felt that unless Debbie put some interest into that area, it could quite easily become a wasted space  with no reason to go there.  However since it will be easily seen from the conservatory, it needs to provide interest.  Debbie’s mention of herbs in her original mail made me think of a herb garden here.  I plant my herbs in pots to avoid any “dog contamination”, but Debbie has the space here to put in raised beds if she wants.  We also realised that the fence at the back of this little sun trap is south facing and could be very suitable for some fruit, maybe peaches or apricots.  Since it is so close to the house, it would be very easy to pop out at night and protect the fruit if a frost were forcast.

The more we talked, the more I could feel Debbie becoming like a child in a sweet shop – she just wanted to go exploring the plants :).  But there was one other tool that I wanted to introduce Debbie to and that was the RHS Plant Finder.  Rather than going to your local garden center and having a small selection of any type of plant, why not use a specialist nursery.  The Plant Finder helps you track down growers all over the country and also provides details of mail order suppliers – a wonderful resource.

So now I will wait for the next installment from Debbie as to how she gets on with her garden.

Hi Finuala

I wondered if I could take you up on your offer of help with my ‘garden’? If you can’t spare the time, or I am asking either too much or the impossible, please tell me to go away – I will not be offended!

By the end of this week we should say goodbye to workmen. I feel as if we’ve been living with them all year. But we are fenced, built, paved and almost ready to plant!

I have drawn a plan which may or may not make sense, and attached 4 photos.

Garden Layout

Garden Layout

The ‘garden’ area is a 26m x 36m rectangle, which we drive across, both with the cars and tractor. The perimeter is dog proof, but within the area the dogs have free access. The main ‘chase’ area is across the diagonal B to D.

 I have identified 4 areas (A,B,C & D) that, over time, I would like to develop and plant. It will be a long term project, as the dogs, business, and food (growing and rearing) will always take priority.

Area A

Area A

Area B

Area B








Area D

Area D

Area C

Area C








 I think I would like each area to be ‘different’ but I have no great master plan – yet!!

I want to start with area A. It is an upside down ‘L’  13m along the long side, 5.5m along the short. The planting width is 1m along the long side, 1.5m along the short side. It is the area that we will ‘live in.’ I have no idea what to plant, but the following thoughts are going through my mind…..

  • The planting area is very narrow, and I feel the fence needs breaking up with height, but I am not a lover of climbers.
  • I need it, when planted to be low maintenance.
  • I would like year round ‘interest’ but not necessarily lots of bright colours.
  • I would like to try and incorporate some herbs, but this is not essential, and I’m not sure about the ‘pee’ factor!!

 Soil is fertile, well drained, morning sun, but then in shade of fence.

 Does any of this make any sense????!!!!!

 I would greatly appreciate any suggestions or advice you can offer.

 Many thanks