How to Make a Beautiful Garden
What you can change, and how and when, and what goes best where
Although all plants need light, not all need full sunlight and many ornamentals, especially golden varieties, need partial shade or they get leaf burn. Generally, though, the problem is of insufficient light due to overhanging trees and shade from nearby buildings.
Pruning may allow more light in and dark places can be brightened with white paint. Under cover electric light can supplement weak winter sunlight, and all glass and plastic should be kept scrupulously clean to prevent light loss.
Some plants are very sensitive to day length. and bolt into flower if they are sown much before the longest day; and chrysanthemums need a short day length to initiate the formation of their flower buds, but will go on to flower in longer days. We can use this to persuade them to flower out of season simply by providing electric light or by covering them with a blanket on a frame.
This interacts with light and shelter — the more light reaching, the higher the temperature. The better the garden is sheltered, the less warmth is blown away by winds. In addition, a good hedge actually extracts heat from the wind. As the wind is filtered through hedge, twigs or trellis it is slowed and this slowing gives off the energy as heat. Thus a good hedge can raise the temperature of a garden by several degrees.
So establishand windbreaks rather than using fences and walls, though these can be improved by mounting trellis and/or climbers atop them. Warmth can also be increased by including, brick walls, and features which soak up and re-radiate heat. Brick rubble, dark stones and gravel all give off heat and have been used to help ripen fruit. Similarly, bare soil, especially if it is blackened with soot, will give off warmth to ripen fruit or protect flowers from frosts more efficiently than grass or a .
Although we need to protect them from excessive winds, all plants need fresh air. Stagnant air encourages pests and diseases, especially mildews and. Good spacing and open pruning allows the plants to breathe. ‘Air’ for leaves means the carbon dioxide content, which can be increased by encouraging animal life of all kinds into the garden and allowing filtered winds to change the air.
Moisture is crucial to success; probably more plants do badly through over or underwatering than all other causes put together. In times of strong growth, it is almost impossible to overwater plants in the open ground. Indoors in pots in winter it is difficult to underwater.
Between these two extremes is where the difficulty lies. In the open ground, try to conserve winter rains byin spring, and except during droughts water only: before sowing, newly emergent seedlings, new transplants and crops at a- critical stage — usually when their flowers are setting.
In times of drought, water the most valued plants with one long soak rather than give everything a little and often as this will mostly just evaporate away. Never wet large areas of soil around each plant as this also mostly evaporates, but try to soak water down to the roots. Above all keep down weed competition and either hoe up a dust mulch by loosening the soil surface or mulch well. Where lots of watering is needed, consider installing irrigation or at least a hose.
In addition to what has been said under ‘Warmth’ about hedges and walls, shelter can be provided on a smaller scale using dense, two-legged pests as well as from nature’s trials!plants, sticks and twigs, netting or . These can all help nurse tender and establishing plants through hard weather, as well as providing privacy and security. Organic fruit, flowers and vegetables may need protecting from
Fences have the advantage of speedy erection and take up little depth. They need some maintenance, but rarely last longer than a decade or two. Panel fences which stop the wind tend to fail before open fences and trellis, but they do allow borders in front, and fruit or climbers can readily be trained against them. Unfortunately, weeds come underneath very easily unless deep gravel boards are fitted. Open fences act only as boundary markers and are better in a garden if overgrown with climbers.
Walls are much more expensive but can last for centuries, and their deep foundations exclude weeds. They retain warmth and block wind but cause buffeting. Despite being harder to train on as the initial fixings take more work, they are excellent for ripening fruit but those that face the sun may be too hot and dry at the base for the comfort of some plants, especially roses. Red brick is best for retaining warmth and dry stone walls provide excellent niches for many forms of plant and animal life, especially snails!
Hedges are the best choice for most gardens other than the very tiny, as they can be the cheapest, though they take longer to be effective. They establish much more quickly when given a temporary fence of windbreak material. Their wind filtering provides warmth and they are a superb habitat for wildlife, as well as adding to the variety of plants in the garden. It is a good idea to have arather than a border right next to a hedge, as the latter will rob the former’s soil and a path will make the trimming easier.
Extra shelter can be provided with cloches and , which can be as simple as a jam jar or large constructions of brick and glass. They keep off the worst weather, allow a longer season of growth and prevent pest attacks. Glass ones are most expensive but last longer and keep warmer than plastic, which degrades and becomes brittle. Larger models are expensive and more difficult to move than smaller ones; none are particularly cheap. Clear plastic bottles with the bottoms cut off make excellent mini cloches for , and transplants such as and ; larger containers can be used to cover bigger plants such as pelargoniums, fuchsias, or .
When using rows of cloches, make sure they do not form a wind tunnel by blocking the ends off, and pay extra attention to watering. Secure them well in windy weather and always harden the plants off before removing the shelter completely. Low, plastic film-covered hoops are least costly but because they use ecologically expensive plastic sheeting which does not last long, it is probably better to get a longer-lasting walk-ininstead. Sadly, shelter is often in conflict with aesthetics: we loathe winding a tender shrub with nets to ward off the frosts simply because it looks poor; and indeed plastic bottle cloches are never truly beautiful even when uniform, but they work!