Style Guide – Woodland Gardens Part 2

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Woodland gardens invoke all our senses at once. Sun dappling through leaves, a shady respite on a hot summer’s day, birdsong, damp earth, rustling leaves.

Autumn leaves against a blue sky - Weatherstaff Blog

12 Stunning Trees for a Woodland Garden

They key to planting up a woodland garden is to get the layers right – trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs. Unless you have acres to play with, choose trees which won’t grow too tall or spread too wide for your garden.

Autumn leaves on the ground
A carpet of fallen leaves in autumn

Deciduous trees are a good choice because they allow for a wonderful display of spring bulbs and early perennials before the canopy leafs up. You will also have a ready supply of fallen leaves in autumn to make leaf mould. Gather up the leaves into bin bags, pierce the bags to ventilate them and leave them to compost. A year later, you should have a good supply of leaf mould, for mulching your garden borders.

Plant 3 or 4 trees closely together and underplant with shade-loving shrubs, perennials and bulbs. In a small garden, you can achieve the same effect on a smaller scale by planting just one multi-stemmed tree. Create your own multi-stemmed tree by pruning the trunk back to just above ground level. This forces new shoots to break from the stump.

Your woodland garden should provide some respite from the hot summer sun, not constant deep dark shade. The plan is to create a canopy of leaves which will allow some sunlight through to dapple the understorey planning below. Be ready to prune congested branches if they are blocking out too much light. A useful technique is to remove lower branches of the trees – lifting the crowns will allow more sunlight through.

Robin on tree branch
All trees support wildlife

All trees are great for encouraging wildlife into the garden. They will provide nesting sites for birds, shelter for small animals and attract bats and pollinating insects. The silver birch is recorded as supporting up to 229 different insect species and its seeds are loved by greenfinches, goldfinches, siskins and redpolls.

Here’s a selection of stunning trees suitable for a woodland garden.

Silver birch

Silver birches are perfect for small woodland gardens.

Betula pendula 'Fastigiata'
Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’

Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’ is a narrowly columnar, deciduous tree, with upright branches. The white, peeling bark eventually becomes dark and more rugged at the base with age. Diamond-shaped leaves, sharply toothed, are mid-green, turning yellow in autumn. Yellowish-brown catkins appear in spring. It prefers moist, well-drained soil in sun or light shade. It grows to 10m in height.

Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata Joes’ has an even narrower shape and whiter bark than Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’. It was shortlisted for Plant of the Year at Chelsea 2017. Eventual height and spread 5m x 2m.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii is slender, with an elegant, open habit. It grows to 18m in height. The oval, dark green leaves take on golden yellow autumn hues and its white, peeling bark is a particularly attractive feature, especially in winter. The white bark develops fully by the time the tree is 8 years old.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ has the RHS Award of Garden Merit. It is one of the best white-barked birches, with a smooth, pure white trunk.

Crab Apples
Flowering crab apple tree
Spring blossom

Crab apples are tough, very hardy plants and can tolerate most soils and conditions, apart from extremes of water-logging or drought. As a bonus, the apples can be harvested in autumn and cooked to make jellies and jams.

Apples on Malus John Downie
Malus John Downie

Malus ‘John Downie’ is an attractive small tree with bright green, deciduous foliage and several seasons of interest in the garden. Pale pink buds open to a profusion of 5-petalled, white flowers in late spring. Slightly elongated red fruits, flushed orange and yellow appear in autumn.

Malus Royal Beauty
Malus Royal Beauty

Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ is a small, weeping tree. The deciduous foliage is red-purple when young, becoming dark green with purple undersides later. Flowers are deep red-purple with small, dark red fruits appearing in autumn. Both John Downey and Royal Beauty have gained the RHS AGM.

Ornamental cherries
Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis Rosea' cherry blossom
Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’

Prunus × subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’ is a delightful, flowering cherry, which blooms intermittently through the winter months. This small, deciduous tree has an elegant spreading habit and orange and red autumn hues. Delicate, semi-double, pink flowers appear in mild spells between autumn and spring. It grows to about 8m.

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’
Cornus controversa Variegata
Cornus controversa Variegata

The wedding cake tree has distinctive spreading, tiered branches and grows to 8m. Its leaves are dark green, with cream-white margins, becoming yellow in autumn. Large, flat heads of small, creamy-white, star-shaped flowers are carried in early summer, followed by blue-black berries.

Amelanchier
Amelanchier canadensis
Amelanchier canadensis

Amelanchier canadensis is an upright shrub or small tree growing to 6m. It really pulls its weight in a small garden as it blossoms profusely in spring and has stunning autumn foliage. The starry spring flowers are followed by blue-black berries in early summer, which can be used in jams and pies.

Corylus
Purple-red catkins of Corylus maxima Purpurea
Red-purple catkins of Corylus maxima Purpurea

Corylus avellana is a large, bushy, deciduous shrub or small tree (5m tall), producing edible nuts. It has yellow autumn leaves and showy yellow catkins in late winter and early spring. The edible hazelnuts ripen by autumn.

Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ has heart-shaped, deep purple leaves and purple-red catkins.

Magnolia stellata
Starry flowers of Magnolia stellata
Magnolia stellata

If you want something compact for a small area, Magnolia stellata might fit the bill. It is a 3m high deciduous shrub, with a beautiful display of delicately-scented spring flowers, opening from soft, downy buds. The mid-green foliage appears after the flowers.

In a small garden, every plant must earn its place. The best choice for a small woodland garden are trees which have more than one season of interest – spring blossom, summer foliage, fruit, autumn colours, winter structure. If you are lucky, you may be able to ‘borrow’ trees from over the garden fence – a neighbour’s tree might provide all the shade you need for the top layer of planting in your woodland garden.

Woodland Gardens Part 2 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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Sloe Gin Time Again

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

It all started with a malfunctioning clutch, a breakdown truck and a disused railway line. When my car was towed away out of sight, I decided to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine and walk home along the old railway line.

Image of a punus spinosa bush with sloes
A bumper harvest of sloes

And that’s when I saw them – the blackthorn bushes either side of the track, dripping with sloes. Ripe and plump and ready to pick. A bumper harvest of blue-black, powdery drupes, just waiting there patiently, ready for their turn in the gin-bottling limelight.

Containers full of harvested sloes
Gathering sloes

The next day, I was back and ready for a spot of foraging. Rule number 1 for foraging: make sure you know what you are picking! Rule number 2 – leave behind enough for wildlife and other foragers. That was easy this time. There were far more sloes here than I could possibly need.

Assembling the ingredients for sloe gin
Frozen sloes, sugar and gin

Back home, I washed the sloes and weighed them, to give an estimate of how many bottles of gin I would need. Quite a few! The first time I made sloe gin, I diligently pricked each little berry individually. Since then, I’ve found out that freezing the sloes for at least 24 hours very efficiently replaces the role of pricking. The point of pricking is to break the skin to allow the flavours to seep out into the gin. Freezing does this job perfectly and with much less hassle and fewer purplish fingers. It also gave me time to get the car back on the road and pick up my bottles of gin.

Kilner jar containing sloes and sugar
Adding sloes and sugar to the kilner jar

The rest of the process is amazingly simple. Throw the sloes, sugar and gin in a kilner jar or the gin bottle itself. Seal and shake. Leave it for 2-3 months, shaking or turning the jars regularly. Strain the sloe gin through a muslin-lined funnel and pour it into fresh bottles. Drink!

Close up of sloes, gin and sugar in a kilner jar
Sloes nestling in their kilner jars

Some recipes recommend you leave out the sugar at the beginning of the process and add it at the end instead, so that you can adjust the sweetness to your taste. The easiest way to do this is to make a simple syrup by dissolving sugar in warm water (use equal quantities of sugar and water). Add the syrup to the sloe gin in small amounts until you get the perfect sweetness.

Kilner jar lids for making sloe gin
Sealed kilner jars, ready and waiting for Christmas
Sloe Gin Time Again - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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Style Guide – Woodland Gardens Part 1

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Woodland gardens invoke all our senses at once. Sun dappling through leaves, a shady respite on a hot summer’s day, birdsong, damp earth, rustling leaves. Spending time here can help us relax, slow down and breathe more deeply. It’s good for our souls.

Leaves

If you have trees and shrubs casting shade in your garden, then you already have the makings of a woodland garden. And if not, then there’s nothing to stop you creating a woodland garden from scratch. Create a little copse of trees, by planting 2 or 3 suitable specimens close together, and underplant with shade-loving perennials and bulbs. For an instant impact, you can buy semi-mature trees which will provide immediate height and structure.

Cornus florida Cherokee Chief in a woodland garden Weatherstaff blog
Cornus florida Cherokee Chief in our woodland garden

Trees which won’t grow too large or which have a narrow form are perfect for gardens. Columnar Betula pendula ‘Fastigiata’ or Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) are good choices.

Woodland plants around a single tree
Woodland planting beneath Cornus florida Cherokee Chief.

Woodland gardens are suitable for every size of garden. In small gardens, one flowerbed around a single tree (or even a large shrub) can be planted up in the woodland style. Crocosmia tolerates dappled shade and, here, it adds a splash of colour amongst ferns and a miniature pieris.

In an attempt to cut back on lawn-mowing, we sectioned off the narrowing, top part of our garden and made a little woodland area. We planted two silver birches, chosen for their narrow growth and fairy-tale white trunks, laid a sinuous path of stepping stones and planted up the area with a collection of ferns and shade-loving shrubs and perennials. The sun-dappled woodland garden is a picture in spring and a cool, shady retreat in summer.

Stepping stone path through woodland area
A woodland garden

Spring bulbs and self-seeding columbines, forget-me-nots and candelabra primula created an enchanting, secret garden early in the year. Geraniums, skimmia japonica and pieris provided structure for the rest of the year.

Geranium phaeum Lily Lovell in shady woodland garden
Shade-loving Geranium phaeum Lily Lovell

Geranium phaeum – also known as dusky crane’s-bill or mourning widow – is a tall clump-forming perennial, which grows well in both sun and shade. Its pretty, slightly reflexed flowers appear in late spring and early summer. ‘Lily Lovell’ has dusky purple flowers. ‘Samobor’ has purple-black flowers.

Galium odoratum for woodland garden groundcover
Galium odoratum

Groundcover plants filled up the borders quickly and helped to smother any opportunistic weeds. The delicious, scented Galium odoratum – sweet woodruff – has starry white flower in late spring to mid summer.

Hosta leaves unfurling in woodland garden Weatherstaff Blog
Hosta leaves unfurling

Hostas are a perfect plant for woodland areas, though you will have to set up a slug patrol. Their large, architectural leaves come in a range of yellows, blues and greens and they are often bi-coloured. The national collection of hostas, held at Mickfield Hostas in Suffolk, contains over 2,000 varieties of hostas. Their leaves are their main feature, with the flowers putting on a secondary show. However some hostas have fragrant flowers, so it’s worth planting those near a sitting area or a pathway. The scent is particularly noticeable on warm, summer evenings. Look out for Fragrant Bouquet, Honeybells and Cathedral Windows.

Digitalis purpurea wild foxgloves from the Weatherstaff Blog
Foxgloves and bluebells

Many native wildflowers are naturally suited to woodland habitats. Foxgloves, primroses and bluebells are beautiful woodlanders. If you have the space, let them self-seed. It’s worth checking that you have native English bluebells as the Spanish variety can be invasive.

Woodland gardens are a four-season wonder! The first bulbs appear under leafless trees in winter, building up to a crescendo of colour in spring. As the canopy closes over in summer, the trees provide a shady bower and welcome relief from the midday sun. The changing colours of autumn and the rustling leaves underfoot lend a magical atmosphere to the closing of the year.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta or bluebells in a woodland garden Weatherstaff Blog
Bluebells flourish in deciduous woodlands

If your woodland area is big enough, include a path to wander along using bark or stepping stones. A seating areas to sit and appreciate nature is essential. Rustic benches look great, but contemporary sculptures and seating can also sit well with your design.

The key to a successful woodland garden is choosing plants which thrive in low light levels. Make sure they are watered in well in their first growing season to settle them in well.

Woodland Gardens Part 1 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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6 Spillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Trailing ivy - a spiller plant for containers
Trailing ivy

The Thrillers are the architectural plants, usually the tallest plants in the display. They provide the structure for your planting combination.

Next come the Fillers, the second layer of planting in the container. They add mass to the planting, as well as providing a contrast in shape and texture.

Finally, there is the third layer of plants, the Spillers. These are the trailing plants which, when squeezed in around the edge of the planting, will tumble over the sides and soften the boundaries. Where the filler can contrast with the thriller, the spiller can unify the display by echoing elements of the other two layers – picking out a secondary colour, for example. Plants with good spiller qualities are often the same ones as those chosen for ground cover in the border – easy-going plants which creep and spread, filling bare patches with colour. Here are my choices for fantastic spiller plants.

Close up of blue Vinca minor flower
Vinca minor

Vinca minor

Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle) provides low-spreading, flowering ground cover in the garden. Smaller and less vigorous than vinca major, it grows to 15cm in height so is perfect for container-planting. Pretty, violet-blue flowers are produced from mid-spring through to autumn.

There are a number of attractive varieties to choose from.

Plum-purple flowers of Vinca minor Atropurpurea
Vinca minor Atropurpurea

Vinca minor Atropurpurea has rich wine-purple flowers and glossy dark green leaves. It has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Vinca minor Illumination has variegated leaves – yellow with dark green margins – and soft blue flowers.

White flowers of Vinca minor f. alba ‘Alba variegata’
Vinca minor Alba Variegata

For white flowered varieties, try Vinca minor f. alba ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ or Vinca minor f. alba ‘Alba variegata’, which has dark green leaves with yellow borders.

Campanula

Campanula flowers
Long-flowering Campanula poscharskyana

The trailing bellflower, Campanula poscharskyana, is a cheerful, long-flowering perennial. Masses of light purple-blue, star-shaped flowers appear from late spring and keep going right through to early autumn. Its small leaves are semi-evergreen, forming a low mound with spreading stems.

The cultivar ‘Stella’, with starry violet-blue flowers, has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s AGM.

Lysimachia nummularia

Lysimachia nummularia - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Yellow cup-shaped flowers of Lysimachia nummularia

Lysimachia nummularia is a mat-forming, fast-growing perennial. In summer, bright yellow, cup-shaped flowers open amongst the small, rounded leaves. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (Golden creeping Jenny) has attractive golden-yellow foliage and has gained the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Lysimachia nummularia in pot - Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Trailing stems of Lysimachia nummularia

Lysimachia nummularia is very vigorous and can become invasive. Restrained in a garden container, it can happily spill over edges without danger of romping away.

Ivy

Common ivy, Hedera helix, is a self-clinging climber, but also provides useful ground cover and its trailing habit makes it a good choice for spilling over the edge of containers. There are a huge number of variegated forms.

Variegated leaves of Hedera helix 'Goldchild'
Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’

Hedera helix ‘Goldchild’, has grey-green leaves, margined yellow. ‘Glacier’ has small, grey-green leaves with silver green variegation and creamy margins. Both have earned the AGM.

Sometimes, variegated cultivars will revert to green. If this happens, just remove any shoots which are reverted.

Creeping Thyme

Thyme is an aromatic, evergreen herb. It is an excellent plant, both for groundcover and in containers. If you choose thyme as the third, ‘spiller’, layer in your container plantings, you will have a ready supply of sprigs to flavour your casseroles and add to stuffing mixes. And the bees and butterflies in your neighbourhood will love you.

The more upright or mound-forming thymes are useful as fillers – the second layer of planting. Choose the creeping thymes for a lower, trailing effect.

Flowers of Thymus 'Bressingham'
Thymus ‘Bressingham’

Thymus ‘Bressingham’ has a mat-forming habit, with grey-green leaves and tiny pink-purple flowers in summer. The creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum ‘Snowdrift’, has small white flowers which smother its mid-green foliage in summer.

Magenta flowers of Thymus Coccineus Group
Thymus Coccineus Group

Thymus Coccineus Group, or Creeping Red Thyme, has bright magenta flowers in late spring or summer and small dark green leaves. (AGM).

Creeping or Moss Phlox

Low-growing phlox is perfect for spilling over stone walls, rock gardens and, of course, container edges. They are scented, easy-going and loved by pollinators.

Phlox stolonifera Blue Ridge for container planting
Phlox stolonifera Blue Ridge

Phlox stolonifera ‘Blue Ridge’ (creeping phlox) has soft lilac-blue flowers, with prettily contrasting orange stamens. Provide a good mulch of well-rotted garden compost early in the year and you will be rewarded with masses of flowers in mid to late spring. Deadhead to keep the flowers coming.

Phlox subulata 'Purple Beauty' - moss phlox for containers
Phlox subulata ‘Purple Beauty’

Phlox subulata, the moss phlox, is shorter, typically growing to just 10-15 cm. It is a sun worshipper but tolerates light shade. A mound of narrow dark green leaves is blanketed in late spring and early summer by a dazzling display of colourful flowers. Phlox subulata ‘Purple Beauty’ produces pale mauve flowers, with a darker eye. ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’ has large rose-pink flowers, while the flowers of ‘Scarlet Flame’ are flamboyantly red-pink.

Phlox subulata 'Emerald Cushion Blue' - a spiller plant for garden pots
Phlox subulata ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’

For subtler colours, try ‘Emerald Cushion Blue’ which has pale lavender-blue flowers, with a dark purple eye. ‘Bavaria’ is white, with an enchanting purple eye.

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Yellow is Not the Only Colour – 5 Perfect Blue Flowers for Early Spring

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software
Mass planting of daffodils and muscari
A sea of daffodils and grape hyacinths

Yellow is the colour that brings optimism into early spring gardens. It’s the gardener’s cheer-upper after months of slate grey and mud-brown. But yellow is not the only colour for early spring!

In my last blog post, I looked at the yellow flowers that bloom in late winter / early spring and bring a ray of sunshine to drab winter gardens. But, even as I was writing it, I noticed that Yellow often comes hand-in-hand with its partner in crime, Blue. Daffodils look enchanting with a skirt of muscari. The watery sunlight colour of native primroses is enhanced by bright blue scillas.

Native primroses with scilla
Primula vulgaris and Scilla siberica in early spring

Blue is the colour of the sea and sky. It is the colour of peace. It calms and refreshes.

Yellow sunflower head against a blue sky
Sunflower against a clear blue sky

What is it about yellow and blue together that raises the spirits so beautifully?

All those blue flowers with little yellow centres are like miniature suns set in a sweep of blue sky.

  • Cluster of forget me not flowers
  • Blue aster
  • Waterlily with yellow centre

If you add to the yellow/ blue combination, a dash of spring-fresh green, you’re on to a winner.

Green sits between yellow and blue on the colour wheel. It is the harmonious, balancing link between warm and cool colours. Green combines the relaxing attributes of blue with the energising influence of yellow. It also represents new life. New shoots springing up in garden beds and hedges.

So, to complement those yellow spring flowers, here are 5 of the best blue flowers to bring a sprinkle of serenity to your garden borders.

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) is a dainty perennial, pushing up each year in early and mid-spring to 20cm in height.

Blue Scilla Siberica
Scilla Siberica

Little, bright blue flowers nod above narrow, mid-green leaves. Plant the bulbs in autumn, then leave them undisturbed to naturalise. They like both sun and partial shade.

Muscari armeniacum

Muscari armeniacum or the Grape Hyacinth is a vigorous, little bulbous perennial, about 20cm tall. Clusters of tubular, deep blue flowers, with white rims, appear in the spring, though the linear, mid-green leaves emerge in autumn.

Grape hyacinths
Muscari armeniacum

Plant bulbs in autumn in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Allow the plant to set seed for an even more impressive show the following year.

You could also try Muscari latifolium, a quirky two-tone grape hyacinth, with blue-black flowers on the bottom of the flower spike and a mop of bright blue flowers on the top.

Scilla luciliae

Chionodoxa
Scilla luciliae

Scilla luciliae (previously known as Chionodoxa) carries sprays of starry blue flowers, with white centres. Its common name is Glory-of-the-snow, a reference to its early flowering period in late winter and early spring.

Each bulb produces a pair of linear, mid-green leaves and grows to 15cm in height. Ideally, plant in drifts in full sun in well-drained soil, where they will set seed and naturalise.

Iris reticulata

This is an early spring flowering iris, growing from a bulb and flowering in late winter and early spring. After a period of summer dormancy, linear, green leaves emerge from the soil, reaching up to 10cm long at flowering time but elongating after flowering to about 30cm. 1 or sometimes 2 flowers are carried on each stem.

The beautiful iris flowers are very distinctive. The 3 outer petal-like sepals are called the falls – they often droop or arch downwards. The 3 inner petals, usually upright, are known as the standards.

Pale blue iris Cantab
Iris ‘Cantab’

Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’ has pale blue standards. The falls are deep blue with pretty yellow-orange and white markings.

Purple-blue Iris reticulata 'Harmony'
Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’

Iris ‘Harmony’ has soft purple-blue flowers, with pretty yellow and white markings. Iris ‘Clairette’ has pale blue standards. The falls are deep violet with white markings.

Plant bulbs in late summer. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil. Bulbous irises need moisture from autumn to spring and hot summers to perform well.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda, the winter windflower, is a cheerful, little tuberous perennial. Pretty, daisy-like flowers in violet-blue appear in spring. ‘Blue Star’ has pale blue flowers. The flowers of ‘Atrocaerulea’ are deep blue.

Anemone blanda
Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda likes moist or well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Growing to 15cm in height, it will quickly spread to form a large clump.

Try some blue/ yellow combinations in your garden containers and borders for an early taste of summer skies!

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Splashes of Sunlight – 5 Cheerful Flowers for Early Spring

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

After months of grey, damp winter, a splash of early yellow flowers brings a shot of spring into the garden.

Yellow Tete-a-Tete Daffodils
A splash of sunshine in early spring

Yellow sings of warmth and sunshine. It’s the colour of happiness and optimism. Here are 5 gorgeous, cheer-uppers for gardeners.

Daffodils

While daffodils are at their peak in April, Welsh people need their daffodils in full bloom for March 1st, St David’s Day, so it’s great that so many varieties are early flowerers. Plant daffodil bulbs in autumn for a glorious swathe of sunlight in spring.

Narcissus February Gold yellow daffodil flowers
Narcissus February Gold

One of the earliest daffodils to flower is Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, growing to 40cm in height. It can flower as early as January in sheltered spots. February Gold is another early daffodil and grows to about 30cm high.

I love the delicate-looking dwarf daffodils, such as ‘Tête-à-tête’ or the flouncy ‘Rip van Winkle’. Their size makes them better suited to garden pots and smaller borders and they match well with low-growing early spring flowers, like scilla and crocus.

  • Daffodil buds beginning to open
    Early daffodils
  •  Tete a Tete flower heads
    Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’
  • Narcissus Rip van Winkle - double flowerhead
    Narcissus Rip van Winkle

Crocus

Yellow crocus
Yellow crocuses

Golden-yellow, early-spring crocus brings a rich ray of sunshine to garden beds. The large Dutch crocuses are the most commonly planted spring-flowering crocuses and come in whites, purples and yellows. The corms are often sold in mixed colour bags, but I prefer to keep the colours separate.

Crocus ‘Romance’ in dappled sunlight
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’ is a creamy-yellow crocus, with white highlights. It flowers from late winter so provides an extra early snack for bees. Crocus × luteus ‘Golden Yellow’ is a sun-drenched, rich yellow, and is perfect for naturalising through lawns.

Plant crocuses in September or October for early spring flowers. They like a sunny spot but will tolerate partial shade. Remember, they flower before trees leaf up, so a shady spot later in the year will still be sunny enough for crocuses to love in early spring.

Primroses

You can buy primulas in vibrant shades of purples, reds and yellows, but the native primrose – Primula vulgaris – is my favourite. It hugs the ground, forming a pool of pale, lemon-yellow flowers, surrounded by a rosette of bright green foliage. It is perfect for woodland areas or a shady bank.

Close-up of native primroses
Primula vulgaris

If you get down close enough to detect the flower’s fragrance, you might also notice a clever little tweak of natural adaption, which promotes successful cross-pollination by early nectar-seeking insects. Primroses have two subtly different types of flowers. In ‘thrum-eyed’ flowers, the anthers are visible in the centre of the flower, while in ‘pin-eyed’ ones, the anthers are hidden below the stigma, which looks like a tiny pinhead.

Native primroses with scilla
Primula vulgaris and Scilla siberica in early spring

Primroses and scilla siberica make a perfect match in my hedge. When happy with their conditions, primroses will naturalise readily to form an impressive colony.

Cowslips

The wild cowslip, Primula veris, is a cousin of the native Primrose. The semi-evergreen plant has nodding, bell-shaped flowers, falling from upright stems, up to 25cm in height. Flowering from early spring, they were once a common sight in woodlands, meadows and hedgerows. With the decline of their natural habitats, they are seen far less often now.

Cowslips - yellow spring flower
Primula veris

There are also pretty varieties, such as Primula veris ‘Sunset Shades’, with flowers in shades of copper, orange and red. Cowslips are at home in moist, wildflower gardens or light wooded areas.

Forsythia

In contrast to some of the more modest, low-growing, yellow spring flowers, you can’t miss the blossoms of the Forsythia. A vigorous, upright, deciduous shrub, it produces a glorious, early spring display of flowers before the sharply toothed, green foliage appears.

Forsythia intermedia 'Spectabilis' - yellow flowering spring shrub
Forsythia intermedia ‘Spectabilis’

Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spectabilis’ has rich yellow flowers, each with 4 narrow, slightly twisted petals, borne in profusion from early to mid-spring. It enjoys moist, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade.

Forsythia giraldiana
Forsythia

Other popular varieties are Forsythia × intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’ and Forsythia × intermedia ‘Goldrausch’, which has larger flowers.

While winter is slowly giving way to spring, these flashes of yellow hint at warmer days to come and bring a gleam of golden sunlight into the garden.

5 Cheerful Flowers for Spring - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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Autumn Foraging

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Autumn leaves

Misty mornings and the leaves are ochre and gold. There’s a nip in the air and the hedges are dripping with berries. Time for a spot of autumn foraging! Here are 4 vitamin-packed fruits to collect in autumn.

Elderberries

Elderberries on Sambucus tree
A cluster of gleaming elderberries

Elderberries ripen in late summer or early autumn. Pick the berries when they are fully ripe. You want them to look almost black, so if they are still green or burgundy, wait a little longer. Use a pair of scissors to snip the cluster of berries away.

Be certain you know what you are looking for as there are some poisonous lookalikes. If you need help to identify the elder tree, the Woodland Trust has some useful advice here.

Elderberries in a bowl with a glass of liqueur
Separate the berries from the stem by running a fork along the stem.

Separate the berries from the stem by running a fork along the stem. If you find some hanging on tenaciously, they may not be ripe enough. Just leave them be.

Place the berries in a large bowl of water. The unripe berries will float, enabling you to pick them out and discard. Wash and drain the berries. Pat dry.

You’re all set to start processing them, but if you prefer, you can freeze the berries until you are ready. Freezing can help to break down the berries and release the juices. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, dietary fibre and antioxidants. They may even reduce the severity of colds and flu. But beware – the raw berries, stems and leaves are all poisonous, so if you want to use the berries to make juice, jams, chutneys or pies, they should be cooked first.

Elderberry Liqueur

750ml bottle of vodka or gin
400g elderberries
100g – 200g sugar (depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have)
Zest of half a lemon

Put the elderberries into a sterilised kilner jar. Add the sugar and lemon zest. Finally pour over the vodka or gin. Seal the jar and give it a good shake. The jar needs to be kept in a dark cupboard, while the flavours infuse. Shake the jar every couple of days for the first 2 weeks, then once a week for the next 2-3 months.

Strain the gorgeous berry-coloured liqueur into a clean bottle, using a straining funnel or a sieve lined with muslin, and you’re good to go.

Since raw elderberries are toxic, I’d be inclined to discard those boozy berries afterwards. If you want to make a liqueur that leaves you with alcohol-infused berries to add to chocolate or ice-cream, try blackberries or sloes instead.

Blackberries

Blackberries on a bush
The ripe blackberries will twist off easily.

Blackberries are easy to identify and most people will have picked them at some time or other.

Blackberries contain vitamins A, C, E and most of our B vitamins. They are also a source of important nutrients and antioxidants.

They can be frozen until you are ready to use them. To avoid squishy berries, spread them out on a baking tray and pop in the freezer. Once they have frozen, you can transfer to a bag, to take up less room in the freezer.

A portion of blackberry crumble
Blackberry Crumble

They are wonderful sprinkled over meringues or ice-cream. Cook them in pies and crumbles. Or use them in jams, chutney, wine or liqueur.

When your blackberry liqueur is ready for straining, don’t discard the alcoholic berries. Melt dark chocolate and pour over them for a delicious treat. Put them in the fridge to set and enjoy them with your coffee or give them away as a present.

Pickled blackberries

Try serving pickled blackberries with your cheese and charcuterie board for a sweet/ sour pop of flavour.

500g washed blackberries, patted dry
250g granulated sugar
125ml white or red wine vinegar

Heat the sugar and wine vinegar in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. Add the blackberries and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the blackberries with a slotted spoon and put in a sterilised jar. Turn up the heat and boil the liquid until it becomes thick and syrupy. Pour over the fruit, making sure the blackberries are submerged in the liquid. Seal the jar and put it in a dark place for a month. Once opened, keep the pickle in the fridge and use within 2 weeks.

Sloes

Sloes on blackthorn tree
Sloes

Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn. Fresh sloes are rich in vitamin C and vitamin E. They contain nutrients such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Traditionally, they were picked after the first frost, so that the frost splits the skin, allowing the juices to infuse the gin more readily.

You get the same result by popping them in the freezer, so as long as the berries are ripe – a rich purple colour – you can go ahead and pick them, without waiting for temperatures to drop. If you freeze the sloes, then the skins will burst and you won’t need to prick them either. Partially defrost the sloes when you are ready to make your sloe gin. Adding a few drops of vanilla essence can give the sloe gin a more mature taste.

Rose Hips

Rosehips on bush
A crop of rose hips

Deadheading roses encourages more flowers but if you leave the last spent flowers on the bush at the end of the season, you will allow the red seed pods to develop.

Rose hips are ornamental but also edible, with a tart flavour. They are a wonderful source of vitamin C and full of antioxidants. Rugosa roses have the largest hips and are said to have the best flavour of all.

The first touch of frost sweetens the flavour so that’s the best time to pick them. Wear garden gloves to protect yourself from thorns and snip or pick off the hips. Trim off the ends and rinse them in a colander.

It’s best to use rose hips fresh – when the vitamin levels are higher – but you can also dry them. Spread them out on a baking tray and put in an oven on a low heat until they are completely dry. Then store them in sealed jars.

The seeds of rose hips have irritating hairs. You can split the hips in half and scoop away the seeds. Or you can use the hips whole, mashing and straining the pulp through a sieve when you are ready to cook with them.

Teapot
Rose hip tea for a boost of vitamin C

There’s no need to bother with this if you plan to make rose hip tea, as you will be filtering the tea anyway. Straining through a coffee filter will get rid of every last hair.

Rose Hip Tea

1 tablespoon fresh, mashed rose hips (or dried crumbled ones) per cup
1 cinnamon stick
Sugar or honey to sweeten, optional
Pour boiling water over the rosehips in your teapot and leave to steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and serve.

You can also use rose hips in jams and jellies, sauces and syrups. To rehydrate dried hips, put them in a pan and cover with water. Simmer until soft, then sieve to remove the seeds.

Red rose hips
Plump rose hips ready to harvest

The high vitamin C content of rose hips meant that they were highly prized during the second world war.

The national diet suffered a shortage of vitamin C when the importing of fruit such as oranges was curtailed. In the autumn of 1941, boy scouts, girl guides, school teachers, the W.V.S. and other volunteers collected 200 tons of rose hips. 600,000 bottles of rose hip syrup were produced from this harvest and sold in chemists’ shops. Parents were advised to give a teaspoonful a day to young children to boost their intake of the vitamin.

Tips for Foraging

  • Make sure you know what you are picking. If in doubt, leave it!
  • Forage sustainably. Only pick from plentiful supplies and leave behind enough for wildlife, other foragers and for the plant itself to be able to produce seeds for the next generation.
  • Avoid plants which have been treated with pesticide.
Autumn Foraging - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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The Weatherstaff Team

Style Guide – Romantic Gardens Part 2

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Plants for a Romantic Garden

There will be roses, of course, and they must have an old-fashioned scent. David Austin’s roses are renowned for their excellent range of colour, combined with the ability to repeat-flower and the fragrance of old garden roses.

Red roses in a romantic garden.
Rosa Falstaff

Rosa Falstaff is a fragrant shrub rose, with deep crimson petals. It grows to 1.25m high.

Roses in a romantic garden. Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Rosa Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener is a climbing rose, growing to 4.5m. Its pale pink blooms carry a delicious Old Rose fragrance. It has earned the RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Camellias and peonies (or paeonies) are rose lookalikes, with their delicate clusters of multi-layered petals.

Camellias in a romantic garden
Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’

Camellia × williamsii ‘Anticipation’ is an upright shrub, with double, deep pink flowers in late winter and early spring.

Red peony - herbaceous perennial
Herbaceous peony

Most peonies are herbaceous perennials, dying back to ground level in autumn. They flower abundantly in early to mid-summer. Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ has large, scented, pure white flowers. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ has pink flowers with a cream centre.

Tree peony
Tree Peony ‘Kamada-Fuji’

There are also woody shrub peonies. The tree peony is China’s national flower and has enormous, breath-taking blooms. Kamada-Fuji is a tree peony with beautiful pale lilac flowers.

Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus' - scented shrub for a romantic garden
Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’

Well-behaved shrubs provide structure in garden borders. Choisya (Mexican Orange Blossom) and Philadelphus have fragrance as well as pretty flowers.

  • Climbing plant for romantic gardens.
    Clematis
  • Climbing plant ideas for a romantic garden
    Wisteria
  • Lonicera (honeysuckle) - climber for romantic gardens
    Honeysuckle

Clematis, wisteria and honeysuckle are perfect for clambering over arbours in a romantic garden. Or go for more roses – this time, the climbing or rambling ones.

Perennials for romantic gardens
Campanula lactiflora Loddon Anna

Include perennials like Geranium Johnson’s Blue, Nepeta, Verbena bonariensis and Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’ for luscious flowers.

Heart shaped flowers of Lamprocapnos
Lamprocapnos or Dicentra spectabilis

And what could be more romantic than the heart shaped Lamprocapnos (also known as Dicentra spectabilis or bleeding heart)?

Grasses in a romantic garden
Pennisetum alopecuroides Hameln

Swaying grasses are also very tactile, adding to the sensory feel of a romantic garden.

Herbs in a romantic garden
Dill

Herbs are perfect for a romantic garden, because they can be touched and smelled, as well as tasted.

Spring bulbs in a romantic garden
Camassia leichtlinii

Don’t forget spring bulbs for an early display of flowers. A swathe of camassia, grape hyacinths and scilla are fabulous early in the year. Plant up as many pots as you can spare with narcissi and tulips.

Romantic Gardens Part 2 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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The Weatherstaff Team

Style Guide – Romantic Gardens Part 1

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

Romantic Garden – who wouldn’t want one? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye? You will probably be wearing something from the 18th century and inhaling the intoxicating scent of roses. The garden will be delightful not just to look at, but also to smell, hear, touch, perhaps even taste.

Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu - romantic garden
Rosa Cardinal de Richlieu

So what does the garden actually look like? Romantic gardens are more ordered than the haphazard jostling of a cottage garden.

Features of a romantic garden
Topiary and an elegant fountain in a romantic garden.

They may be formal – think Lady Someone’s Walk in the grounds of a stately home – or more relaxed. In fact, they could be a mixture of both. Neatly trimmed box hedges and topiary balls combined with billowing drifts of flowering shrubs and fragrant perennials.

Features

Stone lamp
A stone lamp for added interest in a romantic garden

Features include statues or garden sculptures to admire and linger near. A bench is essential for relaxing moments amongst the scented flowers.

Garden borders creating symmetry
Matching borders and a winding path

There will probably be elements of symmetry, such as borders mirroring each other either side of a path. Here, the same plants are used in both borders, but without strict symmetry. The winding path also creates a less formal look.

Water feature in garden
A pond with fountain feature

A water feature is perfect for a romantic garden. Listen to the murmuring of a fountain or watch sunlight playing on water.

Clematis on iron arch
A soft purple clematis scrambles over an archway

Of course, there needs to be a hidden part, too, for secret trysts and whispered conversations. It could be a path leading away from the main garden, obscured by high planting. Or a secluded, flower-strewn bower – an archway, arbour or a pergola, draped with perfumed climbers.

Colour

Garden furniture in pale colours
Garden furniture in relaxed muted colours

Colours will be soft and serene. Furniture and paintwork will be chalky greys, smoky greens and grey-blues. Or plaster, rose and lavender – the colours of castle stone walls at sunset.

Dark highlight plant
Verbascum, delphinium and iris, with dark acer to contrast

Flowers are in pastel shades, blush and peach and soft apricot. But don’t forget to highlight with splashes of a more intense colour. Deepest red or dark purple black add a frisson of romance and daring.

Flowers in a white border
White tulips

You could have a white border too or a collection of containers with a white focus.

Lighting

Garden lighting
Candles for soft lighting at night

There’s nothing more romantic than watching the sun set, followed by an alfresco meal. You’ll need a sheltered spot and a collection of candles or solar powered lights so that you can keep enjoying the garden well into the night.

Romantic Gardens Part 1 - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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6 Fillers for Fantastic Container Plantings

from The Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner – intelligent garden design software

The Thrillers are the architectural plants, usually the tallest plants in the display. They provide the structure for your planting combination.

Next come the Fillers, the second layer of planting in the container. They add mass to the planting, as well as providing a contrast in shape and texture. Think mounds, if your Thriller is a spire.

Here are my 6 choices for plants with superb filler qualities.

Geranium

The colourful summer bedding pelargoniums of course make fantastic summer container plants. If you want a longer lasting display, though, choose from the hardy perennial geraniums, known as cranesbills. They are superb for providing long season flowering year on year. Some of the more vigorous ones, like Geranium Ann Folkard, make fantastic ground cover in your borders, but choose a more compact one for your containers.

Geranium cinereum Ballerina - ideas for container plantings from Weatherstaff garden design
Geranium cinereum Ballerina

Geranium (Cinereum Group) ‘Ballerina’ grows to 15cm high. Pale pink flowers, delicately veined purple and with a bewitching dark eye, are carried in spring and summer.

Geranium Rozanne - hardy perennial geranium for containers
Geranium Rozanne

Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is taller and more vigorous. Violet blue flowers, with white centres, appear in abundance from July to October. Trim back hard to maintain shape and encourage more blooms.

Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner blog
Geranium clarkei ‘Kashmir White

Geranium ‘Kashmir White’ is 45cm high, with white flowers, veined pink. It spreads by rhizomes, so can be easily split to provide free plants elsewhere in your garden.

Heuchera

Heucheras are the most perfectly behaved container plants. Foliage can be green or chocolate, red or golden, often marbled or frosted. They produce delicate sprays of tiny flowers in late spring or early summer, but their colourful evergreen (or semi-evergreen) foliage is the main attraction. You can find heucheras which are suitable for any spot in the garden, sun or shade.

Heuchera Green Spice - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff PlantingPlanner
Heuchera Green Spice

‘Green Spice’ has stunning foliage. Its bright green leaves are frosted with silver and its veins highlighted in red. A good plant for shady borders and pots.

Heuchera Marmalade - container filler plant idea
Heuchera Marmalade

‘Marmalade’ has ochre leaves, with pink undersides. It can tolerate full sun to part shade.

Heuchera Beauty Colour - foliage plant for container planting from Weatherstaff blog
Heuchera Beauty Colour

Shade-loving ‘Beauty Colour’ has silvered foliage with fresh green margins and dark purple veining.

Take a look at their close cousins, heucherellas and tiarellas, too!

Salvia

Salvia x sylvestris is a clump-forming perennial, with flower spikes in early and mid-summer. The perennials die back neatly at the end of the season and push up again the following spring.

Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose
Salvia x sylvestris Viola Klose

‘Viola Klose’ has spikes of indigo, two-lipped flowers, with contrasting dark purple bracts. It grows to 60cm tall.

Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht - from Weatherstaff blog
Salvia x sylvestris Mainacht

‘Mainacht’ (or ‘May Night’) has dark purple-blue flowers, with red-purple bracts, growing to 75cm.

Hylotelephium

Hylotelephium (also known as stonecrop or sedum) is a low growing perennial with succulent leaves and flat flowerheads of starry flowers in summer and autumn. Cut back in late May, the ‘Chelsea Chop’, to keep the plant from flopping and produce later flowers. You can leave the flowerheads to provide interest over the winter months.

Hylotelephium Purple Emperor - container planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Hylotelephium Purple Emperor

‘Purple Emperor’ has dark plum leaves with deep pink flowers. It grows to 50 cm tall.

Hylotelephium Munstead Red - from Weatherstaff blog
Hylotelephium Munstead Red

‘Munstead Red’ is 60cm tall, with purple-pink flowers. The dark green leaves are tinged with purple.

Thyme

Herbs make good fillers, as well as providing flavour in the kitchen. Thymus x citriodorus is a hardy, evergreen perennial with summer flowers and lemon-scented leaves.

Thymus x citriodorus - herbs for container plantings
Thymus x citriodorus

‘Golden Lemon’ has variegated yellow and green leaves, with lavender-pink flowers. ‘Bertram Anderson’ forms mounds of tiny gold-green leaves, with clusters of lavender-pink flowers.

Allium schoenoprasum - planting ideas from Weatherstaff
Allium schoenoprasum

Chives

Grow chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for edible, dark green leaves and attractive pom-poms of pale purple flowers. The flowers are edible too and can be sprinkled over salads.

5 Fillers for Containers - from Weatherstaff garden design software
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