Tips for Creating an All Year Garden

Every year, usually in Autumn, I receive a large number of calls from people who need a garden tidy up. Residue from spring bulb flowers are lying looking tired in the borders, some of the summer perennials have died and are toppling over and once this had all been cleared away, there really isn’t much left in the borders.

The biggest mistake most people make, when designing their garden, is they get what I call the “Ground Force Effect”. This is where they go to a garden centre, over a very short period of time and buy, buy, buy all of the beautiful flowers and shrubs that are currently in bloom. The net result is, they are putting together a garden that will look amazing, but only for a few months.

If you watch TV programmes like Ground Force or The Chelsea Flower show, these gardens are designed to give maximum impact on the day or week that they are planted. Fantastic for a TV show or competition, but they’ll not give you anything with any longevity. Autumns are getting milder, we can even have 16-18 degrees in November these days, so you might want to enjoy your garden beyond the May – August period.

If you are looking for an all year garden, here are a few tips that might help you with your design.

Be Patient

Building an all year garden, will take you a year, maybe even more. Don’t be in a rush to create something overnight, it’s all about progression. Building a garden that progresses over the year is not only rewarding but it allows you to spread your budget. This doesn’t mean it takes a year to look nice, it just takes a year or more to complete (It can often take 3 years to get the garden you really want).

Start Early

Start as early in the year as you can. Late winter is a great time to do all of your soft landscaping. Growth is at it’s lowest, the ground is soft, so edging new borders, creating new flower beds and clearing out things you no longer want are far better done at this time of year.

Plan In Stages

If you are going to build a garden in stages, it’s better to plan it that way too. There is no point in the early stages worrying about what you will be planting in 6 months time, before you have seen how the early things you plant fair. You should always be prepared to be flexible with your garden as you are most likely going to be planting young plants, which will of course grow and change the original landscape of your garden.

Plant In Season

Most garden centres will rotate their plant stock depending on the season. Usually they will be trying to offer plants that are soon to bloom or are already in bloom. I will usually buy plants for my clients that will bloom within the next month or so. This way, you can visit your garden centre each month, choose a few plants and add them to your garden, knowing these will flower soon. If you do this regularly, you will be building a garden which is eveolving to give you colour all year round. Bulbs are slightly different, you want to plant those between September and November to get spring flowers.

Plenty Of Evergreens

Evergreens should be the “staple” plants in your garden. They are not always the most dramatic but they will give you all year colour and all but a few of them will flower or berry at some point during the year. The secret of evergreens is not to have too many of exactly the same thing. Although there is no reason why you couldn’t have 3 or 4 Azaleas in your garden, providing you have ones with different coloured flowers.

Buy As Big As You Can

We all have a budget when it comes to our garden but sometimes you have to think forward. Most plants you buy will grow a lot larger than the size you first bought them, in which case it could take years for them to hold the position that you originally planned for them. Buying tiny little shrubs will save you money in the early stages but you’ll be tempted to cram loads of other things around them, making it a false economy. my tip is to buy the cheaper basic evergreens as large as you can in the first instance. As they are your backdrop to your all year garden, even though they might not be the most exciting, they are the ones that will be there when everything else has died back.

Thin out your bulb flowers

Bulb flowers are extremely good at spreading. Some like wild garlic and grape hyacinths can spread really quickly. The problem with this is you will end up with a lot of green stuff lying on the ground, a few flowers up in the air and after a month or two, a big mess that needs to be cleared. If you are over run with bulb flowers, as soon as they have finished their business for the year, remove some of them and replace with some all year shrubs. This will ensure that not only do they look nicer as they pepper the area around the shrub but again, it will give you something to look at in that area, once they have died back.

Be Prepared To Put The Work In

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your garden be. The secret to a successful garden, really is the “little and often” approach. Many of the gardens I am redesigning, only need a couple of hours a week to get them on track but that’s 2 hours, every 2 weeks, without fail. There are times when it could need a little more time but in general, if you make sure you get out there every other weekend and put in a big 2 hour shift, you’ll probably find that’s enough. If you are doing some larger landscaping projects, obviously you will need more time but once things are up and running, as long as you put the work in regularly, you can keep on top of things quite easily.

Enjoy Yourself

One of the best things about making an all year garden, is that it’s great fun. Choosing your plants, planting them, planning the next phase, weeding around your new shrubs, watching your perennials starting to bloom and seeing the first shoots in late winter / early spring are all things that will bring a smile to your face, once you start seeing the results. Even the horrible clearing jobs can be rewarding.

So enjoy what you do and good luck with your garden.