Tuesday

The Wicked Garden 1: Poisonous Plants

A Garden Designer’s Guide To Poisonous Plants

91Ld5G9ehDL

There are dangers lurking in almost every garden, and even in the conservatory - dangers to humans, animals, birds and beneficial insects. They are also evident in the wider countryside, along hedgerows, in innocent-looking streams and in woodlands. One such danger is that of poisonous plants, many of which are far from obvious except to the expert. Those discussed in this blog are by no means exhaustive, but illustrate a range of concerns that should be foremost in the designer's mind. You need always to be sensitive to these dangers, whoever your clients may be and unquestionably if they have young children, or pets. Awareness is also in the interests of your own health and safety when designing and working with plants.

A surprisingly large percentage of plants are toxic or poisonous to handle, or to eat. The humble potato is poisonous raw and cooking will not eliminate the poisonous green parts, which should always be discarded. The milky sap of the beautiful euphorbias (spurge) will burn and blister skin and will despatch you to hospital if you should get it into your eyes. Always make sure that your clients know they should wash their hands and those of their children, after handling plants or playing in the garden.

Toxic-Plants-Infographic2015

If ' mushrooms' appear in the lawn they are probably not the edible fungus that is tray packed in the supermarket. Don't eat them. Some of the most bewitching plants are the most deadly and therefore particularly dangerous to small children who want to pick 'the pretty flower' and even put it in their mouths. Digitalis (foxgloves) with their purple, pink, yellow and white flowers are attractive to bees but poisonous to humans. The tender and exquisite blue aconitum (monkshood), sometimes found growing wild in shady chalk soils, dainty, dancing aquilegias, and the stunning range of irises – all are poisonous. So too are winter-flowering Lenten roses (hellebores), the delicate blue pulsatillas (pasque flowers) and moisture-loving, spring flowering, golden Caltha palustris (kingcups), often planted at the margins of ponds and found growing wild in wetland meadows.

There are several trees with poisonous fruits, flowers or berries, the most well-known being laburnum (golden chains). With its gorgeous, abundant, pendulous yellow flowers it has been an extremely popular garden tree, but its brown seed pods contain shiny black seeds – poisonous!

The delightful red yellow and orange berries that the birds love are frequently poisonous to humans , including those of the silver-leaved Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn). In wilder or untended parts of the garden there will almost certainly be familiar stinging nettles, and hogweed, which will blister and irritate the skin.

If garden boundaries abut pastures where sheep, cattle or horses graze, not only should these boundaries be stock proofed, but beware of planting poisonous hedging or other plants that can be reached by inquisitive livestock – they will lean over, pluck and chew indiscriminately on anything that looks enticing within a metre of the boundary. The leaves and fruits of conifers such as Juniperus (juniper) are poisonous to cattle and humans. So too the wonderful Taxus (yew) which forms such a marvellous, dense hedging and is invaluable in the creation of formal gardens There are many other shrubs and perennial weeds that are toxic to cattle and horses – ragwort, seen too often in neglected fields, common ligustrum (privet) hedging and hedera (ivy) are just a few.

Be a responsible designer and check online for a number of excellent books on poisonous plants.

Article by Sue Hook

Does Form Follow Function?

Function and form

Garden & Landscape Design

A long term and continuing debate has been whether form follows function, or function follows form. Initially, as a trained artist, but as a novice, student designer I felt instinctively - and arrogantly - that the function, or functions of the garden could follow its form; in other words I would be able to design the ground patterns and layout I wanted for various areas and could then translate these into a garden that fulfilled the functions required by the (at that point theoretical) client.

Garden & Landscape Design

This approach is not entirely without merit and remains a luxurious possibility if you are fortunate enough to be presented with a completely blank canvas, a rather large working space and a big budget. However I discovered very quickly that most sites - with the occasional exceptions of brand new estate gardens - are not blank canvases, but almost always possess existing features, furniture and conditions that necessarily must be incorporated into a new design, in addition to the wish list of the client. The smaller the garden the more demanding it is in this regard and even if empty will already present its own peculiarities and limitations that cannot be ignored.

Garden & Landscape Design

So I realised that the job of the designer – as distinct from the artist – is to create something that performs its function as perfectly and beautifully as possible. The artist's interpretation of a subject is usually less limited by practicalities, other than those of the medium and materials used. The artist also usually does not have to please anyone but himor herself and so can be controversial and even outrageous . That is why art can be ahead of its time. As a designer you can push the boundaries, indulge in blue sky thinking and introduce innovative ideas, but the bottom line is that the garden must be functional – as a place of quiet reflection and retreat, a source of food, a space for entertainment, play and recreation, storage and utility, all according to your client's needs. It is they who will be paying for, maintaining and using the garden long after you have left.

Garden & Landscape Design

Without any design training it is perfectly possible to achieve all the functional requirements of a garden without one iota of aesthetic consideration. However the resulting garden will not be attractive and will certainly not have the 'wow' factor. Fulfilling these disparate requirements whilst making a garden that is beautiful to behold is the challenge which only a good designer can meet. And this same challenge epitomises the rule of thumb that I subsequently understood – that form follows function.

 

Article by Sue Hook

Monday

Fence Design

Fences: How to Specify & Design Enclosure

modern-wood-fence-lisa-cox-landscape-design_1859

Fences can have multiple functions. In addition to defining boundaries they can act as wind breaks, screen unsightly structures or views, create privacy, support climbing plants, and be features in their own right as decorative backdrops to planting. They can be as low as 50 or 60 centimetres, to enclose raised vegetable or formal beds, or above 1.8m high.

83e702f7ff21ea911f6ee9732f841d37

If you are designing fencing you must check if there are any planning restrictions on height, or positioning, or if neighbouring properties are likely to be adversely affected. Check the deeds of the property or any documentation such as an official survey, to establish on which side of the fence responsibility for maintenance or replacement lies.

05_0

Fencing that is erected by builders and developers frequently comprises unimaginative close board panels, supported by ugly concrete posts. The majority of fencing timber is also rough-sawn, pressure-treated softwood, lacking any defining or attractive features. The fence panels are too often a garish orange-brown, being heavily impregnated or surface painted with chemical preservative.

83e702f7ff21ea911f6ee9732f841d37

Solid fencing is a poor windbreak, causing turbulence on the leeward side, which can damage plants. Unless the fence faces south the adjacent soil will also be colder. Being unable to dissipate the force of the wind badly supported panels can collapse after a gale hits them. Much more pleasing supports are made of timber, set into a concrete base and with post caps to minimise ingress of rainwater.

5f92677ad4429e759c78d68a31a5aba4

These posts should carry a guarantee against rot, warping or splitting of up to twenty five years. However, your clients may be completely impervious to the negative impact that closeboard fencing has on a garden space, especially a small garden. Some clients may even be delighted with their clean new fence and its white concrete posts. It is therefore up to you , as designer, to open their eyes to alternative solutions, without necessarily demolishing the entire fence. A mood board is a useful tool in helping clients visualise such possibilities.

fa65b090555b6223a0f4fa7a860782ee

It's depressing to see that the shelves in DIY stores and builders' merchants that are devoted to exterior timber finishes are still dominated by large cans of timber preservative in three shades of brown – in effect dark, medium and light, though they may be termed oak, chestnut etc. There are more interesting exterior finishes on the market but you, the designer have to bear in mind that these are still relatively costly for coverage of large areas of fence and in the context of a small budget you must decide whether you can justify the expense.

eb98d1d369b8a9fabb8d74452711a251

Painting fencing in quiet colour s will reduce its visual impact but you will still be left with the wind-rock/turbulence problem. Perforated or trellis panels spread the force of the wind and look pleasant, if unexciting, even left unpainted.

e8ee662b2f60b6531e99e150179df463

Willow or hazel hurdles can form attractive short-term fencing in the right setting. Planted, woven willow whips will quickly sprout foliage and develop into a living fence. However you must also bear in mind the required longevity of the fence and also whether it needs to keep out neighbouring dogs and/or deter intruders.

Article by Sue Hook 

Wednesday

Nature As Inspiration in Garden Design

Genius Loci: How Nature Should Influences Our Design DecisionsLight Quality is vital to good garden photography.  Morning light can be lovely and soft, but late afternoon light can be used to backlight plants and grasses to great effect.

Designing with nature requires the designer to develop heightened awareness, not just of suitable plants for a specific location, but of climate, prevailing wind direction, exposure, aspect, gradient, soil type, indigenous vegetation, geology, threats from animals domestic and wild and the site's general ambience and atmosphere.

beach-style-landscape

Every garden is unique and your job is to recognise, explore and exploit this genius loci – sense of place. Such wide-ranging knowledge will equip you with the confidence to make selective decisions about the garden you are employed to transform, or optimise. Nature can be a great help. Use it. Make notes on-site about every detail, positive or negative, problematical or inspirational. You will learn to look for these vital signs and keep a checklist handy. These are the building blocks that will inform every decision you make during the design process.

A fundamental precept of designing with nature is to work with it, not against it. Not everyone recognises that it's a bad idea to site a pond on top of a hill – ponds naturally occur in sunken areas, usually drained from higher land – or to attempt a tropical garden in a frost pocket.

If you are commissioned to design a garden in a rural setting, aim to fit the garden comfortably within the surrounding landscape. Echo in your ground plan or in the shapes of plant groupings the patterns, rhythms and colours of rolling farmland , outlines of hills or mountains, or the vertical shapes of tree trunks in a woodland setting.

Greystone _X4C3224

Harness the light-giving properties of water to reflect changing cloud patterns via ponds, brimming half barrels or even just a few judiciously sited wide, shallow stone or metal bowls. If there are windblown dunes of marram grass nearby, borrow this look, planting cultivated grasses that move with the breeze - another natural element. If the site is boggy and badly drained you don't need to persuade your clients to spend thousands of pounds drying it out.

coastal-garden

Forget rose gardens, and herbaceous borders and go with the flow, quite literally. Ensure the soil is not sour or compacted and create a wetland garden. Your expertise in gaining your client's confidence is essential, as they may have fixed ideas as to what they want, but scant appreciation of the hassle and cost of achieving sometimes unrealistic or over-ambitious aims.

attractive-gardens-design-ideas-3-small-urban-garden-design-ideas-1008-x-515

Houses on new or established suburban estates may not reveal any immediate natural characteristics, so can be treated more or less in isolation. However the same guidelines apply to the specific properties of the site. A small patch of soil or lawn (often containing hidden builders' rubble – beware!) can hide several different challenges – from wet to dry, acid to alkaline, shaded to sunny, sheltered to exposed.

All of these occur more or less naturally and must be observed and respected or corrected. But don't make more work for yourself and more expense for your client if it isn't necessary. You can still achieve a design that delights both of you.

Article by Sue Hook

Monday

Colour In The Garden

Does And Don't On Designing with Colour


Drive through any town or suburb and you will see many plantings that apparently aim to include every possible colour imaginable, all crammed together, with no thought at all for harmony,  balance or indeed the colours and forms of the adjacent or surrounding buildings. 

You wouldn't buy a carpet in such a riot of colours, but colour sense often literally flies out of the window when it comes to exterior colour schemes.

As a very general rule, the more bland the architectural backdrop the bolder your colour scheme can be and vice versa. If , for example the building is a shade of grey, bright colours will work in your scheme. 


New red brick is a difficult foil for successful planting because the strong colour of  the brickwork dominates whatever is close to it – and in a small garden that includes everything.  Your course will teach colour theory,  but even without that knowledge  you should be able to recognise that purples and vivid reds simply do not work against brick, even when if it is aged and weathered. 

Softer colours – pale yellows, cream, grey-greens and  light blues look much better. Why? Because they are cooler and complement  the brickwork rather than fighting it. Light peach, pink and apricot also work against red brick, being watered down versions of the brick colour itself. However these colours are more tricky to carry through into a broader planting scheme.

Even small changes of colour in your client's garden can make a positive difference. Paint a plain garden shed , garden office or summer house in an exact match or tone of one of the colours you will be using in your planting plan. 


It will immediately integrate into the overall scheme and look cool and sophisticated. Likewise any timber structures such as fences, timber seats and  arbors will last longer and act as a much more pleasing backdrop to planting if they are painted in soft earthy colours such as a clay grey, slate blue or sage green.   

For ideas try studying Farrow & Ball or Fired Earth colour cards, both of which contain colour ranges that are ideal for use in the soft light of the United Kingdom and other northern countries. The vivid colours that work so well in the bright light of  the Mediterranean or California are less successful further north, with the exception of  some ultra modern inner city gardens.


Colours can be mixed and matched in a variety of finishes such as exterior eggshell. There are several commercial wood stains and paints available but be careful –  unless you are seeking a bold and vibrant effect some are still not subtle enough for use over large areas and may need to be mixed or thinned.  

Avoid gloss paint, it gives too sharp and shiny a finish  - and don't use a spray gun as it may dribble through to the neighbouring side of the fence and cause a dispute for which you don't want to be blamed!


More thoughts on colour in the garden will follow in future blogs. In the mean time tell us what colours you like and dislike in the garden.


Article by Sue Hook

Tuesday

Designing For Wildlife

Creating a Balance of Horticulture and Ecology


The enemies of wild life gardens are mainly domestic: cats, dogs and  indifferent humans who may have no interest in preserving a balanced eco-system. However wildlife gardens have enormous educational value for adults and children as long as nature is not allowed to reclaim the entire garden. 

Explore ideas with your clients. 


Even if they are initially cautious it should be possible to  have them agree to create at least one small wild area within or at the edge of the garden. Start with one or more small areas of lawn in a sunny or only partially shaded site.  Inscribe a small circle, rectangle or square of grass, in scale with and set inside the larger area of lawn. 

Ensure the mower can be comfortably manipulated around and between the shapes. Avoid making it too busy, but if the lawn is large you might create a pattern of, say, four neatly edged squares, or three circles of grass to be left to grow to a maximum of  8 or 10 cms taller than the remaining lawn. 

These will quickly yield low-growing wildflowers such as self-heal, a variety of grasses, daisies and buttercups. Even a tiny area will attract bees and hoverflies.  Visually it will provide a change of rhythm to the close-cut, uneventful lawn space. Be ruthless in removing invasive weeds such as docks and hogweed.


After they have set seed the mini wildflower areas can be lightly mown, with the mower at its highest setting and then retained as neatly defined areas of rough grass with late spring flowering bulbs allowed to follow through. This introduces an entirely different look, which is not wild but works well through late spring and early summer before the grasses start to grow vigorously.  

Plant short-stemmed tulips - I like to use a single colour - dotted throughout the rough grass. Spring gales can easily snap the longer stems of tall varieties and as they die down the leaves of taller plants are more noticeable and unsightly. White, or pale yellow narcissi also look wonderful scattered through rough grass. 


Experiment. Plant mid-height nectar rich flowering plants as plugs, ensuring continuity of food supply for insects. If your clients prefer the grass to revert to normal lawn height the rough grass can simply be mown and should quickly recover its normal colour with a little general fertiliser added.

Wild flower habitats will be populated surprisingly quickly by beneficial insects such as bees, ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings, butterflies, moths, small mammals and birds that will eat some snails and slugs. If water is a part of the plan it will increase the range of wildlife considerably, with the potential to attract amphibians such as frogs and newts, exotic-looking dragonflies and even kingfishers.


Insect 'hotels' are readily available, but a small pile of logs will do just as well. Leave a small patch of nettles in a sunny corner, where a variety of butterflies can lay their eggs. Bird and bat boxes will be used, as long as they are sited where local cats cannot reach either the boxes or nearby bushes that provide initial safe resting places and shelter for fledglings.


A wildflower meadow is a bigger undertaking and is the subject of a future blog, together with suggested wild flowers to include.

Article by Sue Hookwww.suehook.net

Sunday

What Is A Garden?

The Garden Defined

This question is so fundamental to learning about design that it is worth looking at the instant image in your mind's eye of a garden.   I believe that on this design learning curve you will shed many of  your pre-conceptions and open your mind and your eyes to a myriad of new and exciting possibilities.

Gardens have been created  all over the world for many hundreds of years, arising from many different cultures. They have served and continue to serve a multitude of purposes including  the provision of shade, cool air and the conservation of  water in desert climates, as an expression of wealth and opulence, as a place of contemplation and meditation, a restorative space, a means of providing food and increasingly as an extension to the living space in the home, incorporating some or all of the above.

Alhambra, Grenada
A garden can be any exterior space that has been made by humans rather than occurring naturally in the landscape. The famous American garden designer Thomas Church observed that gardens are for people. In essence, gardens demonstrate man's ability to impose order on and thereby control nature. 

A garden is always artificially contrived, whether or not it attempts to recreate nature and even if it uses entirely natural props such as plants or boulders, because these are selected, chosen for inclusion.  It may use entirely artificial materials to achieve the ambience and style desired by its maker. 

Or it may redefine an existing natural landscape, manipulating and enhancing it with the lightest and most sensitive of touches.  It may be high on a rooftop, deep in a gulley, in the middle of a desert, on a housing estate, or on a beach. It may be formal,  contemporary, naturalistic or traditional. 
Derek Jarman's Dungeness garden
It may be wholly or partially contained and does not necessarily need to include plants, depending on its function and aims. There is no minimum or maximum size to qualify as a garden. It can be made on a tiny balcony, or in a miniscule courtyard (even in a stairwell, with some light). 

Or it may comprise several acres of managed and cultivated land. It will frequently reflect the ethos, aspirations, interests, priorities, culture and lifestyle of its owner.
Ian Hamilton Findlay's Scottish Garden
There is no limit to the possibilities for interpretation of the notion of a garden.  It may be well or badly designed, more or less pleasing aesthetically or functionally, but it is still a garden, very often crying out to be rescued with the help of an empathetic and sensitive designer. We can explore later how important your contribution will become.
Topher Delaney roof garden
A garden may have multiple uses or a single purpose for its existence.

The successful realisation of any garden depends significantly on its aspect, soil conditions and position. It may be dry, damp, wet, shady, sunny, exposed, or all of these things. A well-designed garden draws on every factor and turns them to advantage wherever possible, accentuating the positive and minimising (sometimes eliminating) the negative. 
Every garden is completely unique in its aspect, soil conditions and position.

A garden can evoke many moods. It may be relaxing, calm and peaceful, exciting and vibrant, mysterious and thought-provoking, witty and humorous.


 The role of the designer is to make the absolute most of a given space, whilst being realistic about its possibilities, its limitations and potential costs, carefully respecting the client brief while guiding your client towards the best possible outcome.  

That will usually delight him or her as you will be introducing ideas and solutions that they never would have thought possible. The making of a garden is a challenge. It is not easy but it is always exciting and you will never stop learning.


Gardens may aspire to recreate to scale elemental natural forms such as mountains or waves, or they may, less grandly provide a more intimate oasis of tranquility away from the bustle of the city, the buzz of traffic and the tensions of workaday life.

An area of  lawn edged by flower beds, a brown, timber garden shed in the background, with a bike propped up against it, some sort of path through the middle and maybe some children's toys, a football,  and a small sitting space with a table and chairs. The whole contained by fences, hedges or walls. This is just one of a myriad of examples of  what might be thought to be 'the garden fence'.


 I think it is exciting to explore and research how and why gardens have been made and doing so will inform and inspire your own progress into the amazing and challenging world of garden design.

Article by Sue Hook 


Wednesday

10 Swimming Pool Design Tips

What To Consider When Planning A Swimming Pool

So assuming you have the resources and the space what should you consider before installing a swimming pool?

1. Firstly, will you use it?

Or at least use it enough to justify its existence. If your weather isn’t consistently warm and sunny are you hardy enough? Can you be bothered to drag a cover off the pool every time you want to use it?

2. Have you got the ideal site:


 Open but sheltered. Away from deciduous trees that will shed their leaves. With easy access to changing facilities and close enough to the house for convenience.
You will also need to connect services the site: water and electricity. How easy and costly will that be?

3. What will you use the pool for?


This will influence its shape and size. If it is just for a quick cool-off dip and a focal point to lounge around then a curved or shaped pool is a possibility.
If you want it for serious swimming exercise then it needs to be big enough, deep enough and ideally rectangular. This was a major factor that put me off. A pool less than 15 metres, 50 feet long, is not a good place to swim.

4. Are you prepared for the cost?


Not only of installation but also of on-going maintenance? Is that something you are prepared to do yourself, or will you employ the services of a maintenance company?

5. What will the impact be on the garden?


If visible from the house, will it be dominant and obtrusive?
A typical aqua blue swimming pool is pretty startling on a cold, grey day and looks out of place in a traditional country garden. It may be more inkeeping in a contemporary or Mediterranean setting.

6. You could consider a pool of a different colour


It doesn't have to be blue. A natural stone, soft terracotta or clay coloured lining may be far easier to incorporate in your garden design.
Will you use a traditional concrete construction, fibreglass or one of the various vinyl liners available? These are more frequently used today.

7. Natural or Chemical?


Have you considered a natural freshwater swimming pool or swimming pond http://www.naturalpoolsuk.com/ ? These are becoming far more popular.
They definitely sit more comfortably in a naturalistic setting, but this is not the only possibility. Contemporary designs can be stunning.
No chemicals are used because the water filtration is achieved by aquatic plants. Much nicer to swim in; the only disadvantage: cold water!

8.will IT impact on the value of your house?


A swimming pool may or may not add value. It can be a selling point or it can be a disadvantage.
Your swimming pool could put off a buyer that does not want the bother or cost of a swimming pool.

9. What will be the implications if you change your mind?


Removing or filling in a swimming pool can be as difficult and costly as installing it in the first place.
You can’t just fill it in and plant in that location. You will have drainage to consider so the structure of the pool usually needs to be removed and soil, a lot of it, imported to fill the hole.

10. So, if I haven't put you off


Find yourself a good designer and get a specification sheet drawn up by an independent swimming pool engineer to include all the plant machinery and the materials you want to use.
This will mean every contractor will be quoting for exactly the same thing, otherwise it will be impossible to get a like for like quote. 

This one bit of advice alone could save you tens of thousands of dollars alone.

Consider keeping the pool a constant depth. I would recommend  4ft deep (1.2m) This is deep enough to swim in without scraping your knees and will halve the cost of your pool both in construct costs and in heating bills. 

The only disadvantage to this is that you should have a ‘no diving policy’ for the kids, but they will soon get over this.

If you want an electronic pool cover you will need to keep the pool rectangular, but this is also better if you want to use the pool for exercise and games like water volleyball.

Using a darker colour on a rectangular pool can also help disguise its use when situated close to the house.  If planned well, it can be designed to look like a formal pond when not is use.

Avoid ‘Roman Ends’ or  putting the steps in the centre of the pool as this ruins the ability to do lengths when exercising. Instead put them to one side so you can do racing turns without them getting in the way.

Always ask to see examples of contractors previous work in real life situations and try and talk to other pool owners to share their experiences before you take the plunge.

Do the contractors belong to a professional body?  If they do, check to see if they are covered by an indemnity policy just in case they go bankrupt.  Some professional bodies cover the cost of finishing the pool for the original agreed price.

Consider:
USA The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals
USA Florida Swimming Pool Association
UK BSPF | The British Swimming Pool Federation
UK SPATA
AU SPASA | Swimming Pool and Spa Alliance

Finally find an expert you can really rely on to do a good job and deliver a swimming pool that meets or exceeds all your expectations.