John Shortland became Head Gardener to some of the most prestigious private estates in the south of England. Now he runs his own design and landscaping business based in the beautiful Cotswold Hills. His jargon-free book, Why Can’t My Garden Look Like That? Proven, Easy Ways to Make a Beautiful Garden of Your Own is published by Constable & Robinson and is available from Amazon and good bookshops. You can connect with John Shortland via his blog, Life in the English Cotswolds, or on Facebook and Twitter.
Whatever the size of your garden it is possible to have one that looks fantastic. The secret is to decide just how much time you can devote to it and tailor it so that it is easily looked after within that schedule. It is essential to be honest with yourself or the garden quickly becomes a chore that has to be done rather than a pleasurable hobby. If you never have a moment to sit and relax in the garden without becoming stressed just by looking at it you need to rethink and adapt it accordingly. It is better to do away with lots of flower beds, for example, and have only one that always looks beautiful. If even that proves too much then perhaps you should only have one carefully placed tree in a lawn – just make sure that yours is the best tree in the neighborhood.
Assuming you do want to have more than just one tree here are my cheats to make your garden the envy of your friends. It should be stressed that these aren’t a substitute for good gardening practice but they are useful when you are short of time and, perhaps, have guests arriving later.
Cheat 1: If you have a lawn and don’t have the time to cut it just trim the edges. You can often get away with longer than normal grass but if the edges are untidy the lawn will always look a mess however frequently you mow.
Cheat 2: Ideally your flower beds are always weed free but there are times when they get away from you. If you don’t have time to weed thoroughly weed just the front third of the bed, then go back and pull out any remaining really tall ones if they show. It is surprising how a tidy, front to a border deceives the eye – just remember to go back and finish the weeding as soon as possible.
Cheat 3: Remove or cut away any dead or dying plant. I know this can sometimes be difficult when you want to give it one last chance but just one sick plant can spoil the appearance of the whole garden. You never see a dead plant in a National Trust garden and that’s the reason why.
Cheat 4: Tie in wayward climbers or, in an emergency, cut the offending piece off. You don’t want your garden remembered for strangling unwary visitors when they walked past. It is highly unlikely that it will be detrimental to the plant although you may lose some flowering potential in the short term.
Cheat 5: Grow plants that die gracefully. Some plants may look beautiful when in flower but look dreadful as the blooms fade. White buddleias are an example (see photo) whereas the dead, brown blooms don’t show up on the colored varieties.
Cheat 6: Dead-heading plants regularly often encourages them to send out more flowers. If this seems a chore use plants like Alchemilla, Nepeta and herbaceous Geraniums that can have every leaf and flower stalk chopped off at the base after the first flush of flowers. Within two weeks new growth will appear and more flowers soon after.
Cheat 7: Support plants before they topple over. Not only is it much easier to do when they are smaller they rarely look as natural if they are propped up when they flower. There are a number of excellent plant supports you can buy or you can use canes and string which is more time consuming. If you choose the latter, don’t tie them to their supports tightly, as has happened in the photo below, or they look dreadful.
Cheat 8: Don’t always follow the rules when gardening: experiment a bit. Convention says that this Oriental Poppy should be planted in front of the much taller rose. By planting it behind (instead of collapsing as they always do) it has become hooked up on the roses thorns, saving you another task.
Cheat 9: Don’t have dozens of small pots unless you have the time to tend to them. Almost always, fewer larger sized ones look more dramatic and take far less watering. If you choose those that will comfortably hold a plastic pot as a liner you can lift them out when they finish and immediately replace them with another that has been grown on elsewhere.
Cheat 10: Find a place to store your dustbins and washing line out of sight. It is surprising just how in many gardens they are the dominant feature.