If you are struggling with the long grey winter days, then now is the perfect time to order some bulbs and tubers guaranteed to brighten your winter garden next year. An added bonus is that they will also provide nectar for winter foraging insects and bees emerging early from hibernation.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) can be bought as dry bulbs but establish much more effectively if bought "in the green". This simply means that they are actively growing and you will get clumps of bulbs in leaf. Now is the perfect time to order them and although you wont get any flowers this year they should quickly establish and reward you with flowers next January and February.
Galanthus nivalis is the common snowdrop and the one you are most likely to see in the wild. It likes partial shade and will tolerate most soils, if happy gradually spreading to form large clumps. They will naturalise in grass and are ideal for adding winter colour under trees and deciduous shrubs. Make sure to plant some where you can see them from your windows or front door, then you can enjoy then whatever the weather.
I hate hand-washing clothes and I know that if I have any such items, one busy day I will throw them into the washing machine with my fingers crossed behind my back and predictably disastrous results. Consequently I have learnt not to buy anything which needs such dedicated and delicate care, however gorgeous it might be. What has this got to do with a stress-free garden?
Even enthusiastic gardeners have certain tasks they enjoy far less than others or positively dislike. Some of my favourite gardens to visit have immaculate lawns and miles of beautifully clipped hedges. But I know that if I was to have these at home I would be creating my very own stress-inducing garden. Resenting every moment spent pushing the lawnmower or clipping the hedges; I would delay and procrastinate and the untidier they got the more they would annoy, irritate and nag at me.
All gardens, however low maintenance, need some care and attention. It’s the external equivalent of housework and similarly there are things you can do to help minimise and sometimes avoid the jobs you don’t like. As well as thinking about whether you like decking or paving, need a sandpit or fire pit, remember to think about what gardening jobs you do and don’t like. It’s probably the most important aspect of creating a garden you can relax in. You may have fallen in love with a Chelsea Show Garden full of perfect box balls and pleached trees but do you have the patience and time to keep them just so and more importantly would you be able to relax if they were not precise and well-manicured.
But I like box balls, you cry. Avoiding the associated work doesn’t mean that you can’t create something similar; many well-behaved shrubs such as Hebe rakaiensis naturally grow into neat domes without the need for you to wield any clippers.
Hate the thought of pruning or even owning secateurs? Then avoid primadonnas which need regular pruning to be at their best. Many shrubs don’t need any regular pruning if you’re happy to let them do their own thing and grow naturally; the worst that can happen may be slightly fewer flowers or an untidier shape.
Most of us want to do less weeding. Weeds love bare soil, it’s their dream destination so squeeze them out by generously filling your borders and pots with plants you do like or cover bare soil with a mulch such as gravel, slate or bark.
Maybe you love cottage gardens full of flowers, but don’t have time to deadhead or fiddle with all those plant supports?
Then choose shrubs or tough perennials such as hardy Fuchsias and Geraniums which will flower all summer and from one year to the next with minimal care and attention. There are literally hundreds to choose from.
Or maybe you’re new to gardening and getting stressed trying to remember what each plant needs or even what it is? Keep it simple. Choose a few easy-care plants you like and repeat them. You will get a strong look which is also simple to look after.
What’s your least favourite job in the garden?
A number of garden used floating surfaces- both Alan Gardener and Matthew Wilson had floating decks and Tatyana Shynkarenko's Thinking of Peace garden appeared to be floating on water. This is something which can be replicated at home and shows us again that changes in level, pre-existing or created, add interest to any garden or outside space.
One of my favourite gardens was Marcus Barnett's Mondrian inspired design, with its simple blocks of colour and texture. I also like the effect of the industrial tram lines in the Rich' brothers garden, these created a sense of movement and strong lines we could all copy even if we can't stretch to a moving summerhouse. The planting within the tramlines also shows that applying a little thought allows even trafficked areas to be green - something we should all emulate when turning gardens into driveways and parking spaces.
In contrast to gardens inspired by art and architectural movements, it was interesting to see those drawing on very personal stories and experiences from Charlie Albone's The Time Inbetween about the loss of his father to Kamelia Bin Zaal's Beauty of Islam. When designing gardens for clients, it is sometimes personal events or stories which can provide the inspiration - maybe certain plants remembered from childhood or a favourite place.
In terms of planting it was a pleasure to see greater variation both in terms of planting style and the plants themselves. Anthriscus sylvestris or Cow Parsley seems to have left centre stage having been almost compulsory at one time and although Lupins and Irises continue to prove popular with most designers, no single plant was dominating the show. There also seems to be a growing acceptance that naturalistic planting is aesthetically acceptable and worthy of display - although the Chelsea version of naturalistic is obviously staged and manicured . James Basson's Perfumers Garden aimed to show us all that imperfection and simplicity can be beautiful but then the attention to detail and design involved created a perfect interpretation of imperfection - maybe we should simply accept that as the Chelsea paradox. I'm not sure that this is something easily created and maintained at home, although I sometimes have 'perfect moments'' on my naturalistic allotment when the buttercups and strawberry flowers are beautifully intermingled, less-than-perfect moments are a more common experience : )
It's always interesting to see what themes emerge each year from the collective subconscious of Chelsea' designers. This year it was refreshing to see more variety across the main show gardens than we have had in the last year or so. Although there did seem to be a shared fondness for slate which was the dominant hard-landscaping material for several designers from Darren Hawkes 41,000 beautifully crafted slate pieces to the slabs and chippings used by Sean Murray, winner of the BBC Chelsea Challenge.
I wasn't able to go to Chelsea this year but when I have visited in the past, it is surprising how different gardens can appear in reality compared to viewing them on television. However I certainly didn't miss the crowds and if you haven't had chance to do Chelsea yet then its still available on iplayer. There are some excellent mini-tours of the main show gardens by Tony Buckland and Ann Marie Powell as part of the voting run-up to the People's Choice. I think I might just go and re-watch them now with a cup of tea...