This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jo Newton a Garden Designer who runs her own business

My Top 5 Flowering Shrubs

Now that we’re halfway through spring and many of the plants have come up in our gardens, we’re finding ourselves reviewing what’s there and what isn’t. Spring bulbs have been putting on their cheerful show, and we’re looking forward to the summer bulbs and corms. Hardy perennials are emerging into life with all their promise of greenery and colour throughout the coming months. But we may find that some plants haven’t survived and that we have ‘gaps’. Some of these spaces may be best filled with shrubs, giving you that backbone, height and structure that a garden needs.
Difficult though it is because there is so much choice, I’ve come up with my top 5 flowering shrubs that would suit most gardens and very importantly, between them, will provide interest all year round.

  1. Viburnum tinus: There are quite a lot of Viburnums but ‘tinus’ is one of the evergreen varieties with mid-deep green glossy leaves (see pictured). Perhaps its main attraction is its flowers which last right through from December to April, and what’s more, bees and hoverflies love them! After flowering it develops bunches of blue-black berries. It’s a medium-sized shrub which would suit the middle of a border, or perhaps to the back if you don’t want large plants, and is happy both in sun and part shade. Its weak spot is, like other Viburnums, Viburnum beetle, so if you notice brown notches or patches on leaves, remove them promptly and get rid of all fallen leaves. Other than that Viburnum tinus is a beautiful, good all-rounder shrub which keeps giving.
  2. Lavandula angustifolia: I can’t imagine a garden without some lavender! Within this fully hardy group are the well-known ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ varieties much more capable of surviving our UK Climate than the French lavenders – at least that’s true here in the northwest of England. Many of us enjoy the smell of lavender as we brush past, and bees and other pollinating insects enjoy the flowers which can last from July to September.
  3. Mahonia x media ‘Charity’: Another evergreen shrub, this time with spiky, holly-like leaves and yellow flower-spikes which attract bees and insects (there’s a theme developing here!). They have a beautiful scent –in fact, this winter on a lockdown walk I smelt a Mahonia in a garden we passed before I saw it. Such a pleasure in the middle of winter, this and some of the other Mahonias flower from November to March. They’re taller than Viburnum tinus and can be grown in shade so they’re great plants for something architectural at the back of a shady border.
  4. Weigela ‘Florida Variegata’: I’ve chosen this shrub because it is quite different from the others in my list. It is deciduous with variegated foliage, has pretty pink flowers and has a bushy but fairly tall habit with arching stems. The leaves which are grey-green with white edges can really brighten up a border, as do other variegated plants. The pale pink funnel-shaped flowers are quite profuse and can last from May to June, and sometimes beyond. Weigela grows easily on most soils, and once it has reached the height you want it responds well to pruning after flowering (probably to about half its height).
  5. Fothergilla major (Mountain witch alder): I’ve saved this special shrub till last as it’s one of my favourite finds (see pictured)! It is deciduous and very slow-growing but has some wonderful features. As the leaves appear in late spring, so also do the unusual bottle-brush-like white flowers which stay through to mid-summer. The leaves, which in summer resemble the shape and green of Hazel leaves, turn in autumn into a plethora of reds, oranges and yellows which I think are quite unique. We gained so much pleasure last year from watching these changes which lasted at least four to five weeks! Fothergilla thrives on acid soil and its colours are at their best in full sun but partial shade is ok too. If your garden is on alkaline soil, you could plant this shrub in ericaceous soil in a container, as you can with rhododendrons and other acid-loving plants.
    So I hope that my list here of flowering shrubs is helpful and has given you pointers to some beautiful plants that will add structure and interest to your garden all-year round. And I wish you a full and enjoyable growing year!

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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Keily Rutherford, a Passionate Garden Designer and Horticulturist

I’ve learned many things in this last year and whilst I’m sure I don’t need to highlight the individual challenges we all face to some degree or another. The one thing I do hope we can all take away is that when the way we decide to live our everyday life is no longer our own choice, it affects us as human beings, hugely. Be it by disability, chronic pain, pandemic, illness or the invisible barriers of mental health challenges such as crippling anxiety. Freedom to choose is something we all need control over and because of that, these unique circumstances have forced us to be adaptable and proactive. I think perhaps, as humans we all understand each other a little better and can accept that each individual is unique, with unique ways of dealing with any challenges laid at their feet. I think we are more compassionate. I hope we are more empathetic.

But what if coping is something that is just a hairs breadth from giving up, what if some of us are merely surviving.

I am Keily Rutherford and I have served 12 years in the British Army as A Dog Trainer with 2 tours of Iraq and 1 tour of Afghanistan, I worked as care assistant in a residential nursing home and after becoming a Mum became very addicted to gardening. I now run a Gardening business in beautiful Melton Mowbray which is passionate about creating beautiful individual outdoor spaces and mentoring new gardeners into this rewarding career.

With a military background it is safe to say that almost 20 years ago the focus on mental health wasn’t what it is today, and I saw so many soldiers struggling especially on tour after being injured or involved in major incidents. Anxiety is something that has plagued me all my life and actually the Army pushing me outside of my comfort zone meant my confidence grew and grew. Since leaving service I have to remind myself that doing something that scares me every day is good for me, but often I can choose, and I raise my hand to taking the easy route out at times.

As I prepare to study FdSc degree in Horticulture at Nottingham Trent University this year it compels me tell you about the practical everyday strategies I use to motivate myself to do the thing I love and most of them revolve around gardening, my business and my lifestyle. You don’t need heaps of space and if you really are short on enthusiasm. Start with an idea, creativity is the spark that lights the fire, trust me on this! Just some paper and some cheap pencils will be fine (it’s how I started) and make a list of what you’d like your garden to give you. Let’s keep the simple things in life, they’ll be different for everyone but for me it was;

  • Being able to watch the birds
  • A shady place to drink a cup of tea
  • Borders to plant my beautiful flowers

And to keep things interesting for you, I used my front garden which required two cars to be parked, I had a tight budget of £150 and I wanted to recycle as many things as I could. It turned out to be a free activity for my children to help with during lockdown and it was named The Nature Garden. We are one of only a couple of gardens that have not completely resurfaced with tarmac and it is a hot spot of activity with birds, frogs, hedgehogs, bees, butterflies and in the morning when sometimes the day ahead seems a bit long and a bit unmanageable, the peaking of Galanthus nivalis or Helleborus in depths of winter, the presence of a little robin drinking from the pond and the sweet scent of Sarcococca humilis as I clumsily bustle into my front door all give such unplanned joy. We even pop a little table and chairs out now as a lovely addition to our lockdown garden where I can watch the kids scootering and I think a few of the neighbours wish they had more than just tarmac now!

Good luck with your planning, I hope it gives you focus and fills you with hope as the year progresses.

If you feel inspired to create your own little sanctuary and need any plant advice or help you can find me on instagram @kr_gardendesign.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Beverley McAlpine, a Garden Designer and Horticultural Therapist at Greensense-design

When we plant a seed we set it on it’s way . We lay the foundation for growth with good soil and water , we cherish and nourish the small seedling over the weeks as it sprouts up to the light and we transplant these seedlings and roots into larger pots before placing outside to face the great
outdoors . This process takes months and requires memory , observation , encouragement and careful handling- sometimes disappointingly we have to change course and try again.

In a way our own lives follow a similar pattern to this tiny seed . In 2008 I returned to the UK after 12 years away, repatriating slowly over the coming months . I began to feel unfulfilled , unsettled and unhappy until it dawned on me that despite my exciting time overseas , I had withdrawn from truly connecting with nature .That day a seed was planted- but how was I going to set this idea on its way and what skills did I need to grow it into
something valuable ? This is what happened .

Step One : Setting the seed on it’s way
My background was in Occupational Therapy and I wanted to be able to share the new journey with others who needed support , so I volunteered to work on an organic farm with adults who had challenges . I learnt about seed planting , growing flowers and vegetables and I learned to drive a
tractor . Life was good and I loved every minute of my time on the farm, sharing skills and learning from all those around me.

Step Two : Nurturing the seed with care and observation
In order to gain more horticultural knowledge I gained a foundation in horticulture and went on to become a garden designer but the direction felt disconnected – remember the seedlings that don’t quite grow ?

Step Three : Potting on with care and attention
I needed something else to run alongside the design work and found part time work as a Horticultural Therapist at Walworth Garden in London working in the allotment growing vegetables, in the the garden maintaining the plants and in the colder months inside the unit, creating indoor gardens and having such fun. Biophillic design and nature deficit disorder continue to be at the heart of my journey and I have had opportunities to work with Gayle Souter – Brown on creating landscapes for health and well being

Step Four : The Garden
Since 2009 horticulture , design work and horticultural therapy have all come together to become Green Sense Design, a freelance service designing gardens for health and well being, a Community Interest Company for horticultural therapy working in care homes and with individuals, linking
up with social prescribing services and opening up opportunities to connect with amazing people who work in all aspects of horticulture . This is my garden and I hope it continues to grow.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Mel Speak a Garden Designer who runs her own business

Designing a Sensory Garden

I think a garden is a great place to lose yourself in the beauty of plants and nature, to relax and re-energise and to plan or work through any problems you may have. Take in the colourful sights and sounds of the garden, touch and work with the soil and the plants and smell the fragrances as well as ultimately taste produce that is grown there. Gardening can truly stimulate all our five of our senses and the result of this for me is tremendous wellbeing and satisfaction. It has created a passion that I love conveying to others – hence the reason why I have become a garden designer!
Having worked with people with learning and physical disabilities for many years prior to becoming a garden designer, I know first-hand of the benefits a garden can provide to all the senses. This is why I now love to create gardens for all types of people and situations taking into account what different plants and elements have to offer to us mere mortals! Whether it is a peaceful haven or a stimulatory learning environment you wish to create it pays to think of the sensory benefits of everything you are going to use in the garden.
So how do you go about creating a sensory environment? Firstly you do not need a great expanse of garden – a series of containers or window boxes spaced in different areas can work very well. Importantly you need to consider who the garden is going to be enjoyed by and structure it accordingly. If children are going to be the main users then the planting and features need to be accessible to them at a low height and any access areas safely constructed. If the space is going to be access by wheelchair users then consideration must be given to the level access of all areas, the width of any paths, the height of features such as arches and the positioning of planting. Lastly I would recommend creating a journey through the garden – a true sensory experience interspersed with places to sit and take in the sensory stimulus on offer.
So here are some ideas of what can be used within a sensory environment.
When thinking about stimulating SIGHT in a garden the first thought turns to colour. Vibrant bright colours can provide stimulus for people with a visual sensory impairment. Bright red flowers such as Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, oranges such as Echinacea ‘Tangerine Dream’ and yellows like Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ are far easier to distinguish for someone with a visual impairment than pastel shades. Think also of the colour contrast and the use of boundary materials. For example, try painting a boundary fence black and growing white or yellow flowers to contrast and ‘pop’ out to the garden visitor. Or plant tall contrasting grasses that move in the wind. Also don’t forget to consider using colourful foliage and plants that have fruits and berries especially through the winter months.

When incorporating SOUND in a garden it is important to remember this is not just about what is in the garden but what is attracted to it and visits it. Placing bird feeders and a bird bath in the garden should attract our feathered friends who joyously flap their wings and calm us with their birdsong. Likewise, bees and other buzzing insects are attracted to nectar rich planting. Sound can also be provided by plants that rustle or create moment with their leaves or seedpods and also by different floor material such as crunchy gravel. Try planting specimens such as Phyllostachys aurea (bamboo), Lunaria annua (Honesty) and Phormium (New Zealand flax) to bring sound into the garden.
SMELL – Having plants that exude fragrance at different parts of the garden can excite or calm. Who doesn’t love a plant that smells of chocolate (Cosmos atrosanguineus – Chocolate cosmos) or curry (Helichrysum italicum – curry plant)? Highly scented planting placed adjacent to a seat or on a paths edge or scaling a walk-through archway can provide pleasurable scent along the garden journey. Try a scented Jasmine such as Jasminum floridum. Herbs which can be touched, crushed or brushed past such as rosemary, mint and lavender are particularly good for providing scent in the garden.

TOUCH – a sensory garden needs to be tactile whether this be through the planting or the construction materials and features. From soft feathery grasses such as Stipa tenuissima ‘Ponytails’ (Mexican Feather grass) to spongy mosses like Stipa tenuissima ‘Ponytails’ (Mexican Feather grass), from smooth pebbles to flowing water, elements should be easily accessible to the inquisitive hand.

And finally maybe the best of all – TASTE! So many edible plants fruits and vegetables can be cultivated in the garden. As well as the usual strawberries and well-known herbs don’t forget to add some surprises like Borago officinalis (Borage), Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium) or Calendula officinalis (Pot marigold) which can all be picked in the garden and sprinkled on salads.

I hope this provides you with some ideas of how to create a true sensory experience in a garden which calms the mind and body and creates a beautiful place to spend time in.

By Mel Speak – Mel Speak Garden Design –
based in West Yorkshire working across Yorkshire & Lancashire.