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Wednesday March 03 , 2021

Blue Daisy Blog

Blue Daisy blog written by Nicki Jackson & Jules Clark - for news, views, garden design, gardening and plant observations and thoughts.

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Garden Design Quick Tip: Sound

Posted by on in Garden Design
WaterSound can often take a back seat in gardens as most people tend to favour elements for our other senses.  Do you know what sounds are in your garden?  There will no doubt be bird song but can you hear any others?   Sit out one day for 10 or 15 minutes and make a note of all the different sounds you can hear.   Are the sounds in your garden satisfactory?  Are there any you want to disguise like a train or traffic in the distance?  Are there any you want to hear more? Once you have the answers to those questions you can begin to alter the sounds to fit your personal needs.
There are four main ways to incorporate sound: surfaces in the garden, wildlife, water and plants.  The use of different surfaces can create sounds that suit a particular area in your garden for example, gravel has a distinctive crunch, bark is soft and quiet and paving will have a low impact thud all of which will let garden creatures know you’re approaching!   Increasing the sound of wildlife in the garden can be achieved by attracting more birds through using specific plants and installing a feeding station.  Choosing plants that attract pollinating insects such as bees will increase the soft hum they create whilst busy at work.  Frogs and toads create sounds by not only their croaking but also by plopping into water!
Water is a well known element for creating sounds in a garden but be sure of the kind of effect you would like.  If you want to have a relaxing ambience you’ll be leaning towards a soft trickle or if you would like a refreshing and stimulating atmosphere then perhaps a rhythmic cascade of a series of waterfalls.   Apart from attracting wildlife other plants like ornamental grasses will create rustling sounds when the wind pours through their leaves.  Plants react differently to wind in different seasons; in the autumn for instance seed heads filled with seeds rattle as well as leaves swirling and rustling on a blustery day.
Three great plants that can be used to create sound in the garden are: 
  1. Bamboo particularly the Phyllostachys varieties e.g. Phyllostachys nigra has foliage that rustles in the wind but on a blustery day the canes knock together producing a hollow sound.
  2. Nigella damascena also known as Love-in-a-mist with its blue flowers is quite popular in traditional cottage gardens, likes a well drained and sunny border, on a windy day its seed heads rattle.

  3. Briza maxima known also as greater quaking grass stands around 60cm in height is an annual ornamental grass preferring full sun, will self seed around the garden and has nodding flowers that rustle in the wind.
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Garden Design Quick Tip: Repetition

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RHSWisleyA well known fact in our industry is that people often impulse buy when at garden centers and end up with one of this and one of that.   Whilst it feels frivolous and perhaps even rather extravagant ‘dot’ planting really does leave a garden feeling uneasy, busy and sometimes even restless.   Next time you’re buying get a larger quantity, even if that is 3 or 5 and plant them together to form a larger planting area of one plant.  

To really get repetition right you would need to repeat that planting again further down the border, so you could buy 9 of the same plant and plant 3 lots of 3, or if you had 3 small borders you could plant 3 in each.  If you only have one border and a few small containers you could repeat the planting from border to container.  These methods have a great effect of steadying the planting design and it helps each area relate to each other giving a calming and more harmonious effect.  

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Garden Design Quick Tip: Movement

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grasses2Quite often I am asked the question ‘how can I make my garden more interesting’ and movement is one element of good garden design that often gets overlooked.  It is just as important as all the other elements, not only does it create a feel, an ambience, but also added interest.   Movement doesn’t have to be dramatic or exciting it can be soft, understated and subtle and each person can have their own take on what movement in the garden means.

It can be incorporating moving water, for instance, which shimmers and sparkles in the light but also adding that refreshing trickling sound as it moves, creating a mood.  The sound of movement often adds that extra layer that works and plays on the senses too - not only trickling water but rustling leaves, swishing grasses and other 'movement sounds' all play their part.

Navigating around a garden can also be what some people define movement to be, how to create journeys so you interact and move through the garden.  Paths are great elements for this but care must be taken with the dimensions of them and their exact purpose, adding a path as an afterthought can often look out of place.  

Incorporating plants that move gently in the breeze and give that extra vertical lift can really make them stand out from their more static counterparts.  Ornamental grasses are great for adding movement as their habits are quite different and there are some that offer good all year round interest of both foliage and seed heads which last right into winter.

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Garden Design Quick Tip: Texture

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echinopsTexture in garden design often refers to the surface quality of the plant and can range from classes known as delicate to coarse.  It is a character element that can be used by itself or with other elements to create a feeling of unity.

Textures appeal to multiple sensory experiences at once. You can often tell what something is going to feel like just by looking at it, but there may be more surprises in store as you explore. Certain forms and surfaces invite touch and the visual and physical effect of a border is heightened when there is great textural contrast because of this ‘invitation’ to interact with the textural plants.

A plant’s texture can also set the mood of a garden; many bold and coarse plants can create a tropical feel, picture ornamental banana plants or Cannas.  If your garden is lacking in texture remember that too many plants with fine textures can create a fuzzy blur, too many bold or rough plants can make it feel claustrophobic.  Think of the ratio 1/3 fine and 2/3 course texture and you usually can’t go too far wrong.  

Remember it’s not just leaves that add texture; a few well placed trees in a garden such as the River Birch (Betula nigra) and the Tibetan Cherry (Prunus serrula ‘Tibetica’) will encourage you and visitors to interact with the garden and touch the tree bark.   

Three plants that are often used to add textural elements to the garden:

  • Hosta - their broad leaves adds weight and drama to any border and is classed as bold.  Being perennials they come back every year so are a good investment, they prefer to grow in part shade to full shade and benefit from dividing every few years.  They do flower in the summer but they are used specifically as a foliage plant, use them to brighten up a shady corner.   Slugs love them so be prepared to either pick off or kill the slugs.  One way to deal with them is to use nematodes a biological control that are safe for animals and children.
  • Cosmos – with its thread-like leaves their texture is classed as fine.   It can be a perennial but the annual variety is a cottage garden favourite; they can grow up to a metre tall and are good as cut flowers too.  They look great planted in drifts and thrive in well drained soil and a sunny aspect.
  • Echinops (main picture) - have a spiny texture.   A thistle like plant that can add a touch of drama and an almost tropical feel.  They are known for their blue or white spherical flower heads that attract lots of different insects.  Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’  will get to around 1m in height and 45cm in width and are happy in full to part sun.
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Garden Design Quick Tip: Focal Points

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focalpointThe purpose of a focal point in the garden is to ‘bring the garden into focus’ - and while it might sound pretentious what it’s really about is leading or directing the garden viewer’s eye to a particular point or points in a garden.

It’s almost like a signpost that tells a viewer where to look and give their attention and in looking at the focal point, the setting around it - the rest of the garden - suddenly seems to come into focus too. 

It’s a typical designer’s trick but we all tend to do it inside our homes without thinking – the fireplace, the coffee table with a striking ornament or flower arrangement, the large screen TV on the wall – all of these things are focal points, but they give balance and context to the rest of the room they’re in. The same principle applies to the outdoor space too.  

The means of creating focal points in the garden are limitless – you can create them with sculptures, plant pots, colour, planting, structures, water, doorways, shapes, collections of things – the list does go on and on. There were some lovely examples at Chelsea Flower Show 2013.

The trick to using focal points though is to limit them; you only want 1 per ‘viewing area’ or section of a garden otherwise they will compete with each other and the viewer’s focus of the garden will be lost.

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