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Garden Principles

The word Principles sounds somewhat regulatory doesn't it, like there are a set of rules provided! Perhaps it would be better to think of these principles as a few tried and tested guidelines.

Three areas to consider when creating a garden would be: Garden Ecology, Organic Gardening and Garden Design.

Ecological Principles:
The aims here are to incorporate varied habitats to supplement the local area.

Organic Principles:
The main objectives being, to create a natural balance between the soil, flora and fauna.

Design Principles:
The objectives here? To create a garden that fits in with its surroundings and the people that use it.

It may not surprise you to find that there are fundamental links between the first two set of principles. The third however, has in many ways arisen at the expense of them both.

Ecological and Organic Principles:   

The organic system advocates a balance by growing a varied range of plants; the wildlife garden provides a varied range of habitats to accommodate a wide range of wildlife. Ecological principles are fundamental to an organic system of gardening resulting in a set of concurrent values. Organic gardening is self sustaining; using plants to help replenish the nutrients in the soil they used to live. It also encourages insects and animals to control pests and exploits the micro-climate within the garden to help control diseases.

By growing a varied range of plants such as trees, shrubs and flowers you will stand a better chance of creating this balance. Starting from scratch, it can take up to five years to create this balanced system in a garden. This natural balance we create using organic principles should help control the build-up of a particular pest to plague proportions. Use companion planting, i.e. other plants that benefit each other; either by attracting natural predators or deterring the insects that damage and introduce diseases. Most plants within the Allium family (onions) for example release pungent oils that repel greenfly. Hoverflies consume vast amounts of aphids and are particularly attracted by yellow flowers or foliage.

Sustainable Gardening techniques for developing your garden include:
• The correct positioning of plants • Removing infected material
• Using P&D free stock for cuttings • Cleaning secateurs and saws after use
• Maintaining correct soil conditions and pH • Keeping bare soil surface moving
• Hand weeding • Mulching • Growing plants to cover the ground

Whilst weeds amongst crops or in the border may not be desirable, they can attract beneficial insects into the garden. They provide food and hosts for the adult stages of insects whose larvae are predators of the more harmful pests. However this must be balanced against the fact that they may also harbour and help introduce P&D. A slight cover of annual weeds helps keep the soil cool and moist in the summer, providing they are not allowed to get out of hand.

Plants under the unfortunate banner weeds are native to the area, whilst many of the plants that we grow in the border or for the table have been imported over the Centuries from abroad. The Romans for example, brought with them many of their plants including, beet, kale, peas, radish, onions and cabbage. They introduced fruit trees such as, almond, peach, cherry, sweet chestnut, grape, fig, walnut and mulberry, and were also responsible for introducing many ornamental plants such as roses and lilies. In fact, the development of gardens in Britain has continually been stimulated by the introduction of new plant species from abroad.

Introduced plants may offer little to our wildlife resulting in a struggle to adapt to them. Native plants are therefore crucial to our local ecology; plants such as beech, hawthorn, elderberry, honeysuckle, and ivy.

Trees and shrubs in the border can support a vast range of life for both nesting and feeding. We have already discussed the importance of native plants to the ecology. Local plants are well adapted to local soils and climate and once established usually withstand all that the temperamental English weather can throw at them. Many will grow in difficult areas of the garden with little or no help from the gardener! We can and should, play a significant role by growing a good percentage of native plants in our gardens.

The features we create in a garden will become the habitats for many creatures. A lawn for example would feature in most gardens, but we tend not to think of it as an essential and valued habitat for our wildlife. The utility lawn with its meadow type grasses would be best for wildlife but all lawns would be a habitat rich in insects and become a major feeding area for a wide variety of birds. One of the nicest features using grasses to include in our garden would be an area mixed with wildflowers. Great for us to look at but even better for bees and butterflies to eat in! You do not need to create a vast area of meadow and a large garden in order to include this habitat, but an open sunny site is essential. The grassland could link the lawn with a mixed border for example, perhaps in a corner or at the back perimeter. The problem of the hot, dry sunny bank could be solved, or with a closely cut strip through the middle it would also be right at home in the Cottage Garden!

Because of their steady demise in the countryside, ponds have now become an eco-system in demand! Apart from providing a drinking and bathing site for birds and mammals they are a vital habitat for our amphibians and grassnakes. The wildlife pond should replicate natural ponds. It should be informal with gently sloping banks for ease of access and have plenty of cover. Careful consideration must be given if there are young children around.

Design Principles:

These principles are the legacy resulting from a long and varied history of garden design that started in the UK with the Romans. During their time here they not only introduced many of our plants, they also brought with them an extensive understanding of Horticulture; the roots of which were firmly about Control. With the departure of the Romans, the Monks in their monastery gardens become highly significant for their horticultural methods, which tended to be more sympathetic to nature.

From the Renaissance Period, for four hundred years it was all about control again; very much “Mans control over Nature”.

During the Victorian Era there began a gradual emergence towards a more natural design of garden, the Pioneers of which were, the Gardener and Author William Robinson via his books; 'Wild Garden' & 'Flower Garden and the Garden Designer and Author, Gertrude Jekyll. She wrote many books on planting designs and combinations advocating her love of nature, sense of colour and a respect for plants combined with natural design. Her ideology of the traditional English cottage garden planted with roses, shrubs, hardy annuals and perennials and a mixed herbaceous border or two was to a large extent romantic - but appreciated by the local wildlife nevertheless!

Having said that, this softer approach towards the garden did not extend to some of the creatures or plants that moved in to live there and for a hundred years or so that word control was still very much a part of the gardeners' psyche, but he altered his sights! He (it tended to be a he), moved away from clipping and tidying and moved towards the systematic chemical eradication of any creature or plant that dared get in the way!

A glance back at our history of design and you can see why us gardeners are often labeled as Control Freaks!

When looking back at how the use of the garden has changed over the years, you realise that the two major factors that shaped the design was - fashion and circumstances. This would influence how the garden was used - the function of the garden.

Back in the time of the Romans, it was all about power & control. Then, with the Monks the garden was; an extension of the living area - used as much for growing food as for relaxation and contemplation. During the Renaissance Period, as with the Romans, the garden became a powerful and flamboyant statement; an extension of wealth.

Styles and fashions have come and gone, but the fundamental purpose of the garden remains the same - to serve and reflect your lifestyle, level of interest, budget and available time. How to create good design can not be taught - it is largely a matter of opinion. For a design to be successful will ultimately depend on avoiding the things that can go wrong. This is where those principles come in - to help avoid the pitfalls.

 Local Topography  Unity Balance Proportion & Scale Variety
 Seasonality Time Simplicity

Garden designers will take them all into consideration but the last principle is often the most effective!

There are also a few garden principles that help when it comes to a garden's maintenance. Two sets being - pruning and lawn care.

Pruning Principles

When you consider that despite all the countless books and articles on this topic, there still appears to be a lot of mystery surrounding it. I do sometimes wonder if all this literature has made pruning seem like a science and cause unnecessary anxiety!

Providing you get to grips with some of the terminology, it is not difficult to do.

The main stem arising from the ground is called the Leader.
•  A stem growing from the Leader is called the Branch Leader.
  A stem growing from a Branch Leader is called a Lateral.
  A stem growing from a Lateral is referred to as a Sub-Lateral.
  Fruiting Spurs are short branching stems that will carry blossom / fruit.

The types of bud produced:

Terminal Bud - The bud at the tip of a stem.
  Lateral Bud - The growth bud which will form a lateral branch - normally thin and lies flat against the stem.
Fruit Bud - Will form blossom / fruiting spurs - normally rounder & fat.

Type of Growth:

•  New Wood - Current seasons growth.
•  Old Wood - Previous years growth.

That’s the jargon dealt with, now to go over the main points that will apply when pruning all plants.

Make cuts clean, removing ragged edges. Remove flush with the main stem any 'snags'. Use clean and sharp tools.

Use the correct cutting tool for the job - secateurs for cuts up to 12.5mm diameter, loppers for cuts up to about 25mm diameter and pruning saws above 25mm diameter.
Remove completely... overcrowded, rubbing, inward-growing, dead, diseased, weak and awkwardly growing stems before you commence the main pruning.
Growth will normally come from lateral buds below the pruning cut, with the bud directly beneath the cut becoming the new terminal bud for that branch.
Cut to an outward facing lateral bud at an angle away from the bud - this will help keep the center open, allowing light in and air to circulate. By making pruning cuts angle away from the bud will allow water to run off - if not it will sit in the crevice and may rot tissue.
Make the base of hedges larger than the top in order to allow the light in - ‘top heavy’ hedges will become bare at the base.
Remove completely diseased, dying or dead growth - at any time of year. Normally diseased wood will be stained - keep removing stem to clean wood. The way to tell for sure if the stem is alive is to scrape the bark with your thumb-nail - if the stem is alive it will usually be green or cream coloured and wet.

There are three main methods of pruning:

Hard Pruning - where large lengths of old and new wood is removed.
Light Pruning - new wood is removed or new wood with some old wood.
Stooling where all growth is cut back to just above ground level.

Why you are pruning will help you know which of the above method to use:

• More flowers and restricted shape...
annual but lighter pruning
• To encourage new wood or foliage...
stooling or hard pruning.
• Fewer flowers but of a better quality...
harder pruning.
• A dense screen...
light pruning or shearing.
• An open natural shape...
infrequent but harder pruning.
• To control a vigorous or 'leggy' plant...
• To rejuvenate an overgrown plant...
stooling and hard pruning.

Most fruit trees such as apple, pear & plum and some flowering shrubs such as Wisteria & Pyracantha, flower & fruit on spurs produced on mature wood.

It normally takes three years for spurs to be produced on a plant:

Year 1 - Growth Buds
Year 2 - Growth Buds & Fruit Buds
Year 3 - Fruit Spurs

So as you can see; if you prune out completely all branches with fruit spurs you will have no flowers or fruit!

To conclude what I hope has simplified this subject, the final thing we need to consider is timing. Deciduous Shrubs that flower during the...

SPRING - Will flower on old wood; prune as soon as flowering has finished.
SUMMER - Will flower on new wood; prune late winter to early spring.

Evergreen Shrubs are normally pruned in late spring.


A little ditty for you to help remember when to prune;

if it flowers before June, don’t prune too soon!

Lawn Principles

Those of us with lawns will appreciate that a fair amount of time will be spent mowing and looking after it! Lets look at a bit of background info.

There are two types of Lawn:
• Luxury lawn - consists of the grasses, Bents and Fescues. These types of grass are - fine-leafed, produce a dense sward, draught resistant and will withstand regular close cutting. This is the grass used for bowling greens and golf greens. This type of lawn will not tolerate heavy ware and tare or neglect.
• General purpose or utility lawn - consists of Rye, Meadow and Timothy. This type of grass is - broader leaved, cheaper, hard wearing, tiller (side-shoots) easily and recovers quickly, but will not tolerate frequent close mowing.

There are also two types of lawn mower:
• Cylinder mowers - cuts with a scissors-like action - the specialists mower, the one you must have for the luxury lawn. 5 - 6 blades are standard, but 8 - 12 blade mowers are available for the real specialist! Available petrol, electric or hand driven - the main advantage is that they cut the grass very close.
• Rotary mowers - cuts with a scythe-like action - air-cushioned 'hover' mowers are also available. More flexible in use and suitable for most areas including - uneven ground, cutting long, coarse and wet grass and slight banks. Petrol or electric driven. Always use a circuit breaker with electrically powered garden tools and never use any in the wet.

The Mowing Regime:
Depending on the type of winter, by the middle of February the lawn should need it's first cut of the season - with the blades set high enough to take off the top third of the height of the grass. Before cutting grass wet with dew, or heavily covered with worm casts, brush with a besom broom to remove from foliage. The grass collecting box should be used - it produces a nicer finish to the lawn and avoids dead grass suffocating the lawn and creating a 'spongy' feel underfoot. From that first cut of the season, mow the lawn as and when you feel it needs it. Depending on the weather, by April reduce the height of cut slightly and commence weekly mowing - the luxury lawn may need mowing twice a week. Reduce the height of cut slightly in stages until the end of May, when the summer level should be set on your mower - 3cm for the utility lawn and 1.5cm for the luxury lawn.

From September the height of cut should start to be raised slightly over stages. By October, the height of cut should be set fairly high and the lawn cut as and when you feel it needs it but only when conditions allow - never if ground is waterlogged or frozen.

To get the very best lawn - essential if you have the Luxury Lawn, an Autumn maintenance schedule should be followed.

A fibrous organic layer called Thatch can build up and form a spongy blanket that suffocates the lawn - particularly if the grass-box is not used. Rainwater soaks into this layer, and is restricted from getting into the soil beneath. The likelihood of disease is also increased. Even with regular use of the grass-box thatch can build up over time. This layer needs to be removed to avoid the health of the lawn deteriorating. The tool to use is the Spring-tine Rake. It is hard work - but you drag the rake forcibly over the lawn to remove the debris. Scarifying should only by carried out from September to early October. This will help to stimulate the production of tillers and runners, that naturally occur at this time of year, thus helping the thickening of the turf. If the lawn is large or the problem serious, then it would be worth hiring a mechanical scarifier. This is like a petrol cylinder mower with wire or metal teeth instead of blades.

This job should follow scarifying. The top inch or so of soil on a well used lawn on heavy soil will become compacted by the end of the summer. The objective behind aerating or spiking the lawn is to break through this layer and improve drainage. A garden fork is suitable for sandy or loamy soils - driven vertically in to a depth of about 4" every six inches or so. Heavy, clay soils are best spiked using a Hollow-Tine. This takes out cores of soil rather than the crushing action of the Fork.

Top Dressing:
Involves applying soil or compost, ideally mixed with sand over the surface of the lawn - should ideally follow aeration. After applying top-dressing, it must be worked onto the surface of the soil and not cover the grass. The object is to spread out the dressing and fill in any hollows. Use the back of a wooden landscaping-rake or ordinary garden rake.

As with all plants, grass requires N.P.K. to sustain healthy growth. The addition of Fe (Iron) is also sometimes added into lawn fertilizer.
• Nitrogen - for rapid soft growth and improved green colour
• Phosphorous - stimulates root action
• Potassium - hardens growth & protects from disease and winter cold
• Iron - acidifies the soil and improves green colour.

These nutrients are applied to lawns as compound fertilizers specially formulated for the time of year. If you use a lawn fertilizer, when applying it either by hand or distributor - measure the area and weigh the correct quantity adhering to the manufactures recommendations. Apply evenly and avoid overlapping. Water-in if rain does not follow within a couple of days. Only apply lawn fertilizer to moist soil during active growth.

Weed control:
Weed infestation is influenced by several factors:
• The pH of the soil - ideally a slightly acidic soil - suit's the finer grasses but disliked by most common weeds, fungal disease and worms.
• Poor mowing practices - cropping, suddenly cutting long grass very short.
• Non-removal of grass clippings.
• Poor nutrition - leaves grass weak and spindly.
• Worm casts.
• P&D activity.
• Surrounding vegetation - overgrown neglected neighbouring gardens etc.

Moss can also be a problem in lawns. The main condition moss requires is dampness and shade. There are other factors that suit rapid moss colonization: Shade, nutrient deficiency, cutting the grass too short, drought or very low pH, (acidic soil).


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The Soil
The Plant
The Wildlife
Garden Design


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