No landscape designer would ever create a dead-flat garden.
- © GAP Photos: Lynn Keddie
- © GAP Photos/Suzie Gibbons/Design: Kathy Taylor
If you're starting out with one — newbuild homes often have them — and you keep it on one level, the blank canvas will inevitably become a bland one. Avoid the flat-as-a-board trap by letting your imagination soar skywards.
Add a decorative obelisk to give each border a lift in winter and grow sweet peas right up to the summit this summer. Cut across one corner of your plot with an arbour, fling a honeysuckle over it and give the garden a completely different viewing point.
By exploiting the vertical you detract from the humdrum horizontal, and you also create endless space for plants. Land might be limited but air is free.
Give the plain some perspective by introducing a generous arch. Introduce half a dozen, at regular intervals, and suddenly you have a rather romantic walkway — and endless possibilities for planting, from obligatory evergreen jasmine to frisky springtime clematis macropetala, or from a well-behaved climbing rose such as fragrant pink New Dawn to a highsummer baby pumpkin, sown from seed any time now.
© GAP Photos/ J S Sira
If your garden is small, think large
One skimpy arch that you have to limbo through will have little impact. Don't be afraid to add a few bold exclamation marks — preferably green — such as a trio of pencil cypresses or slim-line junipers. Daring moves pay off: the garden, at a stroke, will look larger and a great deal more interesting.
Give the borders a physical lift — and make planting and maintenance a breeze — by converting them to raised beds and thereby changing the monotone one level to a visually livelier split-level. You can perch on the edges of the beds while you tackle the plants, and here and there, trailing plants such as prostrate rosemary, creeping thyme and Convolvulus sabatius can tumble extravagantly over the edges.
The vertical gardener sees even a drainpipe as an opportunity. Use yours to support pots of flowering plants along its length, with the help of plastic-coated steel rings that will grip the pipe and hold the pots securely (visit www.spanishrings.com).
The same principle will enliven a bare patio wall and bring your prize container plants to a more appealing eye level, so you look directly at them rather than downwards.
Bring in a multi-stemmed silver birch and you dramatically break up the tedium of a flat space; bring in two and you double the dynamism. Every garden should have at least one tree, however small the space. Consider a crab apple or an amelanchier; both deliver great fruit, flowers and foliage.
Keep the tree canopies high by cutting off the lower branches and you not only bring the eye up to a higher level, you let in more light so you can grow more plants beneath.
Spring's prettiest plants — pulmonaria, dicentra, erythronium — all thrive in the dappled shade of a deciduous tree and create a delectable mini-woodland. A highrise row of pleached hornbeam or fruit trees — order one ready-made from Clifton Nurseries (020 7289 6851) — provides a glorious green hedge on a higher plain. Bare-trunked, the trees are espaliered high enough to allow you to walk beneath them and they provide valuable screening from neighbouring buildings.
Buy it, see it
Tumbling Toms are the tomatoes of choice for hanging baskets and windowboxes. Disease-resistant and easy to care for, they produce cascading cherry-sized fruit from July to late September.
Five large plants of Tumbling Tom Red usually cost £10.94, including p& p, but Homes & Property readers buy them for just £ 5.99; five plants of Tumbling Tom Yellow can be bought for £ 4.99, usual price £ 9.94 p & p. Or buy both sets for £6.99, instead of £11.94.
To order, call 0844 884 6555 and quote GS9APRX5, or visit www.gardeningdirect.co.uk/APRX5. The offer closes on 24 April 2009 and the plants will be sent from mid-April.
Free tickets for RHS greener gardening
The RHS holds its first wildlife gardening show at the RHS Halls, Greycoat Street, SW1 on Tuesday 31 March and Wednesday 1 April 2009.
Learn how to bring bees, birds and butterflies into your garden and support declining species.
Tickets for the first day cost £5 (0845 612 1253; www.rhs.org.uk/londonshows) but we have 10 pairs of tickets to give away for Tuesday, together with the new RHS book Wildlife Garden from DK.
Send an email by Friday, with your name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org, writing "H & P/Greener Gardening Show" in the subject field. Winners will be notified and their tickets and book left at the door.
And the three winners of our £5,000 garden makeovers are...
Phil Goodwin, who has a small waterside terrace at Kings Wharf, Hackney; Charlene Mullen, owner of a partly paved garden on an award-winning Sixties estate in Camberwell; Giselle Baker, with a typically linear garden at a Victorian terrace.
See the finished results in Homes & Property at the end of April, as well as details of the Great London Garden Trail on 4 May, which will include the three winning gardens.
Reader offer: The RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design
Design your own perfect plot with The RHS Encyclopedia of Garden Design. It usually costs £25 but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £18.99, including p&p, by calling 0870 070 7717, quoting code HP/RHSGD. Allow 28 days for delivery. Offer ends on 30 April 2009.