To change your garden without spending a fortune, now is the time to plan for next summer, while you can assess this season’s triumphs and tragedies. Annie Guilfoyle, director of Garden Design at KLC’s School of Design, specialises in transforming tricky urban plots and says that the most important groundwork is not smart paving but smart thinking.
© Gap Photos/Clive Nichols/Design: Joe Swift
"Before you rush in to rip out your plants and replace them with a brand new landscape, spend time evaluating your site, so you can play to its strengths and get the garden right next year. If you have a south-facing wall, you should exploit it, by growing, say, peaches or a tender shrub such as plumbago. But if your garden is in shade, you may have to restrict your potager plans to growing veg in containers, on the sunny side of the patio."
It is hard to cast a critical eye when you are used to your garden, says Guilfoyle, who suggests calling in a friend to tell you the bald truth.
'The most important groundwork is not smart paving but smart thinking'
Taking pictures of the garden every hour through a sunny day might be a chore but will give you valuable insight into which areas are in shade, and for how long, so you need never have a plant fail on you again. Make a checklist of your garden, covering everything from soil to shade to storage. Guilfoyle’s believes a little knowledge is an invaluable thing. "After you’ve made one, you can see what is achievable.
"Your budget, too, will dictate how radical you can be. Learning about the pH of your soil - you can buy a kit from the garden centre - will tell you what you can and can’t grow; Mediterranean plants prefer an alkaline soil, while camellias only thrive in acid soil. Familiarising yourself with the soil’s texture is crucial. Fine, sandy soil will need some organic material worked into it to help most plants thrive. Thick, goopy clay might mean you need to sort out the garden’s fundamental drainage."
Look at boundaries: do fences need replacing? Would adding trellis all around the fence top be a worthwhile investment? Do you want to open up a view or block it off?
© Gap Photos/Heather Edwards
Consider storage: can the shed be better utilised? Do you need somewhere for the kids’ bikes? Was there space for the barbecue this summer or should you create more? Look at the aspect of your garden: is it high up, exposed, a frost pocket, sheltered?
Consider maintenance: how much time are you prepared to spend looking after the garden?
All of these factors have relevance to the design and planting of your dream plot: if nobody in the family is prepared to mow the lawn, then perhaps you’ll be better off without one.
The next step, says Guilfoyle, is formulating your brief. "In layman’s terms," says Guilfoyle, "that means making a wish list, noting, through words and pictures, what plants, landscape materials, colours, features and furniture you would like to include.
"That vital initial checklist will keep you grounded and help you make the right decisions." Ground work isn’t all about making notes, however. "Go garden visiting," advises Guilfoyle. "I do all the time and get lots of ideas. You can even scale down features, so that Highgrove’s theme walk could become your theme path."
© Gap Photos/Jason Smalley
Reader offer: one-day garden workshop at Hampton Court
Take tips from KLC’s director of design, Annie Guilfoyle, in an exclusive one-day workshop to be held within the magnificent Hampton Court Palace on Friday, 25 September.
The Garden Makeover Day will begin at 10.30am with a show of inspiring images, then move on to each participants’ garden; everyone will bring a photo and briefly talk about their plot and its problems, and then learn how to assess their garden and formulate their own design brief.
The afternoon session, from 2pm to 4pm, will focus on choosing and sourcing materials, plants and all the components of a perfect plot.
The course costs £70 and places are restricted to 20 people, so booking is essential. To book, visit www.klc.co.uk, or call 020 7376 3377.