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The Complete Gardener

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Dorling Kindersley Ltd
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Evolution of the garden




Planning the design






Water features

Gardening basics



Plant propagation





Green manure

Liquid feeds





The gardens

The Spring Garden

The Jewel Garden

The Cottage Garden

The Damp Garden

The Lime Walk

The Long Walk

The Mound

The Orchard

The Orchard Beds

The Writing Garden

The Paradise Garden

The Wildlife Garden

The Dry Garden

The Coppice

The Cricket Pitch

The Grass Borders

The Herb Garden

The Vegetable Garden

The plants

Herbaceous perennials

Annuals and biennials




Wildflower meadows, grasses and bamboos

Food from the garden

Why grow your own food?

Introducing vegetable growing

Spring vegetables

Summer vegetables

Autumn vegetables

Winter vegetables

Introducing herb growing

Annual and biennial herbs

Perennial Mediterranean herbs

Perennial non-Mediterranean herbs

Introducing fruit growing

Top fruit

Soft fruit



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g Contents


In January 2002 I found myself, for the first time in twelve years, with no television project lined up for the year ahead. So I set out to write what I thought would be my definitive work on organic gardening.

The book, which until a month before publication had the working title of Completely Organic, would cover every aspect of this garden that was then in its tenth year, and it was to be my final horticultural ; will and testament. Once it was published I would never write another gardening book because there would be no more to be said. I could give it all my time and attention and when it was done, I would devote myself to writing about landscape and perhaps novels, and garden just for myself and my family.

But, as ever, things did not go quite to plan. Throughout spring I worked away, the photographer Ari Ashley came weekly and photographed every aspect of my garden life, and the book steadily accrued in the laborious way that all books do.

But at the beginning of June I received a phone call from the BBC asking if I would like to take over the helm of Gardeners’ World. Although I had made many gardening programmes for ITV and Channel 4 and had also worked a great deal with the BBC over the years, I had never previously had any connection or contact with Gardeners’ World, had no idea that the job was vacant and had no designs or plans in that direction, so I was a little surprised. However it was, and is, the country’s flagship gardening programme, arguably the most influential and important of its kind in the world, and it took me all of one second to accept.

This changed a number of things, some in ways I had not remotely considered. For a start it imposed a deadline on what had hitherto been a steady writing progress, influenced as much by the weather as anything else. When it was sunny, I gardened and when it rained I wrote. That had to be replaced by a more rigorous writing regime in order to have the book finished, edited and ready for publication before I began work on Gardeners’ World at the beginning of the year. It also meant that the underlying fundamentals of the book – organic gardening – would come under much closer scrutiny. I realised that this was an opportunity to stand up and be counted and spread the organic word to a much wider audience than I had access to when I started to write the book. So the organic aspects were paramount.

Back in 2002 organic gardening was still seen as a slightly subversive activity by many in the horticultural establishment, and especially by the trade whose income derived hugely from the use and sale of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, as well as from the almost universal commercial use of peat. But over and above the practical aspects, there was a cultural attitude that nature was the gardener’s enemy. Good gardening involved conquering and subduing nature so that it would not spoil a lovely garden.

I am glad to say that now, in 2020 as I write this, only the very cynical, very stupid or very ignorant seriously believe these things. All of us are aware, through the evidence of climate change, the extinction of and decline in so many species, the increase in atmospheric pollution, the effects of plastics on the oceans, the rise in allergies and asthma in children, and so many other signs and signals, that we are starting to pay the price for mistreating this planet. Gardening (although sadly not farming) organically and holistically is now mainstream and the militant anti-organic gardeners are a diminishing minority.

I took a break from Gardeners’ World in 2007 after suffering a minor stroke. Over the previous eighteen months I had travelled the world visiting gardens for a series and book, Around the World in 80 Gardens, and was exhausted. I recuperated in this garden, pottering gently and re-establishing a connection that had become stretched thin by other commitments. I realised that gardening had most meaning for me from a personal, subjective viewpoint and decided that if I ever returned to practical television gardening, it would have to be from here, in this deeply personal garden.

However, I returned to work with enthusiasm, made television series about Italian gardens, smallholding and crafts, and wrote a couple of gardening books as well as a second cookbook with my wife Sarah. I was enjoying the liberation from a weekly, instructive television series. Then I had another phone call from the BBC. Would I return to Gardeners’ World? This time I thought long and hard. In the end I agreed, but only if it was filmed here, in this garden – which it has been since February 2011.

This has inevitably changed the garden a lot. We are now a very private garden which millions of people visit most weeks – even if few ever set foot in it.

We have had to smarten up. Until we started filming here every week, we would usually have at least one part of the garden that was not at its best or even lying fallow. We would get round to fixing it in our own sweet time and it was extremely rare for all the parts of the garden to be looking good all at the same moment. That does not work for filming. Television has an insatiable appetite for content and every corner of my two-acre plot is potential filming material every week – so it all has to look good all the time.

To that end I started to employ two full-time helpers and, with various personnel changes over the years, this is still the case. It means that we now garden as a team, dancing to the demands of television as much as according to our own whims, but it has brought opportunities to do and grow more.

I have also had to dramatically increase the range and variety of both the plants we grow and the different gardens within the garden. Only the Spring Garden, the Dry Garden, the Jewel Garden and the Coppice have remained more or less unchanged. Over the past ten years I have added the Cottage Garden, a large pond in the Damp Garden, the Grass Borders, the Mound, the Orchard Beds, the Soft Fruit Garden, the Writing Garden, the Paradise Garden and the Wildlife Garden. I have also moved the vegetables to a new location, made a completely new Herb Garden, added a new greenhouse and dramatically changed the Cricket Pitch. Box blight has meant ripping out the box balls and many of our hedges – and many more will have to go shortly.

Twenty years has added a huge amount of growth to all our trees and deciduous hedges and as a result we have much more dramatic and splendid specimens but rather less light. I had not foreseen this or at least not thought it through, and quite a lot of our planting has to change as a result. Also, 20 years of heavy mulching means that our soil is now a joy to work with. Heavy, intractable clay has become a rich, crumbly loam.

Where my children once rode their bikes, my grandson now toddles. Five dogs that were, in turn, at my side as I gardened are now buried in the Coppice. My knees remind me unkindly of the extra 20 years of use every morning as I stumble out of bed.

So it feels timely to bring this book up to date and to share all these changes, with new pictures of the garden by the wonderful Marsha Arnold, and to share the extra experience and knowledge that I have acquired over the past two decades. In that time I have not only gardened here, but travelled the world extensively, visiting gardens of all kinds. This has inevitably informed and changed the way that I garden so although the techniques and processes that I used 20 years ago remain largely unchanged, the context, both private and public, is completely different.

In the public realm climate change, pandemics, flailing governments and constant destruction in pursuit of cheap, unsustainable food have made the world a more threatened and fragile place. Our gardens have become more important than ever as places of refuge and solace as well as bringing a much greater awareness of their role in achieving and maintaining physical and mental wellbeing.

But for all the passing of time and the glare of television publicity, the essence of this garden remains the same. If no longer wholly private, it is still personal, a family home made and shared with love. And that is the secret of good gardening. There is no one true way. If it works for you, then you are doing it right. If you have respect for the natural world, try and leave the lightest footprint possible and garden for your children and grandchildren, perhaps as yet unborn. Then you are doing right by the world.

We are now a very private garden, which millions of people visit most weeks – even if few ever set foot in it

Our gardens are more important than ever as places of refuge and solace, and for physical and mental wellbeing

g Introduction g CONTENTS

Evolution of the garden

	 	Looking from the centre of the Jewel Garden between the two halves of the Coppice, down along the length of the Cricket Pitch. The first picture was taken about 1993 and the second 20 years later.

	 	Looking out over the box balls (now the Herb Garden) and the Cottage Garden. The picture on the left was taken in November 1991 and the one on the right about 20 years later, before box blight struck.

	 	The Writing Garden – before and after. In fact very little changed other than all the turf was removed to make borders. The brick path follows exactly the line of the originally mown grass path.

	 	A view of the garden taken in March 2011 from a huge crane brought in by the BBC when we began to film Gardeners’ World in the garden. There have been many changes since then but the structure remains the same.

	 	The Damp Garden just before and a few months after the pond was made. I placed the rope all over the garden, trying out different areas before choosing this site.

	 	The Dry Garden was for many years our yard for dumping and storing building materials but although it was an unpromising site, it has made a lovely garden with its own distinct character.

g Introduction g CONTENTS

The Longmeadow garden

A garden is never a fixed entity but always a process and although the structure of my garden stays largely the same, the planting is in a constant state of change and reinvention.

	 n Double-tap image to read the labels

		 			 				g 					Introduction 					g 					CONTENTS


				One of the biggest developments over the 					past 20-odd years is the huge growth in interest in the wildlife that we share 					our gardens with.

				Fifty years ago almost all living 					creatures that were not pets or producing eggs or meat were grouped as ‘pests’ 					and a measure of a gardener’s skill was how effectively he or she killed them 					off. The concept of a holistic, integrated garden was at best eccentric and, 					much more commonly, viewed as incompetent.

				In truth, I like to think of every little bit 					of this garden attracting as wide and varied a range of creatures as possible. I 					accept that some of them do not have my best horticultural interests at heart 					and others do not exist solely for my own entertainment or delight. In return, I 					hope they tolerate my presence as another bit of wildlife sharing the same 					space.

				A few years ago I converted a corner into a 					specifically designated ‘wildlife garden’ – a kind of exemplar of how to attract 					a wide range of creatures – but in fact I have carefully contrived as rich and 					varied a habitat as I can for my fellow creatures right across every part of the 					garden. Create the right environment and animals will come.

				To attract birds you need cover both for 					protection and nesting, and deciduous hedges and small garden trees are ideal 					for this. Add in the other essential ingredients of a certain lack of tidiness 					(of which more later), water and long grass, and the garden – any garden – 					becomes the perfect home for songbirds.

				Piles of sticks and logs also make excellent 					shelter and cover, and marginal planting, both in and outside a pond, serves the 					same purpose. Any roots that spread or plants that fall should be left. Cover of 					all kinds is good even if it looks messy to the fastidious horticultural eye, so 					don’t worry about algae, duckweed or keeping your pond clean and clear. Even a 					stagnant puddle is a rich resource for wildlife and far better than no water at 					all. Apart from anything else, water tends to self-regulate and respond to 					weather and the seasons without any human help. In fact, tidiness in general 					will always do more harm than good. Become the passive but fascinated observer 					rather than the busy gardener.

				But bear in mind that all those hungry 					predators need prey, so a certain balance has to be struck in order not to 					eliminate all slugs and snails (chance would be a fine thing) or aphids, 					whitefly or whatever. Leave enough so that your garden can cope with their 					slight depredations but the predators – be they songbirds, hedgehogs, toads or 					beetles – have sufficient to eat. In turn, this means that you have a high 					number of predators to eat the so-called ‘pests’, which are nearly always a 					symptom rather than the disease. Instead of trying to get rid of them, work out 					what you are doing to make them so welcome to your garden. Almost certainly you 					have upset the restraining, self-regulating balance. It can be regained – but 					not by isolating and zapping pests.

				But that balance does not happen without the 					helping hand of a gardener. A healthy garden is one where every action has a 					commensurate reaction, securing the balance rather than dislodging it. Much of a 					gardener’s skill is best applied to maintaining and setting up this balance. Of 					course a natural balance of sorts will be struck over time – and there is a 					fascinating and very long-term rewilding experiment under way in the Netherlands 					at the Oostvaardersplassen, north of Amsterdam, instigated by the ecologist 					Frans Vera, to observe what really happens when man does not intervene at all – 					but that is not gardening. As with all definitions of a garden, it has to 					involve a gardener, however natural or rich with wildlife you wish it to be.

				I have spent the past 25 years in the creation 					of this garden, trying to provide the best conditions for that balance to 					establish itself and flourish in the face of all seasons, weathers and 					circumstances. Some of this has been specific in terms of habitats such as long 					grass, woodland and ponds, and the rest more a set of attitudes and approaches 					to how I manage and run the garden.

				If you want to share your garden with 					beautiful and fascinating birds, reptiles insects and mammals, then you must 					start by not using pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Stop killing wildlife 					in the name of neatness or a very selective version of ‘health’. Chemicals are 					not selective. Although there are occasions when the caterpillars munching 					through your brassicas or the slug that has devastated your hostas might simply 					be classed as ‘the enemy’, in almost all circumstances they are part of a much 					bigger, much richer picture. Live and let live.

				Then you can take a few simple but very 					effective proactive measures.

				Any water in the garden – and we now have two 					ponds, one in the Damp Garden and the other, smaller one, in the Wildlife Garden 					– will immediately bring in dragonflies, grass snakes, frogs and toads, as well 					as increased bird and bat activity. If the water is planted with plenty of 					marginals that will provide cover, and has stones or logs that stick out of it 					for perching on (and frogs love the floating log in our wildlife pond), as well 					as having a section of shallow ‘beach’ so mammals such as hedgehogs can safely 					drink, then so much the better.

				Some long grass, be it a sweep of wildflower 					meadow or a straggly uncut corner, is essential. We have a number of areas that 					have long grass, including the Orchard and Coppice, and the Cricket Pitch whose 					grass is left uncut from October through to July. This provides cover for 					insects but also for small mammals, invertebrates and reptiles. Ideally you 					would have grass of varying lengths to provide a wide range of habitats, but a 					metre square of long grass will make all the difference.

				As well as grass, the most active predatory 					insects, such as lacewings, hoverflies, ladybirds and parasitic wasps, that will 					keep your damaging insects under control far better than any insecticide, can be 					encouraged by planting a few essentials such as dill, angelica, marigolds, 					calendula and cosmos. All are good and potentially beautiful plants that can be 					enjoyed by you as much as by the insects.

				After the indiscriminate use of pesticides, 					nothing is more detrimental to wildlife than officious tidiness. Leave long 					grass, fallen leaves, windfall fruit, rotting wood, patches of weeds, grass 					growing in the cracks, moss on the stone. These are all important habitats for 					wildlife and there is no reason why they cannot be gently tweaked to look 					beautiful as well as be useful. I keep any logs from larger branches that I am 					increasingly pruning as the Longmeadow trees become ever more mature, and stack 					them in the Coppice to very slowly rot down – not so much a bug hotel as a 					complete wildlife city that will accommodate a range of beings as diverse as 					fungi and field mice.

				There is evidence that butterfly numbers are 					dropping, albeit with annual fluctuations, but butterflies, like honeybees, can 					be encouraged by specific planting. This will include plants for their young – 					i.e. caterpillars (more ‘pests’) – as well as for the adults. Nettles, ivy, 					holly and long grass are all sites chosen by different butterflies to lay their 					eggs.

				The adult butterflies will want nectar-filled 					and scented plants (especially, for some reason, vanilla-scented, which seems to 					be the most irresistible fragrance for butterflies), for example buddleja, 					honeysuckle, sedums, lavender, Michaelmas daisies and valerian.

				 					Some long grass, be it a sweep of 						wildflower meadow or a straggly uncut corner, is essential

				 					 					Some of our prunings are used as firewood 						but the stack provides good cover and protection for a wide range of 						wildlife, especially over winter.

				 					 					A peacock butterfly feasting on nectar 						from Verbena bonariensis.

				 					 					Growing a wide range of open, accessible 						plants rich in pollen and nectar is the best way to attract pollinating 						insects to any garden.

				 					 					Teasels look good all winter and their 						seeds are loved by goldfinches.

					Every wildlife pond should have 						a shallow ‘beach’ so small creatures of all kinds can easily get in and out 						of the water.

				 					 					A narrow mown path is the only grass in 						the Orchard that is cut until late summer, by which time the foliage of the 						bulbs has died back and the wild flowers set seed.

				 					 					A scythe is still one of the best ways to 						cut a small area of long grass and certainly the most satisfying, as well as 						being quiet, cheap and environmentally friendly.

Bees and other pollinators

				I have two beehives in the Orchard. One is a 					top bar type and the other a more conventional WBC kind. From dawn to dusk there 					is now a constant procession of bees going out to forage in the garden and 					others returning laden with nectar. I have been mentored in this by a wise and 					charming local beekeeper who will watch over me for the next year or so until I 					have learned my bee-keeping ropes.

				The planting for the bees is based upon the 					knowledge that honeybees will always exhaust a supply of preferred nectar before 					moving to another source – whereas bumblebees are more likely to graze, moving 					from plant to plant. So the key for bees is to supplement their fruit-blossom or 					heather supplies that arrive en masse for a few weeks, during which time the 					bees will gorge themselves almost exclusively upon them before they disappear 					for a year. So plants with a long flowering period and a succession of blooms 					are better for bees than a short, spectacular harvest. Such plants may be simple 					and very common – oxeye daisies, cornflowers and all forms of scabious are firm 					bee favourites – but are essential and, critically, increasingly rare in the 					agricultural landscape. This means that gardens are becoming the most important 					habitat for bees as they are for so many forms of hitherto abundant wildlife.

				Bear in mind that bees do not see red at all – 					so a purely red flower will be ignored by them unless it has blotches or stripes 					that lead the bee to the pollen and nectar. Blue, pink, green and yellow plants 					will always be the most attractive.

				Bees also love all fruit trees – in fact any 					flowering trees – and all legumes such as peas, beans, clover and sweet peas, as 					well as dandelions, blackberries, asters, ivy and willow. It is always better to 					have simple flowers with an open, saucer shape that is easier for the bees’ 					relatively short tongues to dip into than the more complex and inaccessible – to 					the human eye at least – flower heads of spectacular hybridised varieties.

				 					 					Bumblebees have longer tongues than 						honeybees and gorge on nectar from plants such as this knapweed.

Wildlife essentials


					Cover (including fallen leaves, bundles of sticks, old 						logs, etc.)


					Long grass

					A range of flowers with open and accessible shapes and as 						long a flowering season as possible

					Avoidance of all pesticides, herbicides and 						fungicides

				For bees 						and pollinators

				 					Annuals, biennials and perennials






					Centaurea 							cyanus




					Malva 							sylvestris

					Oenothera 							biennis

					Salvia 							verbenaca







					Rosa 						(shrub)



				 					Castanea 							sativa



					Fruit trees (all)

					Prunus 						avium

					Prunus 							spinosa

g Introduction g CONTENTS


Gardeners have to be on intimate terms with the weather. It is a language that we have to be fluent in because it invariably contains information over and above its immediate sensory experience that we must heed.

Rain, for example, has many horticultural meanings. Frost tells a story that may take weeks or even seasons to play out. Temperature is critical but subtle – and affects plants in very different ways to humans.

All gardeners quickly learn – usually the hard way and at a cost – that every wind comes brandishing a different weapon and that every garden has its vulnerabilities depending on planting and aspect. So in this garden, southerly winds are generally welcome because they quickly dry everything out – but it means we scurry round staking because they also buffet. Westerlies invariably bring rain and sometimes storms, northerlies carry snow and the easterlies are devastating in their coldness and ability to cut through everything – including the walls of the house.

Gardeners also know – or should know – the detailed variations within their own back yards. Microclimates really matter within all but the tiniest gardens. There are always bits of an otherwise seamless lawn that crunch underfoot with frost whilst the rest is still soft. Two identical plants within 1m (3ft) of each other fare completely differently because one just catches the wind that is funnelled through a gap in a hedge the other side of the garden. My melianthus will cope with any amount of winter chill but a cold snap in April – that east wind again – devastates it. And so on with a thousand variations on this theme.

But there is a kind of weather hysteria in almost inverse proportion to the lack of interest in climate change. The latter is arguably the greatest crisis that mankind has ever faced and desperately needs urgent attention – something that so far politicians, businesses and consumers seem blindly reluctant to acknowledge. But weather is variable, cyclical and on the whole pretty reliable. Summers often contain hot, dry spells and winters can bring snow and ice. It can be windy and wet in autumn. So it has always been.

However, for the first time in history more people now live in towns and cities than in the countryside. In the UK this has been the case for more than a hundred years but we have been part of the same global urbanising trend. If you live in the country – and especially if you garden in the country – you notice the weather with every glance out of the window and every step outside. Your weather antennae are acute and constantly active. But in modern cities weather hardly affects or moderates your life at all from one season to the next.

When, on the rare occasions that the weather does put its foot in your door and forces you to pay attention – like the rare heatwave, flood or sharp frost – then it becomes a big event rather than a full-throated expression of the season.

But weather is what happens from day to day. As far as the garden is concerned, weather is neither particularly good nor bad. It just is. Plants adapt and nearly always recover from a rough time. Most survive anything if they are planted in the right place. The gardener cannot always get out and do the jobs exactly as planned but usually, it really does not matter that much. Be flexible. Pay great attention to the weather and respect it but be patient. Adapt. Bend to the weather rather than rail against it.

However, the climate is changing and has changed noticeably since I wrote the first edition of this book 20 years ago. Our winters are steadily becoming wetter and warmer, our springs are coming earlier and tend to be warmer, and summers are warmer and drier but, rather counter-intuitively, less sunny and stormier. My experience is that spring is now arriving five days earlier than two decades ago and we are having at least a week less of freezing weather in winter.

But the main impact has been the dramatic increase in winter rain. Flooding is now a regular event between October and March, with perhaps eight weeks of that period with some part of the garden under water. The impact is rather like a heavy fall of snow. It is in turn slightly alarming, beautiful for a day or two and then just a nuisance, making everything wet and difficult to move around. The knock-on effect is that fungal problems have become much more prevalent through a combination of increased days of warmth and humidity, and the lack of both hot and dry and cold and dry weather to kill off the fungal spores. The box blight, for example, that has devastated our box hedges and radically changed the garden in the past ten years, is a direct result of this change in the weather.

However, all in all, the weather here on the western edge of England, 80km (50 miles) west of Birmingham and with the hills on the Welsh border in sight from upstairs windows, is about as good and easy for gardening as anywhere in the world. Our weather can, and often does, change from hour to hour and is never predictable for more than a day or two at a time, but it is rarely very hot or very cold. Spring and autumn are both long and gentle, and rainfall, apart from the increase in flooding, mostly steady or light without torrential or damaging downpours. Strong winds are increasingly becoming a feature as a result of climate change but by and large, the damage they cause is superficial.

So on a micro level, climate change has not made gardening worse for us, just different. But on a macro level, we are acutely aware of the very real changes in climate and the implications for the world at large. Our gardens, for all their comfortable relationship with our mostly benign weather, are the first and most direct relationship we have with climate change.

	Every wind comes brandishing a different weapon and every garden has its vulnerabilities

	 	The garden is low-lying and next to a river so has always flooded. Climate change is making the floods more frequent and higher.

	 	Despite milder, wetter winters, we still have some sharp frosts. Horticultural fleece provides temporary protection.

	 	Over our garden hedge wheat bales stand in the sun but in winter this view can be under water for weeks.

	 	Increasing summer drought means we have to water our pots almost daily in hot weather.



The Complete Gardener | STRUCTURE

Planning the design






Water features

g Structure g CONTENTS

Planning the design

The way that I have designed my garden is, as a friend of mine only half-jokingly described it, ‘like a series of allotments’. It means that there are a number of different areas, all quite separate and usually hidden from the rest.

I make no apologies for this and enjoy the surprises and sense of enclosure that it brings.

Inevitably this means that different sections of the garden have their own character. We also try to treat each separate area as though it were the only garden that we had. This means that each section has to stand up to the strictest scrutiny and aesthetic standards. Having said this, one of the reasons for having many different compartments to a garden is that whilst it is very hard, if not impossible, to make an entire garden look wonderful year round, it is much more achievable to have at least one section looking good at any given time. By the same token, some of the different ‘rooms’ can rest for part of the year or even shut down completely for a while. This gives the opportunity to indulge in favourites that might have a short flowering season or a group of plants that share the same conditions but which are at odds with much of the rest of the garden.

The gardens I like all have two distinct qualities above all else. The first is a strong sense of ownership. Gardens are a human construct and do not just happen, so I like to see the hands of their maker on everything. This gives the garden character, which is more important than any horticultural aspect.

The second is a good use of space. It is the spaces between plants and objects that make a garden interesting, not just the plants themselves. This can be quite a hard concept to grasp for the organised western mind but in truth it is simplicity itself. I think of it (slightly pretentiously) as ‘sculpting air’. In practice, it means getting the proportions right with the space available, using paths, walls, hedges, trees and every kind of plant that one wishes to grow so that they make beautiful spaces.

These spaces do not have to be formal or geometrical but they must be considered. Sometimes they create themselves by accident – but if they are recognised then they can be included and relished. It might just be the way that a tree is pruned or how the curve of a path is cut into the long grass or the grouping of pots by a doorway – there is no recipe other than a constant awareness of the shape of the spaces between things. I can be just as pleased by a length of grass path between flanking green hedges as by a complex flower border. The box pebbles of the hop-kiln yard never failed to give me pleasure, even though I walked through them thousands of times. Knowing how to keep things simple is probably the most important part of any garden.

In practice this has translated itself to this garden by a grid of straight lines marked out by hedges, paths and pleached trees. That has created blocks which have been filled by a variety of gardens. In summer, when everything is lush and fulsome the grid softens and becomes subordinate to the planting within it. In winter it provides a structural framework for what is otherwise a very grey and brown formless scene.

There is a tendency to only visualise a garden in its summer pomp. The unhappy truth is that for half the year it is either waxing or waning and here at Longmeadow, halfway up Britain, it is more often cloudy than clear, more often wet than dry and the winter days are at best cold and short, and more often positively drab. The most effective way to counter this is with crisp edges and shapes and strong colours. Too much fuzzy planting simply becomes absorbed in the general haze. This is fine on a soft summer’s evening but disastrous on a wet November afternoon.

Clipped hawthorn hedges flanking the path leading to the Writing Garden and the Orchard. Although it responds well to clipping, hawthorn always has a slightly informal feel, which is why I have used it as the garden moves out towards the countryside.

	 	The view into the Jewel Garden in spring reveals the structured, formal layout but very informal, loose planting – a dynamic I love and have used all over Longmeadow.

	 	Mowing a path through long grass, does not take anything from the looseness and informality that is the essential charm of the Orchard.

Practical considerations

Over and above any aesthetic considerations there is a mass of practical problems that have to be dealt with when designing a garden. All gardens start at the building to which they are attached. The first thing to do is to establish a ‘platform’ around the house which is the direct link between building and garden. The size of this will be determined by the house and not the garden and, I think, so should the materials.

Every door and window should relate to the garden, both from the view looking out and looking back to the house. One of the first things that we did here was to make the Lime Walk path that leads from a door in the hall ... only for years after the path was made, the door just led to a narrow passage. But I knew that one day it would become an important link between house and garden so the path had to be in place ready for that time.

For the first four years our only access to the vast majority of the garden was either through the house or via a field that was often flooded or at least very muddy. The gate to this field was right up at the other end of the garden yet became our main service point and the Orchard was planned entirely around its accessibility. Anything that could not be carried or wheeled easily through the house had to go round there when conditions made it possible and then wheeled to where it was needed in the garden. This meant that paths had to link the end of the garden back to the house rather than vice versa.

It is important to get the practical infrastructure in before any planting begins because it inevitably makes a mess and disruption, and hard paths provide dry access for wheelbarrows, rotovators and even small diggers.

I had the good sense to put a water pipe in the ground when the digger was putting in the septic tank, before the garden began. We now have over half a dozen standpipes dotted around – but I wish I had thought this through a little more carefully before planting began.

It is a good idea to get as much structural planting in as soon as possible. With a new garden you can easily cut into grass to make beds and borders at any stage but the hedges and trees need time to establish. I was lucky to buy a whole load of trees in one afternoon from a clearance sale by a tree nursery. This included many hedging plants and kick-started the framework of the planting, turning ideas on a page into three-dimensional reality.

A large ball of heavy duty twine and a bundle of canes are the best design tools in the garden. All the plans are drawn accurately or sketched out on paper but until they are transferred to the ground they remain ideas. Marking everything out with string and canes gives a feel of the spaces and their volumes. I have often found that a convenient ‘paper’ measurement – usually rounded up or down to the nearest foot – is not best on the ground. As a general rule borders can always be bigger and lawns smaller.

Hedges take 1m (3ft) of ground themselves and affect whatever is growing at their base for a further 1m (3ft) by taking moisture and light. Do you want a path to hurry the walker along – in which case make it straight and narrow – or a place to meander and chat? If the latter it needs to be at least 1.5m (5ft) wide.

Wheelbarrows have to get round corners so need a turning area that is wider than the path. Remember that people do not like to go round things to reach what they can see: either block off the line of sight or make access easier and quicker. All these things can be tested on the ground with the help of some string and canes.

Once I have marked my lines of borders, hedges or paths so that they seem to be exactly where I want them, I have often used hurdles, temporarily staked, to represent hedges and increase the stagecraft. I always live with the strings and canes for at least a week before taking any further action. It is better to live with the rough idea of something for a while before committing yourself than to rush in and regret it later.

Then, when you do plant your hedges, make your paths and dig your borders, I have learned – often painfully – that no amount of preparation or time spent doing the job properly is ever wasted.

	Every door and window should relate to the garden, both from the view looking out and looking back to the house

	Marking everything out with string and canes gives a feel of the spaces and I live with those markings for at least a week before taking any further action

	 	The Lime Walk is flanked by pleached limes and immediately draws you down and out into the garden. The bricks for the path were my 40th birthday present from my wife Sarah.

	 	Looking down through the centre of the Cottage Garden and on to the Cricket Pitch in midwinter shows the structural bones created by hedges and trees.

g Structure g CONTENTS


One of the most marked and unexpected effects of weekly filming in the garden was the wear and tear caused by the extra footfall.

The Gardeners’ World film crew consists of two cameramen, a sound recordist, director, researcher, runner, usually a producer, and occasionally an extra runner or cameraman. We film in all weathers and never for less than ten hours a day, and the extra six to nine pairs of feet walking, or even just standing, on the grass paths quickly reduce them to a muddy quagmire. If the weather is at all wet – and it usually is – the paths do not have time to recover before the next two-day shoot, and a bad situation gets steadily worse.

So it became imperative to make as many hard paths as possible. But these are expensive and need a lot of labour to make so we have mostly gone for strip paths, wide enough for a wheelbarrow and a pair of feet, down the centre of grass. The disadvantage of this is that if the paths get slippery – and they do when damp – then there is a tendency to deliberately avoid them and walk on the much more sure-footed grass on either side – which completely undoes the point of the brick path!

The Writing Garden path is one of the most successful, partly because it is gently curving (following the original mown line) and partly because we used bricks taken from the interior of an old outbuilding and they are very beautiful. In the Vegetable Garden we have used concrete slabs edged with brick and done the same in the Paradise Garden – to reduce costs rather than as an aesthetic choice. But both work well.

The second thing that I have learned from working with film crews is that paths need to be extra-wide to accommodate splayed tripods and cameras, recordists, monitors and occasional lights. What may be ample for the gardener with a simple wheelbarrow gives much too limited access for a film crew. So our paths get wider and wider. This has meant that the side paths in the Jewel Garden could no longer be edged with box as they had to be widened, and the raised beds in the Vegetable Garden are more widely spaced than necessary so the crew can get at them from every angle.

But, despite the hundreds of yards of hard paths we have laid and the elaborate lengths to accommodate the depredations of the weekly visit of a film crew, of all the paths in the garden my favourite remains the simple mown line through the long grass of the Orchard in spring.

The placement of paths

The primary function of any path is to take you from A to B, but its role can be so much more than that. Paths have a character in their own right and are the viewing platform from which we see and identify with the garden. In other words, careful placement and manipulation of paths will shape every aspect of how we observe and think about our garden.

If a path is the main route to the compost heap, herb bed or greenhouse, then it wants to be as direct as possible. It is an absolute rule that people will eventually work out the quickest route and use it, even if it means ignoring a beautifully made dry path and slicing diagonally across a muddy lawn or stepping through a flower bed. If you want the path to lead indirectly to its goal you must block off alternative routes with impenetrable planting or a more solid barrier. It is not just humans that this applies to – our dogs, rather weirdly, leave the straight path down to the front door and do a little curving diversion onto the grass, making a worn doggy groove in winter.

When we first started work on the garden in 1992, I believed that we could simply cut beds from the grass of the field, mow the bits in between and call them paths. It is not a bad policy if you have limited funds, and half our paths are still just mown field and need only a pass with a mower once a week to keep them that way. I especially like the paths made by cutting the Orchard grass at different lengths, with the mown, gently curving strip fringed by the tall meadow grasses. Dead simple but dead lovely.

But grass paths on our undrained, heavy soil are useless in the rainy season which, with the unstoppable roll of global warming, is at least six months of the year. You can scarcely walk on them without creating muddy puddles in your wake like an oar dipping into water. If you try and push a barrowful of compost, it simply sinks up to the axle in the mud and gets stuck.

And even in summer, every time you set foot on the path, let alone wheel a heavy barrow on it, you are compacting the soil down, worsening the drainage and increasing the subsequent winter quagmire. In this garden, by mid-October, going outside to get a sprig of rosemary or to shut the chickens in means taking off your shoes and putting on wellingtons. Only frost brings sufficient hard dryness to walk unprotected. If a path is to be any use for most of the year it must be made of almost anything except grass.

	 	For the first ten years, all our paths were simply grass, which cost nothing and were quick to mow once a week. But the biggest wear and tear in any garden is footfall and feet wear out grass paths very quickly. Especially since we started to film in the garden in 2011, we have had to gradually put in paved or brick paths all over the garden.

Choosing materials

So over the years, as money and time have allowed, we have been converting our paths from grass to hard surfaces. The luxury of walking dry-shod is worth the work and expense. It also opens up a whole range of colours, textures and structure to the garden. A grass path can somehow hardly be called structural, whereas a brick path is a wall on edge.

It is important to use local, natural materials wherever possible. We have tried to recycle stone that has been dug up as the garden was made or any left over from building work. When we have bought stone flags, they have all come from locally reclaimed buildings. There was a brickworks in Leominster, our local town, that closed in the mid-nineteenth century, and where they made especially dense, large bricks. These were used for most of the brick parts of the house and are ideal for paths, and wherever possible, we have sought these out.

Choosing bricks that relate to those of the house or of existing walls is the most important aspect of any brick path. Reclaimed and local materials have the obvious advantage of reusing existing resources and reducing travel emissions but they also maintain the connection to local identity and place, linking the garden to its immediate surroundings.

All our hard paths have deep foundations. We started with a trench 30–45cm (12–18in) deep, half of which was filled with hardcore of broken bricks and stones, then a generous layer of scalpings tamped down very hard, then a thick layer of sand on which the pavers were laid. If you have very well-drained soil you won’t need such elaborate measures to ensure drainage and lack of subsidence, but for us it is essential.

Our first brick paths were laid directly against the earth walls of the trenches but in time the earth moved and big gaps appeared between the bricks. Now we set the outside bricks in cement mortar and these act as an edging that contains the inner bricks which are laid on sand.

We also have a few short paths that are made from stone flags. These are always handsome and often beautiful but invariably expensive. They are often priced by weight and the thicker – and therefore heavier –they are, the better the path sits. However, laying a stone flag (and most of ours are made from a Welsh sandstone and not the ubiquitous York stone, which is beautiful but involves heavy transport, financial and environmental costs) is no more difficult than or different from laying a concrete slab or brick path.

Our final paths, in the Jewel Garden, are topped with a material called Redgra which comes from a quarry in the Forest of Dean some 50km (30 miles) south of us. This is a kind of pink sand with an element of clay that binds it solid when laid. You prepare the path with hardcore and a layer of scalpings, then spread a thin layer of this binding surface, which you bang in with a motorised whacker plate. It goes on almost as sand but after 24 hours it is pretty solid. It is much cheaper and easier to lay than paving or brick but if it doesn’t have really sharp drainage, it can get almost muddy in very wet weather.

	 	The choice of materials affects not just how the path looks but also how it works. The stone and cobble paving in the Dry Garden gives it an informal, soft atmosphere despite the paving’s solidity, whereas the brick path in the Herb Garden is more formal and linear – although somewhat softened by the basket-weave pattern.

	 	Paths have to be practical and on our very wet ground this primarily means dry and firm enough all the year round to take heavy garden wear and tear. The Jewel Garden paths are made from Redgra.

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				It is a strange thing. You plant small 					trees – saplings that can be easily carried in one hand, the trunk thinner than 					the stake that supports them – and long for them to grow and become what is 					generally accepted as the real thing, the proper, finished tree.

				But be careful what you wish for. 					Twenty years ago none of the trees in the garden were more than ten years old 					and had not created the windbreak and shelter that I originally wanted. Many 					were still young but a few were starting to take their recognisably mature shape 					and form. Now some are 15m (50ft) or 18m (60ft) tall. I love the fact that they 					have become so big and that the missing element of the original bare field – 					mature trees – is now there in what seems an astonishingly short time.

				But there has been a price. The afternoon and 					evening light have been radically reduced. The late afternoon and early evening 					used to be the golden hours and the Jewel Garden, in particular, glowed in that 					thicker, later light. This is now almost completely blocked by trees. I have 					tried selective thinning – about 20 have been cut down and many have had 					branches lopped off – but although this helps, it does not solve the 					problem.

				Also, I planted the trees and hedges as 					windbreaks and they now do that job too successfully. There is a noticeably 					reduced airflow. Allied to the effects of climate change and its wetter, warmer 					weather, along with the lusher growth that this encourages, this has allowed 					fungi to proliferate more. I suspect that we would not have had box blight if we 					had not had high hedges and tall trees, and in a damp summer, mould of various 					kinds is our biggest problem in the borders and vegetable beds.

				But I will take it. I am happy to trade some 					fungal problems for the pleasure of seeing magnificent trees grow. I have grown 					more knowledgeable, too. I have learned a lot about planting, planting 					distances, thinning, limbing and managing trees in a garden. In fact, I have 					only one regret. I wish I had planted a walnut tree 30 years ago and that I 					could eat my own walnuts at breakfast time instead of buying them.

				When we first came to this garden in November 					1991, it was an empty field bounded by a scruffy, gappy hedge. In fact there 					were two trees – a hazel near the back door and a hawthorn, bent almost sideways 					by the wind. Both are still here, growing well, but now accompanied by hundreds 					of other trees, most of which now dwarf those two originals and most of which I 					bought almost by accident.

				Back in April 1993, after much building work 					and planning of the garden, I was ready to start planting in earnest. The local 					paper advertised an auction of all trees growing at a local nursery, so I went 					along specifically to buy some yews for the front garden. I set my budget at a 					strict, non-negotiable £200 – because that was absolutely all we had in our bank 					account. So I duly bought some yews, had a little of my budget to spare and, to 					cut a long and deeply irresponsible story short, went on bidding into the 					afternoon. At the end of the day I found I had purchased 1100 trees and spent 					£1400!

				These became the bones of my garden, providing 					hedging plants, pleached limes and an avenue, as well as standalone trees, and I 					confess I regard it as one of the best investments I have ever made. Not only 					did it make for ridiculously cheap trees but also for years and years of intense 					pleasure from watching them grow.

				And the trees grew not just with the garden 					but also with my family. At first they were as spindly as broom handles but very 					quickly they created height and stature. Soon some were strong enough to take a 					hammock or a swing and it was a momentous day when the biggest tree was large 					enough for my son to climb. Eventually, after about ten years, one of those 					slender saplings became big enough for a treehouse.

				Half the pleasure of planting any tree is 					seeing it grow rather than waiting for it to become a ‘proper’ tree. Real 					gardeners know that no such thing exists. Gardening is not about creating the 					perfect, finished, horticultural stage set but about growing things, nurturing 					them, sharing their slow evolution into maturity. In fact, over the past few 					years, we have been cutting down some of those early trees I planted to let more 					air and light into the rest of the garden. That is all part of the change – and 					every scrap of the felled trees is used, from logs for the fire to wood chip for 					paths.

				Unless you are extremely rich or extremely 					impatient, it always makes sense to plant trees small. My basic rule is that 					bare-root trees should be small enough to be lifted by one strong man and 					containerised trees should be able to be carried by two men.

				Trees come in all shapes and sizes and there is 					at least one for every garden. There are tiny yet exquisite Japanese maples and 					tall, yet slender fastigiate trees with upright growth that are especially 					useful in a smaller garden that cannot accommodate the full canopy of a large 					spreading tree. Trees can weep, spread sideways, have a dense tangle of branches 					or be pruned to perfect spare shapes where the spaces between branches sculpt 					the air. Trees can be pleached and coppiced, espaliered or cordoned and, if you 					have the space, left to grow gloriously as they wish to be. Trees can flower, 					carry edible fruit or nuts or decorative berries. Trees can have rich autumn 					colour or sparkling new spring foliage. Trees can drop their leaves each year or 					be evergreen.

				In short, there is a tree for every garden and 					every person.

				A garden without trees – planted deliberately 					as specimens to be enjoyed from the first day – is a garden unfulfilled. We tend 					to only measure our gardens across two dimensions but the third – up – is just 					as important and almost every garden can accommodate very tall plants indeed, 					however limited their ground area. I know that some people feel that their 					garden is too small to take a whopping great tree towering over their house, 					shading out all the other plants, the roots breaking all the drains and the 					whole thing just waiting to come crashing down on the house at the first hint of 					a wind. But the chance of any of these things ever happening is very remote and 					certainly not in the lifetime of you or your children. One of the basic rules of 					garden design is that large objects make a small space seem bigger and a large 					space smaller. So a small garden with a single medium-sized tree will actually 					seem bigger as a result.

				Choosing the right tree for your garden can 					seem overwhelming. But as with all plants, you can make the process of selection 					simpler and more effective. First of all, look around your immediate 					neighbourhood and see if there are any trees that you particularly like the look 					of and which seem to be growing healthily (and if they look healthy, they almost 					certainly are healthy). This will 					inform you what is best adapted for your soil and area, and therefore what will 					thrive in your own garden.

				Secondly, try and visit gardens with good 					trees. This might be a local park, a botanic garden, a National Trust garden – 					anywhere that has a good selection of mature trees. Rarity is unimportant. Some 					of the most beautiful trees are the most common and easiest to grow. Deciduous 					trees provide leaves for leafmould, shelter from wind and shade for the range of 					lovely woodland flowers as well as for people. In this garden, trees also have 					the unexpected effect of soaking up lots of excess moisture as they grow, which 					is becoming increasingly useful on this very wet ground.

				We all know that trees are vital to maintaining 					the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. Without the excess carbon dioxide 					in the atmosphere being absorbed by trees and oxygen being released, human life 					would cease to be viable. Politicians love to bandy about the goal of planting 					millions or even billions of trees but planting one tree in your garden is a 					meaningful, positive act to redress the process of climate change. Better a 					million gardeners adding one tree that engages and improves the lives of all 					than a politician making a sweeping political gesture. It is not much – but 					could change the world.

				Finally, trees can have real meaning, 					connecting us to those we love in a lasting way. In autumn 1997 we went to a 					wedding where all the guests were given an oak sapling as a gift. The idea was 					that we all planted it as a lasting remembrance of the union. I purloined an 					extra one, easily fitted both into the boot of the car and planted them in the 					garden. The two are now magnificent but in very different ways. They have real, 					individual character, one tall and dead straight and the other shorter and with 					a broader sweep of its branches. Every time I look at them – at least three or 					four times a day – I think of my two friends and, now, their four sons. Both 					trees, I hope, will live for hundreds of years, long after my friends and I have 					been forgotten, but the connection will live on.

				 					We now have hundreds of trees as 						well as the two original ones, most of which I bought almost by 						accident

				 					 					I planted these trees in 1993 when all were small 						enough to easily hold in one hand. Watching them grow has been one of the 						great pleasures of the garden.

					Blossom fills the branches of 						the fruit trees in the garden with flower – and none is more voluptuous or 						spectacular than that of the great white ‘Tai Haiku’ cherry during its 						all-too-brief flowering in the Damp Garden.

					Pleached limes, as here in the 						Lime Walk, and flanking the Long Walk and right round the Cottage Garden, 						create an imposing structure without blocking all light or sight.


					Apart from the couple of limes in the 						Spring Garden, all our lime trees are pleached.

					Pleaching is the process whereby a 						chosen number of parallel stems above a clean trunk are trained horizontally 						to meet the stems of the adjacent tree, forming either a ‘hedge-on-stilts’ 						or a framework very similar to espaliered fruit trees. My limes fit the 						latter category and have to be pruned hard every year.

					Limes are ideal for 						pleaching because they grow fast, respond enthusiastically to pruning and 						have very long, whippy new stems that are easy to bend and tie into 						position. The fresh young growth of limes also cuts in a particularly 						satisfying manner, soft yet resistant.

					I look forward to the job every 						winter. It takes two or three days to do them all but these can be spread 						over a number of weeks in January or even February. I have a routine. I now 						do it from a Japanese tripod ladder of which we have a number of different 						sizes. Over the past ten years, these have revolutionised pruning and all 						tree and hedge work. They are very light, very strong, very stable and can 						get in almost anywhere.

					The first thing is to reduce all 						shoots growing at right angles to the line of the pleaching, cutting right 						back to the base. I then cut back all vertical growth, leaving just spurs 						with a few healthy buds. On the top row, which receives most sunshine, this 						can be as high as 1.8m (6ft). When this is done, all that should be left are 						the horizontal shoots between each tree. I have learned over the years to be 						absolutely ruthless and to cut away everything other than the three chosen 						lateral branches. The only exception is if I wish to train in a new lateral 						to replace one that is broken or unsuitable.

					What is left is just the skeleton 						of the trees and looks shockingly reduced. But this harsh pruning stimulates 						new growth and by April it is sprouting new leaves from each knobbly cut, 						followed in May by the new stems, which we give a light trim in 						midsummer.

Trees and wildlife

				A few years ago a huge and very old oak was 					blown down from the other side of our hedge and landed in our garden. Whilst it 					was stretched out like a toppled giant, it was fascinating to see just how many 					holes and hollows there were right up the trunk and throughout the larger 					branches. Each one of these would have been a potential home for birds or bats, 					let alone the mass of different insect and fungal life that live in and on the 					bark and the leaves.

				But you do not have to plant an oak to add a 					huge range of wildlife to your garden. Any tree is at the very least cover for 					birds and insects as well as a potential nesting and roosting site. Treecreepers 					and nuthatches can be seen working their way up (treecreepers) and down 					(nuthatches), finding insects in crevices in the bark. Bats will roost in 					hollows and holes and, if you are lucky, dormice, too.

				Flowering trees such as orchard fruits like 					apple, pear, quince or plum will both attract insects and be an invaluable 					supply of nectar. Their fruits will then host insects and, in autumn and winter, 					when lying on the ground, feed hedgehogs, foxes and birds.

Autumn colour

				The autumnal coloration of leaves is 					dependent upon two different processes, one leading to yellows, the other to 					reds. The yellows are due to carotenoid pigments always present in leaves, which 					are usually masked by the chlorophyll which makes photosynthesis possible. When 					the temperature begins to drop and the daylight hours get shorter, the 					chlorophyll is not renewed and the yellow pigments become visible. What you see 					is not so much the yellowing of the leaves as the fading of summer’s green party 					dress. The most brilliant yellow of all autumn foliage is on the elm – although 					British elms now rarely make more than 6m (20ft) before succumbing to Dutch elm 					disease.

				Red pigmentation of leaves is created anew 					each autumn. It is closely related to carbohydrates (sugars) and is made most on 					warm, sunny days followed by cool (but not frosty) nights. The sugars go back 					down the tree as sap via the phloem, feed new wood cells and give energy to the 					roots. But in late summer and early autumn, the build-up of sugars is confined 					to the leaves by the cold nights, leading to the concentration of red 					pigmentation there. So the intensity of our autumn colour is determined by the 					weather in August and September. Mild temperatures and rain lead to poor 					coloration. This means that at home, rarely do we have anything like the 					brilliance of the autumnal colour found on the east coast of America, because 					the temperature variation in late summer is so comparatively limited.

					The British climate does not often lend 						itself to shades of orange and red in autumn but there is a moment before 						the leaves start to fall in earnest – usually in the first week of November 						– when the garden glows a buttery yellow from the leaves of the hedges and 						trees.

Planting trees

				The biggest influence that you can have on 					any tree is to plant it really well.

				The smaller it is when planted, the faster and 					healthier it will grow. If you are prepared to be patient for the first few 					years, a sapling 90cm (36in) tall will catch up and overtake one three times 					that size within a few years, and is likely to have a much better root 					system.

				Before planting, always soak a tree in water 					for at least ten minutes. If it is bare-root – and bare-root trees tend to be 					cheaper and better quality – never let the roots dry out even for a minute. I 					find a soaked hessian sack useful to cover the roots with.

				Whatever the size of tree, dig a hole at least 					90cm (36in) in diameter or twice the spread of the roots – whichever is the 					larger. Remove one spade’s depth of soil and break up the next spit with a fork, 					getting rid of all stones. Do not add any compost or manure to the planting hole 					at this stage as the tree will extract all that it needs from the soil, and the 					quicker it adapts to the soil and grows out, away from the planting hole, the 					better.

				Place the tree in the hole and spread the roots 					so that the base of the tree is 2.5–5cm (1–2in) above soil level – you may have 					to make a little cone of soil at the bottom of the planting hole to achieve 					this. It has been shown that trees planted on a slight mound develop much 					deeper, wider and stronger root systems than those planted in a slight basin, so 					they are much less likely to be blown over by strong winds.

				Holding the tree upright and at the right 					height, gradually add soil back into the hole, covering the roots, firming in 					with your heel as you do so and keeping your heel around the edge of the hole 					facing in towards the trunk so that the firmed soil forms a slight cone with the 					tree at its centre.

				When all the soil is back in, if the tree is 					more than 1.5m (5ft) tall or is in an exposed position, stake it by banging a 					stake in at 45 degrees to the trunk, with the stake angled directly into the 					prevailing wind so that the strongest support is provided against the greatest 					and most frequent pressure. Tie the tree to the stake with a tree tie and then 					water it very thoroughly. This means adding at least a large bucketful and if 					possible, leaving a hose on it until the water overflows onto the surrounding 					area. The tree will probably need watering once a month for the first year or 					so, especially if it is evergreen.

				When the water has fully drained, add a thick 					mulch – at least 5cm (2in) deep and ideally two or three times that amount – of 					compost or bark chips. This will stop evaporation and will work into the top 					15cm (6in) of soil, which is where most of any tree’s feeding roots are. Top up 					the mulch every spring and keep it completely weed-free for a couple of 					years.

				Remove the stake after three years, keep the 					weeds away from the area around the base and enjoy every stage of its subsequent 					growth.

				 					Do not add compost or manure when 						planting as the quicker a newly planted tree adapts to the soil and grows 						out, away from the planting hole, the better

				 					 					The best time to plant any tree – but 						especially bare-root ones – is when they are dormant between October and 						March.

Pruning and training

				Almost all our trees are pruned or trained in 					some way. Those around the edge of the garden or floral areas are pruned so they 					do not cast too much shade whilst the freestanding ones, such as the field 					maples and ash trees in the Orchard and the standards in the Coppice, are pruned 					so that their trunks are clean for as high as we can reach. We also prune any 					crossing or ungainly branches. Not only is this deliberate artifice based on 					subjective aesthetic judgement, but it also lets in more light and air to the 					trees themselves and to the garden beyond.

				However, even when just pruning off lower 					branches to establish a clean trunk, it is important to remember that any kind 					of leaf removal reduces the plant’s ability to feed itself, so will potentially 					slow down growth. It is therefore best to do it in the tree’s dormant season 					unless you are deliberately pruning to restrict growth (as with a hedge).

				I sometimes have to remind myself that a tree 					grows only from its perimeters. In other words, the lower branches never shift 					up the tree and the inner section never moves out! Therefore a good-looking, 					healthy branch in the wrong place always has to go, whilst a mere leafy sprout 					in the right place must be nurtured into the permanent branch it can become.

				When cutting any substantial branch it is 					important to undercut it first, cutting about a third of the way upwards through 					the branch, close to the trunk. This will stop a tear forming on the bark of the 					trunk itself. Then cut down, 2.5cm (1in) or so further along the branch. 					Finally, when the branch is removed, clean up the wound with a sharp saw so that 					the wound angles slightly and rainwater cannot settle on it. Never seal a wound, 					however big, as this can only lock in potential fungi, viruses and moisture. 					Just let it heal and scar over naturally, which it will do in its own time.

				 					 					The pleached limes are pruned at the 						beginning of the year, with all new growth cut right back to the permanent 						framework. It is one of my favourite winter jobs.

The trees in my garden

				Most of the trees in the garden were bought 					on that day in April 1993 at an auction where I spent far more than I could 					afford see. But, for all my irresponsibility, they 					provided the basic structure of the garden that is there today.

Oak (Quercus)

				Oaks are the archetypal tree of the British 					landscape, a measure of wealth and security. This was literally the case as land 					was judged by the size and health of the oak trees that grew on it. In the 					countryside around my garden, oaks grow better than anywhere else in the land. 					The framework of my house is constructed from oak as are all the barns. As I 					type these words, with the computer on an oaken table, my feet rest on oak 					floorboards, there are books on oak bookcases and the doors and windows are made 					from oak. When oak is ‘green’ or freshly cut, it is fairly soft and easy to 					work. But as it ages and dries, it becomes unbreakably hard and strong. I have 					reused timbers in the fifteenth-century part of the house that are at least 700 					years old and they are still superbly strong and undamaged.

				Oak has an extraordinary ability to stay alive 					even though the majority of its branches and trunk might die back. A few miles 					down the road is an oak tree that is reckoned to be at least a thousand years 					old and is 10m (34ft) in girth at 90cm (36in) above the ground. It is hollow, 					has caught fire, but is still living.

				No other plant contributes more to the 					sustenance of diversity in our landscape, including gardens, for an oak tree 					houses more living creatures than any other growing plant in Britain. All kinds 					of birds will nest in its branches. More will nest in its hollowed trunk and 					stems, as will bats. Hundreds of different kinds of invertebrates and insects 					live on or in some part of it.

Lime (Tilia)

				We have lime trees in this garden almost by 					default. I had never grown a lime before we came here but in April 1993, I 					bought dozens of them as part of that job lot in a tree sale – smaller ones for 					as little as 50p and twenty 4.5m (15ft) trees for around £3 each. They were sold 					to me as Tilia cordata, the 					small-leafed lime, and would have been ideal for my purpose of making a pleached 					avenue as T. cordata do not grow 					too monstrous and do not drip honeydew from aphids in the summer as other limes, 					especially the common lime, T. x 						europaea, are prone to do. As 					it turned out, some were T. 						platyphyllos ‘Rubra’, others were T. p. ‘Aurea’ and none were T. cordata.

				T. 						platyphyllos is the big-leafed lime and this does produce enormous 					leaves each spring, growing to the size of serving dishes. It also has the 					advantage of not creating the forest of suckers that bristle out from the common 					lime.

				The new shoots of T. p. ‘Rubra’ are bright red, coming 					into their own after leaf-fall. On a frosty day, against the backdrop of a clean 					blue sky, they glow like a jewelled aura around the tree. The new growth of 						T. p. ‘Aurea’ is a sort of 					olivey green, also rather fetching. Both look very good on their own but when 					mixed at (unintentional) random, they present a slightly rakish harlequin aspect 					to the winter sun. Never mind. They fairly represent my haphazard approach to 					gardening, and they are now a distinctive part of this garden in winter.

				I have a few limes planted in the Spring 					Garden, which are now tall but still relatively slim and will not reach full 					stature for another couple of hundred years. But given time, limes make one of 					the best parkland trees, growing upwards as a tower of branches and having real 					grandeur when mature.

Ash (Fraxinus)

				One of the largest trees in the garden is a 					‘Raywood’ ash (Fraxinus 						angustifolia ‘Raywood’) that I planted in the spring of 1993 and 					which now towers tall and wide. However, like so many ash trees across the 					country, it has suffered from ash dieback disease. As if ash dieback was not 					threat enough, the emerald ash borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis) looks to be 					inevitably coming to this country and its effect will almost certainly be as 					disastrous as that of the Dutch elm beetle. The future of British ash trees 					looks extremely grim.

				However, different trees, even growing side by 					side, seem to react in different ways and to different extents. The latest 					research indicates that trees that are solitary, such as those in fields or 					hedgerow or in mixed woodland, are more likely to remain alive. The fungus 					cannot survive temperatures above 35ºC (95ºF), so hot summers are good for the 					trees.

				Ash trees have grace and often elegance despite 					the wood being, in many ways, the toughest and most durable that there is. Their 					branches, although growing almost laterally on some of the old gnarled trees on 					the farm, invariably curl up at the tips – a final gesture of refinement.

				I am a great fan of the common ash (F. excelsior) and it is one of the 					dominant trees of the Herefordshire landscape. Until about 50 years ago, huge 					old ashes were regularly pollarded every 20 years or so over a period of 					hundreds of years, providing timber for carts, tool handles and fuel, as well as 					being a prime source of poles for growing hops up before the modern wire 					structures took over. After pollarding, the new growth would emerge beyond the 					reach of grazing cattle whilst the trunk became gnarled and massively thick 					through the centuries.

				Most are now uncut so the 3m (10ft) high trunks 					are topped by a characteristic mass of thick branches, quite unlike the tall, 					lean and dead-straight trees of woodland. They are often positioned at corners 					of fields and at bends in the road to mark boundaries. Both pollarding and 					coppicing increase the life of the tree enormously and there exist ash stools 					that are still coppiced that are over a thousand years old.

				There are people who criticise ash because 					its leaves are one of the last to arrive in spring and amongst the first to fall 					in autumn. But there is more to the ash than mere summer dress and it is too 					utilitarian and philistine to measure beauty in terms of longevity. Certainly a 					mature ash tree in midsummer is a lovely living thing. The pinnate leaves cast a 					particularly delicate shade so there is always a feathery light filtering 					through, which makes it especially suitable for woodland underplanting.

				Before they come into leaf, the knobbly tips of 					the branches carry matt black buds, curiously inanimate and almost crustacean 					before they open out. The male flowers come next, frizzy and strange, like party 					streamers caught on the end of a stick, and then finally, after the rest of the 					arboreal world has had leaves out for weeks, the ash leaves emerge, floppy 					fronds that might be considered exotic on another, less determinedly common 					tree.

				The outline of a common ash in a field is of a 					huge blowsy tree with generously sweeping branches. But as a young tree it does 					not mimic its maturity, starting out spindly and only slowly developing its 					promise, and this, I think, is why it has never really been absorbed into the 					gardening lexicon. But it has real garden potential. One of the most interesting 					aspects of the ash is the speed with which it regrows after cutting, and this 					made it useful for coppicing. Ash wood is straight-grained and strong, and the 					ease with which it splits makes it possible to harness that strength along the 					grain as well as making splitting it for firewood a joy.

				 					Until about 50 years ago, ashes were 						regularly pollarded, providing timber for carts, tool handles, fuel and 						poles for growing hops

					The ash trees of the Coppice 						are the uncoppiced standards that are part of every coppice woodland. In 						fact I now prune the branches of these hard to let light into the Jewel 						Garden.

Yew (Taxus baccata)

				There are eight large Irish yews (Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’) that now 					dominate the Cottage Garden, especially in winter when their tall pillars of 					dark green have stature and dignity even in the grimmest midwinter weather. They 					grew slowly for the first ten or so years of their life and we moved them from 					the Jewel Garden, with each fitting into a wheelbarrow, just twelve years ago. 					Now you would need a large crane to move them. Like all yews, Irish yew can be 					clipped hard back to the bare wood if need be, so that it is the perfect 					evergreen tree for making a green pillar.

				A few years ago, after we removed the box balls 					and remade that area as the Herb 						Garden, I planted sixteen more Irish yews, bought at great expense from 					a nursery in Germany. My idea was to continue the theme of green pillars and the 					legacy of evergreen structure that the box balls had provided, albeit vertically 					rather than horizontally. They work well.

				All Irish yews growing in the world originate 					from a single female tree found in 1780 on a hillside in County Fermanagh, 					Northern Ireland. This was propagated by cuttings and spread throughout the 					world, especially in northern Europe and the United States, providing the same 					kind of slim columnar shape in a cool, wet climate as the Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) does in the 					Mediterranean region.

					The Irish yews in the Cottage Garden have 						been with us since 1995 but Sarah and I moved each one in a wheelbarrow from 						the Jewel Garden to their current position in 2008.

Willow (Salix)

				One of the stupidest things I did when we 					moved here was to take a bundle of willow cuttings from an incredibly vigorous 					hybrid of the white willow (Salix 						alba) and stick them along the edge of our boundary where it butts 					onto the water meadow. Like all willows, they rooted in weeks and in the ideal 					wet conditions, grew monstrously. Cutting them back to the ground did no good at 					all as they responded by throwing up multiple stems with renewed vigour, making 					1.8m (6ft) of growth a year. I have calculated that for a month or so in 					midsummer, these monsters grow an inch a day! This makes them superb material 					for biomass but hopeless for any kind of garden. The cover that they provided 					was always thin and now, nearly 30 years later, I have 15m (50ft) trees with 					trunks 1.5m (5ft) across and very extensive roots. So beware the casually 					planted willow!

				Having said that, they are beautiful, 					especially in spring when the new leaves appear. They are also one of the few 					trees that are happiest in very wet ground.

Field maple (Acer 						campestre)

				Field maple provides the best autumn colour 					in our garden, turning a brilliant yellow before tingeing to pink and orange, 					and then leaf-fall. I planted a number of them as very small immature trees in 					the Orchard, the Spring Garden and along the boundary of the Damp Garden, and 					they have all matured into fine small trees, giving shape and shade to an 					otherwise empty field. It seems to me that this is an undervalued indigenous 					garden plant and, rather like hawthorn, is still mainly considered as a ‘wild’ 					tree of the agricultural hedgerow. So it might be, but it is a waste to leave it 					out of the garden.

				There are a few ‘garden’ varieties, none of 					which I have grown myself. Acer 						campestre ‘Postelense’ has pale yellow leaves when young, turning 					greener as the summer progresses and A. 						c. ‘Schwerinii’ is a purple-leafed version, which could potentially 					be very useful in a large border, given the maple’s comfort with being cut 					back.

				 					The best autumn colour in the garden 						comes from the yellow, pink and orange of field maples

					I planted this group of field 						maples intending them to be a little sheltering clump in the pony paddock – 						but the garden has grown around them.

Cherry (Prunus)

				When I first saw Prunus ‘Tai Haiku’ in full flower in 					a friend’s garden, I immediately ordered one for here. On the end of each 					spindly shoot was a bundle of huge white blossom, hanging like delicate 					explosions caught and frozen in midair. There was not a leaf on the tree, just 					thousands of white flowers set against a stony white sky. My poor tree has had 					three homes before finding its current (and I hope final) resting place in the 					Damp Garden, where it too can learn to explode into white spring flowers.

				The flowering of the ‘Tai Haiku’ does not last 					very long and can be ruined by heavy rain, and when it is over, the leaves are 					not much to look at. It is a brief performance. But it does more than enough. It 					shines so brightly that to ask anything else of it would be greedy.

				I planted a couple of P. avium, or gean, which are not 					nearly so voluptuous as ‘Tai Haku’ but will powder the edge of an entire wood 					with delicate white blossom in early April (they tend to prosper at the edges of 					woods because they need light to regenerate). These have grown remarkably 					quickly, are now the two biggest trees in the garden and have created a very dry 					shade beneath which little grows. However, although this dry shade is something 					of a horticultural challenge – which we rose to with Euphorbia amygdaloides, wood anemones 					and dog’s tooth violets – it has become the final resting place for five of our 					dogs and two cats. So Beaufort, Red, Poppy, Barry and Nigel, along with Blue and 					Stimpy, the Burmese cats, lie deep within that dry and safe shade.

				If you must prune flowering cherries to shape 					(and they will not need pruning for their health), do so at the end of summer, 					so that the wounds heal before winter. They will bleed gum from the cut and may 					go on doing so until the tree dies. So do not cut them back unless absolutely 					necessary.

					The two geans – wild cherries – 						that I planted as tiny saplings 30 years ago have become the biggest trees 						in the garden. They are fine trees but I regret planting them as they cast a 						heavy shade and very little grows beneath them. It is a tree that is only 						suitable for the largest gardens.

Holly (Ilex)

				Holly casts a drier shade than any other tree 					and is the first place that animals (and people) will go for protection against 					rain. This might lead you to think that holly likes dry shade to grow in but it 					actually prefers moist, well-drained soil and – especially the variegated 					varieties – looks best in full sunshine.

				I have a number of small variegated hollies 					growing for topiary in the Jewel Garden and some plain Ilex aquifolium in the Spring Garden. 					Like yew or box, holly regenerates from bare wood so will recover from being 					pruned very hard.

				Most holly trees are either male or female and 					to get berries, you must have a mate in your garden (although this need not be 					of the same variety) to fertilise the flowers. This task is made absurdly 					difficult by the names given to various of the most popular varieties. To wit: 					‘Golden Queen’ is male and ‘Golden King’ is female, and ‘Silver Queen’ (also 					known as ‘Silver King’) is female and does not have berries. If you do get it 					right – and you might be saved by the presence of a holly of the right sex in a 					neighbouring garden – then you do not have to have your berries red. I. a. ‘Bacciflava’ has very bright 					yellow berries, is female and does well in the Spring Garden.

				Even if a holly starts to look sickly to the 					point of almost complete defoliation, it has amazing powers of recovery. 					Everything about it is tough – the close-grained hard wood (which, by the by, 					used to be favoured especially for whips thanks to the wood’s flexibility and 					durability), the leaves that almost seem to defy the process of decay, and its 					generally defiant air.

				All this refers to the English holly (I. aquifolium) – characteristically 					spiky, with red berries, and can grow to 15m (50ft). But there are 400 different 					species and even more cultivars and hybrids, most of which seem to stem from 						I. aquifolium. Of course as 					soon as you move into the world of hybrids and cultivars, you step out of the 					woods and fields and into the garden. I do not think that the garden can improve 					on ‘wild’ holly, but it can accommodate it without diminishing any of its 					beauty.

				 					The dry shade of the two geans has 						become the final resting place for five of our dogs and two cats

Crab apple (Malus 						sylvestris)

				I have a crab apple ‘Evereste’ growing in the 					centre of each of the four beds in the Paradise Garden and four more crab trees 					growing in the Cottage Garden, as well as four others that I planted nearly 30 					years ago as part of our boundary hedge. Crabs were not part of the Islamic 					gardening tradition but the important thing was to choose a small tree that bore 					fruit and had wonderful blossom and superb fragrance, and the crab came out top 					in all points.

				There are nearly a thousand different cultivars 					of crab apple. The majority have green leaves although a number have rich purple 					foliage. Most have pink blossom of some shade, although there are many that are 					either white or as white as dammit. Some though, like ‘Prairie Fire’, have rich 					red flowers.

				The fruits that result from the blossom run 					from the bright yellow of Malus x 						zumi ‘Golden Hornet’ or M. ‘Butterball’ to the rich plum 					burgundy of ‘Laura’ or ‘Roberts Crab’, and through every shade of orange and 					pink in between. As well as ‘Evereste’, I am a great fan of ‘Comtesse de Paris’. 					We have one of those in the Cottage Garden that has now become quite large but 					has superb blossom and the golden apples stay on the tree into the new year. If 					I could only choose one crab apple for my garden, this would be it.

				M. 					x floribunda was introduced into 					this country from Japan in 1862. The flowers, carried on especially long, 					arching branches, open from deep pink buds and start out pink but fade to white, 					and then develop into tiny yellow fruits. It is a low but wide-spreading tree 					and when full-grown, it will be wider than it is tall. This makes it very 					suitable to grow as a multi-stemmed specimen, especially if raised in a 					container.

				M. 						sargentii is another Japanese species that never grows beyond the 					size of a large bush and has white flowers with gold centres and bright red 					fruits. Its size and growth habit make it ideal for a fruity hedge that birds 					will love in autumn.

				The Chinese crab (M. 					hupehensis) is one of the very few 					crab trees that will grow true from seed. It has rather stiff, upright branches 					that carry a mass of white blossom very late in spring. These then evolve into 					deep red, small fruits.

				Crabs can, like orchard apples, be grown on a 					variety of rootstocks, from the 					very small, like M27, which are ideal for containers, to full standards grown on 					MM111 rootstocks. Crabs tend to make smallish trees anyway so I would suggest 					looking for MM111 or MM106 if they are to be planted into the garden so they can 					grow large enough to realise their full shape and size – which will never be 					overpowering for even a small garden. They also make ideal pollinators for 					culinary apples and, of course, the tiny fruits can be made into crab apple 					jelly, which is one of the great delicacies of life. Richly coloured red fruits 					will make a wine-coloured jelly whereas paler fruits make a beautifully 					delicate, translucent version.

				 					 					There are four ‘Evereste’ crab apples in 						the Paradise Garden – one in the centre of each bed. In spring they have 						wonderful white blossom and in autumn they are smothered in bright orange 						fruits.

Hornbeam (Carpinus 					betulus)

				At the end of our Cricket Pitch we had a 					horse chestnut tree that was growing very well and getting quite large before, 					exactly fifteen years to the day that we planted it, it split in a spring 					snowstorm. The remains of the tree were unsafe so it had to be cut down.

				But that site was then empty and, being right 					at the end of the garden and absolutely the focus of the main view, begged a 					replacement. However, I knew I did not want to replace the chestnut like for 					like. This was because, as it grew, the spreading branches badly shaded the 					flanking hornbeam hedges. I needed something much more upright and taking up 					less space, and yet which would also be dramatic. So I have planted a hornbeam 					but have chosen a fastigiate variety called ‘Frans Fontaine’ that naturally 					grows into a tall column. Hornbeam is unjustifiably overlooked in my opinion in 					favour of the rather less interesting beech. In fact, the two will very rarely 					be happy in the same garden or even landscape as hornbeam thrives on cold, heavy 					clay, which never suits beech.

				Whereas the leaves of beech are glossy and 					almost silky, hornbeam’s retain a more corrugated appearance. Both trees keep 					many of their old leaves throughout the winter months but whereas those of beech 					are a tawny colour, hornbeam’s are paler, resembling milky coffee. These are 					then pushed off by the emerging new leaves in spring, which causes a second 					leaf-fall in April.

				Fastigiate trees of all kinds have long been 					used both as dramatic columnar features and, when planted in a row, as a screen 					– almost an extra-tall hedge. They work well in any garden but are especially 					useful in a smaller garden that cannot accommodate the full canopy of a large, 					spreading tree.

				The upright growth habit is caused by the 					tree’s inability to develop normal side branches, which grow straight up instead 					of spreading sideways to get as much light as possible. In most trees this seems 					to be a chance and random development in some seedlings, but over the centuries, 					nurserymen have selected these natural variants and developed the fastigiate 					form in many otherwise spreading trees by grafting.

				 					 					The fastigiate hornbeam ‘Frans Fontaine’ 						is planted at the end of the Cricket Pitch as the focal point. It chimes 						with the flanking hornbeam hedges.

		 			 				g 					Structure 					g 					CONTENTS


				The words ‘garden’ and the American 					‘yard’ both derive, via the French jardin and the Norse garth, from the Old English geard, meaning an enclosure as well as fence or hedge. A cultivated 					space enclosed by a fence or hedge is the perfect definition of a garden and a 					field.

				So instead of thinking of the 					garden as a series of outdoor ‘rooms’, perhaps we should more helpfully see it 					as a jumble of small fields or enclosed meadows. There we crop contentment, 					beauty, privacy and some prized bits and pieces of food, and maintain that 					direct link to our own private countryside.

				Hedges are superb for encouraging all kinds of 					wildlife in the garden but particularly birds. Songbirds such as blackbirds, 					robins and wrens love them both for nesting and providing cover. Bats use hedges 					as a kind of road map, following their lines as they hunt. Small mammals use the 					base of hedges as cover and insects of all kinds breed and feed on and in them. 					Research has shown that the bigger the volume of hedging, the more wildlife it 					will support, so rather than keeping hedges tightly clipped and controlled, let 					them grow as high and wide as possible.

				In fact, I think that most gardeners tend to 					be too restrained with their hedges. Maintaining them is not much work – 					certainly much less than a lawn or border – and even a very small garden can 					usually be improved by subdivision. Hedges do not have to be foursquare. A cloud 					hedge looks great and hedges can just as easily snake and bend as march in a 					straight line. The important thing is to get the height right in relation to the 					space that the hedge bounds. As a rule, most hedges are too low. Just as a high 					ceiling tends to improve the proportions of a room, so high hedges make a garden 					seem bigger and more beautiful as well as more private. And there is the added 					bonus that the higher and longer your hedges, the more bird life you will have 					in the garden.

				 					High hedges make a garden seem bigger 						and more beautiful as well as more private

				 					 					Hedges define all the separate spaces and 						gardens within Longmeadow. Here in the Long Walk, with its lines of clipped 						box cones, hornbeam hedges grow beneath pleached limes. A ‘window’ is cut 						into the hedge at the far end to provide a borrowed landscape.

Hedge cutting

				Hedge cutting is simply a form of mass 					pruning and the laws of pruning apply. So cutting a deciduous hedge in winter 					will stimulate vigorous growth the following spring and summer, whereas trimming 					it in midsummer (August is the best month in Britain) will restrict vigour and 					maintain shape. If you have an overgrown but thin hedge that you wish to be 					denser, it follows that the best time to cut it back hard is midwinter. If, on 					the other hand, you have a hedge that is healthy but you simply want to reduce 					it in size, then this can be done in summer.

				Straight-sided hedges (as opposed to rounded 					ones) are best with sides that gently slope out so that the base is wider than 					the top. This is called ‘a batter’. If you cut the sides dead straight, then the 					top of the hedge will shade out the bottom. A batter lets light get at the 					bottom half of the hedge, which in turn means that it maintains its thickness 					and density right to the ground.

				Trimming a hedge encourages dense, sprouting 					growth. Therefore the more you trim the sides of a young hedge, the denser it 					will grow. Leave the top until it has reached the height you want to keep it at 					and then trim it off. Try and keep young hedges narrow – it is all too easy to 					let a hedge become sprawling and not very thick.

					Cutting the yew hedge at the end of the 						Jewel Garden. Yew grows much faster than people think but only needs an 						annual trim in late summer to stay crisp until the following spring.

My garden hedges

				The choice of hedges that I have planted in 					my own garden was dictated partly by the soil and what would grow best, and 					partly by availability. I had little money so on the whole, took what I could 					get and made it work.

				Hornbeam makes for most of our tall deciduous 					hedges and provides the main structural divisions for the flower gardens. As the 					garden moves towards the Orchard and the fields beyond, I used hawthorn and 					mostly keep these hedges lower. They work well but I admit that when I planted 					them, their main virtues were their cheapness as well as their affinity to the 					surrounding farmland. I have some tall field maple hedges, bought as part of 					that auction job lot (see Trees). Not the best 					horticultural reason, although they have worked out to make fine, tall hedges. 					We also have yew hedges, now superbly structural and established, especially in 					the front of the house, as well as holly and also a rosemary hedge in the Herb 					Garden. There are quite a few box hedges left but all are afflicted with blight to some degree.


					 						Do not cut corners in preparation. All time, effort 							or money put into preparing the ground for a hedge will pay dividends in 							health and speed of growth.

						In my experience it is always better to plant 							deciduous hedges small, ideally between the middle of October and 							Christmas, but certainly by the end of March. Evergreen hedges are best 							planted in April in colder areas and in September in a mild, sheltered 							garden.

						Plant deep enough to cover the roots but do not bury 							too much of the stem. Planting distances vary but in general, a single 							row with adequate spacing will make a stronger hedge than one planted 							more thickly. A minimum of 45cm (18in) apart is a good rule of thumb for 							beech, hornbeam and holly, and 30cm (12in) for hawthorn and box. Yew 							should be at least 60cm (24in) apart. Firm in really well and water very 							thoroughly. The watering after planting is as much to move the soil 							round the roots as to provide moisture. Then mulch thickly. This is 							important as it will stop weeds competing for moisture and nutrients in 							the vital first two or three years. Any mulch will do as long as it is 							water-permeable and thick enough to stop any light getting through.

						Staking each plant will stop wind rock and help the 							hedge to grow faster and straighter, so whilst not necessary, it is a 							good idea, especially if the plants are anything more than about 60cm 							(24in) tall.

						There is some debate as to the merits and extent of 							cutting a hedge back after planting. Hawthorn definitely grows denser if 							cut back by 50 per cent immediately after planting and some say that all 							deciduous hedges should be reduced by about a third. I now do not cut 							back any young hedges other than to trim them lightly to a uniform 							height. I then leave them until they have reached the final height that 							I want before cutting them back by about 30cm (12in). They will then 							thicken up over a few years.

						Do not cut the leaders of evergreen hedges until they 							have reached their intended height but keep the sides cut well back to 							encourage thick lateral growth.

						Keep an eye on the hedge for its first year and water 							if there is no good rain for a week. As long as the drainage is good, 							drought is the biggest hindrance to a young hedge and other than 							watering, keeping it free of grass and weeds for a strip at least 60cm 							(24in) wide on either side is best.

Hornbeam (Carpinus 						betulus)

				One of the oddities of British – as opposed 					to continental – gardeners is that they do not use hornbeam very widely as a 					hedge, preferring beech, which it superficially resembles. The leaves have 					serrated edges like little teeth, and veins divided by gentle, corrugated 					troughs, unlike the much smoother, glossy beech foliage. Both plants retain many 					of their leaves throughout winter although hornbeam’s turn a paler colour – 					milky coffee to beech’s strong tea.

				Conventional gardening wisdom has it that beech 					only grows happily on chalky soil and that hornbeam needs heavy clay to thrive, 					but beech will grow perfectly well on acidic soil with a clay subsoil and 					hornbeam, whilst certainly very happy on a rich, clay soil, will also thrive on 					well-draine