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The Complete Gardener, Monty Don

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Monty Don

For Sarah



Evolution of the garden




Planning the design
Water features


Gardening basics


Plant propagation
Green manure
Liquid feeds


The gardens


Food from the garden

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


Why grow your own food? 286

Introducing fruit
Top fruit
Soft fruit


The plants


Herbaceous perennials
Annuals and biennials
Wildflower meadows,
grasses and bamboos





Introducing vegetable
Spring vegetables
Summer vegetables
Autumn vegetables
Winter vegetables
Introducing herb
Annual and biennial herbs
Mediterranean herbs
Perennial nonMediterranean herbs



Introduction 7

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
wr; iting 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

8 Introduction

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

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

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

Introduction 9

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

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

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.

10 Introduction

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.

12 Introduction


Hen house


Writing Shed





Cold frame



Compost bays




Cold frame

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.


The Longmeadow garden 13









1. Topiary yew cones
2. The Dry Garden
3. The Spring Garden
4. The Herb Garden
5. The Lime Walk
6. The Cottage Garden
7. The Potting Shed
8. Propagating (bottom) greenhouse
9. The Damp Garden
10. The Long Walk
11. The Jewel Garden
12. The Grass Borders
13. The Mound
14. & 15. The Coppice
16. The Wildlife Garden
17. The Paradise Garden
18. The New Vegetable Garden
19. The Vegetable Garden
20. Wooden (top) greenhouse
21. The Cricket Pitch
22. The Writing Garden
23. The Soft Fruit Garden
24. The Orchard
25. The Orchard Beds

14 Introduction

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.

Opposite page,
clockwise from
top left: 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.
Teasels look good all
winter and their seeds
are loved by
Growing a wide range
of open, accessible
plants rich in pollen
and nectar is the
best way to attract
pollinating insects
to any garden.

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

16 Introduction

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

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, selfregulating 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.

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

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 nectarfilled 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.

Above left: 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.
Above: 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

18 Introduction

For bees and
and perennials
• Alcea
• Agastache
• Allium
• Asteraceae
• Campanula
• Centaurea cyanus
• Cosmos
• Geranium
• Geum
• Malva sylvestris
• Oenothera biennis
• Salvia verbenaca
• Scabiosa
• Buddleja
• Ceanothus
• Cotoneaster
• Mahonia
• Rosa (shrub)
• Syringa
• Castanea sativa
• Corylus
• Crataegus
• Fruit trees (all)
• Prunus avium
• Prunus spinosa

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.

Wildlife essentials
• Water
• Cover (including fallen leaves, bundles
of sticks, old logs, etc.)
• Weeds
• 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

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

Weather 19

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

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

Weather 21

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 (see page 61),
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.

Opposite page,
clockwise from top
left: 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
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.


Planning the design 25

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

Opposite page: 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.

26 Structure

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

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.

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

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.

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

28 Structure

Opposite page:
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.

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.

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

Planning the design 29

30 Structure

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

Paths 31

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

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.

32 Structure

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 (above, right)
is more formal and
linear – although
somewhat softened
by the basketweave pattern.

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.

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.

Paths 33

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.

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.

34 Structure

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.

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.

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

Trees 35

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.

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

36 Structure

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
flowering in the
Damp Garden.
Opposite page:
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.

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


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.

38 Structure

Opposite page: 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.

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.

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.

Trees 39

40 Structure

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

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.

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

Trees 41

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.

Pruning and
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

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 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 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 goodlooking, 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.

Trees 43

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 page 35). But, for all my
irresponsibility, they provided the basic
structure of the garden that is there today.

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.

Oak (Quercus)

Lime (Tilia)

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.

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

44 Structure

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

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

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.

Trees 45

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 straightgrained 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.

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

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.

46 Structure

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 (see page 194), 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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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

Trees 49

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.

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.

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.

50 Structure

Opposite page:
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.

Crabs can, like orchard apples, be grown
on a variety of rootstocks (see page 402),
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.

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.

Trees 51

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.

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.

Hedges 53

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

Hedge cutting

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.

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.

54 Structure

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 page 35). 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
(see page 61) 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
• 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.

Hedges 55

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-drained sand or gravel soils.
My own empirical observation is that
hornbeam grows very fast indeed if it has
plenty of moisture, particularly when
young, and that it responds dramatically
to a rich, well-dug planting ground. It will
also grow well in heavy shade, albeit a
little less luxuriantly than in open sunlight.
The long and short of it is that I believe
hornbeam to be the best deciduous
hedging plant available to the gardener.
But a hedge, be it as an outdoor
covered walkway, ‘balancing on stilts’ or
merely defining a boundary, is only a line
of trees planted closely together.
Hornbeam is not a hedge but a tree (see
page 50) and a good one. It was usually
managed as wood pasture, meaning that
the trees were pollarded for timber and
cattle grazed around them. The timber is

good for firewood and exceptional for
charcoal and it is so hard that in the days
before cast iron, it was highly valued for
things like cogwheels in mills, piano keys
and hammers, pulley blocks, butcher’s
blocks – anything that needed
exceptionally hard-wearing surfaces.
One thing I have learned about
hornbeam over the years is that once
planted, they hate being moved. Far better
to start again with fresh young plants than
to try and recycle otherwise healthy
hornbeam. If they survive the trauma –

Hornbeam makes
a fine living green
wall in summer and
holds many of its
leaves all winter.

Hornbeam grows very fast indeed
if it has plenty of moisture,
particularly when young

56 Structure

Hedges 57

and many do not – they grow so slowly
that a new young plant will quickly
overtake it and be much healthier.

Hawthorn (Crataegus)
Nothing is so thrilling as the first
realisation on a fine March evening that
the hawthorn hedges are starting to dance
with leaf. For the first week the new green
hovers above the undressed shape of
hedge, half-memory and half-botany.
Then it seems to slowly settle down upon
each plant, green layering on impossibly
bright green. Just writing this makes me
sick with longing.
I have used hawthorn in this garden to
soften the gradation from formal to
informal and from our tightly controlled
domesticity to the surrounding agricultural
landscape, so all the hedges around the
Coppice and in the Orchard are of
hawthorn. It is a wonderful hedging
material, suitable for any soil, as tough as
anything, will get denser the more it is cut
and can be laid every 20 years or so to
provide an impassably solid barrier. Hence
the thousands of miles of it planted in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
But it has never quite made the grade as
a garden hedge or tree – mainly, I suspect
because it is so common outside the garden
and so firmly fixed as an agricultural
feature. But don’t overlook the humble field
hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). It will grow
in almost any soil or position, has lovely
flowers, cuts to any shape, is ideal cover for
birds, has fabulous berries or haws and is
about the cheapest tree that you can buy.
It is also, in my opinion, the best wood for
burning on an open fire.

To keep it looking really crisp it will need
cutting at least twice a year, with a light
trim in early June and a more fierce cut in
August. If you have time and inclination,
a trim in January, before any birds nest,
sets it up well for spring.

Field maple (Acer campestre)
It seems to me that the field maple is an
undervalued indigenous garden plant, and
rather like hawthorn, is still mainly
considered a ‘wild’ tree of the agricultural
hedgerow. So it might be, but it is a waste
to leave it out of the garden. It holds its
shape very well as a large hedge, coming
into leaf early and losing its leaves late,
and it grows fast and very sturdy but only
needs trimming once a year to look good.
We planted a long field maple hedge
down one boundary with our neighbours
and it has made a vigorous and attractive
barrier despite the soil there being stony
and poor. In winter it is rather open
although in summer, the leaves make it
appear completely solid.

Yew (Taxus baccata)
No other hedge creates a better backdrop
for a border or so perfectly defines an
outdoor space as yew. Evergreen, dense,
retaining a clipped edge for eight to nine
months of the year (it grows vigorously
from late spring to late summer), it adds
substance to any garden. If yews are shaded
– and no tree casts a deeper, drier shade
than a vigorous yew – then they grow
scrawny and woody, although perfectly
healthy. But if exposed to sunshine – even
after hundreds of years in shade – they
become wonderfully dense. It is, of course,

Opposite page:
Hawthorn (on the
left-hand side of the
path) and field maple
(on the right) make
excellent informal
hedges that can be
clipped foursquare.
Both are excellent
for wildlife too.

58 Structure

A yew