A love affair with iris

You would imagine that a passion for a particular plant would lie behind starting a National Collection. A burning desire to collect or realisation that this is one way to safeguard something for future generations. Anne Milner’s National Collection of Bliss Iris began with researching her family history.

Even that was the result of chance. A distant cousin got in touch when she heard Anne, who lives in Baunton, near Cirencester, talking about the family’s milling history on a local radio programme; the Bliss family had produced tweed first in the Stroud Valley and then Chipping Norton before the mill closed in 1981.

Iris ‘Sweet Lavender’

Anne, whose maiden name was Bliss, joined forces with her cousin, Delia, to research the family’s past.

“Coming back from Gloucester Record Office one day, Delia asked if I would like a piece of Uncle Arthur’s iris.”


It was the first Anne had heard of this distant uncle and it began an interest that has seen her exchanging information with growers across the world, writing a book about the history of Bliss iris and her collection, and exhibiting at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Flower Show in July as part of Plant Heritage’s display of National Collections.

Arthur John Bliss began growing iris in the early 1900s and produced around 150 different cultivars. Of these, the most famous is ‘Dominion’, which was bred in 1917. Purple with yellow on the falls, it has a rich velvety texture and forms the parentage of many of today’s iris.

The iris collection

Building up a National Collection can be a slow process and Anne has managed to track down 32 over the past 20 years. These are grown in her Cotswold garden alongside peonies, clematis, pinks and other cottage garden favourites.

Among them are ‘Clematis’, which has almost flat, clematis-like purple blooms, ‘Susan Bliss’, a pale lavender-pink and ‘Grace Sturtevant’, whose deep purple flowers have a rich orange beard.

‘Tristram’ has dark purple and white flowers.

‘Iris ‘Tristram’

“It is almost black and white and there’s a wonderful stripe to the base of the foliage.”

‘Sweet Lavender’ is, as its name suggests, a beautiful shade of lavender, ‘Morwell’, one of the first Anne got, is lavender-blue and scented, and ‘Sudan’ has blooms that are purple and gold.

How to grow iris

The Cotswold’s thin often stony soil – known locally as brash – is ideal for growing iris, which like well-drained conditions.

Anne advises dividing plants every two to three years to keep them in top flowering condition.

‘Susan Bliss’

“The rhizomes like to be baked and once they get too close, the leaves start to shade them.”

Rhizomes should be planted on top of a small ridge of earth with the roots either side. The soil needs to come halfway up the rhizome leaving the top exposed to the sun.

‘Duke of Bedford’

“Cut the leaves down slightly to stop wind rock,” advises Anne. “Dividing can be done any time between July and September to give them time to settle down before the winter.”

Slugs and snails can be a problem, particularly in wet seasons, and iris can get leaf spot, which looks unsightly. Good garden hygiene and clearing up old leaves is the best course of action. Rhizomes that have rot should be thrown away.

Identifying iris

There are many things that Anne checks when trying to identify the correct name for an iris.

The colour and size are the most obvious but this can be tricky as different growing conditions – or even changes in weather from one year to the next – can affect both.

Details of colouring help with identification

Sometimes garden records will confirm the correct name: ‘Hester Prynne’ is mentioned in Crathes Castle’s garden lists from the 1930s and is still growing in the grounds.

“The provenance is absolutely fact,” says Anne, who is chairman of the West and Midland Iris Group.

She has worked with the Historical Iris Preservation Society in America, scoured the internet for pictures and references to iris, and hunted through books and articles.


Many of Anne’s iris have come from people who have contacted her asking for help with identifying a plant. That can be very difficult when all she has to go on is a photograph, as the colour does not always come true.

“It’s very hard to identify an iris from a photograph unless it’s something very special.”

Yet it can make sense to persevere.

“It’s worth putting the effort in to try to identify something,” she says. “You don’t know it might bring in something you’re looking for.”

 Bliss Irises Family and Flowers; the Journey to a National Collection by Anne Milner, Troubador Publishing, priced £14.99, is available from Octavia, Cirencester, or can be ordered at bookshops, or from Anne Milner via her website at Bliss Iris

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Review: Raised Bed Revolution by Tara Nolan

As with elephant eating, so growing vegetables is much easier in bite-sized pieces. I used to have an allotment-style plot, daunting in its size and soul-destroying to weed; by the time the end was reached, the beginning was re-infested.

raised beds

Putting in raised beds has proved a winner on so many levels. With only minimal loss of space, I can get to the crops without tramping on soil and weeding stints on single raised beds produce results that are instantly more noticeable.

And I’m not alone in making the switch: many of the allotments near me have raised beds and I’ve seen them at countless gardens and several schools.

In Raised Bed Revolution, Tara Nolan attributes this change to the rise in popularity of grow your own and the need to maximise increasingly small gardens; raised beds can be fitted into courtyards and go sky-high on rooftops. You don’t even need soil to stand them on so long as they are deep enough and filled with a good growing medium.

Wine or coffee anyone?

There’s also no need to stick to the traditional wooden rectangle. Raised beds today come in all shapes and a variety of materials. Why not use stone or logs, she suggests, or something recycled such as old wine boxes or washtubs. Even old plastic boxes or drums can be used and disguised by wrapping them in coffee bean sacks.

Part inspirational, part practical, the book is full of ideas to copy and outlines several projects in more detail with well-illustrated and clearly explained DIY instructions.

In fact, it’s the pictures that make this book such a delight although page after page of perfect vegetables did have me looking at my patch in despair.

There are sections on vertical gardening – and how to make simple plant supports – ideas for making a bog garden or pond in a raised bed and tips on sowing, cultivation, plant choice and what soil to use. Surprisingly, the latter includes the use of peat, which seems at odds with the otherwise ‘green’ tone.

There are also more general tips from how to know when potatoes are ready to harvest to using upturned flower pots to keep trailing crops off the ground.

Nolan states that her aim is “not to reinvent the wheel but rather to inspire you”. I’ve certainly got plans for our old wine boxes.

Raised Bed Revolution by Tara Nolan is published by Cool Springs Press priced £20.

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Review: RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening by Chris Baines

wildlife gardening

It seems hard to imagine a time when gardeners didn’t encourage wildlife into their gardens. Most that I meet welcome the benefits of bees, birds and bug-eating insects to help with pollination and pest control. Yet it wasn’t always so and the republication of Chris Baines’ classic on wildlife gardening is a timely reminder that still more could be done.

First published in 1985 as How to Make a Wildlife Garden, The RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening has been revised, updated and re-illustrated for a new generation of gardeners.

Baines first brought the subject to public attention with a wildlife friendly show garden at Chelsea in 1985, a venture that he describes as “brave” in the days when “most of the gardening advice . . .was about how to get rid of wildlife in your garden.”

wildlife gardening
The ‘pictorial meadow’ at RHS Wisley. Photo: Carol Sheppard

Despite, it now being a mainstream issue, he paints a gloomy picture of the fate of our natural landscape, pointing out that 98 per cent of wildflower meadows have been destroyed and half of the ancient lowland woods.

As a result, domestic gardens are more important than ever, covering more than 400,000 hectares – bigger than the combined area of the country’s nature reserves.

“Wildlife gardening can make a massive contribution to creative nature conservation,” he says and goes on to outline a blueprint of action to take from providing the right habitat to supplying food.

wildlife gardening
Wildflowers mix with grasses in a meadow. Photo: Carol Sheppard

Chapters cover a range of terrains that will suit different species from woodland and hedgerows to water and wildflower meadows. Their importance is explained and the steps needed to recreate something similar in a domestic setting.

Mixed in with the call to arms – Baines is passionate in his appeal, urging letter-writing and membership of local environmental groups – there is a great deal of practical advice ranging from how to dig and line a pond to sowing wildflower seed.

There are sections on which plants to use – and those to avoid: some, such as sycamore, are deemed of little use to wildlife; others are invasive, including herb Robert; a few, including Ludwigia (water primrose) are dangerous when they escape into the wild.

wildlife gardening
Wild poppies are a beautiful summer sight. Photo: Carol Sheppard

Prevention is better than cure and vegetable growers are encouraged to net crops and employ companion planting to avoid the need to spray. Choosing the right varieties can also prevent problems: copper-leaved lettuce seems unattractive to birds, we’re told, while climbing French beans are better protected against slugs than their dwarf cousins.

As befits a serious subject, this is not a lightweight book: the text to picture ratio errs towards the copy and, despite the revisions, there is still a whiff of the 1980s about the layout with large slabs of text. However, the chatty tone helps to prevent it becoming dry.

We may not all embrace wildlife to quite the same extent as Baines, who is “thrilled” when he finds leaf cutter bees have cut circles on his rose leaves; I admit to being less than thrilled by visits from our local badger. Even so, there is still plenty that can be done to join his “green revolution”.

The RHS Companion to Wildlife Gardening by Chris Baines, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £25 RRP. Buy now (If  you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

For more book reviews, see here

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Growing a sense of peace

A recent report by the King’s Fund for the National Gardens Scheme has linked gardening to better health but it also has a role to play in end of life care as shown at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

Leckhampton Court

Gardening at Leckhampton Court

It’s the view that’s most surprising. An almost panoramic vista across the Gloucestershire countryside with the Cotswolds and Malverns visible in the distance, it seems at odds with the hospice’s location just on the edge of town. At odds, but also somehow fitting: if anywhere should have the benefit of a close link with nature, it’s here.

Then there’s the garden: nothing fancy but carefully tended and filled with colour, adding to the sense that this is just a well-loved family home rather than a modern, specialist centre for palliative care.

leckhampton court
The hospice is housed in a listed Elizabethan manor house

It’s an impression the team at Leckhampton Court are keen to foster: not only does it help to humanise what is often a distressing experience, the garden and indeed gardening have been shown to help in their work.

“It’s an important part of the care we provide here,” says Hayley Clemmens, the hospice’s spokeswoman, who stresses that the hospice is not just somewhere people go to die.

“Fifty-four per cent of our patients come in and go home again,” she explains.

leckhampton court
There’s a restful quality to the garden

Most are day patients – Leckhampton Court has just 16 in-patient beds – and many are being helped with long-term, life-limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis and dementia.

As well as providing soothing, peaceful surroundings for patients, their families and the hospice staff, the gardens have been used in assessment and treatment, while difficult conversations are often eased by walking around the grounds or sitting on one of the many benches.

leckhampton court
Lavender lines one of the paths

A new feature that is proving particularly helpful is a raised vegetable bed near the day hospice room.

Tall enough to be accessible to even the frailest patient, it is filled with a delightful mix of colourful flowers and veg: celeriac, curly kale, purple sprouting broccoli, beans and sweetcorn rub shoulders with sunflowers, petunias and marigolds. Meanwhile, tomatoes are being grown in pots alongside.

leckhampton court
The new vegetable bed is brimming with produce

The mini veg plot is popular with patients, some of whom are distressed at no longer being able to care for their own gardens, and many take home bags of produce.

Tending the plants can also help with those in pain, says Senior Staff Nurse Katherine Grace.

leckhampton court
Flowers are grown among the veg

“I did a lot of planting with one MS patient who was struggling that week. It really took her out of herself.”

Her colleague, occupational therapist Anna Primrose-Wells, uses the raised veg bed when assessing patients, such as those with dementia.

leckhampton court
Colourful plants fill the borders

“One voluntarily picked up the courgette plant label and read it, which was massively informative for me to understand the level of his perception.”

The plants have all been donated while the bed itself was built by volunteers. Indeed, Leckhampton Court is reliant on volunteer gardeners as, along with the rest of the hospice’s work most of the costs have to be met through fundraising by the local community.

leckhampton court
Roses are one of the summer’s stars

A small team meets weekly to care for around five acres of garden in the total of just over 14 acres of grounds; there’s a sizeable wood as well as a lake and even the car park has planted boundaries.

There’s also an area of donated trees on the site of a former orchard, although tools rather than trees would be a more welcome gift today with wheelbarrows top of the list.

leckhampton court
Even the car park has flower borders

As well as tending borders filled with lavender, spiraea, hollyhocks, hemerocallis, leucanthemum and roses, the team also raise cuttings from existing plants to help fill spaces; penstemon are being targeted when I visit.

Pride of place is a new border by the main entrance created by Peter Dowle, a Chelsea gold medal-winning designer who donated the plan to the hospice.

“The bed was full of roses that were about 40 years old,” explains John Millington, who organises the team of volunteers. “We couldn’t replace them and had to go for something different.”

leckhampton court
Erigeron has settled well into the new border

Planting for the raised bed was funded thanks to the Farrell family, who raised the money with a charity golf event.

The new border was still being finished when I visited but already perennial wallflower, thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus were settling in around old stones from the manor house that have been carefully placed so that initials chiselled into them can be seen.

leckhampton court
Some of the stones have the original stonemasons’ initials

“It’s such an important bed as it’s the first one people see going up to the front door,” says John.

It’s also an important part of the ‘home from home’ feel that the hospice tries to create and the sense of peace that is so apparent.

“Lady Ryder believed that healing was helped by the environment,” says John. “This environment has healing properties because it’s peaceful and tranquil.”

For more information about Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court hospice see here

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Gardens on the edge # 2

Inspired by grasses

Time was the only grasses in an English garden were those overlooked while mowing and allowed to go to seed. Today most gardeners have at least one or two of the ornamental variety with the more adventurous weaving them through borders or even dedicating whole areas to grasses.

An eye-catching solution to planting under a tree

Even so, it takes a certain confidence to garden the way Kate Patel does at Barn House. Rather than using grasses as a filler, she has built her garden around them. Even more impressively, she has resisted the temptation to cram her one-acre plot with barrow-loads of different plants, adopting instead a remarkably restrained plant list.

I first visited the garden on the Gloucestershire Wales border when Kate joined the National Gardens Scheme in 2013. Three years on and the garden has matured while her collection of grasses now numbers around 120 with about half-a-dozen grown in the hundreds rather than the handful.

The new grass meadow

The new ‘grass meadow’, still in the planning stages the last time we met, is one area where these grasses are used in bulk. To cut down on what would have been a huge job, Kate decided not to dig this area when planting but rather to deal with it in what she describes as “lasagne-style”, building up layers of turf, mulch and wood chips.

Grasses and perennials spill over onto the paths

Molinia and deschampsia, all grown from seed, are dotted through with asters, veronicastrum and towering teasels, which are proving irresistible to butterflies and other insects. Prolific self-seeders, these grasses have been confined to this slightly wilder part of the garden where they can be more easily contained.

Miscanthus makes an unusual hedge

One of the features that stuck in my mind from my first visit was the unusual miscanthus hedge; it is every bit as good as I remembered.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ forms a graceful boundary at the edge of the garden, with a simple mix of Geranium macrorrhizum, rudbeckia and Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fens Ruby’ forming an understorey of contrasting foliage and colour.

“I did think the rudbeckia would have been choked out by now,” admits Kate.

Some grasses are kept in pots

Nearby, in an area that is fenced off to allow her dogs to run without damaging more delicate areas of the garden, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Starlight’ is used to form a low-level hedge alongside a seating area.

A more transparent barrier is separates the main patio from the garden behind. Here, Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Overdam’ and ‘Avalanche’, which has cream stems, form a vertical accent in a bed of swirling blues and mauves. This is made up of lavender, both ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’, Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’, G. sanguineum ‘Vision Light Pink’, nepeta and Clematis ‘Petit Faucon’.

Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’

On the other side of the path, more calamagrostis, this time ‘Karl Foerster’ is teamed with nepeta, rudbeckia and persicaria, while blood-red Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’ hangs over the edge of the retaining wall.

Sometimes it’s a single grass that stands out: golden hakonechloa, combined with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Black Beauty’ and Geranium ‘Rozanne’ brings a shaft of sunlight to a difficult space under a Prunus serrula. Definitely an idea to note.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’ is ideal for a pot

A few of the grasses are grown in containers where they can be enjoyed and even fussed over a little more. These include the wonderfully tactile Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’, a dwarf variety, and an unusual evergreen grass from New Zealand, Chionchloa conspicua, which frames a set of steps.

Pots are used for seasonal displays

In fact, container planting is another of Kate’s strengths and she has quite a number on the sunken terrace that help to soften the appearance of the hard landscaping. Pulling together the diverse mix, which includes cosmos, sedum, cordyline and, of course, grasses, is a ribbon of Geranium ‘Sanne’ that forms a neat edge and helps to hide the pots of more upright growers behind (pictured above).

Kate developed her love of grasses when she and her husband, Hitesh, lived in South East Asia and another legacy from that time are the bamboos.

There’s an exotic feel to the sunken terrace

These are often viewed with suspicion by many gardeners as some varieties are known to be uncontrollable in their spread and vigour.

Bamboo and scarlet crocosmia make a great combination

Barn House has a neat way of dealing with them: raised beds lined with DPM have proved more than a match for Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’, while underplanting it with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is inspired with the scarlet a beautiful contrast to the golden bamboo stems.

Yet another idea to add to my list of things to copy.

Chionochloa rubra softens an old mill stone

Barn House, Brockweir Common, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme until the end of September. Contact 01291 680041 or email barnhousegarden@gmail.com

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Gardens on the edge #1

A dazzling debut

gloucestershire gardens

Living in a county with so many good gardens, I rarely have to travel far to find somewhere interesting. What will tempt me further afield is a new garden, or one that promises something other than the usual Cotswold herbaceous border.

Recently, I travelled to the outer reaches of the county’s National Gardens Scheme to visit two Gloucestershire gardens that tick both boxes: one is making its debut in the NGS; the other is an old favourite with a plant list that starts with the owner’s love of grasses.

gloucestershire gardens
Long views are one of the garden’s strengths

Admittedly as I headed towards the border with Wales, I did wonder if the trip would be worth the journey, while trying to navigate the extremely narrow lanes with their sparse signposting reminded me of getting lost on childhood house-hunting trips in Norfolk with my father convinced the locals had ‘switched’ the road signs.

It is a long drive from my side of the Cotswolds but the chance to see two varied and interesting gardens makes it more than worthwhile.

My first stop was at Greenfields, which has been created from an almost blank canvas over the past five years by Jackie Healy. As such, it is still a young garden but a strong underlying structure and some impressive growth mean it more than earns its NGS slot.

gloucestershire gardens
Plants soften steps in the garden

The one-and-a-half acres has some noteworthy features: beautiful mature trees, stunning views towards Wales and not one but two streams, one a winterbourne that dries during summer, the other a constant flow through the garden.

The soil is more of a mixed blessing: acid enough to be able to grow rhododendrons and azaleas (unusual among Gloucestershire gardens) and reasonably fertile but difficult to work thanks to the combination of stone and solid clay.

“If you want to put something in, you have to get a pickaxe out first,” observes Jackie.

gloucestershire gardens
A swing seat is planned overlooking ‘The Jungle’

That job usually falls to her husband, Fintan, while the plants are her domain; in the past she has worked at a nursery and has a particular interest in propagation.

She describes the garden as influenced by Great Dixter and what she calls a “wonderful mix of formality and total chaos”. As such, there is little colour theming – beyond borders alongside the house where lavender mingles with agapanthus, delicate pink thalictrum and purple clematis. Elsewhere, there is a riotous mix of colours.

The garden is divided into distinct – and even labelled – areas that offer Jackie the chance to indulge her eclectic plant tastes.

gloucestershire gardens
Labels help you navigate around the garden

Behind the house, a semi-woodland area has lent itself naturally to a collection of rhododendrons and azaleas, dazzling in spring, and a cool retreat in the summer, particularly on the warm day that I visited.

The mound that is part of Offa’s Dike runs through it and prevents some parts being cultivated but Jackie is still managing to create a garden in the space. Part of the stream-side has been planted with plans for a possible stumpery further along.

gloucestershire gardens
There’s artwork in many of the borders

“When you’ve got natural water it’s a fine line between controlling it [the planting] and just accepting that nature will do what nature will do. It’s always a balancing act.”

So far, it’s a battle she’s winning but constant vigilance is needed to keep on top of weeds and plants that become thuggish in the damp growing conditions.

Further down, terraces are full of summer colour, first in golds, oranges and yellows, moving on to pinks, purples and blue.

A striking crocosmia – ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ – catches my eye, as does ‘Kwanso’, a lovely double hemerocallis in burnt orange tones.

gloucestershire gardens
This double hemerocallis caught my eye

On the next level there’s a perfume whose source I struggle at first to locate. Jackie laughs and points out a rather unprepossessing shrub, rather straggly in habit and with small white flowers. It’s actually Philadelphus maculatus ‘Mexican Jewel’ and it’s definitely punching above its weight.

“There is nothing much to say for it from a shrub point of view,” agrees Jackie, “but at night this whole area is just filled with its scent.”

It’s not the only plant of note and elsewhere in the garden there’s a Japanese pepper tree, Zanthoxylum piperitum, Impatiens tinctoria, with its orchid-like blooms, the fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus and a schefflera that is surviving thanks to the microclimate.

gloucestershire gardens
Crocosmia ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’

The ‘Formal Garden’ is full of what she describes as “everything and anything that I love”, particularly dahlias, grown in pots that are sunk into the borders. It makes them easier to lift and helps to protect them from slugs.

Below, a raised terrace is divided into sheltered quarters that provide different growing conditions: two shaded, two more sunny. Again it’s a relaxed mix, including hemerocallis, Crambe cordifolia and penstemon.

A new grass area has a more regimented style: Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and golden lonicera around a seat that allows views across the garden through a pleached hornbeam hedge.

gloucestershire gardens
Grasses surround a new seating area

Elsewhere, stipa is part of a newly planted grass walk and Molinia caerulea arundinacea ‘Transparent’ is being used to edge ‘The Jungle’. Here, damp-lovers, including gunnera and hydrangeas, revel in moisture from the stream that pops up after a long section underground. Old bricks have been used to give the impression of water running through ruins and there are plans to build a swing seat nearby.

Surprisingly, given that she has long gardened, this is the first season that Jackie has grown vegetables. The veg are obviously unaware of her inexperience and the neatly fenced Kitchen Garden is brimming with cavolo nero, French and broad beans and carrots, all set against masses of nasturtiums, grown as a sacrificial crop to keep blackfly off the beans but thriving and adding a wonderful touch of colour.

gloucestershire gardens
Nasturtiums are grown among the vegetables

With many features, including yew hedges, still to mature, it will be interesting to see how this newcomer to the Gloucestershire gardens scene develops.

Part two: Barn House next week.

Greenfields, Brockweir Common, near Chepstow, is open by appointment for the National Gardens Scheme until September 10. Phone 07747 186302 or email greenfieldsgarden@icloud.com A combined visit to nearby Barn House may be possible.

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Review: New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury

new small garden

In common with many people, my first proper garden was small. A typical back-of-terrace town plot, it was narrow, overlooked and filled with a mismatched assortment of plants, the legacy of numerous owners. Looking back, I’m not sure I vastly improved things.

Reading Noel Kingsbury’s latest book, New Small Garden, I began to wish I could go back and do things differently. Armed with the advice he dispenses – and quite a few years of experience – how much better I could have handled things.

I’m not usually completely convinced by garden ‘design’ books. Beautiful to look at, they can seem more aspirational than inspirational, akin to many show gardens that are too often beyond the reach and budget of the average gardener.

Of course, this book starts with an advantage in that it deals with the sort of small space most gardeners have; even the modest garden of my childhood would seem large by today’s standards. Most of the gardens featured are under 100 sq.m. (328 sq.ft.) and a few are mere balconies or rooftop plots.

Even so, there is still a danger of making the solutions irrelevant to the average person, a failing that Kingsbury highlights: “Too many books on small gardens feature lots of pictures of hard landscaping or designs at flower shows where no expense has been spared.”

new small garden
Designing on the diagonal helps to make a garden seem bigger.

In contrast, this book is grounded in reality. The pictures (with the exception of one or two) are of real gardens, so the designs have been drawn up to please clients rather than impress show judges and the gardens have been paid for by gardeners not corporate sponsors. The result is a series of ideas that are easy to copy.

These range from ways to ‘borrow’ the landscape beyond your plot and the use of false doors and mirrors to create a visual illusion of more space, to using green roofs and plants with two seasons of interest to make each inch work twice as hard.

Ideas are clearly illustrated with pictures that demonstrate the suggested solution and stop the book being a mere design textbook. As a writer I hate to admit it but there are times when a picture is far more effective than words; one example has the same garden photographed in different seasons showing how the planting emphasis changes.

The book is thorough in its approach: chapters cover everything from the need to consider function and aspect to planting for wildlife, containers for small spaces and adding a vertical dimension with plants. Case studies at the end of many of the chapters show how these ideas have been put into practice in a real life garden.

new small garden
Plants can disguise boundaries

Some of the advice is aimed at the inexperienced with explanations on how to check your soil type, water containers and types of fruit. Yet, there is enough breadth to offer something of interest to those with more gardening years behind them. I will definitely be trying out the idea of photographing my borders in black-and-white to assess how well they are structured.

As well as hard landscaping and layout, the book also deals with what to plant and where. There’s advice on plants for every situation and soil type; ideas for designing with grasses, evergreens, or exotics; an explanation of how to layer with plants in a way that mimics nature.

“By learning how to combine them in this way, you will be able to make the most out of your small space,” advises Kingsbury.

The varied presentation of these ideas – conventional chapters, ‘masterclasses’ and case studies – keep the reader’s interest engaged with the photographs, highlighted quotes and smaller, inset sections of text breaking up the pages to make them visually appealing.

It’s been some time since I had the sort of small garden this book tackles but the advice is still relevant. Many of these ideas – be it plants for containers or how to get an all-year-round look – are just as important in a bigger plot. I just wish I’d had it all those years ago.

New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £20 RRP. Photographs by Maayke de Ridder. Buy now (If you buy through the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

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