Forget the tea and cake or sitting somewhere beautiful enjoying the results of someone else’s hard work, the reason I love garden visiting is finding gardening ideas to pinch.
It may be an inspired plant combination, a nifty way of dealing with a difficult area, or just the way the garden is laid out, while talking to the garden owner can often yield valuable advice on how to cultivate certain plants or deal with pests.
Look carefully and most plots have at least one idea to copy but some are rich in gardening ideas.
Barn House, near Cheltenham, is one of those gardens that always inspires. Created and maintained by Shirley and Gordon Sills, it is a full of cheap and easy ways to add colour and interest.
Here are some of my favourite gardening ideas from their plot.
Water for a small space
One of the first things to greet you on arrival at Barn House is a simple but stylish water feature, the sort that usually comes with a large price tag.
In fact, it was made by Shirley using nothing more complicated than an old trough that had been lying around in the garden for some years and some central heating copper pipe. Valves are used as nozzles and the water is circulated using a small electrical pump.
“Take the pipework in during the winter so that it doesn’t get frozen up,” advises Shirley.
Dying the water black not only adds interesting reflections, it also combats the problem of algae and the need to keep cleaning it.
Finally, it is bedded into lush planting, including ferns and hostas that provide a good contrast to the hard outline of the tank.
It’s the sort of idea that could be adapted to any space and is particularly suited to courtyard gardens or anywhere where room is tight and a pond would be unsuitable.
Adding a water spout
Further into the two-and-a-half-acre walled garden is a second water feature made by Shirley from bits and pieces.
Another old galvanised tank, this time deeper, has been placed against a wall and fitted with a pump.
A ‘Green Man’ head – bought from the RHS Malvern Spring Festival – has been turned into a water spout with a little careful drilling and a piece of pipe.
A small sheet of iron protects the wall while a second piece of metal guides the water down into the tank.
A clump of equisetum completes the picture and the whole thing is surrounded by masses of plants.
“The idea is to have lots of plants in front of it so that you have to look to discover where the sound of water is coming from.”
Potty about colour
Gardening ideas are not confined to hard landscaping in this garden. There are also some good tips to pick up when it comes to pots.
A large galvanised pail – it’s a recurring theme in this garden – is filled to almost overflowing in a mix of colours that you would not normally put together: red, purple, orange. It works thanks to the amount of green included, which helps the colours to blend rather than jar.
Cramming the plants in – there are several begonias, single and double flowered, a central cordyline for height, nemesia, verbena, calibrachoa and masses of nasturtiums – gives the whole display a feeling of sumptuousness. When it comes to container planting, the less is more rule really doesn’t apply.
This pot is hitched up to an automatic watering system, which helps to explain the exuberant growth; surprisingly even the nasturtiums, which normally need harsher treatment, seem to love it.
If you don’t have an automatic system, regular watering and even more importantly, deadheading, will keep this display going well into the autumn.
Using pots with style
Sometimes it’s the pot rather than what it contains that will add to your garden.
A far more ornate pot than a mere galvanised pail has been used as a focal point at the start of a path.
This is used as a feature in its own right, left empty and surrounded by plants that pick up the soft colours on the pot. When I visited, the soft lemon of a potentilla was echoing the hues of the pot’s decoration.
To help protect it, the bottom has been drilled with holes so that water doesn’t collect and pose a problem during cold weather.
An all-year display
Pots don’t have to be large to make a real impact in your garden and with careful choice you can plant up something that gives year-round value for money.
Shirley has used a simple pot with just two plants in it as a focal point on one of her tables.
The sedum and sempervivums are evergreen and need very little attention, beyond picking over any dead leaves.
Her tip for success with them is to choose a shallow container, fill it with gritty compost and just leave the plants to get on with it.
“You don’t have to worry about watering it,” she says. “It just sits there.”
Disguising a fence
Faced with a piece of fence that needed disguising, most of us would think of planting a climber.
The next in my gardening ideas gives you an alternative solution. All you need are some old pieces of wood and a little artistic imagination.
It was inspired by a Mondrian painting that Shirley saw on a visit to Venice.
“I was going to put trellis up but I thought I would do something a bit different,” she says. “I spent the whole day out here putting pieces of wood up. I made it up as I went along.”
The resulting abstract arrangement of shapes and sizes gives an interesting 3D effect and is popular with visitors.
“A lot of people comment on it and it was great fun to do.”
Hide an awkward shape
A long rectangle is a familiar shape in many gardens but there are ways of hiding it.
Faced with such a space in part of their garden, Shirley and Gordon have looked to the diagonal, twisting flower borders and a raised pool around so that they are at an angle.
“It used to have two herbaceous borders and you could see straight to the end,” says Shirley. “This gives me more border and it’s got a flow to it, which I love.”
A pergola slanted across the space helps to emphasise the width while keeping it deliberately unplanted stops it cutting off the lower part of the garden by allowing views through.
Gardening ideas wouldn’t be complete without at least one planting combination to copy and while Barn House has several there is one that really caught my eye.
Clematis are so often confined to trellis, pergolas or occasionally obelisks in the middle of borders and only herbaceous varieties are allowed free rein among other plants.
Yet, even the usual climbers can be used unrestricted providing you choose their companions carefully.
Shirley has planted a Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ and allowed it to scramble through Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. It provides the necessary support and the deep purple clematis gives a dark counterpoint that sets off the white blooms of the anemone. So much nicer than seeing it trussed up on an obelisk.
• Barn House, Sandywell Park, Cheltenham, is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday August 7 from 11am to 5pm. Admission is £4.50. For more information, visit the NGS
• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email.