One of the most common issues I come across as a garden coach here in Harrogate is customers who’ve had their garden professionally redesigned, but are unhappy with the result a few years down the line. Usually this is not a result of poor work: the garden designer has listened to the brief and supplied suitable plants for the soil, aspect etc. The problem lies in the aftercare.
Hares and tortoises
The thing is, plants grow. Garden design is not like interior design: a garden is not static, like a kitchen, but a living, growing entity which changes over time. A garden may take 15 years or more to reach maturity and a garden designer will have the end result in mind when they put in slow-growing shrubs like Choisya ternata. However, the garden will go through many different stages in the intervening period. A bit like the hare and the tortoise, plants grow at different rates. The tortoise Choisya may be slower to get started than hare-like herbaceous perennials or grasses, but will ultimately catch up and even overtake them in size.
The ‘teenage’ garden
Before you know it, that lovely grouping of grasses has clumped up into a dense thicket of growth, completely hiding the lavender behind. The climbing hydrangea which seemed so delicate and pretty when you put it in has started creeping across windows (some of its feelers are even under the frames). The black leaved elder is gorgeous but too dominant, while the Japanese maples you put in have hardly got off the blocks. Everything looks off balance, and the garden is like a teenager with too-big teeth and ears!
It’s true that sometimes, a garden designer just hasn’t done a good job. Perhaps they haven’t allowed enough space for a plant to grow, or they’ve positioned large plants in front of small ones. But it may also be that they just haven’t managed the customer’s expectations about how the garden will grow, and how to manage it until it matures. They may not have explained that those tiny herbaceous perennials will be three times the size by next year, overtaking the shrub next to them, which will need five years to catch up. The garden will look balanced eventually, but there are some awkward phases to get through while it grows up.
How to help your garden grow up!
So how do you help your garden get through those difficult teenage years?!
The secret, which I try to pass on as a garden coach, is to learn to manage the garden as it grows. Many plants need to be pruned, divided and sometimes moved to help them fit the space they’re in (as well as to keep them healthy and flowering well). If a particularly vigorous plant is taking over, that is not to say it doesn’t belong in the garden, but simply that it needs to be managed. Equally, if a slow growing plant has empty space around it which will take years to fill, the gardener needs to learn to use annuals, biennials and short-lived perennials to plug the gap.
So that climbing hydrangea needs to be cut back hard every year after flowering, while those grasses may need to be divided or moved so that they look right in the space. The black leaved elder will take a hard prune every spring to keep it in check – just leave a few branches from last year to give you some of those lovely pink flowers. As for putting in annuals, biennials and short-lived perennials – this actually creates some great opportunities to try out new plants and colour combinations. Annuals in particular don’t need to be expensive either – just buy a couple of packets of seeds and grow them yourself for a few pounds.
Do you need a garden designer – or a garden coach?
A garden designer is invaluable in helping a novice gardener get the most out of their garden. A good garden design can transform an unloved and underused space into a real sanctuary. But once that job has been done, it’s over to you to look after – unless you want to pay a gardener for the rest of your days. If you are new to gardening, it can be baffling to know what to do. A good garden designer will usually provide a management plan, but unless the customer already has some understanding of plants, this may be of limited use. Some garden coaching can help you make sense of it and develop the confidence to tackle jobs that need doing.
Perhaps you are not sure your garden needs a complete redesign, but you would like to get a bit more colour into your borders, move some things around or take some things out. Working alongside a coach gives you a chance to ask questions and get some advice as well as a helping hand! If it’s motivation you need, a garden coach is the horticultural equivalent of a personal trainer, getting you into the outdoor gym!
My goal as a garden coach is to help customers learn to look after their own gardens so that they can enjoy them and keep them looking their best as they grow. While a garden designer can transform a space in a short time, the truth is that there is no quick fix in gardening – that instant garden might look great in its first season, but only knowledge and effort will keep it looking good over time. If you’ve got a ‘teenage garden’ that needs help growing up, do get in touch to see how garden coaching can work for you!