Less is more


I love the work of garden designer Dan Pearson.

His advice when creating a planting plan is to choose plants appropriate to the spirit of the place, plants that are right for the soil and situation, and plants that sit well together. Make a list of your favourites – then halve it. Less is more.

It’s true that sometimes it is tempting to plant a variety of plants in a space in an attempt to give year long interest, but then a border is in danger of never quite having the wow factor, at any time. Dan’s advice is to aim for simplicity; limit the palette and bulk up the quantities. Also give credit to the green in the garden. That way it will always be interesting and easy on the eye whether it is in flower or not. Wise words!

Curving paths using Vande Moortel pavers


This is a Chelsea Flower show garden by Cleve West, back in 2008.  The curving paths are made with Vande Moortel pavers www.vandemoortel.co.uk They are small narrow pavers, like vintage bricks, and they lend themselves to both traditional and contemporary gardens.

The planting here is very pretty. However I notice the centrepiece in this border is a silver Astelia – very striking and architectural but sadly not hardy in our British weather. An alternative could be a silver leaved Artemesia, excellent for setting off those mauves and deep purple irises. The splash of orange (looks like geums) adds some interest to the scheme. I also like the lemon yellow spikes provided by Tellima grandiflora.

Front garden driveway


Today I visited a garden I designed last year. The driveway entrance required widening, and an extra space for a car /turning circle was needed. It was nice to see that it has turned out well, and the clients were happy with the result.

organic shapes


Organic shapes like these really create a wow.

Perfect pot, perfect place


This is an example of how the right pot in the right place can make a big impact. The size, shape and colour all complement the garden. The colour of the pot picks up the orange geums and hemerocallis, and also the baton trellis. Credit to London garden designer Kate Gould.

Wrought Iron garden gate


As so many front gardens are being converted into driveways nowadays, there are lots of garden gates to be found on the second hand market. Some of the cast iron gates are going rusty and they do need restoration.

The beautiful Victorian style gate above originated from Clapham and was found on Gumtree www.gumtree.com going for a song. The wall was then built around it.

Re-claimed granite setts driveway


This front garden in Chipstead has been redesigned to make the steps safer and easier to manage, and also the driveway is being extended to accommodate more cars. The original stone of the steps has been re-laid, vintage re-claimed bricks sourced, and to carry on with the theme, re-claimed granite setts are being laid for the driveway.

The setts were originally from Kings Cross Station, and bought locally from Horsham Stone reclamation in Broadbridge Heath, Sussex, www.horshamstone.co.uk. It will look gorgeous when the job is finished and cleaned up and in this case a sealant will be applied to enhance the beautiful colours of the stone.

For some people, there is nothing quite like the real thing when it comes to stone, but as an alternative, Marshalls landscape supplier www.marshalls.co.uk offer a man-made version called ‘Cobbletech’:

In the above example a mixture of the colours iron grey and canvas is used, which is a nice idea, as being a man-made product, it can otherwise look very monotone… which of course some may prefer. It’s all a matter of personal choice.

Screening trees required!


Screening is an issue that comes up time and again, and here is an example where it was desperately needed to break up the view of next door’s flats. Not least to give the people in the flats some privacy too.

3 x multi-stemmed Prunus serrula (the Tibetan cherry) were chosen. Given time, they should fill out the space nicely.

When it came to choosing the trees, deciduous was favoured; evergreen trees were considered too heavy, and the disadvantage with evergreens such as Quercus ilex, can be that over time as they get larger, it becomes difficult to grow anything underneath.

Birch were on the shortlist, however their ultimate height meant that we opted for something that wouldn’t outgrow the space so quickly, and would bulk out widthways too.

The mahoghany bark showed up well in the rain today. When they were planted last winter, the sun lit up the ragged edges of the bare branches making them look like they were on fire. The fresh green leaves of spring will turn fiery shades in the autumn. The little white flowers have come and gone, they are insignificant, not like other showy cherries.

The lovely old wall with tiles on top makes a gorgeous backdrop – you wouldn’t want to cover that up. So the trees make the main statement in this border and are underplanted with some topiary Yew balls, grasses, Tellima grandiflora, foxgloves, salvias and achillea, anemones and crocosmia. Plenty to look forward to!

Prunus ‘Shirofugen’


Prunus ‘Shirofugen’ looking lovely at the moment, underplanted with wild garlic (Allium ursinum).

‘Shirofugen’ has tasteful pale pink double flowers which droop languidly, and are accompanied by the emerging bronze foliage.

This tree is growing in a front garden in South Croydon, on thin chalky soil. It was planted 9 years ago, and as you can see it is the perfect size for the space. The client kept the label and we noted the height guideline ’23ft at maturity’. It will be many years before it is anywhere near that size, so there’s an argument for saying don’t be too put off by these figures – enjoy the tree for the years that it is manageable, and the tree can be removed if and when it gets too big.

Millboard decking and porcelain


In February I attended a talk on Millboard decking www.millboard.co.uk at my Surrey Garden Design group www.sgdg.org.uk

Here’s my resume:

In February Russell Porter from Millboard Decking came along to introduce us to his company’s decking and porcelain products. It is a family owned British company, and their composite decking in particular is becoming quite renowned.

We all love the look and feel of natural wood, but unfortunately even the highest quality hardwood can deteriorate and in our winters become very slippery, dangerous in fact! In a previous life Russell was a self employed carpenter, so he too has a great appreciation of natural wood, however his genuine enthusiasm for this practical alternative was very evident.

He began by explaining that the early versions of composite decking in the USA were disastrous. They were made from a combination of recycled plastic and wood fibre. The wood content absorbed water, expanded and warped. The boards also suffered from heat distortion and surface fracturing. He showed us slides of some horror stories. This type of decking was still being sold in the UK up till a few years ago.

Thankfully Millboard decking has no such problems. It is made from a unique wood free resin composite allowing no water ingress, and it is resistant to sun, heat, rain and cold. The algae-repellent surface has a non-slip texture even when wet.

Great care has gone into creating the look of real wood – it is moulded from samples of real oak in order to be as authentic as possible. The company pride themselves on the fact that the boards are hand painted to avoid a uniform stain.

There is a lovely range of colours and finishes on offer – 5 smooth contemporary, ‘smoked oak’, above is the most popular, 2 weathered choices, in brown or grey, here is the brown one:

and a carbonized black finish which mimics Japanese charcoal preserved wood. Ideal of course for Japanese gardens. Beware though, the black boards get very hot in the sun.

A black finish can normally be hard to maintain, but Millboard claims that theirs only experiences 2% fade in 10 years.

There are specially textured boards called Lastagrip with a ridged non-slip surface for areas that get wet, for example a jetty or for a ramp for wheelchair access, where extra grip is needed:

Touch up coatings are available to blend in cut ends of the decking.

Bullnose or squared off edgings for steps:

and straight or curved fascias for curved designs. A curved boardwalk in Millboard can be seen at Morden Hall Park:

Russell explained that the installation of Millboard decking is much the same as for normal timber – the ground requires a compacted hard-core base into which a sub-frame is concreted. The sub-frame can be timber, however as timber may only last 15 years before it starts to rot, Millboard provide recycled plastic sub-frames, which are also good for boggy areas. If timber is used, Russell’s tip is to specify damp proof course material on top of each joist to help prevent rot.

Millboard has a special stainless steel screwing system which is invisible and quick to install. However as the screws go in at an angle, and are impossible to remove without damaging the boards, it is advisable to create panels with normal screws if access will be needed in particular areas.

So how does Millboard decking compare in price to say Ipe hardwood? At 65 – 70 metres square to buy Ipe, Millboard costs nearly the same, although when you take into consideration Millboard’s lack of jet-washing or staining required over the years, it can work out very economical. To clean, all that is recommended is a stiff broom, washing up liquid and water. Ideal for commercial areas, private gardens with maintenance contracts, or indeed for anyone who prefers low-maintenance – who doesn’t?

There are already some landscapers who when they see ‘decking’ on a designer’s plan, will use nothing but Millboard. I for one am ‘on board’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

In the same way that there is now more awareness of the problems of natural wood decking, it is a similar story with paving; people have seen how the porous nature of for example Limestone or Indian sandstone can cause algal build-up and staining from leaf fall. Which leads us to the new product on the block – porcelain. Millboard has it’s own range.

Porcelain is relatively new in the world of landscaping, and we wanted to know more about it – is it really so wonderful, and what are the pitfalls, if any?

Russell explained how porcelain tiles are created in the Italian factories – natural stone is heated to an extremely high temperature (1600 degreesC), so hot that the stone melts. It is then compressed into a mould and fired. The process closes up any air pockets so that moisture and dirt cannot be absorbed. This makes the stone resistant to algal growth, and any absorption of stains. So I imagine it is good for shady gardens, and also ideal for outdoor kitchen areas, where you wouldn’t have to worry about spits from barbeques, red wine and food spills etc.

Millboard’s own unique range of Italian porcelain is called ‘Esterno’ and is suitable for both indoors and outdoors. There is a beautiful range of colours and finishes available – for example in the ‘Earth’ range, which is inspired by flamed limestone, there is Ecru, Pumice, Pebble and Sand. It comes in just the one size, 600mm x 600mm, 20mm thick, very contemporary.

The slabs can either sit on adjustable pedestals which allow for a small amount of movement, (dry installation system) or can be laid onto a full bed of mortar. As the tiles are non-porous, they need a layer of adhesive (called SBR fliud) to make them stick to the concrete. A resin grout is used for pointing.

So what do we think? Price wise it seems that Esterno is in a mid – top range bracket which may push the budget too high for some projects and the contemporary look is not for everyone.  The one size option from Millboard may be limiting – other suppliers do offer more sizes and price options. However generally the durability, non-porosity and low maintenance aspects will no doubt be very attractive to many. So will porcelain become the go-to stone of the future and leave Indian sandstone in the shade? (going green!) Not quite- I suspect, as with decking, where there will always be a market for cheaper softwood despite the disadvantages, it will be the same for stone.

We were given brochures and Millboard sample boxes of the decking and porcelain. The entire Millboard range is now on display at London Stone www.londonstone.co.uk showrooms. Check out the Millboard website for more details and gorgeous inspirational pics at www.millboard.co.uk