Tip of the month: August
Divide and Conquer
Dividing up a garden into different areas not only adds interest and mystery, but can increase your planting opportunities, says Alan Titchmarsh
Tools for the job
It may seem a bit odd, but dividing up a small garden can actually make it feel bigger. This works particularly well with long, narrow plots, but can also be adapted for square and L-shaped gardens. Perhaps even odder, is that if you apply the same design technique to a large and exposed garden, it will shrink before your very eyes – creating a much more intimate and welcoming outdoor space. This simple design trick has been used for generations, but it is just as effective today.
Simple division for your garden
- Trellis & screens - perfect choice where space is very limited, providing instant and year-round cover. Decorative willow and reed screens make an ideal backdrop for ornamental plants, while woven hazel screens look great, laced with a scrambling honeysuckle in an informal, cottage-garden setting.
- Low hedges - formal and informal hedges that grow up to 1m high, such as box, hebe, lavender and potentilla are ideal for using as garden dividers.
- Hedges on legs - otherwise known as pleached hedges are a feature of many a stately home garden, but this technique of growing a hedge on a clear stem also offers advantages for modern, small gardens.
- Living screens - cover trellis with quick-growing climbers, such as Clematis montana var. rubens, Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ , Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ and Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Veitchii'. Or plant a well-behaved bamboo, such as Phyllostachys or the red-tinted golden stem of Fargesia ‘Red Panda’, in a trench lined with and impermeable barrier to prevent the roots spreading.
- Fruiting fences - trained fruit trees make excellent screens. These range from shin-high step-over apples to slender, head-high espalier- and cordon-trained fruit trees, that will produce an unusual and productive divider.
- Formal hedges - neatly clipped evergreens such as laurel, yew, holly and western red cedar will look good all year. Deciduous hedges allow more light during the darkest months, while deciduous beech and hornbeam retain their rich-brown leaves throughout the winter.
- Informal hedges - a wide range of shrubs can be used to produce a softer look that’s easier to care for. Flowering and fruiting shrubs, such as berberis, flowering quince, and Rosa rugosa, will provide added colour and interest, too.
Simply by dividing your garden with plants, hedges or screens, you instantly hide some parts from view, which adds intrigue and mystery to the design. In addition, creating a number of separate areas means you can try out different styles within a single garden, adding interest and increasing the range of plants you grow. Dividing your plot also means you can effectively hide utilitarian features, such as the veg patch, potting shed and compost heap, without having an impact on the ornamental parts of the garden. For example, in a long narrow plot, you could have a formal area laid to flowerbeds and lawns next to the patio and house, leading to an informal wildlife area, bamboo grove or wooded glade in the central portion, with a productive fruit and veg growing area at the end of the garden that’s completely hidden from view.
The areas needn’t be of equal size or the same shape. In fact, in a small garden, changing the angles will help you create the illusion of space. The secret, here, is to lead the eye to a distant point while blurring the boundaries with plants, so that there are no reference points to define the size of the garden. A focal point further down the plot will draw the eye, or you could use an attractive feature, such as a church steeple, in the distance. You can maximise the impact of the focal point by framing it using an arch or by judiciously pruning plants at the boundary. In a long, narrow garden, the focal point could be a large urn, statue or garden seat at the end of the woodland glade section of the garden. If framed by an archway that divides the ornamental area adjacent to the house from the informal copse, the vista will take in two-thirds of the garden, making it seem bigger than it really is.
In a large garden, you could have small ‘secret’ gardens, leading off to the sides of the main garden space. To help gel the overall design, it is a good idea to continue certain elements, such as the screening or paving into the side enclaves. However, the secret gardens can be given their own unique character – perhaps a formal, box-edged knot garden in one, a fragrant rose courtyard in another, then a monochrome parterre, gravel garden or even a mini-meadow to complete the set. In this way, you can create different moods within a single garden and increase the range of plants you can grow enormously.
When redesigning an established garden, consider how you can incorporate some of the existing features into the new partitioned design. This will help the design bond with its surroundings and provide instant maturity. With a new garden, plan the design in detail on paper first, making a 3D model of the layout to try out different ideas. Then put up the screens and plant the hedges to establish the framework of the garden before adding the detail within each division.
Ready-made border: The Grand Experience
You don't need to have a huge estate to fit a formal border into your garden. These can look equally good in small town gardens where their formality and simple planting is incredibly soothing. Don't think you will need to be a slave to it either, the box (Buxus) topiary will need a clip once or maybe twice a year, while the other plants should be cut back at the end of the growing season. You will need a sunny bed measuring 3.5 x 2m in a sunny spot.