Tag Archive: borders

Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2020!!

Though a little hampered by arthritis, and lots of other stuff going on, I can look back to last year with some pleasure at what I’ve achieved…both in Old School Garden (like my new shed!) and in supporting others in their endeavours, most notably the Papillon Project, creating allotments at High Schools across Norfolk.

I’ve said before, you might think that January is a month when there’s not much to do in the garden; well there are some useful things you can get stuck into. So here are my top ten tips (with a ‘grow your own food’ angle and with thanks to various websites):

Chitting potatoes- probably only worth doing for first or second earlies. Place tubers with blunter ends upwards (the ones with most ‘eyes’) and place in trays in a cool but well- lit place towards the end of the month.

chitting pots

1. The answer is in the soil.

Remove all plant debris, to reduce the spread of disease and pests. If you need to, continue preparing ground and digging beds ready for next season, but only if the ground is still workable (don’t dig if the soils is wet or heavily frosted).

2. Don’t let the rot set in.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. Empty sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye! Also check strung onions- rot usually starts from the underside of the onion.

 3. Enjoy your winter veg.

Continue harvesting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, celery, chard, endive, kale, leeks, parsnips, turnips, winter lettuce, winter spinach, turnips. As you harvest brassicas, dig up the stems and turn the ground over. Because the compost heap will be cold and slow at this time of year, you can always bury these in the bottom of a trench along with some kitchen waste to prepare for the runner beans later in the year.

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar…

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar...

 4. Get ahead of the game.

Continue to sow winter salad leaves indoors/ under glass/ cloches- make your stir fries and salads more interesting with easy-to-grow sprouting seeds. If not already done and the weather is mild, plant garlic, onion sets and sow broad beans (e.g. Aquadulce ‘Claudia’) for early crops. Order or buy seed potatoes and start chitting (sprout) seed potatoes. Herbs are easy to grow on your windowsill and provide fresh greens all year round.

5. Not mushroom?

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own mushrooms – try growing a mushroom log in your garden or alternatively grow some indoors using mushroom kits.


Mushroom logs can make you a fun guy…!

6. Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

Consider dividing well established plants, and at the first signs of growth, cover to exclude light if you want ‘forced’ rhubarb over the next couple of months (growing the variety ‘Timperley Early’ may mean you get rhubarb in February anyway).

 7. The hardest cut.

Continue pruning out dead or diseased shoots on apple and pear trees, prune newly planted cane fruit, vines and established bush fruit if not already done. Continue planting new fruit trees and bushes if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too waterlogged or frozen, keep bare rooted plants in a frost free cool place ensuring the roots don’t dry out.

8. Clean up.

If not already done, make sure your greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that any seed trays and pots you plan to use are also cleaned and inspected for pests- e.g. slugs and snails.

9. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Plan out what you are going to grow in the coming season and order seed catalogues.

pback1_1380165c 10. Put your back into it.

If you must dig, look after your back- remember to warm up and limber up before you do anything strenuous and try to bend your knees to ensure your legs take the strain – and not your back!

Old School Gardener


This object is all about constructing a garden or shaping the ground. I thought a good choice would be another tool, a ‘half moon’, used for creating edges to lawns or giving shape to borders.

half-moon-lawn-edger1It’s great thinking about and perhaps drawing up your garden design ideas, but even better putting them into action. Sometimes (perhaps more often than I care to admit), I find the design process is more satisfying by going out, looking at the garden, grabbing your tools and shaping or constructing things there and then. A bit risky sometimes if you don’t fully appreciate the impact of your ‘on the spot’ decisions on the rest of the garden. However, when using a half moon, perhaps in combination with a nicely curving hose pipe as a guide, it is really satisfying seeing the new, crisply flowing line of a border with its freshly dug soil, emerging from the adjoining grass.

Alas, my opportunities for this here in Old School Garden are getting fewer, as I move from an expansionist phase to one focused on creating a more manageable garden, and if anything, reducing the amount of planted space and to put back easier to maintain lawn and hard surfacing…but don’t mention this to my wife!

If you’ve been reading other posts in this series, you know that sometimes I’ve pushed the rules and included a couple of objects with the same name. Once more- by accident I hasten to add– I find myself toying with another sort of ‘half moon’. Yes, the astronomical variety, no less. That opens up a whole new area of ‘gardening essence’, well at least for some growers. Gardening according to the phases of the moon is a fascinating approach which you can use to guide when you plant different things for maximum health and vigour. As Lila Das Gupta says:

‘In a nutshell, people who garden by the phases of the moon believe that its gravitational pull on the earth’s water (i.e. tides), has a bearing on plant growth. They never plant anything when the moon is waning in the last quarter because it’s believed that the earth’s water table is receding. After the new moon, the water table rises again and planting can resume. Farmers on the continent have been using moon phases to guide them for years, as indeed have many gardeners in the UK.

You don’t need to spend money on any special equipment. My friend directed me towards lunarium.co.uk, from which you can print out universal lunar calendars for free….’

half moonSee more of her interesting article here.

 Old School Gardener

low maintenance flower bedDo avoid disturbing the soil unless necessary. Each disturbance produces a new batch of weed seedlings.

Do keep weeds under control by removing weed seedlings and topping up the mulch before the garden springs to life each year.

Do choose plants which are self-supporting, particularly if your garden is exposed.

Don’t choose short-lived plants that need replacing every few years. Avoid using annuals.

Don’t over feed- otherwise plants will become vulnerable to damage.

Don’t plant self-seeders near gravel paths or loose-laid paving.

Source: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

Molehills seem to be springing up at a rate of knots in Old School Garden!
Molehills seem to be springing up at a rate of knots in Old School Garden!

Letter from Old School Garden 23rd December 2013

Dear Walter,

As I write this a major storm is sweeping across the country,disrupting travel, cutting power from homes and maybe even bringing further local flooding. I hope that you aren’t in danger from this.Fortunately we seem to be missing the worst of it, but nevetheless the winds are ferocious and I’m wondering if we can complete out planned Christmas family gathering later today, as I’m due to collect my eldest daughter and her boy friend from Norwich Station. Let’s hope they are able to get a train before the cancellations set it in at 5pm.

Setting the current ‘excitement’ aside, it’s been a pretty quiet time here at Old School Garden in recent weeks. I’ve been collecting Physalis fruit, Rose hips and Crab apples (‘Red Sentinel’) for festive decorations and rather good they look too. The other day I was pleased to discover that my local nursery had its supply of seed potatoes in, so rather than wait and possibly miss out on my favourite variety (‘Charlotte’), I bought a bag of these and one of Maris Bard (second and first earlies respectively). Once Christmas is over I’ll be setting these out on trays to ‘chit’ (sprout).

Festive Decoration- Physalis
Festive Decoration- Physalis

We’ve also had some new french doors fitted and I managed to grab the old glazed doors which I hope to use for cloches to warm the soil/protect tender crops in the new season. I really haven’t done as much as I’d hoped in the garden this past few weeks. As I said last month, the weather has been quite mild so I should have taken advantage of this to move things around, but all I’ve managed to do is extend a border and moved a few perennials to here and one or two other places. I still have some larger clumps of Achillea and Echinops to split and move.

I’ve just about managed to keep on top of leaf collection, but have noticed how the grass has kept growing, so at some point I shall have to venture out with the mower to keep it to a reasonable height. Having said this, mole hills seem to appear almost as I’m clearing the old ones away!

The last month has seen some gorgeous autumn colour- the Euphorbia palustris was especially brilliant, and I’m looking forward to seeing the various groups of Dogwoods as their bright stems liven up the winter garden.

Red Sentinel crab apples
Red Sentinel crab apples

The greenhouse is now fully set up with electric heater, insulation and tender plants all in- though I’ve still to get the Dahlias properly potted up for winter. I’ve ordered some flower seeds and these have arrived. I’ve gone for few more exotic- looking varieties of flowers this year and also some extras which I’ll use for an extended ornamental area in kitchen garden. I’ll turn to more detailed planning of these areas and my propagation schedule in the next week or two. I’ve also re-potted some house plants and I’m trying to care for these a little better, by thinking about their placement and trying not to over water them!

On the wider front, I’ve been approached by a Norfolk High School about tutoring a group of students on the School gardening plot, probably for a couple of sessions a week.This sounds interesting and something I’m keen to do, so will be visiting the School garden in early January to discuss plans in more detail. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to help at my local primary school. The mild weather has meant that we managed to plant out some leek ‘survivors’ from a sowing earlier in the year- hopefully it will remain mild enough for them to get settled. The children have also been busy collecting a lot of leaves for leaf mould. I’ll probably be back with them after February half term to get on with some seed sowing, amongst other things

Rose hips
Rose hips

I’ve also heard that I may have a new garden design commission in the New Year and I’ve agreed to meet up with the Head Gardener at nearby Salle Park Gardens to discuss her plans for turning over a portion of their 2 acre walled garden to ornamental rather than food production ( a bit like my own plans but on a much larger scale!).

As I mentioned last month my courses in Garden Design and Grow Your Own Food seem to have been successful and I’m hoping that we can run another set beginning in February, though once more subject to numbers of course.

Well, old friend I hope that you and Lise are safe in this rough weather and that you have a wonderful Christmas time with your family, tucked up in that lovely old house of yours. All the best to you and them at this special time and here’s to a productive gardening year in 2014!

Old School Gardener


With winter around the corner, this week’s question comes from Penny Rose in Hampshire:

‘I’ve moved house earlier this year and planted some fuchsias in the garden. I bought these from a local nursery and they are described as ‘hardy’. Can I leave them in the ground over winter and if so do I need to protect them in some way?’

Well, Penny, In the coldest parts of the UK you’ll have no option but to dig up your plants and put them in a conservatory or greenhouse. It’s also a good insurance policy to take cuttings (preferably in early autumn) to bring on new plants in case of a particularly severe frost or disease problems. In warmer areas you can leave plants in the ground but take steps to protect them by not cutting down the stems in Autumn, and by making some holes in the ground around each plant with a a border fork, to help water drain away- particularly important if you have heavy soil that retains water. Once this is done you should put a mulch of leaf mould, wood ashes or soil around the base of  the plant to protect it further. Some Fuchsia varieties are hardier than  others; the toughest are F. magellanica, F.’Riccartonii’ and F. ‘Mrs. Popple’ which can withstand temperatures down to between -5C and -15C.

So in somewhere like Hampshire, you’ll probably be OK  to leave your Fuchsias outside (but take the action suggested above). For me here in Norfolk, it’s a little more difficult to be sure, so I’ll leave some outside (in a pot in a warmish courtyard) and either bring others in or mulch my sandy loam soil (forming drainage holes isn’t as important).

Old School Gardener

Dried flowers and stems of Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light' providing interest at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in March

Dried flowers and stems of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ providing March  interest at RHS Garden Hyde Hall

My previous post set out the background to the growth in popularity of grasses as border plants. I’ve come to appreciate their simple beauty and the way they can add a different dimension to the traditional herbaceous and mixed border and at the moment some of them are looking great in Old school Garden, especially as the low autumn sun catches their golden stems and heads.

So what are the ways you can use grasses to best effect in your garden?

They contribute in a number of ways – texture, light, colour and as structural elements in your overall garden framework (and some sound lovely as the breeze finds its way through them or their seed heads are rattled like mini maracas). Here are some thoughts gleaned (no pun intended) from the very useful book, ‘Grasses’ by Roger Grounds.


Most grass stems and leaves provide strong vertical or curved lines and are best used in contrast:

  • With other perennial broad – leaved plants (often most effective if seen from a distance),

  • With strong vertical lines like clipped Yew or the corners of buildings (where the grass has a curved or arching stem),

  • More subtle, unusual combinations (e.g. with Ferns),

  • Contrasting the ‘fuzzy’ flower heads of many grasses with those plants that have a more linear or defined form e.g. Digitalis, Lythrum, Achillea, Phlomis russelliana, Echinops and Allium giganteum

  • With other grasses that have different leaf form; e.g. the narrow leaves of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ with the broad bold leaves of Arundo donax, or the wide, short leaves of Panicum alopecuroides.

  • At the front of borders to act as ‘veils’ through which other plants or a more distant landscape can be revealed.

Annual  grasses- complete their growth cycle in one growing season. Hardy varieties can withstand frost and most can be sown in autumn to over winter in the ground and germinate in spring. Tender grasses need to be sown once all risk of frost has passed. Many of these are perennial in frost-free climates.


  • Position grasses to catch the sun, preferably against a dark backdrop to ‘light up’ the wider garden.

  • Use grasses to take advantage of the different tonal values of light as it changes from season to season and at different times of the day – especially the more mellow light of autumn and also early and late in the day as these are the times when the richest colours are revealed. I’ve positioned some Stipa gigantea (‘Golden Oat Grass’) to catch the low sun of late summer and autumn, and close to the house where we can see the full

  • Associate grasses with seasonal changes in perennials and foliage; e.g. in spring the foliage of grasses is more prominent so think about using bold coloured grass leaves as foils for spring flower colour- the yellow of Bowle’s Golden Grass with the blues of Bluebells for instance.

Cool season grasses- these start into growth in autumn, grow through the winter and flower in spring or early summer. Best planted among winter or spring- flowering perennials. Plants grown for their foliage, or among spring and early summer bulbs. Most then become dormant/semi dormant and so can be planted where summer flowers or other grasses can grow up to conceal their faded foliage. They can be divided or transplanted in spring or autumn.


  • Use the ‘washed out’ or subtle colours of grasses as a counterpoint to the richer colours in surrounding plants.

  • Grasses with coloured leaves can be used to reinforce a particular colour theme- reds with reds, blues with blues etc. As they last longer than many of the flowers around them, grasses help to maintain continuity in colour themed borders. Blues from grasses such as the varieties of Panicum virgatum, reds from Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’ (Japanese Blood Grass) and the yellow of Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’). Yellow is the dominant colour of many grasses’ flower panicles, especially as they fade and the seed heads ripen to shades of amber, straw and gold.

Massing, grouping and markers

  • Grasses look best when grown in groups of three or more- though few gardens have the scope for mass planting. They can also be effective as specimens. Grasses planted as masses or groups should be spaced closer together than in smaller groups.

  • Many low growing grasses make excellent ground cover, and this can be an effective way of massing them in smaller gardens.

  • Taller grasses, or those with strong colouring can act as successful specimens or ‘markers’ in a garden, either planted by themselves or as accents in a border. Clumps of grasses can have a similar impact if planted to contrast with other surrounding grasses or plants.

  • More subtle ways of creating a focus include using grasses with distinctive flower or foliage forms; e.g. Calamagrostis brachytrica with its elongated ovoid flower panicles.

  • A repetition of specimen grasses in a strict rhythm along a border – especially if placed towards the middle of front of it – will impel the eye along its full length. A similar effect, but with less impact, can be achieved with taller grasses placed at the back of the border; e.g. Stipa gigantea.

Warm season grasses- these do not start into growth until late spring or early summer, so they are best planted among other perennials or shrubs that flower from midsummer to autumn. They can be left standing through winter to provide interest- especially when they are covered with raindrops, dew or frost. They should be transplanted or divided in early spring, once they have started into growth.

Seasons and sitings

  • Think about the ‘plant partners’ to go with your grasses, and use the key features of both to complement each other at different times of the year. For example combine a range of strong flower forms which use the structure of grasses to greatest effect; Umbellifers like Anthriscus; Spires like Veronicastrum virginicum; Ball-like or pincushion flowers like Echinops  and Knautia macedonica; loosely structured heads like Astilbe; daisy-like flowers such as Rudbeckia. If possible go for those with the longest flowering period.

  • Use grasses in special sites; e.g. as part of a meadow; as a larger scale ‘prairie’ planting or border; in woodland or shade; at the water’s edge.

Sedges, Rushes and Cat tails – though they generally look like grasses, these plants have taken a different evolutionary path and so vary in leaf and flower details, and also their growing needs. Sedges are large family of diverse plants, mostly from the cool temperate regions, enjoying cooler and damper conditions than most of the true grasses. Rushes are a smaller family with few garden-worthy plants though the woodrushes are often decorative as well as useful, for example as ground cover. Cat tails (or reedmaces or bullrushes)are a single genus family with aquatic or marginal plants that have conspicuous flower heads.

Source: ‘Grasses’ by Roger Grounds (RHS and Quadrille Publishing)

Linked article: Design my Garden: Grasses- first the background…

Further information: Garden design with grasses

Old School Gardener

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agrilife.orgThis is the first in a new series of articles aimed at providing some tips on using design successfully in your (or someone else’s) garden.

Do you have a disability? Maybe someone in your family isn’t as mobile as they were? Perhaps normal ageing processes are reducing your ability to garden in the way you once did? 

Disability can take many forms – it might affect someone from birth or early life or perhaps is the result of an accident or the processes of ageing. The UK Equality Act 2010 (which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) talks about a person having a disability ‘if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’ The Act requires the providers of services to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for a disabled person in any place which members of the public are permitted to enter, which includes public parks, gardens and other open spaces.

The Equality Act and associated design guidelines, which seek to remove obstacles to access, enjoyment and use of public spaces, is also a useful starting point when considering the design of a private garden or open space for someone with a disability. This covers people who are wheelchair users, have restricted mobility, sensory impairments or a learning disability, but also those who might be affected by the conditions that are associated with the normal process of ageing; e.g. loss of stamina, arthritis, declining vision and hearing and reduced balance.

Public parks are making it easier for disabled users

Public parks are making it easier for disabled users

As with any garden design project asking the client what he/she wants to do in their garden is the starting point – and absolutely essential if the client has a disability of some kind. Detailed assessment of their abilities, interests and disabilites can be obtained through more specific follow up questions:

  • how far can you walk?

  • how far can you bend?

  • has everything to be done from a wheelchair?

  • what do you see?

  • what can you hear?

As well as these questions it is important to observe the client in the garden, around the house etc. to see how they walk, bend, the shape of their body, how they make a cup of tea (lifting, holding, carrying skills). Often people with arthritis have coped for so long they can no longer describe how they move, so it’s important to watch them. So, taking careful and detailed note of the individual’s abilities and desires is the critical starting point  for any assessment and design of a garden for someone with a disability.

At this point its worth asking – is the disability of an order or kind that means their current garden can be suitably adapted, or do they need to think about moving or perhaps becoming involved in more communal gardening activity which is more in line with their ability and physical strength?

If the answer is that they can ‘stay put’, then options open include not only physical changes in the garden , but getting outside help for tasks like lawn care, hedge cutting, or one off construction projects. This might be paid contractors but could also be helpful friends, relatives or neighbours. When looking at the garden, it might also be possible to change a person’s gardening routines and practices, such as installing raised beds if they can’t bend over or are wheelchair bound; installing automatic irrigation systems; making paths easier to use by putting lights along them, clearing vegetation away from them and perhaps putting in more defined edges as well as levelling uneven surfaces to make routes more obvious and less of a ‘trip and slip’ hazard.

Water features can be important in gardens designed to stimulate the senses

Water features can be important in gardens designed to stimulate the senses

Paths and seats

But it’s also important to look carefully at things like the gradients of paths. Following recommended standards can result in ramps or other structures which do not meet the wider or particular needs of the individual. For instance whilst a ramp might be perfectly in line with the standards, the user might be wary of using it because they are afraid the ramp will make them lose control of their wheelchair and they will go crashing into a low wall at a T junction at the end of the ramp’s run. A more suitable alternative might be to install a longer ramp (with a gentler gradient) going in a different direction and/or removing the low wall.

Path widths are another area that will repay close attention. A 1.2 metre wide path may not be wide enough for someone in a wheelchair who is being pushed – try to imagine pushing the person and trying to constantly get past the chair to talk to the person face to face, rather than constantly taking to the back of their head! With restricted or no sight, or a hearing impairment, a muffled or hidden face heightens the level of disability. And think about  a space where the wheelchair (or perhaps someone with a guide dog) can stop  and there is comfortable space for the carer/assistant/friend to sit alongside the wheelchair user for a chat. So think a parking space for the wheelchair alongside a conventional seat might be a good idea.

Paths also need spaces where turning is possible for both pushed and self propelled wheelchairs. If the client has restricted mobility but does not use a wheelchair, think about seat heights and surrounding space to allow for comfortable descent and ascent from the seat. The number of seats in a garden for someone with arthritis may need to be increased to make it easy for them to take frequent rests while walking about or gardening.

Path and other hard surfaces shouldn’t be totally smooth and slippery (especially when wet), but also not so ‘riven’ that they give a bumpy wheelchair ride. Resin – bonded gravel works well and looks good, though it is relatively expensive. Ensure that the client can get in and out of their house comfortably- how do they lift their legs over a door threshold? What surface do their feet connect with? Risers may need to be lower than the standard 150mm, and people with inflexible ankles may need steps rather than ramps.

'Disability' extends way beyond wheelchair users

‘Disability’ extends way beyond wheelchair users

Beds and borders

Design beds and borders with the abilities as well as the interests and desires of the client in mind. Checking the ability to bend over comfortably (including from a wheelchair or mobility scooter) is critical in deciding the height and size of any raised beds, For some garden tasks – clipping low hedges for instance – the wheelchair/scooter user may already be at the perfect height!

When it comes to planting, the usual considerations apply:

  • what’s the climate (and any microclimates) like?

  • what space is there?

  • what is the aspect?

  • what sort of soil is there?

  • what are the irrigation options?

But it’s also especially important to think about the senses of the disabled client and respond to their abilities as well as disabilities. So, can heightened attention be given to specific sensual experiences in the garden’s planting? For example planting  herbs for smell, planting things to touch – e.g. furry leaves such as Stachys byzantina (‘Lamb’s Ears’),things to taste straight from the plant (vegetables, fruit, flowers, leaves etc.) and planting grasses and other plants that create interesting sounds (and maybe also things that help to reduce noise pollution from outside the garden). It’s also worth thinking about how your planting will support wildlife. Getting any ‘free’ helpers in the garden by planting nectar rich plants or those that provide a habitat will all help to reduce the gardening burden for the disabled person. Planting should also be chosen which gives a range of visual interests – textures of foliage, bark etc; seasonal changes in leaf, bark and form; different heights and shapes by the way plants are grouped and massed.

Down sizing

But what if the client’s garden is just too big and can’t be easily managed? The option of garden ‘down sizing’ (perhaps coinciding with a reduced size house too) is a choice that suits many people, especially as age related disability starts to affect them. One option might be to offer part of the garden to a friend or neighbour to manage as a sort of allotment, What remains or perhaps a new, smaller garden area, can still provide varied and interesting gardening. Patios, courtyards, terraces and balconies all offer possibilities through container gardening (the larger the better to reduce the need for watering).

These containers should be frost proof and of a weight when full of soil and plants that means they can be moved (if this is required) – or perhaps they can be mounted on wheeled platforms available from garden centres. Window boxes are another useful option for balcony railings or window sills. These ‘shrunken gardens’ can be planted to give all year round interest (perhaps including some evergreen shrubs for instance) as well as low maintenance plants (e.g. bulbs and shrubs), height variation (perhaps by adding a trellis to the back of a container to allow a climber to be grown), using hanging baskets with pulley systems to make it easier to lower and raise them for watering (and/or using a ‘watering wand’).

Communal gardening

Finally, it may be that the client is no longer able to manage the full range of garden tasks and a more communal approach is appropriate. Sheltered, supported housing and residential homes often provide a communal gardening space which the residents maintain, perhaps with some outside help. Just as with the individual disabled person, where communal gardens are being  set up or developed it is important to involve the residents in the design process. Spending time talking to and understanding them and teasing out what sorts of garden they would like is vital, as is the involvement of care staff who will have another perspective on the way the garden can be used. For example, a garden with lots of hard landscaping might make sense for clients with a restricted mobility or who are wheelchair users. Similarly the planning of routes around the garden and the views out of individual bedrooms/ apartments are important design considerations

For the individual a more communal style of gardening offers scope for learning new knowledge and skills as well as sharing their own. This ‘garden therapy’ can extend into bringing in specialist assistance and advice, creation of libraries of gardening books/ other resources and provision of meeting places and outings to maintain and foster residents’ interest in the garden and gardening.

An accessible water feature

An accessible water feature

Different disabilities lead to different design responses and focuses, and whilst it’s tempting to focus on the needs of those who are wheelchair users, there are other conditions that are just as important. For example:

  • Arthritis reduces bodily strength, endurance and flexibility so start by looking at adapting tools, get special devices and modify gardening routines to cope – e.g cushioned hand grips, adjustable handles, different sizing options on tools. in time more fundamental changes to the layout of the garden may be needed.

  • Hypertension can be helped through gardening activity and so reduce the risk of heart disease – 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is recommended!

  • Visual impairment may lead to a loss of focus or sense of depth, so ‘fine tune’ the garden: perhaps add ramps; improve storage of hoses; and refine gardening  tasks. Taping different tools in different colours can aid recognition – and retrieval from borders!

  • Reduced balance suggests a need for smooth walking surfaces, with good grip/traction, hand rails. Levelling uneven grass and paved surfaces, adding raised beds and seating at key points in the garden may all help.

Special tools can be useful for the disabled gardener

Special tools can be useful for the disabled gardener

To sum up – talking to the disabled person and achieving a detailed understanding of their desires, interests and abilities as well as their disabilities is critical when considering the design of a new garden or adaptation of an existing one. There are many ways of making the garden easier to access and easier to use and garden in. The client must know that you have listened and the design must show this and be owned by the client – even if that’s a close relative or yourself!


‘The Age Proof Garden’ – Patty Cassidy (Arness Publishing 2012)

‘Go Easy’ – Bella D’Arcy (Garden Design Journal November 2008)- see an extended article here

Further information:

Thrive- ‘Carry on Gardening’ – tips on garden design for disabled people

Gardening grants for the disabled

Accessible Gardens for persons with a disabilities- US Extension Learning Network

Raised bed gardening- Wiklipedia

Videojug videos on gardens for physically impaired people and others

Study of Sensory Gardens

Alzheimer’s Disease garden planning- Ask

Garden Design for all disabled gardeners – Pinterest

Equality Act 2012

Gardening for Disabled Trust

Old School Gardener

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herry Tree Cottage flower borderAn old Workhouse Yard has been turned into a showcase cottage garden of the 1930’s at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, Norfolk.

What is a cottage garden?

The words ‘cottage garden’ conjure up an idyllic image involving roses round the door of a picturesque thatch cottage with towering hollyhocks and delphiniums (or something similar) either side of a brick path that leads to a picket gate. It’s all very romantic, always spring or summer – and always sunny.’ (The Enduring Gardener)

Historically, cottage gardens date from medieval times and were where labourers living in tied cottages grew a lot of their own food to bolster their poor wages. Vegetables were grown – not only to feed the family but also to perhaps to feed a household pig and a few chickens. Fruit was grown – apples and pears for example – with wild strawberries being gathered from the hedgerows. Flowering plants would have been collected from the wild and it is possible that flowers like violets, primroses, cowslips, dog rose and wild honey suckle featured in some cottage gardens.

Monasteries grew herbs for medicinal purposes and vegetables for the monks’ food. Their knowledge was much sought after and this filtered through to the poorer classes.

The 18th and 19th centuries brought many changes – the Enclosure Acts meant that wealthy landowners could remove the peasants’ right to graze animals on common land. This forced many to grow food in their gardens to feed themselves. Gradually living conditions for the poor improved – they were able to use their gardens not just to grow vegetables for food but flowers too. Gardeners exchanged ideas and plants and soon flowers and shrubs that were only ever seen in ‘the big house’ appeared in cottage gardens. The Victorian period also saw many new varieties of bright colourful annuals used as bedding plants.In the late 19th and early 20th centuries  Gertrude Jekyll developed the cottage garden style on a grand scale.

The First and Second World Wars brought food shortages and so vegetables and fruit took priority over ornamental planting in every available garden space. Once food rationing finished after the 2nd WW, people could look to their gardens to provide visual interest and not just food, so flowers and shrubs were planted once more.

Today the cottage garden retains its popularity. One approach is the traditional, smaller scale artisan style – creating the garden as you go along, often dividing, collecting seed and gratefully receiving gifts of cuttings or plants from neighbours or friends. Others prefer the more designed approach, with carefully planned borders and precisely laid paths, perhaps in a larger scale setting.

Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

The Museum’s records show that Cherry Tree Cottage and its adjacent open space were created in the 1850’s, probably to house elderly couples (‘no longer of child-bearing age’) from the main Workhouse. It seems that it may have actually housed three couples with a shared kitchen/dining room. The open space was probably just a yard used for sitting or exercise and there is no evidence of it being planted with flowers or vegetables.  In 1932, the cottage housed Workhouse staff and it is during this period that possibly a garden was introduced.

The current garden was created in the 1980’s by a team of volunteer gardeners, some of whom are still volunteering today!  Mary Manning created the original design to demonstrate a typical cottage garden of the 1900’s, and this was based on extensive research, including the local Women’s Institute. Their members’ memories were used in the garden to reflect  the Cottage, which had been set out to resemble a 1912 interior. Later changes in the cottage were also reflected in the garden and today it aims to show how a typical 1930’s rural cottage garden would have looked and been gardened. It includes:

Flower borders – traditional cottage garden plants such as lupins, asters, rambling roses and Buddleja. The snowdrops (Galanthus plicatus) derive from bulbs brought back from the Crimean War in the 1850’s by a Captain Aldington who was from near Swaffham. His mother gave some to a friend in Warham where it is said the local rector, Charles Digby, grew them in the Church yard – they became known as the Warham Snowdrop. This variety is still available today. More recently some heritage daffodils from the 1800’s have been planted in the garden.

Cherry Tree Cottage and some of the vegetable growing area (left)

Vegetable Crops – the  early vegetable plots grew a wide range of crops and some old seed varieties of pea (‘Simpsons Special’) and broad beans (‘Big Penny’) ‘were acquired from celebrity gardener Percy Thrower and a local retired gardener respectively. The museum ha some old seed catalogues from two local seed merchants – Daniels and Taylors –  and these have been used to research the varieties that might have been grown in the 1930’s. Many of the varieties of fruit and vegetables that were grown in the 1930’s can be seen in the garden today. Garden Organic and The Heritage Seed Library have donated many of the seeds.

Herbs – a range of well known herbs are grown in the garden today. Herbs were used both for flavouring food and medicinal uses – for example a paste made from Comfrey leaves would be used to aid the healing of broken bones hence its common name of ‘Country Knit Joint’!

The garden also houses a chicken run, as it was common for many cottagers to keep chickens , which gave them a good supply of eggs. The chicken manure was also used as a fertiliser on the vegetable plot.

The garden paths were originally grass edged with flint. These were gradually replaced with bricks, local tiles (‘pamments’) and cinder;  traditional methods used in cottage gardens. Todays paths are a mix of brick, pamments and gravel – the latter is easier to maintain and is more accessible for wheelchair users.

The Potato Clamp and Scarecrow at Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

The Potato Clamp and Scarecrow at Cherry Tree Cottage Garden

Whilst the gardening volunteers are trying to follow gardening practices typical of the 1930’s, sometimes these have to be avoided (e.g avoiding the use of dangerous pesticides).  But some interesting examples of old techniques have been demonstrated – for example the creation of a ‘Potato clamp’ which was a method for storing potatoes during the winter months before indoor storage space became more readily available.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Kay Davis, Heritage Gardening Trainee 2011-12, for permission to use her article on Cherry Tree Cottage for most of the material used in this post.

Sources and further information:

Plantax 3: Sweet Peas- cottage garden favourite

Unique heritage gardens at Norfolk museum

Old Workhouse Garden a wildlife oasis at Norfolk Museum

The Cottage Garden Society


answers to the two in previous post  Transfer Window- 7 tips for successful seedlings

  • Set fire to Ms Allen – Torch lily
  • Mythical creature that enjoys a game of cards – Snapdragon

Here are a couple of gardening ditties….

Snowdrops keep falling on my head

Theme tune from The Lone Hydrangea

(with thanks to Les Palmer)

Old School Gardener

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