Welcome to our Blog. Inspiration, updates and industry trends from the team at Landscaping Solutions.
Do you secretly long for a more Nature-friendly garden but fear the work involved? If you’re a garden designer, do you struggle to inject Nature-friendly elements into a brief because of clients fear it will result in an unwelcome workload?
A low-maintenance corner of easy-care shrubs and perennials like the scented daphne (in background) and the hellebores in the foreground offer sustenance to insects early in the year. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
Gardens are many things: a place to relax, to entertain, a play area for the kids, a haven, perhaps just somewhere for the cats to laze in the sun. Whatever it is, it certainly shouldn’t be a burden.
A garden is also where the natural world comes closest to our lives.
If we allow it to.
Garden-design briefs often veer towards pushing Nature away. Even as the merits of trees and plants in controlling pollution and producing cooling effects, the advantages of wildlife corridors across cities, and the physical and mental health benefits of looking out at a natural scene are increasingly understood and extolled, we lay more artificial grass, cut down trees, and even pave over entire gardens, generally in the interests of Low Maintenance.
The Outdoor Room
In part, it is the landscaping industry’s fault. We have spent the last two decades, since Groundforce took TV viewers by storm in the 1990s, describing the garden as an outdoor room, making it out to be an extension of our living space. And while we can certainly extend our day-to-day living into the garden, it is most certainly not a room.
What has been the effect of calling a garden an outdoor room? We suggest that it’s subtly altered expectations, and had a major impact on the look of gardens over the subsequent decades. If the garden is another room, it should look pretty much the same all year round and, if it’s a room, then all it needs is a quick dust, Hoover and tidy-up every so often, just like the lounge indoors.
In many ways this is ideal. Low maintenance is understandably one of the most frequent demands for a garden design, with mowing, weeding, leaf-blowing and pruning kept to an absolute minimum.
But what is missing?
Benefits of a Nature-friendly garden
A single flower gives bees the chance to collect pollen where double flower sometimes don't. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
A nature challenge run by The Wildlife Trusts in 2015 asked participants to do one “wild” activity every day for a month. Participants reported at intervals on how they felt. It turned out that even simple activities like feeding the birds and planting bee-friendly flowers made a difference, with an increase of 30% in participants reporting themselves in excellent health at the end of the challenge.
Other research has demonstrated how a view of nature reduces the need for pain-killers, aids healing, rests the mind and reduces negative emotions.
Children gain enormously from interaction with the natural world. In fact, research into human development portrays childhood as a time when we particularly want to explore it.
And none of the above is possible without the building blocks of a Nature-friendly garden that will attract the wildlife to give you the restorative and stimulating environment that will make a haven for you and a playground for your children.
The landscaping industry’s role?
At Landscaping Solutions we believe that we all have a responsibility towards Nature.
We feel privileged to be part of an industry which is uniquely placed as a bridge between the needs of our clients and the natural world. We can distance people from Nature, or we can create a manageable environment which harmonises with Nature.
If we look after it, it will repay us, with all the benefits listed above.
Client-friendly AND Nature-friendly
A mix of summer shrubs and self-seeders creates a nectar-rich corner. (Picture: Helen Gazeley)
What does this mean for your garden or, as a designer, your clients’ garden? At Landscaping Solutions, we’re not advocating creating a wilderness outside the back door. We have built award-winning gardens that major on high-quality hard landscaping, with very formal designs and minimalist planting. We’re not going to preach about what should and should be in your or your clients’ garden. However, we choose our materials and plants mindfully.
And this is where we can help. Most garden-design briefs allow plenty of room for Nature-friendly elements. They may not be things that you immediately associate with a low-maintenance garden but, if properly installed, they require little attention while enhancing the design, bringing the pleasures of Nature closer to your window, and making a more sustainable design for local flora and fauna.
Here at Landscaping Solutions we have an excellent understanding of how to introduce tiny differences with a big impact, adding a Natural element and yet give you a living space that you can use as part of your daily life and not slave over.
Ivy makes an ideal, easy-to-trim fedge (mix of hedge and fence) and strikingly structural fruit which feeds thrushes in winter. (Picture: Helen Gazeley.)
From choice of productive shrubs, trees and nectar-rich flowering plants that will attract and feed wildlife, choice of grasses and wildflowers for the lawn and minimum grass-cutting regimes, to the installation of safe ponds and small areas of locally appropriate habitat, we have plenty of tools in our toolbox to create a design that will give you an interesting, sustainable garden throughout the year.
We work sympathetically with designers who want to expand the Nature-friendly extent of designs. We can also provide a garden design service. Alternatively, if you would like to make some changes, however small, to your existing garden with a view to supporting wildlife and are wondering what you could reasonably do, we’re happy to advise.
For more information or an informal chat about options, contact Ben West.
A leading industry event, taking place at Sandown Park Racecourse, Surrey, Futurescape brings designers, landscapers and contractors together from all over the UK, creating a stimulating platform for industry debate. Ben will be asking exactly what are our responsibilities as an industry in creating outdoor spaces, and how can we reasonably fulfil them?
If you’re thinking of putting gravel down in your front garden or driveway, there’s a good chance that you’re attracted by the idea of low maintenance, ease of installation and economy of materials.
Beth Chatto: The Drought Tolerant Garden. Designed by David Ward. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. (Stand no. 200) Copyright © RHS. Credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak. See below why this was the perfect inspiration growing under gravel.
Installed correctly, it’s an ideal material for fulfilling all those criteria, but what’s less recognised is that it can be used to create unique and attractive garden that will, not only incorporate all the practical necessities of a front garden, but will also welcome you home at the end of the day.
Designing a front garden to be both practical and attractive, and maybe look just a little different, can be a challenge. You need enough space for parking, easy access to the road for bins, a surface that works well in all weathers, that’s easy for all types of footwear and wheels to traverse, and that complies with required SUDS regulations, removing the potential need for planning permission. Low maintenance requirements are also usually a priority for this area.
Understandably, the practicalities generally take precedence, even to the extent of the whole frontage being given over to hard landscaping. But there are alternatives.
In this article we’ll look at one of the most unusual and one of the most economical to create - the gravel front garden.
A Gravel Garden, not just a Gravel Driveway
Of course, we’re all used to gravel driveways - plenty of which give gravel a bad name. Badly installed, they leak stones onto the pavement, grow weeds with enthusiasm and settle into ridges under the car wheels while, in a worst-case scenario, being extremely hard work to walk on.
By contrast, a well-designed and expertly installed gravel garden will be low maintenance, solid underfoot where it needs to be, won’t migrate, and will offer a lower-cost option that grows a diversity of planting, therefore giving your house a frontage that has all you need and is welcoming and attractive.
Making Gravel Driveways Work
So, how are the gravel driveway problems listed above solved? By using a stabilisation system in combination with the right type of gravel. Here at Landscaping Solutions, we are registered installers of CEDAdrive, the invisible gravel stabilisation system that creates a surface that is very easy to walk on, even in high heels, and is wheelchair- and pushchair-friendly.
It also solves practical issues relating to SUDS and planning permission.
A Quick Word about SUDS
SUDS - Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems - replicate natural drainage, diverting water away from sewers, with the intention of taking pressure off the sewerage system and reducing surface flooding. The system is a requirement in all front garden developments, with more than five square metres of hard landscaping permitted only where the surface is permeable or there is a permeable area for the water to drain into.
We’ll go into SUDS in more depth in a later article. However, gravel front gardens are completely permeable, allowing rainwater to percolate virtually unimpeded into the soil, and therefore fulfil all the criteria with no need for planning permission.
A Gravel Garden by Design
For an idea of how it could look, this year’s Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival in Surrey provided a perfect example.
The sword-shaped leaves of irises make a bold statement against gravel in the Beth Chatto Garden at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. Picture credit: Ben West.
Beth Chatto, who died in 2018, was one of the most influential gardeners of the twentieth century. In homage, the festival named her its 2019 Horticultural Hero and featured a recreation of her Drought-Tolerant Garden by David Ward, Garden Director of the Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead, near Colchester, Essex.
“I loved the Beth Chatto garden,” says Landscaping Solutions’ director Ben West. “It was mainly naturalistic, colourful, vibrant, with lots of different textures and shapes.”
It included a huge number of plants which thrive under gravel and provided a huge variety of plants which make ideal choices for a front garden design. Included in the planting were easy-to-grow herbs like fennel, lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage and catmint; the edible brassica sea kale; plants like lamb’s ears, whose furry leaves beg to be stroked; colourful flowers like red-hot Helianthemums, misty-blue Perovskias, and the sunshine yellow Verbascums, punctuated by the pure white flowers of such plants as perennial stocks. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as choices are concerned.
They’ll even multiply without your intervention. Self-seeding is only a problem when it happens in the wrong place. A huge advantage of installing CEDAdrive is the inbuilt geomembrane that separates the gravel from the soil below, preventing deep-rooting plants taking hold. If other plants show their heads, they just lift away from the 40mm depth of gravel.
A complete gravel front garden
Use of CEDAdrive means that those parts of your front garden that need to be walked on, parked on, and offer a pathway to the main road for the bins offer exactly those capabilities.
With a gravel mulch used across the rest of the front garden, these necessary areas will then blend seamlessly into the whole, creating a sense of air and space unrestricted by driveway edging or strictly delineated flower beds. This in itself will make the front garden feel bigger.
Beth Chatto: The Drought Tolerant Garden. Designed by David Ward. RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019. (Stand no. 200) Copyright © RHS. Credit: RHS/Joanna Kossak.
Ben loves the natural feel of a carefully curated gravel garden like this year’s feature garden at Hampton Court. “What I like about the Beth Chatto garden is the informality of the planting,” says Ben. “The plants aren’t hemmed in with a hard edge; there is no well-defined border. Instead the planted area weaves in and out, with scalloped edges. It makes it more fluid and interesting.”
If you’d like to discuss the potential of a well-designed gravel front garden for your property, which will bring pleasure for years to come, contact Ben at Landscaping Solutions on the number above or email email@example.com.
Indoor/outdoor living. Once something of a novel idea in the UK, it’s now a staple ingredient of garden design and, as garden landscapers, we get huge satisfaction in a clients’ delight at their new connection with the outdoors when a design is complete.
Crisp lines characterise this stunning garden design in South West London.
Often bi-fold doors opening onto decking is all that a client asks for, especially in the small gardens you find in urban Surrey and London. So much more can be done, however, and we were thrilled to be involved in this stunning BALI-award winning build in South London, a garden that offers multiple opportunities to enjoy the outdoors throughout the year, and which provides real-life inspiration.
The garden design brief
The brief was very clear - a space for entertaining and which would provide entertainment. A strong geometrical design was important, with all-the-year-round interest provided by structural, symmetrical planting. “With our large glass doors at the back of the house, we felt that it needed to feel like a natural open continuation of the kitchen/dining room, with similar smooth floor tiles and at the same level,” said the client.
The client wanted a garden that they could walk straight out into on the same level in bare feet.
They wanted a contemporary space suitable for relaxation and reflection and which naturally felt part of their living area. “I wanted a garden that I could walk in and out from the kitchen without shoes, on a flat, clean and smooth surface.”
And - for a busy family - low maintenance was a priority. “Our expectation for our new garden,” said the client, “was that it would not only have a design wow factor, during the day, at night, and through the seasons, but it would also be comfortable to live in with children.”
Garden designer Simon Thomas excelled at fulfilling the brief. Then it was Landscaping Solutions’ turn to get stuck in.
Starting the Landscaping
As is so common with garden landscaping projects in London, the only entrance was through the front door and all waste had to be removed through the house.
Planting includes pleached Carpinus betulus to add height and structure, with Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’ scrambling over the screen fencing, while Foeniculum vulgare ‘Giant Bronze’, Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ add airy planting to the architectural Buxus sempervivens and Taxus baccata hedging.
“This involved the removal and manual handling of at least ten tonnes of existing soils and turf, stone paving and a timber deck,” says Ben West, owner of Landscaping Solutions. “As London gardeners, one of our daily tasks revolves around making sure that the client assumes that nobody has been in the house.”
This means that, every bit a part of our job as is excellent workmanship, is ensuring that our exit path is clean and tidy at the end of the day, ready for the clients to come home.
The landscaping teams at Landscaping Solutions really enjoy their work. As we explained in a recent post, teamwork is integral to the way we operate, so once Ben had visited the site and met the clients, he presented the concept to staff members for planning and construction feedback. Involving the guys who will be working on a project early on adds an edge to the result. “By the time we came to start work,” says Ben, “the construction team were really keen to get in and express themselves on the features and the detailing.”
Boundary lines were tweaked to accommodate neighbours’ concerns.
London gardens don’t just have problems with access. Inevitably work impinges on near neighbours who voice their concerns, and it was no different here when the boundary lines went up as the first stage of the build.
Looking after relations with the people who will have to live with your new garden is another intrinsic, and very important, part of the job. “Good communication is essential when these situations arise, along with the ability to be flexible and think on one’s feet,” explains Ben.
We tweaked heights and levels on the boundary screens, and peace was restored.
Installing the pond and water feature
A water chalice designed by David Harber was a key feature, contrasting architecturally with the rectilinear fireplace at the end of the garden. We built a circular pool of rendered blockwork, coated inside with fibreglass and finished with mosaic tiles and bullnosed coping to pick up the step treads to the upper terrace, an addition made during the build.
During the work it was decided to raise the fireplace above the rest of the garden, so a terrace was created with step leading up from the pool area. Behind the fireplace is a bespoke partitioned storage unit for bicycles, tools, toys and the gas bottle feed for the fire.
It was important to ensure the water from the pond didn’t overflow. Even though the Mint Sawn Sandstone paving was sealed, it could still stain from prolonged contact with water from the pool. We devised the remedy by installing a hidden submersible pump that could be linked to the main storm water system via sub-surface pipework and operated by remote control either from inside or away from the home. We also installed drip irrigation to all the flower beds.
Remember the brief? That the garden would have a wow factor at night too? Stainless steel light fittings illuminate the screen fencing, LED light are recessed into the paving and raised beds, with strip lights illuminating the step treads and spotlights offering dramatic uplighting to the architectural planting in the beds. Again, they are remote-controlled. With the flames flickering in the fireplace, the wow factor is unmissable.
At the 2011BALI National Landscape Awards the judges commented on the “exceptionally good detailing” and awarded us Principal award in the £20,000 - £50,000 category.
Most of all, though, the satisfaction of the clients in having their dream realised was the highest reward. “On a personal level it was a great feeling to stand in the middle of the action,” says Ben, “working closely with the designer, the clients and our hard-working staff, and watch everything come together.”
For more information on how Landscaping Solutions can transform your garden, contact Ben on 0208 241 2402 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The importance of integrating Nature into our everyday lives is something that is really close to our hearts at Landscaping Solutions so we were delighted to be involved with a garden with such an important message at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival this year.
The CEDEC self-binding gravel was mixed with local mud to create the forest path. Photo: Helen Gazeley.
Michelle Brandon, designer of the Forest Will See You Now, one of the gardens in the Global Impact category, also works as a horticultural therapist at Springfield University Hospital, Tooting, so she knows first-hand what huge benefits working with Nature and being in Nature can bring.
The Forest Will See You Now adds another dimension. Contained within a “wrapping” of a packet of pills, it sends the message that Nature herself provides medicine. “In my research,” says Michelle, “I stumbled across phytoncides and started looking into them.” These volatile substances are produced by plants to prevent rotting and attack from pests; it turns out that they’re also good for humans.
Stuart Dainton, Head of Innovation at The Woodland Trust, explains, “They’re helpful for the immune system and reduce stress. It’s now been proven by science.”
Garden designer Michelle Brandon wrapped The Forest Will See You Now in a pill packet to emphasise the message. Photo: Helen Gazeley.
For Landscaping Solutions, the garden was one of the simpler show gardens we’ve been involved with. Michelle had an army of friends, family and RHS volunteers to help and we came in for the elements that needed more landscaping knowledge. As ever it’s the attention to detail that creates the difference between a believable scene and one that doesn’t work its magic.
“I wanted to make a woodland that recognisable to all,” says Michelle, who created a shady forest path between, among other trees, silver birch bordered by natural planting, including shade-loving meadow grass. “I hope it will encourage people to want to go to woodland in their own locality and take ownership and protect it.”
“If we understand the benefits of woodland,” said Stuart, “then we will protect it.”
The Forest Will See You Now makes an inviting space where Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival visitors can escape from the sun. Photo: Helen Gazeley.
Playing an important part in the realistic scene is the path which, as visitors to Hampton Court are encouraged to walk through the gardens, has to be up to heavy footfall while prepared for any weather. It’s a careful combination of CEDEC self-binding gravel and local mud, mixed with a few stones to create just the right impression.
The garden towers above its surroundings, and there were nine taller trees that had to be firmly fixed in place. “The initial dig out was very strenuous,” says James, who led the Landscaping Solutions team working on the garden. “Once you’re down thirty centimetres, the ground is very stony, like ballast. When you stick in the shovel you’re not hitting, nice soft soil.”
A fallen, decaying tree displays its roots, and invites contemplation of the beauty of Nature in The Forest Will See You Now. Photo: Helen Gazeley.
The solution was a digger. We also employed the Platipus Deadman Fixing System, which requires digging down below the depth of the rootball. “We didn’t see other people using it,” says James, “but it’s a professional approach.” The Platipus Deadman is useful for anchoring tall trees, making them safe in windy sites and ensuring they stay upright and creating an aesthetically pleasing finish without the need for staking. In all, nine trees were installed with the anchor system.
This is a garden very different from our previous Hampton Court builds, but no less enjoyable for it. “It’s good fun,” says James. “Tough, with a lot of planning prior, but good fun. And it’s just nice to have your work on display.”
The Forest Will See You Now at RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival is designer Michelle Brandon’s first show garden. Photo: Helen Gazeley.
Designers often say that after a show they declare “never again”, even though they’re lured into the process again the following year. This was Michelle’s first ever show garden, and she’s made of sterner stuff. “It’s hard core,” she says. “A very, very intense experience, but when in the first year you’ve learned so much, with all that knowledge you’re already signed up for the next one.”
We couldn’t agree more. If you’d like the garden that’s perfect for you or, as a designer, would like to discuss how we can work with you on an entry in next year’s shows, contact Ben West to discuss your requirements.