Welcome to our Blog. Inspiration, updates and industry trends from the team at Landscaping Solutions.
If you’re motivated to make a difference to biodiversity or simply wish to while away the day watching wildlife then you need a pond in your garden.
A professional garden or landscape designer will know where best to place a pond in your garden.
Here’s how to make it happen;
Take time to select an experienced professional to work with. A garden or landscape designer with a passion for creating naturalistic spaces will know how to attract wildlife to the garden and have an instinctive understanding of where best place to place the pond. This might be a natural dip in the lay of the land or an open area away from overhanging trees, preferably in a sunny spot as most insect and plant life thrives in warm, shallow and sunlit conditions. However, we ensure there’s at least two to three feet of depth at some point so hibernating frogs have a place to overwinter. Pond sides should gently slope to the depths to provide trouble-free wildlife access so we always create a shallow ‘beach’ area at one end.
A shallow beach area at one end of the pond provides trouble-free access for wildlife.
A clever designer will plan to save and reuse as much excavated material as possible during the build process. Fertile topsoil can be used to create borders or banks elsewhere in the garden and less fertile sub-soil can be used as growing media in the pond.
Then it’s time to get creative with the planting. Our planting schemes utilise oxygenators such as Hornwort, Water Crowfoot or Spiked Milfoil along with some floating species such as Frogbit, Fringed Water Lilly and Water Soldier. A smattering of emergent species and marginal plants such Amphibious Bistort, Brooklime, Water Avens, Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Marigold, Water Mint and Hard and Soft Rush can be planted directly in to the soil layer in and around the pond.
Boulders and deadwood are great for providing a hiding place for amphibians.
To make the pond more naturalistic we add boulders, stumps, deadwood, bark and branches to provide hiding places for amphibians and perches for birds and dragonflies. Now it’s time to sit back to see what comes in. It won’t be long before beetles, backswimmers, water boatmen and pond-skaters start to arrive. Snails won’t be far behind followed by frogs, toads and newts once the vegetation establishes. Within a year or so you’ll have a fully functioning ecosystem helping to redress the balance of habitat loss in the wider countryside and a constant source of enjoyment and learning.
In late 2019 we collaborated with Jilayne Rickards on a small urban garden she designed for a great client in North London. Jilayne christened the scheme ‘The Urban Retreat’.
The Urban Retreat in North London, designed by Jilayne Rickards and built by Landscaping Solutions.
Jilayne’s vision was for the garden to be both beautiful and sustainable. In December last year we discovered the garden had picked up four British Association of Landscape Industries awards. The most satisfying of these for us was the award for best use of recycled and reclaimed materials. The recognition this garden received from BALI and the interest and acclaim it has garnered from the wider public offers hope for what we call ‘The sustainable aesthetic’. The more media coverage gardens of this type obtain the more they will come to be considered desirable by the general public and the more likely their guiding ethos will become mainstream thought.
Reclaimed Douglas Fir decking, one of the many recycled and reclaimed materials used throughout the garden.
What is the ethos of the sustainable aesthetic and why is it important? The sustainable garden weathers well in the British climate, blends in with its surroundings, accommodates and encourages interaction with wildlife and does not damage the environment in its creation. It follows a number of principles;
Protect and nurture the holy trinity of soil, plants and insects. Do this and good things will follow. In ‘The Urban Retreat’ all soil was kept on site.
Reduce waste. In this garden all existing pots and planters were recycled along with the brick work. Paving sub-base materials were re-used where appropriate or sent for off-site recycling with any green waste produced. Energetic waste can also be reduced by designing closed systems and features that have multiple benefits. For example, planting Comfrey for its aesthetic appeal, ability to attract and feed insects, provision of composting material and medicinal applications.
We can further reduce waste by working with the existing lay of the land, soil type, microclimate, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ vernacular, moisture levels, ‘habitat’ type, etc. The existing garden had a woodland edge feel and Jilayne used this to inform her plant choices. Woodland edge gardens are cooling and relaxing in the heat of a city summer.
Existing pots and planters were recycled and wildlife friendly planting was retained.
Useful, wildlife friendly planting was retained and any unwanted plants were donated to other gardeners. A mature Elder was a prominent existing feature. What plant can better connect us to the environment and other lifeforms? In winter it looks a wreck and we wonder will it manage to limp on through to spring? But what a change once the sap starts to rise. The leaves come on early, connecting us to the cycle of re-birth out of decay. The summer flowers are an insect magnet and can be made in to refreshing drinks. The autumn berries feed birds and small mammals whilst boosting our immune systems through winter when processed in to medicinal food and drink. Dried out Elder canes are also the best material for the hand drill-one of the first ways our ancestors kindled fire. Try it yourself to fully appreciate their achievements! Plants of this kind re-connect us with our history and birthright and, in doing so, help dispel the illusion that we are somehow ‘outside’ of nature. Through constant exposure to the damaging aspects of our existence we have grown to believe degradation is our hallmark. Gardens are the one of the arenas in which we can reassert the positive elements of human intervention and perhaps see our purpose on this planet.
Specify plants and hardscape that don’t need mollycoddling. Opt for resilient plants and stone and timber types that don’t need constant sealing or cleaning. Reclaimed materials achieve this end and also tick the sustainability box- they have not been newly created and therefore no further finite resources have been consumed. In terms of timber, we used reclaimed Douglas Fir decking and shelving and reclaimed Oak for the seating block/retaining wall in this garden. Reclaimed slate and granite was used for the paving. Jilayne and the client went shopping in local markets for the second hand furniture, fixtures and fittings. All the reclaimed materials were of British provenance. When reclaimed wood cannot be used specify locally sourced FSC-certified timber from trusted suppliers.
Reclaimed timber, slate and granite were used throughout the garden as well as second hand furniture, fixtures and fittings.
Permeable surfaces allow rain water to percolate back in to the ground and to that end gravel was used extensively in this garden. More generally, look to make surfaces more porous with the aim of increasing biodiversity. Block and brick retaining walls could be replaced with gabions which allow unwanted existing materials such as paving and walling to be used as in-fill.
Sustainable gardens aim to be as ‘soft’ as possible. Planting should be diverse, successional and nectar-rich. Utilise a range of trees, shrubs, climbers, grasses and bulbs to provide food and shelter for wildlife. Don’t forget; attractiveness to humans is of equal importance if the garden is to be considered a success by the client!
Go easy on garden lighting and chemical weed and pest control. Neither were used in this scheme.
However, the garden wasn’t a perfect example of sustainability. There were a number of areas where our activities were damaging;
- Cement and adhesives were used. Both material have a high environmental impact.
- Fossil fuels were consumed and pollutants produced in travelling to and from site.
- Space restrictions dictated all deliveries were bagged. To reduce waste specify loose deliveries wherever possible.
- Gravel extraction degrades wildlife habitat.
How can we improve? At Landscaping Solutions we are committed to continual professional development through seminars, courses, workshops and personal study. Integration of environmental assessments to our CDM process helps us think about how we can reduce our impact and guides our landscape design decisions and installation techniques. This is a great tool but can only take us so far due to the fact that much of the raw information is based on intuition. There is a need to develop an industry accepted framework to help us better understand the relative impact of various materials and practices. For instance, we might assume artificial turf to be more impactful than paving but in some instances artificial turf allows the ground to ‘breath’ more than paving. Leave artificial turf to its own devices and it develops into ‘habitat’ much quicker than paving, rapidly hosting an array of plant and invertebrate life. However, can it be recycled satisfactorily? And which of these is most environmentally impactful; quarried British Yorkstone or Italian porcelain? What about quarried Indian sandstone v Italian porcelain? Or Indian sandstone v Indian porcelain. Yorkstone v Portland Stone? Portland stone from open cast extraction v undersea deposits? These are complicated questions.
Regular brainstorming sessions helped guide our design decisions and installation techniques.
Responsive clients might be encouraged to engage with food production be it wild or cultivated and on whatever scale possible. This takes the pressure off the industrial agricultural system, promotes personal resilience, self-sufficiency, understanding of our role in the ecosystem, empathy with other life forms and mental and physical health. Studies have shown low-input vegetable and fruit allotments to be the most biodiverse land use in the country. They can be further improved by providing a body of water and adding on-site composting facilities.
One last piece of advice; don’t forget to have fun!
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 creating regenerative garden designs that add too, rather than take away from, the environment. 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?
There’s what you want from a garden and there’s what it and life impose on you. That’s where garden design and skilful landscaping step in - to marry the two into a something that meets your vision, services your needs and deals with its problems in a satisfactory manner. Oh, and looks good too.
Timber slatted fencing increased the privacy of the garden while the limited palette of colour, requested by the client, added to the calm elegance.
This garden in Barnes, south-west London, designed by Justin Greer, was built by us in 2012 and, we’re proud to say, garnered a BALI award for Domestic Garden Construction (costing between £30,000 and £60,000).
What were the problems? Well, it shared issues that we see frequently in London gardens. The plot is pretty much triangular, 10 metres wide at the house, narrowing to 2 metres along its 20-metre length. For tools and toys, it needed storage space that didn’t detract from the look of the garden, and it needed a greater sense of privacy from the houses close by.
In addition, drainage of rainwater from the rear extension had to be dealt with and, as happens so often with major garden projects, enormous changes were taking place in the house at the same time, the most major being the digging of a new cellar.
The triangular shape of the plot was very clear in the garden before its makeover.
These are merely obstacles that we meet frequently in the course of our work, however. Certainly they were nothing to interfere with our mission to remove the dilapidated decking patio and completely replace the existing unstructured and obviously awkwardly shaped garden with an enticing, more formally laid-out space that would indulge the clients’ desire to be outdoors, relaxing, dining and barbecuing with the family.
Creating the garden’s calm, relaxing atmosphere is garden designer Justin Greer’s strongly geometrical layout, with space for entertaining next to the house, a gas barbecue, a play area screened from the main garden and house. The whole has an elegant, timeless feel.
Sawn Yorkstone was used as a traditional paving and, here, benchtop, to complement the reclaimed bricks and old boundary wall.
Part of achieving this feel lies in the materials used. As anyone who’s been in an old London garden knows, the boundaries are usually tall walls, made of weathered London bricks. This was no different, but one of the boundary walls had reached demolition point, so it was replaced before we began work. This provided the ideal opportunity to create coherence in materials by matching design elements to the remaining boundary wall and we recycled the bricks into the raised beds and water feature. This required a fair amount of work in cleaning up the bricks - we also had to bring in some top-ups from the London Reclaim Brick Merchants - but it was worth it for the sense of age and history they add to the design.
Precise planting is absolutely necessary to make a formal garden design work.
Of course, a formal feel is more easily imposed on a regular-shaped plot - think Roman piazzas or Hampton Court’s Privy Garden.
Here, the hardwood screen not only hides the play area and storage shed but squares off the space in a backdrop to the pleached hornbeams, which in combination with box hedging, standard bay trees and Quercus Ilex add the backbone of formal planting. This needs to be placed precisely for the effect to work as planned, otherwise the eye is drawn to the one trunk that’s not quite in line.
Finally, underpinning the design are the foundations that make it work - the sump for the water feature, hidden beneath the polished pebbles, is reinforced to avoid it being damaged when people walk over it; the hard-landscaped areas drain into plant border and through the polished pebbles.
Polished pebbles create contrast with the sawn paving, as well as areas for rain to drain away.
And what about that rainwater draining off the extension? Hidden pipework takes the run-off along the east boundary and into a soak-away beneath the children’s trampoline, which was placed on artificial turf. This was to ensure the soak-away was away from the footings of the old wall, where it could have eventually made it unstable. It took careful planning and installation.
Also demanding a lot of planning, discussion, collaboration and co-operation was the fact that we had to build the deck before the light well was put down into the new cellar. As we explained in The Secret to a BALI Award-Winning Garden Design, communication is key to making sure a project runs smoothly, especially when you’re sharing the space with other contractors.
Strong horizontals slow the eye as you look down the garden, drawing attention away from the narrowing shape.
Thanks to preparation, communication and our team of skilled landscapers, the build was not only completed within the course of two months - August to September 2012 - but also gave us a BALI National Landscape Award Winner in 2013.
If you’re a garden designer and would like to discuss how we can help you with your next project, or if you have a garden would like more information on how we at Landscaping Solutions can help you with its design and landscaping, contact us on 0208 2412402 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.