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Portable gardening: words of advice from a garden designer

From balconies in rented homes to doorsteps, a little creativity can go a long way when you’re starting to get into gardening. To help you, Garden Designer Amelia Bouquet, shares how you can create a portable garden. Amelia trained in garden design at the English Gardening School, located in the historic Chelsea Physic Garden, and believes there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to creating a garden…

Like everyone I was very pleased to see the back of 2020.  For me and for you, I dare say, it was a dispiriting mixture of personal disappointments mixed with the fear we all shared, across the world, of being caught up in a pandemic. Until then that had been the stuff of a science fiction film. However despite the obstacles and challenges last year presented, gardening has remained for me a constant source of sanity and consistency. 

Many people, particularly those of us living in cities, don’t have the luxury of a spacious garden in which to pass the time, myself included, the majority have small balconies, window sills or compact patios. That being said, I believe it is more important than ever to encourage people into gardening even if they don’t have an abundance of space.

As a garden designer, I often find designing smaller spaces more challenging but also more creative. Every nook and cranny can be used to create something wonderful. Let’s start with pots. 

 

If you are renting a property you may not want to spend money on plants that will establish themselves in the ground with the effort of having to transplant them at the end of your tenancy. I suggest starting off with some large statement pots instead to fill your space. Make sure that you have holes in the bottom for drainage, fill the bottom inch with broken up terracotta or pebbles and then fill with some standard multi purpose potting compost.

For year round structure, choose an evergreen shrub for the centre of your pot such as Pittosporum, Photinia, Griselinia or even a small Bay tree and underplant with easy trailing plants like ivy or Muehlenbeckia. If you’ve got a sunnier spot try the hardy Trachycarpus for a more tropical feel. As the months get warmer you will have a wider variety of seasonal bedding plants to add in for some colour. If you are feeling really adventurous why not plant some bulbs in spring to bloom in the summer months such as Gladiolus. For beautiful snowdrops, daffodils and crocuses ideally these bulbs should be planted in October – but always good to plan for next year! I for one, always look forward to snowdrops emerging in January and February as they are the first sign of life, a small appetiser if you will for what is to come as the soil warms up.

 

Sadly the private gardens due to open in January under the National Garden Scheme are closed due to the pandemic, however you will no doubt see snowdrops on your daily walks in parks or in front gardens. Apart from snowdrops – small white heads bowed and trembling, shining out bravely – you can enjoy winter pansies and violas in pots too. Place them by your back door or where you can see them from the window for a little bolt of cheering colour.  

If you have a small patio and a sparse wall, why not try and build you own green wall? It sounds complicated but really isn’t. All you need are some pieces of timber to make a frame, some hemp bags which you can get online or in garden centres usually, some soil and trailing plants. Make a simple square or rectangle frame with the timber, staple the hemp bags to the frame, fill the bags with soil and in spring plant with things like Lobelia, Erigeron, Lysimachia and/or Bacopa. They are in essence a vertical hanging basket – make sure to water though!

Most importantly, it is not about doing everything correctly the first time, make mistakes and experiment as that is where you will get the most enjoyment! Gardening is by no means an exact science and plants are all individuals, it gives you a mental and physical focus and something to plan for and talk about. Even during the dreariest days of the winter there are changes to observe every day. 

Last year was meant to be the year I exhibited for the first time at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, with a garden called ‘The Communication Garden’ in support of Mental Health UK. Ironically the idea behind the design was to highlight the importance of face to face communication in green spaces.

I hope to be back this year at Hampton Court, and drumming home the message which seems more pertinent now than ever that gardening and being with others outdoors is seriously important for our mental well being. 

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