A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

Spring bulbs are some of my favourite flowers. However, bulbs aren’t just for spring; they are great at providing colour and interest all year round. There are lots to choose from so here’s my guide on which bulbs to buy and taking care of them.

Bulbs are generally robust, which makes them easy to grow, however they prefer a well-drained soil so if you do have water-logged garden during the winter, make sure you add plenty of horticultural grit and farmyard manure to the soil before planting.

Buying bulbs

I always recommend buying from a reputable retailer or grower as the bulbs will be the best quality and therefore have stronger blooms.  Make sure the bulbs are firm to the touch and not mouldy as they are unlikely to develop. Try and buy them early in the season as they will be better quality too.

How many you need depends on where you are planting them – they are usually sold in packs, which are usually enough for a container, but if you’re planting in a border it’s likely you will need more packs to create a display.

Taking care of garden bulbs

Once planted, it’s unlikely you will get any problems but if you get yellow leaves, it could be down to a virus in the bulb, so it’s best to dig them up and remove them from your garden – don’t put them on the compost heap either as you could be transmitting the virus that way.

Sometimes, you may find that your bulbs don’t flower in their second year. This is rare but could be down to the bulbs being planted in poorly drained soil. Other possible reasons include:

  • Location – they could be in too much shade
  • Lack of food/nutrients during growing season
  • The removal of leaves too quickly after flowering – they need to be able to create food to develop the flower for the following year.

Planting bulbs

As a general rule of thumb, bulbs need to be planted at a depth of 3 x the size of the bulb (you can measure this against your trowel).

As a rough guide if you’re using bulbs that grow to around 45cm tall then plant 10-15 bulbs per square meter.  If you’re using bulbs that grow to around 20cm tall, then plant 20-40 bulbs per square metre and this will provide you with a beautiful display.

You may have heard of the ‘lasagne’ method of planting, which is where you plant a pot in layers of different bulbs which enables you to have either succession planting, and/or different heights of flowers, ie the tallest in the middle which decrease in height to the edge of the pot. These can look stunning.

When creating this style, plant the larger, later flowering bulbs towards the bottom so that the small, early flowering varieties can flower first early in the season, and as they die off the next lot comes through to continue the display.

Styling your garden with bulbs

Starting with the basics – bulbs can be planted in containers, window boxes, or straight into your borders

If you’re planting in pots, strategically place them either side of your front door to frame it or a view.  Think about the style of the container you are using, the colours of the flowers and add some trailing plants such as ivy and maybe an evergreen shrub for year round interest.

If you’re planting straight into your borders, weave bold drifts of flowers to create impact.

Here are three ideas of bulbs you can use

Nerine bowdenii

These are great at the end of the summer when lots of flowers start to fade; these really stand out with their gorgeous pink flowers which bloom from September to November.  They grow to around 45cm tall and 25cm wide, and like a well-drained soil in full sun. They need planting in the spring; however, you will be able to buy them in pots from the garden centre this time of year.

Cyclamen hederifolium

These are great for the front of a border as they are tiny and measure height and spread 12cm x 15cm. There are different varieties available and some are great for naturalising under a deciduous tree. Make sure you buy the outdoor version. Their leaves have a beautiful marble pattern and I love them.

Cyclamen flower from October to November and usually flower before the leaves appear.

Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’

If you want to add some drama to your borders add the Parrot style Tulipa’s to create the WOW factor. These black coloured versions would look amazing with some silver leafed plants such as Artemesia. They do come in other colours such as white, blue and a really striking red/orange called Tulipa ‘Rasta Parrot’.

I’ve created a bulb list which features three bulbs for each season, which you can download for free when you join my Garden Lovers Club.

 

Creating a Drought Tolerant Garden

A gravel garden is a great option if you wish to create a low maintenance or Mediterranean style garden. These types of gardens use plants that are drought tolerant, which reduces the need to water regularly although some minimal weeding may still be required.

By choosing the right hard and soft landscaping, a gravel garden can be beautiful, practical and attractive to wildlife.

When planning your garden, the soil is the first thing to consider. If you have clay soil, you will need to add plenty of organic matter as a lot of the plants used in a Mediterranean style of garden prefer a sunny spot with well-drained soil.

Next decision is the gravel – there is a vast array to choose from. With different sizes and colour, there should be something suitable for everyone’s taste whether that be traditional, Japanese style or an industrial look. I would suggest getting a sample of the different types you like and taking them home to try as it will look different in your own setting.

When choosing the type of gravel, its also important to consider if it will be walked upon as angular medium grade gravel is easier under foot. Plus, if you use small (10mm or below), you could find your garden is suddenly more attractive to cats!

Any surface dressing helps shade the soil and keeps it cool which prevents it from drying out as fast after rain or watering and this allows more water to go into the ground for later use. Adding large stones and pots not only creates an interesting focal point, it can also decrease the quantity of water needed as the soil dries out less quickly.

After levelling and raking the surface of your garden border, lay landscape fabric over the surface and cut a cross in the fabric and place your plant through it. Once all your plants are in place you can gently add your chosen gravel to a depth of around 5cm. It’s cheaper to buy gravel loose rather than in individual bags (which also cuts down on plastic waste).

So once you’ve chosen all your hard landscaping materials, the exciting bit is the plants which will bring it to life!

What plants are suitable for a gravel garden?

There are many plants that are well suited to dry, drought like conditions. As a general rule of thumb choose plants with the following attributes:

Small leaf – such as Verbena bonariensis, thyme

Silver leaf – Olive tree and Lavender

Thick leaf – Sedum, Sempervivums

Hairy leaf – Stachys byzantine commonly known as lambs ears which are so soft and tactile.

When planting small plants they can become swamped by gravel, so plant them so that that they are raised slightly above the level of the gravel.

The Contemporary Version of Border in a Box is ideal for this style of garden.

Gravel garden grasses phormiums

This is the Contemporary Design & has just been planted

 

How to create a stylish Alpine Trough

Almeria maritima alpine plant pink flower

If you want a low maintenance but stylish garden, alpine plants are a great option. Most of them are evergreen which means they can provide interest all year round.  Alpines prefer dry and rocky gardens, so an easy way to create the ideal growing conditions is in a trough.

There are lots of plants to choose from, mainly petite and slow-growing and can easily be bought from your local garden centre.

Here’s  three plant ideas to get you started:

Sempervivum

sempervivum

Commonly known as houseleeks, these gorgeous succulents create rosettes of leaves and come in various colours from sage-green to purples which look striking against grey stone or rocks.  They can grow to around 50cm tall when in flower and spread easily by creating off-sets. They love loam or sandy soil in a sunny spot.

Thymus ‘Silver Queen’

Thymus silver queen

Another lovely evergreen shrub and is a culinary herb (which tastes fabulous on your pizza instead of oregano!). It grows to around 20cm tall and has pretty ovate leaves edged in cream. It has dainty pink/mauve flowers in the summer.

Armeria maritima

(photo above) Commonly known as thrift – this lovely pink flowering alpine is an evergreen perennial, with mat-forming dense narrow leaves. It will grow in all soil types too in full sun.  Flowers from May to July.

Other plants you could try are Aubrieta, Cyclamen, Iris reticulata, Tulipa greigii, or Abies balsamea Hudsonia.

Planting an Alpine Trough

alpine trough succulent plants

 

Here’s my step by step guide in creating a beautiful alpine planted trough:

  1. Put the trough/container in a sunny place. Ensure there are enough drainage holes and it is sturdy.
  2. Place a layer of old crocks on the base to help drainage. Then add a layer of gravel. Check the water runs freely through it as alpines don’t like sitting in water logged soil.
  3. Add the compost/planting material. This should be a blend of 1 part top soil, 1 part peat or well-rotted leaf mould and 1 part grit, mix it all together and place on top of the drainage layer. Firm it all down.
  4. Add rockery stones – bury each one to around a third.
  5. Add plants and arrange around the rocks/stones and include a trailer to go over the sides of the trough and water thoroughly.
  6. Cover all bare soil with 2.5cm layer of stone chippings. This helps keep the neck of the plant dry from damp soil.
  7. Watering is necessary in hot and dry weather until the plants are established.

You can join the Alpine Society who provide advice and guidance worldwide. You can contact them via their website www.alpinegardensociety.net

Alpine Garden Society Pershore Sempervivum

Photo: Sempervivum courtesy of Alpine Garden Society, Pershore

 

JOIN MY GARDEN LOVERS CLUB

Sign up to my free newsletter to receive top-tips, offers and planting ideas to create your perfect outdoor space! Receive your FREE bulb guide for year round colour.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/join-garden-lovers-club/” text=”JOIN NOW” ]

purple alliums

Five things to consider when designing a patio

planning a patio paving

Designing a patio

When I’m designing a garden, a patio is usually top of the list of ‘needs’ as everyone wants to be able to sit somewhere comfy in the garden. But then comes a whole list of decisions on what materials to use, where to place it and budget.

So here’s my simple guide on things to consider when planning your patio.

Position

The size of your garden might dictate this decision for you, but if you’re lucky enough to have a choice, then you may want a couple of areas to sit – one for shade and one for sun. Take in to consideration any views to enjoy or privacy from neighbours. Alternatively you could create a gazebo around your patio with a moveable fabric canopy to protect you from the rain or extreme sunshine.

gazebo with retractable canopy

Size

What is the patio going to be used for? Tea for two, family get-togethers and how about an outdoor kitchen?  Bear in mind you will need approximately 1m space around your furniture to allow the pulling out of chairs from the table comfortably.

Nikki Hollier Border in a Box RHS Malvern show garden white seating

My first show garden at RHS Malvern 2016

Style

A patio is usually an extension of the interior, so flow from one to the other ideally should be seamless. There are lots of materials and colours to choose from so your style of home needs to be considered so it creates an cohesive look. The planting can soften any edges and create the ‘vibe’ you desire whether that is modern, tropical or cottage style.

There are many ways to create the desired garden patio such as the size of the slabs/paving stones. You could use different sizes or several kinds of products such as this example by Digby Stone

Digby Stone  grey paving

Materials

There is so much choice which can be overwhelming. The most popular choices are gravel/chippings, natural stone, porcelain, decking (composite or natural wood), slate, concrete or brick – but there are many more options. Then you probably want to think about the style and finish – such as using a mixture of materials to create additional interest and texture. Although gravel is usually the cheapest product to use, it’s difficult to place chairs and tables comfortably on (and tricky to walk on in heels!). So to keep costs to a minimum, you could create the centre of the patio with paving with gravel around the edge which also adds texture and colour interest.

Pip Probert Outer Spaces patio paving

Photo courtesy of www.outerspaces.org.uk

 

Budget

That depends on the size and materials you decide to use. This is where working with a garden designer can add value to your project and help define a beautiful space for you to relax in within your budget. Done well, it can add value and/or sale-ability of your home.

This photo is a beautiful example of a dining area and relaxed seating area all coordinated using different sized paving and materials. It is functional and easy on the eye which is created by using muted colours.

Digby Stone patio paving

Photo courtesy of www.digbystone.com

Next steps…

One of the most expensive parts of the project is the labour, so to keep costs down; you could do it yourself, and also use rectilinear products. This means there is less cutting and wastage of materials to create your patio.  Also if the garden is on a slope it can add further costs as you may need to remove some soil plus you will need to consider what drainage and levels are needed, so working with an experienced landscaper can reduce hassle for you and give a professional finish.

Thinking about the bigger picture and planning your garden before starting the project will save money (and stress) in the long run. Gather images of gardens and paving ideas beforehand so you can understand what kind of styles you prefer.  I use magazines and online images to create a mood board, which helps to clarify my thoughts.

Once you have an idea and have whittled it down to a couple of products, ask for some samples (which may need to be paid for) and see how they look in your garden.

My friends at Digby Stone have created a patio planner, which is a really useful tool to help you visualise your garden along with a pricing tool and also the aggregates required to complete the project. Their website has some really useful ideas on laying patterns, maintenance and how-to guides. https://www.digbystone.com

JOIN MY GARDEN LOVERS CLUB

Sign up to my newsletter to receive top-tips, my monthly offer, and planting ideas to create your perfect outdoor space! Receive your FREE bulb guide for year round colour.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/join-garden-lovers-club/” text=”JOIN NOW” ]

salvia astrantia corokia

Helleborus – the Christmas Rose

Helleborus

During the winter months, Helleborus which are commonly known as the Christmas Rose, are a useful and striking addition to any border due to their evergreen leaves and pretty flowers.  They are perennials and are simple to grow.  They flower from December to spring, so are ideal for adding to Christmas containers with some seasonal bulbs and evergreen shrubs such as Pittosporum.

Flowers are predominantly white or cream but they also come in shades of pink, green and dark red, so will fit in with most gardens and are ideal for a woodland setting in dappled shade.  They grow to around 30-50cm, so make excellent front of border plants.

Hellebores pink

If you want a plant that requires little maintenance, then Helleborus are ideal as they really can be left to their own devices and will self-seed too. As they grow, they will create lovely clumps over time. At this point you can divide the clump and create lots of free plants.

Hellebores are fairly tough plants and should survive being divided at all times except when the weather is bad over the winter and/or when they are in full bloom. This means most Hellebores can all be divided in mid to late spring, and if you are not sure what type of Hellebore you have, divide it after flowering later in the spring.

Some people remove the leaves to show off the flowers and new foliage – it’s a personal choice as there is no wrong or right way. However, they can be prone to black spot, so by removing the leaves, it can help the health of the plant. Obviously don’t remove all the leaves, as they are required for photosynthesis.

When choosing a Helleborus I recommend a single flower variety as bees love them (they are an excellent winter food source) and are unable to access the double flowering type.

Problems with Hellebores – Black Leaf Spot

Hellebores are fairly trouble free but they can suffer from leaf blotch which is a common fungal problem. This means the leaves get marked with grey or brown/black marks. The simple solution is to cut off the leaf, or as many leaves as are infected. If the infection is severe cut off all the leaves, the plant should survive.  The plant does not seem to suffer from having many leaves removed and they’re replaced by new ones in the spring. Do not put the leaves in the compost bin as this could spread the fungal infection.

Bear in mind also that Hellebores are a poisonous plant, (humans and pets) and ingestation of root or leaves can cause stomach upsets and for some people it is also a skin irritant.

If you would like a planting plan to help you create year round colour in your garden, use the Evergreen garden design kit.  If you combine it with the seasonal bulbs from the free list and you will have a beautiful garden with year round interest and colour.

Border in a Box Evergreen garden border

Border in a Box Evergreen

 

Further reading: https://borderinabox.com/create-year-round-colour-garden-bulbs/

 

JOIN MY GARDEN LOVERS CLUB

Sign up to my newsletter to receive top-tips, my monthly offer, and planting ideas to create your perfect outdoor space! Receive your FREE bulb guide for year round colour.

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/join-garden-lovers-club/” text=”JOIN NOW” ]

pink tulips

Which compost is best for my plants?

what compost do i need to use

 

I get it, you walk into the ‘compost section’ of the local garden centre and you’re faced with a mountain of options – which one do you need and which one should you buy and which one is best for your plants?  Here’s my handy guide to help you buy the right product for your needs.

 

compost flow chart

Here is the pdf version of the above chart –  compost flow chart

 

 

Let’s start with the types of soils you are likely to have in your garden:

Knowing whether your soil type is clay, sand, loam or chalk will help you choose the right plants for your garden and maintain them in good health. All Border in a Box garden designs are for a loam soil except the Clay version, which is suitable for clay and loam.

How can you tell what type of soil you have?

Clay soils are heavy & dense which means they are high in nutrients which is great, but also means they are wet and cold in winter and baked dry and likely to crack in summer.

Sandy soils are light, dry, warm, low in nutrients and often acidic so you definitely need to choose the right plants for this soil in order for them to thrive.

Loams are mixtures of clay, sand and silt and are a good balance to grow most plants due to their fertile and well drained texture.

Chalky soils are very alkaline and may contain lots of stones (chalk and flint) and can be light in texture or heavy clay.

The best way to tell what type of soil you have is by touching it and rolling it in your hands.

  • Sandy soil has a gritty element – you can feel sand grains within it, and it falls through your fingers. It cannot be rolled to make a sausage shape.
  • Clay soil is sticky when wet. It is easily rolled into a long thin sausage and can be smoothed to a shiny finish by rubbing with a finger.

Another important aspect of soil type is the pH (acidity or alkalinity). This will also affect the type of plants you can grow and how you manage your soil.  All the plants I use in Border in a Box kits are for neutral soil.

Types of compost:

1. John Innes – this is a compost formula as opposed to a brand. It’s the compost recipe that manufacturers use to enable customers to buy the right consistency for their needs. It can be abbreviated to JI

John Innes #1 – this is for young plants and potting-on plants before planting out.

John Innes #2 – this contains more nutrients than JI1 and is suitable for more established plants

John Innes #3 – this contains the most nutrients and is suitable for established plants, trees and shrubs

pink flower camelia2. Ericaceous compost – this is for acid loving plants such as heather’s, azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons and blueberries

3. Multi-purpose – this is a good all-rounder loam based compost and can be used in all situations. Some of these composts will have water retaining crystals and nutrients, which can make the compost more expensive than standard MP compost. These can be branded as ‘container compost’ or ‘hanging basket compost’.

 

 

 

4. Potting compost – this is for seedlings, herbs and houseplants and contains less nutrients than multi-purpose.

5. Mushroom compost is usually available in bulk and is used as a soil conditioner or mulch. Mulch is used as a surface dressing to help retain moisture and supress weeds in the border. It is usually available as ‘spent’ mushroom compost, referring to the fact it is the compost left over from mushroom farming.

6. Peat – this is a natural product and comes from peat bogs, which are important to the flora and fauna and are depleting which is why there is an environmental change to peat-free alternatives such as coir (from coconuts), composted pine bark and wood fibre.

7. Top soil – this is the uppermost layer of soil in your garden and is usually high in nutrients. However during building new homes, this is stripped by the developer and sold on, which is one of the reasons why soil is so bad on new housing estates, which is made worse by the soil being compressed with heavy machinery. Top soil is used in raised beds and new garden borders – you will need a depth of 20cm ideally. You can also buy different grades – premium, general purpose and economy. Premium grades have been screened for weed seeds, stones and contamination content (bricks, glass etc), so it’s best to buy from a reputable source.

8. Organic matter – this is usually made from farmyard manure and contains a high level of nutrients to support plant growth. It’s ideal for growing veg, but can also be used for improving the soil structure all over your garden and aids moisture retention of the soil too. It can also be used as mulch after planting.

If you’re creating a raised bed use this recipe – 1 part top soil, 1 part organic matter and 1 part sand, which should give you a consistency suitable for growing healthy veg or flowers.

flowers in a raised bed

 


Join The Garden Lovers Club

Sign up to my newsletter to receive my FREE guide on how to achieve year-round colour in your garden along with top-tips, a monthly offer, and planting ideas to create your perfect outdoor space!

[maxbutton id=”1″ url=”https://borderinabox.com/join-garden-lovers-club/” text=”JOIN NOW” ]

 

purple alliums

 

Three things to consider when creating a low maintenance garden

low maintenance garden

If you want to create a garden where you don’t have to spend time watering and weeding it, then a gravel garden is a good option.

Many people think a gravel garden can be unattractive and boring, but with the right hard and soft landscaping, you can achieve a pretty and low maintenance space.  Here are three things to consider when planning your new garden.

large pot in a flower border1. Hard landscaping:

You’ll probably want to create a patio and pathway around the garden and there are so many types and sizes of paving to choose from which can be overwhelming so always get a sample of each option from the supplier and take it home as it will look different from when you’re in the store. By adding large stones or pots in the border it helps to decrease the water needed and can create an interesting focal point. These stones can even store moisture in the ground beneath them that the plants around them can access when they need it.

2. Gravel:

this is the surface dressing which helps shade the soil and keeps it cool which prevents it from drying out as fast after rain or watering and this allows more water to go into the ground for later use.  There are many types of gravel and decorative chippings available – make sure they complement the paving and plants. If you have cats it would be best to use larger size gravel to deter them from using it as their loo! Although gravel is great for suppressing weeds, it’s still advisable to lay landscaping fabric beforehand. It’s also a good idea to add a layer of gravel to the top of any containers, as not only it hides the soil and is more decorative, but it also reduces the amount of water evaporating in hot weather.  Here’s a photo of various types of gravel available at a local garden centre – as you can see there is plenty of choice from colour, shape and size.

types of gravel

3. The Perfect Plants:

There are many plants available that are well suited to dry, drought like conditions. As a general rule of thumb choose plants with the following attributes

Small leaf – such as Verbena bonariensis

Silver leaf – Lavender

Thick leaf – Sedum

Hairy leaf – Stachys byzantine commonly known as lambs ears which are so soft and tactile.

Flowers for a gravel garden

To have a successful xeriscape, you must choose plants that can be maintained at very low levels of watering. The idea is to have the garden thriving on rainfall alone with only an occasional watering in very dry periods. Less watering also means less cost to you and the environment.

If you would like me to design a low maintenance garden just for you, my bespoke garden design can include a design and planting plan suitable for your space.  More information is available on my website https://borderinabox.com/bespoke/ or please send an email to [email protected] and I’d be delighted to help.

Join my Garden Lovers Club for FREE to receive exclusive hints & tips

Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
Join Now
Nikki Hollier Border in a Box

Awards

Border in a Box awards

AS SEEN IN

as seen in magazines

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google