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

 

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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

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salvia astrantia corokia

Japanese Maples – Beautiful trees for small gardens

Japanese Maples

If you’re looking for a tree suitable for a small garden, a Japanese maple is the perfect choice! They are small deciduous trees that are happy in the border or large container. They are one of my favourite trees as the foliage is really pretty and in autumn they turn the most beautiful colours.

The best time to plant them is in the autumn in a sheltered sunny or part sunny spot as they don’t like cold winds or frosts.  You can protect them with horticultural fleece during the winter. The sun can scorch their delicate leaves, so a dappled shaded area is perfect for them.

They prefer slightly acidic, nutritious, sandy, well-drained soil, but will generally grow well in most soils; however, they don’t like water-logged soil, overly dry or very alkaline conditions.

If you’re growing in a container, keep the compost moist and feed with a slow release fertiliser in spring and summer.

Care & maintenance

If your tree needs cutting back, do it when it is dormant – ideally between November to January. When a maple is cut it will bleed sap which could weaken and ultimately kill the tree, so it’s best to keep pruning to a minimum.

If you need to reduce height and/or width, simply cut back to a side branch and also prune crossing shoots which will keep the framework looking good.

Here are some of my favourite Acers that look fabulous:

Acer palmatum Sango-Kaku

Acer palmatum sango-kaku

This can be a shrub or small tree as it can grow upto 6-8m tall and spread 2.5-4m.  It likes a sheltered sunny or part-sunny spot in the garden and is deciduous but suitable for all soil types. I love the gorgeous red stems with contrasting green leaves, which as you can see turn a lovely yellowy-red colour in autumn.

Acer palmatum dissectum Inabe Shidare

Acer palmatum dissectum Inabe Shidare

This tree is so pretty – the spreading shape and the finely cut leaves are stunning. This variety grows to around 2.5m tall and also likes a sheltered position in a sunny or part sunny garden. It’s happy in all soil types too.

Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma gaki’

Acer palmatum tsuma_gaki

How beautiful is this leaf? It looks so delicate with its reddy/pink-blushed edges surrounding a yellow leaf. The leaf turns lime green as it matures, which in turn becomes a stunning red colour in autumn. It grows to around 2.5m x 2.5m so it’s ideal for adding a bit of height in a container garden.

Acer palmatum ‘Shigitatsu sawa’

Acer palmatum shigitatsu_sawa

This tree grows to around 4.6m tall and 3.7m wide so its better suited to a larger garden. It has fabulous cream leaves with dark green veins and certainly creates the wow factor in any garden. As the leaves mature, they become green and then turn red in autumn.

Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’

acer_palmatum_shishigashira

This is a bushy upright Acer which is happy in all moist but well drained soils in part shade or sunny areas of the garden.  It grows to around 4m tall and 2.5m wide.

If you would like to visit a nursery specialising in Japanese maples, I can recommend Howle Hill Nursery or their new plant centre at Huntley (both not far from Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire). Photographs were taken there in the spring and autumn. Further details and opening times www.howlehillnursery.co.uk.

These trees are a perfect addition to any of the Border in a Box designs and I used Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Omatum Fontana’ in my Platinum award winning show garden border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2018. You can recreate this design with the Wellbeing version of Border in a Box.

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BBC Gardeners World Live Beautiful Border, Jar of Life

Border in a Box Wellbeing sensory planting plan

 

Border in a Box Wellbeing

 

 

Autumnal Asters – how to add colour to your garden borders

Aster purple flower

If your borders are lacking colour right now, then pop along to the Picton Garden at Colwall, Worcestershire for some inspiration and you will see some stunning Aster’s, commonly known as Michaelmas Daisies which are a vibrant edition for any garden.

I met with owner Helen Picton to find out more about the home of the Plant Heritage National Collection of autumn flowering Asters.  The Picton Garden & Old Court Nursery has been a family business since 1906 and they specialise in breeding and growing Michaelmas Daisies.

There are over 400 varieties to choose from and the peak flowering season is September and October, with Michaelmas day falling on the 29th September. They vary in colours from the palest blues to striking pinks – no matter which one you choose they will all look fabulous especially if you combine them with other plants such as grasses and Rudbeckia.

Rudbeckia yellow daisy Picton Garden

 

Picton Garden aster grasses

There is lots of inspiration to take away with you such as this combination of Verbena bonariensis with Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Staffa’. This would be great if you have a narrow border as the verbena will give the height and this aster is shorter, so will create interest at a lower level.  Add in some spring flowering bulbs too, and you will have a simple sunny border that flowers from spring through to the autumn.

Picton gardens verbena bonariensis

Other favourites of Helens’ are:

New England Quinton Menzies aster

Aster Novae-angliae ‘Quinton Menzies’

Picton gardens purple aster

It has large deep purple-pink flowers with strong woody stems that need little or no staking, it’s mildew resistant and flowers from late September and grows to around 140 cm.

Rosy Veil aster

Symphyotrichum ericoides‘Rosy Veil’

Picton gardens rosie vale aster

This aster has fine foliage which is smothered in tiny pale purple-pink daisies from late September. I love it and it grows to around 100 cm tall.

 

Helen Picton aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton

This plant was raised by Helen’s dad who named it after her.  It has large, rich violet-purple flowers from September into October and grows to around 120 cm tall.

Asters can grow in most soils in a sunny or part sunny border.

If you would like to visit, the garden is open from August until mid-October including many days for the National Gardens Scheme, so check their website to make sure it’s open. Website: http://www.autumnasters.co.uk/

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