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How to creating a Rockery Garden

A Rockery Garden, it can look good and can provide a suitable environment for growing plants which would otherwise be smothered by more vigorous neighbours in your borders.

The first thing to consider is location – the rockery should be shade free for most of the day. Next, size. Aim for a minimum area of about three and a half square metres (forty square feet). Then, choose the rocks carefully. Many types are available in garden centres, or you could possibly use a local quarry. Either way choose something that will match any other rocks in your garden/house and ideally use a rock that features in your natural landscape as these will look much better.

If you are creating the rock garden in a lawned area, all the turf and any perennial weeds should be completely removed – very important you don’t want these coming up in the middle of your rockery.

If the area is badly drained it is essential that this is improved or choose another location.

Then, it’s a matter of setting your stones in place. These should have been chosen carefully and should all be of the same type of rock. Choose which face of the stone you want exposed, then look for strata lines – these should all flow in the same direction so your stones all need aligning with each other to look like a natural outcrop. If you don’t go through this process, the garden will not look natural at all – just a pile of soil with rocks dotted here and there.

Place the stones in positions in relation to each other, which look pleasing, leaving small gaps between as planting holes.

The rocks need a firm foundation of rubble so that they don’t move and can be walked over. The top surface of exposed rock should slope into the garden, so that when it rains water will not be shed but will percolate through, watering all your plants. Build up the rocks in layers, moving across the garden in lines and stand back frequently and check the over-all effect.

Add a decent planting mix around the rocks. If you’ve got good topsoil this can be mixed with 1 part leafmould or other well rotted organic matter and 1 part stone chippings or grit.

Most plants that will grow in rocky situations survive best on low nutrient levels so don’t add any fertiliser.

Then add the plants – choose alpines which are not vigorous, otherwise one or two will come to dominate the whole area. This way you can get lots of different types of plants in the various positions which will flower throughout the year and will look great. Finish off with a top dressing of grit or chippings that is sympathetic to the rock colour.

Maintenance will largely involve weeding and adding new grit where necessary.

There are many, many thousands of plants you can grow in these situations but here are just five to get you started: Androsace lanuginosa, Campanula carpatica, Cyclamen hederifolium, Erinus alpinus and, lastly, Lewisia cotyledon.

Coton Manor is a Beautiful traditional English Garden

Coton Manor is a beautiful traditional English garden centred around a honey-coloured 17th Coton Manor house. In the 1920s the present owner’s grandparents began developing the garden and successive generations have continued this process to the present day, making best use of its natural setting which provides stunning views across the Northamptonshire countryside

Close to the house, terraces and borders are filled with plants such as Alchemilla mollis (Garden Lady’s-mantle), Centranthus ruber (Red valerian), Euphorbia and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and throughout the year large pots are changed with the seasons using Tulips, Agapanthus, Lilies and Osteospermums. But perhaps it is the climbers such as Wisteria and Clematis grandiflora covering the walls of the house that at their peak, provide a stunning backdrop to the rest of the planting.

In 2005 the owners took the difficult decision to clear the Old Rose Garden next to the house as problems with rose sickness had become too difficult to overcome (perhaps not surprising as it is thought roses had been grown in this location since the 1920s). It was decided to replant with specimens that enjoy sun and good drainage so the subsoil was replaced with gravel, the original top soil replaced and the whole area thoroughly dug over. Planting now includes Lavender, Agapanthus, Sedums and Salvias. Some of the new plants are tender and only time will tell which will thrive and which will need to be replaced.

Water forms a large part of the charm of this garden and on arrival one of the first views is of a large spring-fed informal pond surrounded by grass and mature trees but this is just the first of many water features. One of the most spectacular is the formal rill bordered by closely mown grass set amongst old apple trees underplanted with spring flowering bulbs, Cowslips and Snake’s head fritillaries. The contrast of the formal and informal in this area was a brave design move yet it works surprisingly well. Although of considerable age the trees are still productive and the apples and pears are used for making jams and chutneys in the shop and for puddings in the Garden School.

The garden makes full use of its site at the top of the hill, not just in its views, but also in how it uses its supply of water. The main pond supplies the water garden which meanders its way down the hillside and provides something of interest for much of the year including Primula, Ligularia, Caltha, Astilbe, Acer and Hosta. On a warm sunny day this cool shady area contrasts nicely with the hot terraces above.

Coton Manor is lucky enough to have two examples of the most wonderful sites in the plant world: a Bluebell wood and a wild flower meadow. Visiting the garden in the second week of May 2010 on a beautiful sunny day the Bluebells were looking spectacular beneath the Beech trees. There are no Spanish invaders, no other understorey (or understorey, underbrush, undergrowth) planting to spoil the effect, just lovely English Bluebells. The recently planted wildflower meadow has recently been added to provide conservation interest in the garden. In May Buttercups provide the first splash of colour with the meadow really coming into its own during June and July with Ox-eye daises, Meadow crane’s bill, Ragged robin, Common vetch and Yellow rattle, followed by Knapweed, Field scabious, Birds-foot trefoil, Wild carrot, Yarrow and Lady’s bedstraw. A meandering path cut into the meadow allows visitors to wander at leisure in amongst the flowers and insects attracted to their nectar.

One of the most practical sides of this garden is that most of the plants are clearly labelled so the visitor can make a nlabelled so the visitor can make a note of their favourites and perhaps even purchase a specimen from the well-stocked nursery. Those gardeners who would like to learn more about gardening would do well to check out the Garden School which runs half and full day courses on a variety of topics often presented by lecturers who are top of their field such as Fergus Garrett, James Alexander-Sinclair and Bunny Guiness.

This garden can certainly both inspire and educate the visitor: it would not be difficult to recreate planting combinations in smaller back gardens while at the same time the continuing redevelopment gives the garden the opportunity to take account of some of today’s ‘hot topics’ such as planting for biodiversity and climate change.

February to March

April to May

June to July

August to September

September to October

Thank you images by website

Coton Manor is located near Junction 1 of the A14 at Coton, Northamptonshire, NN6 8RQ.

Think Your Hanging Basket is Big? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

We do love hanging baskets here at the Garden Toolbox blog, and they’re always guaranteed to put a little smile on our faces. Usually, when we talk about hanging baskets, we mean the small type that we’ll hang over our front doors; or even indoors if we’re feeling a little creative about interior design. What we don’t mean is a basket that would literally pull the entire house down if we ever tried to hang it off a tiny pole above the front door, or at least block enough sun that our home ended up in perpetual darkness. That’s probably why the bloke who designed this giant hanging basket doesn’t do something as silly as trying to hang it there.

If you have trouble remembering to water your hanging baskets then you’ll probably want to avoid growing one as big as Dusty Bessleys (great name by the way!). His 5.5 tonne basket is made up of more than 2,500 plants; measuring 21 feet wide and ten feet deep, and if he wants to water it he has to climb a ladder and take a good chunk of time out of his day. Thankfully an automatic sprinkling system waters the plants twice a day, but he does have to climb inside the basket from time to time to tend the plants; a feeling he describes as “a bit like being at sea”.

The structure was created by burying a h-shaped girder in the ground along with four metres of concrete. The basket itself is made up of steel greenhouse hoops that are suspended from chains held together with a central pin. In other words, you’re not going to be hanging it from your house any time soon. He then added plants such as geraniums, marigolds and pansies.

Dusty isn’t man to sit on his laurels, welcoming all challengers by saying “if anyone can come up with anything bigger then I’d like to see it.” Although if someone made one even bigger when would it cease being a hanging basket and instead becoming a flower shaped Eiffel Tower?

Unfortunately Dusty can’t get a Guinness Book of Records entry for it; apparently “they don’t do records for these”, but if a guy can get a record for tallest mohican then surely Dusty should get a bit of recognition? He’s taken the UK record instead, although we should point out that he pretty much just made that up on the spot.

Apart from being a pretty magnificent sight Dusty’s flower explosion has actually raised almost £20,000 for charities since he first hoisted the hanging basket up. This money is raised by people having a go at guessing the amount of flowers in the basket, and this year it’s going to prostate cancer charities, so it’s definitely a worthy cause.

If you do fancy going to take a look at his big one you can see it at Beesleys Garden Centre in Ravenstone, Leicestershire. Just try not to bang your head on it like I usually do with hanging baskets! Unfortunately we only sell the small kind of hanging baskets, but that’s probably for the best.

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