Alan Titchmarsh: How to make your garden a feast for all five sense
Alan Titchmarsh praises couple's garden transformation
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And it can make a small space seem larger by adding an extra dimension – turning even the briefest trip outside into an instant open-air aromatherapy and walk-through spa session. You don’t have to create a whole new garden from scratch – just slot sensory plants and features into your existing layout. But don’t simply scatter them around any old way. Think of the way you arrange harmonising colours and contrasting shapes, sizes and textures so they don’t fight when you’re trying to create a pleasing view. That’s the approach to take with other sensory ingredients.
Plan your scheme so you take a journey round the garden. Scented plants are some of the easiest to misuse. Where a lot of people go wrong is to collect a great assortment of scented plants, shove the lot in one place and call it a scented garden.
But that’s like throwing the contents of your store cupboard into a saucepan and calling it stew. Make each scent stand out by giving it a bit of breathing space. If you have roses in a mixed bed, don’t grow other scented flowers underneath them – use your lavenders to line the path to your next feature and save jasmine to grow over the pergola or gazebo, where you can sit and enjoy undiluted fragrance.
There are two sorts of scents, and you need some of each. Scented flowers are great when in bloom, but for longer-lasting fragrance you need plants with scented leaves. The fragrance only leaks out when the leaves are bruised, so grow them somewhere you’ll brush past the plants.
Pelargonium offers a good spectrum of scents. There are lemon, orange, peppermint and pine varieties as well as various spices. Herbs are great fragrance plants as well as for use in cookery, especially rosemary, lemon-scented verbena and mint.
Strategically speaking, the places to concentrate your scents are in containers by your front and back doors, on your patio and in beds underneath the window you open in summer, where you’ll gain the most benefit. Sound hardly figures on most people’s list of must-have garden features. Wind chimes have fallen into the irritating bracket and outdoor stereo systems must count as anti-social – unless you live miles from the neighbours.
But have you noticed the soothing effects of gently running water? A rippling fountain in a quiet corner with a seat and some scented plants are the ideal ingredients for therapeutic wind-down sessions on summer evenings after work.
Most water features operate by recycling a small amount, so you needn’t worry about wastage.
Rustling grasses, such as bamboos and the taller ornamental miscanthus, are one of today’s highly desirable, natural sound effects – and, of course, don’t forget birdsong. Encourage birds to drop in by feeding them and providing drinking water and baths. As a bonus, their activities are gripping viewing – better than any TV soap.
Touch is probably not something you often do to plants, but next time you are in a nursery or garden centre, take a look around.
There are plants with soft and silky leaves (stachys byzantina), felty foliage (purple sage and some artemisia species) and tough moundshaped rock plants, such as saxifrages, whipcord hebes and some sempervivums, which are a joy to pat.
Plant of the week
Miniature roses Visit any florist or supermarket now and you’re sure to see pots of miniature roses. They last a lot longer than cut blooms – and are far cheaper – but many people are surprised to learn that they aren’t house plants at all. Instead, these are real outdoor rose bushes that naturally stay around a foot high.
These charmers are fine indoors for four to six weeks, but must then be planted outside if you want to keep them longterm. When the flowers are all over, harden them off by standing outside by day and bringing them in at night. Do this for several weeks, then prepare a rich bed somewhere sunny with well-drained soil, or use a tub and plant them out permanently.
They don’t need proper pruning as such, but tidy them up in spring.
Your weekly gardening to-do list? Start up tubers of early varieties of potatoes. Sit them up on end in egg boxes or halfsized seed trays on a cool windowsill indoors. They will slowly sprout shoots and are ready for planting outside in the last week of March or early April. For early flowers, plant tuberous begonias and gloxinias in pots on a warm windowsill indoors.
Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries by cutting all their stems off an inch or two above ground level.
Being short, the new canes that soon grow up won’t need supporting.
Splotlight on… Dog’s tooth violets
Dog’s tooth violets (erythroniums) are an underrated group of plants that are as pretty as a picture and thrive in any well-drained earth that has been enriched with a generous helping of wellrotted leaf mould or multipurpose compost.
The common dog’s tooth violet has starry pink flowers and oval greeny-grey leaves that are marbled and spotted with brown. Plant them a foot apart in your chosen spot and spread a one-inch layer of chipped bark around them to show them off, seal in moisture and prevent them being splashed with mud.
Equally desirable is Erythronium revolutum, especially in its form ‘White Beauty’, which has flowers that shine out of the gloom in a shady border.
With glossy green leaves and bright yellow flowers Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ grows to 10-12in and its flowers really do resemble bright yellow pagodas.
Like the other varieties it is at home in woodland or shrub borders, and will settle in and increase the size of its clumps over the years if it likes you.
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