Thursday, 14 April 2011

Big or small there are plants for them all

One of the most difficult things to do is to find plants you love for the space you have available. It has taken me a really long time to be patient with people asking me about heights and spreads of plants. I have always thought that you can have whatever you want if you are willing to spend the time looking after it. To me it is simple but to other people a plant, like a manufactured item, must conform to the boundaries we have set it.

Well for those who feel that should be the case let me get the ground rules straight. Plants grow to a limit that we can only estimate and some are smaller than others, but one thing is for sure: they grow as they want and not as you would like unless you administer a little discipline.

My major plant type at the moment is fruit. I, along with so many people, feel that it is important for our children to know where their food comes from. I'm not about to embark on a Jamie Oliver style course in how to eat (although I do admire the principal) but I do want people to know it is easy to get apples, pears and plums etc. in a small space.

The Romans conjured up espaliers in order to provide the best growing in the uk and other dingy nations, and all the other fruit trains such as cordon, fan and stepover have all come about in history as a result of practicality and design. The history of fruit is exstensive and I wouldn't dream of boring you with it, so at this point I'll leave it there.

This is all to say that fruit can be grown easily in your garden without sacrificing the Old Trafford style football pitch or even the Hampton Court style flower bed. There are, of course, fruits that can't be grown in small places. Gojii berry and Kiwi fruit are not the plants for small terrace gardens and cannot realistically be kept small. Every garden has walls or fences and this should be the domain for trained fruit. It isn't unrealistic to expect family sized crops of apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, pears and plums from even the smallest gardens if you use espalier, fan and cordon forms on the appropriate walls or fences.

It doesn't end there, oh no, not by a long way! If eating from the garden is your thing then please remember to use all the little nooks and crannies that are never seen and seldom used. Hanging baskets are perfect for tumbling cherry tomatoes, strawberries,lettuce and other salad crops and herbs of all sorts. Any container can be used for these plants and I must say my favourite displays have been where creativity has taken over. Old tea boxes, Canteen sized tins, wooden crates and even a pick up truck have been used to the most incredible effect with veg and pretties alike. Potatoes, french beans and runner beans are well suited to container gardening and rely only on good watering to provide heaps of food for the house. I know root veg can be grown in the small garden but they are best in the ground and I have always thought that summer foods are the best choice for small garden production.

I have blithered on about veg but the principles are the same for ornamental gardening. One group of plants I can't recommend enough are alpines. Small growing compact plants with a wild array of colours, these little beauties are fabulous for small gardens. Plant them in troughs or baskets, apply grit around the necks and all through the year you can have colour and cover in neat pockets around the garden.

For shady gardens don't forget how powerful foliage forms can be. Hostas, ferns and Ligularia are all plants that love the shade and can create some well needed coolness on hot sunny days.
The last thing I will mention is to ensure that your boundary walls are well covered with good climbers to create some depth to the garden. Why not try using little cheats with perspective. A small statue or figure at the end of a garden or even a trellis made to give an image of distance. Be creative with your wall plants too. Lonicera (honeysuckle) and Clematis are not the only climers on the planet. Try your luck with Muhlenbeckia, Billardiera and Decumaria.

The most important thing is to try it. What's the worst that can happen?

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