The cold can pose a significant threat to plants, including evergreens which are generally more acclimatised to winter conditions. Frost in particular can cause serious damage to tender plant varieties, as the water within the plant cells freezes, causing damage and resulting in limp, brown plants. The cells in hardier plants are less vulnerable, but the surrounding soil can freeze and prevent the plant from getting enough moisture needed to survive.
We know the cold can kill, so don’t let winter destroy your garden. Let's explore five of the most effective ways to protect your garden and guard your plants from frost.
When considering a way to protect your plants from frost, the best method is to plant strategically. Areas that are afforded a greater level of protection from being sheltered by a wall or by larger, sizable hedges for instance, should be reserved for the more delicate plants. Frost forms first within the lowest points of a garden, so if your garden has a large hollow or dip, save this for the hardier plant varieties.
For very delicate plants, defrosting too quickly after a chilly evening can cause greater damage than the initial freezing, so avoid planting them in east-facing areas that attract direct sunlight. Replanting your more delicate plants now could save them in the long run.
Pot Vulnerable or Delicate Plants
It is uncommon to be working with a garden that has been precisely planned to your own specifications, but there are other simple steps that you can take to protect your existing plants from the cold. One very straightforward method to make sure your plants remain protected is to grow your most delicate specimens in pots, so they can be brought inside when the cold weather strikes.
Apply a Layer of Mulch
To better insulate your tender perennials, apply a layer of mulch of around 5 cm to the plants as this will help keep the root systems warm by acting as an insulator and preventing the soil from freezing. Around the plants themselves, grit should be used between the mulch to allow for improved drainage ensuring the roots do not rot.
Cover Delicate Plants with a Blanket
If frost is predicted overnight, covering your more delicate plants with a blanket can be effective in protecting these plants from frost damage, although this does little to increase the temperature.
When covering plants, take care in making sure the blanket does not weigh down the branches or leaves. Rather, prop it up with stakes where necessary to prevent it from coming into direct contact with the plants.
Even larger and more hardy plants can do with some protection during the winter. Tree ferns for instance should have their trunks wrapped with chicken wire and straw in order to prevent them from rotting. For added insulation, the fronds of your tree fern can be left on over winter, although they will likely need to be removed during the spring.
Invest in a Greenhouse or Polytunnel
One of the best ways to protect your garden plants in winter is with a greenhouse . If you would like better control of the growing environment of your plants, then consider a greenhouse or a polytunnel. These tunnels work much like a greenhouse does by trapping heat within the structure using solar radiation, but are far less expensive.
Both greenhouse and polytunnels can be used to create a growing environment which would not be possible within your own garden, and can extend the growing season of plants. They can be used to help maintain a constant temperature in summer, and allow for protection from winter’s wind and frost.
The Best Winter Plants for Your Garden
Abeliophyllum distichum, or white forsythia, are delicate white flowers which bloom on bare stems in late winter. They create a fragrant, fountain-like appearance of cascading petals which survive comfortably during frost or snow conditions. Daphne mezereum, or February daphne, have purplish-pink petals and often produce clusters of vivid red berries throughout the autumn. Caution should be exercised if you have young children as while these plants can be alluring, they are highly toxic. Harmamelis, or witch hazel, is available in a wide range of colours and shapes. All variations available are winter flowering, producing flowers between the during the period of December through to March.
Elaeagnus pungen, or Maculata Elaeagnus pungens, are small, fragrant white flowers which appear from autumn onwards. Depending on the lighting, the leaves of these plants can appear almost silvery, complementing your frost-tipped lawn areas and adding some extra winter magic to your garden. Mahonia media, or Charity Mahonia media, is a large plant coming in variations of spikes, cones or yellow flowers. This broad, imposing plant flowers in November and December, but is ideal as a hardy garden centrepiece all year round.
Clematis cirrhosa, nicknamed Freckles, is a variety which thrives in the winter months and should be placed near border walls to help them climb. These climbers offer pale yellow flowers with maroon speckles, and leaves with a glossy bronze tint. Clematis cirrhosa, or Balearica, grows to approximately 4m in height and produces small elegant creamy yellow and purple fleck petals, flowering throughout the period of November to March.
Helleborus niger, or Christmas rose, is a pretty white flower capable of easily withstanding the extremes of winter. These perennials flower throughout December and grow in clusters with stems which hold flowers above its foliage.
Iris unguicularis, or Algerian iris, is a breathtaking flower capable of uplifting any winter display with its majestic, vivid colouration. These flowers boast fragrant and luxurious deep lilac petals with white and yellow feather patterns, and can grow up to 22cm in height.
Final Winter Gardening Tips
To keep your garden looking its best in winter, make sure you choose sturdy or seasonal plants which are suited for harsh conditions. Avoid golden or variegated plant varieties as these are generally more vulnerable and less likely to survive cold winters. A safe choice for any time of year are evergreens, which add colour to gardens and can also work effectively as wind breakers to protect more delicate plants. Some bulbs tolerate, or sometimes even require, a period of cold temperature to be able to produce their best flowers. These are hardy bulbs such as cyclamen coum, snowdrops and winter aconite which should be planted in spring to flower and produce much needed colour throughout winter. Winter can be the ideal time to improve your garden, ready in time for the next spring and summer. If you’ve been thinking of adding new features, a greenhouse, or fresh paving, the winter is the perfect time to rethink your layout and create the perfect frame for the months to come.
Winter gardening advice like Minster Paving’s Winter Gardening Hub can help you discover more tips including how to protect your patio this winter, and how to attract birdlife into your garden.
What are the things to think about when designing a garden ?
Literally the ‘spirit of the place’, what is the prevailing character or atmosphere of the location ? Landscape architects and garden designers use the principle that landscape or garden designs should be adapted to the context in which they are located. As an example, a Cotswold cottage garden in the City of London might look out of place !
Form follows function
Deciding what the garden should be used for is key to the design: should there be a childrens’ play area, an evening relaxing space with a firepit, an area for growing vegetables ? A swimming pool ? Sheds ? A compost heap ?
Although every design for a garden is intrinsically different, there are lots of different styles that can be an inspiration for the design: cottage, contemporary, country Mediterranean, Japanese, urban etc.
Regulating line from a feature
This helps visualise the way individual pieces or parts of a design will relate to the other parts and to the property. Any number of features can be used to establish a regulating line, such as the edge of a building, the property boundary, a doorway, a prominent tree, etc.
Proportion and balance
Getting the sense that a garden has the correct proportions is important. If the proportions are not correct it impairs the visual appeal of the garden and, more often than not, it creates problems in using the garden e.g. plants outgrowing their allotted space or outdoor dining furniture unable to be correctly positioned. One way of helping to define proportions is to use the golden ratio - a ratio of proportion that’s been observed in everything from the Great Pyramids at Giza to the Greek Parthenon and has been used throughout history as a guide to a pleasing sense of balance and order. Another is to use a prominent feature of the property to define proportion e.g. the dimensions of an extension.
Enclosure and movement
Whether large or small, with or without views, a garden is, in essence, a form of enclosure. From the earliest days of settlement, humans have used enclosures to protect, develop and enjoy their land and gardens by putting bounds on a property. This theme can be extended to create enclosures within a garden: secluded spaces or small bounded areas from which to view the rest of the garden. Combined with this can be a method or way to move around the garden: paths leading to secret spaces or an enticement to go to a focal point from which there is a stunning view.
Height and mass
A garden with very little structural height, whether plants or otherwise, can be very unappealing whereas a garden full of tall trees, shrubs, planting and large structures can be overwhelming. Obtaining a balance with respect to the height of structural items and the mass of planting is important. A golden rule is to plant big to small: start with trees, then shrubs, then perennials, then ground cover. Include other tall structural items to help break up the spaces if necessary with e.g. a pergola or arch.
A garden should be a relaxing space. When there is a ‘mish mash’ of materials, plants or colour it can be very unsettling. Keeping the number of materials down, planting in masses with repetition and having a consistent colour scheme helps to provide a sense of unity and provides a degree of calmness.
Design needs to be matched to available budget. There is no point designing a Ferrari when there is only budget for a Mini !
What is a garden ? Although the tendency is to have more manageable outside spaces in our very hectic lives I would suggest we all like to have the opportunity to step out into a space more ‘connected’ with nature. Most of us would think of a garden as an adjunct to a house, a place to sit and relax in sunshine (if we get any !), a lawn for children to play on, borders full of splendid colourful plants, beds to grow some vegetables or fruit with perhaps some running water to soften the din from outside. But where did gardens originate ? Why are they important to us ? How have they developed over time ?
We can trace the history of gardens, certainly in Eurasia, back several millennia to the area known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’. The ‘Fertile Crescent’ is the name given to a crescent-shaped region containing the comparatively moist and fertile land of otherwise arid and semi-arid West Asia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the east to the Nile Valley and Nile Delta of northeast Africa. Often also called the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’, this area is commonly associated with a number of significant historical developments such as the birth of agriculture, irrigation, writing and counting, the wheel and glass.
This region may have been occupied by Homo Erectus migrants from Africa about 1-2 million years ago with a further wave of Homo Sapiens migrants about 100,000 years ago. Hunting and gathering would have pre-dominated as a method for obtaining food until about 10,000 BC when people started practicing loose agriculture by herding animals, harvesting wild grains and living in small communities. Larger scale urbanisation followed between 5000 and 3500 BC in Anatolia and the East Mediterranean coastal plain. Early urban homes may have included been simple compounds whereas later ones would have been built with rectangular yards or gardens to keep animals and plants. As time passed, the enclosures would have become more elaborate in terms of design and use of planting. Interestingly, the word ‘paradise’ is derived from the Persian ‘pairidaeza’meaning ‘an enclosure’. The first ‘pairidaeza’were probably fruit and animal gardens. Significantly, these enclosed outdoor spaces started to become associated with perfection. In Greek ‘pairidaeza’came to mean ‘heaven’ and was later adapted in Biblical accounts to mean ‘the Garden of Eden’. Later, in the Koran, paradise is seen as a reward for the faithful symbolised by a perfect garden having shade, water and pavilions.
Conditions in different parts of the ‘Fertile Crescent’ zone led to different ways of developing gardens. The ability to reclaim land from marshes and to irrigate dry areas in Mesopotamia from the adjoining rivers allowed an increase in agriculture. With this increase, the need for hunting was reduced to a sport which subsequently allowed the creation of designated ‘royal’ parks from the newly acquired and irrigated land to contain the hunting grounds. These further developed into more bespoke parks that were designed to contain botanical and zoological specimens. These were not designed in the modern sense but as a means of satisfying a curiosity about the known world. Again, and in my opinion, with the increase of agriculture, the need for settlement enclosures to serve purely as productive and ornamental gardens shifted to focus on gardens for pleasure.
In contrast, further north in Persia, which was predominantly mountainous and riverless, water was highly valued and regarded as the source of life. This, together with Zoroastrianism, which drew contrasts between good and evil, order and chaos, desert and cultivation and, as the Persian religion, predated Islam, influenced the way gardens were perceived and developed. Irrigation and underground canals were built which made cultivation possible. Although no-one knows exactly when first created, the ‘chahar bagh’, or four part garden, was an enclosed space divided into parts by water channels. The geometric style of Persian gardens developed from this four part theme. From a practical point of view, the need for shade and water in a hot, arid climate would have been paramount.
After the great Persian empires subsided the empires of Greece and then of Rome were responsible for further developments in the Mediterranean region. Roman town house and country villa constructions in particular provides many examples of how gardens developed in urban and semi-rural environments across the region. Typically, these were designed to have the main familial buildings accessing courtyard style gardens through to large garden sections perhaps being or leading to orchards. Due to the reaches of the Roman empire this design style permeated many areas and would also have been influential in subsequent developments.
In Britain, medieval gardens for common people were generally small rectangular, well ordered enclosed spaces with a style determined by monasteries and manor houses. They were very functional mainly growing herbs, vegetables and fruit with areas for fishponds and dovecotes to provide fish and eggs. These persisted well into the Victorian period.
For the wealthy, medieval palace gardens were less functional with raised beds for scented flowers and sheltered areas for privacy and shade. Tudor gardens, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, were developed on a larger scale with a greater regularity of design and a more determined relationship to great houses. The most recognised feature of gardens in this period was the knot garden. During the Stuart period gardens became even larger. These were influenced by the great formal gardens of France and designed to be symmetrical with long walks and rides ending in woods and parks beyond – the birth of avenues. Fountains were installed on large areas of water, pleached trees formed boundaries and parterres overtook the knot gardens. The concept of enormous landscape parks brought about by landscape designers such as ‘Capability Brown’ prevailed in the Georgian era and included such delights as grottos and ha-has.
The end of the 19thcentury saw a growth in gardening in Victorian Britain as a pushback against the industrial revolution. Styles for smaller gardens developed for the less wealthy with more focus on exotic colourful species in more natural garden settings. The 20th and 21st centuries has brought about a multitude of different styles, planting schemes and structures based on all the innovations from the previous millennia and more modern ones. The main reasons for having a garden, however, are still the same as when they were first developed: a ‘paradise’, for the person and spirit !
This has been a great project. Planting now finalised, just need to wait for things to take and grow. Great work by Mark Firmin Garden Landscaping (http://www.mvfirminlandscaping.co.uk/about.html)
The Warmington garden is very near to completion now. Bespoke features always need testing. The rill and bubblejet fountain in this case are both working !
Local firm Minster Paving has used one of my gardens recently constructed in Lechlade to show off how their products can work in a well designed situation. See www.minsterpaving.co.uk/products/standlake-smooth/ the garden with the wooden pergola !
The Northleach garden is practically complete...it just needs final planting and a bespoke summerhouse !
In building gardens it's critical to work with very competent (and talented) people that can execute a plan to the highest detail. Here's Nic Yeoman of Hortis Landscapes constructing a garden in Northleach, Gloucestershire with Steve Harvey of SAH Electrical Ltd. making preparations for lighting.
And here's one being started by Mark Firmin of MV Firmin Garden Landscaping in Warmington, Warwickshire
More to come in a few weeks time !
Now the summer holidays are over, looking forward to a busy autumn. First off - Landscape Show in Battersea Park, 18th / 19th September..hopefully lots of new ideas for materials and interesting talks from great industry leaders: http://www.landscapeshow.co.uk/seminar-programme-18
I wrote this small article for the Cotswold Times to help homeowners think about how they could go about designing and constructing a new garden. I hope it's helpful !
Rob Howard, Garden Designer