New Bench: ‘The garden Range’ by Sven Wombwell

Garden bench by Sven Wombwell

Just wanted to show off a new product we are working on and get your opinions.  These benches will be available to order very soon on our new website  (not up and running quite yet!) along with a new range or garden screens and trellis that we have developed.  We are also working on reinventing the worst garden garden item ever ‘log roll’ and we are determine to make it cool!

Would love to hear your thoughts on this new bench so please feel free to comment!!

Garden bench by Sven Wombwell

Garden features and focal points.

I always spend hours contemplating what features will work in my garden designs, the focal point in a garden is a fundamental element in any space that not only gives the garden a heart but is a statement of you as a person.  Some people know instantly what they want in their garden while others just don’t have a clue.

Garden Features

By far the most asked for feature in my books has to be the water feature.  Water is a gorgeous element in the garden whether it be moving or still but there is a mind boggling variety on the market theses days from old barrels to expensive sculptured glass creations costing 10’s of thousands of pounds.  I really feel that a water feature should either look part of the natural landscape in the garden of be attention grabbing enough to warrant pride of place.  Let’s face it there are hundreds of really naff water features around that grace the shelves of every DIY store nationwide, if something is going to be significant in your garden then I beg of you that it warrants its elevated position.

Ponds are by far the largest water feature option you can have (unless you are lucky enough to have a lake, river or even the sea!).  A pond can come in many guises, from the natural wildlife pond to the ultra modern reflective pool, and all need to have a sense of place within the design.  It is no good simply building a pebble pool on your patio or installing a stainless steel wall of water in a cottage garden simply for it to stand out like a sore thumb.  Every feature in the garden should be a considered addition that complements the space, not an object just for the sake of it.  In fact that is the key to successful design in all aspects of the garden from plants to patios to arbors.

When choosing a water feature obviously budget is a key factor for most people, you can find really cheap features for under £40 that are actually pretty cool and would fit into many garden settings there are also many that are absolutely awful, I won’t mention what and where for fear of offending people!.  I did a search on the internet for cheap water features and there are many good companies out there offering innovative ideas.  If your budget is larger then the world is your oyster from glass, stone and steel off the shelf items to bespoke works of ‘art.’

Plants make ideal focal points in the garden and should be chosen for their striking features.  Look for a plant with an interesting form, leaf colour, berries….anything that makes it stand out from the crowd.   I have a beautiful Acer palmatum ‘dissectum’ placed in a large black pot outside my French doors and it always begs attention from all that see it.  It has a fantastic arcing form and delicate finely cut leaves that go bright red and orange in the autumn.  Plants in pots work particularly well as do topiary and carefully placed specimen plants which will draw the eye.

The ideal feature in a garden for me is something that says something about you or holds some kind of story attached to it.  Try looking in architectural salvage yards for old sculptures, pillars, bits of old buildings, gargoyles, anything that is out of the ordinary and will raise the eyebrows of people you invite into your garden.  Look for pieces that will differ from that of your neighbours.  I may sound like a bit of a snob but I hate the idea of have a feature in my garden that 100’s of others can and have bought from the local DIY store, it is an opportunity for you to make a statement and have a bit of fun.  Sculptures are fantastic additions as focal points, just take Broomhill sculpture garden for instance that showcases all kinds of sculptures in a garden setting; they show that fantasy, art, and creativity take pride of place and give a garden an edge.

Once you have chosen your feature, how is best to show it off?

If you have spent ages contemplation a feature for your garden you will want it to be shown off in the best position.  There are a few ways of positioning features effectively.

The first is to stand in the house and look out the main window that over looks the garden and position the feature in line of view from there.  Views from the house are vital in the placement of features and plants and can enhance the atmosphere inside the home.

The next is to place a feature at the end of a path, this will draw the eye to the it and encourage you to walk up it and take a closer look.  To enhance this effect you can place a pergola over the path which will frame the feature showing it off even more.  An other effective technique is to place plants either side of the path that will act as a frame, for example lollipop bays, clipped box, juniper ‘skyrocket’ etc.  It is great if you can create a network of views in the garden. For example, at the end of one path you can see a feature plant…then when you walk up to it, you look another way and your eye is drawn to a water feature on the other side of the lawn, you plod over to that and there is another path leading to a summer house….I think you get my drift.

For a more subtle look obscure a feature slightly by placing it amongst the planting, this works best with items that have the feeling that they are from a ruin and have been lost for years.  Try this with old looking Italian sculptures, architectural salvage, or even old tools.

Formal pools look best when placed in context with the building itself.  Buildings are usually very ‘straight’ in their make up and by placing a pool by following prominent features from the house the house will give it a sense of place both in the garden and in relation to the building.

Ponds work best at the lowest point of the garden, because this is where water would most likely to collect naturally.  I feel natural looking ponds work best away from the formality of the building and should blend seamlessly into the space looking as ‘natural’ as possible.  This might sound like an obvious thing to say but I have seen so many ponds that blatantly are man made, with dodgy crazy paved edging, the liner half exposed and even plastic fake water falls that are not even close to being convincing.  Ponds are a beneficial both in terms of design and encouraging wildlife so careful consideration to its position and construction needs to be had.

Finally once you have chosen and positioned your feature you may well want to see it at night!  Lighting is one element in the garden I could never do without and by illuminating features, paths and seating areas the garden takes on a new lease of life during the night.  Subtle lighting is always by far the best option, play around with the position of any lights so they don’t shine in your eyes when you wander around.  You can illuminate features from the front, from behind, above, below, create silhouettes and even use coloured light to great effect, so try all sorts of different positions until you find the best suited.


Gardening on the cheap

There are a hundred and one different reasons why we should all adopt and encourage a more natural, less wasteful approach to gardening.  The garden can be an absolute refuge from the pressures and strains of real life and also can provide us with food, enjoyment and act as a perfect setting for entertaining friends.  There is no better feeling than growing something in the garden and then serving it up at a barbecue to real friends.  I am a really keen cook and would much rather prepare a meal to be eaten outside at home than spend hundreds of pounds on a meal that more often than not, is worse than home cooked food!  The garden is the perfect place to do just that!

I think that we all (especially us designers) are spoilt with new materials, expensive features, huge specimen plants and instant garden fixes which in reality most of us cannot afford.  I would be far more impressed with garden full of plants that have been grown from seeds and cuttings, full of features found and made.  Not only does it show respect for the environment we live in but also a bit of shrewd money saving! We can all have a great garden without spending thousands if we are prepared to work at it!

The main element that makes any garden special are the plants,, it can cost many thousands to plant up a garden from scratch so the best way to expand you collection is to grow from seed, and through division and propagation.  This is definitely an approach for the more patient among us, but if money is an issue you can’t do it cheaper.  Many specimen plants are flown in from all over the world and leave a carbon footprint the size of an elephants so if you can wait a few years for something to grow it is a far better option.  Also plants that are planted whilst small will end up being far happier than a plant that has been growing in a nursery in Italy basking in the sun, and then plucked out of its home and chucked into compost and planted in a clay soil of Hackney.

Divide and conquer

So many perennials are so easy to propagate through division that it amazes me that people go out and buy them.  Take for example the humble  Hosta, every few years they can be divided, in my last garden I had a 3 clumps of Hosta sieboldiana var. ‘elegans’ that I planted and within a couple of years 3 became 9 though division.  You won’t get much change out of a tenner for one decent 5 litre plant, so that is a lot of money saved.   Bamboo is another really easy plant to divide, Phylostachys can be dug up in spring and if you can with a sharp spade simply cut the root ball into two, you can even do this with a saw!  Then replant with plenty of water.  You may need to reduce the cane height by 50% to reduce water loss, but soon enough the plants will shoot into growth again. Also if the root ball is really big you could cut it into three or even four new clumps  A decent sized Phylostachys will set you back at least £40 so get dividing and save money! You can keep on dividing and dividing year upon year, so why not get together with friends and family and start plant swapping!

Propagation through cuttings is another great way to increase your stocks and share (or steal) with/from friends.  You will have to be patient because you will be starting with a small cutting that will take a good few years to grow into your magnificent specimen but there is nothing better than knowing that you have created this plant from a twig!  The easiest method is to take softwood cuttings and this can be used to propagate most deciduous shrubs such as hydrangeas some trees such as Betula (silver birch) and also many hardy perennials.

Softwood Cuttings how to.

  1. Snip off a new shoot from a shrub about 10cm long at an angle about an just below a leaf node, remove the lower few leaves and the soft tip.
  2. Dip the cut end into some rooting hormone and then stick them into little pots with some good cuttings compost.
  3. Place the pots in a dish of water and let them soak up the water until you can see the compost is visually moist and then put the cuttings in a plastic propagator either in the green house or on a light (but not really sunny!) window sill.  If you don’t have a propagator don’t worry just seal the pots in a clear plastic bag and remove them once a week for ten minutes or so to give them some air.
  4. Keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t dry out and within a 6 -12 weeks they will take root (well some of them will)
  5. Once they have taken root well you can pot them on into bigger pots and then harden them off ready for planting!
hardening off in a cold frame

Gardening through propagation is much more satisfying than simply popping down the garden centre and spending your hard earned cash.  You are creating new life, expanding you plant collection and even sharing achievements with you friends.  That is what gardening is all about!

Recycle what you can

Another thing that can save you money is to reuse what ever you can, composting, collecting rain water, using grey water (from the bath etc) all will save you a little money here and there.  Individually each may not make a huge difference to your pocket but together they will make a difference.

One great tip I can suggest is to look on websites such as, recently I have found loads of bricks, paving, sand, hardcore and all sorts of building materials that people want rid of.  If you are willing to pick them up, more often than not they are free or at least really cheap.  Most of this stuff would just end up in a landfill, so I urge you to see what you can find!   As an example I just did a search for free bricks and in London I could find 1000’s!

I am in no way trying to preach, especially since as a designer I use 100’s of tonnes of building materials each year creating new gardens for people.  We can all have great looking gardens but they don’t have to cost the earth.  If we look at gardeners like the fantastic Christine Walkden for example, her garden is a tribute to the slow approach to gardening and through her love of horticulture she has created an amazing garden that probably cost next to nothing!  My granddad was my gardening inspiration, and he was much like Christine in the way he propagated, reused, recycled, and grew from seed….and his Garden will always be my favourite!

Lose the lawn to grow your own.

Vegetable garden

With the credit crunch still looming large and space of such a premium these days more and more people are looking to find room to grow their own fruit, veg and herbs.  Now not all of us have gardens that can accommodate a large vegetable patch, so we have to look at ways we can shoe-horn crops into our gardens.

Many small gardens have the majority of the space dedicated to the green stuff…….lawns.  I am only a fan of lawns if you have enough space for it to be worthwhile, so why not use the space for growing veg.  There are a few ways you can go about this, firstly what is called the no-dig method.

Build raised beds right on top of the lawn using either untreated sleepers or chunky timber.  These should be about 300mm high and as big as you can afford them to be (ideally 1.5m by 3m or more) then add a good layer of well rotted farm yard manure to the bottom and cover with a thick layer of newspaper and give it a good soak then fill it up with good top soil or compost.  The paper and manure all rots down adding nutrients and attracting worms that will work the soil for you, meaning you don’t have to dig!!  Turf is full of nitrogen when it rots down and this make great plant food promoting leafy growth so is ideal for salad crops and leafy veg like spinach and chard.

You can also buy instant raised vegetable garden kits, they are dead easy to install and only take a few minutes to set up.  Fill them up with compost and off you grow!

The other option is to strip the turf off and double dig the area adding plenty of manure.  I would dig a trench a spade deep add manure to the bottom and then back fill mixing in the manure as you go.  This is more work and you also will most probably disturb dormant weed seeds, so be prepared for some weeding over the coming season.

Traditional or Contemporary Garden Style

I must admit to having had been an advocate for contemporary gardens with many of my designs following a modern approach using crisp modern materials. Over the past few years I have come full circle and am finding myself more and more wishing to create gardens that are of a more traditional manner.  When designing gardens I always use bold shapes and very strict geometry to create patterns on the ground and when I think about it I have always been a fan of the renaissance style of gardens where formality, symmetry and architectural grandeur are so apparent.  But what makes a contemporary garden and what makes a traditional garden?

Contemporary gardens conjure up images of straight lines, minimalism, cut stone, glass and steel, outdoor rooms with entertaining and ‘lifestyles’ being the buzz words these days.  The potential issue with many ‘modern’ gardens is they may simply not have the shelf life of more traditional creations.  I struggle to imagine that in 100 years time that cedar decking and white rendered breeze block will have the same long lasting beauty found in great gardens such as Versailles, Hidcote Manor, the Alhambra or Sissinghurst.  Admittedly these great gardens are all attached to rather grand houses and estates (that most of us can but dream of) but the fact is that they all look amazing 100’s of years after their creation.

Traditional gardens are I believe what many of us really aspire to when we close our eyes and visualise our dream house and garden.  Herbaceous borders, rolling lawns, fruit trees, summerhouses and roses sprawling over a grand pergola all spring to mind (or maybe I am just showing my age.)   Materials that you may find in such spaces are natural stone, brick and terracotta, all of which become more beautiful with age.  I know I am going to start a heated debate here but I think a good comparison between traditional and contemporary gardens is that traditional materials get better with age whereas many newer materials tire.

I admit I am making grand sweeping statements here and there are of course many modern masterpieces in the gardening world that will wow visitors for many years to come.   Fashion has always influenced garden design and maybe there is an argument to be had in the fact that in 100 years time what is contemporary now will be regarded as ‘historic’ For example during the 17th Century, parterres, and ornate formal gardens were all the rage, only to be swept aside by the later contemporary fashion of ‘picturesque’ park style gardens, of which we would now regard as traditional or historic.

In reality it is down to many factors why we choose certain styles for our outdoor space which include personal preference, architecture, budget, and lifestyle but to name a few.  Also many of us are transient and move from house to house climbing the property ladder to achieve our ultimate goal.  So many garden makeovers are exactly that….a makeover with quick fix solutions such as decking and gravel which are cheap and ideal for these purposes.

For me the ultimate deciding factor as to what style of garden will suit a plot should be the building itself.  There is absolutely no point in creating a modern garden in the grounds of a timber framed thatched cottage it would quite frankly look ridiculous.  As with a ‘Huff house’ with its black steel and large panes of glass, there would be little point in recreating a traditional cottage garden with a well, this too would look out of place.

Something I have failed yet to mention is the formal versus the informal, both of which can be traditional or contemporary in their approach.  Both are very much down to personal choice and again can be influenced greatly by the building and its surroundings. To create an informal garden that feels natural and free flowing is no easy task whereas in a formal setting everything has its place and boundaries within which to reside.

One technique that really works well is following a traditional formal design but using modern materials to realise it.  Sawn natural stone looks contemporary but has the long lasting solidity that other materials lack.  Which in fact brings me to one final point that one cannot ignore, better quality materials (which unfortunately cost more) will give you a more long lasting and much better looking garden whether it be contemporary or traditional in style.

Ivy, willow roll and tomatoes!

Despite a snowy and frosty start to the year I at last made it into the garden this weekend and made some headway on the grand plans i have for it this summer.  I attacked the borders near our collapsing fences covered in honeysuckle and the twisted parasite aka ivy!  Not only had the climbers totally destroyed the fence, but their roots had become so established in the border that the only answer was to attack them with a mattock, which I wilded like a psychopath.  This less than genteel approach was very effective but I think I have  unfortunately destroyed a well established colony of ‘lily of the valley’ in the process (although I am sure some will have survived the massacre).

Because the fence had all but been eaten by the ivy I have had to  replace them temporarily to make the garden secure and safe using one of my pet hates,  willow roll.  They admittedly are extremely cheap, quick and easy to install  but they, to be frank look rubbish, well at least in my garden.  The simple fact is I had 4 rolls of the stuff left over from a TV shoot and they were a no cost solution to a gaping hole in my boundaries,  I hate things going to waste.  I have moved a large Nandina domestica, a Camelia and a Sarcococca that will help break up the vast expanse of bare willow.  Now I just need to plant up around the larger shrubs to try and hide the screen even more!

I nearly sowed some tomatoes indoors this weekend but even where we live in Essex, it would have probably been too early even for the variety ‘Roma VF’ which i have chosen.  This variety is fine to sow from late February onwards so I will take my own advice and be patient when it comes to sowing……….a few weeks wont make much difference!

So I better get blogging!

It is about time I put down the garden spade and packed away my design pens and start to share with the world my gardening pearls of wisdom……. Spring is nearly with us and I will be commenting  from now, on what to do and when. and all the other wonders that happen in the garden!