Gardeners with small gardens often long for more space; we certainly did in our last garden. A garden that had seemed large when we acquired it was filled to capacity after ten years of cultivation and the continual addition of “must-have” plants. Moving to a much larger plot meant a different approach. No more little treasures: big, bold robust planting was needed. That was our theory anyway. It didn’t work because I still bought things that just took my fancy, but don’t we all?
When starting from scratch with a large garden the first thing to decide is whether to treat the plot as one large picture or divide it into a series of smaller areas. We chose to treat our new two acre garden as one, and I think I would do the same thing if I started from scratch again. Our sloping hillside suited a single scheme, but with a few separate “rooms” tucked away in those areas that were not visible at first glance.
If I was starting on a flat site in a similar situation I might have divided it. I would then have made one area deer and rabbit proof which would have been easier to manage.
The hardest thing to get used to in a large garden is the scale: subjects that look vast in the garden centre or nursery soon shrink in a large space. Although our garden is blessed with mature oak and birch trees on two of the boundaries the first thing we did was to plant more trees. A single tree in a small garden instantly conveys maturity and height; in a large area our first dozen trees made little impact. Fourteen years later and after the addition of quite a few more trees the upper layer of planting is starting to make an impact.
We exchanged heavy fertile clay for free draining sand on the acid side of neutral. A joy to work on at any time of the year, our light sandy soil lacks substance and dries out quickly in summer: compost and manure have been added in copious quantities but they soon disappear. You soon get to know what grows and what struggles. My advice is simple: always go with what grows and do not waste your time trying to grow things that hate your soil.
That’s a bit of a challenge for a gardener. I always say that gardeners hate anything that thrives and succeeds and they always want what they can’t have: think about it!
We are in a rural situation: the flora and fauna of the countryside are a delight. We garden to encourage birds and other wildlife but there is a conflict of interest when it comes to deer and rabbits.
The former were a major problem initially. We thought that we could live with them by planting deer-proof plants and protecting newly planted stock. This works initially but is hopeless in the longer term. The only solution is to fence: a considerable investment but one that would have saved us a lot of wasted effort had we done it at the outset.
I always advise anyone to work from some sort of basic plan but have to confess that I do not follow this advice in my own garden. Ideas develop as we live with the garden and new projects are embarked upon sometimes after thought and discussion and sometimes on a whim. The foundations of a stable block evolved into the formal pool and “Italian garden” without a single sketch plan. The terrace and rill around the conservatory developed as the soil was being dug out by hand to sort out the levels. The large pool and planted bank at the end of the lawn was tentatively discussed for a couple of years. It was started quite by accident one Saturday afternoon when I decided to investigate how easy it would be to remove the turf on the bank.
My top tips for large plots
Large gardens produce a great deal of waste.
Decide how you are going to deal with it and cater for adequate composting facilities.
Mechanisation will be essential.
A garden tractor and trailer make like much easier for mowing, collecting waste and moving things around the plot.
Make your beds and borders big enough.
Most of us make planting areas too small. This means more work trying to contain and restrict what we plant in them.
When planting new areas plant the specimens first into small areas cleared of grass.
These can be joined up to make beds at a later date. This approach reduces the amount of weeding and maintenance in the early stages.
When planting do not confine everything to the edges:
Encroach into the central space to make the picture more interesting.
Choose some plants that grow quickly for impact
Plant others that will develop for the future.
Large gardens are not for perfectionists,
unless you are gardening on an infinite budget and have plenty of time. Jobs have to be prioritised and there will be weeds. You need to think ahead and consider maintenance with every move.
If you need help designing a large garden - take a look at our online course for designing large gardens taught by famous designer John Brookes MBE. If you need help with your planting - please consider taking our online planting design course with Hilary Thomas.
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