Creating 'Four Seasons' Garden
What the Walsall garden was like in 1982
180 ft x 55 ft south-facing, gentle downward slope. 6 ft fence on one side, shade from large trees on two neighbouring sides. Some of the York stone paths were broken up and distorted by tree roots. A number of York stone rocks were completely submerged in soil. There were many large, quite rapid growing. dark green conifers, a weed ridden vegetable plot and 16 overgrown fruit trees. The lawn was square and shaded. The ground was hard due to clay soil and was slightly acid. The slightly acid clay in our garden has determined which plants are successful in our garden. We noticed which plants were succeeding e.g. azaleas, Japanese maples, ornamental conifers and to a large extent this together with our awareness of local climatic features has led to our current planting themes. In the main we have tried to choose plants that are suited to our soil and and are hardy enough to withstand our unpredictable cold winters!

What we did
We decided to create a garden to be used by the family and also to be exciting in all four seasons.

In the first ten years we broke up clay, re-laid and extended paths and won the battle with weeds.

1992- present
Since 1992 we have totally re-landscaped and replanted. Materials have included 15 tons York stone, 11 tons of garden soil, 15 tons of concreting sand and 80 cubic metres of forest bark – everything was brought down six garage steps! Large rocks have been added, straight lines made into curves. Much of the the re-landscaping and replanting was completed during the period 1992-1995.

We built a chalet store, summerhouse, large wooden oriental pagoda, a smaller wooden Pagoda with water feature and laid more than 100 metres of paths. Five water features made by us include a fifty-four foot long rocky stream.

We believe we have created something very special - we now have a garden for all seasons and all ages. It gives us pleasure to walk in our garden on every day of the year and to share the delights with others. We have derived immense pleasure from doing this huge project together. It is very satisfying to use so many skills, and to have done every task ourselves, despite us both having had full time jobs until retirement from work in October 2009. (We sometimes used head torches or set up outdoor lights to work in the evenings!)

Hard landscaping
We have become increasingly skilled in working with York stone in paving and other garden features such as the garden streams. The large stream was built York stone, concrete and reinforcing iron and has a 3000 gallons per hour pump and a reservoir holding 75 gallons of water.

We use a number of plants around the garden that add special interest due to their colour, shape or size. Furthermore, we like plants or features in our garden to be enhanced by the contrast with the other nearby plants or features. We also contrast foliage colours, shapes and textures.

We often use the same family of visually prominent plants in a repeating theme in different areas of the garden e.g Japanese maples, ornamental conifers, aucuba, ilex. Furthermore, we found that the repeating themes has helped to reinforce the strong features of character that we have created in our garden.

During many weeks of the year flowers such as spring bulbs, azaleas, annuals and perennials also become eye catching.

When we re-landscaped we started by planting certain key visually prominent plants such as the Blue Spruce conifers and then added complementary plants around them. Grouping of plant colours that look good together e.g colours red, blue and yellow have helped to create harmony and unity and allowed us to successfully include many accent plants in our planting themes.

In the shaded lower garden we use the white stems of the
Utilis Jacquemontii to draw the eye and act as focal points. Also in the lower garden we have a Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica Glauca) which is eye catching because of its large topiary shape and blue colour which both give a bold contrast in with neighbouring Japanese maples.

In the upper garden which is more formal, we tried to create a certain amount of balance in the planting themes on the two sides of the garden e.g when planting blue conifers, gold coloured evergreens and variable heights of Japanese maples. However, the upper garden is a balance between formal and informal and for many of the plants there is no symmetry on the other side do the upper garden. Above all else, we decide "by eye" what looks right to us and what looks wrong to us in the garden! If something looks wrong then this demands action until it looks right!

The oriental pagoda is a major focal point for the whole garden and provides welcome shade in the summer. Together with the jungle, with its palms, bamboo and banana, it creates a screen and divides the garden, making it seem much larger.

Other wooden structures in the garden, such as the seating and the pergola, are stained the same dark brown as the pagoda and they also take on a role as focal points. We chose not to put climbing plants on the pergola and this accentuates its architectural features.

Red oriental ornaments come into their own in winter when most red foliage is absent and they also act as focal points amongst the plants.

Our style of gardening

Landscaping our garden has been like creating a giant flower arrangement. We have given consideration to colour, texture, scale, balance, proportion, unity, rhythm and harmony. “Quiet” spaces are important and are provided for example by conifers and evergreens. Bold focal points are a recurring theme. Proportion is essentially the balance between length, depth and height.

We enjoy contrasting flowers against bold coloured foliage. We especially contrast the colours red, blue and yellow and bold shapes and forms. Plants need one another to show themselves at their best – red acers come alive when placed near a yellow holly and the addition of a blue conifer really completes the setting.

When landscaping, the position was chosen for a specimen plant, to serve as an anchor for other plants. Its position was checked from various vantage points – and if it passed that test then other plants were placed around it, making sure that there was a variety of colour, shape and form. Mixing evergreen and deciduous plants made for all-year-round interest.

Photography has always played an important part in landscaping our garden. A view through the lens is often a helpful, additional, tool in achieving interest, harmony and balance.

In 1982 we brought with us some acers, azaleas and conifers in pots. We’d been experimenting with them and we thought there was something “special” about them. Acers have movement and wonderful leaf colour. Azaleas had stunning flowers and were good in more than one season. Conifers provided bold colour and contrast all year round – some had their best colour in winter. In 1982 we had no idea that these three groups of plants would be used in such a dominant role in the total relandscaping of our garden in the early 1990s. The neutral to acid soil was ideal for these plants.

In 1982 we hadn’t thoroughly worked through our ideas about conifers and during the period 1982-1990 continued to experiment with them. We learnt what were the bad features and what were the good features. We discovered that certain varieties of conifer were totally unsuited to our garden. We planted a Leylandii hedge of 65 trees; however, six years later we removed them. We realized that they were totally unsuitable plants for our garden due to their excessive growth rate and ugly features.

By 1990 we had realized that the type of conifers we needed in the garden were ones with attractive, bright foliage throughout the seasons, and which could be maintained to size and look tidy after pruning once a year. Many of the conifers we decided to select had bright yellow or blue foliage, however this criteria was not exclusive since we were aware of several other varieties of conifer would play a role, e.g. Chamaecyparis obtusa Nana with its bottle green foliage and Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana Summer Snow with its white young leaves. We also decided to select several conifers from each of the Taxus, Abies and Thuja genera of coniferous trees.

One of our current skills is keeping our collection of bright coloured conifers healthy and to size and in proportion. A crucial discovery that we had made about conifers was that for all their foliage to look healthy, without dieback, they need ‘all round’ light and therefore, in our replanting scheme, they would need to be allocated their own space. This would mean that maintenance of the garden would include checking each conifer every few months to ensure that other plants were not growing into the conifers and occluding light. Any pruning would need to be sympathetic and seamless so that neither the conifer or other plant looked obviously pruned. Furthermore, this care would lead to maintenance of clear definition of each plant.

Having solved the riddle of the conifers, there was obviously a clear need for other varieties of evergreen foliage in order to make the garden much more interesting. Once again we decided the main choices should be for bright foliage e.g. Aucuba Picturata,Ilex Golden King and Photinia Red Robin.

Photinia Red Robin benefits from regular pruning in the growing season in order to provide continuous red growths for which the Photinia is famous. We have some photinia that are twenty years old and are still only 18 inches high.

Conifers and other varieties of evergreen are used as a backdrop for other plants, including a riot of flowers from February to November.

Plants have to earn their keep and be interesting for several weeks: deciduous azaleas are stunning in the spring and also provide some of the most vivid leaf colour in the autumn. We decided to that most of the plants that we chose should look stunning, or at worst tidy, in May and preferably should also look good in the autumn.

By timely and meticulous pruning of all plants we can orchestrate the whole garden to appear at its best at different times of the year. However, with all pruning we try to make to make it look as though it hasn’t been done!

Plants also have to be able to be kept to size without looking ugly. We have made mistakes: Acer platanoides “Crimson King” and Robina pseudoacacia Frisia failed the test and were replaced.

We also have a substantial collection of Japanese acers, which are maintained to size. They are pruned in March and also lightly pruned to restore the desired shape in June after the rampant growth during May. Despite now being over 20 year old, many of the Japanese acers look much younger because of their size. Because they have a robust trunk and root system they look very healthy and produce an abundance of fresh foliage every spring, which brings such delight for us and our many visitors.

We have created a series of ‘rooms’ in the garden: the upper garden is a more formal area for entertaining and the lawn can accommodate a marquee. The middle garden, with jungle and pagoda gives a tropical feel. The lower garden is a more shaded from the Arboretum trees and lends itself to being a natural area with herbaceous plants amongst the camellias, conifers and acers.


The four seasons
The garden awakes in early spring with mass planting of bulbs, polyanthus and hellebores. Camellias give way to a breathtaking array of azaleas and the stunning new growth of Acers and blue conifers. More than two hundred acers are the summer backdrop for perennials, begonias and mass summer bedding. In the autumn, the rich colours of the Virginia Creeper vie with that of acers and azaleas and red oriental ornaments. In winter, the red Acer Senkaki stems are magnificent, offset against the blue and yellow conifers. Fairy lights in the trees create a magical atmosphere to complement the snow draped plants.

Spring: Tete a tete daffodils, primulae and camellia flowers dominate in March. In April, erythroniums, tulips, pansies and scilla are flowering. In May there is a stunning array of azaleas together with the new growth of acers and conifers. Other May flowers include anemone blande and muscari. Colour continues in June with foxgloves, aliums, poppies and lilies of various sorts.

Summer: The acers and conifers then provide the backdrop to display the summer riot of colour in the upper garden from flowers including pelargonium, begonias, impatiens and mass summer bedding. In August the perennials are dramatic in the lower garden and include astors, leucanthemum, liatris, agapanthus, crocosmia, rudbekia, thalictrum, helenium and phlox. During the summer the jungle becomes more exciting and children and adults love the mist and tropical bird sounds.

Autumn starts with the rich red colour of the Virginia creeper. This is quickly followed by the intense colour changes especially in the acers and azaleas. By late autumn the Japanese acer leaves have become become vibrant with scarlet and gold colours and they serve as “autumn flowers”.

Winter: We are pleased to have garden colour in the winter. For example, we use the colour red in the form of photinia, the red oriental ornaments and the red acer Senkaki stems and contrast these against the blue and yellow conifers and bright yellow hollies. Lighting in the trees creates a magical atmosphere, especially when plants are draped in snow. Winter flowers surge through in February with snow drops, crocus, aconites, cyclamen, hellebores and early camellias. The colour white is accentuated by the multi-stemmed Betula Jaquemontii. Other tree barks, including acer griseum, snake bark maples and serrula, give winter interest.

Garden inventory
350 Azalea, 250 mainly blue and yellow conifers, 200 Acers, 60 Euonymus, 60 Pieris, 50 bright Holly, 40 Aucuba, 40 Camelias, 40 Rhododendrons, 20 Pyrocantha, 20 Photinia provide a back drop for spring bulbs, perennials and mass summer bedding.

•Begonias, Pelargonium and some tender plants are over wintered in greenhouses.
•Jungle plants, such as tree ferns, bananas (Musa Basjoo) and palms, are wrapped and over-wintered outside
• Annuals are propagated from plugs.
•Yew and box have been made into topiary shapes.
•Our front garden features a tightly clipped box parterre. We started off with 10 box plants which we have divided up in stages to make 200 plants to form the low hedge.
•Some Azaleas have been split into 10 separate plants.

We buy plants from a variety of outlets – including the local market!

It is always fun to read the various comments about our upper garden. A visiting national garden judge in 2007 did describe our garden as " A garden like no other!"

We also love our much less formal middle and lower gardens but these areas are much more difficult to photograph! For some reason photos of our upper garden that we post seem to get most press and online interest and attention!

It seems that images of our upper garden somehow are both eye catching and controversial. Many of the views of this area of the garden that we post are 'sub-aerial' and perhaps this adds to the interest. Apart from all the many nice comments we have received on Flickr, we have also seen many online non-Flickr comments about out upper garden images and we are delighted that a very large majority of these comments have been very positive.

Our upper garden does give us plenty of interest to look at from the house on every day of the year and the plants are even more interesting when 'up close'. The central lawn is a wonderful social space. Much of this area of the garden is repeating patterns, like a bold tapestry.

Several visitors to our garden have also been looking for ideas for bold colour planting in their much smaller gardens, and they have said that they have found some of our 'Four Seasons' planting themes inspiring and subsequently successful when introduced into their own garden.

When we arrived in 1981, the ground was hard clay soil and over several years we broke it down to become friable, initially spreading gritty concreting sand then periodic application of pine bark chippings.

For several years we have used forest bark as a mulch and when it eventually breaks down, it adds humous to our clay soil. Instead of solid hard ground, we now have friable top soil below the bark mulch. We also use the bark for our woodland paths

We like to use nuggets of old pine bark which are mainly in the size range 2-5cm . They look tidy in the garden and last for many years before fully breaking down. The bark has a rich colour especially when damp and this is often helpful in photographs of the garden views. There is very little dust in this grade of bark. Most of the bark has come from Spanish Maritime pine trees (Pinus pinaster).

We are fortunate that all our neighbouring gardens have many trees which add extra layers of 'borrowed' landscape to many views of our garden.

Gardens provide the immediate setting for houses. The character of a garden including the levels of greenery and the presence of trees impacts the character and appearance of our house. Evergreen and deciduous trees form the backbone of our garden and provide year-round interest. Apart from giving structure, deciduous trees give attractive foliage and flowers in spring and summer, autumn foliage colours and berries for autumn and early winter. Barks provide interest throughout the year.

Herbaceous Perennials
These include a variety of different plants. Some are suitable for dry conditions, and others for full sun or shade.

Shrubs including holly and box are the backbone of our garden, providing structure and colour.

We have several interesting trees which are mainly ornamental trees providing spring blossoms and bbeautiful spring and autumnal foliage.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Verdoni Gold' is a dwarf conifer also known as the Dwarf Verdoni Gold Hinoki Cypress. Verdoni is hardy and provides all year round interest and structure in the garden. It has conical upright habit and a low, graceful, natural craggy sculptural form with lovely texture and has a gold-yellow colour. The Verdoni in this image has been grown in full sun.

The foliage colours of Verdoni are best when grown in full sun Not only does Verdoni hold its golden colour throughout all seasons but the foliage also becomes more golden in winter. Foliage that has had minimal sunlight exposure is more green. It is also wonderful that the foliage does not scorch in full sun or severe cold.

Verdoni is compact and slow growing and only rarely needs very slight pruning to keep it to the most pleasing shape and form. It has a strong central leader and the fans of bright golden, flat, finely textured foliage develops with a pleasing, irregular, growth pattern. Over 20 years the Verdoni in this photo and has reached a height of around 3-4 ft (around 1m). We have performed occasional minor pruning. Without pruning It could have reached a maximum height of around 5 ft (1.5 m).

In our garden planting scheme we often use our golden-yellow conifers as a foil to enhance the contrasting colours, form and texture of adjacent plants. In particular we enjoy contrasting the colours red, blue and yellow.

Thuja occidentalis ' Trompenburg' (White cedar) has a low, craggy, conical shape and flat textured yellow-green foliage that becomes more golden in winter. Foliage that has had minimal sunlight exposure is dark green.
It is hardy and provides all year round interest and structure in the garden. Like the conifer in this photo, the colours are best when grown in full sun. Trompenburg' is compact and slow growing and only rarely needs very slight pruning to keep it to the most pleasing shape and form. The conifer in this photo has reached less than one meter in height in 20 years.

Together with the paths, the lawn links the planted areas in the garden to our house. The lawn is a quiet, green space with an informal shape which provides an exaggerated feeling of openness in the garden. Nearby plants are enhanced by the lawn. There is freedom for walking. It is also a social space for our family and visitors to relax and enjoy.

Once yearly, in autumn or early spring we top-dress our lawn with an application of loam, sharp sand and well-rotted compost in the ratiio: 3:6:1.. This encourages greater rooting and thickening of turf.

From our personal experience these are 5 steps leading to the creation of a unique garden.

1.Understand soil type, aspect, climate and therefore which plants will successfully grow. Consider what plants you like and be aware of some of the groupings of different plants that look good together. Be aware that whatever plants you put in the garden, careful pruning skills will be needed to keep them looking tidy and prevent them from getting overgrown!

2.Decide what your needs are for the garden and what functions it will have.

3.Unique gardens probably are not created all at once. Furthermore, gardens are never finished because their plants are forever trying to change their size! We suggest planning a few larger garden tasks that you know have to be done, such as taking out overgrown, diseased trees. Be willing to replace the landscaping features and plants chosen by the previous garden owner.

4.Next decide on the location of paths and plant borders, and maybe put in one or two key larger plants. Review again and consider possible focal points for the garden such as a water feature, garden seating and shelter.

5.Have confidence that the garden will steadily evolve in stages according to your energy level, time availability, finances and your awareness of what needs to be done next.

1)Tips on how we created a garden with a succession of all year round colour and interest.

Our aim was to create a garden that was interesting and exciting in all four seasons. We now have a garden with colourful foliage throughout the year and a succession of flowers from late January until December. Work to maintain the garden is spread across the year.

2) Our suggestions for creation of a colourful garden for all seasons

Plants need one another to show themselves at their best. Neighbouring plants are especially pleasing together when they have different characteristics, e.g. colour, texture, shape, size. Mixing evergreen and deciduous plants will provide all-year-round interest. We suggest contrasting flowers against foliage from other plants. Interesting tree bark and berries are pleasing additions especially for autumn and winter.

We advise leaving space between many of the plants for spring bulbs and summer flowers in the ground or in planters. We have a succession of flowers throughout the year starting with early spring bulbs, followed by spring flowers and summer perennials.

We chose a number of varieties of yellow or gold evergreen foliage plants and we especially appreciate these in winter when they are like our “winter sunshine”. These included:1) Aucuba japonica 'Picturata' (Gold Spot Laurel), 2) Ilex ‘Golden King’ (Bright yellow holly), 3)Golden yew such as Taxus baccata 'Standishii' (Standish Yew) or Taxus baccata 'Semperaurea', 4)Abies nordmanniana 'Golden Spreader'.
In our planting scheme we particularly like to contrast the foliage of acers (Japanese maples) against these evergreen plants.

We planted a number of acer cultivars mainly for their beautiful coloured foliage which is particularly exciting in spring and autumn. The different cultivars also provide a great variety of leaf shapes, textures and tree barks. Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' (formerly Acer 'senkaki'), is one of our favourite Japanese maples since it has beautiful red stems in winter and early spring and glorious yellow-gold foliage in autumn.

We find that plant groupings work well when the foliage or flowers colours of red, blue and yellow are contrasted. For example, red foliage from an acer comes alive when placed near a yellow evergreen and the addition of a blue conifer completes a grouping that is even more pleasing to the eye. Our suggestion for blue foliage include: 1) Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' 2)Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata' 3)Abies procera 'Glauca' - Noble fir.

Our suggestion for red foliage include: 1)New growth of Photinia ‘Red Robin’ (much of the year), 2) New growth of Pieris Japonica 'Forest Flame' (Mainly in spring) 3)
Ornaments can act as excellent additional focal points throughout the seasons. At ‘Four Seasons’ we mainly choose red ornaments because most of our red foliage disappears in the winter.

We have a network of paths suitable for all weathers.
It is important to have somewhere to sit with family and friends, preferably with a choice of sun or shade. It would be nice to leave space for a BBQ. It is lovely to hear the sound of a small water feature.

Keeping wooden structures in the garden, such as benches and bridges, a similar colour simplifies and allows them to take on a role as focal points.

When we looked for particular plants over the years we often found we had to visit a variety of garden centres before we could find the plants we were looking for! We have never relied on one garden centre but over the years we have tended to revisit a few favourite garden centres and also a couple of 'clusters' of garden centres.

The first cluster is along or near the Chester Road north of Birmingham:
Country Homes & Gardens plc, Chester Rd, Aldridge, Walsall, West Midlands, WS9 0LS
William Wheat & Son 520 Chester Road Little Aston. Aldridge West Midlands WS9 0PU
Pacific Nurseries, Chester Road, Streetl. Aldridge, Walsall, WS9 OPH
Valley Nurseries 297 Erdington Rd, Aldridge, Walsall, West Midlands, WS9 0SB
Halls Garden Centre 213 Chester Road, New Oscott, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, B73 5BD

The second cluster of three or so garden centres is along the Bridgnorth Road from Wolverhampton:
We think two of the names are Gardenlands and Lealands however there is another smaller nursery/garden centre between Gardenlands and Lealands.

For a half day trip Webbs of Wychbold, Worcester Road, Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire WR9 0DG

For a half day trip Bridgemere, Near Nantwich, Nantwich, Cheshire, CW5 7QB

For a half day trip Ashwood Nursery We have bought many plants from Ashwood over the years. The plants are always robust and healthy and the garden centre is beautifully laid out. Excellent, good value meals if your are hungry! (or a very long half day trip if you also visit John's garden). John the owner also has open days several times each year for his personal 3 acre garden
Other nursery worth a trip Hollybush Garden Centre, Warstone Rd, Shareshill, Wolverhampton, West Midlands WV10 7LX

We have many good structural plants that add interest in all areas of the garden. We also use strong, bold colours . Planting is dense however the planting scheme it is it visually pleasing due to the choice of plant combinations and selective pruning which also keeps the plants healthy. We combine plant varieties, forms, colours and textures. Bold and colourful foliage is used to contrast with flowers or other foliage. We also have conventional planting including box and yew hedging and topiary.
Harmony of materials
Gradual Reveal -sense of experience as the garden reveals itself. Sense that there is more to discover and explore beyond.
All year round interest
We plant to include all year round interest. Our evergreen choices include box and yew that will give good structure throughout the seasons . We arrange other deciduous shrubs and flowers to provide contrast, colour and variation.
Scent connects us with the gardene.g Lavender, honey suckle, azalea luteum, Rosemary, mint, roses.
Vertical interest: pergola, Genoa arch, wisteria, Virginia Creeper, trees, fastigiate yew, bamboos

Here are some of our plants that we suggest would be suitable for a small garden: You might consider some of the following plants for a small garden:

Acer palmatum ‘Beni maiko’
Acer palmatum dissectum 'Viridis'
Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen'
Acer palmatum 'Shaina'
Acer palmatum Senkaki/Sango kaku
Acer Shirasawanum ‘Aureum

Abies procera 'Glauca' or Abies procera 'Glauca Prostrata'
Taxus baccata 'Standishii'
Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold'
Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana Aurea'

Autumn Sorbus Cashmiriana (Kashmir Rowan)
Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver'
Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald 'n' Gold'

The variations in colour and texture of evergreen shrubs provide structure and all-year- round interest to our garden. Approximately 60% of our shrubs are evergreens. They are relatively low maintenance.

In early spring, flowers include tete a tete daffodils, primulae and camellias and this is followed in April by erythroniums, tulips, pansies and scilla. In May there is a stunning array of azaleas together with the new growth of acers and conifers. Other May flowers include anemone blande and muscari. Colour continues in June with foxgloves, aliums, poppies and lilies of various sorts.

In summer the acers and conifers provide the backdrop to display the riot of colour in the upper garden from flowers including pelargonium, begonias and bedding plants. The perennials in the lower garden include astors, leucanthemum, agapanthus, crocosmia, thalictrum, helenium and phlox. The jungle becomes more exciting in summer. and children and adults love the mist and tropical bird sounds.

Autumn starts with the rich red colour of the Virginia creeper. This is quickly followed by the intense colour changes especially in the acers and azaleas. By late autumn the Japanese acer leaves have become become vibrant with scarlet and gold colours and they serve as “autumn flowers”.

In winter, we use the colour red in the form of photinia, the red oriental ornaments and the red acer Senkaki stems and contrast these against the blue and yellow conifers and bright yellow hollies. Lighting in the trees creates a magical atmosphere, especially when plants are draped in snow. Winter flowers surge through in February with snow drops, crocus, aconites, cyclamen, hellebores and early camellias. The colour white is accentuated by the multi-stemmed Betula Jaquemontii. Other tree barks, including acer griseum, snake bark maples and serrula, give winter interest.

The upper garden gives a tapestry of colour in all seasons but is particularly dramatic in late spring and autumn. has a lwWhilst the "lower garden" has a woodland like features, an area for perennials and a much larger stream. In addition to the main garden areas, for the last three years our neighbour has kindly allowed us to use the lower part of his garden as a 'work area' in which for example we grow plants from seed and have compost heaps to recycle fallen leaves and other garden waste materials.

Together with the 'borrowed' landscape of trees in our neighbours gardens. This pruning style also helps to give the impression in photos that the garden is larger than it really is! Furthermore, we believe that pruning skills have been key to maintaining our garden over the year.

Four Season Garden
A quote by one national garden competition judge "A garden like no other!"

Summary of key facts on moving to our house and garden in 1982:
Quarter acre plot, facing south
Rear garden 180ft x 55ft (55m x 17m)
Impacted heavy clay soil
Lawn square, shaded and worn out
Several large, dark green conifers
16 overgrown fruit trees
Disused vegetable plot
Yorkstone paths breaking up
Yorkstone rocks, some submerged
Summary of key facts 1982 - 2013
Totally re-landscaped and re-planted
Change by evolution, one priority at a time
Created a garden for the family
Objective to achieve beauty and interest for all seasons
Materials included:
15 tons York stone
11 tons garden soil
15 tons concreting sand
105 cubic metres of forest bark

First 10 years:
broke up clay and won the battle with weeds
re-laid and extended 100 metres of paths
created garden and play areas for young family
experimented with planting schemes

Wooden structures in the garden:
stained the same dark brown shade

this simplifies the colour scheme and enhances their secondary role as
focal points

Planting style and Plant combinations:

Colour and interest across four seasons

The key to our garden is:

skeleton framework of various shades of evergreen plants, around which the rest of the garden hangs

using many other plants with interest in more than one season e.g. Acer senkaki, with its beautiful red stems in winter

the recurring theme of contrasting the colours red, blue and yellow

planting to create views and pleasing vistas at every turn

our role as conductor for our plant orchestra

How we chose our plants:

Before deciding to purchase, we considered:
natural habit and requirements
suitability for neutral/slightly acid soil
cold hardiness
amenability to pruning
fit within in our planting style
role as an individual and as a ‘team player’
planned location
shape, size and form required

Plants in our back garden include:
Azaleas 400
Japanese maples 130
Conifers (inc. taxus)120
Camellias 60
Pieris 40
Ilex 40
Aucuba 40
Euonymus 40 Bamboo 20
Rhododendrons 20
Photinia 15
Buxus 10
Fatsia 9
Phormium 6 Pyracantha 6
Palms 6

Trees other than Japanese maples include:
Sorbus 4
Betula 3
Fagus 3
Acers 3
Prunus 2

Bulbs - four seasons
Erica - winter flowering

Other plants include:
Summer perennials

Deciduous foliage is large in volume and more dominant than evergreen foliage in spring, summer and autumn.

However, evergreens become dominant in winter.
They are 60% of our planting.

We also have flowers from January to December.

Self set Hellebore seedling are replanted around the garden and give flowers in winter.
We also have winter aconites and snowdrops.
After flowering, clumps are split up ‘in the green'.
Cyclamen seed capsules develop in summer. We gather the capsules and spread the seed around the garden.

In the transition from winter there are flowers of heather, crocus and early daffodils.

Camellias flower from January to May.

Red oriental style ornaments act as focal points throughout the seasons
add red colour in winter when most
red foliage is absent.

Early springTête-á-Tête daffodils are tidy after flowering.

Tulips fill the gap between daffodils and azalea flowers. At the same time, acer leaves emerge.

Planning location for spring bulbs:
Positions identified for planting various cultivars are marked with a letter code on transparent acetate sheets overlaid on plan of garden.

Party time in May! Colours especially provided by Azalea flowers, new acer leaves and spring growth of the blue conifers.

However, May frosts are always a risk!

Rear of rockery are two purple ‘Trompenburg’ acers that are the same age however, one is a moderate size tree and the other a small bush!

Late spring rhododendrons and azaleas. Acer palmatum ‘Shaina’ has small leaves and is very slow growing.

Strong architectural features in the middle garden.

We do not grow climbing plants on the pergola and this enhances its architectural features.

Alliums in woodland lower garden in summer.

We remove azalea and rhododendron seed heads.

Ash and sycamore seedlings are our main weeds.
We remove weeds as soon as we see them.

Lilies add a distinct character
to the jungle and oriental middle garden.

Various lilies: July - September

In summer Astilbes and astrantia flower in the shaded area of
woodland lower garden.

In late summer mixed perennials make an orchestra of flowers in the sunny areas of lower garden.

e.g. Geranium ‘Rozanne’, phlox, agapanthus, crocosmia and
thalictrum ‘Hewitts Double’ .

In our upper garden tuberous begonias cope well with wet or dry summers, and flowers last until the arrival of air frosts.

Planning autumn tasks for perennial flowers:

Wooden plant labels are used to mark locations in the garden that need autumn tasks performed for perennials
Each label has a different number to indicate planned task
The number and planned task are written in a notebook

Overwintering tuberous begonias

Red leaves of azalea luteum in early autumn.

Japanese maples autumn colour change.

Autumn colours can vary each year.

A tapestry created by contrast and repetition of shape, texture and colour.

Berries for autumn and winter e.g. Chinese Scarlet Rowan (Sorbus Commixta ‘Embley’), Sorbus Huphensis ‘Pink Pagoda’, Taxus ‘Dovastonii aurea’, Sorbus ‘Cashmiriana’

Our lower garden example of our contrast of red, blue and yellow
Acer Sango-kaku (Senkaki), tall red oriental style ornament and blue cedar atlantica.

In winter and early spring the
stems of acer Sango-kaku (Senkaki) are red.

From 2008 -2016 we composted everything, except woody growth. Compost heap temperature 76C (168F) in November!

We plant for all seasons, including winter.
Our garden is nestled in a ‘borrowed landscape’.
Our pruned plants are able to withstand heavy snow.
Our pruning tasks are spread across the twelve months of the year.

For much of the pruning there is considerable flexibility regarding timing.

However, some pruning has to be fairly precise in timing.

Pruning is about managing change in our plants.

All our plants grow at different rates and space is limited.

We choose plants that are both amenable to pruning, and look tidy after pruning e.g. Abies Procera 'Glauca Prostrata'.

Our aim is for plants to look attractive
after pruning.

We prune to maintain size, shape, form and in proportion with other plants
We also prune to keep plants healthy e.g. Ilex ‘Golden King’.

Pruning prolongs the life of our plants e.g After 23 years some of our Euonymous ‘Emerald and Gold’ plants are less than 30cm in diameter and 20cm in height.

Similarly the stems of our Berberis thunbergii 'Bagatelle’ are pruned back every winter to keep it compact and to a small size. After 23 years, at the end of summer the plant is only about 30cm in diameter and height.

We use pruning to optimise the features of each plant
e.g. foliage, architecture, seasonal display.

Watching our plants:
We don’t always notice that some of our plants are overgrown.
Sometimes we only notice when we try to take a photograph.
Plants loom large in late evening when sizes and proportions are often more obvious.

In our quarter-acre plot, the key to their management is choosing the right variety………..and pruning.
Like all evergreen plants, ‘dwarf’ conifers keep growing and don’t stop at 10 years.
Although out of fashion, many varieties have a huge amount to offer.

One of their roles is to provide a backdrop for flowers and other foliage.

‘Dwarf’ conifers are pruned to keep them to size and in proportion with our other plants.

We prune our blue spruce in late autumn or early winter.

We choose the height for plants so they can be safely pruned.

Spring growth of plants is very beautiful – but new growth does make the plant larger!

We prune off the new shoots of Pinus wallichiana 'Nana’ in late spring.

Our 25 years old Chamaecyparis ‘Stardust’ conifer could have reached a height of 9m.

However, with pruning, we have kept it to a reachable height of 2.2m (7ft).

We prune in summer. Starting at the conifer apex, using secateurs, the height of the apex is returned to the same level as the previous year i.e. around 2.2m.

Then, again using secateurs, all around the conifer, a few obviously longer woody shoots are pruned back to the previous years growth point.

To complete the pruning and shaping, we use an electric hedge cutter.

Initially it is used in a vertical movement from the base of the conifer to the pruned apex.

The aim to return the cut foliage to the same growth level as in previous years. Care is taken not to prune too deeply and that sufficient green is left for new growth.

This is repeated around the conifer
Then, starting at the pruned apex we use the cutter this time in horizontal movements around the conifer and to complete the pruning, this horizontal cutting is repeated at all levels around the conifer.

Pruning is about managing change in our plants.

We prune Photinia to give red leaves in every season
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