Spring is one of the most thrilling seasons in the garden with vitality and colour unfolding as the beds come to life again. It is also a great time to think about your garden as a whole, and undertake additional planting to provide interest through the other three seasons of the year.
Take a good look at the structure of your garden before the fullness of spring and summer fleshes everything out. It helps to take photographs from key view points, then make a computer printout on at least A4 sized paper, preferably A3. Draw in structural elements, such as trees at their ultimate heights and widths, and any planned structures or sculptural points of focus such as bird baths or garden seats.
Observe what is flowering during each season when you're out on walks around your neighbourhood, maybe even take notes in a diary. If you don't know what a particular plant is called, take a photo and get a staff member at a garden centre to identify it for you.
Observing how large plants get and what their ultimate form will be is crucial when planning and designing a garden. Rocking up to a garden centre and buying what takes your fancy on the day is not the best approach, and often the garden will look hashed together.
If you have done this in the past (and yes, I'm guilty of this in our own wee garden) and you have disparate elements, find a way to connect the dots, whether it be through repetition (odd numbers work best), hedging, or swathes of colour. Making cuttings or divisions of some existing garden plants is a cheap and easy way to achieve this.
Once your key structural elements are in place, provide a backdrop in the form of shrubby fillers, such as a soft rounded backdrop of leafy evergreens, or the dramatic strappy foliage of flaxes or tall grasses which move beautifully in the wind.
Now plan your "soft furnishings" - the transitory seasonal colours of flowering or autumnal trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals.
A garden is a constantly changing picture and careful planning will allow a co-ordinated and ever-moving kaleidoscope of seasonal interest. Even edible elements will provide juicy bursts of colour - citrus in winter are some of the few brightly coloured baubles on display during this season.
Evergreen foliage provides colour, from lush lime-coloured griselinia hedges or new leaves on citrus trees to the silvers and whites of rengarenga lily, astelia, and olearia. The luminous pale hues of the bark of mahoe or silver birch is a feature in its own right. This is probably the easiest way to colour theme a garden. Decide which parts of the garden you would prefer to recede, and other points you wish to draw the viewers eye to. You might also simplify things by choosing a monochromatic flowering colour theme, with a few seasonal highlights.
When thinking about your colour palette, most colours (including whites) will leap out if planted alone, unless you plant drifts of related colours together. Take photos of your garden, print four copies in black and white, grab some colored chalk and colour in the scheme for each season as you recall it, and your ideas for tying it together. In reality, seasons have transitional periods, so your colour plan could be quite complex, with more than four seasons represented. But this is a start.
There is a lot to consider when planning a garden for the seasons, and it can be a little overwhelming, even for those with training. The best tip I've been given as a designer is the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
New in town
A new Palmers concept store opened this week, based on the all-in-one garden and lifestyle retail spaces that are popular in Europe. The new store in Albany, called Palmers Planet, features a licensed cafe, fresh cut flowers and gift-wrapping service, outdoor living and garden products and, of course, plants, all under one roof. A funky astro-turfed kids' zone is also in the mix.
I was invited to visit last week and was impressed with the light, open and spacious design which features a glass atrium-style interior allowing for passive solar heating in winter, and underground rain tanks with a combined capacity of 70,000 litres providing water for the plants year round.
They have a good edible organics section outside and have developed a new range of large grade potted salad greens that are "ready to go". The plan is to develop a seasonal garden to showcase fully-grown edibles which will also supplement the greens used in the cafe, plus theme weeks on topics such as composting. Palmers is putting out the welcome mat for gardening groups to use the space for meetings, and is open from 7am weekdays for business breakfasts. There are plans to open another store in Hamilton.