Cultivate the X-factor

By Leigh Bramwell

Every once in a long while I see a photograph that inspires me to create a new piece of garden or re-style an existing area I'm not happy with.
It happened yesterday at the cafe next to our local garden centre. Unfortunately, the photo was in one of the cafe's magazines, which necessitated my quietly tearing it out and hiding it in a serviette to take home and add to my folder of "inspiring ideas that never get used".
However, every time I add a picture to the folder, it's an opportunity to look at the other pictures in there and remind myself of what I had planned for our two-acre block. Interestingly, the images are wildly diverse. Some are Zen, some are Italianate, some are Mexican, some are structured, some are wild, some are post-modern and some are old-fashioned.
At the moment, it's the old-fashioned look that's attracting me. I'm happy with my structured courtyard and terrace close to the house because it's become an extension of the living space, but further out I want a rambling garden of lawns, planted banks, ponds, flower beds and secret sitting spots.
I know enough to know I can't create this out of my head, so I've been reading books and talking to landscape designers about the elements I need to incorporate.
A few of these already exist in the garden, but because they've been created more by accident than design, they lack a sense of purpose and belonging.
The mound of soil left behind by a previous gardener's large vege garden has been heavily planted in a mishmash of shrubs, ground covers and annuals, and until this past weekend has lacked that all-important focal point.
The local garden centre yielded the Perfect Thing in the form of an elegant concrete water basin.

We debated how we would ever carry it, but it turned out to be resin rather than concrete, which accommodated my tendency towards perfectionism when it comes to levels. "Don't, for heaven's sake, put it in the middle," a landscaper friend cautioned. "Extend the garden with a curve at one end and sit it within the curve." We did exactly that, filled it with water and planted around it.
Water's a great addition to any garden and it doesn't have to involve complications such as piping, filters or power. As long as your vessel is watertight and you can fill it with a garden hose, it'll do the job. Add some water plants and freshen the water whenever you're watering nearby and it'll take care of itself for a surprising length of time.
By adding such things as ponds, statuary, urns and paved areas that are visible only when you're actually walking through the garden, you're adding a crucial ingredient - romance.
Private areas and secret sitting spots hidden by tall shrubs and trees do the same. If you don't have such an area, it's easy to create one quite quickly by adding a rustic trellis and a couple of rampant climbers, or planting a fast-growing hedge.
But apart from those secret areas, you need views, and if you don't want to spend every weekend with a chainsaw, you need to factor this in earlier rather than later in your plans.
Stand at your gate, and then outside the back door, outside the front door or at either end of a path, and analyse what you can see. At the moment, the debris from our demolished hen house is the vista from the courtyard outside our dining room. It won't always be, of course, but even when the replacement shed is constructed, it's still not going to be a pretty sight. A rustic fence of railway sleepers and some small, flowering trees from behind which the gable of the shed may peek will be needed to provide a pleasant view.
The vista from our front terrace, on the other hand, is much enhanced by the new, faux-concrete pond and the colourful palette (mishmash) of plants that surrounds it. It's about 25m from the house and it beckons with the promise of a romantic sojourn.
Sometimes, creating a vista is incredibly simple and can be achieved just by moving a plant, pruning the skirt of a tree, lopping the top of a hedge or adding something spectacular at the end of a path or lawn.

- Northern Advocate

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