pink wild flowers in front of grasses

Designing naturalistic, biodiverse Yorkshire gardens, part 5

Wildlife friendly gardens, part 5

As this initial series of posts about garden biodiversity draws to a close I want to turn, finally, to the naturalistic planting that will protect and support the biodiversity with which we coexist within our gardens.

This is such a huge topic (essentially what to plant where) that there are many books written about it, year in and year out, and I can therefore only scratch the surface of what is possible here. Rather than simply list my favourite plants I want instead to concentrate on what you should be thinking about, in terms of maximising biodiversity in the naturalistic garden, with your choice of plants.

The first stage of planning a planting scheme is to think about it in the same way that many designers plan theirs. Rather than starting with the plants you like, think instead in terms of different planting layers, and where they should go to create a biodiverse Yorkshire garden. 

Where will the lawn be? Which areas will be planted and will they consist of mainly ground cover, herbaceous perennials or evergreen perennials, or shrubs? Obviously you can dot shrubs amongst the perennials (and vice versa) but you’re just trying to envisage how those layers will look to start with. This is a particularly useful exercise when making sure that the beds to be planted are not too small in area and will help you to create an effective tapestry of habitat types across your garden.

Trees create a particularly important focal point in your garden – not just for you but also as perches for birds checking that it is safe to come in and explore, for example. Unless you are good at visualising in 3D then the simplest way to decide where to plant your tree is to take a long cane and pop it in position and then check it from all angles, inside and out, before settling on its optimum location. This is the way that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown used to work on large country estates and works perfectly well today, whatever size your biodiverse Yorkshire garden.

The next step is to understand your soil. Luckily there are only a few key points to understand before selecting plants (OK, there are a lot more I know, but the scope of this blog does not stretch to an overview of soil science). You need to know does your soil stay wet for most of the year, totally dry out in summer, or is it “moist but well drained” – a catch all description of plant moisture preference for plants that should do well in most gardens. This will help to select plants that should survive in your soil. Second you need to know if you have a clay soil, or a sandy soil, or a loamy soil. This is closely linked to soil moisture (clay soils stay wet longer, sandy soils drain quicker) and again is important when selecting the right plants. Thirdly you need to know if your soil is acid or alkaline. Working often in areas with a chalky – and therefore alkaline – soil I see time and again people who have planted rhododendrons or camellias (which are acid loving plants) that have subsequently turned yellow, dropped their leaves, and died. This is not what is often perceived as a lack of green fingers but simply putting the wrong plant in the wrong place. By ensuring we understand the soil in our biodiverse Yokrshire garden then it is possible to select the right plants for your particular garden soil type.

Finally we come to the plants themselves. With an understanding of the soil it is then possible to check the plants we wish to select (using our own knowledge, or books, or Google, or simply checking plant labels at the garden centre) and therefore we make sure that the plants chosen are suited to our gardens. There are an amazing number of plants on the market for gardeners to buy and it is easy to get overwhelmed – the RHS Plant Finder for 2020 lists 81,000 species and varieties. When filling beds and borders though it is best not to plant a multitude of different species but instead to buy plants to plant in groups (I usually plant in groups of 3, 5 or 7) to ensure that you get an eye-catching display. You then repeat these groups across different ares of the garden – to tie the space together, making it feel both unified and showing that a clear design intent underpins the scheme that has been created. I also like to mix ornamental grasses in amongst the plants to give a wilder feel. If you need help though Matt Haddon Gardens can create the right planting scheme for your garden (and for the wildlife you hope to attract).

Upon which note we come to the end of what I hope will be the first series in a number of blogs about the biodiversity in our gardens.

Please get in touch if you think Matt Haddon Gardens can help you to design your garden and create a contemporary space, drawing upon the surrounding landscape for inspiration, and using a naturalistic planting scheme to create a uniquely beautiful and enduing wildlife friendly garden within which people and nature can coexist. 

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