Author Archives: Sarah Talbot

April Jobs in the Garden

The saying for March, ‘in like a lamb, out like a lion’, wasn’t entirely accurate as we had some gloriously, warm weather at the end of the month, but don’t be fooled, there are cold days and frosts still to come.  Nothing stops the steady progress of weeds, so they are top of the list.

  1. Hoe, dig or hand-weed the weeds, depending on the situation, being careful not to damage other plant roots.
  1.  Having pruned the roses last month, tie in ramblers and climbers and give them all a good feed with a general purpose or specialist fertiliser – mulch well afterwards but keep it clear of the stems.
  1.   Penstemons.  Don’t rush to prune, as last year’s leaves are protecting them from late    frosts, but prune hard back leaving a couple of inches of stems, by the end of the  month/beginning of May.  You should see plenty of new foliage appearing at the base of  the plant by then.
  1. Summer pots and containers. Again, buying bedding plants too soon means they’re likely to succumb to frost and they won’t have been hardened off, better to leave until May.
  1. Continue to cut lawns regularly on a high cut, but reduce the height towards the end of the month.
  1. Sow or turf new lawns, keep regularly watered especially around the edges of any turf, as these dry out quickly. Repair bare patches.
  1. Figs can be tidied up, remove any crossing or damaged branches, together with any suckers appearing at the base.  Long, bare branches can be reduced to about 5cms (2”), to promote new growth.
  1. Be aware of hedgehogs. They are waking up now, but could still be hidden in compost heaps, piles of old leaves or in the middle of intended bonfires!  If you see one during the day, it’s quite likely that it is unwell.  Contact Margaret Green Animal Rescue for help and advice.

9.  Keep feeding the birds.


March jobs in the Garden

We had one or two exceptionally warm days in February, but don’t get caught out, there are certainly more frosts and cold weather in store.

  1. Top dress your containers. Simply remove the top 5cm (2”) of compost in the container and replace it with fresh compost, such as soil based John Innes No 3, or ericaceous compost for acid loving plants.  Check the drainage holes are clear and working, as roots soon die if they sit in water.
  1. Lawns can be mown if they look in need of it, but just a high cut on a dry day, to nip off the ends.
  1. If your narcissus and daffodils didn’t flower well last year, give them an early spring feed of Growmore and water in if the soil is dry. Always dead-head after flowering and never fold and tie the old leaves.
  1. Hoe the weeds, where there’s space to do so without damaging awakening plants – you’ll get a head start on them and a sharp hoe makes the world of difference! You can also hoe gravel drives; do it gently and carefully so as not to goudge the surface and if done regularly, it greatly reduces the need for weed killers.
  1. Lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials.
  1. Prune roses. People get nervous about this but as with wisteria, if you don’t get it quite right, you may lose some flowers but it’s unlikely you’ll kill the plant.

General rules for all types are: remove the four D’s = dead, diseased, damaged or dying branches.  Prune to an outward facing bud, slope the cut away from it and use sharp secateurs

Ramblers and climbers: often it’s just pruning a mature plant to fit the available space, if congested, remove one in three old rambler shoots at the base.  Cut back flowered side shoots by about two thirds and tie in new shoots to prevent wind damage.

English and repeat flowering shrubs roses: cut back overall by about a third, keep the centre open for good air circulation.

Old shrub roses such as gallicas and moss roses: these require little pruning and need space to develop their natural habit.

For greater detail, David Austin Roses’ site has plenty of information.

  1. Buddleia.  Hard prune them back to a basic framework, even though they will already have starting producing new leaves.
  1. Clematis.  The late flowering Group 3 clematis should be hard pruned, these too will be producing many new buds by now, but do the deed and the plant will benefit from it.
  1. Keep feeding your garden birds, morning is best, as they lose weight overnight trying to keep warm and fish will be getting hungry too.

It’s the first day of March and my hellebores are in full flower with a  few brave Anemone blandas for company; they look so beautiful and delicate, yet they’ve been toughing it out in icy winds and sleet!

February Jobs in the Garden

It’s an exciting time in the garden, full of promise. The days are lengthening and despite some hard frosts, temperatures are rising and spring bulbs appearing.


As a very general guide, plants which flower early in the year are pruned immediately after flowering, because they flower on the previous year’s growth.  This gives them time to put on new growth during the rest of that year, ready to flower early the following year.

Late flowering plants are left through the winter to be pruned in the following spring, after the danger of frosts has passed, because they flower on the current season’s growth.  So they are pruned early in the year and put on new growth, which flowers later the same year.

There are always exceptions to the rule and nowadays the weather is unpredictable, which can confuse not only plants, but wildlife too.

But Don’t Worry!  If you prune at the wrong time, you’ll lose that year’s flowers but it’s unlikely you’ll kill the plant.

1. Prune wintering flowering shrubs if they have finished flowering.

2.  Prune Wisteria, this requires pruning twice a year.

   Wisteria Summer PruningIn July or August cut back the long whippy, thin green shoots,          leaving 5 or 6 leaves at the base of the shoot.  This controls the size and prevents wisteria      from getting into gutters and under roof tiles.

   Wisteria Winter Pruning. In January or February, cut back the same shoots you pruned in        the summer, leaving 2 or 3 shoots at the base. This encourages the plant to develop flower    buds and not just leaf buds. If you didn’t prune in the summer, don’t worry, just go ahead with     winter pruning

  1. Grasses.  Between now and late March, cut deciduous grasses down to an inch or two of stubble, it will only be a few weeks before you see them again.
  1. Evergreen grasses.  Comb them through to remove any dead stuff – don’t cut them back.
  1. Snowdrops are flowering, if you have lots they can be divided. With a trowel or hand fork, gently dig out a small clump and re-plant it elsewhere in the garden – this is called planting ‘in the green’.
  1. Perennials.  Leaving them through the winter will have provided food and cover for wild-life, but now they will be looking tatty so you can start to tidy up by cutting the dead stems at the base.  Mind where you step on the borders as there will be new shoots appearing.
  1. Ponds.  Don’t clean or empty them out as they are waking up, leave that til late autumn, but remove leaves that have landed in them.  Also remove other, obviously dead plant material but leave it to drain on the ground nearby, so any creatures can escape and return to the water and don’t disturb frogspawn.
  1. Fruit and vegetables. Start preparing the beds, some seeds can be sown under cover.  As fruit buds appear you may want to net them to protect them from the birds.

But my blackbirds adore blueberries!   So, I’ve decided I get as much pleasure from watching the birds eat them, as I do from eating them myself – so we share them!


Low Maintenance Country Garden in the New Forest

Low Maintenance Country Garden in the New Forest

Hidden away in 25 acres of mature woodland, this lovely old character property has been completely renovated; open fires, family kitchen with aga and squashy sofas, all with views of the garden.

The Brief:

Design and build a terrace with a path extending around the house, screen the parking area, low maintenance garden with all-year interest.  Old timbers removed from the house to be re-used in the garden if possible, as the property holds childhood memories for the current owner.


The size of the terrace was designed not only to accommodate the number of occupants but also, to look comfortable and in proportion with the size of the building.  Incorporating curves as well as straight lines in the shape, helps to ease and blend the formality of the house with the natural surroundings of the paddock and woodland.  A customised wild flower and grass seed mix was sown along the boundary of the lawn and paddock, to link the two together.


Box balls with low box edging define the borders – quick and easy to maintain – mixed with Lavender Hidcote , Allium Purple Sensation, Brunnera Jack Frost, Ceratostigma willmottianum, Stachys,  Euphorbias, Gaura, Schizostylis and masses of tulips and tete a tetes. The wonderful little daisy, Erigeron karvinskianus, has been planted where it will tumble onto the sandstone paving and soften the edges, happily flowering from March to November.



Different grasses were used to give some movement and winter structure – Stipas, Pennisetum, Anemanthele and Hakonechloa.  Trachelospermum jasminoides and Sarcococca for evergreen scent.




Timbers from the house were used to retain a low bank and the slim, Hornbeam hedge which screens the cars.

There are ideas to re-use the timber of the old felled, ash tree, to make a seat.






Design Case Study Broadmayne

Design Case Study Broadmayne

click the link below to read more about this garden and see the construction, in the Purbeck! Magazine article.
Garden Design in Purbeck 

Once described as a ‘Gentleman’s Residence’, this 1930’s brick house has been brought firmly into the 21st century with new bathrooms, under-floor heating, crisp furnishings and an elegant, spacious kitchen/dining extension.

Now it’s time to look at the garden.

Southdrove ObjectivesObjectives

To connect the clean lines and stylish interior of the house with the garden, with an easy flow between them.  Maintenance must be low and there should be plenty to see, even in the winter.

Usable, level space is needed for entertaining and there is currently a difference of well over 3 metres between the highest and lowest points in the garden – and did I mention the goldfish?

An irregular and uninspiring pond is home to the fish, but its position seriously affects any new design, so requires some thought.  The design solution is to remove the pond and build an elegant, rill which will curve around the circular deck and the entertainment space that leads from the garden room.

The Style

I love Kim Wilkie’s work.  His sensitivity to the bond of history between man and the land, reflects in the calm, flowing shapes he uses and the way his designs fit naturally within the landscape.  There is a strong Wilkie influence in this design.

Southgrove TerracesExisting Terrace

Adjacent to the Garden Room, the terrace is pinched and narrow, creating dead-space.  The rockery type planting will go and this area will be pushed back and extended in a graceful arc, mirroring the curves of the new grassed terraces and the rill will connect the two.

Middle Lawn

This will offer space for entertaining and setting up a small marquee, connecting to a lower level by means of a mound, crowned with a sculpture or other art installation.  Sweeping grass steps will lead down to the third level where there will be a circular, sunken garden and fire-pit.

Southgrove Kitchen ExtensionKitchen/Dining Extension

The steps shown are narrow and in the wrong position, so they will be filled in.  We’ll build new, wider ones with sweeping curves and centre them with the kitchen bi-fold doors.

This will form a relaxed, natural stroll from the kitchen down to the sunken garden, to catch the early evening sun.

The clients had previously purchased a large wooden swing seat at Chelsea, which looked even larger when it arrived in their garden and was difficult to place.  So part of the brief was to incorporate the seat into the design.  Its new home in the sunken garden works perfectly and compliments the fire-pit.



Southdrove Driveway

The existing drive is narrow and has an unexpected kink which tends to catch you unawares.  This will be widened and lit with sequential light sensors.


Prairie style planting from a palette of perennials and grasses with an underlying structure of clipped box and small evergreen shrubs.

February and we start the build

The existing lawns have been sprayed off, however, unrelenting rain has not allowed construction work to begin as yet.

We’ve had some glorious sunshine as well as more rain and it’s the first day of March tomorrow, but as I type this, it looks as if it’s going to snow and it’s very cold!

Small Town Garden

Semi-detached Town House

Sloping Town Garden, approximately  20m x 11m

Analysis  and Problems

Little usable, level space and no entertaining/dining area.  One retaining wall situated too close to the back door, making the space feel pinched and unwelcoming, with narrow concrete steps leading to a slippery grass slope.  Few plants of any note apart from a very beautiful, mature holly tree.  Plenty of sun on the higher areas of the garden but nowhere to sit so it can be enjoyed.  Charming, small, brick and tiled building that was once the privy.


We demolished the wall and constructed another a metre further back. This created not only a new sunny, paved area for al fresco eating, surrounded by colourful planting, but also a charming shady corner at a lower level for ferns, hostas and acers.

We added two sets of wide steps and another retaining wall, thus creating the third level of the garden. Here, a rectangular lawn gives simple, uncluttered space leading to a small vegetable garden delineated by espaliered pear trees and fruit bushes, partly enclosed by low box hedges. This is a particularly lovely spot to sit and enjoy an early morning coffee, as it catches the first rays of the sun.

The open areas of the garden are framed with herbaceous borders designed to provide high colour in summer, with architectural seed heads and silhouettes through the winter. Hellebores and snowdrops do particularly well in this garden and are the first to flower in early February.

The holly tree was neatly clipped and is  the main focal point of the garden.  Hung with bird feeders, it  attracts long-tailed tits, sparrows and the resident robins and wrens, all protected from any cruising sparrow hawks, by the holly canopy.

Country Cottage garden

Country Cottage

Long, Narrow Country Garden

Built when Cavaliers and Roundheads were rampaging the countryside, this pretty, thatched cottage with its long stretch of garden, could tell many a fascinating tale!

Analysis and Problems

Partially, over-looked by the neighbouring property, the garden is narrow, over 30 metres long and very typical of its time, but with high laurel hedges taking precious space and blocking the views. The narrowness is emphasised because one can immediately see right to the end of the garden – there’s no mystery or hidden corners, nothing to spark the curiosity.

The existing borders contain some nice plants , but are random shapes, dotted around the lawn,  making it difficult to mow and giving a cluttered look.  Although it’s shady close to the cottage, it becomes  progressively sunnier towards the far end, with views that could be revealed, but there are no paved areas in the sunny spots, to place a table and chairs.  Lovely, mature laburnum.


The laurel hedges were removed, opening up space and far reaching views of the surrounding hills and valleys.  We simplified the planting, by removing  the dotted island borders and re-shaped the straight borders running down the sides of the garden, giving them curves and swirls and filling them with gorgeous country flowers.  Now they beckon to you and say, ‘step this way and see what’s around the corner!’

The length of the garden was divided by a sturdy, timber arch and trellis, planted with roses, clematis, honeysuckle and star jasmine – suddenly there is a curiosity and a reason to walk through the arch to see what lies on the other side. Three, white-barked birch trees planted close together screen the property next door, with ferns, violets, wood anemones and hellebores planted underneath.

Unexpectedly, a small, adjacent piece of garden became available and was snapped up by the owners.  In the newly aquired space we built a wild-life pond and linked it with planting to an old apple tree, which although gnarled and not producing the best apples, has spectacular blossom in the spring.  Bees and butterflies can’t resist the flowery banquet and make it a delightful place to spend a summer’s day.

Now, a walk in the garden is a gentle meander through luscius planting, with unexpected seats and jardin trouvee, brought back from France by the owners and re-homed in Dorset..


Prize Winning Small Town Garden


Step from your lovely new home into a secluded, peaceful oasis of plants and dappled sunlight, the perfect place to enjoy a freshly ground coffee with the Sunday papers, maybe a lazy lunch or a candle-lit supper with friends.

We were far from this idyll, with a few concrete slabs making a utilitarian path and some turf, as our starting point, but that was the exciting part – it gave us a blank canvas!


The garden must include an entertaining space large enough to incorporate a dining table seating ten people.  A pond with a bridge, masses of plants, lighting and the garage at the far end of the garden must be screened.


We separated the garden into two distinct areas of roughly one third and two thirds.  The french windows open onto a dining area of natural stone paving, under a chunky, oak pergola encompassed with raised beds and a simple, stainless steel water feature.  With festoons of climbing plants this is an enticing area,  whether for morning coffee with early shafts of light filtering through the vegetation, or el fresco suppers on a warm summer’s evening.

A small lawn reinforces the lush, greenness of a plants-woman’s garden and leads through an arch to the upper level.  Here it opens out to a secret garden, edged with trees and bamboo, tall grasses and strong architectural plants, teeming with butterflies and bees in summer and all focused on the pond, complete with bridge.

Fran and David were very ‘hands-on’ people and Fran wanted to do the actual planting herself. So I gave advice on the right structural plants for the different areas of the garden and together we brain-stormed, to devise a plant list which has matured and flourished providing the perfect retreat.

David’s interest in pre-historic creatures shows in the ichthyosaur we integrated into the design. The contrast of a stone monolith and contemporary water feature, heighten the atmosphere and at night, subtle lighting amongst the plants gives a fabulous, interplay of shapes and shadows.  We had created the idyll!

We were delighted when the garden won the C G Fry’s “Most Outstanding New Garden” award.

Large Country House Garden

This has been a favourite garden of mine for many years now and all the early planning and re-designing has proved a great success.  Within the two acres of garden the woodland area is allowed to look after itself and the violets, snowdrops, wood anemones and bluebells love it!

The lawns provide a lush, green canvas which is the perfect back-drop for the succession of perennials, bulbs and shrubs that offer so much colour and scent throughout the year.  The deciduous grasses are still flowering and with a dusting of early morning frost, they’re breath-taking; soon they’ll be cut down and the camassias, tulips and daffodils quick to fill their space but by late spring the fresh, bright green shoots of the grasses will be re-appearing.

The first camellias are out and will be followed by drifts of blue and mauve crocus and dwarf daffodils, emerging from winter hibernation under the lawns.  And so the seasons continue, each year bringing with it new challenges and ideas, 2015 is likely to see the addition of some small evergreen shrubs and fresh bulbs amongst the established borders and they’ll be a health check on the mature trees, surrounding the gardens.

“Moving from central London back home to Dorset, we were initially overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work needed in the garden to put right some years of neglect. Our knowledge of gardening is pretty basic: our chosen role is largely limited to the ride-on mower, some bits of pruning here and there and enthusiastic support to Sarah.

We agreed with her a staged programme of overall design, detailed planting and general restoration and everything came together to plan and in budget – all down to Sarah’s enormous expertise and skill, to her sheer hard work, and to her keen awareness of achieving value-for-money.

Recently, Sarah arranged for Adam Carter of Green-Side turfcare to do some renovation work on the lawns.  The results were superb. When we look at photographs of the garden we took over, we’re amazed at the improvement.  It is a tremendous pleasure to work with Sarah; we strongly recommend her.” Kerry & Lorraine Paddison, West Stafford

Wildlife Friendly Garden

Badgers and Deer Garden

This garden comes into its own in spring; although we have greatly extended the flowering period and there is interest all through the year, in spring it looks amazing! There are snowdrops everywhere and the hellebores, one of my favourites, are gorgeous.  Dark ones and pales ones – pinks, purples, creams and yellows – some with freckled faces and others plain, just lovely.  Already the firm bumps of the new ferns are inching upwards, ready at any moment to unfurl like bright green sails and so too, fragile little anemone blanda patiently waiting their turn.

A true country garden is a beautiful thing, but often it’s shared with many others and not just humans.  Having several acres, part of which is SSSI and backing onto untamed Mod land, this garden is the playground of sika deer, badgers, squirrels, grass snakes and an abundance of bird-life, all of which had to be taken into account when re-designing the garden.

The deer are a delight to see but do the most damage, fortunately the owner loves box (Buxus sempervirens), it is truly deer proof and we have used much of it in a variety of shapes and sizes: cubes, pyramids, onions, spheres, low edging around the herb garden and taller hedging to separate the parking areas.  When really hungry, or just if the fancy takes it, a deer will eat almost any plant but in addition to those mentioned, we have had continued success with what we have found to be these truly deer-proof plants:

box, daphne, bay, mahonia, choisya, euphorbia, broom, phlomis, penstemon, lavender, most herbs, allium, pachysandra, bluebells, agapanthus, teuchrium, dicentra, winter jasmine, brunnera, sweet woodruff, fennel, blue cammasia (they eat the bulbs of the white ones) salvia, perovskia, ornamental grasses.

The client is a keen and excellent cook and the herb garden with its striking bay tree centre-piece, supplies fresh herbs for the kitchen, as well as being a focal point for the terrace. To date, the deer have not added herbs to their own cullinary delights!