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Planning Retirement Online

Gardener's Diary            January

Gardener`s Diary is a regular feature of run by Rosemary Martin, who is semi retired.  She says anyone can enjoy gardening whether they have a large or small garden, can`t tell a dandelion from a daisy, or are aged 9 or 90… Here you will be able to see what jobs you should be doing in the garden month by month, get ideas for spectacular seasonal planting schemes, read previews on new plants and products, find out where to buy them, and get up-to-date news of forthcoming events and places to visit. 


For those of you that have never dabbled in the "black art" of gardening you will first need to get some basic knowledge from a good gardening book. You will find some within this article as examples...


But first an introduction from Rosemary...


I have been gardening now for about thirty years, long enough for my husband to know that it`s wise to bury his head in a newspaper when I get the secateurs out...  I don`t have a favourite style of gardening, traditional is nice but I also think the modern trends work well. Plants in my garden have to be resilient as they get moved around frequently, and my husband has been heard  to mutter  “I don`t remember that tree being there this morning..”

Hobbies have come and gone over the years but only gardening has endured, and now in retirement this column adds a new dimension to the hobby, and will hopefully help others find pleasure in this healthy and therapeutic pastime  ...  


Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife



Twenty first edition  - January 2003

May I first wish you a Happy New Year..

Mill_farm_layout.jpg (23059 bytes)I have been asked by Pam and Tony  - laterlife readers, to suggest a layout for a new garden. They will be moving into a new park home this June and have very definite views about what they want in their new garden. Tony has been very helpful and has sent me various photographs and sketches of the site (click on image to see full detail). He quite rightly states that park living is a fast growing lifestyle and has persuaded me that an article would be of interest to far more people than just him! 

Before starting any garden project, the clients should have an idea of the sort of garden they want and whether or not it needs to be low maintenance. The aspect and location of the plot should be taken into consideration and finally the budget. 

I have ascertained that Pam and Tony want a low maintenance garden without grass, but with a water feature, an entertaining area, a place to sunbathe and a shady area. Their main concern is the bund wall at the rear of the plot, which is ten feet high and, at it`s nearest point, is only ten feet away from the house. The front of the bungalow faces SSW and the location is on the South coast, half a mile inland. 

The plot is small and awkwardly shaped, but the first thing to be done in any new garden is the hard landscaping: walls, paths, paving and water features. Finally the planting will be done, which will soften the whole effect.    

Having been given all the important information, I found it relatively easy to design an area that gave Pam and Tony all the features they asked for, within a low maintenance attractive garden, which gives year round colour. 

Three options for camouflaging the bund wall.

  • Immediately in front of the bund erect 5ft high rigid pre-painted trellis, to enable climbers such as evergreen clematis Armandii to romp away.

  • For a natural boundary, attach netting directly on to the bund, for evergreen climbers to cling to.

  • Stylish reed or bamboo panels to draw the eyes away from the bund giving a modern feel.

Having contacted one of the the site Managers about the construction of the bund they have replied as follows:-

"The bund is now finished. Its construction is mainly 'Hoggin' with a top layer of compost bags. These can be planted with anything you like. The Environment Agency have said that their main requirement is root growth, so we shall be pleased for people to plant the bund with wild flowers etc., Ivy's and climbers would certainly grow on it."

The hard landscaping

I would recommend designing the garden with a view to possible disabled use in later years. For ease of maintenance there is to be no lawn, therefore the paving and patio needs to be of differing types, textures, shapes and colours, of the clients`choice. Gravel areas should be carefully sited so as not to impede the progress of a wheelchair, or trip an unsteady older person. Surfaces should also be lightly textured to allow for extra grip in icy conditions.. The boundary to the West of the plot and the front 20 feet could comprise a combination of walls pillars and trellis infill and would take advantage of the heightallowance of 5 feet for maximum privacy. To the West side of the house I would have a private sunbathing area, as the boundary walls will be high enough for privacy at that point and it has a sunny aspect . Ponds and water features are, in my opinion, romantic notions, the reality of which are sheer hard work. I have seen few ponds and water features who`s owners have cared for them longer than the first season. Bearing in mind the brief for a low-maintenance garden, I have therefore opted for a simple pebble fountain, which is also much safer for any possible visiting children..


An outside security light by the kitchen door would be appropriate for access in the darker times of year. (These can be a nuisance for some people if the beam is directed into a neighbour`s bedroom..) For effect whilst entertaining or on summer evenings, lights could be built into the barbecue/entertaining area, or even into the paving. There are some very good solar powered lights on the market and local DIY shops have a vast assortment. It`s easy to overdo the outside lighting - you don`t want an aircraft mistaking your back garden for a runway!

Planters, seats, barbecue and flower beds

In the North West corner of the plot I would recommend an entertainment area consisting of a corner raised flower bed incorporating a built in barbecue area. The low walls could be used for extra seating with cushion pads. Paths should be curving rather than dead straight and an arbour or small gazebo on the West boundary would provide added interest and shade. Natural shade would be provided by the bungalow and a seat could be placed in the area by the French doors. A couple of comfortable wooden seats, strategically placed, will add to the homeliness of the garden. Dot a few really nice pots and tubs around, more for decoration and bedding plants than for permanent planting (which would require too much watering in the summer months.) The use of groups of large stones or pebbles will add another dimension to the garden.  If steps down to the garden are required, I would recommend putting hand rails either side of them, for safety purposes. 

The planting

A small garden doesn`t necessarily require small plants. Often large plants will give an impression of more space. At home I have a smallish patio area that has been planted with plants such as tall but delicate clump-forming bamboos, Cordyline Australis (Australian Cabbage Palms)  purple and striped phormiums and Fatsia Japonica. It looks wonderful...

In the raised flower beds I would use coloured sages, variagated Vibernum Tinus, hebes, helleborus lividus and some small evergreen scented herbs such as Golden Marjoram.  A small area could be left out of the paving for a Chamomile lawn, which would give a cool, lush feel to the garden and compensate for the lack of grass. Some gaps in the paving could be planted with creeping plants to soften the edges.

I would recommend that Pam and Tony, being unfamiliar with plants, go to their local garden centre to choose these, enlisting the help of the experienced staff. All plant labels will give the eventual size of the plant, it`s care requirements, habit and preferred location. 

Due to the small nature of all the gardens within the park, trees would only be planted with much thought given as to eventual size, possible root damage to underground services, planning permission restrictions and neighbour nuisance. 

Keep the e-mails with your gardening problems coming


Some websites of interest to gardeners:- 


Alan Titchmarsh MBE, TV gardener, writer, broadcaster and thoroughly nice person. Just a few choice words to describe the peoples` favourite TV gardener. See his website....



Thompson and Morgan: 


A growing resource for gardeners worldwide. The site includes the international online seed catalogues, the young plants catalogue (UK only), the wholesale seeds catalogue, together with the award winning Germination Times and a host of other useful information.


Gardening is an important part of many people's lives. You don't have to give up gardening because of accident or illness, the onset of disability or the problems associated with growing older. The information on their website is designed to provide you with the information to Carry on Gardening.

Carry on Gardening was initiated by the horticultural charity Thrive and is funded by the National Lottery Charities Board.  It brings together information on easy ways of gardening gathered over 23 years by Thrive and research carried out since the early 1970s by Mary Marlborough Centre, Oxford, on tools and equipment for disabled and older people. Visit the Eden Project


The living theatre of plants and people
The Eden Project is a gateway into the world of plants and people. A meeting place for all to discover how we depend on plants and how we can help to manage and conserve them for our mutual survival.






Good reading:-


"The Yellow Book" contains information of all Gardens of England and Wales open for charity, and can be bought priced 5 from National Gardens Scheme

National Trust Gardens Handbook is 6.99 and the new edition is out in May  Telephone 01394 389 950 or see their website

RHS Garden Finder is 12.99 from Dorling Kindersley


Have a look at previous editions of Gardener`s Diary



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