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Down to Earth: Every plant has a happy place

Every plant has a happy place. Find it and your garden will thrive whatever the seasons throw at it, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

You can never predict the weather, but you can assume that July is going to be mainly sunny and hot. You can also assume that in the month of July fans will sell out in shops, parks will be full of people stripped down to their birthday suits, there will be a lot of moaning about how hot it is (I certainly will be doing this: even though we only have a small sample of hot weather to cope with in this country, where there is shade you will find me) and you can bet that the popular topic in horticulture will be how can we deal with drought.

Every year without fail, after a few hot weeks the media springs into action advising which drought tolerant plants to put in our gardens. Inevitably this is followed by articles about how to deal with waterlogging in our gardens when the August, September and October showers arrive.

Like with most things the key is to put the time into researching what the conditions are like in your own garden and then plant the right plant in the right place. This I suppose could be summarized as accepting the conditions that you have and then working with them to create something that thrives instead of just survives or dies.

Sadly, however, acceptance is so often suppressed and papered over with a good helping of denial. I am not for one minute suggesting that I am immune to denial in my everyday life. In my mind I still have the same waist size as I did when I was 18, my hair is nowhere near as grey as it actually is and of course under my eyes there aren’t wrinkles but laughter lines. Yet in my industry, acceptance (in the conditions within a garden) is critical.

Frequently I have to explain to new clients that although their favourite plants are a lovely choice, they sadly just are not the right choice for their particular garden. Lavender in full shade, ferns in full sun, olive trees in a woodland setting are just a few examples of common requests that we receive at the start of a project.

I remember once creating a planting design for a couple in Harpenden only for them to explain that they wanted half of the planting design to be replaced with plants from a list that they had created. When I looked at the list in more detail every single plant was a house plant that would obviously die outside the minute winter arrived.

Observe, study and examine the conditions you have within your garden then adapt your expectations. The result will be a beautiful sanctuary; maybe not the exact sanctuary you first envisioned, but a sanctuary nonetheless.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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