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Down to Earth: With Robert Barker

Instead of making a raft of punishing resolutions, focus on improving your garden this New Year, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Starting a new year off with a handful of resolutions seems to be an odd tradition to me. Almost as soon as the blue fiery glow has evaporated from the Christmas pudding, many of us are greeted with the question “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” I suppose the reason I am so cynical about resolutions is that they are born from guilt and tend to be a list of things you ought to have done the previous year, instead of a list of things that you really want to do with the coming twelve months.

The beauty of owning a garden is it allows you to put the past behind you and, instead of creating resolutions, you can put your energies into thoughts and actions of what can be achieved now and within the coming year. If you are looking out of your window into a bleak garden, then set aside some time and plan for the phases your garden is going to experience.

The art of a well-designed garden is within the timing of successional planting: as one thing fades, something else comes into its own. A lot of people use bulbs and corms to add extra interest, which is a great idea and is something we carry out for our clients all the time, but a lot more can be done. Each season has star plants and, if you can include a few of these while making your planting scheme work together as a whole, then your garden will be transformed from a one trick pony to an all star thoroughbred.

Structural planting comes into its own in winter - stock shot(24507338)
Structural planting comes into its own in winter - stock shot(24507338)

A key element to my designs is structural planting; to avoid the winter bleakness I design my gardens to be as structural as possible. This creates a backbone for the garden, providing wonderful interest and has a beauty of its own.

Structure certainly doesn’t have to be something involving expensive hard landscaping. Within all of my designs I use hedging to create structure. If time is on your side, then hedging can be purchased at a small size relatively cheaply. Taxus baccata, Lonicera nitida and Euonymus ‘Green Rocket’ (as an alternative to Buxus) are just a few plants that can be incorporated into an existing border in the form of block hedging and topiary or used en masse as a large hedging structure.

A mixture of a few seasonal star plants, evergreen structure and patience and this time next year your garden will be lifting your spirits and make sure you start the year on the front foot.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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