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Garden design inspo: love your outside space

For anyone worried they don’t have time to garden, be reassured the big trend right now is wild, untamed and sustainable. Which means you have far less to do than you thought.

Guest Author
Words by: Matilda Battersby


Whether you already have green fingers or are a tentative new gardener, there are plenty of ways to make your outdoor space beautiful.

From Mediterranean trees making an entrance to clever planting for the future, these are the gardening trends you need to know about right now.

1. Edible ideas

Every penny saved counts. And the experts are predicting that even those of us with tiny gardens or balconies will be growing plants we can enjoy eating as well as looking at.

From edible flowers and herbs to vegetable patches, kitchen gardens, fruit trees and gourd vines, you can nail this trend and put food on plates at the same time.

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“With the rising cost of living and the nation's increasing love of gardening, we're going to see a trend towards food growing,” says garden designer Harry Holding, who attends the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the charity School Food Matters. 

Both home gardeners and designers alike will be integrating veggies into gardens all across the country - be it the creation of tiny balcony boxes or large kitchen gardens, growing your own is on the rise. 

“There will be an increase in the use of 'edimentals', or ornamental edible plants, which really show that you don't have to sacrifice beauty to bring food into your home. 

“Beautiful, naturalistic and yet productive planting schemes will continue to grow in popularity as people choose to ditch the orderly rows of annual vegetables in favour of a softer approach.”

2. Wildflower lawns

Forget neatly striped, closely mown lawns, a huge trend emerging in the garden world right is all about ditching the traditional grass and going for something wilder.

The great news is wildflower lawns look beautiful and smell amazing, while protecting bees and other wildlife. Plus, you don’t need to spend your Saturday mornings mowing and rolling.

“If you really want a lawn, decide if it needs to be traditional grass,” says Alexa Ryan-Mills, whose Sadler’s Wells East Garden has exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

“Low mow wildflower mixes are perfect for sunny spots and can contain dozens of species, including wild thyme, lawn chamomile, wild marjoram, clover and ox eye daisy. 

“Bees and butterflies love it, it’s beautiful for us humans to look at, and it needs less maintenance and water than ordinary grass lawn. ⁠Opt for sowing seed or buy turf.”

 3. Drought-tolerant planting

This might not sound like design inspiration, but if you’re working hard to make your garden look great, the last thing you want is for all your plants and flowers to shrivel up and die.

The UK has recently experienced record temperatures and a lack of rain. As a result our gardens have been left looking at best thirsty and at worst scorched and dead.

The good news is you can help your garden to become resilient to increasingly fierce temperatures, while providing some much-needed shade for yourself.

Garden designer Alexa Ryan-Mills predicts the 2020s will see the arrival of more drought-tolerant plants hailing from the Mediterranean appearing in our gardens.

Martyn Wilson, an RHS gold-award-winning designer and RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibitor, has also seen an uptick in requests for gravel and drought-resistant gardens.

Plants that are ideal for this type of garden include: Lychnis coronaria (rose campion), Verbena bonariensis, rosemary, lavenders, stipa (ornamental grasses), Eryngiums (Sea Holly), Echinops, Cynara cardunculus, Stachys byzantina, Sedum, Fennels and Achillea.

4. Climate-resilient trees

It’s not only shrubs and flowers that have had a hard time with extreme temperatures and lack of rain, trees have also paid the price of climate change.

This year garden designers will be choosing hardy trees which can withstand fierce sunshine and a lack of rain, and survive the British winters.

After all, trees may well outlive us and we want them to be well established to deal with consistently hotter temperatures when we’re not here to water them.

“Some of our native trees really suffered in the hot weather recently,” says Alexa Ryan-Mills.

“Montpellier maple, native to the Mediterranean, are rare in the UK right now, but perfectly hardy and exceptionally drought-tolerant.”

There are many different species of trees resilient to dry, hot conditions. 

For smaller gardens, the RHS recommends spreading deciduous trees, such as Crataegus crus-galli (a species of hawthorn), the yellow-leafed Gleditsia ’Sunburst’ (Honey locust ’Sunburst’), and the conical coniferous tree with reddish bark, Juniperus scopulorum.

For larger gardens, heat resilient trees include the Eucalyptus, common in Australia and noted for its “snakeskin” bark, the “autumn gold” Ginkgo biloba, and various conifers.

5. Rewilding

We all need to do our bit to protect the environment. And right now that means our gardens will be getting wilder in the hope of attracting animals and insects.

Not making our gardens too pruned and perfect not only means less work for you, but it provides vital shade for bees and wildlife throughout the seasons.

“A big focus in the future will be rewilding our spaces so we can allow nature to take care of itself and encourage biodiversity,” says Shannen Godwin from J Parker’s.

“This will attract more wildlife, improve the amount of carbon from our soil but also help us to connect better with nature. 

“With this also comes the preference for native plants, which grow in harmony with the environment, according to the season. 

"They're becoming more popular because they're healthier, stronger and easier to look after, requiring less watering and fertiliser.” 

6. Smart drainage 

Drainage doesn’t sound like a trend to get excited about. But after dry and hot weather comes the rain, and this can result in flash flooding.

To protect your garden and help with water absorption where you live, you need to be smart about drainage.

The worst thing you can do is concrete over or pave your garden, which is known as “hardscaping.”

“It may not be sexy, but managing heavy rain so it flows into the ground rather than flooding our homes and streets will become really important,” says Alexa Ryan-Mills.

“It’s a huge problem in towns and cities, but all of us with outside space can help. Gardens that are more heavily planted with less hardscaping are increasingly becoming the trend. 

“This helps rain reach the soil quickly and means plants can take up that water.”

Sometimes hardscaping for patios, paths or car parking is unavoidable. But you can still opt for materials that are permeable so rain can drain rather than run off the surface. 

“There are lots of choices: gravel being the cheapest,” says Ryan-Mills. “Permeable block paving is great for front drives where cars need to be parked. 

“In this garden in Hackney we used golden compacted gravel to give a natural look and allow rain to flow through.”

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