Thankfully even at the Chelsea Flower Show most gardening trends tend to last more than a year and it often takes a while before a fashion really sets in, which is a relief, otherwise by the time the feature is in and the plants grown, it would be time to uproot it all and start again. So we can relax, follow at our own pace and choose long lasting, workable ideas to adapt to our own spaces. What's hot in the garden this season then?
Still wild about wildflower meadows
Yes, soft pastoral scenes and drifts of meadow style plants are still with us, but heading towards the Woodland edge, where Foxgloves, Primroses and Wood Anemones spread prettily under trees and shrubs. This style of gardening has a romantic appeal and summons ideals of nature conservation and relaxation all in one patch. It appears to be low maintenance, but as with many things that look effortless, there is more to it than meets the eye. Woodland edges have a distinct season, and meadows, well, meadows are another thing altogether. There are annual meadows, perennial meadows, meadows that contain spring bulbs or those that flower in summer, native or prairie style plantings, all requiring a different management and mowing regime. In fact the more you look into a meadow, the more you begin to see that it's not just about letting a patch in your garden run wild. If only.
Be very careful when choosing wildflowers for the garden too. Cow Parsley and Wild Garlic are gorgeous to look at in the hedgerows and along woodland paths (and artfully positioned at Chelsea), but they are rampant invaders that will swamp cultivated plants and take over the garden in no time. As a starting point though, allowing some areas of grass to grow longer than others, welcoming daisies and other lawn 'weeds' will benefit the wildlife in the garden. And if you have tidier areas around it then the wildflower patch will look deliberate and not as if you've just neglected the garden...
Edible hedge anyone?
Bring hedgerow harvests to your own back door by growing fruit and nut producing plants along your boundaries. Native plants are the easiest and there are plenty to choose from: Damson, wild Pear, Hazel, Crabapple, Blackberry, Elderberries and Sloes for starters (or for pudding). A productive hedge will never be as neat and tidy as a formal, well pruned one, because you will need to allow the plants to produce flowers and fruit, but if it is well managed it should look attractive - and bountiful. Growing fruit in general is tricky. Not because fruit producing plants are that much harder to grow, but because every creature that stalks or flaps around in your garden is partial to a scrumping session - birds, rabbits, squirrels, mice, even badgers (they go mad for strawberries) will imagine that you have kindly grown these tasty treats especially for them and will help themselves, usually before any of it gets near to being ripe. There are two options here. Net it (very carefully though, as you don't want birds caught up in it), or preferably, grow enough for everybody to share.
Living roofs have been all the rage, and now it's walls that are in the ascendant (or descendent, depending where you're starting from), coming alive with climbers and even pocketed vertical planters that can be slung from the tops of walls. Using vertical space is a great way to garden if you're short of space, or want to disguise an ugly feature like an oil tank or shed (if you haven't yet traded it in for a Shepherd's hut - see below). Climbers can also be great grown through (robust) shrubs, especially those that either flower at a different time or not at all. Climbers grow up trees in woodland situations in the wild, and feel no need to waste time growing leaves at lower levels, so they may need careful pruning, if you don't want them to look straggly with all their flowers growing right at the top of the plant, out of sight, or in next door's garden.
We often overlook texture when choosing plants and go for obvious attractions like flower colour, or scent. Touchy-feely plants are catching on more widely and the way a plant feels to the touch, or looks as it rustles in the breeze will bring an added dimension to the border. Grasses are great - try Stipa tenuissima, or the quaking grass, Briza media within the border and you will want to bend down and run your fingers through it. Or try the soft, felty leaves of Stachys byzantina (Lamb's ears), or the peeling glossy bark of Prunus serrula and the paper bark maple, Acer griseum.
Until recently the range of grow-your-own vegetables on sale in most garden centres was restricted to a limited range of robust, uniform, reliable - and quite often boring - crops, more suited to being grown by farmers for supermarkets, than for home growers searching for other qualities, like flavour, texture and juiciness. Many old fashioned veg varieties look good in the patch too - try purple beans and peas, blue leeks, ridged courgettes and crops like Scozonera, pattypan squash, Yacon (like a potato) which are virtually unbuyable. So now we can hark back to simpler days before mass production and be as unique in our veg choices as we are in the rest of our lives.
...and Retro furnishings
Whether it's the economic climate, the eternal search for comfort in things lost, or just the desire to make our vintage veg and old-fashioned roses feel at home, there's a continuing trend towards all things reassuring and rustic. Shepherd's huts, old caravans, artisan huts in many (muted) shades are still very popular, as are careworn chintzy cushions and tablecloths, retro china and make do and mend, mismatched chairs, tables and other paraphernalia (rustic birdcage anyone?) Inside the house the themes have become a little sharper, so perhaps there'll be a cleaner, (but still reassuringly retro) look outside. There are lots of Angie Lewin style prints and copies of Lucienne Day/Festival of Britain patterns around featuring seedheads and umbelliferous plants. Umbellifers are among my favourite plants and combine the best of the meadow look with a more cutting - and long lasting edge. Hang a groovy pod seat among them and swing.
People are gathering together in groups to tackle gardening projects and we seem to be more aware now of recycling and making the most of available spaces. The most organised form of this is, I suppose, gardening on an allotment, where the land is divided up (and allotted), but productive (and decorative) gardens are springing up all over the place in areas that were once neglected wastelands. Community gardens are thriving in America and now in Europe too - the extreme edges of the movement being called 'Guerilla gardening', where members 'fight the filth with forks and flowers', and throw seed 'bombs' at patches of waste ground, road and railway verges. It is illegal, but who's complaining? Perhaps we should all just fill our pockets with seeds and make meadows wherever we go.
To read more of Jo’s seasonal garden advice, plus cakes and recipes, visit www.hornbrookmanor.co.uk.Seize the opportunity to put your plant problems to Jo Arnell who will be appearing for the duration of Wealden Times Midsummer Fair as an expert on our ‘Any Gardening Questions’ panel. For more information, and to book tickets to the fair, visit www.wealdentimes.co.uk/events.