Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Make it Rural

by Hannah Stephenson

Garden designer Dan Pearson shows Hannah Stephenson how amateur gardeners can adapt his naturalistic ideas into their own outdoor spaces...

Ever wondered how to give your garden a real rural touch? Award-winning designer Dan Pearson may be able to help. After an 11-year absence, Pearson will be returning to work his magic at his sixth RHS Chelsea Flower Show by creating a garden inspired by Chatsworth in Derbyshire, focusing on the the more rural part of the estate.

His Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden will represent a small part of the 105-acre garden, inspired by the park's ornamental trout stream and Paxton's rockery, depicting an ornamental woodland animated by a naturalistic water feature.

All this sounds rather elaborate for an amateur gardener with a small plot, but Pearson says there are elements of it you can try in your own garden to give it a more rural feel.

"We often use water in small gardens to try to deflect surrounding noises that might be beyond the boundaries of the garden, like traffic, neighbours or pedestrians. Water is a good thing in urban gardens where you have a lot of background noise.

"In an urban garden with limited space, you might introduce water by having a little pool with a pump and water falling over a rock into the pool. That can be done in just a square metre."

Pearson is using colour quite freely in his woodland garden at Chelsea and is something he recommends to gardeners whose plot may be overhung by trees or oversized shrubs.

"You may have a predominance of green which can be contrasted with bright splashes of flower, but the flowers all have very small blooms even though they are bright."

Pearson will be combining tangerine orange candelabra primulas, P. bulleyana, which grow in wet conditions, with P. pulverulenta, a cerise pink type with a silvery reverse.

"Don't be afraid of clashing colours when you have enough weight of green elsewhere."

The garden will also have large elements, including rocks from Chatsworth, which are being juxtaposed with small, delicate flowers to achieve an effective change in scale.

"In a smaller space, it's always good not to be afraid of using large things like a simple piece of topiary, contrasted with plants with small flowers alongside it. Play with that change of scale. It allows you to inject a sense of confidence, like putting a lovely big sofa in the room, then just using a small print or motif on it which stops the piece being too weighty.

"The sort of plants you'd use alongside a simple piece of topiary would stop it from feeling too heavy. We're using things you can see through like umbellifers, not cow parsley but angelica and Ligusticum scoticum (Scotch lovage), which is like a miniature angelica, and some delicate grasses like Melica altissima 'Alba', which has tiny silvery flowers which make things shimmer and pick up the breeze."

Woodland planting which is easy to replicate includes evergreen ground covers.

"In shady settings and woodland gardens, often in the summer when things die down, you're just left with bare earth. When bulbs which have done well in the spring die out, so we use evergreen ground cover to support that space which otherwise ends up being something and nothing in the height of summer."

Pearson has used Tellima grandiflora with sedges and wild strawberries which will scramble about in the shade.

If you only have a patio garden, a piece of topiary might make a focal point, with wild strawberries in smaller pots alongside.

"You can also use blueberries in combination with wild strawberries for an edible pot. In our garden we don't have blueberries but we do have enkianthus, which are a close relative and also have a really good autumn colour."

Pearson's Chelsea garden features baby oak, field maple (Acer campestre), hawthorn, the Japanese snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus) - but if you are thinking of growing a tree in a small plot, choose one which will match the size of your space, he urges.

"There's nothing worse than having to prune a tree that gets too big or even to have to cut it down."

Save your leaves to make leafmould and mulch your new, naturalistic space every year, he advises. Growing ground cover plants will also protect the soil and keep it moist over the summer.

Best of the Bunch


Go into any garden centre at this time of year and the spring flower section will be awash with polyanthus in all the colours of the rainbow, from deep purple to red, orange, yellow and white. They are a stalwart of containers, hanging baskets and window boxes, paired with zingy dwarf narcissi, heathers, skimmia and ivy.

The polyanthus is the cousin of the wild primrose and should ideally be planted in the autumn for a spring display, although they are cheap enough to buy now to add colour to your containers. For a really vivid colour, check out the Crescendo Series, particularly its vivid red. Polyanthus like a sunny spot but will tolerate some shade and should be planted in reasonably fertile, moist but well-drained soil.

Good Enouth to Eat

Broad beans

If you have sown broad beans under glass, you should be able to plant out the seedlings now and at the same time sow more seeds directly into the ground as broad beans are among the few vegetables that will germinate in cold soil.

Ideally, plant them in rich soil which is free-draining, hoe regularly to keep the weeds down and only water if the weather turns dry. You'll need to stake tall varieties, securing string between the posts. Pinch off the top 10cm (4in) of stem when the first beans start to form to ensure an earlier harvest. And don't let the pods get too big or the beans will be tough. Good longpod varieties include Masterpiece Longpod, while Green Windsor has shorter, really flavoursome pods.

  • Remove shoots that have no live buds from summer-flowering clematis and cut back late-flowering clematis hard.
  • Prune tender climbers and wall shrubs if they show strong growth.
  • Remove winter protection from containers and top dress or replant overgrown or pot-bound plants, adding a slow-release fertiliser.
  • Sow dahlia seeds to germinate in gentle heat and prick out seedlings when large enough to handle.
  • Set out early lettuce sown under glass.
  • If you want strawberries early, partly cover your strawberry patch with cloches to bring forward the fruiting season.
  • Sow zinnias in a sheltered frame.
  • Rake the moss and thatch off your lawn.
  • Sow celery under heated glass. It should be ready for planting out in early June.
  • Harvest sprouting broccoli, the last of the Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard.

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