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Pattern Maker

Achieving a garden that is pleasing to the eye year-round is a feat but not impossible

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By Franchesca Watson | March 22, 2017 | Gardens

Achieving a garden that is pleasing to the eye year-round is a feat but not impossible if you apply landscape designer Franchesca Watson’ s sage advice.

What do you do when you want to plant something impressive, that looks good year-round, and is simple and easy to maintain? I have recently been designing gardens for hotels where the year-round fabness is of vital importance; as it is for any entrance garden, be it public or private.

Take a leaf out of the all-time great garden designer Russell Page’s book and plant in patterns of hedges. His beautiful rendering (below) of this theme in the garden of the Villa Silvio Pellico in Turin is sublime, masterful and surprisingly modern looking too. Something that we can all aspire to.

Read how local and international designers add structure and instant drama to a garden by redefining how we use hedges here.

Before you start

There are a couple of things you need to make sure of. This effect is easier on flat land although I recently designed a sort of knotted-pattern garden on a slope for the entrance of Leeu House in Franschhoek. The next thing to consider is that it’s better if the whole pattern is in the same light conditions – you don’t want to have to change plants halfway through because half is in sun and half in shade. Then you need to select contrasting colour hedging plants, that is dark green and lime green, or green and grey, something like that. I like the textures to be similar but the colours to be quite different – this seems to give the best effect.

The right plants

Plants that I have found work well are Rhus crenata or Rhus lucida, myrtles of all kinds, small-leaved viburnums, Murraya exotica, coleonemas, plumbagos, Maytenus bachmannii if you can get it, ditto with indigenous box Buxus macowanii. A lot of unexpected things hedge really well. Escallonia ‘Apple Blossom’ or similar works well in sun and shade so is most useful if you have shadow problems – just don’t use Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ as it’s too upright. For contrast, the best greys are Rhagoda histata, Teucrium fruticans or westringia. I also like using Abelia ‘Francis Mason’ in the shade because then the leaves are lime green rather than yellow. Put the plants in small and prune them hard at the beginning so that they are thick from the base.

Accuracy and perfection

There are a couple of practical considerations. The effect depends on accuracy and perfection – this is easy if you set it up right at the start. Edge the beds with a soldier course of cobbles or bricks – I like my edging to be invisible and not a feature so I often use a metal edge. I use the sprinklers to set the height of the hedges – if you want the hedges to be 500mm high have the high-pop sprinklers installed exactly at this height.

Have permanent markers installed in the garden to guide the pruning – either a line of narrow brickwork on the ground (this is also useful to walk on when edging between the blocks for pruning), but it should be largely invisible and not a feature. The other way of marking is to install permanent steel rods at exactly the right height – this will guide the height and also the pattern lines. But all these markers should be invisible. You will need a small gap between the hedges both for practical reasons and to differentiate the two types of hedges. Once you have it sorted, it’s remarkably easy to maintain, but routine is important. And lastly, invest in a mechanical hedge pruner.

The Garden at Leeu Estate, Franschhoek

Featured image photography

Heidi Bertish

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