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Create the perfect family garden with BBC Gardeners’ World Live’s Alan Titchmarsh

Create the perfect family garden with BBC Gardeners’ World Live’s Alan Titchmarsh
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Create the perfect family garden with BBC Gardeners’ World Live’s Alan Titchmarsh

Creating a garden that the whole family can enjoy is not always easy, but help is at hand from BBC Gardeners’ World Live expert, Alan Titchmarsh.  With the gardening season now in swing it is the ideal time to start!

“Your garden is not only a lovely place to enjoy the summer months, you can also have great fun as a family just creating it” says Alan. “Gardening is the stuff of life and from planning, to sowing and growing, the youngest to the oldest can enjoy it.  Much of gardening is common sense, so with a little bit of planning and some planting inspiration anyone can succeed.”

Here are Alan’s top tips to help your family get the best out of the garden:

First things first:
There are two things you need to think about before getting started: first of all sit down and discuss what everyone wants to get out of the garden.  The whole family should have a say (it’s a great exercise in family diplomacy!) and everyone should be able to have at least one thing in the garden that gives them real enjoyment.  If there are children involved, what would make them go out and really benefit from the garden - a hard area for ballgames, their own vegetable and flower patch or a sand pit?  The more generous you are with space for children in the garden, the greater the chance that they will grow up loving it. 

Secondly, take a good look at the conditions in the garden and choose plants that suit it – there is no need to waste money on plants that won’t grow well in the environment you have.  There are four key conditions to take into consideration:

Light – Which direction does your garden face?  North-facing gardens can be damp and shady because they get the least light; south-facing gardens will enjoy the most light and warmth; east-facing gardens will get the morning light but can be quite cool, while west-facing gardens will get the afternoon and evening light and are great places to sit when you come home from work!  If you have a sun-drenched garden, try growing Mediterranean plants such as olives, oleanders (in the south) and grey-leafed shrubs which will enjoy these conditions.

Moisture – Essential to growth in your garden, the moisture of the soil can be affected by local annual rainfall, time of year, soil type and the orientation of garden.  If you have moist but well-drained soil and a modicum of shade, try tree ferns which are spectacularly architectural.   Plants such as rodgersia, candelabra primulas and hemerocallis like damp soil; osteospermums, pelargoniums, ivy, rosemary and thyme are among those which are happy in drier conditions.

Wind –You need to be aware of the direction of the prevailing wind, as it will effect what you can easily grow.  As a general rule northerlies and easterlies are cold, while westerlies are warmer and wetter.   Perforated fences and hedges make better windbreaks than solid barriers such as interwoven fencing which can easily blow down and which, when they are standing, create turbulence on the leeward side.


Soil Type – There are six main soil types, clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy.  Knowing your soil type is important because even the most difficult soil can produce a good garden if it is enriched with organic matter such as well-rotted garden compost or manure.  For example, clay soils can be very wet in winter and bone dry in
summer but if you add organic matter and lashings of sharp grit the earth will not only be easier to cultivate, but you’ll be able to grow far more different kinds of plants in it as a result.


The stuff of gardens:
Once you know what you want from your garden and the conditions that you have, start thinking about choosing plants to fill the garden.  Decide between a formal and an informal design.  With formal planting you can create a more symmetrical structure using straight lines or circles and close-clipped box or yew hedging can be used to delineate beds and borders.  Informal planting is more relaxed and although it should have good lines the effect is much closer to nature.  Informal planting is great for kids and parents alike, as a few stray footballs won’t ruin everything!

When choosing plants for a family friendly garden avoid prickly varieties such as holly or berberis.  Try getting the kids involved, but keep things simple and rely on the children’s natural inquisitive nature.  They are likely to be keen to get their hands dirty, so give them the opportunity to plant their own seeds.  Choose the best spot in the garden, not the worst, bearing in mind light, moisture, wind and soil.  This way you’ll give them the best chance of succeeding so that they are not easily discouraged.  Choose large seeds like nasturtiums which can be pushed into the soil with a tiny finger. The rate of seed growth can be a slow process so while plants are coming up from seed, get the kids planting flowering plants such as pansies and busy lizzies, geraniums (pelargoniums) and French marigolds. Or try lettuce on a vegetable patch, it comes up very fast and quickly demonstrates the pleasure of sowing and eating!

To maximise the effort you have put into your garden try using plants that have a long season.  Penstemons are more elegant versions of the foxglove and are simply delightful. They flower from late June through to November and they cut very well so that you can enjoy the flowers indoors.  White, pink, red and purple-blue varieties are available.  Osteospermum are also a richly rewarding and can flower right into autumn in a variety of colours including peach, orange and yellow. Plant them in a sunny spot in well-drained soil for best results.  For a splash of colour go for simple summer bedding plants which you can buy straight away from your local garden centre.  Petunias and busy Lizzies (Impatiens) are ideal choices, and busy Lizzies enjoy a modicum of shade.

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