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A Sense of Place

Picture of a English Garden

Tuesday, Aug 2, 2016

As a school who specialise in garden design courses, we know that planning a garden using native plants can be a really rewarding project, as it will not only bring wildlife to the area, but it will also give it a real sense of place. In the UK, native plants tend to be thought of as those plants, trees and shrubs which have occurred naturally within the UK since the ice age. One of the great things about them is that they are sustainable. Most native plants are perennial, have long root systems that will hold soil and cause a slow runoff, and have many other positive qualities that are really useful in landscape design.

If your garden landscaping ideas include the use of some native plants, then there are some important things to consider. Firstly, you will need to analyse the existing site and see what type of soil you are working with, i.e. sand, silt, clay or loam (a combination of all three). One easy way to see what you are working with is to get a moist sample and squeeze it – if it falls apart easily it is mostly sand and if it sticks together it is mostly clay. You will also need to assess drainage rates, fertility, oxygen availability and water needs. Again, an easy way to get some kind of indication of drainage rates is to dig a small hole, fill the hole with water and see how long it takes to drain. If it drains quickly, your soil is sand based, if it takes a long time to drain your soil is more clay based.

Successfully using native plants to create a sense of place in your garden will also require an understanding of the evolutionary changes that these plants have undertaken in particular light and soil moisture conditions. Woodland plants, for example, have an excellent tolerance for shade, whereas wet meadow plants prefer sunlight and wet soils. If your soil has poor drainage, you may want to work around that by installing raised beds and mounds to counteract this.

A good idea when working with native plants is to group similar items together. Plants from the same community will obviously have similar soil and water needs, and so they will be easier to look after as a group. From an aesthetic point of view, related plants naturally appear to belong together and so will really reflect a sense of place.

The structural bones of a landscape design scheme should be planned with a year-long visual framework in mind – so things like evergreen and deciduous trees are ideal. You can then fill in areas with plants of varying heights, different textures and transitional colours to add more interest. There are so many garden landscaping ideas to choose from that you may be spoilt for choice!

As any good gardener knows, gardens are not a static creation. Plants will grow, weeds may appear, and some plants may die. It is all part of the joy of gardening, and it is certainly never boring. If you undertake one of the Pickard School’s garden design courses, you will be able to create a good foundation in your garden, or your client’s garden, that you can build on for years to come.

For more information about the Pickard School of Garden Design, please call us on 020 8783 9658 or send us an email to