Whether you’ve got a sweeping lawn or a bijou courtyard, maintaining a garden can feel like hard work, especially when you may only live beside that patch of greenery for a certain portion of the year. Fortunately, there are professionals who can ensure your private, outdoor environment is as fresh and verdant as a Chelsea Flower Show exhibit, for when you need it most. Yet they, like the plants themselves, require a little cultivation.
Be clear about what you want, and when you want it.
David Forestier-Walker is the Director of Inarcadia Garden Maintenance, a British horticultural services company based in Chelsea, northwest London, which has been looking after the gardens of high-net-worth clients, from Royals to the international super-wealthy, for the past 27 years. Many of them are only in their residence a few weeks or months each year.
However, Forestier-Walker says that their gardens can still look exquisite, if the clients, or their staff, make it clear to him and his team exactly what kind of horticultural treatment is required.
“It’s great to know if they’ve got a keen interest in plants and horticulture, or whether they just want a nice-looking, perfectly maintained space,” he says. "Also, some people just want a garden to be visually impressive, while others might want to entertain at key points in the year and might therefore require seasonal colour specifically at those times.”
If you’re throwing a big garden party, are keen to show off rare rose varieties, or are only planning to be in town during the autumn and want to watch the leaves turn golden, then it’s best to brief your people a few months in advice.
Don't let your handyman plant your new palm tree
If offered the right fee, some landscapers will install the most extravagant plants, even if a plot, given its climate exposure and hours of sunshine, simply can’t support that sort of flora.
Forestier-Walker says he’s even come across ambitious homeowners who fall in love with a certain large, lavish tree or shrub, buy it, and then simply instruct their (untrained) staff to plant it in their garden.
It’s much wiser to rely on reputable professionals, and their accompanying technology. Forestier-Walker and company use software that can calculate exactly how much sunlight any square metre of ground is likely to receive during any given year, in any part of the world. Armed with this information, they plant accordingly.
“You might want oleander and olive trees, which look wonderful, but which really require full sun,” Forestier-Walker explains. “If you only get two hours of direct sunlight every day, then that’s not ideal.”
If you feel like doing it yourself, keep things simple
There’s no reason why you can’t try your hand too, though it might be wise to keep things simple. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) recommends avoiding bedding plants and plants in containers, both of which can become a time-sink for those who don’t want to spend hours with the garden gloves on. Likewise, climbers, which can easily get out of control, are best left to the green-fingered brigade.
“If you stick to perennials and bulbs, they’ll reliably turn up each year,” says Charlotte Petts, professional gardener and host of the Growing Wild podcast.
Petts says that an essential and easy job is to make sure the soil stays well fed. “Always focus on feeding the soil, as the soil is the life-giver to all plants. If you have healthy soil, you’ll have healthy plants.”
And if you go with the pros, remember, that human relationship is important
Forestier-Walker says he and his team try to gather as much information as possible – about the garden owner’s desires and the space itself - before they pick up their trowels. “It’s human understanding as much as it is horticultural,” he says. Recent changes in climate – with hotter summers and wetter springs - have made planning a little more challenging. Specialist gardeners such as Inarcadia can “get the plants to where they should be, thriving and looking good at the right times.”
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