When designing gardens, it’s tempting to rip everything out and start again with a blank canvas, but as our interest in sustainability continues to grow, there’s been a move towards recycling existing features, including plants, into new landscaping.
Designer Rachel Bailey agrees. ‘Apart from not taking out something that is otherwise capturing carbon, supporting biodiversity, and regulating soil water for example, you cannot easily replace the maturity of these plants in a garden or buy the character that has been honed through decades of growing in that location’ she says.
Deciding what to keep and the value of a plant versus the design constraints, requires both horticultural and design skills. Attractive mature trees are top of the list of plants to keep as they offer so much environmentally and aesthetically. It might be tempting to remove a tree that’s in the wrong place, but it could take twenty or so years to grow another beautiful acer or cherry for example – and they are expensive too. It might even encourage a more creative design solution to incorporate existing specimen plants.
When faced with an overcrowded area of shrubs, edit out those that have grown too leggy, are unhealthy or don’t fit with the aesthetic of the new garden. Some can be moved or renovated by hard pruning or shaping, such as creating a multi stem shape from a mature shrub or training a rose against a wall.
When it comes to perennials, bear in mind all the seasons and try to use lovely ground cover such as carpets of primroses or naturalised cyclamen as they will take years to replicate. While this approach can sometimes be more labour intensive, it’s a much more environmentally responsible option and will add more character and should save money too.