Soil and location. As we have already seen, soil types play a large part in the choice of plants for a garden. The most sensible ones to choose at first are always those that will do naturally well in a particular locality or type of ground – for example, tamarix does nicely in a seaside position where some conifers would turn brown with the salt. Bay trees, being not entirely hardy, are likely to do better outside in the southern counties of Britain than the north. Rhododendrons thrive in acid peat, but sicken on chalk, while clematis and pinks would much prefer such alkaline conditions. It is certainly better, and cheaper, to have things growing healthily, even if perhaps they are not what you have chosen for preference.
Human nature being what it is, however, you have probably got a burning desire for something which would normally be quite unsuitable for your plot. It is possible to alter conditions to please your pet fancy — boggy areas created with a hose and buried polythene, dry areas made by draining a naturally soggy piece of ground, screens provided round wind-hating plants, winter protection given to tender treasures, alkaline soil removed to make way for peat beds for acid lovers, etc, etc. But these are the first things to suffer when something occurs to upset the status quo. An artificial bog may dry out in a drought, when restrictions are placed on watering from the mains supply; you may forget to provide winter protection for your temperamental prima donnas (or be in hospital, or working away) and in the event of a particularly severe frost, you will probably lose the lot.
Artificial habitats can be extremely expensive, not to say time consuming, to build and maintain, and are often very much less successful than the so-called experts would lead you to believe. Far better, for a start at least, to ask yourself What am I stuck with?’ ‘Is my soil naturally clayey, light, peaty, etc?’ ‘Is my site sheltered, or is there nothing between it and the Urals?’ ‘Have I boggy areas, or is the whole plot hot and dry all summer?’ ‘Have I a damp and dark backyard, two acres of loam, or a balcony sixty feet up, overlooking Waterloo Station?’ Then choose suitable plants accordingly
What do ι want? Unfortunately, because of the limitations and restrictions already described in this chapter, what you actually want comes a long way behind what you have already got or, more accurately, in the case of time, money and ideal conditions, what you have not got. Perhaps it would be more accurate to head this section, ‘What do I want that I can have?’
Although gardens are not divided up nearly so much these days into clearly defined areas and features, mainly because of the diminishing size of the average domestic plot, much of what you’re likely to want can still be separated into different categories.
Here is a list of the sort of things you are likely to find, or want, in a modern garden. In the next chapters they are described in some detail to give you an idea of what you could be letting yourself in for.
Boundaries: Walls, fences, hedges, screens.
Surfacing: Patios, paths, paving, drives.
Flowering and other plants: Annuals, biennials, bedding plants. Herbaceous perennials and herbaceous borders. Roses. Trees. Shrubs and shrubberies. Bulbs. Climbing plants. Herbs. Vegetables. Fruit.
Special features: Ponds. Water gardens. Bog area. Acid gardens. Pergola and arch. Greenhouse and frame. Shed and summer-house.