Garden and landscape design

‘The time that Nicola and Lisa invested in exploring the brief and understanding our requirements, paid dividends. Their final design incorporated all the elements that we discussed, but in ways that we hadn't expected, and we were delighted with the end result’
Mr and Mrs S, Kent

A Warm Blanket for Spring

Now is the perfect time to spread a nice blanket of mulch on your flowerbeds to set them up for the coming seasons of growth. Not only does it make your beds look smart and well-tended, it serves many other functions as well.

A layer of mulch helps to retain moisture in summer, it really helps to prevent weeds from growing through, and it will remain through the autumn as a warm blanket over the winter to protect the roots of young and slightly tender plants.

For me though, the most useful function of a good mulch is to improve the soil structure and condition by adding organic matter. Organic matter contains humus, which is the dark, organic material that keeps soil healthy. Soil without humus is essentially only finely ground inorganic particles of rock. Humus serves to cement the soil particles together, and make soil nutrients available to the roots of plants.

In gardens, the humus content declines as we tidy up debris, and harvest plants, so we have to add organic matter to improve the texture and condition of the soil (also known as soil conditioners).

So what is the difference between these and fertilisers? Well fertilisers are essentially concentrated plant nutrients (similar to vitamins for humans), and are applied in relatively small amounts. They do not improve soil structure and humus content, and so need to be used in conjunction with humus-makers. Similarly, most humus-makers do not contain balanced nutrients and need to be used in conjunction with fertilisers if the soil is deficient. Look out for my next blog for more on fertilisers.  

Remember that a good quality soil will produce healthy plants that are more resistant to pests and diseases, and is particularly important in difficult areas such as under trees. Apply as a 2-3 inch layer yearly – the worms will gradually turn it. Types of soil conditioners suitable to be used as mulches:-

·         Composted green waste – My personal favourite. Suitable for most soils; slightly alkaline so not ideal for acid-loving plants (see link below for availability in Surrey & Berkshire)

·         Mushroom compost – Generally composted straw; good for sandy soil; alkaline so not suitable around acid-loving plants

·         Leaf mould – usually acidic so good for acid-loving plants; leaves need a couple of years to rot down before use.

·         Garden compost – free!

·         Well-rotted farmyard or stable manure - good for nutrients as well; farmyard manure best for sandy soil; stable manure best for clay soil; bit smelly!

·         Bark or wood chippings – best if pulverised but not terribly good as a soil conditioner


Shorts 10mm soil conditioner – ‘Reward’ – available for delivery to 30 mile radius from Bracknell

Featured plants: Tulipa ‘Shakespeare’; Narcissus ‘February Gold’; Buxus sempervirens; Anemanthele lessoniana (grass).

For more information on planning and maintaining your garden, email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Images: Harmony Green