Tips on how to create a garden with year-round interest - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson.
Visitors to this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show will no doubt see spring flowers in bloom long after their natural flowering period, while late summer perennials and other flowering plants will be brought forward in artificial conditions to ensure they are flowering for the event.
But Arne Maynard, garden designer of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden at this year's show, says his aim is to create a usable 'gardeners' garden' that works through all seasons.
It's his second garden for Chelsea - the first won Best in Show in 2000 in collaboration with Piet Oudolf - and Maynard comments: "The garden is designed to be an inspirational yet achievable realisation of enduring elegance - something that can be grown and enjoyed in a real situation. It will bear fruit and provide flowers throughout the year, with each element having its time to shine."
Low-level topiary and pleached copper beech trees provide structure and beautiful colour all year round, as the copper beech leaves turn a stunning golden colour over winter.
Topiary box act as 'sentinels' or markers in the garden, drawing the eye to particular points of interest, while a specimen pear tree creates grandeur and will bear fruit in autumn.
Rich, deep burgundy, soft pinks and pale lilacs make up the colour scheme and plants which add a romantic veil during the summer months include roses, poppies (Papaver somniferum 'Double Black' and P. 'Double Lilac' are particular gems), as well as salvias, geraniums and dianthus.
"Creating a garden with year-round interest, for most gardeners, is a gradual process," he says.
"It takes time to gather plants that work well in the different aspects of a garden and to work out successful plant combinations.
"There are no rules governing how you create year-round effect, but there are a few things you can do to ensure your garden is constantly evolving."
He offers the following tips to create a garden with year-round interest.
:: Understand your garden. Look at its aspect, soil type and consider the effect you are hoping to create. Your choice, whether it be a neat, clipped look, or a billowy, natural feel, will affect your choice of plants.
:: Visit a local nursery or garden centre every month for ideas. Look for colours that will suit a particular area of your garden and include flowers and foliage. Look for unusual textures and differing heights. Check the labels to see what height and breadth the plant is likely to reach in maturity as this will determine where you place it in the bed.
:: Look for plants that seem to thrive in neighbours' gardens and for those that appear naturalised in hedgerows or fields. These are the building blocks for your planting scheme and are sure to do well in your soil.
:: Don't be afraid of trees. Even in small gardens, a well-placed tree can set everything else off. "I think all gardens should have at least one fruit tree, which can be trained or pruned to keep the shape neat," Maynard says. He loves using topiary in his designs and stresses that a well-chosen tree can add either a contemporary feel or bring a touch of tradition to a garden.
:: Try to keep your planting scheme tight. Either choose a colour scheme or a limited palette of plants, to ensure your garden feels like one whole space rather than a series of separate spaces. Repeat a few plants throughout the scheme to give the garden an elegant simplicity.
:: The 2012 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, The Royal Hospital, Chelsea, runs from May 22-26. For details, visit www.rhs.org.uk/chelsea. To buy tickets, call 0844 338 0338 Best of the bunch - Rose I know it's a bit early in the season to be championing roses, but the rose has been voted the nation's favourite flower in a survey of 3,000 people by Hozelock.
Some 35% voted for the popular flower, followed by daffodils and lilies at 16% and snowdrops at 10%.
Leading gardening writer and broadcaster Matt Biggs, who counts Rosa 'William Lobb' among his favourites, says: "Despite its traditional appeal, this quintessential English garden flower is currently proving its worth in contemporary designs and is certain to remain our favourite for many years to come.
"Climbers, ramblers, groundcover or hedging - there is a fabulous rose for every site."
While they may not always be the easiest plants and growers still endeavour to perfect disease-resistant varieties which will fight off black spot and mildew, there are so many varieties now that you don't have to confine them to dedicated beds but can grow them effectively in borders, alongside shrubs with attractive leaves, up trellises and in pots.
While historically roses have liked rich, slightly acid soil with a generous addition of organic matter plus regular feeds, some, such as Gallica, Alba and Rugosa roses, are tough and tolerant of poor, dry soils.
Nearly all roses need a minimum of four hours' direct sunshine a day during the growing season to do well and they prefer firm soil in an open situation with plenty of air circulation, but not in an excessively windy spot.
Good enough to eat... Asparagus The asparagus season may be short, with tender stalks being harvested in April, May and maybe June depending on the weather, but nothing tastes like home-grown asparagus spears, even if you might have to wait up to three years after planting to cut your first crop. But after that, this perennial crop can last up to 20 years.
If you don't want to wait quite that long, buy one-year-old crowns to plant in early spring and go for an all male F1 hybrid as male plants tend to be more productive. Asparagus prefers a sunny, sheltered site away from frost pockets and wind, which can snap off the mature fern. Make sure your soil is well drained and dig in plenty of organic matter beforehand. On heavy soil, the bed should be raised and mounded up to improve drainage.
Plant crowns into prepared 15cm (6in) deep trenches in rows, spaced 30cm (12in) apart each way. Cover them with 7.5cm (3in) of soil and water in well. Don't be tempted to cut emerging crowns as they appear, or you'll weaken the crown.
During their first two years of growth, plants should be left to form lots of ferny foliage, then you can cut down the stems in autumn, leaving 5cm stumps above the ground. The following year, you can harvest the spears when they are around 12cm long, cutting them off a few cm below soil level with a serrated knife. It's important to cut every spear, even thin ones, because this stimulates the dormant buds in the crown to grow.