Designs on a small garden

Words by:
Caroline Bingham
Featured in:
March 2020

Gardening celebrity Charlie Dimmock is coming to Downtown Garden Centre on 28th March to help celebrate their 20th anniversary. Charlie spoke to Caroline Bingham about her career and passed on some tips for homeowners and budding designers planning a compact garden.

This is a return visit for Charlie who opened the Garden Centre at Gonerby Moor, Grantham in March 2000. She was one of the team on BBC TV’s Ground Force at the time and since then has presented numerous gardening programmes in the UK and America. Charlie explained that she will shortly start filming the sixth series of Garden Rescue, where she and the Rich Brothers compete to design gardens on a budget for homeowners around the country.

Downtown are running a garden design competition as part of their celebrations (see side panel and page 29) so this was the perfect time to ask Charlie for some tips for anyone contemplating entering.

“What is the weather like with you today?” she asked. “Thank goodness,” she said after I had explained that it was bright, sunny and frosty. “We need frost to help set back some of those garden pests and everything is appearing a little bit too early. It will be a problem if we have more wintery weather in the next few weeks.”

The specification for the Downtown Garden Competition is to design within a 3m x 3m space. “We have completed more than 160 gardens now on Garden Rescue. I am a professional gardener rather than a professional garden designer but we are more or less level pegging – well, I think I have nudged ahead by four, on winning schemes. Three metres square is a courtyard size but certainly not unusual, especially in cities and new developments.”

The competition has a ‘shopping list’ of features to be included: planting, a garden building, garden furniture, insect friendly, a tree and hard landscaping – to the value of £1,000. How can that be achieved?

With her wealth of experience and knowledge Charlie had some excellent tips. “Begin by thinking how you want to use the space. We all have items to store in our garden whether that is wheelie bins or tools. There is a wide choice of innovative storage but be practical. Space is at a premium. Most people would like a seating and eating area. Splitting the area into two zones can create the illusion of more space as you walk between them and they can be subtly partitioned.”

Charlie explained that there is a delicate balance between over cluttering and including enough to make the garden seem generous and accommodating.

“Make use of vertical spaces such as fencing to create living walls of plants which can bring huge variety into the garden. A single colour scheme can unite the effect or there are tricks such as repeating a shape or material which will extend visual impact.”

A final tip was not to forget the wildlife and the effect of climate change. This is a condition of the competition too, where designs need to incorporate a bee or hedgehog hotel, perhaps a water feature, composting and definitely a tree. “Even in a small garden you can attract wildlife. Insect attracting species, miniature ponds and friendly habitats will soon bring visitors and residents. Work on soil improvement, adding plenty of organic material. This will give some insurance against the drier, warmer summers but also the warmer, wetter winters.”

When Charlie is not filming she tends her own garden close to the New Forest and has a busy schedule of lectures and appearances.

Charlie is also looking forward to the future plans for the Downtown Garden Centre as part of the Downtown premium designer outlet re-generation master plan – hopefully visiting in late 2021 to open a new look Garden Centre!

Charlie will be at Downtown Garden Centre from 12noon to 4pm and casting her eye over the competition entries as five schemes will be chosen to be built later in July at the Belvoir Castle Flower & Garden Show.

The gardens will then be transplanted at the winning locations – perhaps at schools, hospices and other public locations, or at winners’ own homes. Remember entries close 8th March 2020.

Do you have a tired outdoor space? Does your garden consist of a boring turfed square?

Do you have visitors, patients or staff who would benefit from an improved garden area?

This is an exciting opportunity for anyone – from the complete novice to keen amateur, professional garden designer or landscaper, or organisations that would benefit from improving their outdoor space – schools, colleges, charities, doctors surgeries or hospitals.

Full details of how you can enter this exciting competition appear on page 29 or you can visit:

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