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Designer Habitat

I'm not a very visual person. I can't see stuff jump from the paper into the real world at all. For me it's a case of trial and error, then asking someone altogether better qualified to tell me what to do. We've just gone through that experience with our garden. For those gentle readers who haven't followed the agonizing process of our new build, we have a spanking new "grand design" type of modern house. We have been, consequently, completely broke over the last year. Only now with some help from a friendly Building Society can we spend some money on the formal garden bit of the landscaping and some hard landscaping work. These elements have both been very interesting. We've already got significant meadow stuff going on, as you would imagine, and wanted something formal to contrast with the native planting we've done, as well as compliment the lines of the house. Furthermore, I want everything we do to be wildlife friendly. As far as I'm concerned there's no point having a garden if it's not packed with fauna as much as fauna. New formal gardenWe're probably not supposed to, but we've used two local designers. The first, Phil Brown, helped us with the meadow, pond and forest garden areas. These are now all in place and look great. For the "formal" bit we've had a plan from a friend, Louise Dowding. Louise has listened to the brief and come up with something simple and effective. Many of the plants arrived this week from Hardy's and I've been busy popping them in. The bigger stuff is coming from one of Habitat Aid's suppliers, R.V.Roger, in November*. What I like about the design is that it doesn't shout "wildlife garden" at you. The beds are formal, with a symmetrical planting scheme including easy to grow plants and interesting cultivars. There's lots of colour, and there'll be something in flower from January to October. That's not just important for us, but also for bumblebee queens and honeybees, who are often looking for forage on warm winter days, for example. There's also the mid summer gap to think about - when there's not much in flower naturally. There are a few plants in the scheme purely selected for their aesthetic appeal, but most of them are ace for pollinators too. There's a full list of the plants in the garden here. New gabion wallOn one of her visits Louise made an off the cuff remark about gabions. I love dry stone walls, to the extent I went on a course and built one to retain a bank in the front garden next to our parking area. They're a brilliant fusion of design, function and habitat. Our wall filled up with voles and toads, among other creatures. Sadly as it was my first effort, with slightly tricky stone, it looked rather er...rustic. Plus I didn't really have enough stone left over from the old house. You get the picture. So we've rescued the toads and started again, using gabions to give the wall a clean contemporary look. It looks fantastic. There's going to be a rather architectural wildflower mix going on behind it; the two should set each other off really well. Perhaps we're lucky because we have the space to plant trees and meadow areas, to say nothing of our wildflower roof. These work in perfect harmony with the more formal design features. It does strike me, though, that wildlife friendly gardens can look aesthetically clean and contemporary. We've let our hedges grow but keep them trimmed, and prune our fruit trees. We have nettle patches in hidden spots rather than letting them grow everywhere. In some parts we've used native plants selectively and in more formal planting patterns. Beds and swales are angular rather than forming naturalistic curves. We manage some areas actively to grow annuals, this year either cornfield annuals or phacelia. *both family run traditional British nurseries, about which more anon.