Alan’s Q & A

I get asked a lot of questions from people wanting to know how to tackle their gardens.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions, I hope you find the answers useful.



Architectural plants like agave and outsize furniture can actually make a small garden appear bigger.

Q. How do you make a small garden feel bigger?

A. The answer to this question is simple – you make the layout incredibly simple.

The common mistake in a small garden is to miniaturise everything – make the paths smaller, incorporate a ‘gesture’ lawn, chose smaller plants.

The key is actually to do exactly the opposite and make everything BIGGER – plants, paving, grassing, fencing furniture…you name it.  If you’ve got a small garden, try it…I promise you, you’ll be amazed at the results.

Q. What’s the best way to remove weeds?

A. The most important thing to learn when it comes to weeds…is patience. Whatever you do, don’t be too hasty. For example, when you take over a new garden, don’t get ahead of yourself and get planting straight away, tempting as it might be.  Leave the beds for a couple of months and allow the weeds to grow – then getting rid of them is much, much easier.

Children love to be involved in the garden. Pic courtesy Maruqina
Children love to be involved in the garden. Pic courtesy Maruqina

Q. How do you make a garden child friendly?

A. Make sure you include a place to play that isn’t just a lawn; think fun, think mounds, climbing areas, exploring areas.

When choosing plants, think robust varieties like evergreen shrubs and avoid spikey plants like cacti and toxic flowers like foxgloves and laburnums.

Get them involved – give them a plot where they can grow their own plants and vegetables so they learn garden etiquette. But most of all, always remember that the garden should be for the whole family, not just the children.

Suburban gardens don't have to be boring.
Suburban gardens don’t have to be boring.

Q. How can I inject style into a typical suburban garden?

A. Be bold! The temptation is always to do what I call the washing machine – plant everything around the edges leaving a space [usually for the lawn] in the middle.

Be brave and plant all over the plot and be audacious.  I always steer clear of bedding plants and go more for perennials, miniature trees and shrubs.

You can follow trends if you like but remember these will obviously date quicker so I tend to stay more traditional.

Use more paving to create less work in the garden. Pic courtesy Pimpinellus
Use more paving to create less work in the garden. Pic courtesy Pimpinellus

Q. What are your tips for creating a low maintenance garden?

A. If I’m being really honest, there’s no such thing as a low maintenance garden. Most people think lawn is easy but in fact it’s not as you’ve got to mow it week in week out. And if you want it to look perfect, it takes a lot of weeding.

Think more paved areas but don’t just replace the lawn with gravel – think more creatively about the space.  And whatever you do, DO NOT use plastic grass.  If you want a lovely garden but don’t have the time to look after it, my advice is to employ a good gardener.

Inspiration for garden designs is everywhere
Inspiration for garden designs is everywhere

Q. What influences and inspires your designs?

A. I get my inspiration from everywhere and anywhere…architecture, the landscape, nature, films, train journeys, trips to the seaside in the car.  The best thing is to always have your eyes open and drink in what’s around you.

When it comes to private clients, I get inspiration from the property that’s attached to the garden.  Think borrowed landscape…what’s around, what’s in the distance – shapes, patterns, materials, trees, planting.

When I’m gardening, I always think contextually, too.  So I’d design a flowery cottage garden for a city space or an 18th Century garden for a modern house.  It’s horses for courses in my book.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be boring with your design.