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Ask Joe Swift a garden design question

Hi guys,

I'm part of the Gardeners' World editorial team and I'm currently working on a new magazine series with Joe Swift where he'll answer the most commonly asked garden-design questions – in the March issue he's tackling awkward shapes and spaces. 

I'd love to have the input of Forum users, so please let me know on this thread if you have a specific garden-design question that relates to an awkward space or shape. Perhaps you have a tiny plot, maybe your garden is shallow and wide - whatever your problem space, please let me know.

Joe will answer the most common questions, although I'm afraid a personal reply service won't be available. 

Many thanks,





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     This isn't an awkward space as such but is awkward in terms that it is a new garden (to us), needs some flowers an some life added to it but I have 3 boys who play football, rugby and generally wrestle around the lawn every day.  How can the two work alongside each other?  Borders? Raised beds?  It's west facing.  On the other side of the garden is a bed with apple trees and woodland type plants underneath.  Thanks 

  • chickychicky Posts: 10,400

    I've got quite a steep bank I'm not sure what to do with ......about 12foot high and sloping sharply.  Would love some ideasimage. Thanks

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,989

    Our back garden is square - about 12m x 12m - and it's very hard to get any sense of distance into it - also to make a hidden 'utility area' for compost etc, as doing that  seems to shorten the garden. 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • a1154a1154 Posts: 1,092

    I have a flat triangular bed between the drive and the hadge/next door property. I have had a couple of attempts and making something of it, but failed and it looks really dull and boring. Its the first thing visitors see so i would like it to look nice. 

  • JIMMMYJIMMMY Posts: 241


    Ask him how "HE" would design and work an allotment !

    I remember when he was messing about on his a few series ago and an old chap "TRIED" to give him some useful advice, his reaction and reply was ,embarrassing!


    This is not PMQ when some friendly poodle asks the PM some stupid question to waste a few minutes!

  • maureen60maureen60 Posts: 193
    Smallish back garden, west south position. On the north facing side I have camellias and a magnolia stellata.

    When it's sunny, the magnolia casts a lot of shade, should I prune it, the height is about 15 feet?
  • WonkyWombleWonkyWomble Posts: 4,477

    Hi, I have two raised manhole covers in my garden, these need to remain accessible but are a trip hazard as they are along the path. There is no option of moving the path as there is a raised terrace along side the house. 

    Do you have any thoughts of camouflage for these eye sores please?


     The second manhole is by the gate and exactly the same but no soil around it.

    Any suggestions greatly appreciated,

    Many thanks, Wonky

  • I have a plastic baker's tray which is about the right size, and with a lining would make a pretty mini raised bed that could still be moved if need be. If you could get hold of something similar it might help with your problem. Some garden centres have rectangular gravel trays that might be about the right size and if you made drainage holes they would be good for alpines, some of which could then trail over the sides.

    Also, where the terrace ends the path curves very slightly. If you could alter the line of the path just a little, over to the lawn side, it would make it easier to pass the manhole cover, this one at least. You could also plant something low growing and bushy close to the sides of the MHC to help conceal them.

     They are ugly things and not always easy to camouflage. Mine is right outside the front door, set diagonally half in paving and half in gravel, but level with both and nothing whatever I can do to make it 'disappear'!

  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,854

    I have two of these things in my front rectangle bed.  I grow heucheras and anemone de Caen and geranium macrorhizum in the soil around them so they flop over and disguise the edges and I put a big pot in the middle, planted with bulbs or trailing pelargoniums or petunias and an upright plant in the middle or some such according to season.

    I have another in the lawn to the side of the house.  Nothing to do there but build up the soil level so the lawnmower can go straight over.  It's in completely the wrong place to be a "feature".


    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • Abby2Abby2 Posts: 101

    I have a typical housing estate garden - short and wide! I feel really uncomfortable using my garden in the summer as I have very little privacy from the windows of the house behind. How can I create a screen without losing half my garden to trees or a huge hedge? 

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