Elizabeth Warner Garden Design - Design ~ Transform ~ Enjoy


19 Articles

Merriments Garden and Nursery

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Merriments Garden and Nursery in Hurst Green with a good friend and fellow garden designer.   It was a rainy day but that didn’t deter us and actually gave the garden a very fresh and lush atmosphere.  Umbrellas at the ready my friend and I drank in the hot vibrant colours that shone out at every turn.  I have to say that the herbaceous borders were stunning with inspirational colour combinations and textures.  There were beautiful specimen trees and shrubs as well as perennials and annuals many of which I had never seen before.  It was an education that’s for sure.

I remember  being a regular visitor to Merriments Garden and Nursery over 10 years ago when I lived in the local area.  The gardens have come on leaps and bounds since then probably because many of the staff I remember are still working there creating continuity.  It has recently gained RHS Partner Garden status and it’s not difficult to see why.  If you are an RHS member you can get in free on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.  The Daily Mail also chose Merriments as one of their gardens to feature in the pullout ’20 Enchanting Gardens you MUST Visit’ and I concur you really should visit if you get the chance.

Apart from the lush planting there are also water features including ponds and fountains, garden ornaments, sculptures, arches and pergolas. There’s also an area set aside for feeding the birds and wildlife that live in the garden.  There’s a bird hide where you can watch all the visiting garden birds feeding and going about their daily business.  The garden is dog friendly as well which is great if you want to take your dog out for the day and there’s a cafe serving home made lunches and cakes (dog’s not allowed).

The garden covers 3 acres and every corner is packed full of great ideas that you can literally take home with you because the nursery propagates and stocks many of the plants that you can see in the garden.  Trust me it’s very hard to resist an impulse purchase!  You really won’t regret taking the time to visit this gorgeous gem of a garden on the Kent/Sussex border.


Chelsea Flower Show 2017

This years Chelsea Flower Show 2017 did not disappoint, beauty, inspiration, controversy and creativity.  In fact all the right ingredients for a memorable and colourful event.  As a nation we are passionate about our gardens and landscapes so it’s little wonder that we all invest emotionally in the big bold show gardens, even if there were fewer of them this year.  There were however, many other pockets of perfection showcasing the best in horticulture, sculpture and crafts.  Here are a few of my favourite exhibits.


Nymans House and Grounds

by Liz 1 Comment

Nymans house and grounds dates back to the late 19th century.  It is currently owned by the National Trust and is situated in the village of Handcross overlooking the picturesque High Weald of Sussex.

Nymans house and grounds

Nymans house and grounds occupy 600 acres and were bought in the late 19th century by Ludwig Messel, a German Jewish immigrant.  Messel set out to develop the grounds for family life and entertaining with the help of his Head Gardener James Comber who stayed in his role for many years.  With James’ extensive plant knowledge at his disposal Messel formed Nymans’ plant collections of Camellias and Rhododendrons which were combined with Ericas (Heather), Eucryphias and Magnolias.  The cultivar Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ was named after his son Colonel Leonard Messel.  Many hybrid plants, some planned, others not, have their origins at Nymans some of which can be identified by the term nymansensis (of Nymans).  Eucryphia x nymansensis is a hybrid cross between E. cordifolia x E. glutinosa and is also known as E. “Nymansay”.  William Robinson, famous for his ideas on wild gardening also advised Ludwig on the establishment of the Wild Garden.

In 1915 Ludwig’s son Leonard took over Nymans house and grounds and at the request of his wife Maud ‘re-designed’ the rather dull Regency house into a Gothic/Tudor style.  In fact, Maud refused to move there until the house was more to her taste.  With her help the garden was extended to the north.  He and Maud also ventured on seed collecting expeditions to the Himalayas and South America.

The maturity of the gardens peaked in the 1930s and were frequently open to the public.  However, World War II saw a dramatic reduction in staffing levels and in 1947 disaster struck when a fire gutted the house, thankfully nobody was hurt.  However the house was left in ruins and only partially rebuilt later becoming the home of Leonard Messel’s daughter, Anne Messel and her second husband the 6th Earl of Rosse.

When Leonard died in 1953 Nymans house and grounds were the first ever to be willed to the National Trust including 275 acres of woodland.  Lady Rosse remained to serve as Garden Director.

More recently Nymans gardens were overwhelmed by the Great Storm of October 1987 and 486 of the mature trees were lost as were many of the shrubs.  Sadly the pinetum, one of the gardens first features was destroyed with only 3 specimens surviving to this day.

I’m sure that my visit to Nymans house and grounds is the first of many.  The gardens in the Winter are rich in structural interest with some beautiful examples of winter flowering shrubs.  I know that the gardens will transform in the Spring and again in the Summer and I can’t wait to see the beds and borders in full bloom.

WW1 Centenary Garden

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Winter Flowering Shrubs

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Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

There are many winter flowering shrubs that would happily brighten the darkest of days in the garden.  The winter months can be long, dark and cold not only for us but also for the plants in our garden, most of which become dormant.   However, there are some plants whose characteristics can make them valuable in the winter garden.  These may include features such as scent, flowers and berries.  Aside from the enjoyment we may get, winter interest plants often provide resources for our wildlife too.  Winter need not be a bleak season.   Design with the right plants and winter can be just as colourful and interesting as any other time of year.



Shrubs offer form and structure in the garden and many flower through the winter too.  Winter flowering shrubs can provide colour and sometimes fragrance when all other plants have become dormant in the garden.  These are my top ten favourite winter flowering shrubs.



Pyracantha rogersiana ‘Flava’

More commonly known as the yellow Asian firethorn this large arching shrub is evergreen and thorny.  Through autumn and spring it produces small bright yellow berries and clusters of creamy white flowers.  It likes sun or partial shade in any but a north-facing aspect and will grow happily in any soil as long as it is moist but well drained.  Expect an ultimate height and spread of 4m in 10-20 years.

Skimmia confusa ‘Kew Green’

This small evergreen shrub has a spreading habit and aromatic leaves.  It bears large clusters of scented yellowish-green flowers in late winter/early spring followed by shiny red berries on fertilised female plants.  Expect an ultimate height and spread of 1m x 1.5m in 10 to 20 years.  It prefers chalk or loam soil in shade or partial shade.  It will tolerate acid, alkaline or neutral soils in a sheltered or exposed position.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Otherwise known as oregon grape ‘Charity’ this upright bushy evergreen shrub will grow to 4m in height and spread.  In late autumn and winter it bears racemes of bright yellow flowers.  It can be grown in any soil that is moist but well-drained, in either partial shade or full sun.

Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’

The common name for this small evergreen shrub is bastard senna ‘Citrina’.  It will grow to an ultimate height and spread of 1m and bears pea-like fragrant yellow flowers in late winter and early spring.  It needs a sheltered position in full sun and will grow in any soil as long as it is moist but well drained.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’

This medium-sized shrub also known as the beautyberry is deciduous with an upright habit.  It will grow to an ultimate height and spread of 4m x 2.5m.  The young leaves are purple and turn pink in autumn and it’s berries are violet-purple appearing in compact clusters.  The flowers are small and lilac in summer.

Chimonanthes praecox

Also known as wintersweet or Japan all-spice this deciduous shrub has a bushy, multi-branched habit.  Its ultimate height and spread is 4m x 2.5m.  It can be grown against a wall.  The flowers, which are borne in winter, are highly scented and bi-coloured with the outer tepals being a yellowish-green and the inner tepals a dark reddish purple. It needs shelter and a south or east-facing aspect in full sun.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ AGM

This particular witch hazel is one of the more dense cultivars reaching an ultimate height and spread of 4m x 4m in about 20 years.  The shrub is deciduous bearing a profusion of scented spidery, sulphur-yellow flowers in January and February.  This shrub prefers acid to neutral soil and would do well in a shady woodland garden.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

This Viburnum is also known by the common name of arrowwood ‘Dawn’. It is a vigorous upright deciduous shrub growing to an ultimate height and spread of 1.5m x 2.5m in 10 to 20 years.  From autumn to spring it bears clusters of red buds which bloom into highly fragrant pale pink and white flowers.   It prefers to grow in full sun or partial shade and any soil as long as it is moist but well-drained.

Viburnum tinus ‘Gwenllian’

The common name for this shrub is laurustinus ‘Gwenllian’.   It’s a medium-sized evergreen shrub with a bushy habit.  In late winter its reddish buds bloom into compact clusters of starry white flowers followed by metallic-blue berries.  It will grow to an ultimate height and spread of 2.5m in 10-20 years on any moist but well drained soil.  It can be grown in full sun, partial shade or full shade and will tolerate any aspect.

Cornus mas

Otherwise known as the cornelian cherry, this deciduous shrub’s leaves turn purple in autumn and in late winter it bears clusters of tiny yellow flowers.  The flowers are followed by shiny red fruits resembling cherries.  It prefers full sun or partial shade but is otherwise tolerant of all moist but well-drained soils and aspects.

Site Analysis and Survey

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After a successful consultation a site analysis and survey will need to be carried out.  The success of the final design depends upon a thorough knowledge of the site.

Site Analysis

The site analysis aims to describe the various features of a site.  These include access, soil, existing plants, layout, views, orientation and existing features.   There may be other matters to address such as TPO’s (Tree Preservation Orders).  A qualified designer should be aware of all aspects of an existing site before any design begins.


A survey will accurately record the physical aspects of a site such as boundaries, utilities and levels.  The survey is carried out by a professional land surveyor.

All subsequent drawings will develop from these initial investigations.  The design process begins with the surveyors plan, site analysis and client brief.

Wildlife Pond Design

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I have long been interested in wildlife pond design and the benefits that having one can bring to a garden.  A simple wildlife pond doesn’t need to be expensive or large.  Recently I finally realised my dream of having a small wildlife pond in my garden.

Here is a brief checklist of do’s and don’ts to be aware of when considering a wildlife pond design.

  • Do create a gentle slope for wildlife to approach the water edge safely on at least one side of the pond;
  • Create at least two tiers around the edge of the pond to accommodate marginal plants;
  • Do plant a range of aquatic (water loving) plants, if you wait for the pond to naturalise on its own you will be waiting years!
  • The pond should be at least 50 cm deep;
  • Rainwater is best;
  • Do not introduce fish, they will eat tadpoles and other invertebrates;
  • Do not plant invasive species such as New Zealand Pygmy Weed, Crassula helmsii.  This and other invasive species escape from gardens and cause damage to our natural waterways;
  • Do not introduce creatures or plants from other ponds or take spawn or plants from the wild which can spread disease.

wildlife pond design


Firstly, a sunny site was chosen with a little shade in the afternoon and with no overhanging trees.  Deep shade is detrimental to a healthy wildlife pond.  Overhanging branches of deciduous trees shed their leaves which can pollute the water and their roots can damage the pond’s structural integrity.  In addition, remember to site your pond where it is visible from indoors to get the most enjoyment from it.

Pond Structure

The pond is 50 cm deep.  A piece of old carpet was used to line the deepest part of the pond.   Following this a pond underlay and finally a butyl liner were used to line the whole pond.  It has two tiers of shelves on three sides. Each tier is at least 50 cm wide to safely accommodate marginal pot plants.  A sloping beach on at least one side for safe access for wildlife is essential.   Finally, a grass margin will be allowed to grow around the edge of the pond.  This will help to provide cover for wildlife as they move from the pond to other garden areas. The same effect can be achieved with ornamental planting.


Isolepis cernua

Isolepis cernua (Fibre Optic Grass)

For this wildlife pond design, I have used a combination of rocks, stones, cobbles and gravel giving the design a more natural feel.  The warm tones of the Cheshire pink gravel and cobbles harmonise with the red brick of the house and garden path.  The grey rocks and stones complement some of the plants in the garden which have blue foliage.

Aquatic Planting

I have used a combination of deep water, Potamogeton natans, marginal, Cyperus papyrus and floating aquatics, Eichhornia crassipes as well as a couple of oxygenators.  The plant on the east side of the pond is the Fibre Optic Grass, Isolepis cernuawhich may need frost protection and is actually a sedge not a grass!



If you have young children it is probably best to reconsider having a pond, even small volumes of water can be a danger.  Alternatively you could consider a bird bath or a bog garden and grow marsh loving plants instead.  You could consider fitting a metal guard just below water level that covers the whole area.  Metal guards can be bought tailor made or can be made from steel mesh.  Fence off larger ponds and fit gate(s) with child-proof locks.  Whichever choice you make children should always be supervised around water.

Finally the water pH and cloudiness need to settle and the wildlife will move in.



Planting Trees: A Guide

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As a garden designer I am often asked about the best way of planting trees.  The main points to consider when choosing and planting trees are root health, weather, soil conditions and maintenance.  Attention to these details will enable a healthy tree to establish more quickly.

When to Plant

The best time for planting trees is between October and April when the roots are dormant.  However, containerised trees will need more care if planted during the spring and summer when there is likely to be a soil moisture deficit.  Watering containerised trees during the growing season is essential to long term successful establishment.  Bare-root and root-balled trees are only available during autumn and winter.  It is important that the roots do not dry out and should therefore be planted immediately or heeled-in to a temporary position awaiting final planting.

It is unwise to plant in waterlogged conditions where water is pooling on the surface of the ground or lying within the planting hole.  Nor is it wise to plant in frozen conditions.

 Site Preparation

Site preparation aims to improve the condition of the soil addressing issues such as compaction, drainage and structure.

  • Loosen the soil to a depth the same height as the root ball and over a wide area to improve drainage and relieve compaction.
  • Add organic matter to sandy or clay soils to improve structure.
  • Dig a planting hole that is as deep as the roots, and at least three times the diameter of the tree’s root system. When planting in grassy areas mowing is easier around a circular planting hole, however root penetration is better in square planting holes.  Therefore a square planting hole within a mowing circle is best.
  • In order for the roots to develop and explore the soil there should be no compaction in the sides of the planting hole.  Use a fork to loosen the sides.
  • A soil that becomes regularly waterlogged in winter will need special consideration.  Either plant trees that have adapted to thrive in wet conditions, install drainage or plant on a mound (around 25-30cm high by 1m diameter).

Tree Preparation

  • Firstly ensure that the tree’s root zone is moist before planting.  Soak bare-rooted trees for at least half an hour before planting and water containerised trees well.
  • Don’t forget to remove any nursery labels and check for damaged branches before planting.
  • Trim pot bound roots, however there is no need to trim or tease out roots from root balls that are not pot bound.  Tease out the roots of bare rooted trees to check the spread.

Planting Method

It is unnecessary to add fertiliser when planting trees.   A dusting of an inoculant of mycorrhizal fungi over the roots may help trees establish if the soil is poor.  Adding extra organic matter to the bottom of the planting hole is also unnecessary and may cause the plant to sink as it decomposes thereby hindering successful establishment.

  • Take the tree out of the container or remove fabric wrapping.   Some specimen trees specify that the wrapping be left on under the terms of their guarantee however the fabric wrapping should be removed if this is not the case.
  • Position the tree in the planting hole so that the topmost flare of roots is level with the surface of the soil.  If the tree is a large specimen or top heavy it will need staking at this stage of planting before backfilling the planting hole.
  • Avoid deep planting because this prevents necessary air movement to the root zone and makes the lower trunk vulnerable to disease leading to poor establishment.  At this stage check that the tree is upright, do this from different angles ideally with the help of a friend.
  • Refill the planting hole carefully, placing soil between and around all the roots firming gently as you go to eliminate any air pockets.  Avoid compacting the soil into a hard mass because this will restrict air movement in the root zone.



One of the most common causes of failure in newly planted trees is drought stress.  Dry and windy weather can cause water shortages even during a cool summer.  Soil below ground may still be dry even if the soil around the base of the tree looks moist.  Regular watering is therefore essential to healthy establishment.

During the growing season a tree will need 4-6 watering cans (30-50 litres per square metre) per week.  The amount needed depends on the soil type.  It is possible to over water which leads to rotting roots.  This can happen on poor draining soils and with automatic watering systems.  If unsure dig down the side of the trees root zone to see if the soil is drying before watering.


Weeds compete for water and nutrients intercepting them before they reach the trees roots.  Therefore, maintaining a weed free circle which measures at least 1.2m in diameter around the base of the tree for its first three years is recommended.  There are several ways to achieve this.  Mulching is a highly effective method with a choice of organic or synthetic materials.  When applying mulch be sure to leave a gap of 10cm around the tree’s trunk to avoid the risk of damaging the bark.  Other options are hoeing and the use of contact or systemic herbicides.


Newly planted trees do not need feeding until their first season of growth if the soil is poor or the tree needs a boost.   However, if mycorrhizal fungi has been applied fertilizer should not be used.  This is because the chemical phosphorous, which is found in fertilisers, suppresses the fungus.


Carry out formative and corrective pruning when the tree is still young.  Check for competing leaders and remove or shorten them.  In addition, remove wood that is damaged, diseased or dead.  Remove the trees side-shoots in stages over several seasons if a clear trunk is what you want to achieve.


Staking protects the tree from windrock in windy conditions which can cause damage to the root ball.  Check stakes and ties twice yearly in spring and autumn.  Adjust ties as the tree grows to avoid damage to the trunk.   Remove the stake after two years once the tree has established.

Tree guards may be necessary to protect the tree from wildlife such as deer and rabbits.

In conclusion, following this simple guide will give your newly planted tree or trees the best start possible.

If you would like to know more about the landscape and garden design service I offer please click here.

Sweet Pea Cupani

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Why I Grow Sweet Pea Cupani

This is sweet pea Cupani, introduced to the UK by a Sicilian monk, Brother Francis Cupani in the late 17th century.  He sent seeds of this beautifully fragrant annual to Dr Robert Uvedale, a teacher from Enfield, Middlesex.

I grow mine over ornamental climbing frames but they are also great for covering arches, trellis and teepees.  They can also provide vertical interest in borders where gaps might occur.  I grow sweet pea Cupani for it’s vivid bi-coloured petals and fragrance.  The flowers are invaluable in the vegetable garden for attracting lots of pollinating insects. They have a wonderful scent and make good cut flowers with a vase life of 4-5 days.  Harvesting prolongs the flowering period so even if you don’t use them in the home you should still deadhead spent flowers regularly before they set seed.

sweet pea cupani

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Cupani’


Sow sweet peas in either Autumn or Spring.  If sown in Autumn they will need protection during the winter in either cold frames or a cool greenhouse before planting out in Spring.  If you prefer to sow in Spring sweet peas can be sown directly into the ground in March or April.  However this generally gives less satisfactory results.   In order to aid germination it helps to chip the seed coat.  This is done with a clean, sharp penknife opposite the ‘eye’ (small round scar).  Don’t soak the seeds, this can cause them to rot.  Grow the seeds individually in root trainers or 9cm pots filled with seed compost.  A 13cm pot will hold 5-7 seeds.  Space the seeds 2-3cm apart. Cover the seeds with 1cm of compost.  Keep the compost moist.

It will be necessary to pinch out the tips of Autumn grown seedlings when they reach 10cm high.  This encourages branching.  This is unnecessary for Spring grown seedlings unless they become too leggy.  Sweet peas are climbers and will need support.  As the plant grows the stem should be tied in to its support regularly.   Given a moist but well-drained soil and full sun you can expect flowering to begin around May/June.


Pests can be a problem, most common are slugs, snails and aphids.  Slugs and snails can destroy young plants overnight so be sure to protect them.  Other issues might include powdery mildew, plant viruses, drought and temperature stress, leafy gall and insufficient light.


Helichrysum petiolare – Liquorice Plant

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Helichrysum petiolare 'Limelight'

Helichrysum petiolare ‘Limelight’

Helichrysum petiolare is usually sold as summer bedding for baskets and containers.  I planted mine in a container and it has survived the winter down here on the South Coast of England, it is usually hardy to -5°, evergreen and has a trailing habit.  It bears small white flowers in Summer but for me the foliage colour and habit are it’s greatest attributes.  The species usual foliage colour is blue/grey, I have the cultivar ‘Limelight’ which has a lime green colour.

It originates from South Africa and prefers a sheltered spot in full sun either east or south facing.  It will tolerate any pH, acid, neutral or alkaline and grows well in loam, clay or sand which is moist but well-drained.  It’s perfect for pots.  Given the right conditions it can reach a height of 0.5m and spread of 1.5m in as little as 2 years.  It can also be propagated by non-flowering softwood cuttings in Spring or late Summer.

It’s great groundcover but is easily kept in check by pruning if need be.  The lime green foliage pairs well with hot colours like red and orange.  For a colourful summer display annuals such as Nasturtiums,  Marigolds and Petunias work well against the lime green leaves.  A more permanent display can be achieved with perennials such as Lavender, Box or even large shrubs and small trees.  I have a fastigiate Yew in a pot and Helichrysum petiolare grows very happily around the base, like the Yew it likes well drained compost.

I am growing this plant a very short distance from the South Coast and it thrives so I can vouch that this plant is not only perfect for coastal gardens but also Mediterranean gardens, rock gardens, beds and borders, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens and not forgetting hanging baskets and patio containers, just about anywhere really.  You couldn’t wish for a more versatile plant.



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