Hooray for Hellebores!

Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.
Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.
Hooray for Hellebores!

Hooray for hellebores!

Hellebores – beautiful little plants with an inner toughness that belies their delicate exterior. We thought we’d delve into our top five favourite cultivars. Hellebores like partial shade in a humus rich soil which is not too damp. Although Hellebores have evergreen leaves, by spring foliage may have become tatty and frost damaged, so remove all scruffy, blackened leaves in early spring to allow flowers to fully emerge. Watch out for botrytis (grey mould), caused by excesive wet. If left unchecked, botrytis can quickly spread to the flower stems and deprive you of flowers (this year hasn’t been great for botrytis because it’s been so wet).

Our top five hellebores:

Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ 

Top of the list and my personal favourite: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ really packs a punch at this time of year. It’s taller and more substantial than many hellebores, and works beautifully well when interplanted with Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’. It features beautiful marbled foliage as well as deep wine coloured petals with cheery bright yellow stamens. This lovely plant is bred by horticulturalist Rodney Davey Plants near Axminster, Devon. It has the size and scale to have real visual impact at this time of year something that other hellebores can lack.

Image: Helleborus ‘Anna’s Red’ shown here with Narcissus ‘Thalia’ 
Wine red Helleborus 'Anna's Red' paired beautifully with pure white Narcissus 'Thalia' a white daffodil. Together they create a beautiful combination.


Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’

Another fabulous Hellebore from breeder Rodney Davey Plants, and in many ways the sister plant to ‘Anna’s Red’. A gentler pink, this Hellebore works well with ‘Anna’s Red’, creating a multi-tonal effect, long-flowering and beautiful foliage. The success of the Rodney Davey Hellebores has led to a whole stable of cultivars including ‘Pippa’s Purple’, ‘Diana’s Dulcet, ‘Moondance’, ‘Mollys White’ and ‘Dorothy’s Dawn’ and many more. Hellebores can be quite expensive to buy, so choosing ones which are large enough to be seen and appreciated from indoors as well as outside, is always a priority at this time of year. Keep an eye out for Rodney Davey Hellebores and you won’t regret it.

Image: ‘Penny’s Pink’ a slightly softer pink shade but when planted with ‘Anna’s Red’ creates a beautiful multi-tonal effect.


Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’ 

Fifty years ago, nurseryman Eric Smith managed to combine three Hellebores to produce an unusual and gorgeous plant. Today there are a wide range of ericsmithii cultivars but ‘Pirouette’ is a beautiful top perfoming Hellebore. Packed with flowers at this time of year, this cultivar features multi-tonal shades of pink which is part of its charm. This Hellebore is a more traditional size reaching 40cm with a spread of around 40cm. Over time it clumps up nicely and flowers its heart out to beautiful effect. It’s one to look out for at plant nurseries or  your can buy from online suppliers including Crocus.

Image: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Pirouette’ is a flowering powerhouse!


Helleborus × hybridus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’

At Easter it would be shame not to indulge, and ‘Double Chocolate’ is just the mouthwatering thing…with zero calories too! Hellebore flowers might usually be described as ‘homey’ – soft rounded petal shapes, pretty pastel colours and freckles. This Hellebores is a bit more of a catwalk model with classy ruffles, high cheekbones and taller than most hellebores. Like ‘Anna’s Red’ it’s perfectly paired with the silver foliage and airy baby blue flowers of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ or even Brunnera ‘Hapsden Cream’ and although Hellebores emerge before Brunnera, by the end of April they’re both in full leaf and bloom.

Image: Helleborus ‘Harvington Double Chocolate’ courtesy of Crocus
Helleborus Harvingdon Double Chocolate is a deep red coloured plant ideal for the spring garden. Double petals create a delicate ballerina skirt effect. A perfect plant for a shady garden.


Helleborus foetidus

The UK native ‘stinking Hellebore’ is named by the smell given off by its leaves when crushed. But don’t be put off, this very tough, very vibrant lime green Hellebore with a beautiful red trim to its petals is a great garden stalwart. It’s very capable of handling dry shade and year after year will emerge looking strong and fresh and relativley tall for a hellebore at 80cm. It’s statueque and along with tough but finely cut foliage makes a great addtion to a shady garden. 

Image: Helleborus foetus or stinking hellebore. Don’t let the name put you off this stunning plant.

Helleborus foetidus or stinking hellebore is a beautiful tough spring flowering plant, ideal for tough dry areas of garden. Vivid green small petals create a strong visual impression and finely cut foliage adds to its impact.

So that’s it. Our top five. But there are hundreds of Hellebores to choose from and spring is the perfect time to see them at NGS Open Gardens or at garden centres.

Author – Judy Shardlow

Expert Plantswoman and Garden Designer, Judy has over 25 years of experience in design and horticulture and holds and RHS Silver Gilt.

Contact us today for an informal chat about re-designing your garden.

The Garden Design Process – How does it work?

The Garden Design Process - How does it work?

Garden Design Process – how does it work?

Having your garden designed is an exciting process and there are a few steps in the process that take you from your garden as a blank canvas to a beautifully built and planted garden perfect for your needs. So what is included in the Garden Design Package? The process of designing a garden is best demonstrated by looking at an example of a completed garden and the drawings that are involved.

What stages are there in the Garden Design Process? 

New garden designs always begin with an initial meeting to take a look at the site or garden and discuss what you would like to achieve from the garden.

Everyone is different and our job is to find out exactly what your perfect garden looks like! We’re good at it and following our first meeting we will send you a ‘Design Brief’ to review and confirm that we’ve understood clearly what you want to achieve, with clear guidance about the garden design process ahead. 

Topographical Survey & Site Analysis

The first stage is a Topographical Survey and Site Analysis – this is usually completed by Heartwood Garden Design unless the client already has an accurate and up-to-date survey already. Completed by our professional surveyor, a topographical survey maps the whole site, including the house, dpc (damp proof course) levels, existing hedges, trees and planted areas, hardscape areas, levels, manhole covers, downpipes, drives, and more. It maps everything we need to know about what is on the site at present.

Alongside the survey is a Site Analysis. In many ways, a Site Analysis is a bit of a SWOT analysis, and part of the job of the Designer is to enhance and focus attention on existing strengths and mitigate weaknesses. We also look at site access, soil quality, drainage, compacted soil and existing plants and trees and the design includes recommendations from this analysis.

Image: our surveyor completes a topographical survey
Surveyor conducting a topographical survey

Concept Design

Concept Design is the first stage and brings together all the key information and creative vision. This stage is all about creating a vision of the garden in a way that’s inspiring, makes sense and deals with practical issues.

Design work for smaller gardens is usually developed as a 2D colour plan, a bit like an architect’s floor plan, with images to illustrate key features. Key points to establish at this stage are paving type and pattern, retaining walls, steps, water features, feature trees and plants and lighting effects. With larger gardens, we often develop 2D visuals into 3D to provide views from different perspectives and ‘walk through’ effects. Your Concept Design is the ‘vision’ for your garden, it takes time but ensuring that your garden has energy, flow and balance is key. We usually go through Concepts by Zoom, as it allows us to show your proposed new garden over the existing topographical survey and can help you to visualise proposed changes.

Image: Concept Design example

Planting Plans

With the Concept Design finalised the detailed drawings can be completed and the detail is critical to building and planting your garden beautifully. Planting Plans are critical for planting larger areas and our Planting Plans map out all of the plants for each area based on the aspect, garden style and maintenance. Each plan includes a schedule of plants covering how many plants are needed, which species and size. Our plans include a soil and planting specification which ensures that soil is prepared to our specification, and plants are carefully planted and mulched. We take pride in our plants and trees and only provide the best quality stock from some of UK’s best nurseries. We’re also proud to support the UK plant and tree nursery industry.

Image: Planting Plan example

Garden Design Technical Package

The Technical Package is a full set of drawings that provides detailed plans on how to build your garden. This includes a Setting Out Plan, which provides details of how to map the plan out onto the garden, and dimensions for all features. Setting Out Plans also include existing and proposed levels so that any level changes are clear. The Construction Plan identifies all of the built elements on the garden, the materials, areas, construction method, and supplier and also shows areas where steel edging will be used. Construction is supported with Construction Drawings that explain clearly how each part of the garden will be built. A Written Specification recaps all of the information within the Construction Plan, creating a list of elements to be built. It also includes instructions on how the site will be managed, including deliveries, site safety, tree protection, disposal, and recycling of removed materials. We like to be clear about how to build the garden and the standards that are expected throughout construction. We work with some highly professional landscapers and will provide recommendations for tendering.

In many ways the technical package is the most important part of the design. A very high level of details doesn’t just mean that our vision of your garden is created accurately, it ensures that the build costs are accurate.

Because we ask contractors to provide a cost ‘line by line’ from our specification, costs from different contractors can be compared accurately. A high level of detail also means that everything has been considered and planned ahead of time, which is critical to ensuring smooth and timely construction. Landscapers love a highly detailed design package because all of the information that they need to assess cost and timing is very clear. When complete all copies of the Plans are made available to our clients and landscape contractors picked for tendering. We use Dropbox to share copies of drawings but we also provide a PDF portfolio of all drawings which can be downloaded and printed. At the end of the Design Package stage we also provide Tendering Services and Project Monitoring through the construction of your garden. You can find out more about these services on our website.

Image: Setting Out Plan & Construction Drawings

Author – Judy Shardlow

Expert Plantswoman and Garden Designer, Judy has over 25 years of experience in design and horticulture and holds and RHS Silver Gilt.

Contact us today for an informal chat about re-designing your garden.

Low Maintenance Water Features – Our Top Five Favourites

Natural Swimming Pond in Hitchin Hertfordshire a beautiful swimming pool with a waterfall and colourful natural planting
Our top five water features



Low maintenance water features – our top five favorites

Most gardens benefit from having a water feature, they bring sound movement and wildlife into your garden and once you’ve added one to your garden you’ll find that you’re drawn to it, particularly on warm summer days.

We prefer simple to install, self-contained water features, preferably ones that allow bees and birds to access water during the hot summer months. We know that people have busy lives and that the words ‘water feature’ can strike fear into people’s hearts because they worry that ‘water feature’ means a lot of cost and maintenance. But it doesn’t need to be like that, there are a some high-quality suppliers who we recommend because we love their products. They’re simple to install, look beautiful and provide joy and movement in gardens large and small.

One of the suppliers that we recommend is Foras. Based in Norfolk they’re a family business that have expanded and developed their water feature range over the past few years. They’ve created some stunning products that we love to put into our gardens. 

So let’s get started with our top five great water features:

Layer slate water features: 

Who doesn’t love the colour and texture of slate? It’s beautiful, natural, quarried in Britain and provides a beautiful tough textured surface for water spill over beautifully. 

There are two products that we love in this category; the Foras 75cm Layered Slate Water Feature where layers of slate form a simple bowl with circulating water which sits on a bed of pebbles. Water gently bubbles within the bowl and over the sides and is re-circulated with a submersible pump within a concealed reservoir. It’s perfect for dabbling your fingers on a hot day, or for bees, butterflies and birds to come for a sip or a little bathe. It comes with a choice of pebble colours and is a complete package which includes reservoir, lighting, pump, and pebbles. In the same style is the Foras Belmont Layered Slate Water Feature. It’s the same idea but a beautiful layered slate sphere which comes in sizes from 40-75cm. Water risesup through the centre and bubbled and cascades down the sides. It’s beautiful, atmospheric and the perfect addition to a relaxing garden.

Image Credit Foras
Foras Water Feature

Lovely lily bowls: 

Urbis have had a reputation for some time of creating high quality and beautifully finished planters and water bowls. Our favourite is the Lily Bowl which comes in four sizes from 99-180cm diameter and with a lovely range of earthy colours in textured finishes which blend in beautifully with planting schemes. Lily bowls as the name suggests are designed either as a still water feature with aquatic plants such as a tiny perfect pygmy water lily which remains within an aquatic pot and is held in place with a layer of smooth pebbles. They’re also great for creating a bubbling pool of water with a small pump concealed beneath a small grid and beneath a layer of pebbles. Unlike the Foras water features the individual elements the bowl, pump, lighting and pebbles are sourced separately but the end result is equally stunning.

Image Credit: Heartwood Garden Design
Urbis Lily bowl installed by Heartwood Garden Design in a harpenden garden. A beautiful shallow coloured water feature on a base of pebbles and filled with a layer of pebbles and the gentle movement of water.

Water blades: 

Water blades have been around for a while and it’s a simple principle: a steel blade that drops a sheet of water down into a small reservoir with a pump to re-circulate. The reservoir can be large or small or small and can include pebbles and aquatic planting. It can also include lighting in the form of a led strip set beneath the blade or a submersible light which uplights the falling water. Like the other water features discussed, it creates a beautiful sound, attracts birds and insects and with a small concealed reservoir is safe for children.

Image credit: Heartwood Garden Design
Garden water blade feature which creates a sheet of water tumbling into a small pool. A beautiful garden focal point surrounded by planting and next to a porcelain paved path.

Go Italianate: 

If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional a Haddonstone Romanesque Fountain is a good option. with an 81.5cm diameter it’s a good size and is made of composite limestone which looks and feels like natural stone. It’s fully equipped with pump and electrical supply for easy installation by a professional providing the perfect feature for the Mediterranean garden.

Image Credit Haddonstone

Keep it Simple: 

Beautiful simplicity is often at the heart of the gardens that we design. It doesn’t get more gracefully simple than the Sea Salt Water Feature, another winner from British supplier Foras, and one that creates serenity in any garden. It features a stunning honed, polished natural 90cm slate plate that allows water to spill beautifully over the edge into a bed of pebbles. Set within colourful, airy naturalistic planting it’s a sensory delight for your garden and we love adding one of these features to our planting design schemes.

Sea Salt Water Feature


We think you get the message here, water features in gardens don’t need to be onerous if you keep them simple. Yes, you usually need a pump and a electricity supply and most should be installed by a professional landscaper.

But what about maintenance? This will depend on location and also the surface area of your water feature. A bigger surface area will mean more regular cleaning as more debris will accumulate. Low to the ground water features or water features near any trees, will also need more regular cleaning. During the summer months most water features benefit from regular cleaning once a month. You can also use a wildlife-safe water feature cleaner like Gardening Naturally Water Feature Cleaner which can be used to keep water features clean and it’s safe for children and wildlife.

Thank you for reading, if you would like to re-design your garden and include a beatiful water feature, please do contact us on info@heartwoodgardendesign.co.uk

Barlings Road

Barlings Road

Barlings Road

The original garden felt dated and was dominated by large overgrown evergreen shrubs that made the garden feel smaller. Although it is a sunny garden the space for outdoor entertaining and dining was limited and paving was in need of replacement. Heartwood Garden Design created a large contemporary front driveway area in resin bound gravel with sawn granite setts. Low maintenance planting creates summer colour and interest a low yew hedge has created some much needed enclosure and privacy from the road on this quite wide plot. In the back garden the large centralised lawn is retained as space for family games and play and a small area of astroturf was added to create year round access to the play frame. A small vegetable garden was also added along with a beautiful porcelain patio and stepping stones leading to a smaller more secluded second patio in the corner of the garden. A beautiful existing mature apple tree has been retained as the key focal point of the garden and all other areas of the garden were replaced with a range of colourful plants and trees.

The garden was build by local landscaping team Armstrong Landscapes based at Hertfordshire Garden Centre.

Orchard House

Orchard House

This large country garden in Hertfordshire is set in a beautiful agricultural landscape. An existing large deep pond had become unmanageable and large trees blocked viewed across from the house to the pond area and orchard beyond. Existing patio and path areas were to be made larger to create space for outdoor dining and a lounge area. An area to the side of the house lacked a sense of identity and there was limited colourful planting to be seen from the windows to the back of the house.

Heartwood Garden Design created a master plan for the key areas of the garden including the creation of a circular deck to enjoy afternoon and evening sun alongside a natural pool and waterfall, renovated to make it smaller and surrounded by colourful planting through limestone gravel. The large existing limestone rockery was renovated, large stones added and existing stones re- organised and the whole area was re-planted. Existing gravel paths were widened and sweeping curves introduced to connect to the newly formed natural bowl created by the pond. Closer to the house, beautiful tumbled grey limestone paver now flow through colourful planted borders leading to a circular secluded seating area by the side of the house, enclose with a low yew hedge and a large central patio by the kitchen enclosed with colourful planted border and including a simple lily bowl flowing water feature.

The garden was beautiful constructed by Letchworth based Custom Gardens.

“The flowing shapes of the design really complement our house and our gardens and all of the areas that we felt were disconnected now flow beautifully into each other. We have so many new seating areas and each one has a different outlook and atmosphere, some are quiet and peaceful and others are perfect for large groups of family and friends. We love it!”

Mr and Mrs W

Lister Avenue

Lister Avenue

The owners of this beautiful home in Hitchin, Hertfordshire were finding it hard to conquer and organise their large wrap-around garden. Heartwood Garden Design created a master plan which organised driveway access from the front and the rear. New clay paver pathways, oak arches and planted borders were added to the front of the house. At the back, a new curved natural sawn sandstone patio forms an outdoor lounge area with views across the garden. Paths lead to a paver edged patio with three oak arches, creating a stunning dining area partly covered with pink Wisteria. Planted borders close to the house have created a sense of enclosure and colour close to the house, and a lily bowl water feature provides attractive sound and a source of water for wildlife. The garden also features a large bespoke outdoor kitchen, steps leading to the rear driveway which is now screened with a flowing continuous willow fence.

“We asked Heartwood Garden Design to design a beautiful garden for us as we were struggling to know where to begin. We were impressed with the direction Heartwood Garden Design took, with suggestions on how to connect our house and garden more carefully together and establish some beautiful and characterful features. We love the clay paver paths and the oak features including the new oak gate and arches feel really unique to our garden.”