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Design Ideas for a Walled Garden

The walled garden was once the main stay of garden design, especially in sections of estates and larger gardens. As a design, there is a pleasing resurgence and one that many people are looking to recreate.

But how can you create a walled garden? What works well in the space?

The Walled Garden – a Potted History

It is thought that an enclosed garden with high walls was not so much for security from animal or human interference, but was a horticultural solution to common growing problems, mainly weather. There is some suggestion that in some areas of the country, a walled garden was a means of security to a property but today, most are designed to protect the garden from wind and frost.

Most modern walled gardens are built with a decorative purpose in mind although gardens of this kind of old were built with a purpose, mainly to create a mini-microclimate within the space.

In some ways, a walled garden can act like a greenhouse but is open to the elements. The idea is simple: by building tall walls, you are providing shelter from wind and frost, but you are also trapping the suns energy in the material of the wall. There were some early examples of a walled garden that had heated walls to help the plants thrive. If the heat was too much, small sections of the wall could be removed to allow the wind to circulate.

Stone or brick walls will conduct the sun’s heat and thus, plants that wouldn’t normally thrive in our climate are able to do so.

But it can have its drawbacks. Even in the most basic of walled gardens, it is difficult to control the heat and because the air is still, it can become stifling. This means in hot summers, they can be unbearable places to sit and thus, unless you have a more open or exposed section of the garden, you may find your walled garden unusable.

For you and your pets, this is bad news and it is also problematic when dealing with the plants you have in your walled garden too. You may have to add shade and you will certainly need a watering system that allows plants to thrive by remaining well-watered.

But for some plants, this still and hot environment is perfect – and it may be the perfect garden for all seasons for you too.

Hints and Tips for a Magnificent Walled Garden

Protected from wind and frost to a certain degree, you can afford to be a little more tropical in your choice of plants...

  • Citrus plants – oranges, lemons, limes and other species of citrus trees wouldn’t normally thrive in the outdoors here in the UK. They spend most of the year enjoying the heat of the sun in conservatories and glass houses only enjoy the summer sun a few weeks of the year. As the wall of the garden conducts and holds on to heat, the best place to place these kinds of plants is up against the wall.
  • Climbers – some climbers also enjoy the lack of buffeting wind in the walled garden and thus, plant them at the base of the wall and allow them to ramble and climb to their heart's content. But, keep all climbers, hedges and trees below the wall line as otherwise they will be damaged by the wind.
  • Fragrant blooms – in the enclosed space, fragrant blooms and plants are an absolute delight. With the still air, the fragrance is stronger than in an open garden so choose your scents wisely. Again, you can afford to opt for slightly different species of plant or flower as they are cosseted within the walls of the garden. For example, as well as lavender, why not try nepeta? It will thrive in dry, temperate conditions but struggle in the open, in damp, boggy soil and wind. Just imagine being seated on teak benches, enjoy the scent hanging in the air.
  • Encourage wildlife – with a walled garden, you are effectively cutting it off from some kinds of wildlife, apart from those that can fly in or crawl ‘up and over’ the walls. The nooks and crannies in the walls make perfect havens for small insects and other wildlife. Encourage them to pay a visit by creating a ‘green wall’. Attract bees and butterflies with buddleia planted in walls, and all varieties of sedum, small, evergreen tiny varieties of plant that thrive in the oddest of places with very few nutrients or water needed.
  • Vegetables – we’ve talked about fruits and how well they would grow in such a temperate and hot climate. And there are plenty of vegetables that grow too. Just like in a kitchen garden or an open garden, companion planting is a way of ensuring that pests are kept in check using the power of nature, rather than pesticides. Most veg will thrive in a walled garden but pay close attention to their moisture levels and don’t forget to nurture the soil too. It may not have the wind whipping away at the top layer but growing veg and fruit will still drain it of nutrients. Add organic matter, such as well rotted horse manure to keep it topped up from one growing season to the next.

Sit, Relax, Enjoy

The walled garden holds a romance all of its own. Take a trip down yesteryear by reading novels based in the 19th century and you will see that many stately homes and grand houses held their walled gardens in high esteem. They were the place of illicit meetings and romantic love affairs – with well-chosen garden furniture, including hard wearing teak benches, you can create your own garden utopia.

Teak is the ideal wood to use because it is a slow growing wood from the rainforest. It is a wood that can deal with the high temperatures that come with a walled garden, as well as coping with changes in moisture levels too.

With a little effort, you can have a walled garden that is full of romance, scented blooms along with exotic fruits and an abundance of vegetables too. But how would you design your ideal walled garden? What would you include?