Gravel Garden

How to care for herbaceous perennials

How to care for herbaceous perennials in a gravel garden

Herbaceous perennials are very easy to look after, and they are happy to grow in a variety of conditions.  Here we're growing a selection of sun loving plants which are enjoying the well prepared but free draining soil.

Initial planting

Soil preparation is key when planting a new bed or border, and this garden was no exception.  The 300mm of clean, screened top soil was brought in mechanically and organic soil improver was added and dug in to the soil.

The photographs below show the garden just after planting and mulching with gravel.  Photo to left below mid May 2018, photo to right below June 2018, but they would have been better planted in late March.

The plants arrived in 2L pots and were fed with a slow release organic fertiliser at the time of planting.


Just 3 months later in September...

... and the plants had already put on a considerable amount of growth.  The plants were watered daily in their first week and then were watered weekly through till September.  The odd loss did occur, mainly the Astrantias, but the rest grew well in this short space of time.  Most flowered in their first year of planting, and although later than normal, corrected their flowering time as normal in their second year.


Second year success (June 2019)

In their second summer, the borders were pretty much filled out and no gravel was visible within the planted areas.  The plants were fed in late march with a general purpose slow release fertiliser and any weeds removed as and when necessary.  These weed seeds had blown in from the surrounding fields, as the gravel is doing a great job of keeping down the weeds!


How to care for herbaceous perennials in their 3rd and 4th year

In the autumn of 2020 some of the plants will need to be removed where others are taking over and weaker plants thinned out.  Some will require splitting (dividing) and can be moved elsewhere in the garden.  We'll carry on feeding annually in spring, and some of the Lavender and Stipa grasses will need refreshing, but we'll be taking cuttings and growing from seed (although with the stipa, its usually pretty happy to 'wander' if you let it.

How to care for herbaceous perennials in winter

The planting show below is the winter of 2018/19, just 8 months after planting!  The frost sits on the faded, dried flowers and foliage and looks wonderful.  Many 'tidy gardeners' cut back their herbaceous plants too early (in November), but I think that is a real shame, because they lose this beautiful 'decay'.  Some see this as 'dead and messy', other beauty and structure - for me, I'd rather see this than a huge bare patch of soil or gravel.


Feeding and general how to care for herbaceous perennials

We cut this planting back to the ground every February, so its not long before the cycle starts all over again and we can once again look forward to the fabulous colour and textures this magnificent garden provides.

To discuss a planting scheme for your garden, contact us today and we'd love to share our magic

For more information about this project click here

Are black plastic pots a thing of the past?

Pots of the past -Are black plastic pots a thing of the past?

Trends in gardening tend to move pretty slowly, but what is interesting is the overwhelming message about how we are moving toward becoming a more sustainable industry. This is partly due to increasing regulations and public pressure on recycling, in particular plastics, which seem to be hitting the headlines weekly.

As a general rule, our industry is pretty eco (after all, we’re planting trees for a living), but there are a few culprits left but even one of those is about to change.

Taupe Pots are the future

The black plastic pot may soon me a thing of the past.  Black plastic pots are currently widely recycled within the industry and reused by home gardeners, often being made from recycled materials, but once they leave the commercial world and are taken home, they are more difficult to recycle due to the way in which domestic waste is sorted.

The sorting machines at the recycling stations bounce light off the mixed plastics in order to identify suitability for recycling, but as this doesn’t work with black, it means the pots get sent to landfill or incineration units.

500 million black plastic pots in circulation

According to Which? Gardening Magazine, there are about 500 million black plastic pots in circulation in the UK, but that’s about to decrease significantly thanks to a Midlands based company who have developed the taupe coloured pots which will be widely used this year.

The company are planning on producing around 100 million per year, which is great news for gardeners as it means they can be recycled in your domestic plastics collection bin (it’s obviously better to reuse them first if you can).

Spring Clean

As we clean out our sheds and greenhouses for spring, there’ll often be a pile of black pots sat in the corner ‘just in case’, but don’t be tempted to throw this into the general waste bin, but instead think about taking them down to your local HTA garden centre to be recycled (give them a call first to check they have a take back scheme as many of the big chains unfortunately don’t).

Many of our plants come from Europe and I guess these will still come across the water in black pots (after all, it’s a great way to rid your country of waste plastic) but I imagine as we buy more British grown or grown-on stock, that may change.  We’ll also be reducing the number of road miles our plants travel by buying home grown stock.

On the flip side, we are a small island with limited space to grow plants in the quantity we need them (and at the speed we demand them) so I guess the next step should be to work with our continental suppliers to demand our plants are supplied in none black pots.

Until next time

Happy Gardening


Garden-Designer Sheffield-Spring-Tulips

Spring bulbs for small gardens

Buy now for a colourful spring -Spring bulbs for small gardens

I know, I know, we’re still enjoying the last of the summer, but right now is the time to start thinking about spring ... well, spring flowers at least, and if you've got a small back garden then bulbs can add an additional, much needed layer to your planting scheme.  So which spring bulbs for small gardens?

Spring Bulb planting time - soil preparation

Begin the perfect soil preparation by weeding and incorporating lots of well-rotted compost when planting bulbs. On clay soils, dig in horticultural grit as well to aid drainage as bulbs hate being sat in wet cold and soggy soil. Don’t be tempted to just throw a bit of gravel into the planting hole either as this will just act as a mini sump, it’s important that the grit is well dug into the area. Bulbs grown in pots also need good drainage so put plenty of gravel in the base to keep the hole free draining. For the bulbs I plant in pots I use two parts John Innes No 2 with one part horticultural grit, but you can but specialist bulb composts if you can’t be bothered to mix it up!

Garden centres lure their customers with bulbs for autumn planting from as early as the end of July (mainly because they want them sold by September to make room for baubles!).   But be warned, although it’s a good tine to buy them (before they dry out too much in the hot greenhouses) in my opinion August is too early to plant spring flowering bulbs and often in September the ground is still too hard. October is a great time for planting daffodils and save tulips till November.

It’s important when buying bulbs to reject any that are soft or showing signs of blue or grey mould and try and choose the largest bulbs you can afford. Smaller, cheaper bulbs may not flower well in their first years so in essence you’re buying time.

I’d suggest using a bulb planter for small gardens most bulbs or a dibber for smaller ones. Fork over the area first, add the compost and grit if needed and then use either the dibber or bulb planter which should glide into the soil. If you feel like you’re breaking your wrist (or the bulb planter) my guess is you haven’t forked over the area first and you shouldn’t be planting! Bulbs should be planted in holes around three times as deep as the bulb itself. For example, a 25mm crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 75mm deep.

Watch out for pests that may eat your newly planted bulbs!

Who loves bulbs more than we do? The squirrels! Although they dig up daffodils I don't think they actually eat them. But they have a serious appetite for crocus and tulips. Bulbs are most vulnerable immediately after planting, when the soil is newly dug, fluffy and easy for to dig. Chicken-wire placed over the pot, or the freshly dug soil, will deter them, and I’ve found setting this under-ground to be an even better solution.

Tulips in a country garden in sheffield garden

Once planted, you can forget all about the bulbs until the peek through the soil next spring, and although it’s a lot of effort now, you’ll be glad you made the effort when they poke through the soil and brighten up your small garden on those dark spring days.

More Inspiration

NDA Badge_Winner_2017

Winners of the Northern Design Awards 2017

Winners of the Northern Design Awards 2017 Announced

Northern Design Awards 2017

Friday 24 November saw Bestall & Co win big at the prestigious Northern Design Awards 2017.

The event was held at the lavish Principal Hotel in Manchester, described as ‘a refuge in the capital of cool’. It was compèred by Wayne Hemingway MBE. The successful fashion designer, educator and member of the Design Council Trustee Board also sat on the judging panel. Another judge in attendance was renowned interior designer and television presenter Linda Barker. Founder of Bestall & Co Landscape Design, Lee Bestall took his place among over 400 other entrants and their guests.

“We’d entered the Residential Landscaping Design category, in which the judges seek ‘captivating entries of exceptional spaces created on any budget’. The judges had selected eight finalists, but it was our design for Bay Tree Farm in North Yorkshire which took the top spot.

Our winning entry is a family garden designed for entertaining and relaxing, as well as supplying a selection of fresh produce to the health-conscious family. It consists of three specific spaces: a spa garden, a sunken patio, and a picturesque yet productive vegetable garden.

The spa area is closest to the house, allowing family and friends to get outdoors quickly for a spot of relaxation. There’s a cedar hot tub and outdoor kitchen-bar incorporating a hurricane-proof fridge and barbecue. For something a bit more energetic, there’s an outdoor swimming pool too. The sunken patio sits amidst lawns and perennial flower beds with views stretching out to the hills beyond.  The focal point for the vegetable garden is a stunning 8m long black greenhouse This is a truly efficient plot with large composting bays, a potting shed and cold frames. There’s a small orchard, raised beds and poultry for fresh eggs. We even installed an ericaceous bed for the cultivation of blueberries.”

Lee Bestall commented “It was such an honour to collect this award on behalf of my team on Friday evening.  We were competing against some of the best names in the North of England and to be crowned winners was a major scoop for the practice.  I’m passionate about creating gardens for people to enjoy, and to be rewarded for this is a very proud moment.”

Some images from Bay Tree Farm can be found here, but for more, don’t hesitate to contact us via or on 01246 439340

It’s an exemplary design showing beauty and utility can be artfully combined. We’re immensely proud to have been recognised for achieving such a feat.

Winners of the Northern Design Awards 2017

When: Friday 24th November 2017

Where: Principle Hotel Manchester

Bestall & Co Landscape Design has a team of 6 designers and plants people who individually make up a fantastic team of knowledgeable and enthusiastic people.  Founded in 2004 (originally as Inspired Garden Design), Bestall & Co was re branded this year to reflect the style of the gardens they create.  Modern, classic outdoor entertaining spaces which are sympathetic to their locations.


Showtime Comes To A Close

As the light levels dip on British summertime, Garden Designer Lee Bestall looks back at a dramatic year.

The summer of 2017 has been part of a very exciting year for us. Not only are we busier than ever, we took on the huge challenge of creating two gardens for prestigious RHS shows.  Back in May we displayed ‘500 years of Covent Garden’ on main avenue at the worlds’ most prestigious Flower Show.  Sited amongst famous designers such as our neighbour Chris Beardshaw. Our 11M x 11M garden took inspiration from Covent Garden’s rich floral heritage, and featured as of one of Chelsea’s main show gardens.

The build-up to Chelsea began in June 2016, just four weeks after the team finished last years’ show, so for Bestall & Co life has been a cycle of Chelsea, Christmas, Chelsea, Christmas, Chelsea Lee Laughed.  A trip to Belgium in October last year was very fruitful (pun intended)! When he managed to source three, fourty year old Apple trees. Once displayed at Chelsea, became the centre piece to the Nyetimber pop-up bar the team installed back in Covent Garden for the summer.


Traditional English flowers such as Roses, Lupins and Peonies bloomed alongside more naturalistic plantings of native ferns and softer wild flowers.  The Apple trees were under planted with shade loving plants. The iconic cobbles found in the streets of Covent Garden, laid beside reclaimed York Stone we found in a reclamation yard back here in Yorkshire.


Press day on Main Avenue at Chelsea was great fun. Meeting Her Majesty the Queen was an honour (even though I was so nervous I forgot to remove my flat cap! – public apology). As too was having celebrities visit the garden. The thing which overwhelmed me the most was the emotional public reaction.  We had some heartfelt comments about the beautiful planting (it seems people had missed ‘real flowers’ at Chelsea). The garden even moved some visitors to tears!


For those who don’t know about the flower show, it’s the gardening equivalent to playing at Wembley. So you could say Lee was rather pleased with his Silver award.  For those unable to see it in reality, or on the many hours of TV, the garden has now been reconfigured and is enjoyed by the general public on a daily basis in the heart of London’s Covent Garden. At the same time I was entertaining the horticultural elite, there was a contractor busily working back in Derbyshire. Creating our exhibit for the inaugural Chatsworth Flower Show.  The weather was hot, the ground was dry and the work was tough.  Dry stone walling, ground contouring and turfing were all carried out in a very open and sunny site.  Plants required gallons of water as too did the 4 year old wild flower matting we imported from York. Thanks to technology and via the magic of Facetime, I managed to instruct the implementation team on a daily basis.


When I finally made it back home, planting time at Chatsworth had arrived … along with the coldest, wettest and windiest weather we’d had for months.  Planting in cold, muddy soil was bad, but the wind was the hardest element to battle against.  It whipped down the valley and battered the trees and flowers. Most of whom had been happily been growing in full sun just a few days ago.  But as gardeners do, we battled on through and planted up the garden just in time for judging day.


Press day at Chatsworth was a less glamorous event that at Chelsea, mainly due to the weather. But it didn’t stop the Duke and his wife joining us for a picnic on the garden which was sponsored by Visit Peak District and Derbyshire.  The show opened to the visitors as planned, and although muddy was a great success.  Twenty thousand people attended the show each day, the local roads heaved but the show was definitely worth the wait.


After clearing the show site and rebuilding the garden back here at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire (home of the Sitwell family and our design studio) My happy life has returned to normal.  I’d forgotten what life without Chelsea was like, and although we’re working on a concept for 2019. It looks like next year may be the year I actually get to see my Wisteria in flower!



My five favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary

Topiary is the name given to formally clipped plants, normally evergreens, which are added to gardens to proved shape, structure, balance and symmetry as well as winter interest.

My five favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary include:


Favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary number five


Photinia 'Red Robin'. Well known as a garden shrub, but less well know for topiary.  It's fast growing as it has relatively large leaves but the flowers can detract from the topiary shape and if you're a control freak (like me) it's probably not the topiary choice for you. However if you prefer your formal garden to be a little more relaxed, Photinia is probably a good choice for you, as too may be Eleagnus.


Favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary number four


Prunus lusitanica. Portuguese laural has wonderful glossy dark green leaves and is probably the fastest growing shrub for training. Ideal if you want to train your own topiary or are working to a budget. The down side is that it does require pruning twice per year, whereas most other topiary only requires annual attention.  Feed in spring and water well for maximum growth.

Favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary number three


Lauralis noblis. Commonly known as Bay, this wonderfully scented and culinary useful evergreen responds extremely well to regular pruning and shaping and makes a great cone, pyramid, sphere or lollipop. (Not suitable for very cold and exposed locations).

Favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary number two


Buxus. Relegated to my number two given its susceptibility to box blight, but still in my top five favourites. I love cutting box, I love the smell of box and I love the tight pleasing shapes that can be created when neatly cut. For me it's still a premium plant with nothing else really topping it for dwarf hedging providing a formal structure.

To help fight against box blight always trim on a dry day, ensure plenty of air flow around the plants and spray with Top Box to encourage healthy plants.

Favourite evergreen shrubs for topiary number one


Taxus baccata. If left untrimmed, Yew trees grow to huge proportions, but are excellent for larger hedging and topiary. Slow growing and therefore expensive, this British native plant is hardy and evergreen. It will not however tolerate waterlogged soils and will quickly brown and die. Ideal for larger topiary shapes and for realising quirky topiary dreams.

Britain's rising demand for 'granny plants'

Britain's rising demand for 'granny plants'

So what is responsible for Britain's rising demand for 'granny plants'? Could it be memories of days spent in the garden as children, or our love of old English romantic gardens? Whatever it is, along with knitting and Victoria sponge, granny plants are back!

Once referred to by the majority of our clients as granny plants. We are seeing a comeback for some of the old fashioned varieties.

During the initial design consultation, and when asked to populate the list of 'plants we do not like' I could have predicted the results. "Anything yellow, Roses, Dahlias and Hydrangeas".

It seems there has been a swing in opinion and thanks to companies such as (Who produce some of the most beautiful faux white hydrangeas for the home) the popularity of these plants have once again captured our hearts.

Peony 'Vogue' and Lupin 'Blossom' from Lee Bestall's garden Chelsea 2017
Lupin 'Rachel de Thame' and Rosa 'English Miss' at Lee Bestall's Chelsea 2017 garden

Our recent Chelsea show garden celebrating 500 years of Covent Garden was filled with romantic pink and white Roses, Peonies and Lupins. Our garden at Chatsworth for the Experience Peak District and Derbyshire garden was filled with Roses such as the soft pink of 'English Miss', the fresh white of 'Little Pet' and the deep sophisticated 'Darcy Bustle' as well as the very popular 'Burgundy Ice'.

Tulbaghia violacea (mauve Agapanthus like flower) at Lee Bestall's Chatsworth 2017 show garden

Granny plants
Over the past couple of years, we've also been asked to plant a lot of Hydrangea. Although we're not quite ready to embrace the pink and blue mop head types, favouring the white 'Annabelle' and 'Limelight'.  Both of these varieties are not really suitable for the smaller garden. However we've recently fallen in love ourselves! With a beautiful white Hydrangea that only grows 50cm high, but we reserve those for only our very favourite gardens.


Designer difference

Employing a garden or landscape designer to help out with a project is an expensive luxury, but is the cost worth the designer difference?

At Bestall & Co we definitely think so, but then we would. Each of our team appreciates both natural and artificially created environments equally and each plays their part in realising the dreams of our design team who are experts in reimagining spaces

The difference between garden spaces that have been intentionally designed and those spaces that just 'happen' can be seen in everything from the hard landscaping, special arrangement of furniture, balance of the trees, the proportions used and most obviously the planting.

Experience reduces waste

Investing in design services mean you don't waste money, time and energy on sourcing products and plants which simply are not suitable for the location or purpose.  "If I had £100 for every 'plastic wicker effect' sofa set we've recycled I wouldn't need to work!"

Dead or sick plants just don't look great! So an experienced designer can select the ones most appropriate to your site and soil. (We always do a soil test at the initial design consultation). You will of course still need to water in the first year. After that the plants will be able to look after themselves. (With the exception of trees and potted plants of course).

How much does design cost?

Expect to allocate around 10% of your build budget to design fees, slightly more if you want project implementation services.  It's definitely money well spent and we've often saved clients a lot of money. We have  providing better solutions which are either more economical or have an extended life expectancy.

We can also advise on other elements of the home and garden too. For example we recently saved a client thousands by selecting a different manufacturer for their greenhouse and even more when we suggested one client change their proposed stone barn for an oak framed building. These were suggestions that were made in the initial design consultation.

Lee Bestall is an experienced designer with a fabulously honest personality. His reassurance throughout the implementation of the project helped us through the transformation. Everything he suggests he does with genuine enthusiasm and integrity.

Pittosporum tobaria

Love Pittosporum tobaria

When I was travelling in America we stayed in a great hotel in Las Vegas and to either side of the (outdoor) reception were two huge 'clouds' of Pittosporum tobaria. They were perfectly formed and clearly loving the intense heat the desert environment provides. Plus of course a good dose of artificial irrigation. When we returned to Europe, one of the first things I did was bought one from a Dutch nursery on a plant trip around the continent and it's thrived in my sheltered courtyard garden near Sheffield for over 2 years now.

I'm aware Pittosporum tobaria don't like very low temperatures (as don't the other Pittosporums). I could lose it if we had a harsh winter, but for some reason that makes it more desirable and makes me appreciate it even more.

It's currently in full flower (end of June) and although that's not really the reason for owning one. The creamy white waxy flowers do make it even more beautiful.  The flowers are highly scented and smell delicious, like a peppery sort of Jasmine.

The plant has a natural domed shape when young, if left to grow, it will produce quite a large shrub.  I saw one growing in the deep shade of the Artisan garden area at Chelsea this year. Presumably it had been part of a show garden many years ago and has now become part of the backdrop to the late spring flower show.

Pittosporum tobaria sheffield yorkshire lee bestall

The glossy dark green leaves of Pittosporum tobaria are quite thick and a beautiful shape. Growing a little each year but still maintaining a natural looking dome shape (with gentle pruning in mid summer).

All in all, Pittosporum tobaria is worth a shot I'd say. It looks great in a pot and has the added advantage of moving it somewhere sheltered in the winter. And if we have a harsh one next year, then I'll buy another! After all, it probably only costs the same as a decent bunch of cut flowers.

Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

Rachel de Thame & Lee Bestall with Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

This Westcountry Lupin was planted in our garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017 to represent the early phase of colour change that the apple blossom buds undergo as they open.

Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

The planting on the perimeter of the garden began with the striking pink Lupins. It then faded through the soft candy pink of Rosa 'Whiter Shade of Pale' and finally to the white foxgloves Digitalis purpurea alba.

Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

Lupin 'Rachel de Thame'

The Rose had such a beautiful soft pink colour and a highly scented flower. A traditional English scented rose with great disease resistance and available from David Austin (although not bred by them)

Lupins are tolerant of poor soil as they actually have the ability to add nutrients back in as they grow. The plant grows to around 70-90cm in height and each of the flower spikes is jammed with bicolour flowers. The heads are monsters and can grow up to 15cm wide! Flower spikes will be produced in the first year alone and the plant boasts plenty of lush green foliage. Watch out for slugs, but seems to be deer and rabbit resistant.

A perennial which attracts plenty of bees and excellent for cutting.