WHERE have the last 12 months gone?
After some of the strangest weather for years, you might wonder what the judges will find when they start the job of finding this year’s Garden of the Year.
What with a dry early summer last year (good for flowers), a wet mid-summer (good for growth), a warm end of summer (good for ripening), a freezing cold winter (good for stopping indoors) and a dry spring so far (good for stopping the grass from growing), I suspect we will discover some interesting stories of successes and failures that will make us all realise we are all in the same boat, no matter what we might think.
In my own garden I have lost two large Cordylines, a dwarf Phormium, three Hebes, several Penstemons, a rare Olearia scilloniensis and no doubt other plants still struggling to show themselves.
On a positive note, I have had the best display of spring bulbs for years and spring shrubs such as Forsythia, Ribes, Magnolia and Camellia seem to be flowering better than ever.
So, when you send us pictures of your gardens with your Garden of the Year entry form over the next few weeks, we look forward to seeing superb pictures from last summer as well as this spring time to show off your gardens at their very best.
To help you get the very best out of your garden this year and to wow the judges as they investigate into every corner of your garden, I have outlined the eight judging criteria, each scored out of five, and what these might mean to you.
Firstly, standards of maintenance and cleanliness. We will not be sticking our noses into your garden sheds, composts heaps or wheelie bins – unless you want us to – but one of the overriding factors that has shown up our winners over the last eight years has been the high standards of upkeep of the gardens with clean paths, well cared for plants, a shortage of obvious weed growth and a general feeling that the owners cared about their little piece of England.
Overall design and layout does not mean we are looking for a Chelsea look-a-like but some obvious thought should have gone into the relative positions, size and scale of each feature and how they fit into the design and layout of the property and its surrounding area. Square pegs and round holes make themselves very obvious.
Two of the factors that make a good garden are the range and diversity of the plant material and the best use of that material within the layout of the garden. We do not necessarily downgrade marks just because we do not like your choice of colour combinations or individual plants.
The horizontal and vertical hard landscaping in a garden, if they are well-cared-for and fit in with the overall design of the garden, can add a whole other dimension to a garden but if they are badly maintained they can ruin an otherwise delightful garden.
We have seen an increase in fruit and vegetables in gardens in recent years, added imaginatively to otherwise ornamental plots of land and this productive side of gardening can greatly influence the overall scores.
The last two factors often seem a little vague, but can add vital points to a garden’s score.
We are looking at garden owners who have added features that might be considered as environmentally friendly – ponds, bird baths, bird feeders, indicators of an organic approach and wildlife-friendly plant choice. We will not question you too deeply on this complex subject, but we will be looking for other additional features in the garden that add personality and individuality that will make you and your garden stand out from the crowd.
Over the next eight weeks until June 24 you will find the application form for you to fill in and return and we look forward to seeing some of the best gardens in Huddersfield this summer.