Gardening: Cuttings

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The Independent Online
There's about a month left for thinking about the garden before we'll be back out there, pedalling fast to keep up with the action. But winter is the best time to wander round working out what we need to do to make things work better. Sometimes it's just a matter of adjusting the planting, recognising the fact that there is too much fighting over the same patch for anything to show to advantage. That can be easily put right. More difficult to resolve are the areas where the very shape of the bed, or the angle that a path takes, is uncomfortable. If you need help, turn to Penelope Hobhouse's Garden Designs (Frances Lincoln, pounds 25).

Here are designs and planting plans for 23 different sites, not pie-in- the-sky ideas but real plans for real gardens which Mrs Hobhouse has designed over the last couple of years. The prevailing style is formal - particularly well suited to small, town gardens. Her plan for a typical London plot, an Islington patch three times as long as it is wide, is a classic example of how to make the best of awkward proportions. Her planting includes plenty of lush foliage: clipped bay, camellias, viburnum, euphorbia, ferns, hostas, catmint.

The range of situations covered in the book includes a windswept island off the west coast of Scotland, gardens safe for small children (fill the water tank with large pebbles) and gardens designed to be plundered for flowers for the house. The planting schemes are lush and varied, and the book is at the same time practical and dreamy, a rare combination.

On Thursday 19 February, Sybille Kreutzberger and Pamela Schwerdt, "the girls", as they were generally known when they gardened at Sissinghurst for the redoubtable Vita Sackville-West, will be telling the story of the new garden that they have made since retiring to the Cotswolds (I've seen it, and it is brilliant). This is the third talk in the Winter Lecture Series arranged by the Oxford Botanic Garden, which take place in the Garden Quadrangle Auditorium, St John's College, Oxford and start at 8pm. Tickets (pounds 6) from Louise Allen at the Botanic Garden, Rose Lane, Oxford OX1 4AX (01865 276920).