5. SOIL pH

Decide on the type of plan you require, for example ornamental or vegetable.

These should show existing features, especially those that will be part of the proposed project, such as paths, sheds, specimen trees/shrubs etc. and include a measuring stick or standard item such as a spade to give a sense of scale. They should include views from the house or other important vantage points and any external vistas that may be important. This includes anything that you may wish to screen.

Initially this does not need to be precise, pacing out the dimensions of the garden will do. Mark the position of existing structures and don’t forget drains, manhole covers and any thing else that might be relevant.

Please ensure that the aspect (the direction the garden faces) is clearly and accurately shown. This not only affects what can be grown where but also governs the leisure use of the garden, e.g. evening sun during summer.

Slight slopes should be marked once again showing the aspect, but steep slopes will necessitate a site visit, as designs cannot be drawn up without determining the degree and elevation.

More information may be required once agreement has been reached on the price of the project.

The following characteristics of damp soil can be used to determine the soil texture but as soils are normally composed of varying proportions of the following three factions plus organic matter. You will have to decide on which is the dominant faction.

Clay    retains its shape when moulded, surface smears to a shine when rubbed.
Sand    crumbles when squeezed into a ball and feels gritty.
Silt    feels almost soapy when rubbed between finger and thumb.
Loam is a balanced mixture of the above but may contain a greater proportion of one or other of the above: clay loam is stickier than a silty loam which in turn is stickier than a sandy loam.

To determine the depth of your topsoil dig a hole until there is an obvious change in the soil

The sub-soil may be a different colour, usually lighter due to lack of organic matter, or a different texture, more clayey or sandy often with more stones. You may also hit bedrock.

If there is no apparent difference at two spits deep (a spit is the length of the spade’s blade) then you have deep topsoil.

5.  Soil pH
The pH of the soil is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. It is important as it affects the choice of plants that will thrive in a particular soil, e.g. rhododendrons and camellias need an acid soil, low pH, while many members of the cabbage family will be susceptible to club root, a fungal disease, unless the soil is on the alkaline side of neutral, i.e. a pH above 7.

It is relatively easy to find the acidity or alkalinity, pH, of your soil by using a soil test kit available from any garden centre, just follow the instructions.

Acid soil can be made more alkaline by adding lime but it is much more difficult to acidify an alkaline soil.

You can often get an idea of the reaction of your soil by observing the plants that thrive in your locality, old varieties of hydrangea are often a good indicator, and blue flowers denote acidity and pink alkalinity. This is the opposite of litmus paper.


Growing your own vegetables is becoming much more popular with the sale of seeds of edible crops outstripping ornamentals for the first time since the Second World War.

During my four years as Head Gardener at The Lost Gardens of Heligan I had a special interest in the Kitchen Garden. The scale of this garden allowed us to grow a wider range of species than is generally possible these days, this diversity and the use of many older, but still garden and kitchen worthy, varieties allowed me to acquire a practical knowledge of vegetable growing that I would like to pass onto other gardeners.

I believe that when growing food it is only commonsense to follow an organic regime using good growing practice to minimise pest and disease problems but there may be times when the only alternative to total crop loss is a chemical treatment. In such cases the limited use of a safe chemical may be justified, that is a personal choice of the gardener.

The design of the vegetable garden includes a garden plan showing the paths, beds etc., a list of vegetables to be grown and an easy to follow cropping and rotation plan with full explanations.

I will be putting together a collection of vegetable seeds consisting of some staple and some more unusual types and varieties to provide interest over most of the year both in the garden and on the plate. This collection would make an ideal starter pack for the novice or an interesting addition to an existing list. It will contain cultural and harvesting instructions along with some serving suggestions.

Unfortunately postage and packing costs would prohibit the inclusion of such bulky items as seed potato, rhubarb crowns, herb plants or onion sets, shallots or garlic but I would try to put you in touch with reputable suppliers. This would , of course, depend on availability and season.

Every garden is different and every gardener wants something different from his or her garden so each design will be unique. Therefore the cost of a design will depend on the time required to complete it.

An initial non-returnable deposit of £15 should be sent with the completed form, plan and photos. Once the photos and brief have been processed the cost of the design can be calculated. If agreement is reached the work can proceed on payment of 5% of the fee less the deposit. The residue will become due on completion of the design.

A vegetable garden design would include the vegetable seed collection mentioned above.

If you require construction and planting of the design I would probably be able to provide the complete service, including maintenance, for most of Cornwall and possibly parts of west Devon.