Last month I spent a lovely couple of days with a mate visiting gardens down south. We planned to see two gardens specifically, Sissinghurst and Great Dixter. They are quite different in style – Sissinghurst is much more manicured, each ‘garden room’ clearly delineated with a theme and a complementary colour theme – the White Garden, the Lime Walk, The Purple border. Dixters’ design is a bit more fluid, planted more densely and with colours that sing out in contrast to shock as well as impress. But both had a thing or two to teach us about how to plant and display plants. Some lessons learned or remembered: • Plant spring bulbs in generous drifts. In my humble opinion the smaller headed, paler varieties of daffodils look best in meadow type settings, bold giants such as ‘King Alfred’ have their place but not in naturalistic drifts in grass; • Plant tulips through the borders , be prepared to replant every year as they tend to disappear. They prefer well drained soil; • Plant snakes head fritillaries, they are wonderful; • Don’t prune your shrub roses to death. Take out the dead and overlapping stems to leave an open, clean plant with long stems. Gently pull each stem over and down a little into a semi circle and tie them to a rustic stake. You will get flowers all along the branch and it will look better, mulch thickly, preferably with well rotted manure; • Plant snakes head fritillaries; • Fill gaps in your borders now with hardy annuals and perennials. At Dixter they plant red tulips among new lupin plants. It’s a good combo now, and when the tulips finish the lupins will take over the space; • Plant more snakes head fritillaries; • Position generous groups of pots together in one place rather than spread out in rows. The impact is magnificent and, if you plan ahead a bit, you can keep it looking fresh for ages. It’s easier to water and feed too. Shrubs, bulbs and bedding plants all make good candidates for a while in a pot; • Plant even more snakes head fritillaries (I may have mentioned that already, but they are wonderful). I guess the message here if you are interested in being a bit more creative in your outside space, do some garden visiting to get inspired. Even if a garden is vast and has the advantage of professional gardeners, there is always something you can realistically take back to your own plot. The National Gardens Scheme has a good website that will show you where is open locally: 7 Collygate in Kimberly is lovely and open in May but there are several, especially if you are prepared to travel a few miles. www.ngs.org.uk Take the time to enjoy your garden at this wonderful time of year.