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Photo via Visual Hunt

Living features are a hot trend in the gardening world right now, and not just because they make pretty show pieces. A novel way of packing more life and colour into smaller garden spaces, living features take up minimal ground area while providing a welcome blast of creativity and vibrancy. Recent studies have shown that larger structures such as living walls can absorb noise pollution in urban areas and improve the air quality, meaning that even city centre courtyards can be transformed into peaceful, refreshing spaces.

What is a living garden feature? 

At its most basic level, a living feature is a centrepiece that blends an inanimate object with living plants or foliage, transforming it into an attractive focal point. Ranging from whole walls woven with different species of plants and foliage, to old chairs restored to new glory with a blanket of climbing perennials, living features come in all shapes and sizes for every skill level of gardener. From gardening novices to green-fingered pros, there is a project for everyone.

Living walls and vertical gardens

Give a whole new meaning to the term wallflower! Living walls and vertical gardens are the most common examples of living garden features. A quick and easy living wall can be created by securing a frame to a vertical surface and sitting planters into it. Perfect for cramped yards that lack the space for planters and boxes on the ground, a simple living wall gives you the option of introducing a bright colourful highlight into an otherwise grey area.

Go wild with your plant choices to maximise the impact. Why not create your very own wall herb garden? Wooden Pallets make fantastic mountable planting frames and can be painted and decorated to match the style and theme of your garden.

Photo credit: Stephanie Booth via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

For a chic, low maintenance arty feel, succulents planted into geometric frames look spectacular attached to vertical surfaces. Moss can also be framed for a lovely textured splash of colour. This is perfect for contemporary urban gardens, where little upkeep is required. For a more blended, integrated feature, whole walls blanketed with climbers and trailers offer a terrific sense of privacy and seclusion.

For larger-scale projects like this, you will need a frame to cover the expanse of the surface you want to fill. Pre-assembled kits can be purchased for straightforward installation, although it is possible to fashion your own from pallets or other reclaimed wood and plastic. The beauty of these focal points is that you can fill them with fruit and veg plants as well as foliage-bearing vegetation, giving a rural feel to the most urban spaces. It’s like having your own little secret garden!

Frame it Any object with a natural frame is a perfect candidate for up cycling into a living feature. Obvious garden candidates are structures such as trellises, arbours and pergolas, which can be garlanded with trailing plants and perennials for a stunning effect. Willow is also an excellent material for working into a frame which can then be covered with plants. Archways lined with grapevines are a spectacular choice, as are domes and tunnels lined with flora which make wonderful playhouses and cubbies for children.

However, statement pieces aren’t just limited to wooden structures. Neglected chairs, bicycles, bed frames and tables make superb climbing frames for those lush fragrant climbers such as honeysuckle and clematis. For a quirky, unusual twist, old mannequins can be upcycled into spectacular showstoppers, perfect for all the horticultural fashionistas out there! Topiary  Topiary is a brilliant way of producing striking features from your hedging and shrubs. Although it takes a bit of practise and you won’t be creating masterpieces immediately, this form of artistic gardening is highly addictive and you’ll find that once you start, you won’t be able to stop yourself! 

Photo credit: AV Dezign | www.avdezign.ca via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Start small by fashioning basic cones and shapes before you graduate onto more complicated projects. Cane and wire can be used to construct a basic cutting guide so that you don’t trim too much away. The best topiary plants for beginners are quick growers such as leylandii, privet and quick set. For more intricate designs such as animal shapes, yew, box and bay are good choices.

The key to crafting eye-catching living features is experimentation. Climbers and trailers can be trained along almost any surface provided they have a support to grip, and succulents are hardy species that will grow anywhere with little maintenance. Living features can be as simple or elaborate as you like, depending on the amount of time available to dedicate to them. What a great way of breathing some new life into your outdoor space!

About The Author

Clive Harris is a garden blogger from Essex. If he’s not outside creating some ingenious DIY solution for his garden, he’s inside writing about it.

You can read some of his other articles at DIY Garden or download his free guide titled ’77 creative DIY projects to transform your garden’.


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