How to Create a Unique Garden

In Her Newcastle Under Lyme Plot Joanne Barnes Has Created a Unique Space Packed With Planters and Style

How many pots do you have in your garden?

Five? Ten? Maybe a dozen? It’s a safe bet that Joanne Barnes beats most garden owners hands down. At any one time, she has a total of up to 307 pots in her garden. “I’m definitely a maximalist when it comes to the garden!”

Joanne says. “I started my plant pot collection not long after I moved in 20 years ago and it’s grown and grown. Someone once asked me on Instagram how many I have, so I went round counting them.

It was 307 that day and, although I like to move things around, I’d guess my average is at least 300.” Joanne’s garden wasn’t always the bustling, jam-packed plot it is today. When h d h now grown-up son moved to their 1950s semi in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1999, the garden was the last thing on her mind. With a seven-year- old to care for and the house to whip into shape, she relied on her parents to keep things ticking over outside. “Mum and Dad live nearby and, luckily, they’re both green-fingered,” she says. “They mowed the lawn, trimmed the hedges and took the ugly old greenhouse and shed down. With everything neat and tidy, I was left with a blank canvas.”

How to Create a Unique Garden


It was a few easy-to-grow plants in pots that Joanne first popped into her garden. “Back then, I didn’t have a clue about plants,” she remembers. “But Mum’s an amazing gardener d loves pottering in her greenhouse. She ught me about light and shade, when to ater, and how to feed. “I started small with foliage such as ferns nd grasses, and flowers including iris and eraniums. I started looking all over the place or pots to add to my collection, from garden entres to bargains in B&M (

My confidence grew as I realised pots are easier and more versatile than border planting. It’s trial and error – you can move the pots around if they’re not happy!” As the years passed and the pots multiplied, Joanne’s lawn became smaller and smaller. Gravel gradually replaced grass, until a liberating decision was made. “I thought, ‘Do I really need a lawn at all?’,” Joanne remembers. “By now my son was older, and I enjoyed my garden being busy. And the last bit of grass was so small, it wasn’t worth mowing – I may as well have used a pair of scissors to cut it!”

How to Create a Unique Garden

Joanne followed her gut instinct and got rid of the remaining circular patch of grass. In its place went half a tonne of gravel – the perfect platform on which to place more of Joanne’s beloved pots.


To help her tend to her many pots, Joanne decided to create a walkway. “I wanted to break up the space and create a pathway through the centre,” she explains. “I hired a builder to lay paving slabs down the centre, and I played with the layout of the pots, making sure there were gaps so I could navigate my way through. “Along with two painted summerhouses and fencing that Mum and I put in ourselves, there was enough structure and height to break up the sea of pots.” Another change to the garden’s layout came in the form of an updated patio, which a local builder laid. The dated patch of crazy paving Joanne inherited from the previous owners was replaced with sleek grey block paving. “That transformed the space,” says Joanne. “I bought a sofa, table and chairs from Homebase, and it’s now my favourite spot. I sit there in the sun after work and enjoy that view of all my plants.”


And what a view it is. From greenery in the form of Fatsia japonica, box topiary and Japanese acers, to flowers such as foxglove, agapanthus and geraniums, Joanne’s plants create a riot of colour and texture. “I buy what I love, with a bit of help from my mum,” Joanne says. “And anything that’s not thriving, I move to a different spot, either in the sun, the shade or a more sheltered position. In the last few years I’ve added succulents, which I love. And my all-time favourite is my ginkgo tree because I adore the twisty shape of the branches and unusually shaped leaves.”

When it comes to tending to the pots, Joanne picks up a watering can in dry spells. Multi-purpose compost designed to retain water minimises the need for watering, and mum Sandra steps in when she’s away. One of Joanne’s big style influences is Instagram, where she’s been swapping inspiration with other gardeners. “Lots of my followers have told me they’re going to pinch some of my ideas, which I love. I pick up ideas from them, too. “One of the decorative features that gets most attention is my rustic crown planters, which I bought a few years ago from an Arthur Swallow Salvage Fair ( I added to them with more from a shop called Tattered Chic of Harrogate ( The largest is over a foot tall.

How to Create a Unique Garden

They’re so striking.” Those crowns make up just a fraction of Joanne’s diverse pot collection, spanning bargain terracotta ones that set her back less than £5 to investment pieces such as huge York stone urns, which cost over £100 each. Along with tall metal sculptures bought at RHS Tatton Flower Show, outdoor rugs and solar-panelled fairy lights strewn across the summerhouses, Joanne’s garden is a visual feast. “When people first see it, they gasp in amazement,” Joanne smiles. “I have a ritual now where I’ll leave visitors outside to wander and take everything in. Eventually, I come out with tea for them and answer all their questions!”


Asked if her garden is complete, Joanne is unequivocal. “No way! It’s been a labour of love but it’ll never be finished,” she says. “Each year I come up with new ideas for how to rearrange the pots and change the layout. I have over 300 already but I can always find a spot for another pot, and that’s what I love about my garden.”

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