Did you go to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year? Or did you watch chunks of it on BBC1? I did both – and thoroughly enjoyed my annual pilgrimage on the Tuesday to soak up the thrills of the new and hope to reacquaint myself with old friends. As always, I wander around the show gardens, wondering what I as a designer would do were I to be faced with the challenges of a small site, with a number of sightlines and requirements, limited budget and materials which left me with the following observations. (more…)
One of the more unlikely publishing successes in 2015 came from Japanese writer Marie Kondo. Her first book, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’, described the work of the consultancy she has built up to help clients with the positive aspects of tidying and decluttering, disposing of items which were no longer required, and storing the remainder of their possessions in logical, accessible ways.
The standing joke in our household is that I never knowingly under-cater for any occasion. I love the biblical image of a measure being filled up, pressed down and flowing over in generosity and abundance. And my approach to planting is the same – I am not one who enjoys the sight of brown soil between regimented plants. Instead I prefer to pack them in, each one supporting and supported by its neighbours, a dense Klimt canvas of colour and texture.
Faith, we were taught to recite in Sunday school, is the essence of things hoped for and the substance of things not seen. And I was reflecting on this last Sunday afternoon as I sat, perched on an old set of steps in the greenhouse, planting sweet pea seeds into pots of warm brown compost. For it seems to me that gardening is a very faith-based activity: planting seeds which contain a spark of life in the firm belief that they will germinate, grow, flourish and flower. So my favourite plant this month is not one which is currently in flower, but one that we can already begin looking forward to.
By the time we reach the end of December, almost all the colour in the garden has faded and gone and we are left to face the coming months of dull greys and browns, which is rather a gloomy prospect. So to be able to plant something which gives us colour, and long-lasting colour at that, is a huge treat. And therefore, to round off the year, I present to you my favourite winter tree for Christmas.
One of the beauties of being outside in the garden at this time of year is the lack of distraction – no flaming colours of leaf or petal to catch the eye – instead the soothing tones of greys and browns, fudge, chocolate, toffee, and the deep calm green of evergreen leaves. At this stage, treat yourself, set aside your spade for a moment and get right up close to those tiny miracles of sculpture – seedheads. (more…)
As a garden designer I approach the commission of designs for public spaces with pleasure; the wider landscape offers me the scope to think big and to plant in multiples of 10 rather than the small quantities required for domestic settings. In spring 2015 the Royal Automobile Club approached me with the suggestion that I redesign an area of their Epsom country club grounds which had formerly been used for a centenary logo which was no longer required. And so it was that I took up the opportunity to redesign the Centenary Bank, aware that this part of the estate is on view all year round. My response to the site was that the planting had to be in keeping with the restrained and elegant style of Woodcote Park, offering visual interest for as much of the year as possible, harmonising with both the golf courses and gardens. The design had to address the steepness of the sloping ground, be beautiful and yet not too attention seeking, respectful of the ancient Cedar trees which stand behind it. The concept I submitted for approval was a simple evergreen hedge of Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ along the top of the bank, to increase safety of members using the path along the top of the site, a mixture of Hydrangeas, H. paniculata ‘Early Sensation’, H. paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ and H. paniculata ‘tardiva’ in the centre and flowing round the existing yews, with a foreground planting of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Anne Russell’. All the blossom is white at some point, with touches of pink, contrasting with the greens of the foliage. Work began in early April with the construction of lateral timber supports across the slope at regular intervals to prevent the soil from being washed down the site, the replanting of existing heaths, and the addition of compost and fertiliser. Following this 60 Viburnum tinus, 85 Hydrangea and 90 Viburnum x burkwoodii were set out and planted, and were then watered and mulched the area thickly to retain moisture. The cool spring allowed the plants a little time to settle in before starting to bloom and the view across the Fountain lawn is now one of a bank covered with soft creamy plumes of flower. This new area of the gardens has attracted a very positive response from Members and the Woodcote bees alike and I am looking forward to next year when the plants have become completely established and will be in full bloom.
My next project for the Club is the planting of some 350 Alliums and 50 scarlet Crown Imperial Fritillaries in a border opposite the main building to provide colour and interest in June.
Recently, when referring to the intensity of colour generated by lower light levels at this time of year, Monty Don called late summer in the garden ‘the Velvet Time’, which struck me as a beautiful expression, and started me thinking about texture in the plants we use.
If I lean out of an upstairs window at home I can see the steeply-pitched tiled roof on an old Sussex farmhouse up the lane. The house itself must be at least three hundred years old and the roof, while it has undoubtedly been replaced over time, has that wonderful soft glow of clay tiles which have mellowed in sunshine and withstood rain and snow over the seasons. And looking at it recently it made me think about how rarely we use stretches of single colours in our gardens. (more…)
In a month which is so flower-packed and full of colour and fragrance, my favourite this June is chosen instead for its unusual leaves. No, not variegated, striped, blotched or fringed, but instead almost sculptural. Take a look at Hosta ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ and you will see exactly what I mean.