Wednesday, 17 July 2013

It's Hot in the Garden

  The weather has finally turned for the better and we're in for a warm spell. Hurrah! So, following my trip to the Hampton Court flower show I thought I'd post a selection pictures of what's 'hot' in the garden at the moment - and the planting schemes designed for this year's show certainly were.

  There were several different categories of show garden: conceptual gardens; show gardens; low cost - high impact gardens; and summer gardens. Here are just a few....

  Conceptual Gardens - designed to "engage, to provoke, to stimulate debate and to inspire":

'Desolation to Regeneration' designed by Catherine MacDonald
'Desolation to Regeneration' designed by Catherine MacDonald
  The designer used colour and sculpture to depict the journey from wildfire deforestation to regeneration.

'Tip of the Iceberg' designed by John Esling & Caroline Tait
'Tip of the Iceberg' designed by John Esling & Caroline Tait
  A graphic illustration of the mountain of fridges thrown away each year, here "given a new lease of life as building blocks and planters."

  Show Gardens:
'The Ecover Garden' designed by Matthew Childs
'The Ecover Garden' designed by Matthew Childs
  The Best in Show was awarded to this garden and rightly so for Matthew's superb planting combinations, with the blues representing the movement and colour of water. I loved the tactile stepping stones too.

'Vestra Wealth's Jardin du Gourmet' designed by Paul Martin
  This calm garden featured a sunken dining terrace, a fully functioning outdoor kitchen and an attractive array of edible planting.

'The McCarthy & Stone Garden' designed by Chris Beardshaw

  Attractive planting design solutions, including beech hedges and a wildflower meadow were central to this garden, with contrasting textures and foliage forms.


  Low Cost, High Impact Gardens - designed by members of the Association of Professional Landscapers these gardens gave the public an idea of the what could be achieved with a modest fixed budget of £7,000, £13,000 or £15,000:

'In at the Deep End' designed by Peter Cowell & Monty Richardson
  This 'floating' patio was created within a budget of £7,000 among bog-style planting borders, designed to offer solutions where drainage can be a problem.

'Bugs in Boots' designed by Caspian Robertson
  The budget for this ecological garden was £13,000. It was designed to flood during heavy rainfall with the water permeating slowly into the soil rather than running off elsewhere. I thought the metalwork sculptures here, forming an informal fence, were great.

'Mid Century Modern' designed by Adele Ford & Susan Willmott
  This garden was created with a budget of £15,000 and included retro spherical hanging seats. In fact, when I was studying at the English Gardening School I included very similar seats in a bespoke pergola design for one of my own projects!

'A Room with A View' designed by Arun Landscapes
  Built with a budget of £15,000, I thought that this garden felt quite desolate because of the muted brown, blue and green tones, however I really liked the reclaimed timber stepping stones.

Summer Gardens:

'The Garden Pad', designed by Dan Bowyer

  This was one of my favourite designs: a simple, sunken garden, enclosed by attractive planting. 

'The Hot Stuff Garden' designed by Liz Rentzsch, Victoria Truman & Marcus Foster

  Here a cobbled path led to a simple circular terrace surrounded by five Sorbus aria forming a living pergola. The planting was airy, colourful and delightfully summery. 

Victoria Truman & Heather Martin
  NB. I must admit to a little bias here, having trained alongside Liz, Victoria, Marcus and Andrew (of APS Landscapes, who was also involved in building the garden) at the English Gardening School. Here's a picture of me with Victoria (left) celebrating their fantastic Silver medal.

'Layers & Links' designed by Raine Clarke-Wills

  Another sunken garden, incorporating clipped box and integrated seating into the formal design.

'A Cool Garden' designed by Ruth Marshall
  I thought these wiggly rills were just wonderful.

'Four Corners' designed by Peter Reader
  This garden featured another colourful selection of summer flowers.

'Willow Pattern' designed by Sue Thomas
  Inspiration for this garden was taken from the blue & white Willow Pattern plates, with the planting scheme and landscaping reflecting a traditional Chinese story. 

  Of course, unlike the Chelsea flower show, there were plenty of plants to buy at the show, with the nurseries having filled wonderful containers to show off their magnificent plants. Naturally I couldn't resist and came home on the train inspired to create a hot border before next year's show comes around.
Ixia 'Hogarth', Achillea 'Walther Funcke' & Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty'
Hampton Court, Tuesday, 9th July 2013

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Chelsea Centenary - This Year's trends in the Show Gardens


  For Christmas I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to go along to the centenary of the RHS Flower Show in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. It was a fab chance to meet with specialist nurseries and discover new plants to incorporate into my planting schemes as well as to take a look at the very latest trends in garden design and landscaping.

  The gardens on show here can't be described as real gardens, as the usual needs of a garden owner - such as where to hide the dustbins and how to incorporate a play area for children alongside attractive spaces for adults to entertain their friends in - don't have to be addressed, but the sponsors of each garden are keen to get their own message across through the designer's interpretation of their brief and as such the designers do have to keep their sponsor in mind when creating their showpiece gardens.

  Whilst the mix of designers participating in the show changes each year, it's interesting how there are always one or two themes that can be picked up across a number of gardens. This year I wondered whether the sponsors' purse strings had been tightened a little as there was, in general, a slight move away from large expanses of hard landscaping and incorporating very mature trees in favour of using younger specimens and a mixture of materials to produce the effect of expensive cut stone in the gardens without the cost of using it throughout. 
The Laurent-Perrier Garden designed by Ulf Nordfjell
  I also noticed several designers, including Robert Myers, Jo Thompson, Kate Gould and the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Partnership opting to create sunken gardens, thus adding an element of interest through the different levels and, to a certain extent, creating the feeling of seclusion within the spaces.
The Brewin Dolphin Garden designed by Robert Myers
  The designers did not just dig down to create interest through changes of level though: among others Ruth Willmott and Frederic Whyte, Jinny Blom and Phil Johnson built their gardens upwards creating dynamic gardens, each with their own story.
 B&Q Sentebale Forget-Me-Not Garden designed by Jinny Blom
Trailfinders Australian Garden presented by Fleming's designed by Phil Johnson
  The emphasis on sustainability in building our gardens continued this year with the return of the Blue Water Roof Garden project, which demonstrated multiple ways in which to protect water resources as well as "innovative biodiversity and habitat features". Kate Gould's garden showed how industrial waste could be reworked to form a modern garden, while Jo Thompson's 'Stop the Spread' garden highlighted the risk which pests, diseases and invasive non-native species of plants pose to our gardens and wildlife. 
RBC Blue Water Roof Garden designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett
The Wasteland designed by Kate Gould
  The importance of incorporating wildlife-friendly planting and passing our skills and knowledge on to the next generation of gardeners was the theme of Adam Frost's garden, with bee accommodation also central to Amy Curtis' dressing of one of the sculptural towers in the Fresh Gardens category of the show.
The Homebase Garden 'Sowing the Seeds of Change' designed by Adam Frost
Urban Bee Hotel designed by Amy Curtis
  The use of sculpture has long been one of my favourite aspects of designing a garden and this year's show gardens did not fail to please:
Roger Platts included a contemporary 'window' in corten steel
in his design for the M&G Centenary Garden 
Ben Barrell's sculpture in The Brewin Dolphin Garden
designed by Robert Myers
 'Libertine' wirework sculpture by Michelle Castles
in 
The Arthritis Research UK Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
Bronze sculpture of Orpheus by Carl Milles,
loaned to designer Ulf Nordfjell by the MillesgĂ„rden Museum
in Stockholm 
for The Laurent-Perrier Garden 
  So, what of the planting and materials used in the gardens? Well, Kate Gould's designs did show that concrete can be successfully incorporated into gardens, but on the whole designers used sawn and laser-cut rock for a contemporary look, both with and without mortared joints. Narrow brick pavers made an appearance as well as stone chippings which doubled up as both ground cover and paving. Bold walls incorporated geometric patterns, with cuboid blocks appearing on a couple of occasions providing a look not dissimilar to the smaller blocks of cut rock that featured in contemporary drystone walls.
East Village Garden designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius
The Brand Alley Garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes
Stoke-on-Trent's story of Transformation designed by Stoke-on-Trent Garden Partnership
featured a living wall above a contemporary drystone wall built from cut rock
Daily Telegraph Garden designed by Christopher Bradley-Hole
  The geometry in the walls was transposed into planting by Christopher Bradley-Hole. Blocks of evergreen shrubs were trimmed into cubes of varying heights. Between the formal cubes his planting was consistent with the loose, meadow-inspired planting also seen in most of the other show gardens. Plants that appeared in a number of gardens include Euphorbia x pasteurii (Spurge), Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' (Black-stemmed Cow Parsley) and Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair-grass), which was used effectively in the East Village Garden to provide a contrasting form and texture to other plants, although to my mind it creates quite an unkempt look when used to create an informal planting style. 
Impecable planting in the East Village Garden 
designed by Michael Balston and Marie-Louise Agius
  I'm sure that the very late spring has played its part this year with the lack of warmth meaning that plants that would ordinarily have been coaxed into flower have yet to bloom, so the colour palette at the start of the week was somewhat muted throughout the show gardens. However, in stark contrast was the warm, densely planted and colourful garden of plantsman Chris Beardshaw at his best.
The Arthritis Research UK Garden designed by Chris Beardshaw
  Multi-stemmed native trees continued to be popular with the designers and many more varieties are becoming available to us as the specimens that have been grown and nurtured for a number of years by specialist tree nurseries reach more mature sizes. The immaculate grass lawn also made a return to Chelsea, appearing in the East Village Garden, The Homebase Garden, The 9 Billion Conversation Garden and The Brewin Dolphin Garden.

  Water features were popular again too, from shallow dipping ponds to gentle, but noisy, waterfalls (I didn't spot any formal rills, but that's not to say there weren't any hiding among the planting), as well as reflective pools.
The 9 Billion Conversation Garden designed by Ruth Willmott and Frederic Whyte 
  In the marquee the displays were stunning, as always, but the plant that caught my eye this year was outside in the Stoke-on-Trent Transformation garden. This beautiful English Rose 'Lady of Shalott' is described as "a reliable and hardy rose, resistant to disease and blooming over a long period. Orange-red buds open to form calico-shaped blooms with a warm, tea fragrance." 
Rosa 'Lady of Shalott'
  Finally a word about the trade stands. With such an abundance of great planting around the show the effort that's put in to making the stands look great is often overlooked, but the planting at one in particular caught my eye. Landform Consultants had been asked by Hartley Botanic to do the hard landscaping for displaying the glasshouses and I'm sure you'll agree that it looks fab. I'm not sure who was responsible for the planting, I assume someone from the Landform team, but I though it looked great and I hope there'll be a little sunshine soon to coax their flowers into opening.   
Hartley Botanic's trade stand designed by Landform Consultants
  So that's it from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 2013. I really enjoyed my day and I'm looking forward to the next RHS Flower Show at Hampton Court in July. Until then I'm off to find a space for that rose...
Chelsea, Tuesday 21st May 2013

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

A touch of frost?

  It's been a cold, icy and, at times, snowy week in the garden. I've been out making sure that visiting wildlife has access to water and that the feeders have been topped up for the birds I've been encouraging into the garden. So far, it's been the easiest week of winter to shuffle all the family outdoors: the children were quick to stumble into the snow to find the sledge and throw snowballs, while Steve was keen to capture some wintry images on his new camera.
                            © Steven J. Martin
  For me, the snow has been a great tool for helping to think about the form and texture of the plants I use in the garden. Individual leaves, detailed with a shimmer of frost or sprinkling of snow, highlight the contrast between neighbouring plants. 
                                                     fans of Fatsia japonica leaves

  On a larger scale, differences in the overall form of plant shapes are easy to see beneath a covering of snow - rounded, conical, spikey or a low mound. It's useful to reflect on whether the balance of different shapes in the border is quite right and to make notes to add, take away or move plants later in the year to refresh and restore a balance where needed.
                                                         strappy leaves of Phormium
  The snow has also provided a welcome blanket over the plants, protecting them from the cold. At home, you might be well advised to consider knocking snow off any hedges and conifers to prevent them from becoming mis-shapen with the weight of the snow. Once the snow's melted there is still a risk of frost damage: most at risk are container-grown plants as it's the plant's roots that are particularly susceptible to cold. Wrap the containers in bubble-wrap or even newspaper tied with a string and stuffed with straw to provide some protection against the cold. 
Appledore, Wednesday, 23rd January, 2013

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Winter colour in the garden


                                               Wakehurst Place, Sussex
  At this time of year it's often easy to think of the garden as being rather bare of colour, with interest focussed on the shape and form of evergreen shrubs and any texture provided by bare branches and twisted bark. However, all is not lost. With some careful planning your garden can be colourful too and can become a welcome haven in the short January days.
  To see some winter colour for yourself take a visit to Wakehurst Place in Sussex, where some wonderful winter planting combinations can be found, as well as deliciously scented shrubs that are well placed to remind you of the ability of a garden to touch all of your senses.
                                   Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' AGM
  Two planting combinations in particular caught my eye when I visited today: firstly Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' AGM - a highly scented evergreen shrub which is covered in star-like ice-pink flowers - shown off against the contrasting deep purple foliage of an adjacent Pittosporum, and secondly, in a contemporary planting style, Cornus alba 'Kesselringii' underplanted with a carpet of Erica x darleyensis 'White Perfection' AGM, the dark red bark of the deciduous dogwood contrasted beautifully against the soft white mounds of the low-growing evergreen shrub beneath. By repeated planting of each of the shrubs, the two borders were able to provide simple, yet very effective splashes of colour, texture and, in the case of Daphne bhoula, scent on an overcast and chilly afternoon.
                                                           Cornus alba 'Kesselringii'
                             Erica x darleyensis 'White Perfection' AGM

Wakehurst Place, Tuesday, 8th January 2013

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The English Flower Garden

                                                Gravetye Manor, Sussex
   A sense of decay surrounds me as I wander through the old garden. Created by William Robinson in 1898 this is the first of the new English style of garden that became popular in the post-Victorian era. Instead of formal borders, clipped hedging and topiary is a more relaxed style of planting, where the garden is allowed to reflect the natural forms in the countryside beyond. Perennials spill over the edge of the border and onto the path. The seam at the end of the garden is lost in a soft boundary of blue catmint, rolling down the hill onto open fields. Only a geometrically shaped lawn reminds you that this informality has been created by the hand of man.
   The garden has been reclaimed in recent years and a program of restoration is underway. Bindweed, prolific throughout the garden, is being tamed and with every successful step the borders are returned to the original plan of the master. I visit in October when the summer flowers have lost their colour, save for pumpkin-orange Heleniums contrasting beautifully with the late flowering spires of purple-blue Salvia. Hues of beige and brown are evident all around.
   The garden draws me in, calling me onward and upwards, away from the sixteenth-century manor house and through shrubs thrown together with only the pea-gravel path separating them and defining their boundaries. I chance upon an Azalea, the stems hidden beneath ancient lichen, its leaves red in the autumn rain, underplanted with a sea of Stipa tenuissima, a suggestion of the garden that grew whilst Sleeping Beauty awaited the approach of her handsome prince. At the end of my climb I chance upon the walled garden. It is a marvel, its oval shape placed, it feels, precariously on the side of the hill. I find its curve creates a satisfying walk and allows the kitchen and cutting garden produce to be appreciated together, in one sweeping glance. 
   I follow a sunken pathway, cut into the side of the hill, the flagstones lead me on as though sharing a secret. Indeed it does: I am returned to the house - an archway leads me to the main entrance where I am warmly greeted in time for my lunch. Un-noticed, steps lead down from the sunken path to the kitchen, where the chef will prepare the freshest ingredients offered by one of the four gardeners that day.
Gravetye Manor, Friday, 19th October 2012

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A storm they said would never come


"EARLIER ON TODAY A WOMAN RANG THE BBC AND SAID SHE HEARD THERE WAS A HURRICANE ON THE WAY... DON'T WORRY, THERE ISN'T..."
(Michael Fish, Thursday 15th October 1987)


                                                                                                      Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' AGM
   Today I celebrate a birthday, an anniversary and a new life. My birthday, returned before I've come to terms with the last: gifts of bubble bath and bulbs, a silent seduction of spring - looking to the future. An anniversary, silver, of a storm they said would never come. Trees torn from the ground leaving hollows in place of their roots, felling ancient oaks, vistas returned from time long gone - a reminder of the past. And the present - a precious gift: the baby born to loving home, I join the ladies cooing over tiny fingers, forgotten whimpers and squeaks, each mother reminded of her own child long ago.
   To the birthday I hold up my hands, there's no fighting the passage of time. The bulbs, a gift from my parents, Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' AGM - a real treat in store. In my mind I picture the border, the flowering balls providing a dash of colour against lime-green Euphorbia and rounded tulip petals as the days lengthen once again.
   For the anniversary I remember, being called to sleep in the sitting room as the winds rattled the windows, blowing hard enough to move the curtains through the glass and the morning devistation, unable to leave the road for fallen trees, electricity and telephone lines down and bedrooms opened to the elements by the canopies of trees that came to rest against buildings in their path. Naturally my birthday party, my thirteenth, was cancelled that year.
   To the child I smile: the newest member of our ladies lunch group. Flowers from the garden for the host, dusky pink Hydrangea against Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' AGM foliage, gentle and romantic in their tones. The time passes fast as we talk, a friendship borne from the history we have in common.
Appledore, Tuesday, 16th October 2012