Friday, 18 December 2009

Tidings of great joy

After much gnashing of teeth, wringing of hands and chewing of fingernails, I found out yesterday that Jonathan Denby and I have had our garden accepted for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show! Yippeeeee!!

Thank goodness for the Christmas break to get myself organised in the office and sort out some project planning as now doing two show gardens next year. Hope the influx of grey hairs won't speed up as next year unravels...

As I looked out over my snow-covered garden this morning, it occurred that I really should have dug my dahlias up and salvaged some rather nice species pelargoniums earlier in the month.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Well seasoned

Summer's end and autumn's glory seem like a dim, distant memory now. Here we are, a week before Christmas and I feel like a mole blinking in the daylight and wondering where the last few months have gone. It's great to have been busy, but now my office looks like a tornado has visited and deposited piles of paperwork in places where it shouldn't be, makes it a challenge to find information at times! Sadly, I am looking forward to a couple days over the Christmas break to get the office into order for 2010. And tidy the garden (might take more than a couple of days).

Talking about tornadoes, over the last couple of months gardens have been created and planted in equally challenging conditions as hefty autumnal gales battered pots waiting to be planted out, wafted mypex membrane like a Cirque Du Soleil repertoire and left me feeling like a barnacle clinging to the side of a rock (or hillside, in this case). Remind me again what is glamorous about being a garden designer?

Autumn is RHS show garden application time, too, when forms of all shapes and sizes are filled in and changed many times, designs endlessly tweaked, re-tweaked and re-tweaked again, all in the general outpouring of time to get your design noticed by the RHS design panel. I have it on good authority that the panel always find something to pick up and I maverickly enjoy the mental challenge of working out what that 'something' is. At the moment, I'm waiting to hear about a RHS Chelsea Flower Show application, my first garden there, which I have co-designed with Jonathan Denby who has the most fantastic hillside garden, Yewbarrow House, at Grange-Over-Sands in Cumbria. Views to die for, plants to salivate over. He's a bit of an expert in Victorian gardens and there lies the clue to our design submission.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show beckons next July, too. I was selected as designer by Girlguiding UK for their Centenary garden in August, much to my surprise and delight. It's an incredibly fun project to work on and completely different to anything I've done before. But that's all part, I feel, of the evolution of being a garden designer - to be challenged out of your comfort zone and push out the boundaries of your design thinking. This garden is definitely happening although we await the RHS feedback on the design submission (I think I've worked out what they are not going to like). I can't say anything about the design at this stage, but just don't expect the expected! Think fun and the unexpected.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Done and dusted

Wow, another RHS Silver-Gilt medal for my Hampton Court show garden! Fantastic news, at least I'm consistent having gained three of the same medals in the last three years exhibiting at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Lots of media attention (great garden for photographers of all abilities), loved by the visitors and Sadolin, the sponsor, very happy at feedback, too.

A planting plan for a square border will soon be available to purchase through my main website,, and the border will show planting for year round interest. The border for the Sadolin show garden had to look at it's best for that period, but did actually contain many plants that would look good through autumn and winter with interest from seedheads and grasses. In response to visitor's enquiries, I thought it would be good to have a plan for people to try at home, showing plants that would add interest throughout all the seasons.

Friday, 3 July 2009

It ain't half hot, mum

A snatched night back at home, complete with bag of dirty washing in exchange for a bag of clean clothes! This week has been amazing and I'm still not sure how everyone, the plants, and I have survived the intense heat. I've been drinking three litres of water a day, working outside for 12 hours and then not sleeping much back at the hotel. No surprise I feel somewhat shattered, then! All nicely finished off with a two hour traffic jam on the M25 on the way home.

But wow, how everyone has worked hard! Marc and his team from Garden Care have been incredible and have done a fantastic job getting everything painted and finished. Janet, Nick and Siobhan have sweltered under a burning sun planting all the plants - thank you all! It's great to be in the position of having the garden practically finished, just need to set out all the items from John Lewis Kingston on Saturday then tidy up the plants for judging on Monday.

Sneak preview of the garden...

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The sun has got his hat on

The plants at Crocus are looking amazing! Some very last minute additions sorted on Thursday but nothing too horrendous. Had to dash and get some Digitalis purpurea this morning from Cambridge (was lucky to find some in flower and of such good quality) but apart from that, all is on target with the plants.

The weather forecast says it will be 30 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday so after visiting Crocus last week, I popped into a garden centre on the way home and got a straw hat! I think I'm going to need it as this coming week will be outside for 8-10 hours each day planting up with friends Janet, Nick and Siobhan. Stocked up on water, too, and trying not to panic that the heat is going to to make everything go over too quickly. We should be OK as Crocus have made sure plants are in bud with nothing too far into flower.

My own garden at home is looking sadly neglected! I've promised myself a long holiday there after the show in the hope that I can tame what has become a wilderness...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Making a bee-line

Despite taking nearly three hours to get there (and again back home) on the M25 (someone, please suggest alternative routes!), today has seen a large tranche of project done and dusted. The meadow turf arrived nice and early: 'it's a shame they didn't have time to cut the turf', the cheeky delivery driver said, tongue in cheek. I didn't get chance to see it in situ but Marc e-mailed me photos over later in the day. The trees are all in position. The Betula nigra, American River Birch, has stunning dark peeling bark, soooooo gorgeous.

Next was Paul and mate from Arcangel with the sculpture. Wow, it's mesmerising and so relaxing just watching the steel grass blades naturally sway in the breeze. An amazing feet of engineering, with each blade having a pendant weight to regulate the movement. You can't see these weights on the garden now, they are underground, so a quick piccie below for the techie readers amongst you.
The wild flowers turned up later, looking very relaxed after being stuck in traffic on the M25. Ian Forster has personally selected the plants for me and we even have some poppies!

But the real eye catcher today is the sedum roof. Everyone stops and stares at it. The bees love it, too - it's an all day breakfast for them!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Wild about flowers

Several e-mails arrrived on Monday morning, all photos of wild flowers from Ian Forster at British Wildflower Plants in Norfolk. To save me a trip and half a day out of my schedule, which seems to have every minute of my day sorted down to the last second, Ian thought it a good idea to discuss the wild flowers by 'remote office' mode. All the plants are looking good here, lots of flowers, although those I took away from them a month ago and potted up at home (around 300 plants), aren't flowering as much as I'd like. Driving around the countryside, the verges have meadow cranesbill blooming with brilliant blue flowers. My potted up ones here have no flowers. These and the other plants went down on site from home yesterday and are placed in a sunny position, awaiting planting up on Sunday.

The building has the roof on now! The site is incredibly hot and dry in this weather, but rain is scheduled for the weekend: just in time for planting up...! At least we can shelter under the building in the downpours.
Lots of Sadolin woodstain going on the fencing and building, too. After a discussion with Vince and Marc, we agreed that two coats of Sadolin Classic would look better on the fencing - that's Daniel's work sorted for the next day then!

Monday, 22 June 2009

The art of grass

'We spent all day yesterday just watching how grasses move in the wind,' said David Boyall and Paul Currell at Arcangel at Bendish, Hertfordshire, who are making the grass sculpture for the garden. I love these guys and their creativity! They are totally committed to getting the movement of the sculpture right and the grasses, five blades, will sway in different directions and at different speads, all controlled by weights on the bottom of each stainless steel blade. 'This is all experimental and thinking on the job,' says Paul 'and I've making and trying different weights to get the movement just right.'

I have every confidence that the sculpture will look fantastic. We all agreed that it should not be the main focal point of the garden, just blend with what is already there and this Thursday sees David and Paul installing their creation in the garden.

This week also sees the emergence of trees, wildflowers, meadow turf and the sedum roof on the building. Does anyone have a few spare hours I could squeeze into my days? I seem to have run out of allocated time to get things done!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sleepless In Cambridgeshire

We started Build-up on Monday 16th June for the Sadolin Nature To Nurture Garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Marc Patrick and the guys from Garden Care Contracting are steaming ahead with the construction. We have three weeks to get the garden created but this relatively simple design has a tight schedule. Which keeps me awake at night. And when I do sleep, I'm not sure if I've been dreaming or just randomly thinking about things when I awake, several times, in the night with thoughts of building construction and plants fresh in mind. It all blurs into one haze of excitement mingled with mild panic...

But it's great to be building this garden, at last. Having lived with this design in my head and on various bits of paper for the last nine months, it's a relief to see the garden emerge from the scenic parkland in the shadow of Henry VII's palace at Hampton Court. Driving down into the show site on Tuesday this week, my first visit, it hardly felt like 12 months since I was last doing this. The usual rush of panic lept up and grabbed me as I stood in front of the garden plot: it's huge, the flower beds are bigger than I thought and have I got enough plants? Crocus are supplying plants again and visiting them later that day, my initial fears about plant numbers were soon put to rest . The warm weather, I thought, might have caused a lot of my planting list to go over but only a mere handful needed swopsies, easily found as Mark from Crocus and I walked around the nursery in the afternoon, clipboards in hand, scibbling alternatives. Must say, all the carefuly nourished plants I've ordered there are looking soooo fab! Well done guys.

Another site visit on Thursday to the show and the building is taking shape. It looks really tall, but still lots of other elements to build into the equation yet! The sedum plants for the roof arrive next Monday, trees on Tuesday whilst wildflowers, sculpture and meadow turf trickle into the remainder of the week.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Spring Greens

I went away for a long weekend and couldn't believe how much things had grown in the space of five days! Weeds especially, but also the tulip displays. Wow! The sun and warmth are great but makes installing new gardens and borders a bit of nightmare this early in the season. We overhauled a huge border a few weeks ago at a client's and re-planted it with mature trees and perennials: my landscaper looked gravely as he informed me that the soil was very dry a few spade depths below the surface. Client practically propagandised on regular watering of new plants, whatever their size.

Do you remember a couple of years ago when we had another dry April? I'm hoping the ground won't get to that state again, clay soils were like concrete before May. Creating new gardens then was jolly hard work! I'm sure those designers at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show are either worried or delighted at the warmth. Alliums and irises are always en force at the show - and my alliums are just about to burst into flower! I'm back at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show again this July with Sadolin's Nature To Nurture Garden, and I'm already just slightly wondering about my own plants. Crocus are supplying most of the plants again - must remember to talk to them about a Plan B. Plan C is to do last minute plant shopping, of course. I had to reduce my plant list down for the RHS as they sort of suggested I'd complicated it (or rather, they were politely telling me I'd put too many on the original list). So, maybe if this weather lasts for a while the rejects will get a look in if original choices go over.

It's my third year in a row at HCPFS, the previous two winning Silver Gilt each time. I've sort of told myself it's third time lucky for a Gold. No pressure then!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

A whiter shade of pale

A few weeks before Christmas, I met up with a garden designer friend at Anglesey Abbey near Cambridge to enjoy the Winter Garden. It has been a few years since I was last there, and great to see how the planting has matured whilst new schemes are still being introduced. I've always been a fan of year round planting and I just love the way winter exposes a wealth of interesting stems, leaves and shapes into garden.

I'm designing a long border for a large house at the moment and the theme is very much year round interest whilst also providing screening and a welcome as the border is near the house entrance. My client also recently visited Anglesey Abbey and it was great to see their enthusiasm for lots of trees and shrubs. Most of the time, I feel I'm inflicting my plant choices onto clients - who are always pleased with the plants, I have to say - but it's so useful to have some feedback about what clients would actually like in their own gardens. There's surreal glade of ghostly white-barked Betula utilis var. jacquemontii at Anglesey Abbey's Winter Garden and we've already earmarked this tree for the client's new border.

Evergreen shrubs are key year round players and even the most common ones, such as Viburnum tinus (always found in superstore car parks) can be made even more interesting if you clip them into a formal shape instead of leaving them to get straggly and, to be honest, ugly. Another great Viburnum is the Leatherleaf one, Viburnum rhytidophyllum which has bold textured large evergreen leaves. They looked great at Anglesey Abbey.