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CityScapes 2012 is a new and exciting garden festival taking place in London this summer, for which curators Daryl Moore and Adolfo Harrison have asked leading designers to create a variety of installations across the city. The event kicked off with Andy Sturgeon’s Pommery EyeGarden, A temporary city garden suspended high above the Thames in one of the London Eye pods.

Last night, I was able to attend the opening night of the second installation, which featured a garden created by Tony Heywood and Alison Condie called Glamourlands: A Techno-Folly. Heywood and Condie describe their creation as ‘hortiticultural installation art’. The garden has been on a nationwide tour since its first outing at the RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park, last year. Since then it has moved to London’s Berkley Square, then to the Chelsea Flower Show, and now to the intensely atmospheric Old Vic Tunnels. Each move has seen the garden become increasingly abstract.

I had no idea what to expect from the evening and, as I walked down the graffitted entrance to the Old Vic Tunnels, I wondered if I was actually getting horribly lost. Fortunately, I passed Andrew Fisher-Tomlin on his way out, who assured me I was going the right way and mentioned that the rain had really helped the effect. Now I was really confused – I was under the impression I was headed for a tunnel…

An inconspicuous side-door with a security guard outside marked the entrance to the tunnels and a front desk gave the feeling of entering a mysterious underground club. This feeling continued as I walked through to the first dank tunnel, filled with the pulse of beating music and the intoxicating aromas of Penhaligons perfumes, and then came face to face with a Hendrick’s Gin cocktail bar. I was handed a cocktail adorned with fresh rose petals and strawberry, and finished with a puff of spray, which may have been a scent, or may have been a flavour (by this time I was so won over by the ambience that it didn’t really matter).

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Moving out of this pop-up bar and into the second tunnel was another experience to soak in. Glamourlands has been recreated and installed at the back of the tunnel and a semi-circle of candles on the floor stopped people moving too close. Though the installation had its own lighting, the tunnel around it was dark. Very dark. So dark in fact that it was hard to see the faces of those around me. I now knew what Andrew had meant by the rain; water had dripped through the roof to form a reflective pool in front of the garden, which added depth and yet more atmosphere to the scene.

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I found the experience all-consuming. It was vibrant, energising, and so totally different from any other garden-type event I have been to. Speaking to Daryl Moore as I came out of the tunnel, it was clear that there is a movement happening in the garden design world, one that wants to place garden design in line with the other Arts. From where I’m standing, Glamourlands, with its quirky, underground vibe, is doing exactly that.

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I believe that any space – be it architectural, landscape, natural or man-made – should have the capacity to evoke feeling. This CityScapes installation did that in spades. It was remarkable. Now, if only I’d had a partner in crime up there with me I think I would have had a few more of those delicious rose petal cocktails…

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Small Green Roof

10 weeks ago I planted up a green roof on top of our bike shed.  The shed is on our front drive so a fair few people wander by and see it, and quite a few of them wondered what I was doing – and then they wondered why. “Why not?” I would say – it’s a place to plant, good for bees etc etc….still, people looked a touch bemused!

Bike Shed February 2012

Now, the plants are taking off – even though all the plants I used are drought resistant, the last few weeks of rain has definitely given them a good start.  And now when those same neighbours walk by, they all comment on how lovely it looks – hopefully the trend will catch on.

Shed roof May 2012

The plants I have used are: Armeria maritima, Ballota pseudodictamnus, Stachys bazantina, various Thymes and Alpine strawberries.

Shed roof May 2012

If you have any questions about plants for green roofs, please do get in touch and I will help in any way or point you in the right direction.

I’ve just read in The Garden that it is possible to identify different species of wisteria from the direction in which they twine. Wisteria sinensis twines anticlockwise. Wisteria floribunda clockwise. I love facts like this, facts that remind us how intricate and precise the natural world is.  In my university days I studied Behavioural Science and the highlight of my degree was a field trip to Portugal to study bees.  We were testing the hypothesis that bees movement around a plant to gather nectar was directional. Did they all circle in the same direction, either clockwise or anticlockwise?  At the time I was just excited to be abroad, in the sunshine, with friends and the prospect of large amounts of wine after the bees had gone to bed. But what really struck me was how utterly idyllic is was to sit in a scented field of lavender studying those busying bees.  Perhaps it’s memories like these, the feelings of contentment associated with being immersed in nature, that instigated my career change into the world of garden design.  At home I have just planted a small lavender hedge – Lavandula angustifolia ‘Grosso’ – and am delighted to see that the bee box I put up last summer has been inhabited by a group of leaf-cutter bees. Now all I need to do is wait for the Lavender to flower and the bees to emerge and I will feel 19 all over again!

I received an email yesterday from Landscape Juice about an appeal by some people in the Landscape industry to be exempt from the temporary hosepipe ban that comes into effect from 5th April.

The letter, from a garden designer, asks for special dispensation for landscapers and designers to be exempt from the hosepipe ban to help establish newly planted gardens and lawns. It has been suggested that anyone in agreement modifies the letter and sends it to their local water company.

I am fundamentally against this.  How can we, as industry professionals, set an example by trying to say that conserving water in a drought really shouldn’t apply to us or our clients – even if it is only short-term?  It is our responsibility to educate and advise not just to please.  Lifting the ban for our own professional gain and for that of our clients is so wrong.  There are plenty of ways that business can carry on during a hosepipe ban – making the most of the dry weather to do hard landscaping and preparation of beds in readiness for planting when there is no hosepipe ban looming.

Alternatively, install drip irrigation systems – these are exempt from the ban and take water directly to where it’s needed without wasting any on paths, fences and into the air.  Individual plants and small vegetable plots can be watered with a watering can (as long as it hasn’t been filled by a hose), water from water butts can be used.  Apparently we could all live off the water that falls off our roofs during the year – we just need to collect and re-use it.  I went to a talk by an irrigation company last year that was sobering to say the least – we were informed that if WWIII ever occurs it’s more than likely it will be over access to water – this is a serious issue, and should not be bypassed.

The point is, that by highlighting the issue to clients the message will be taken on board, at least in some form. Passing on this knowledge is far more important than the short-term gains of planting the garden immediately, so it’s ready for summer.

Thames Water take 70% of their water from rivers – I imagine if people saw a river in dire need of its water they might be less likely to turn on the hose.  I used a hose to water a newly planted tree last year – straight into a submerged pipe so that the water went to the roots where it’s needed…I forgot about it – remembering in the middle of the night and it made me feel sick that I had wasted so much water – you can’t forget to stop pouring a watering can.  Hoses just use more water, even when you don’t forget to turn them off.

We can move towards using drought tolerant plants without the garden looking like a desert and we can do very simple things to help conserve water – drenching pots before planting, digging organic matter into the soil and mulching to reduce evaporation as I said in my last post.  People follow examples and we owe it to the environment to set a good one.

My goodness – drought, hosepipe bans, water shortage….sounds like doom and gloom for our beloved plots – or is it?

A few days ago I saw the first post on Twitter about a hosepipe ban and now there seem to be comments flying all over the place.  I was discussing the Sunday papers on BBC Radio Berkshire at the weekend and we very briefly mentioned the weather (so very English) and the lack of rain – with the presenter saying how much like a dust bath his garden was.  I quickly replied that you just need to plant the right plants – in no way meaning to be smug, but having only been involved in the industry for a couple of years – I have heard the argument for planting the right plants for the right conditions over and over, so it has always been on my agenda.  His reply was that he wasn’t sure what grew in the Sahara – implying that he didn’t think we’d like it in our gardens.  I didn’t get a chance to discuss the matter further, and we weren’t really there to talk about gardening anyway – but I was somewhat disappointed not to have been able to at least give a few ideas on growing drought resistant plants. Try typing ‘drought resistant plants’ into Google and look at the images – not a desert in sight.

Whilst designing a roof top garden last year for the RHS London Plant and Design Show, I researched using plants suitable for green roofs, as all my plants in the show garden had to be suitable to be grown in 10cm of soil. Taking advice from a green roof company and a well-respected nursery we came up with a remarkable variety of plants that would work.  I narrowed it down to what was looking good in February (see full plant list below) and then after the show re-homed nearly 1000 plants in our blank canvas of a garden.  The result  is that we have lots of ground cover plants that survive with no added water and are happy to self seed.  Because these were the first plants that we put in the garden I have used them as the basis for the rest of the planting, adding in other plants that will cope with dryer conditions – such as Lavender, Salvia and Achillea.  I always soak the pots before planting for at least 15 minutes and often poor water into the planting hole. I also hate throwing plants away and often plant things that look the worse for wear and more often than not they make a come back.  The one thing you don’t want to do is spend money and time on plants that then die as a result of not watering them, so I’m not saying to just pop them in the ground and leave them to it (although, that is the general way I garden) – but think carefully about what you are planting and see how you can minimise water use.  Adding organic matter to the soil and mulching with compost, gravel or bark will help retain water.  Also – drip irrigation systems are excluded from the ban and are not too expensive – have a look at Lia Leendertz post in the Telegraph Gardening .

I’m just finishing this as the weather is on, it;s due to rain on Saturday – let it rain first and then mulch!

Plant List: Sky Green Living @ RHS London Plant and Design Show 2010

Ajuga Catlins Giant, Anementhele lessoniana, Armeria maritima, Ballota pseudodictamnus, Carex Morrowii Variegata, Lamium ‘Beacon Silver’, Saxifrage umbrosa, Stachys byzantina, Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’

It’s amazing how many jobs there seem to be in the garden as soon as we get a bit of sunshine – jobs and neighbourly encounters over the garden fence!
Number 1 on the list for our garden this weekend was to plant up the roof of the bike shed my husband made back in October. I have loads of wood left over from the various show gardens that I’ve done over the last couple of years so we were able to build a very sturdy shed – clad in the flooring from my conceptual garden Picturesque at Hampton Court and strong enough to hold the weight of a green roof.
‘Picturesque’ @ Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011 (Gold)
Re-used flooring from ‘Picturesque’ used to clad new bike shed!
I’ve done a little research into planting green roofs as last year the RHS invited me to build a roof top show garden at the London Plant and Design Show, and the garden I designed used green roof style planting within the terrace. I used plants that would survive both the harsh conditions that roof top gardens contend with (high exposure to wind and sun) and being planted in only 10cm of soil. I used hardy, drought resistant plants that were also evergreen so that the garden would look good all year round and also because the show is in February and I needed the plants to look good then! Planting in this depth of soil is known as an extensive green roof – there are two other types – Intensive where you plant in at least 15cm of soil and semi-extensive, which can be a combination of the 2
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‘Sky Green Living’ @ London Plant and Design Show 2011 (Silver-gilt)
Like the show garden, our bike shed falls into the extensive category and we have about 10cm of soil to plant in. I kept most of the plants from the show and although some were planted up last year, many are still in the 9cm pots I bought them in over a year ago and have dealt with drought, lack of food and the recent freezing conditions. I feel that if they can survive that – they can survive anything! I’ve used a lot of Armeria maritima which has self seeded over the last year into our Breedon gravel path – which is a pretty hostile environment, and when you see if growing out of cracks in a windswept cliff down by the coast or growing out of sand dunes – see Colin Roberts’ winning entry for International Garden Photographer of the Year , you know it will be ok in 10cm of compost. The other plants I have used are Ballotta pseudodictamnus, Stachys byzantina, a variety of Thymus’ and some Alpine strawberries (which, at the moment I have covered in polythene until the risk of frost has passed). I mixed up a substrate of home made compost, shop bought, peat free, multi-purpose compost and potting grit.
Although the bike shed roof would take my weight, my daughter did the majority of the planting as it was much easier for her to manoeuvre about up there and more importantly – she was keen to help. Here she is carefully transplanting some of the ‘saved’ Armeria seedlings from our path (if you’re worried about the Armeria seeding everywhere just pick the flowers off as they come – although the seedlings were very easy to pick out).
A couple of books that I found really helpful were Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury and Small Green Roofs by Nigel Dunnett, Dusty Gedge, John Little and Edmund C. Snodgrass. I got a lot of advice from Kay at Oxford Green Roofs – they are a great company to contact for advice on green roofs and definitely worth talking to if you’re considering having a green roof on any part of your house.
The Shed after planting – February 2012

Good tutors

I came into the garden design industry with a passion for houses, design and nature but very little knowledge of horticulture. I have always gardened – but it’s not until I started learning about plants that I realised how little I knew. Our college planting tutor was Chris Marchant from Orchard Dene Nurseries – anyone who has been taught by her cannot fail to be impressed by her knowledge and passion and I found her incredibly inspiring. A couple of things really stuck in my mind from her lessons; the importance of looking – really looking – at colour, texture, the way light might pass through plants to how they grew in nature and even what worked in a painting. She also likened planting design to musical composition, with repetition and rhythm being key to the composition working. Taking this on board, on my drive to college one morning, I spotted the young, lush leaves of a plant on the roadside, pulled over and took a branch in to show Chris – I didn’t know what this lovely plant was that graced the verge to Oxford – she glanced at it… “Common hawthorn, Craetagus monogyna”…oh – I could have crawled into a box – I knew so little! However – I have moved on – and 3 years after this distinct lack of knowledge I like to think that I’m getting better and am really delighted every time I look at a plant and know what it is.
Cretaegus Monogyna
At college we learnt mostly about herbaceous perennials, which was fantastic as they are so diverse and can add so much seasonal interest to a garden. But I soon realised that most of my clients wanted low maintenance, year round interest from their gardens. So I had to learn about shrubs – in fact listening to Andy Sturgeon speak last year, his thoughts were that shrubs would be a big trend from now on as they have been slightly over looked in recent years.
I bought Shrubs by one of the UK’s leading gardening experts, Andy McIndoe. and got reading. At the same time a unique online gardening school, My Garden School, was being set up by Elspeth Briscoe, a friend and contemporary of mine whilst at the Oxford College of Garden Design, and the college director and renowned garden designer, Duncan Heather. I saw that they had a shrub course run by Andy – which I signed up to and have just completed. You get access to an audio lesson every Saturday for 4 weeks. I found the course incredibly convenient – you can listen whenever suits you – and even do 10 minutes here and there when you have time. Although I like being in a classroom situation where you can discuss matters with other people – this is a totally different experience – but very good if there is a subject you want to know more about from the comfort of your garden bench!.
What I think makes My Garden School really stand out is the quailty of the tutors. Having personal access to some of the best minds in horticulture and design is a gift. The course had assigments to do each week which are not compulsory, but well worth doing for the personal feedback, advice and tips that you get back.