Archive for February, 2012

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
‘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

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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.

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I just got back from a very rare weekend away with my husband. We went to Barcelona. It was the first time either of us had been there and we loved it. Good design, art and sculpture were around every corner. The shops, restaurants and hotels all seemed to give design high priority so at every turn there was something to delight us. On top of that my husband and I talked, walked, drank coffee and cocktails, ate cake and tapas, read books and slept – we rarely get to do even one of these things what with work, kids, pets and family to contend with, and all in a balmy 5 degrees whilst the UK froze.

The Port

Apparently, Barcelona pretty much ignored the sea front until the late 20th C when it realised that it could capitalise on the stunning sea front that is now one of the world’s top urban beaches. From winding old town streets we strolled down to the beach where a few people were surfing in front of great art installations that appeared to be there just for Art’s sake.

Beached Boxes

We visited Park Guell where Gaudi lived for a while and had designed many of the features there. The planting (even in the depths of winter) looked fab and must look superb in flower. Gaudi is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – I’m not totally sure he’s mine – but you can’t deny that what he designed was truly original, courageous and it was awe inspiring to see it in person. Makes you want to push the boundaries!

Planting at Park Guell

Some of Gaudi’s Buildings with Barcelona City Centre and then the Mediterranean in the background.

We spotted Ash Mair, winner of Professional Masterchef 2011, on both the flight over and the flight back. I only managed to watch the final of this series, but was captivated by it. I’m no good at going up to people I don’t know but I wish I had told him how much I admired his cooking. Or I could have asked him to recommend somewhere to eat…or at least a second place as we did find a gem of a place for coffee and cake – Bubo – sublime cake and with decor most high end Jewellers would be envious of!

For me, design, art, gardening and food all go hand in hand and I’m feeling like I want to do it all at once – starting tonight with making ‘Chachouka‘ from River Cottage Veg – Everyday! Tomorrow, back to normality, construction drawings for a new deck and outdoor kitchen – Wednesday, a trip to Brighton to look at a new project, Thursday, in the garden to cut down all the grasses -Friday – no idea yet!


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