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.
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.
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.
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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My take on garden design is all about getting the structure and bones of the garden right before even thinking about the plants…
However, the last bed I have just planted is all about using the plants, themselves, in a sculptural, structural way. I love the thought of tightly clipped forms (in this case Buxus sempervirens balls) with other plant forms coming together to flow through the geometric forms – here using Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum‘ and Hebe ‘Sutherlandii‘. I chose these plants after I visited the nursery and physically placed the plants next to each other which I find a really useful way of choosing plants.
The Mood board for the bed
Here is the result just after planting (as the light was fading) – really looking forward to photographing with a light frost and with the morning light in the spring. I have a feeling the clients might get used to seeing me skulking round the garden taking photographs over the next couple of years!
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Conceptual Garden for Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011:
It’s been a long 18 days building with lots of ups and downs – weather wise we had everything – rain, wind, blistering heat, more rain and beautiful sun for the last few days. Mid week was a low point when panic set in and I really didn’t think I was going to get it finished – I had that sick feeling and didn’t sleep for 3 nights. However, my family came up trumps and all piled in from every angle: my Mum came and helped paint on the 2 hottest days of the year and has been all around everywhere finding bits and pieces that I have needed, my Dad came up and laid turf and cleared rubbish, Charlie shifted rubble and soil, my sister painted and encouraged – and most importantly they appreciated and shared in what I was doing which helps spread the load!
My builders, John-William and his dad Bill, worked tirelessly – often on site for 12 hour days, the plasterers didn’t leave until they were happy that they had achieved a perfect finish – even working weekends. All in all, I had a great team who helped me get the garden together. I left the site this afternoon with it ready for the discerning team of RHS judges tomorrow morning. Here are some photos of the finished garden. Now I can relax a little I can start the enjoy the show – it’s such a stunning place to have been working (although I often forgot that when exhaustion set in) – but it is a privilege to be a part of such an awesome show!
For anyone who doesn’t know the background of the garden – it’s an outdoor art gallery where planting compositions have been inspired by the following artists: Monet, Hockney, Rousseau, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Hirst…
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Gill from Just Air Plants dropped off some plants for my Conceptual garden yesterday – air plants are plants that grow in jungle canopies and don’t need any soil – literally taking all their nutrients and water through their leaves. At BBC Gardener’s World Live last year, where I built my first show garden, Joe Swift commented that my aluminum cold frames reminded him of a Damien Hirst installation.
Not quite up to Damien Hirst’s work – but kind of him to make the suggestion!
So when I was considering what to do in my art gallery I happened to read an article in the American ‘Garden Design’ magazine about Air Plants. This gave me an idea about suspending them inside my cold frame in Hirst style. I googled ‘Plants in Formaldehyde’ just to see what came up. I did not find any images of plants in Formaldehyde but, instead, articles about the benefits of house plants in detoxifying the atmosphere to get rid of Formaldehyde, which I thought was quite an interesting connection.
I had virtually no knowledge of these strange plants and not a clue on who might be able to supply me with them – I had visions of trying to get them flown in from the US (which some of them did eventually do – when Gill told me they were in the country and awaiting their DEFRA inspection before I could take possesion of them it all sounded very exciting). The first search came up with a specialist company that were showing at Chelsea Flower Show this year and happened to be based 5 minutes from my house – some things are just meant to be. Gill has been a font of knowledge and has really helped me to choose the correct plants. I am also using some of her other Tillandsia in my Rousseau jungle scene.
Here is a Tillandsia ‘Jackie Loinaz’ suspended from our living room ceiling – the kids think it looks pretty cool!
Air Plants on the kitchen window sill
Work on site is going well – although it was another wet day up there today – hopefully tomorrow will be a little dryer as I have the guys in rendering and they have to be done by Friday – nothing like a little pressure!
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Day 2 was a great day’s building. We’d been slightly phased by the dire weather on the first day, plus I think it took us a while to get our heads around starting.
My builder John-William and his dad, Bill, both came up today and they work so well together that we really cracked most of the build. I have spent pretty much every day of the last year with John-William and Bill as they were building an extension on our house and I think knowing people that well really helps on a project like this. So from the computer model below:
To the gallery taking shape:
The forecast for today was supposed to be dreadful so the builders are taking a well deserved day off and I am packing up the van with the rest of the bits and pieces to take up. My husband, Charlie, is being roped in today and we need to take up the larger plants – Ligularia ‘The Rocket’ (below) which has shot up to over 5ft and some Gunnera manicata – brought all the way up from Cornwall in April which are huge and ridiculously heavy. I imagine this will either lead to bickering whilst we try to lug them about or exhausted hillarity!
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