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Archive for the ‘‘Melissa Jolly’’ Category

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 had a call at 11am this morning from BBC Radio Berkshire saying that their contributor had dropped out for the Anne Diamond Show today and would I be interested in going in to talk about my Hampton Court Garden. So an hour later I was sitting in the studio about to talk about my garden. Luckily, having thought about little else for the last few weeks, it’s quite easy to think of things to say. I had a really lovely time and it reminded me that this whole process is supposed to be fun and enjoyable and not the stressful mission that it sometimes feels like.

Listen to the Interview here – I’m on at about 2 hours in.

An amazing part of this job is the diversity…I was on the phone yesterday to a metal supplier in Finland asking about some prepatinated copper sheet that I’d like to use in the show garden…he was very sweet but said it would take 8 weeks to order. As I need it in 2 days this was not what I wanted to hear. I know I have left it late, but trying to think of good backdrops for the planting compositions has been harder than I thought. I was then set on the idea of a lovely aged green copper backdrop for the Kandinsky creation – inspired by the painting below.


I did however, track down a company who happened to stock this particular metal sheet – cunningly named ‘Metal Sheets’ , so it is now being packaged up and will hopefully arrive tomorrow. I chose the above painting, Sketch for Several Circles, Wassily Kandinsky 1926, as I thought it would be great to showcase some beautiful plants with either spherical flower heads such as the stunning Echinops ritroVeitch’s Blue’ (below) or spherical in shape such as a Buxus sempervirens ball.

It also gives me a chance to include some garden sculpture and I found a lovely metal garden sphere from The Edge Company – by the designer Garth Williams based in Sussex.

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Bulldog tools http://www.bulldoghandtools.co.uk/ sent me two spades to test – a shrubery spade and a rabbiting spade and at last I have put them to use.


As I hope you can see from the photo the two spades are well made and attractive to look at – so ideal for both the hardened gardener and fair weather digger alike. Having never paid too much attention to the variety of spades on offer and their different functions, I have been enlightened by these two and got a feel for the differences and how they are fit for their purposes.

Shrubery Spade (see left) – a spade with a small head ideal for a smaller user or for tight spaces. This is a very neat little spade which is easy to use and as it says can fit in between plants in a shrub border. It is also particularly effective in hard ground as the smaller head allows more pressure on the ground.

Rabbiting spade – ideally meant for digging holes for fence posts in confined areas. I didn’t have any fence posts to put in this weekend but we did have to dig a hole half a metre deep to sink a 12ft trampoline into the ground – perfect road test! We’re on quite stoney ground that I had tried to dig up before but gave up, quickly condemming the ground as totally rubbish and full of builders rubble.
However, after using the rabbiting spade with it’s tapered, sharp end, breaking up the stoney ground became a far easier job and has made me less scathing of our soil quality. The T-shaped handle allows you to use both hands on the handle whilst stepping on the blade giving you good control and power. All in all the way it sliced through the compacted ground was very satisfying. The amount of digging we have done over the last 3 days, shifting about 3 tonnes of soil, would test any spade, and the Bulldog tools stood up well with no signs of wear and tear – I wish the same could be said of our aching bodies!
Thanks to Bulldog Tools for the opportunity to use their spades – they’re not having them back…but next time could they send us a digger?

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