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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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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.

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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!

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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.

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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’

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Danger…Redesign!

I have just read the witty blog of my author sister http://www.threegirlsandapen.blogspot.com/ about anagrams – a little piece on the anagrams of ‘Garden Designer’

A garden designer ‘adds green reign’ to a landscape, although they must be wary of regarding needs’ of the client – and be careful the job does not entail an ensnared digger’ else the client may be heard to cry ‘Danger…redesign’! This may lead to the designer experiencing an ‘earning dredge’ and the designer exclaiming “we need to undertake a ‘grand reseeding’”!

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Carol Miers, a journalist from Landscape Juice, has been following the progress of Jill Foxley’s and my gardens that we’re building (click on the link to read more). There will be more updates to come from me soon – more photos to upload, comments on all the other conceptual gardens – but for tonight I just need a shower and my bed!
Above is the Rousseau image that I am using as the basis for my jungle composition – lots of lovely plants going in – big leaves and hot coloured flowers. Hoping my Crososmia ‘Lucifer’ flower in time – I went around the show ground this morning looking for a greenhouse to put them into for a few days and found a willing display greenhouse company that said they would look after them for a while – sing to them, coax them…whatever it takes!

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