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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!

Chachouka

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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’”!

Garden Bones

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 tobiraNanum‘ 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!

What Are Gardens For?

I was at the Society of Garden Designer’s autumn conference yesterday – having seen that Dan Pearson was talking on the subject of “What Are Gardens For?” I decided I couldn’t miss this conference. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the quality of the other 3 speakers – all superb and very different to each other.

The chair for the day was Lucy Huntington, one of the earlier members of the Society and practicing designer for 45 years. To hear her speak with such passion and obvious joy about her career was a delight. She spoke briefly on what gardens meant for her – in the beginning she belived they were for growing plants, but four decades on and her sentiment had changed. Now she believes that gardens are for people (to coin the title of Thomas Church’s famous landscape book “Garden’s Are for People“) and that she, personally was moving towards creating gardens that were calm, quiet spaces – perhaps for meditation. In general she was coming across many more clients wanting and designers providing more ecological spaces that include wildflower meadows, areas for wildlife, green roofs, natural swimming pools and energy and water saving installations.

The first speaker of the day was the Australian born landscape designer Bernard Trainor, now practising in California. His talk made reference to the fact that he had been inspired personally by some of the gardening greats – having been offered a job by one of the 20th Century’s most influential designers, John Brooks, he turned it down to work for Beth Chatto, which he said was fundamental to his understanding of designing with plants. He also recounted a story of introducing himself to Rosemary Verey at one of her book signings and asking if he could visit her when he was next in the UK – extraordinarily she accepted and invited him to stay! He spoke about how nature influences his work – about how he has learnt to ‘Embrace Extremes’ working with them and not fighting them – which is crucial when dealing with the harsh Californian terrain that he showed us. He reiterated what Lucy had said about wanting to create calm and peaceful spaces. The designs he showed us were utterly stunning – and certainly enhanced some of the breathtaking landscapes he has the good fortune to work on.

One of Bernard Trainor’s landscape designs

On a completely different note, Wendy Titman, gave a very moving and inspiring talk about her work creating landscapes for primary schools. She has some impressive credentials to her name in both research, teaching and having been an advisor to the Education Department. Some of the statistics she produced were shocking to say the least: Time spent outside by a trial group of 2 year olds = 10 hours a week (a week?!!): Goverment guidelines stipulate that organic chickens must have access to 10 square metres of outdoor space each – there is NO such guideline for childcare facilities: Increasing numbers of children are spending 10 hours a day in childcare (places that do not have to make them go outside at all) – I realise that this in no way is representative of many childcare facilities or that children who are at home all day spend any more time outside – but it is a worrying situation nevertheless.

However, she had plenty of positives too – glorious photos of children in their new playgrounds – one gently cupping a strawberry whilst inspecting it through a magnifying glass, another offering newly picked daisies to all the grownups (a look of dilemma when handing one to the male teacher – was it ok to give a man a flower?). A moving story about a little boy on the verge of expulsion form primary school – with bad behaviour noted every day – until the school put in new outdoor facilities and he was given the job of head ranger (complete with hat). With immediate effect, his behaviour went from strength to strength, not getting any more black marks against his name. However, all who were there, will be left with a depressing image of a little boy pressed up against a 2m high wire mesh fence – not a hint of greenery, grass or anything other than grey tarmac.

During her talk I came up with a project that I could rope the family into to highlight this issue – more on that in a later blog!

Moving on to Jane Owen – Chelsea Flower show gold medalist last year, Financial Times journalist, historian, TV presenter…the list seemed to go on. She gave a zappy, thought provoking, intellectual talk on what has been going on in garden design over the last 30 years. How politics and the the world of finance had a bearing on design and what people want and do. She highlighted an interesting point that I hate to admit, I had been unaware of – the plight of the allotment holders who had been forced off their sites to make way for the Olympic village ( I believe they are able to return post Olympics in 2014) – her point was that what a wonderful British showcase they could have made to show the world – we are, after all, a nation of salt of the earth gardeners! She also showed us a wonderful image of Stefano Boeri’s verticle forest in Milan – you can see more about this in a current exhibition at the Garden Museum in London “Going Green in the City: From Garden City to Green City on until April 2012. Rather strangely, she finished her address with the Chinese National anthem (I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not we should stand…) but I guess being embroiled in the world of the Financial Times must make you accutely aware of where the money is!

Finally, Dan Pearson talked about his work and his own gardens and what they meant to him. He is renowned for producing tranquil, thoughtful, therapeutic gardens much like the way he comes across as a person. He has produced some incredibly inspiring gardens, but his knowledge and understanding of plants is what I find awesome. He also seems to be forever learning – even after working at some of the most prestigious gardening establishments in the country. I am currently reading his book, “Home Ground, Sanctuary in the City” about the making of his garden in London. A fantastic read and something to learn on every page. However, it really struck a chord with me when he spoke about the new home he bought just over a year ago with some land in the country. Having looked at his land for the last year – surrounded by stunning rolling countryside, he said he really wasn’t sure whether he wanted to do anything to it. I have often had this feeling looking at a garden (if surrounded by beautiful scenery) and have had worrying moments where I wonder if, in fact, I am in the right profession, when I look at a space and think – I’m not sure I can improve on this….

I was over the moon to be awarded a gold medal for my Conceptual garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower show.

I want to say a huge thank you to my main contributors – the RHS, Benchmarx joinery and Pantiles nursery, without whom this garden would not have been realised to it’s full potential.

Also, to my fantastic builders – John-William, who led the project, and his dad Bill who worked incredibly hard to get the garden finished in 18 days.

I’ve had some really great comments and articles about the garden – especially in The Independent. I also found a YouTube clip thanks to Contextual gardens.

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…

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!