Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Forgive me bloggers for I have sinned. It has been at least six months since I last blogged.

I hope to atone myself, but believe me, it's been a hell of a six months.

In brief:

I have designed various gardens, large and small ranging from a long large oak (yes oak) rill which strides though the client's new jungle, under a tree-walk and house, past a shade sailed fire-pitted bar area and ultimately to a swimming pool, through a couple of now delivered courtyards, to a vast meadowed native space set to build in the next few weeks, and finally an 'outdoor room' garden overlooking a tennis court with a terrace designed to proportions which allow table tennis tournaments.

I have seen a multi gold Chelsea-medalist dressed as a flower on a west end stage, danced and laughed my socks of at the best festival ever (Vintage at Goodwood, I salute you), celebrated my sons first and sixth birthdays with cake, tickles and water pistols, grown far too many green beans, enjoyed various raucous nights under stars and canvas and celebrated several fortieth, fiftieth and even a seventieth birthday in equally boisterous style. I have debuted in the Financial Times House and Home pages, finished my third book (released spring 2011), met the Queen (yes, really) and visited several jaw-droppingly beautiful gardens, my favourite of which has to be Waltham Place (though if we're talking company alone the Highgrove visit was an absolute hoot).

Oh, and I've become seriously addicted to Twitter.

It has seriously been a fantastic season.

But the highlight of it all has to have been working with Jane Owen on The Green and Blacks Rainforest Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May, more of which can be read about here. It was such an honour and a priviledge to be involved with such an important project at Chelsea, and to work with so many passionate people, not least the Cameroonian contingent. To say the team were thrilled to receive a gold medal for our efforts would be the understatement of the year.

However, on a personal level the pinnacle of all the immensely hard work has got to be this. Last week receiving, then showing, my actual real-life RHS gold medal to my children who were so patient whilst I was away.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Has spring sprung for you?

Now I know its not quite spring (as Lilgreenfingers tweeted yesterday, its not officially spring until we reach the vernal equinox, this year on 20th March), but with the sun shafting through the office windows illuminating shimmering motes of dust dancing in its beams, well this girl feels like a seasonal corner has been turned.

And whilst I could write about the beautiful carpet of snowdrops, aconites and crocus through which I have to tiptoe to reach my office; my garden to do list; the merits of seed catalogues; or the last rush to plant bare root trees and shrubs; this has been done by others hundreds of times before. Plus, there's only so much spring panic a gardener can take.

I could attempt to take a more serious line and write about something of global importance, which would hope to change your garden habits as we plunge into the growing season of 2010. But recent weeks have seen some amazing blogs on important subjects such as carbon sequestration and offsetting by Mark Diacono, and both 'how horticulture is political' and forest gardening by Lia Leendertz . These make for brilliant reading and if you haven't already, I urge you to read them; they are written more knowledgeably and eloquently on the subjects than I could ever hope to achieve. So this is out too.

Time for a different tack. Now call me shallow, but to me, spring doesn't just herald the reawakening of the garden and the ideas, theories and methods of gardening within it. Spring arrives just after London fashion week, itself a cornucopia of colour, design and wonder. Spring promises not just the unfurling of startling green upon green upon green, daffodils, longer days and the smell of freshly cut grass, it also promises a whole new season of clothes; clothes to lust after, fabrics to stroke, colours to revel in, new garments to treasure, (and immediately hide from my boyfriend to be seen at a later date with a 'what this old thing' casually employed), and occasionally new clothes in which to garden in.

Thinking of Jane Perrone's recent tweet re floral tool wraps made me think of how often we associate gardeners with what they wear. Monty Don is often referred to as 'The lord of Cord', is Sarah Raven ever without a great coat or lace up wellies, and dare we imagine James Alexander Sinclair bereft of his hat (ok, and his iphone)? Looking to add a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to my own gardening apparel, I looked to the web for inspiration and found some interesting insights into other gardener's preferred choice of attire.

A gardenweb thread on garden fashion revealed that many gardeners favour the inevitable clogs, straw hats, gloves, aprons and visors to dress for cultivation purposes, but one comment in particular stood out. Now no giggling please, there may be other readers, who like 'Donna37' from Missouri, herald from the other side of the pond who find this behaviour nothing out of the ordinary. Anyway, said Donna had an interesting, alternative to the well worn bandana, used by many to keep hair and perspiration in check. By her own admission, when she gardens she 'sweats a LOT' , but thankfully her husband has found a thrifty solution that works for her, which must save on a lot of washing in the process. "He took one of his old socks, folded it lengthwise and pinned it around his head. Worked great and really absorbs the sweat.....they fit well and are a good way to recycle those socks with a hole in the heel". Helpful 'Cajungardener' enhances the design by suggesting the inclusion of swell gels to make this makeshift 'sockdana' cooling as well as practical, and when some other contributors suggested that this could be a toxic disaster, even more helpful 'Tasymo' suggested substituting the swell gels with the absorbent crystals from disposable diapers. Nice. Could this be Spring headgear 2010? Somehow I doubt it.

Not feeling in the least bit tempted to reach for a pair of Jules' threadbare socks and slam then around my brow, I further dived to find something slightly more elegant in a quest to improve my soil stained gardening garb for 2010. Eschewing the new Garden Collection by H&M as too flimsy and short to be practical whilst on ones hands and knees, (even though all the garments have been produced using sustainable materials or using recycled PET bottles or textile waste I could not inflict this sight on anyone), I was relieved to find that to move forward in the horticultural fashion stakes, I simply needed to look back into time.

Courtesy of the eminently readable blog by Martha B, Nibs, I was alerted to 'Garden People: Valerie Finnis & The Golden Age of Gardening' by Ursula Buchan, Anna Pavord, and Brent Elliott. Apologies if you have seen this book before, and huge recommendations to buy it if you haven't. Page upon page of an age since past, Finnis's pictures capture the elegance and quirky style of gardeners from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Though not all of those featured are dressed up to the nines, it is the images of those that are that I love the best. Here was my answer to my fashion conundrum. I am sure many of the women dressed up expressly to impress Ms Finnis on her arrival, keen to be photographed at their best, with their legions of gardening staff safely tucked up in the shrubbery for the day. And I know that double digging, laying a lawn, or turning the compost would be made distinctly difficult if hampered by a long gown and incongruous footwear. But what a lovely idea, to treasure, revel in and enjoy gardening so much so, that an afternoons weeding was certainly worth dressing for. And how glamorous and decadent to care not a jot whether 'your best' would get covered in mud, torn or stained in the process. So, though I think I'll keep my everyday gardening uniform of fingerless gloves, combats and well worn boots, I shall at least look in the mirror as I stride out of the back door, I might even wear a slick of lipstick, and perhaps even a sparkly broach, with a nod and a smile to these grande old dames of our gardening heritage's past. Hey, this may not be 'only gardening' after all. Pictures below......

Parsley Muir enjoying a little light watering.....

Lady Birley readying herself for some heavy pruning......

And the inimitable Valerie Finnis herself, attired for the potting shed, naturally.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Herculean Annuals

Finally I have banished the giant stems of our long faded sunflowers from the borders, a hugely satisfying experience which went something like this. Heave out the erratically swaying monster dead plant (with banshee like wail), put a boot over the rootball, snap hollow stem away from the roots, revel in satisfying almighty crack, then chuck roots into wheelbarrow (ready for the base of the hedge), and stems on the burning pile. Repeat, seemingly ad infinitum.

Last year Archie (my 5 year old) and I grew a sunflower forest, planting 'Giant Single' and 'Velvet Queen' at the base of a sleeper retaining wall, their towering mightiness to inspire awe from the lower garden whilst easily enjoying the flower heads from the higher green oak deck above.

Never wanting to do things by halves, we planted dozens and dozens of home grown seedlings to give impact to the newly planted sparseness of the perennials growing at their feet, and to disguise the sleeper retaining wall behind them. And whilst their growth rate was astounding to both Arch, myself and all of our friends (they pumped skyward from the ground with such force and power you could almost watch them gain height in front of your eyes), keeping them upright through the gales of last summer was an 'interesting' challenge (much running around in blind panic at night, armed with canes, twine and a head torch). And though I should not have been surprised, the obvious fact that each 'Giant Single' only produced one, albeit huge, bloom which took an age to arrive, still left me feeling somehow cheated. Though Archie enjoyed his first success growing gargantuan plants, i revelled in the shorter, more generous, multi headed, deep wine red blooms of the sublime 'Velvet Queen', which Archie did not care for a jot.

Time gently passed in the way summers do, and the sunflowers passed over, turning from green leafy giants into wizened, bleached sticks marching through much of the bottom garden. However, though not much to look at in themselves, there's no doubting that my laziness prevailed in the end, and leaving them insitu through autumn and winter made our garden's bird population extremely happy (watching birds strip the heads of seed was a wonderful distraction whilst I washed dishes at the kitchen sink).

But being a firm believer that plants should deliver maximum interest to warrant inclusion, especially in a small garden, this year I shan't bother with the giant yellows, but will grow lesser numbers of glamourous Helianthus annuus 'Moulin Rouge' mixed with 'Chianti' instead.

I just hope Archie will forgive me......

Friday, 5 February 2010

Gardens are for people

It's brilliant when a day turns out so much better than expected, and Wednesday this week was a perfect example.

I hotfooted it up to the Royal Festival Hall in London for the launch of the National Garden Scheme's 2010 yellow book. If I'm honest, I thought this would be a small affair, full of candy floss haired ladies of a certain age, knitting through a rather laborious talk as I gently snoozed, whilst secretly anticipating the lunchtime canapes.
However, as I hurtled up to floor 5 in the lift, the laughter, hilarity and the general cacophony of joyous noise drifting down the shaft alerted me to the fact that I had got this lot completely wrong.

Now I've known about the NGS for all my gardening life, have visited a few open gardens and in my past capacity as roving TV reporter, I worked with a couple from Lincolnshire as they prepared their garden for the NGS's public. I really ought to have known better. This lot have more energy than I have witnessed in a long time.

After a swift cup of tea, a veritable celebration of the NGS's work ensued, delivered via the genuinely thrilled-to-be-newly appointed President Joe Swift and the efficacious and charming NGS Chairman Penny Snell. Following a slideshow revealing some surprisingly contemporary new garden additions, a delivery of cheques (all including more noughts than any I could ever hope to receive) handed out to the NGS beneficiary charities and some well deserved exceptional service awards, I was sold. This was inspirational stuff.

3700 gardens will open this year on behalf of the NGS. That's a lot of gardens and gardeners, industriously priming their private gardens for us to visit, garden owners which are keen to share ideas, experiences, successes (and failures) with us, whilst raising money for charity. Together through the NGS they hope to raise £3 million in 2010. And just a cursory flick through this years Yellow Book (which lists dates, entry fees and gardens open by area) reveals several gardens of appeal close to me. So I shall endeavour to do my bit for the NGS, whilst partaking of one of the joys of life, gardens. This year I am going to diary, then visit, as many NGS gardens I can.

The picture is of Great Dixter's produce table carrying the weight of some stunning dahlia varieties, taken in October of last year.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Head space

As a working mother it can be immensely difficult to find the time to garden for myself. The pottering of pre-children life is a thing of memory. More likely you'll see me bounding around my garden racing to get anything done, as the baby naps and my five year old bounces on the trampoline. These hastily stolen half hour slots are governed by (usually late) deadlines of seasonal jobs; autumn and spring bulb planting, seed sowing, re-potting and much neglected weeding are today's reality. I am immensely lucky that Jules, my long suffering partner is a gardener too, and though I truly feel that I should better pull my weight outdoors at home, he will sneak in and do those jobs that I simply don't have time (or energy) to accomplish.

Though the weeds are taking hold at home, the carcasses of snow crushed perennials are creeping across the deck, and one hundred Allium 'Purple Sensation' are now mouldy and withered, my family are worth this garden neglect and I know that my garden will have to wait.

Which is why I am lucky that at work, in the calm of my office, I can plan gardens for others. Here, I am industrious. Here a terrace can be laid in five different finishes through the course of an afternoon, ornament is changed with the turn of a page, maintenance free borders planted within the confines of my head can crash with infinite combinations of texture and flower, all almost satisfying my need for my own gardens change.

And though I'm not physically gardening; without the clock ticking, or guilt, I feel close to it; that the itch has been scratched. Then I'm off home again to cook the evenings supper and wallow in the chattering, giggly gorgeousness of my babes whilst my garden is tucked up patiently in its blanket of darkness. And in biding my time until my next half hour gardening slot, who knows what my garden will deliver.

Whatever it is, I bet its worth the wait.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Staring out of my office window at the rain marring my view of the gorgeous Sussex countryside, I'm glad I have the wood burner to keep me warm and toasty. Ok, it might not be the best weather to be gardening in, but its perfect weather for writing this, my first blog post to accompany the launch of the new Ann-Marie Powell Gardens website.
Through my posts, I hope to entice, titillate and inform you, giving you the inside scoop on my life as a garden designer in words and pictures. There' s no doubting the delight i feel in creating gardens for our clients and through this blog I shall endeavour to give you a taste of the hows, whats and whys of how we create our spaces.
But I'll also let you know about gardens we have visited, plants I just feel I need to shout about, industry events I've attended, new launches and not least the successes (and failures) I've experienced in my own garden on the Hampshire/West Sussex borders. And I hope I can make you smile along the way.
So here goes, and welcome.