Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Plans for Small Gardens

Though some of you will already know, for those that don't, I have a new book out.

Plans for Small Gardens aims to encourage each and every novice garden owner whose heart sinks when they look out of the window upon their own small patch of land. 

The book covers ten projects, covering varying garden styles, including plans, drawings, shopping lists and techniques to arm, encourage and hold the hand of anyone wanting to create and build a welcoming spot to garden, play, or simply enjoy a gin and tonic outside their own back door.

And I'm delighted to say, on the whole, it seems to be going down quite well. At the risk of sounding like an Oscars speech, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those who've written such lovely things about the book, my clients, and of course the wonderful photographer of the book, the hugely talented Rachel Warne

Just this weekend, I was thrilled and honoured to read Emma Townshend's piece in the Independent about 'Plans'. If you've a mo, feel free to read it here 

And if you'd like a copy, then I hope you might find it in your local library, or of course you can buy it here at amazon

Meanwhile, here's what Garden's Illustrated had to say about it in July 2012. Click on the images to expand the page......

And here, The English Garden in August 2012's issue

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mount Usher, County Wicklow, Ireland

After day upon day of rain, murk and bone aching cold, Saturday found me in sun-soaked County Wicklow, Ireland, happily strolling the grounds of Mount Usher gardens and arboretum.
I'd spoken about the Robinsonian garden with my friend Simon Pratt (of family run company Avoca) when the business acquired a long term lease of the garden about four years ago, but I'd never had the time to visit.

Until now.

I was taken in by the gardens soft, gentle beckoning, head gardener Sean's genuine love for the place that he cares for and the atmosphere created by layers of green upon green upon green.

My amateur photos could never capture the serene mood of the place. 

I urge you to visit to soak it up for yourselves....

Monday, 19 March 2012

Sowing the seed.....

The  songbirds were obviously happy, singing sublimely whilst sunning themselves in the morning's crisp, sharp light. The sun beat on our backs strongly enough so as to facilitate a family breakfast alfresco, the first of the year. And as we sat there en famille, my two year old arguing with my seven year old about whose spoon belonged to whom and throwing scrambled eggs in the face of his increasingly irritated father, my 'cloaked-in-a-mask-of-kids-outdoor-entertainment' plan, of a type sure to be familiar to gardening mothers worldwide, was finally ready to roll out.

Operation seed-sow has been casually chugging along for a few weeks now. Windowsill propagators have been procured (Sankey propagators, and fabulous Windowsill Gro Kit 66cm, roughly £15 online), seed compost (John Innes) has been slid into deliveries meant for clients, and a couple of those cartoon smothered seed packets meant for ‘little green gardeners’ have snuck into the kind of seeds that mummy has every intention that this year she will sow.

You see, there are definite advantages of not doing Chelsea this year. After two autumns and springs of hard graft (ever since my youngest was born), spent dashing around, not sleeping, and generally being absent at this time of year (I confess that this has been also in mind if not body), this year I can spend precious, much-needed time with my children, doing mummy, every day type things. To my mind this definitely includes a whole-hearted attempt at getting them into gardening, if that's possible in a world where (for my seven year old at least), Wii, Nintendo and computers generally are king.

Suddenly this unexpected warm snap was my chance to begin carrying out that promise to myself, and to them. Seed trays were dispensed (one each, naturally, to prevent squabbling) seed labels flung upon the deck and permanent markers in various colours scattered attractively to allow for maximum label adornment. Watering cans loaded with fine sprinklers, seeds and tupperware for seed packet dispertion were on hand to allow for a factory line of seed sowing, hopefully minimising distractions from the task in hand and keeping the workforce focused. Even with the organisation of a type I never thought I had in me, I envisioned that we’d manage half an hour, max.

So three hours later, with both children STILL wanting more, 200 sunflowers of various types (OK, OK, but what great gifts, and how popoular will I be with the school gardening club and playgroup?), four varieties of tomato (a mix of bush and tumblers, cordons – who has the time?),  Angelica, Alcea, Mexican hats, Sweet peas and so on were all sown, labelled and in propagators. I actually had to beg my children to stop so I could cook supper. It was a wonderful afternoon of time spent together, mingled with the promise of more time to be spent together caring for the plants the seeds will eventually become.....wonderful. 

Plus, I may make gardeners of them after all…..

Delighted would be understatement.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Inspiration station #1

Whilst the start of every project is exciting, there are undoubtably those which take you deliciously off-piste - it's a wonderful feeling when an element of the brief, the garden situation, or the client's requirements engages you so completely that you're suddenly, helplessly wrapped up in exploring a stimulating, energising wealth of possibilities.

We've been considering two or three small gardens in the office for a week or two now. Usually, with a small garden, I would first consider the mechanics of the brief - how we're going to make the most of every scrap of space and so make the most of the client's time spent within it, how we'll create accessible, year round interest, hide the bin store, add the washing line and barbecue, explore the new space's overall style; it's materials, plants, lighting and so on - the atmosphere would come along during the design process, almost of it's own accord.

But all of a sudden (much to the irritation of my partner), I'm hooked. With these new spaces, I feel a shift in approach, an about turn in my thinking, and I find myself looking at these small spaces with a new eye.

Suddenly, for me, the most essential inclusion in these gardens shouldn't be the physical, but the more abstract experiential qualities of shadow, light and sky, to explore the relationships of these qualities in an attempt to produce an uncluttered, yet still engaging, small garden.

Suddenly the gardens on my board are so much about what we don't include than what we do, about what is brought into the space by nature, not us, the designers - a soft breeze, shafts of light, the sounds of the trees. We need to find a way to design these gardens (no matter their diminutive size) so natural elements can be enjoyed to their best advantage,  are fleetingly harnessed within the gardens to provide, not just an aesthetic, but a visceral, uninterrupted experience.

I want to take these gardens back down to grass roots level, forget the outdoor room and strip things back to the core. I want these gardens to be spaces to celebrate the sensation of being outside, because essentially THAT's the reason why we have gardens. Simple.

I'm once again reaching for Thomas Church and Jellicoe from the shelves and re-reading into the night. It's a joy. Just today I've fallen in love with the following quote from The Poetics of Gardens by Charles W Moore, William J Mitchell and William Turnbull Jr :

"Gardens exist in Sunlight. Without it the plants would not grow, the water would not sparkle, and the shadows would not fall. So the qualities of the sunlight that a site receives - its intensity, color, movement, and angles, it's filtering by atmosphere and foliage, its reflections off ground and water - create cadenced patterns that may sometimes recall but will never be quite like those of any other place."

We're still ruminating at sketch stage, but here are a handful of our inspirations......... Click on each image caption to find out more about it.......

Bonaire House by Silberstein Architecture 
The Swedish Pavillion by Fia Backstrom and Andreas Eriksson at the 54th Venice Biennale
Sandstone textural images
Casa Kimball by Rangr studio
Los Clubes by Luis Barragon
Natural textural images

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Mist + gardeners + trees = Uppark yesterday

Yesterday morning was happily spent in the company of Andy Lewis, The National Trust’s new head gardener at Uppark, stomping around the grounds looking at the developments he’s undertaking in the gardens there.

Set above the village of South Harting on the Hampshire/West Sussex borders, it has traditionally been ‘the house’ that’s drawn the visitors rather than the grounds. The National Trusts website describes the house as ‘A tranquil and intimate 18th century House set on the South Downs’. To my mind, it’s much more than that; the interiors are not only exquisite, they are an example of considered restoration after a fire in 1989 (Uppark’s repair was the most complicated the National trust has ever undertaken), and the complete basement servant’s quarters and tunnels offer a fascinating glimpse of ‘life below stairs’.  

I have to confess that when we lived in the village the spectacular views of the wide open lawns to the front of the house were a weekend draw for our family - a place to let the children loose within full view as we slumped on the ground for a quick read of the paper and some R and R from the rigours of young children. The gardens were simply a green wrap that one walked through to get to the grass.

Happily I think that my nonchalance at the gardens in their lolloping entanglement (admittedly studded here and there with a few interesting blooms), is now a thing of the past.

I first met Andy in 2010 at the always interesting annual Alitex lecture at the Walled garden at Cowdray. He’d been newly appointed Head Gardener after several years in private estates and a long stint at the more glamorous Wimpole Estate, another National Trust property. Newly arrived in the area, and filled with the excitement of his new challenge at Uppark, he invited me to visit as soon as possible. Instantly likeable, I enthusiastically accepted his invitation.

Full of apology, a full eighteen months later, on a murky morning with drizzle in the air, I finally arrived at the garden compound to take him up on his offer. A chattery mug of hot, welcome tea was drunk in the company of Terry, one of two part time members of staff, and Joy and Liz, two of fourteen precious volunteers who assist Andy, who is the only full time member of the garden staff. Eventually we ventured out into the 54 acres that comprises Uppark’s grounds. Mist soaked the ground, swirling around tree trunks and through canopies, marring Uppark’s crowing glory, the view. Undistracted, we walked down the avenue of trees leading from the Golden Gates, through a garden compartment with paths studded with moss drenched pebble swirls laid decades ago and out to the long border running the length of the dairy.

Low heaped mounds of Hebe and Cistus are soon to reside in a widened border here as Andy plans to formalise the bed's line, widen it and replant with the billowing herbaceous perennials so loved by him, and so lacking in other areas of the garden. As the only planting at this side of the house, where lawns tumble down and out towards the distant view of the sea, this will give visitors a reason to stroll (and linger) upon the path leading to the elegant Dairy Gazebo, which lies at the edge of the woodland wrapping the house on this, its west side.

This copse of woodland was where today’s energies were concentrated, and the place where my heart leapt in excitement and anticipation. Terry and the volunteers were hard at it, clearing scrub beneath a copse of trees where once finished, Andy and his team will drive a clear, unobscured wedge to open up the views beyond. Clearance, and hefty cutting back are key jobs for Andy as he fights back hefty overgrown shelterbelts of yew, which have over time grown to gargantuan proportions, and hitting back shrubs that have grown so tall as to creep into tree canopies, obscure views and obliterate plants at ground level. As much pruning material as possible is reworked into dead hedges around the grounds; aesthetically pleasing structures in themselves, with the added bonus of providing habitat for a proliferation of wildlife.

There are plans afoot for the restoration of the magnificent ‘Gothick’ seat and its surrounding planting, a productive vegetable garden, more work within the wonderful woodland to encourage rambling visitors, possibly a cutting patch, and improvements to signage so wanderers can be encouraged to, er, wander around the grounds.

All in all, my tardiness in accepting Andy’s generous invitation has turned out to be advantageous – Uppark’s bones are once again being revealed, in readiness to be clothed by the enthusiasm of Andy’s enthusiastic eye. I shall be visiting more regularly in future to bandy around ideas and see how the garden develops. Who knows, I may even volunteer to help……

Uppark Gardens entertaining and informative blog (mostly written by Andy himself) can be found here 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Happy New Year

After the excesses of a celebratory yule and precious time spent with the family feasting, talking and generally not doing very much at all, together, kickstarting the new year from a standing start can be a befuddling, difficult wrench. 

And so it was when I arrived back at the office last week bleary eyed, back to a job that I adore, but wondering where and how to start.

Thankfully, the garden here at the office was taking no prisoners and in my absence had been carrying on regardless. It has become my shining example. 

With most of us experiencing the mildest winter that we can remember, for many it will be no surprise to hear that Rodgersia, Echinops, Nepeta and so on are moving on at full tilt, budding up and taking full advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Here, the daffodils and snowdrops are up and at 'em. 

With this in mind, just today, an article in the Guardian caught my eye. In it National Trust conservation advisor Matthew Oates said: "After two cold winters, we've reverted back to the modern trend of mild, wet winters. If you look closely in woods, valleys, stream-sides and south facing slopes in particular, there are features of late January and early February everywhere." According to the central England temperature series, the longest-running instrumental record of temperatures, there were just four air frosts in the last three months of 2011, compared to 35 in 2010 and an average of 15 between 1878 and 2010, the Woodland Trust said. Oates urged people who wanted to visit gardens to see snowdrop and aconite displays not to leave their trips until February as they may miss the flowers. 

You can read the full article here http://bit.ly/yt0Fmk

And whilst the weather reports assure us that from next week the temperatures will revert to more expected lows of January (to what end for our enthusiastic plants and our gardens wildlife too?), I shall take a leaf out of my garden's book.

Hang the consequences, get out there and get moving. With gardens to move from paper to reality and new projects to begin, time waits for no man. 

So the office fire is on, emails are being sent and after a blissful Christmas lull the office is once again a busy place to be. I have even written my first blog in months!

Good luck to one and all, and I wish you a prosperous 2012; may yours be filled with overly enthusiastic flowers....