Book Review: British Gardens in Time

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There is nothing I enjoy more than a bit of history and when it’s coupled with horticulture I am a very happy person.  So I was thrilled to be offered a review copy of British Gardens in Time; the book which accompanies the new BBC series.

The book, and television series, showcase four well-known British gardens with each representing a key stage in the progression of British horticultural design.  As a bonus the book, written by Katie Campbell, starts with a short history of British Gardens.  We are taken on a gallop through history from the Roman influences, through the lack of any real garden interest in the medieval times to the gardens Elizabeth I’s courtiers built to try to woo her.  I particularly appreciated the approach taken by Campbell throughout the book which embraces all aspects of the horticultural world not just the design.  I spent some time a year or two ago learning about garden design history and it was quite clear that the development of garden design not only occurred due to a need for lords to impress and show off their wealth but also due to the plant introductions that were coming in from new colonies overseas.  You have to understand the whole context of the environment the garden was created in, as well as the background of its creator, to fully appreciate the garden.

The four gardens: Stowe, Biddulph Grange, Nymans, and Great Dixter are presented mainly from a historical perspective.  However, the history of the development of each garden is given set within the context of other garden design and influences.  In the case of Stowe we learn how the development of the garden reflects its owner’s Lord Cobham’s changing political views and criticism of Walpole, the then Prime Minister.  At this time many large gardens including allegorical statues and buildings which would have conveyed a hidden message to visitors; something we now find hard to understand.

Biddulph was built on the profits of the industrial revolution by James Bateman a keen botanist and sponsor of many plant hunters.  Therefore this section of the book explores the ‘cult’ of the Victorian plant hunters but also, interestingly to me, the work of female botanical artists many who remain anonymous.  I have found this period of horticultural  history fascinating for some time far more than the development of the landscape garden under Capability Brown’s artistic hand such as at Stowe.  I suspect that it appeals to the romantic in me, all those exciting stories of exploration, as well as to my fascination with plants and where they come from.  Bateman was into orchids, they were his first love, and it is interesting to learn how obsessive and single-minded these collectors and plant hunters could be. Campbell recounts how some plant hunters collected every single specimen of a plant they would carry and destroyed the remainder so only they had the plant.  It seems that in some cases their single-mindedness destroyed whole colonies although I suppose when you consider the Victorian approach to wild game hunting we shouldn’t be surprised that this arrogant approach pervaded other aspects of life.

I haven’t read the final two chapters on Nymans and Great Dixter but if they follow  the style of the first half of the book and the quality of the television series episode on Great Dixter that was shown last week they should be excellent.

I like the way the book uses the four very different gardens to explore the subject of garden/horticultural history including other developments such as the early plant nurseries, plant hunters, plant magazines, the  acceptability of lady gardeners, the foundation of the RHS and National Trust and the influence of other contemporary gardeners and designers.

I found Campbell’s writing style easy and accessible; although relaying a lot of information in a fairly compact style it has a good flowing narrative to it.  The photographs of the gardens by a range of photographers are needless to say wonderful but it is the photographs of the owners and occupiers, particularly for the latter gardens, and the botanical drawings that I really loved.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is in love with the world of horticulture, as I am.  It is like reading about your heroes and heroines with a touch of plant porn thrown in – what more could I ask for!

Veddw: Trying not to say ‘lovely’

2013_08020003logoYesterday I finally visited Anne and Charles’s garden – Veddw.  I say finally as I have wanted to visit for a while but have been a little intimidated by Anne’s approach to how people view gardens and especially the glossy magazine articles on gardens where everything is ‘lovely’.

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I’m not sure what I was expecting when I visited the garden.  I had seen some photographs but nothing prepared me for entering from the top of the garden and seeing the hedges and rooms laid out before me.  The garden is set out across a valley so as you look across the garden from the car park the ground falls away from you and then rises up.  It also slopes down to the house which nestles in the valley and I should add there is more garden on the other side of the house.

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I was completely bewitched by the view looking across the valley and looking at my photographs there are lots of the tops of the hedges and the way the light works on them and how they relate to the landscape beyond.  At the top of the garden is the Tithe Garden, a matrix of box or I suppose for want of a better word a parterre but in this one each section is filled with a different grass.  It represents and reflects the pattern of fields that you see across the English landscape particularly in the hilly area along the English/Welsh border.  I loved the movement in this area and the contrast between the loose grasses and the strong outline of the box.

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The area in the dip is made up of a number of enclosed rooms with high hedges.  I’m not one for high hedges particularly when they are used to create rooms and in some spaces such as the Cornfield Garden I felt a little claustrophobic but then I was in a small space with three other people and a dog so it is hard to be really analytical about it.

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However, there was one area that really didn’t appeal to me and two others where I wasn’t so sure.  Anne knows about this and I know that she likes people to be analytical and honest so here goes.  I really wasn’t keen on an area in the valley were the only planting were grey leaved hostas.  As you can see in the photograph they are planted in a large block against the yew  hedges, and run both sides of the path.  Now I liked the generosity of Anne’s planting in other areas, I loved the Alchemilla mollis (below) around the conservatory which probably filled an equivalent area and also the ground elder (bottom photo) but there is something about the hosta planting that just didn’t work for me.  I think there are two possible reasons.  Firstly to me the planting is fairly flat and low in comparison to the height of the hedge, unlike the ground elder and Alchemilla mollis the foliage is  dense and large giving a very solid feel.  I wonder is adding something in a similar colour, maybe a grass, running through the planting would lighten it, maybe add some movement.  Anne’s view was that this was meant as a pause as you walked  through the garden somewhere for your eyes to rest before moving on to the next area and I can see that but it still didn’t work for me.  The other possible reason is that I seem to have an increasingly dislike to this glaucous grey colour.  I was very conscious of shying away from it in the gardens I visited in San Francisco and longing for a shot of brightness so maybe its something in my sub-consciousness that just doesn’t like this grey.

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We had a discussion about my reaction to the reflecting pool garden.  Anne and Charles have created a space, again surrounded by high hedges, were the only thing in it is a large rectangular reflecting pool. (Sorry – no photograph but you can see it on their website) It has been beautifully constructed so the water is exactly level with the surrounding path. The water is dyed black to improve the  reflections from the clipped yew hedge behind which are shaped into curves. The only other thing in the garden is a bench; there are no other plants at all.  I felt quite disconcerted in this garden and uneasy.  It partly reminded me of a similar garden at Kiftsgate which I don’t like and I have put that dislike down to the silvery fountain at the end of their pool but the feeling was intensified in the Veddw garden.   I thought about this a lot on the way home and I think my disquiet was because I didn’t know how to react to the space.  There was nothing competing for your attention – no flowers, no scents, no noise even.  There was nothing to distract you and I don’t  think I have ever been in such a space before.  I am used to there being something and I think it is  worse than ever now with all the electronic gadgets we have around us demanding attention.  But, it has to be said that the garden serves a purpose it is somewhere you can go to completely tune out, to reflect and not have anything to distract you so it fulfills its purpose – it’s just me that needs to learn to turn off!

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Finally there is the garden on the other side of the house which Victoria called the faux veg garden.  It is laid out in a grid and planted very simply with Heuchera Palace Purple and Cardoons.  In the spring there are deep purple tulips and in late spring Alliums.  Anne did say that it was this garden’s low point in the year and it was only because of the exceptional weather we have had that the plants were still looking good and hadn’t been cut down.  She likes this garden as it looks after itself and when you have 2 acres of intensively planted garden to look after you have to admit this is a good thing.  However it didn’t appeal to me and I’m not sure way.  I don’t know if it was too still for me unlike the Tithe Garden or whether it was the repetition of such a limited plant palate over such a large area.  Somewhere in my mind the image of bedding came forward but I  think that is unkind as this planting was far more sophisticated and elegant than any bedding so I think it was just the monochrome sense I got from it that I  didn’t really take to.

2013_08020023logoRight so now I have made some critical observations I can move on to say that I thought Veddw was one of the most original and thought-provoking gardens I have seen in a very long time.  I have been aware of Anne’s views on planting and other horticultural practice for years and I have to admit I haven’t always understood what she was saying when she said people had too many plants.  Now I think I have a better handle on it.  What I think Anne means is that people should restrict their plant palate. By doing this you highlight the plants you choose to use and draw attention to them more rather than them being lost in a mish mash of other plants.  This then gives a greater impact to the garden as a whole.

For some reason which mystified me yesterday I seemed to think that there wouldn’t be 2013_08020025logoany bright flowers in the garden.  I  have no idea why as I know Anne likes bright colours.  The garden behind the house is full of bright colours and has a different feel to the main garden which all its hedges and topiary.  But if you look closely you will see that there is a restricted plant palate.  In both these pictures one of the main plants is Inula, a striking and dominant plant.  In one area it has been accompanied mainly by Crocosmia and in the other Campanula latifolia, both planting work well.

Thinking about Veddw on my way home and wondering what I would write about I was particularly struck with how much I liked the strong contrasts 2013_08020026logo

between informal and formal or to put it another way the looser/wilder planting and the very managed planting.  We have already seen this in the Tithe Garden, many of the other gardens with high hedges had loose planting within them and you can see it again in the Meadow (above) with the shaped Hazels (?) and very straight mown path through the middle.  Also as I have said I really liked the generosity of planting.  In one garden the only plants, aside from the surrounding hedge was a white Persicaria which, due to the excellent weather, had grown shoulder height.  We commented on the wonderful feeling of being completely surrounded by the plant.

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Veddw is a garden I want to visit again. I  think it is the first garden I was disappointed to leave feeling as though I could easily spend another couple of hours just appreciating the atmosphere and thinking about the planting and how plants have been used.

How to translate this to a small suburban garden is another thing altogether.  If I was to recreate one of the garden rooms  I would probably use up my whole garden! But there are lessons to be learnt.  I think I understand Anne’s argument on a restricted plant palate and I will definitely think about this more.  I love the contrast between the wild and tamed planting styles and I think this is where the formality of hedges and topiary come into play and this could possibly be replicated through using more topiary to give structure in the garden.  I also loved the generosity of planting in the sense of the big blocks of one or two plants that were used, they delivered impact and a wow factor.  I think there is a  bravery to the garden and an element of not worrying about some rule book or other gardening styles.

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This is a very personal garden, it is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking gardens I have visited.  Every element has been carefully considered and planned and Anne is still thinking and considering.  She takes each criticism and comment and reviews them carefully to try to understand how visitors relate to her space.  I don’t think I have met a gardener who does this before.   I have learnt a few things from Anne yesterday; I certainly think I understand her arguments and viewpoint better but if I have learnt nothing else it is to look and consider not just the texture, colour, shape of the plants but the overall effect and whilst Fergus asks what can you add to make it more exciting you also need to consider whether you should in fact be removing something to get the impact you want.

From the number of “I think” I have edited out of this post it is clear that Veddw has left me with a lot to think about and I am sure Anne would approve of this.

A sense of journey

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I have the luxury of being able to visit the Garden House in Devon twice a year at the moment.  My youngest son is at University in Plymouth and the garden is no more than 30 minutes up the road from his student house on the edge of Dartmoor.  We have taken to visiting when I pick him up or take him back.  So far we have visited in April and September and it is interesting to see a garden change through the year.  There has also been a change of Head Gardener and it was obvious from our visit this week, our third, that some changes were occurring, more in technique than anything grand but it did feel a little different.

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The weather was strange; pleasant and warm in the sheltered areas but when you were a little exposed there was a fierce windy whipping through the garden.  It made visiting the Acer glade quite interesting with ducking required to avoid branches whipping around.

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When we have visited before the wild flower meadow (top) and (above) were either well over or hadn’t really made a start.  We were both struck with how wonderful the garden looked so virdant and fresh and everything blooming away.  We were told on arrival that it was a little behind so we got to see lots of Azaleas and Rhododendrons which would normally have been over.

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What struck me when I reviewed my photographs were how many I had taken of paths through the planting.  I have noticed that many of my garden visit photographs have this theme.  I really like the sense of journey and rhythm paths create especially when they lead round a corner creating mystery and interest.

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I suspect this is what has been deep in my sub-conscious when I have been messing around with my garden and deciding what to do about the lawn.  It is always why I am probably so pleased with the way the paths are working in the back garden, they have turn and I am hoping that as the planting grows up over the next few years that they will have a sense of mystery.

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It isn’t just the casual meandering paths I like.  I also like the scale and formality of the wide grass path between the borders below.  In case you are wondering why the back wall seems to have two completely different kinds of stone this is because  the original wall was blown over last year.  When we visited in April I think there was a forlorn pile of stone with a notice explaining and lots of hazard tape around it.  The arch leads to the new arboretum which was planted up last year and I think will be wonderful in a few years when the trees have grown.

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I wonder how my visit this September will compare to last September.  It will be interesting to see if the plants catch up from the slow start.  But then who knows what the weather will bring between now and then.

Lawnless and Liberated

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Digging up my back lawn has been completely liberating – more liberating than I could possibly imagine.  No longer do I have the tedium of trying to mow a sloping lawn but what I hadn’t really anticipated was how the dynamics of the garden have completely changed.

Looking back its as though the garden hadn’t really come into its own, the lawn was holding it back like a parent trying to stop its child leaving the nest.  The garden just didn’t work.  There was no sense of journey, no mystery, no discovery. The whole garden could be seen laid out before you.  There was no excitement.  As the garden is relatively small and dominated by two large trees adding screens or hedges to create rooms or vistas wasn’t to  my mind an option.  With the lawn gone I have a large border and through planting a couple of shrubs I feel that I have managed to obstruct the view in places and create zones or compartments.  The paths through the garden now have a sense of purpose and I feel that you are encouraged to explore.  I hope that as the shrubs and other plantings grow then this will increase.

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I really enjoy being in the garden now.  I now longer feel constrained by the size of the borders, causing me to feel I can’t have shrubs or trees or other large plants.  I can create discreet areas better and allow my plants to stretch their leaves with more space around them.  You can almost hear the garden breathing out.  If I was being whimsical I would say it was like a 19th century lady taking her corset off. The garden feels more secluded, it feels more like my garden rather than a garden based on other people’s ideas.

I find myself wondering why we are so hung up on lawns.  It seems to me to be something that is deep within our English psyche. The pundits and supporters of the RHS Chelsea flower show and its sister shows: Hampton Court and Tatton Court argue that they are influential and dictate fashion.  However, when was the last time there was a proper lawn in one of these show gardens?  The majority of show gardens feature hard landscaping with planting but how many people follow this lead and get rid of their lawn.  Of course many people need their lawn space for the children, pets or because they like to use it as a social space.  From the magazines I read it seems that more and more city gardens particularly in London have gone the route of no lawn but here in the suburbs it causes raised eyebrows.

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I have to admit to dithering about taking this route I was so brainwashed.  It was the book Beautiful No Mow Yards which pushed me into taking action and I am really glad I was sent a copy to review.  Yes there is still a grass path and this isn’t because  I am trying to hold onto some grass but because we really don’t have the time to put in hard landscaping here at the moment due to the workshop going in.  I do like the appearance of the grass path but it isn’t that practical to maintain.  I tried to mow it this weekend and the camber of the path is so steep that you are constantly battling with the mower.  We are going to see how strimming works but I suspect that by this time next year it will have been replaced with gravel.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who persuaded, cajoled and dared me into digging up the lawn- you have given me so much more planting space

Evolution – The English Garden

I have decided to take part in Garden Walk Garden Talk’s fortnightly meme ‘Word for Wednesday’ as I think the intellectual challenge will get my brain working, especially as winter draws in as there isn’t so much to blog about.  This fortnight’s word is Evolve or Evolution.  I have pondered about this for several days.  I can’t write about the evolution of plants as this is such a huge subject; maybe I could talk about a particular plant evolving, growing from seed but I don’t have any appropriate photos which I think is important; I could write about my garden evolving but I have done that quite a bit recently.  So I have decided to write about the evolution of English garden design.  I have to right from the start  issue a warning to this post.  I am not a garden design historian or expert, this post is based purely on gardens I have visited which illustrated certain styles loosely arranged in historical order and yes I am sure there are stages missing.

So we will start with the top photo taken at Aberglasney Garden in Carmarthenshire in Wales.  The photo is of the Cloister Garden from the end of the Elizabethan period.  This is a rare example of a terraced walkway.  The grass has bulbs planted in it but not en mass as we might do now but more dotted around to create a jewelled effect.  I suspect the cost of getting bulbs from the European/Asian borders was probably quite high at this time and so they would be treated as individual gems. As with many grand gardens through the ages the purpose is to demonstrate the owner’s wealth and to provide a place for walking and talking.

We now jump forward from the end of the 17th century to the Landscape Movement of garden design in the mid 18th century.  This is Croome Park in Worcestershire about 20 minutes drive from me and the first garden Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was commissioned to design.  During this period of garden design the focus was on creating grand views.  Again, this was all about  showing wealth and in order to create the garden above a medieval church was demolished, a whole village was relocated and the manor house moved and rebuilt.  They must have needed very good imagination as unlike now they wouldn’t have been planting vast fully grown trees and in most cases the owner would never see the parkland in its full mature glory.

Moving swiftly on through time missing out  the formal Victorian period with lots of massed planting we end up at the end of the Victorian period when Gertrude Jekyll was considered the ‘must-have’ designer.  Jekyll, like William Robinson in The Wild Garden, had moved away from the vast brightly coloured Victorian bedding scheme and adopted a more naturalistic approach although not what we would consider naturalistic.  Her approach was to introduce vast herbaceous borders with the plants very cleverly coordinated and harmonious.  I should state that the borders above are not a Jekyll design but are the nearest I can find from gardens I have visited.  These are at Kiftsgate Garden and date from around 1920.

Across the road from Kiftsgate  is Hidcote Gardens (above) which is a fine example of the Arts & Crafts movement of garden design.  Jekyll was involved in this movement but it was truly taken forward by the likes of Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst and Lawrence Johnson at Hidcote with the introduction of themed rooms.  I think with the Arts and Crafts movement the focus on displaying wealth was less important and it was more about the beauty of the garden, the interplay of colours and plants. Both Hidcote and Kiftsgate were created at the start of the 20th century.

If we continue to move forward to the 1940-60s we come to the garden of Margery Fish, East Lambrook Manor.  Margery Fish is attributed with taking the chocolate box image of cottage gardens so popular in the late Victorian period and created what we would now call ‘The Cottage Garden’.  Unlike the proper original cottage gardens which combined edibles with flowers along with chickens and maybe a pig the romanticised Cottage Garden style is more about artfully mixed perennials, shrubs, annuals etc.  This is a style which is very much still popular in the UK today.

Finally, I leave you with Bryans Ground in Herefordshire – a garden I adore.  This is very much an evolving garden having been created over the last 20 or so years.  There are areas which would be described as cottage gardens but then there is the vast planting of Iris siberica (above) which I think is simply breath-taking.  The ground also contain an arboretum which is progressively being added to and there is a cleverness and artistic hand behind the alleys of trees and vistas.  I think Bryan’s Ground is bringing our journey almost full circle.  The formality of the Iris siberica planting reminds me of the formality of the Elizabethan Cloister Garden but taken to another level.

I find it fascinating to look at how English garden design has evolved and the factors that have contributed to it whether it be the discoveries of plants from around the world, the need to display wealth and the shifting of that wealth to the new classes of people and then in the 20th century the idea of gardening as more of a past time for all classes rather than the preserve of the rich.

Do visit Garden Walk Garden Talk’s blog for more posts about Evolution or Evolving

Contemporary Colour in the Garden – Review

Contemporary Colour in the Garden by Andrew Wilson is not the sort of ‘gardening’ book I would normally rush out to buy.  I tend to shy away from design based horticulture books since I do not have a design background and if I am honest I would have said it was not something that interested me, I’m more of a  plants person.

However, I have found this book fascinating although a little academic or shall we say dry in places.  At first glance you may think from the glossy photos of cutting edge design, show gardens etc that this was another coffee table book.  Not so, when you start to read the text you realise this is a book which sets out to explain how colour works particularly in a garden setting and particularly in a contemporary garden setting.

I made the mistake of reading Contemporary Colour in the Garden late at night after a long day in the office as this was my only reading time.  Since this book goes well beyond the notion of the colour wheel and opposite colours working together, in to the world of secondary, tertiary colours  and beyond you need to be prepared to concentrate in order to get the most from it.  I will probably dip back into this book from time to time to wrestle with the ideas more. I have already learnt that undiluted primary colours will sing out in a border but if you start to add secondary colours to the mix the brightness will fade and even more so when you add tertiary colours.  I probably haven’t explained that very well which explains why Andrew’s book feels a little dry in places since the concept he is explaining is quite hard to put into exciting prose.

Anyway enough of the complex colour dynamics, what I really enjoyed about the book were the small but  powerful messages and ideas that appeared from time to time.  Andrew is critical of gardeners and their approach to populating their gardens.  He says that “In our efforts to populate our gardens with colour planting for winter, we lose the very character of that season and further more, the colour intensity that might climax at other times of the year is diluted.”  I really related to this statement.  There is a pressure from media etc that a good garden has interest in it all year but for some reason gardeners think this means they need to have something in flower all year.  We should be celebrating the seasons for what they are. So in autumn we should be savouring the autumn colours and the fading shades of the perennials as they fade.  In winter we should be looking at silhouettes, plants that look stunning when frosted etc.   Andrew believes that the gardener’s insatiable desire to obtain and collect new plants means that the “colour theories, control and therefore impact or sensitivity go out of the window”.  This is true, you see it time after time in domestic gardens – one of these, one of those – I have been guilty of it myself.  Whilst it is nice to have unusual plants to show off to your horticultural friends I think I would rather have a garden with a bit of wow going on and this is what I am slowly striving towards.

Andrew talks about how colour works in terms of hard landscaping; how lighting, both natural and man-made, impact on colour and how we can learn about colour from nature.  He discusses the idea of the colour palette used reflecting the surroundings in more rural settings whilst in urban settings plantings can be more reflective of the gardener’s personality.  I think this is true. I have the backdrop of the Malvern Hills to my garden and exotic Cannas and Palms would just look wrong.  Whilst if I lived in London and had a courtyard garden I could use those plants much better.

The book is illustrated throughout with examples of contemporary garden design from some of the top current designers and it is really interesting to see how designers are embracing new materials and incorporating into their designs. There is an excellent tie in between the photos and text, although sometimes I lost the thread of the text due to it being interrupted by several pages of photographs.

As I have said this is not the sort of book I would normally buy  but I am glad it was sent to me to review since it has opened my mind ideas about colour and to beginning to understand how colour works.  This is something I have been grappling with in my garden and also my art classes and I feel that there is a glimmer of comprehension somewhere in my brain.

This may not be a book for every amateur gardener but I think that if I was a garden design student I would find it invaluable for its discussion of colour not just plants but hard and soft landscaping.  I can see it become a very well-thumbed reference book to future students.

Birmingham Borders – GW Live

Yesterday I went to the Gardeners World Show in Birmingham.  This isn’t an event I have been to before and to be honest it wasn’t really my cup of tea but there was one element which I really liked and wanted to share with you.

The show has a ‘competition’ for enthusiastic gardeners and horticultural students who want to have a go at designing and planting a horticultural display which will be judged by the RHS – they call it ‘Birmingham Borders’.  Each entrant is given a raised bed which has been ready prepared for planting and I think they have a couple of days to plant it up.

You get a feel  of the space from the photo above and as you can see there were a variety of styles adopted.  I have tried to find out what remit the entrants were given for their gardens but as there doesn’t seem to be anything obvious in the show programme or on the website I am assuming they had a free hand.

I was amazed at the standard of the entrants.  I don’t think I would know where to start if I’m honest but then I suppose I’m not a budding garden designer so maybe it just isn’t in my psyche.  Above is the entry from Garden Hero – a fellow garden blogger and twitter and you can read about the background to his ‘garden’ by clicking on the link.  He did extremely well achieving a Silver-Gilt and I don’t think my photo does his garden justice.

It was also interesting that some of the entrants had treated the small space as a garden as the one above did whilst other have treated it as a border. You can see more images of the borders here

As I have said the standard was high and I think at least two of the gardens, including the one in the top photo, were awarded golds. Why did I like these so much?  Well because the ‘gardens’ were small on size and small on budget the average gardener  – me – could easily relate to them and get ideas.  Sadly, the show organisers put these borders right near the back of the site and I’m not convinced they were getting the attention they deserved.  We certainly had to go looking for them.

Hopefully some of these new garden designers will have got the bug and will aspire to compete at a higher level and we will see more of them.

Gardens of Inspiration

Sitting here on a bleak December day I have been contemplating lots of changes to the garden next year and have found myself  looking back at gardens I have visited this year for inspiration. 

I have realised that when I visit gardens my interest is really drawn to particular plants rather than the planting overall.  I suspect this is because I am more of a plant person than a garden designer.  However,  my borders are feeling rather bitty at the moment so I have been reviewing photos to look more closely at other people’s borders to see how they have combined plants and what appeals to me.  The photo above was taken at Stockton Bury, Herefordshire in August this year.  I was particularly taken with the planting around the pond and the way it hides the edges so well and blends into the adjacent borders.  I have been trying for some time to achieve  this sort of affect around my pond. I have always thought that it was good  design to combine leaf shapes but  the picture above shows lots of plants with strap like foilage and  not much variety.  Personally I think this would look  better with some broad leaved plants.  So whilst I am impressed with the lushness and excuberance of the colours for me this  isn’t quite right and I would include some Ligularia and Hostas.

A visit to The Tynings, Stoulton in  July failed to provide me with any design inspiration but it did show me that lilies are much  better planted in the ground rather than in pots.  The owner had lots and  lots of lilies all in the borders but only one plant had suffered lily bettle damage whilst  my few lilies in pots at home had really been attacked.  My suspicion is that the lily bettles lay their young in the pots where they are protected more from pests and the cold than they would be in the border. I also think the plants look very messy when the flowers have finished but planting them in the border surrounding plants hide the dying foilage.

One of the real garden visiting highlights was Dumbleside in Nottinghamshire.  The garden was stunning and had everything you could wish for – a small meadow complete with orchids, beautiful borders but its real gem was the planting along the stream (see photo above).  I loved the combination of foilage which provided a delightful textural background to seasonal flowers – when we visited in June it was Primulas. I think what I took away from this visit was  a desire to plant more densely and to concentrate on foilage as much if not more than the flowers.

However, a visit to one  of my garden club members’ gardens, also in June, shows that texture can be achieved with the clever use of flowers (above) in this case through using dainty pastel shades and small delicate flowers.

So my review of photos taken over the last year has given me a lot of food for thought and ideas to mull over.  I also have a pile  of gardening magazines to browse through and I am already seriously considering a jungle/tropical border something I would never have considered a couple of years  ago.  I am planning lots more garden visits in 2010 and this time I think I will be looking more at the planting than focusing on particular plants  but I am sure that there will be plants that creep on to my never ending wish list.