Introducing Hugh



I would like to introduce you to Hugh, a new addition to the garden.  Hugh was created by my friend Vik Westaway who is a sculptress specialising in willow.  In particular she creates amazing willow people which you can place in your garden but I prefer her animals and I fell in love with the owl some time ago.   So I was thrilled that as a thank you for the huge pile of willow logs I gave her, Vik gave me Hugh who is sitting on one of the logs. I am really pleased that some of the willow tree will have a second lease of life as bits of art work.  The other half is being used by my eldest son to train his scouts how to use knifes, axes and saws so the pile of logs has been put to good use.

You can see some of Vik’s work on her website. She has been particularly busy over the last 6 months since she was featured in Period Living Magazine. She is so busy in fact, producing sculptures for Chelsea and other exhibitions, that you have to book her two months in advance for a meal out!!! One of the exhibitions will be at the local Old Court Nursery, known for its asters, so if you are in the Malvern area in August or September why not pop in and see both the asters and sculpture.

Anyway I am delighted with Hugh who is residing in the old Bog Garden.  We thought he looked good peering out of the ferns and other foliage.  And why Hugh I hear you ask? Well if you say ‘hugh, hugh’ it sounds like an owl…trust me!!


Bryans Ground, Herefordshire – a Country Retreat


I love Bryans Ground in Herefordshire. It’s just one of those places that always delights me and which oozes with the spirit of the owners, so much character and personality.  I have visited probably four times over recent years but haven’t managed a visit for the last couple of years so it was interesting to see the changes. 2015_05020046The house is typical Arts and Crafts style having been built in 1913.  The current owners, David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell (who publish Hortus) moved here in 1993 and started to develop the garden.  I haven’t visited this early in the season before so it was fascinating to see the almost bare bones of the garden.  In the past when I have visited in high summer the area above has been a wonderful froth of fennel but with these currently less than a foot tall you can appreciate the strength and size of the topiary.  2015_05020015From the house the canal is one of the first garden rooms you encounter.  Cool and elegant on a sunny day and I think very reflective of the classical Italian gardens but with an English twist.


I realised today that Bryans Ground is all about vistas, journeys and viewpoints – the classic elements of garden design.  With the July haze of flowers still waiting to come alive you start to realise how strong the structure and design of the garden is.  But it isn’t all serious the garden is full of jokes and humour and has the best use of objet trouves I have come across even better than the wonderful displays I saw in San Francisco a few years back. I loved the flying bikes (top photo) which made me laugh out loud when I came round a corner and the rusty lawnmower in a sea of variegated ground elder also made me chuckle.


Simon Dorrell is an artist and designer and has contributed to the design, particularly of garden buildings, in a number of gardens in the area including the rose garden at Hampton Court Gardens in Herefordshire.  His talent has manifested itself at Bryans Ground not only in the placement of found objects but also in the quirky garden buildings and more recently in the wonderful new sculpture in the formal garden – which I thought was beautiful but also amusing.


There are probably 12 or 15 of these rabbits, although I think they might be hares, on plinths forming a square in the middle of a square lawn. It is as though the owners are saying “if you can’t beat them you might as well join them”. And they are such wonderful sculptures.


Whilst I enjoy the garden the arboretum, Cricket Wood, is becoming more and more of a greater attraction to me.  I do have a growing interest in trees and shrubs and I have enjoyed seeing how the wood has developed.  Since my last visit a number of hydrangeas, azaleas and I think tree peonies have been added. It is so nice to encounter a young arboretum. The interest in views and vistas is continued here.  This is no a wood with rambling paths but is designed very much along the 17th century garden style with strong straight paths which split to give you two or three choices.  I also noticed that there were a number of small areas enclosed with hedges with a specimen plant in the centre, just like the  bosquets in  17th century ‘wilderness’ gardens.




Whilst the visitor’s eye is drawn along avenues into the garden into enclosed areas there is conversely an appreciation of the surrounding landscape with many paths finishing with a view out to the surrounding farmland.  There were numerous places with seats and benches placed with their backs to the garden looking out but I was particularly intrigued with the seating area below.


I think this takes framing the view to a new level and quite simply sums up everything I have said above – classic design and humour all with a slight twist.



My View of RHS Chelsea 2014

The Potters Garden

So what did I think of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014? Well I thought the show gardens were on the whole of a high standard although there was still an element of sameness despite the well publicised inclusion of a number of younger designers but then again there are only so many formats you can adopt with a show garden and I think we have become very spoilt in recent years.  It was nice this year that there wasn’t as much cow parsley or similar in the gardens but there were definitely plants that recurred time and again in the gardens.  I think the image above of the Potters Garden demonstrates many of the favourites this year: white foxglove, vibrant blue Anchusa azurea Loddon Royalist and fluffy white Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’.

Paul Hervey-Brookes' BrandAlley Garden
Paul Hervey-Brookes’ BrandAlley Garden

There was a lot of low to mid level herbaceous planting with the occasional short grasses mixed in for movement.  The only real height was from the trees and the topiary which is always very prevalent.  I would have liked to see more variety of heights in the planting but that’s just me and I think this is one of the reasons I like Paul Hervey-Brookes’ Italian Renaissance Garden.

Cleve West's M&G Garden
Cleve West’s M&G Garden

As ever the show gardens of the experienced designers, I nearly put veterans but I wouldn’t want to offend, were immaculate with a level of attention to detail that you really don’t appreciate until you have spent a day or two trying to emulate it. I liked the Cleve West garden which displayed Cleve’s obvious plant knowledge with drought tolerant planting included at the front of the garden before you move into the shady main area of the garden with the water rills. However, I think I have come to expect this level of expertise from Cleve so my interest was more in the less experienced designers.

Rich Brother's The Night Sky Garden
Rich Brother’s The Night Sky Garden

I really liked the Vital Earth Garden designed by David and Harry Rich, among the young designers, and was pleased to see they were awarded a silver-gilt.  I liked the use of the rusty reds of the verbascums which picked up on the red on the dry stone wall and the red in background hedge. The garden referenced the Brecon Beacons and the fact that it is one of only 5 places in the World with a Clear Sky status.  I think the Rich brothers set themselves an incredibly hard task in trying to evoke a sense of the night sky in a garden that is viewed in the daytime.  But what I really liked was the looseness of the planting which somehow created a very pleasant atmosphere – it felt like a space I would enjoy sitting in.

Hugo Bugg's Garden
Hugo Bugg’s Garden

I also quite liked Huge Bugg’s Waterscape Garden which illustrated ideas for gardeners to collect and reuse rainwater.  Hugo is the youngest designer, 26 I think, to win a Gold at Chelsea. Whilst this wasn’t a garden I would like for myself I liked the fact that Hugo hadn’t replicated the, in my view, use of rectangles and squares which designers seem to rely on in these spaces.  I liked the angular use of the hard landscaping which I understand is meant to replicate naturally occurring geometric patterns although that reference was lost on me.  It was also nice to see the mass planting of Iris siberica, which made a change on the bearded irises that proliferated in some gardens as they always do at the Chelsea show.

Avon Bulbs Gold Medal Display
Avon Bulbs Gold Medal Display

Moving into The Great Pavillion I was spoilt by the displays. Due to the heat of the day the scent from the roses on David Austin’s stand was quite intoxicating.  Sadly the Pavillion wasn’t as busy with press as the show gardens and I always feel that there isn’t enough coverage of this area but then many of the press are looking for something unusual or a special story and whilst the nursery displays are stunning, showcasing extraordinary plantsmanship and skill they don’t sell papers. I was so distracted by the displays or talking to one of the bloggers I encountered that I forgot to take lots of photographs but here are some highlights.

Jacques Amand
Jacques Amand

I was particularly struck by the Jacques Amand display due to the large number of Cypremedium calceolus that was planted out. A plant you rarely saw until the last few years due to an extensive breeding programme.  Hopefully in a year or so the price will come down or I will be brave enough to have a go with one.  I also have a fascination with Arisaema and although I have a few in the garden they are not as spectacular as these.

Hiller Nurseries
Hiller Nurseries

Hiller Nurseries have a substantial stand in the middle of the Pavillion but this is always a stunning display which you can often walk through, although whenever I went there it was closed as they were waiting to be judged or hosting special guests.  I love Hiller’s displays as they always show how you can make wonderful plant combinations. One side of the display was a white garden but I preferred this more colourful section.

Rickards Ferns
Rickards Ferns

Needless to say I couldn’t resist a display of ferns.  This time by Rickards Ferns who I haven’t seen before but I will definitely be checking out their website.

Jonathan Knight Sculpture
Jonathan Knight Sculpture

Finally, moving away from plants here are some sculptures that I really liked. The showground is crammed with trade stands full of all sorts of sundries, art works and things you never knew you needed in your garden.  Most of it I ignore as it is either not to my taste, such as the large shell encrusted T-Rex, or way past my budget.  However, I was entranced by the work of Jonathan Knight so much I had to take some photographs.  I am sure these are rather pricey and never something I could afford but there was just some sort of emotion to them that struck me.

So those are my highlights of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 – there is another display that quite my fancy but I will post that tomorrow as my Wordless Wednesday.

Inspiring San Francisco Gardens

Whilst we visited 12 gardens in the San Francisco area, the majority of which were private and all were beautifully maintained, there were 3 which I really found inspiring.

The Mechanics Garden


This was the first garden we visited and I expect there are similar gardens in London and any city.  We arrived at an old style apartment block, entered the foyer and wondered where on earth we were going.  Down some stairs as if we were descending to the basement or laundry, down a corridor and there up ahead through an arch way greenery beckoned.  We entered what can only be described as a green cool oasis.  The planting was predominantly sub-tropical; lush and plentiful.  The large trees already in the garden space had been utilised to provide an overhead canopy and under planted with shrubs and smaller plants.

Whilst the planting was great it was the nick nacks and ornaments that I found inspiring.  In nooks and crannies there were sculptures giving focal points and drawing the eye in.  However, we are not talking about shop or gallery bought art here but art that has been created from, for want of a better word, junk.  I think the current trend is to call it ‘upcycling’.  A strange sculpture which reminded me of a prehistoric rib and spine turned out to be part of an old engine block.  Instead of a path made from uniform paving there was one created from random bricks, slabs and other things.


To add interest to a wall an old fireplace had been utilised.  Not only does this break up the expanse of the wall but it provides a surface on which to display smaller plants and nick nacks at eye level.  In another location there was an old cupboard used for the same purpose.

This approach, for me, was fascinating.  By incorporating the various statutes and ornaments the plants no longer took centre stage they had been moved to the background, creating a backdrop to the owners various junk finds and adding a whole new level of interest.

Rebecca Sweet’s Garden


Rebecca’s garden was the closest we came to what you could term an English garden with its neat lawn and borders.  However, whilst beautiful, this is not what I find inspiring.  Like the first garden mentioned it was the additions to the garden that I found fascinating.


Rebecca too had a fireplace on which she displayed various bits and pieces.  There were also a table and cupboard in the work area which looked too beautiful to work on and put my work area to shame.  However, the inspiration I took from Rebecca’s garden was how she displayed her succulents.  Large shallow pots planted up with collections of succulents were placed around the garden and like the bits and pieces in the first garden, they drew the eye in and made you stop and focus.

Keeyla Meadow’s Garden


Keeyla’s garden was like an injection of energy and blew me away.  This  is not a garden where the rules of design are obvious, with focal points, vistas etc.  This is a garden where colour and the diversity of plants is celebrated and showcased to a degree that I  think even Christopher Lloyd,  that well known proponent of colour, would be outdone.

It was fascinating to see the plant combinations which I think are only possible due to the Bay Areas climate.  A foxglove, a shady woodland plant for me, was sitting just below a Kangaroo Paw, a tender plant for me which has to be overwintered in the greenhouse.  There was every colour in the rainbow all mixed up together – none of this tonal shades, colour borders or complimentary colours.


Amongst the plants, again, there was sculptures and pots.  They are all Keeyla’s own work since she is a well-known artist.  Again like the planting they are quirky and exuberant; challenging all your preconceptions of how to use colour.

For me this garden showed me that you could throw away the rule book and you could plant and grow whatever you wanted, bearing in mind of course the plant’s growing requirements, and with a little bravery you could create a celebration of colour and plants.  I learnt that you shouldn’t be afraid of combining colours that instead you should give it a go and see what happened – throw caution to the wind.


These three gardens were my favourites of the trip. I learnt that you should feel free to plant what you want, how you want.  I learnt that to add an extra dimension to the garden you should add sculpture, ornaments call them what you will but that these do not have to be expensive works of art.  You can create the same, if not better, effect with random items you have acquired and which often will have more meaning and significance to you.  I learnt that you should give thought and consideration to how you display the smaller plants and that they looked better when displayed together rather than a random collection of small pots, as I have. But most of all I learnt that  creating a garden should be fun, it should be seen as an opportunity to showcase your interests and be an expression of your character.

Your garden should be a celebration of who you are and what you love.

Postcard from Cornwall 5: St Ives


Yesterday started overcast which came as rather a surprise given the wonderful sunshine we have had this week.  We have lost faith in the local weather forecast which seems to bare no resemblance to the actual temperatures so it’s now a case of peering at the sky and putting layers in the car.


Yesterday’s destination was St Ives. Like St Michael’s Mount I have wanted to visit St Ives for a while.  I wanted to see what was so special about it to attract a whole group of artists, leading to the creation of the Newland School.  I have some minor small deeply hidden artistic pretensions and having spent part of my Open University degree studying art I like to think I have a small understanding of art.  Therefore, the Tate at St Ives was on the list for this holiday.  However, I nearly changed my mind when I looked at the website for the current exhibition the other night.  I remembered our trip to Barcelona last year when my eldest son was quite critical of the Picasso museum, particularly the artist’s later work which he quite frankly thought was awful.  I brought my boys up to speak their minds so I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Anyway, due to this we discussed whether it was worth going to the Tate St Ives as I didn’t want him to be grumpy!!  We decided to see how the day went.


The drive across Cornwall was accompanied by grey clouds and winds which did not bode well.  As with many of the Cornish seaside towns you park high up above the town and walk down to the harbour – it was rather nippy.  We found a delightful tea room, called the Vintage Store, where we had local tea and cookies and admired lots of retro design items in the shop.  A nippy mooch around the harbour and suddenly there we were in front of the Tate.  I think if I am honest it was the cold that drove us in but I am glad we did.  The first exhibit was by an artist called Marlow Moss (1889 – 1958) who had been friends with Mondrian and was part of the Constructivist movement.  My sons’ initial reaction was well its squares and black lines but the information cards beside the paintings explained the thinking behind the pieces and how the idea was to create an emotional response.  I had learnt years back that if you look at these sort of paintings through half closed eyes your eyes struggle to focus on the various primary colours and therefore it gives the impression of the painting breathing.  Suddenly the boys could see this and their interest changed.  I liked this exhibit best alongside the exhibit by Gareth Jones.  My sons liked R H Quaytman more and there was one painting they raved about and how the green dots moved – I couldn’t see it which was interesting.


We had a disappointing lunch in one of the local restaurants and then found the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture  Garden which is linked to the Tate.  You enter via a small studio where there is a time-line of her life and some of her smaller pieces and then you go out into the garden.  The garden is rather small and absolutely crammed with sculpture.  Personally I felt that there was too much sculpture in the space and that it in some cases they detracted from each other.  We had another of those ‘I dont get modern sculpture/art’ conversations and I had to agree with my sons that many of the sculptures didn’t appeal to me but then art is a very subjective thing and if everyone liked everything it would be dull and I like it when art challenges your view points.  I decided that I preferred the stone or wood sculptures over the metal ones and also the more organic and stone like shapes.


I was particularly fascinated by Barbara Hepworth’s studios which were, apparently, as she left them and they showed in a very simple way how she developed ideas from drawings, through models to the real thing.  My eldest, the cabinet maker, was sad to see so many of her tools were rusty and not maintained and I do agree that it might have been nice if the museum had tried to maintain it better rather than sealing the room with a big glass window.


We finished off with a little retail therapy.  I bought some of the Cornish tea and am now looking to buy a glass tea-pot which we encounter in the tea room.  It made the whole process of drinking tea more of a ritual than we have these days when we dunk our tea-bag and appealed to me.


By the time we left St Ives it had got quite  busy and quite warm.  My youngest wasn’t feeling to well at all, we think something he had eaten for lunch had disagreed so we headed home after another fab day out.

English Country Garden June 2010

I missed out on my garden club’s April garden visit and last month it was our plant sale so I was looking forward to this month’s outing.  We do try to go to gardens that aren’t open on a regular basis or if they open under the NGS, those that only open the group visits.  This month’s outing was to Showborough House nr Twyning in Worcestershire.

The current owners had taken up residence in 2002 and started to garden in 2003.  The house had previously been an old people home but had had more illustrous owners in the past with Stanley Baldwin owning it in the 1950s/60s.  One of the previous owners had been into collecting specimen trees  and these formed the backbone of the garden.  We were told that when the owners had  started on the garden that the only thing they had to work with was the trees.  I think they have utlisied the trees very well, creating vistas to include them and having some as destination points.

The tree in the photo above had us all foxed for a while, the flowers and leaves were very wisteria like.  It turned out to be an Acacia but more interesting was that it had huge bunches of mistletoe growing in it.

The garden comprised of a lot of ‘rooms’ but ones where you arrived at a dead end and had to turn round and retrace your steps which was a little annoying.  There is a lot of repetition of plants and block planting which works quite well, giving a forward moment.  It was noticeable that white and cream were favourite colours but we did wonder if this was because there was a lot of shade in the garden and white is a very good colour for lighting shady areas.

The two main plants used in the garden are box and various grasses (forgive me for putting all the grasses under one label).  As with many gardens which have formal gardens box blight had struck but the owners were hoping that they had contained it.  It was also noticeable that some of the grasses were still looking very dormant and we suspected they had been hit by the hard winter we have had.  I suppose this is one of the downside of mass planting, if something gets hit by the weather or a bug it leaves quite a big dent in the garden to be rectified.

Further down the garden you discover a water wonder land which you have to access over a formal rectangular pool.  You then come to the more  organic  shaped water garden which is called the dragon garden.  The reason for this unusual name is because the ground and shrubs are shaped into a dragon.  There is no photo of this as it was just to hard to show in a photo but you can see the dragon eggs on the island above.  For me this area was too bitty which was very distracting.

We then came across the veg patch which is one of the most colourful veg patches I have ever seen,  everyone was quite taken with it.  Due to the rabbit problem the main veg growing area is fenced in but around the fence there is a lovely cacophony of perennials including a vibrant red potentilla.  The colours in these plants are picked up with the sweet peas and the tumbling  mounds of nasturiums which are growing out of the raised beds along with  the potatos and herbs.

From here you make your way through more shady garden past a newly planted yew walk and to the cottage garden which was full of delightful treasures: lupins, foxgloves, acquilegas and lychnis to name a few. From here you find yourself back at the front of the house  and in a secret spring/woodland garden.  Throughout the garden we had encountered various sculptures; some we liked some we didn’t but in the woodland garden my friend and I had quite a surprise to encounter a strange looking monk with a pet  owl!!

Personally I dont like this sort of sculpture, I find it a bit gimmicky but each to his own.  I much prefer the more traditional sculpture such as the girl in the border below.F

For the last three years the garden has hosted a sculpture exhibition of affordable garden art produced by local artists.  The exhibition had finished the week before we visited although there were lots of sculpture in the garden anyway; I do think it will be worth going back to next Spring to see what sculptures they have.

Something lurking in the woods!

I mentioned the sculptures at Tatton Park in an earlier post and to be honest I wasnt that impressed but there was one ‘sculpture’ that my eldest son and I loved.  This woodmans hut for want of a better name was stunning. 

It has such an organic shape to start with and the construction is amazing! Its made out of wooden palings and assembled over a complex wooden structure.  But strangely you will see that light is provided via a plastic dome on the top!

Once you go inside you realise just how large it is, you could probably sit 15 easily.  There is also a wood burning stove and a rocking chair.  I suspect it is intended as a sort of hide as there are triangluar windows all round which give views out across the lake.

The light streaming in through the windows even on an overcast day was amazing and give the building a special atmosphere.

We loved the way it sat in the landscape, it really didnt jar as so many sculptures do and I can imagine with a little aging it will seem like it has been there for years.  My son said it reminded him of old Mother Hubbard’s house!  Being an apprentice joiner and seriously into wooden things he took the majority of these photos and I think has dreams of creating a similar building in the future.