Downsizing a garden in style

Moving to a smaller plot is never easy but it’s a problem that one Gloucestershire gardener has solved with style.

When it comes to plants I’m a greedy gardener. I want to grow something of everything and whatever’s in flower is my current must-have. Downsizing my garden is unthinkable.

But it’s something that many gardeners have to do – unless they have the money to employ help – and it can be challenging. What do you keep and what do you resign yourself to not growing? How do you plan a smaller plot when you’re used to the space to indulge your plant passion?

downsizing a garden
Veg was the first thing to go into the new garden

It’s a dilemma Pamela Buckland faced when she moved from her cottage in Coalway in the Forest of Dean to a nearby bungalow. Well known in the Gloucestershire National Garden Scheme – she’s a former assistant county organiser – she swapped a third of an acre for a plot that’s roughly half the size.

Think ahead

The key is to downsizing a garden is planning ahead and don’t leave moving plants to the last minute: “I potted up my favourite perennials early in the year,” Pamela tells me.

downsizing a garden
Grasses were one of the collections that moved with Pamela

Limit yourself to those favourites and unusual varieties; in Pamela’s case these included heucheras, geraniums, her collection of around 20 different varieties of hosta and several grasses.

She took on a garden that had obviously been loved but was badly in need of an overhaul. Paving slab paths criss-crossed the area – “Everywhere I moved something or cleared a space there were paths” – and the many shrubs were too large for the space, while a heather bed spread 8ft by 6ft and there was an enormous pampas grass.

“You really couldn’t see what was here,” she recalls.

downsizing a garden
Bird cages add a decorative element

Pamela started by sorting out the sloping ground at the side of the bungalow, which became two distinct levels: vegetables in raised beds at the top and flowers below.

“The vegetable garden was the first thing I did.”

Putting in a small greenhouse came next – it’s used for tomatoes, cucumbers and raising seeds – and only then did Pamela start to think about the rest of the garden.

Plan carefully

It’s tempting to start by clearing a bit of space and getting on with planting but it’s far better to get rid of everything you don’t want first rather than doing it piecemeal.

downsizing a garden
A large magnolia is one of the few original plants

In Pamela’s case, this included removing several large shrubs, including hydrangeas, weigela and choisya, the many paths and filling 10 green refuse bins with Spanish bluebells.

Once the garden was cleared, it was easier to see how to change the design.

Keep it simple

The danger with moving from a large garden to a smaller space is that you try to have a bit of everything with the result looking far from planned.

downsizing a garden
Sticking to simple colour themes helps with planning

It’s a pitfall Pamela has avoided by grouping plants according to colour. Two side borders have distinct themes: one is pink and white with dierama, geraniums and astrantia; the other a hot bed of reds and oranges, including Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

Meanwhile, at the front, she’s ‘disguised’ the driveway by bringing planting into the gravel and putting many of her pots of hostas into one corner; the rest now occupy a side path.

“I like what you can do with pots,” she says, adding that not all are planted up but instead form a feature in their own right.

downsizing a garden
Pots are used as a feature

The main area of garden at the back of the bungalow has a blue and green theme that’s reinforced not only with the planting but also with the hard landscaping. An ugly concrete path has been painted, as have the fence and a table and bench, while a necessary storage shed blends in thanks to a coat of blue paint. Even a breeze block wall has been painted and reused as a trough for lavender.

downsizing a garden
An old wall has become a planter

“I find the greens and blues such a relaxing colour scheme.”

In one bed, her collection of grasses is a delightful mix of green and cream with touches of bronze, while Ammi majus and pink cosmos give some seasonal colour.

Height comes from a pergola, which also helps to draw the eye away from neighbouring properties, while climbers such as clematis along the fences blur the boundaries.

downsizing a garden
The remodelled wall and painted path

Pamela’s also made a feature of what was a crumbling wall that divided the plot. The loose top and an end section have been removed and the ‘gap’ between bungalow and wall filled with a custom-made wrought iron gate and screen. The iron is continued over the top of the wall, creating a strong unifying effect.

“I like the fact you can see different areas.”

And that’s the real achievement: despite its size, this feels like a much bigger garden.

20 Forsdene Walk, Coalway, Gloucestershire, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme from May to September 2017. See NGS website for details.

Christmas countdown

Christmas is looming and to mark the festive countdown I will be running a Flower Advent Calendar again.

So that subscribers aren’t bombarded with daily emails, it will go out on Twitter and Facebook with a final gallery roundup on the blog.

If you can’t wait until then, do like the Facebook page or follow on Twitter – the links are on the top left.

Meanwhile, you can take a look at last year’s calendar here



Roy Strong on Shakespeare, gardens and hanging baskets

The history of garden restoration can be traced back to the knot garden on the site of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford, says historian and gardener Sir Roy Strong.

Sir Roy told an audience at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust that work to create the garden at New Place in 1920 marked a new departure in gardening.

“It was the first time anybody seriously tried to recreate an historic garden. Think how many of you have visited gardens that have been restored at historic houses. The knot garden at New Place is the beginning of all that.”

The former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and The National Portrait Gallery, was speaking at an event to launch his new book, The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden, which traces the story of the playwright’s garden.

roy strong
Sir Roy Strong was launching his new book

It follows the re-opening in the summer of the New Place garden following a £6m project by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to revamp the area.

An archaeological excavation uncovered the outline of the last house there, which was demolished in 1759, and this is now depicted in bronze laid into paving.

There’s a representation of Shakespeare’s desk, references to his plays and poems and many modern sculptures, including a bronze tree at the heart of the garden.

Work has included renovating the knot garden (pictured top) for the first time since it was created by Ernest Law, who later worked on the knot garden at Hampton Court Palace.

Roy Strong
The New Place garden has been revamped

During the conversation with Glyn Jones, head of gardens at the trust, and Roger Pringle, former trust director, Sir Roy Strong warned against believing any restoration was historically accurate.

“There’s no such thing as an accurate recreation of an historic garden. It can only ever be an approximation.”

It’s a view that’s upheld by the recent work at New Place: the audience was told the team have had to use Japanese euonymus as a replacement for box that had succumbed to blight.

The new layout was praised by Sir Roy, who admitted to being nervous about seeing it, having not visited New Place for some years.

“I didn’t have happy memories about it all.

“I was thrilled with what you had achieved. I think it’s marvellous and very different from how I remembered it.”

And he described the previous planting scheme of begonias and pansies as “absolutely horrendous”.

In a wide-ranging talk, that saw him describe Ellen Willmott as “a dreadful woman”, take a sideswipe at municipal planting and declare that “hanging baskets should be abolished”, Sir Roy talked about his early experience of gardening. He described it as a “big minus”, as he didn’t get on with his father, who “dominated” the garden behind his childhood terraced home.

Roy Strong
The terrestrial sphere in New Place garden

He didn’t enter what he calls his ‘garden period’ until he and his late wife, Julia, bought The Laskett in Herefordshire.

“I don’t think either of us realised we were going to create what is thought to be quite an important garden.”

An big influence on its design, along with Italy and the theatre, was Hidcote Manor Garden, where Glyn was head gardener before joining the Trust. In particular, The Laskett makes full use of vistas, spaces and structure.

“If a garden looks amazing in winter you really don’t need to worry about flowers,” explained Sir Roy.

“Flowers are the sign of a complete failure.”

The Quest for Shakespeare’s Garden by Roy Strong is published by Thames & Hudson, priced £14.95.

For more information about The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust including opening times and prices, see here here

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Paul takes RHS Hampton Court challenge

The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show will see Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes challenging the idea that dogs and gardens don’t mix and that the colour yellow is difficult.

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 Designing for man’s best friend

He may be known for beautiful planting schemes but when I call into Allomorphic, his Stroud shop, designer Paul Hervey-Brookes wants to talk about origami. Not the paper kind but metal carefully folded to create dogs. They are going to feature on his garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and he’s justifiably proud of them.

“They’re made of powder-coated metal to look like origami and I’ve had them made to my design,” he says, adding with a glint in his eye that the dogs will be in a number of lifelike poses.

It’s just one element of the garden for The Dogs’ Trust that Paul hopes will challenge not only the idea of what makes a classic English garden but also assumptions about the sort of spaces he designs.

“I thought it would be very nice to make a garden that is contemporary English because the last two show gardens I’ve made in the UK have been traditional,” he explains.

“I want to show people the kind of garden I’m making abroad.”

hampton court
Paul has designed the origami dogs

These foreign designs have included both private and show commissions in America and France over the past 12 months.

So while the garden will have his trademark plant-heavy mainly herbaceous borders, there’s a modern edge with a metal pavilion and curved granite seat.

“It feels slightly more masculine and a little bit more edgy.”

It’s Paul’s second visit to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – he won gold and came top in the World of Gardens category for the ‘Discover Jordan’ garden in 2012.

The garden will celebrate the charity’s 125th anniversary and has been designed with dog owners and their pets in mind; Paul and his partner Yann have three dogs.

RHS Hampton Court
Paul’s 2012 gold medal-winning garden ‘Discover Jordan’

Making the design dog friendly has presented some challenges, not least when it came to choosing plants as many are poisonous to dogs, including bergenia, foxgloves and yew.

“It’s been a challenge,” admits Paul, “but it makes you re-evaluate the plants you are using. You can’t just rely on your three favourite plants.”

Then the colour is not the more commonly seen pastels but a blend of blue and iridescent yellow; both colours that dogs are believed to see most clearly and the charity’s colours.

Yellow, I suggest, is often viewed as a difficult colour to use.

“I did a big planting scheme in Philadelphia of golden yellow and aubergine colours. It just looked amazing. So many people said ‘I don’t really like yellow but I really like this.’”

hampton court

What is well within his comfort zone is the scale: the deep herbaceous borders will have just over 3,000 plants.

“True to my character, it will have a lot of plants, a lot of varieties,” he smiles.

Bringing blue tones will be agastache, agapanthus, nepeta, and salvia, while yellow comes from anthemis, cosmos, kniphofia, and Cephalaria gigantea.

Ammi, calamagrostis, green fennel and mint will give the planting a loose, relaxed feel and there is height with a grove of birch and in the centre of the garden, three Acer saccharinum, which have distinctive trifoliate leaves.

“Most people don’t realise it’s an acer.”

The garden follows a dog’s journey from first being taken in by the charity to finding a new home; the Trust prides itself on never putting down a healthy animal.

More dog sculptures, this time made from wire by artist Paul Tavernor, are in a long canal of water.

“It symbolises a dog who has just come into the home. Everything feels quite bare, empty and abandoned.

hampton court
It will be Paul’s second Hampton Court show garden

The journey to a new owner is through the herbaceous planting with the origami dogs on ‘sniffer’ tracks through the border with a rill and metal water spouts from a rendered wall giving them somewhere to drink.

Finally, the dog and its new owner meet for the first time in the round pavilion, which provides a safe, controlled environment; the pavilion is going to be re-sited after the show at a Dogs Trust centre.

Yet, despite all the dog elements, Paul is hoping the garden will appeal to both dog owners and those without pets.

“A show garden should inspire. You should come away and re-evaluate your own garden with a fresh pair of eyes.”

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show runs from 5-10 July. Tickets are available at

For an overview of the show see here here

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Product review: Fiskar Xact™ Weed Puller

Duelling with dandelions

“Over-engineered,” muttered my other half as we struggled to get the generous quantity of packaging off the Fiskar Xact™ Weed Puller.

I could see what he meant. Described as the perfect tool for ridding lawns of weeds without needing to resort to chemicals, it seemed a bit excessive for a few dandelions.

It was an impression that was reinforced by our first view: a 1m-long black pole with a sliding handle, a ‘step’ coming off at right angles and a menacing steel claw at one end. If the dandelions weren’t scared, I was.

I must admit I was dubious when approached by the company and asked if I would like to test this revolutionary weeding kit. I’m not one for gadgets and couldn’t really see how spending nearly £40 on something to weed the lawn would be worthwhile.

So, it was with a deal of scepticism that we headed out to our none too pristine lawn to put the tool to the test.

fiskar Xact weed puller


And were duly forced to reconsider our preconceptions.

Dandelions, thistles and even a solitary daisy all succumbed with ease – and roots intact.

The  Fiskar Xact™ Weed Puller weighs 950g and is straightforward to use: place it over a weed, push the steel claws into the ground, step on the pedal and pull gently back. Finally, slide the handle to eject the weed out of the claws. Simple.

Our only quibble was that a core of earth came up with the weed. It was easy to shake that off and plug the gap in the lawn but it did add another step to the procedure. Possibly it was caused by the wet ground and might not be a problem during a dry spell; that dry spell has yet to materialise so I’ve been unable to put that theory to the test.

Certainly it did away with all the grubbing around on the ground and trying to dig out long-rooted weeds with a knife or similar. I have yet to try it in the borders but can’t see why it wouldn’t work just as well there.

At £39.99 it isn’t affordable for all and would probably not be worthwhile if your weed problem is small. However, if getting down close to deal with weeds is difficult, or, if like me, seed drifting in from neighbouring plots is causing a dandelion deluge, this is a quick and green solution.

I was given the Fiskar Xact™ Weed Puller to test, which is designed for heavy use. There is also the Light Weed Puller, which is only 90cm long and weighs 900g. It is priced at £34.99.

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The Cotswolds go to town

The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.

Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.

chelsea flower show
Floral arches will welcome visitors

Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.

Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.

Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.

chelsea flower show

She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.

“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”

After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.

Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.

chelsea flower show

Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.

“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.

“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”

Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.

“I just go and paint with my plants.”

Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.

A life-changing disease

Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.

chelsea flower show


The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.

John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”

Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.

A garden for GOSH

There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

chelsea flower show

Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.

There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.

“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.

More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.

Bringing France to Chelsea

A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.

chelsea flower show


He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.

Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.

Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.

Forest plays its part

Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.

chelsea flower show

Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.

The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.

“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.

The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.

chelsea flower show

Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.

Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.

“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”

Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.

Inspired by pineapples

The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.

chelsea flower show

Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”

More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.

Florists head for Chelsea

Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here

Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.

The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.

“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”

For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.

Peacocks, pots and watering cans

Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.

chelsea flower show

Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.

Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.

He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.

chelsea flower show

Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.

It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.

In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.

chelsea flower show

For information about the show, visit the RHS

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