Behind the scenes at Allomorphic

There’s a palpable air of supressed stress when I arrive at Allomorphic. The final coat of earth brown paint is being applied to walls, boxes are being unpacked and carpet laid. It’s just days before the opening of Stroud’s newest horticultural venture and there’s still lots to do.

Stood in the middle of the maelstrom is designer Paul Hervey-Brookes answering questions from his team of helpers on prices, where to position pots, books and labels, and how to fill an awkward gap atop a cupboard filled with speciality teas. His quick, decisive solutions suggest he is working to some internal plan and already has a clear idea of the finished result.

Paul Hervey-Brookes
Paul Hervey-Brookes is launching Allomorphic with partner Yann Eshkol

It is, I venture, a little like being in the midst of a show garden build with the arrival of the judges looming.

“Yes, I feel like we will still be doing something just before the launch party guests arrive,” smiles Paul, although given his experience of hitting show time deadlines, that’s unlikely.

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Allomorphic stocks many quirky items such as these scoop bowls

The first time we met it was to discuss gardening on a budget. Paul had just made his show garden debut and he enthusiastically explained how his design – which won silver-gilt at the Malvern Autumn Show – proved that it was possible to garden without spending a fortune by growing your own and using recycled materials.

Some eight years and numerous award-winning gardens later, including gold at Chelsea, the enthusiasm is undimmed but the project has come a long way from that low-cost start.

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Plant supports based on an Edwardian design

Allomorphic, which Paul is launching with his partner, Yann, offers unusual and, in some cases, exclusive items inspired by gardens and wearing a price tag that’s heading towards the luxury end of the market.

“They are high quality,” says Paul, “but that’s simply because I grew up with the idea that you buy cheaply, you buy twice.”

Yet, although at the top end there are Sneeboer tools – included because they “will last a lifetime and are a joy to work with” – the stock also covers garden essentials, such as plant labels and string. What makes Allomorphic different to the average horticultural outlet is that even these are beautifully presented in labelled glass jars, while the design ethic extends even to the choice of till.

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Labels and matches are beautifully packaged

It’s this creation of a beautiful space that is the driving force behind the project, which Paul sees as a natural extension to his work as a leading garden designer.

“People who come to us for gardens are looking for something beautiful, something they can escape into and so many of the things that are in this building are things that would naturally be incorporating into those spaces.

“It’s all part of what we already do and it just seemed really nice to offer these bits without a garden.”

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Insect houses are designed to encourage wildlife into a garden

Among the items on sale and also available online are hedgehog houses that Paul first designed for Marks and Spencer, wooden seed trays fashioned from old railway sleepers, books – many out of print – and antiques, such as a 1950s’ rose support, that have been sourced from all over the country and abroad. There will be fresh flowers, floristry accessories, such as driftwood, and a range of speciality teas.

Exclusive items include a range of greetings cards that the couple have designed in collaboration with artist Roger Ellis.

“If you buy one for yourself, you should love it and if you buy one for somebody, they should feel like they’ve had a real treat,” says Paul.

He bristles at the word shop – “I don’t see it as another gardening shop” – and in a way he’s right as there is much more to Allomorphic than mere trade.

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There will be flowers for sale and floristry workshops

The venture was born out of the need for new office space for the couple’s garden design business and discussions they’d had about running workshops and lectures. The property in the heart of Stroud seemed the perfect fit.

“A friend described Stroud as a blend of Brighton and Islington,” explains Paul, “and it’s got a really good broad mix of people and a really fresh vibe around it at the moment.”

Work began on the rundown building at the beginning of January and it now houses not only the design office but a space that will be used for workshops and plant-themed events such as an agapanthus festival; the monthly lectures will be held in a room nearby.

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Vintage-style pots are available

It’s been a tough few months to get everything ready, made all the more difficult by having to also juggle three private design projects, a huge garden at this year’s Hampton Court show, mentoring RHS young designers, work on RHS plant trials, and judging at the Malvern and Tatton shows.

“I like to be busy,” explains Paul, when I question the wisdom of taking on yet another enterprise. “I’m not someone who likes to stand still and I’m constantly looking for new sources of inspiration and ideas. This just seemed very natural.

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Corn cobs are strung ready for bird feeders

“I love making show gardens but I don’t particularly want to make four a year, as I have done in the past three years. This gives us the opportunity to say this is what we’re about without constantly being on that treadmill.”

Eventually, Paul and Yann will move into a flat upstairs. And it’s this sense of putting down roots after years of building show gardens across the world that appeals to them.

“Since 2012, we’ve had quite a nomadic existence. This feels like coming home and I really like that.”

Allomorphic, 11 Lansdown, Stroud, opened on Saturday March 12. Opening hours will then be Wednesday to Saturday, 10-4.30pm. Details: http://www.allomorphic.co.uk/

Allomorphic

Highgrove gets Cotswolds help with Festival

Cotswold gardening expertise is being used to ensure success at Highgrove’s first festival, which will see celebrity talks, workshops and special tours of the Royal garden.

The Garden Celebrated is being masterminded by Kate Durr, a former pupil at the Cotswold Gardening School, while the school’s principal, Caroline Tatham, is designing the stage and will be giving one of the demonstrations.

Highgrove

“Highgrove is really good about supporting local businesses,” says Caroline, who set up the gardening school at her home in Gossington five years ago.

Meanwhile, other Cotswold gardeners involved in the six-day festival are award-winning designer Chris Beardshaw, herb queen Jekka McVicar, and author and journalist Val Bourne. They will be taking part in talks and demonstrations at the event, which will also have a retail pavilion with stands from invited companies.

Television presenter Kate, whose first show garden won gold and Best Festival Garden at Malvern last year, has been appointed as the Highgrove Festival’s creative director.

It is she says “Thrilling to be involved with the celebration, which is set to become the gateway to spring.”

Kate Durr
Kate Durr

Kate is designing and creating plant displays for the spring plant fair marquee.

“They will be exuberant, echoing iconic areas of the gardens. The plant fair will offer a distinctive range of beautiful plants and seeds for sale so that visitors can recreate the spirit of Highgrove in their own gardens.”

Among the areas that will be featured are the Kitchen Garden, Wildflower Meadow and Stumpery.

Caroline’s association with Highgrove, home of The Prince of Wales, began two years ago when she received an unexpected email asking if she was interested in giving a talk on sustainable flower arranging using only biodegradable material.

“I didn’t know if the email was real,” she recalls.

Staff from the Highgrove team visited the school – “the idea of it was really frightening, although they were lovely” – and saw Caroline’s garden, nine acres which she is gradually developing.

Caroline Tatham
Caroline Tatham

“They loved the idea of flowers for the talk coming from an organic garden.”

For the festival, which runs from April 11 to 16, she will be giving a talk on professional planting, drawing on her experience as a garden designer and lecturer.

She is also creating a flower-filled stage where celebrity gardeners, including Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein and Bob Flowerdew will give talks.

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The Walled Garden at Highgrove

The main colours will be burgundy and primrose – echoing the theme of the Festival’s publicity – although other tones will be introduced.

“I’m going for a slightly more colourful palette with fresh greens and pinks. I’m planning a range of shrubs, perennials and bulbs influenced by the Royal garden.”

She stresses though that it will not be a replica of aspects of Highgrove but something that encapsulates “the spirit of the garden”.

“It’s really exciting to be involved in the first of what promises to be a whole series of festivals. It’s always lovely to be right at the beginning of something.”

For details and to book: http://www.highgroveshop.com/festival.html

Barnsley leads flower hunt

Barnsley House’s head gardener will be leading the hunt for a rare seasonal flower this Easter.

Richard Gatenby will head a morning trek in search of the meadow Pasque Flower. Extremely rare in the UK, this delicate purple bloom is found in only a few places, including a spot a few miles from Barnsley.

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The pasque flower is found near Barnsley House

The trek is open to guests on a special package at Barnsley House, the former home of garden designer Rosemary Verey and now a hotel.

The package, includes an evening screening of ‘Greenfingers’ in the hotel’s private cinema, and use of the spa facilities. Provisional dates, subject to flowering, are April 12/13 and 19/20.

For details and to book call 01285 740000 or email info@barnsleyhouse.com

Highgrove garden festival

Highgrove is holding its first garden festival this spring with talks by celebrity gardeners, tours of the Royal garden and a special plant fair.

Alan Titchmarsh, Jekka McVicar, Raymond Blanc and Sarah Raven are just some of the speakers at the event, which runs from April 11 to 16. Topics range from growing food organically and plant care to garden history and topiary.

Alan Titchmarsh
Alan Titchmarsh will be talking about Royal gardens

Cheltenham-based Chris Beardshaw will discuss making a show garden, designer Bunny Guinness will talk about transforming a garden and award-winning Andy Sturgeon will explore how to create a contemporary garden.

There will be two evening events with a talk and supper: Carol Klein will present one on her latest book, Making a Garden, Successful Gardening by Nature’s Rules, and Bob Flowerdew will host the other on the perfect garden.

Other events are for a lunch, a talk and a tour of the garden while special hour-long tours of the Highgrove grounds include afternoon tea.

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Events will include tours of the Highgrove garden

“We’re hoping there’s something for everybody,” explained marketing manager Nikki Chee.

Highgrove: The Garden Celebrated is billed as a celebration of one of Britain’s favourite pastimes and is based on the principles behind the Prince of Wales’ organically run private garden, which has been created over the past 35 years.

One of the main features is the wildflower meadow and BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Rachel de Thame will present a joint talk with botanist Trevor Dines on growing wild flowers.

Topiary is another important element and this skill will be discussed by cloud pruning specialist and topiary expert Jake Hobson.

Other speakers include Highgrove’s head gardener Debs Goodenough, TV gardener and broadcaster David Domoney, Caroline Tatham from The Cotswold Gardening School, and designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman.

David Domoney
TV gardener David Domoney is one of the speakers

“The festival truly captures the essence of Highgrove,” said Chris Prescott, chief executive at Highgrove Enterprises. “It will be a unique insight into the ethos and sustainable approach behind the gardens, as well as a reflection of the horticultural interests and enthusiasms of HRH The Prince of Wales.”

Running alongside the talks will be a spring plant fair and a retail pavilion with exhibitors hand-picked by Highgrove.

All profits from the event will go to The Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation, which supports a wide range of causes.

“If it’s successful, we would love to make it an annual event,” added Nikki.

Tickets, which range from £17.50 to £95, go on sale on Thursday February 18. For details and to book: http://www.highgroveshop.com/festival.html

Highgrove

 

Designer plans luxury shop

Award-winning Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and sculptor Yann Eshkol are opening a luxury garden shop in Stroud next month.

Allomorphic will stock up-market gardening accessories, one-off pieces and bespoke items designed by Paul, who has previously produced a range of gardening products for Marks and Spencer.

Paul Hervey-Brookes
Paul Hervey-Brookes, left, and Yann Eshkol

“The current retail model is a little stale and increasingly consumers are looking for personalised style and pieces which stand out as unique,” said Paul, who has won top awards at shows across the world including Chelsea.

The store will also host a series of monthly lectures by leading garden experts, including Rosemary Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants and Cotswold Garden Flowers founder Bob Brown.

There will also be workshops covering floristry, outdoor dining and garden design and the shop will offer a floristry service for weddings and events.

Snowshill needs volunteers

Snowshill Manor is holding an information day this weekend for would-be volunteers.

Staff and existing volunteers at the National Trust property will be on hand to explain what’s involved in jobs that range from gardening and storytelling to caring for the collection built up by Charles Wade, who left the house to the Trust.

Snowshill Manor
Volunteer Robin Neill with a piece from the model village restoration project © Hayley Gaisford-Gotto

Volunteering is a great way to make friends and learn something new,” said marketing officer Gosia Rumsey.  “There are plenty of opportunities available here, and we can work with people to find a role that suits individual interests and skills.”

Booking is not needed and people can drop in at any time between 10am and 3pm on Saturday January 30. In severe weather the event may be postponed and you are advised to check before travelling at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill-manor-and-garden

Coberley pupils get planting

Youngsters at a Cotswold school are looking forward to their own snowdrop display thanks to Colesbourne Park’s head gardener.

Chris Horsfall visited Coberley Church of England Primary School last autumn to help pupils plant around 100 snowdrops.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall

The bulbs were donated by Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, owners of Colesbourne, one of the county’s best known snowdrop gardens.

“We talked about what a bulb is and how to plant them,” said Chris.

The ‘James Backhouse’ variety of snowdrops were planted in the school’s wildlife garden.

“I could not think of a better way to spend an hour than I did with these youngsters,” said Chris. “It was fantastic.”

Countryfile visits Batsford

Conservation work at Batsford Arboretum will be featured on BBC Countryfile this weekend.

Presenter Matt Baker visited the Cotswold arboretum near Moreton-in-Marsh to find out how a form of X-ray, known at Tomographing, can be used to detect decay in trees and decide whether they need to be felled.

Mat Baker
Matt Baker helps to X-ray the tree

Head Gardener Matthew Hall and a team from Oxford Brookes University tested an ailing 100-year-old purple beech. The tree was found to be beyond salvage and was cut down.

Matt Baker then helped plant a Serbian Spruce, which is under threat, as part of Batsford’s contribution to the International Conifer Conservation Project, based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Batsford is one of a number of sites throughout the UK that hosts rare and endangered species in a bid to safeguard them for the future. The first trees in the scheme to be planted at the arboretum were Chilean conifers and there have also been species from China, Japan and Vietnam.

Batsford will feature on Countryfile on Sunday January 17 at 6.30pm on BBC1.

Dishing up egg and chips

One of the most unusual crops I’ve trialled in recent years is the Tomtato®, which combines tomato and potato on one plant. Now, Thompson & Morgan have gone one step further in the strange veg stakes and produced the Egg & Chips™ plant with the potato hosting an aubergine, or eggplant.

The new dual-cropping variety, unveiled in the 2016 catalogue, is the result of lengthy grafting trials and should, according to the firm, produce three or four aubergines and up to 2kg of white potatoes per plant.

Egg @ Chips
Thompson & Morgan’s latest development combines aubergine and potatoes

“For those without the luxury of an allotment or large vegetable patch it makes the most of available space in the garden,” says Michael Perry, Thompson & Morgan New Product Development Manager. “Even the smallest patio or balcony can accommodate a pot-grown Egg & Chips™ plant – pair it with a Tomtato® plant and you’ll have three easy to grow crops from just two pots.”

As well as the obvious space-saving benefits, Thompson and Morgan believe it will also make growing aubergines easier in the UK climate, as the potato’s rootstock is stronger and more vigorous and the plants will not need a greenhouse.

Huge secrecy surrounded the development; the firm even moved its annual summer press day off-site to keep final crop trials under wraps.

“It’s been hard keeping quiet about this amazing plant,” adds Michael. “I’ve had to bite my tongue for the past year! Egg & Chips™ is a real innovation. For seasoned veg growers this is a really novel development.”

Orders are now being taken for mail order with dispatch from April onwards. With limited first year stock, Thompson & Morgan recommend ordering early. One 9cm potted plant is £14.99 or two are £19.99. Visit www.thompson-morgan.com/eggandchips or call 0844 573 1818.

All change at Hidcote

Glyn Jones is leaving Hidcote Manor Garden after 16 years of leading the gardens team.

He is going to be Head of Gardens for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon looking after five gardens in and around the town.

It was, he said, a big decision to leave Hidcote and the National Trust, where he has worked for 29 years, but he was looking forward to the new challenge, which he begins on February 1.

“It took me a while to make my mind up, as I really love Hidcote,” he said, “but I’m really excited.”

A turning point was his year-long secondment in 2014 to the National Trust’s Dyffryn Gardens in Wales where he was responsible for writing a management plan.

“I learnt a lot at Dyffryn last year. I came alive and really loved it.”

During his time at Hidcote he has overseen a 10-year project to rejuvenate the garden and restore Lawrence Johnston’s original features, including covered alpine beds and a plant shelter for tender specimens.

“Glyn has played a pivotal role in getting Hidcote to where it is today,” said Ian Wright, the Trust’s SW gardens advisor. “He will be missed from the property as it enters its own next phase of development. We wish Glyn every success.”

The job at Stratford will involve looking after gardens with a wide range of styles, including a traditional orchard at Mary Arden’s Farm, a cottage garden at Anne Hathaway’s family home and a new garden at New Place, which is due to open in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Glyn will head a team of eight and two apprentices, who he will help to train.

“One of my real passions is training the next generation. We’ve done so much of that at Hidcote.”

The National Trust is expected to begin the hunt for Glyn’s replacement at Hidcote in the New Year.