The chance to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products has transformed a sad spot in my garden.
Many of us have a part of the garden that is somewhat neglected. An area that you walk past, averting your eyes and muttering ‘I really must do something about that’. Usually, lack of inspiration or time means little gets done.
In my case, the neglected spot is what we refer to as ‘The Courtyard’. It’s actually a rather grand title for what is little more than a tucked away area outside our basement kitchen; the strange layout of the house, which is dug into a slope, means that although technically the kitchen is under the rest of the house, it is actually on ground level.
The courtyard has a high retaining wall on two sides that holds back the garden, the house forms the third boundary and on the fourth there’s a fence that separates us from our neighbours.
North-east facing, it gets a little morning sun – a very little – but it’s really a rather gloomy spot. And, with quite a lot of garden elsewhere, it’s always been low on my list of priorities.
The impetus to finally do something about it came when I was asked if I would like to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products. A suggestion was a table and chairs set, which looked perfect for this tiny space. Not only is it a half-table, ideal for putting against a wall, the table also folds down to free up space when it’s not in use.
Before I had even set it up, I was impressed: both the table and the two chairs were well packaged to ensure they weren’t damaged in transit.
It’s also easy to put up – no assembly and just a lift and click into place mechanism for the table flap. It has a grey, powder coated steel frame with a toughened glass top, while the folding seats have the same steel frame with a checked manmade fibre seat and back, which are water resistant. They have proved to be remarkably comfortable.
Of course, merely plonking somewhere to sit into the courtyard wasn’t going to be enough to transform it. There was definitely a need to revamp the planting as well. Not that there is much scope: the available soil amounts to little more than a narrow strip at the foot of the wall and fence and the lack of direct sunlight limits the choices.
The first step was a good clean, using a wire brush to get rid of moss on the paving. A Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’, used to provide a screen between the courtyard and next door, had got out of hand, with some reverting to plain green. It’s been pruned hard to remove the green and reduce the overhang into the courtyard.
The remains of a Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ that until this year was doing well, were removed and I’m planning to replace it in the autumn, though possibly elsewhere in the garden.
Deciding I needed some expert advice for the difficult narrow ‘borders’, I paid a visit to ShadyPlants.com in Painswick. Tony and Sylvia Marden specialise in plants for those tricky places and we spent a happy hour discussing possibilities and looking through their stock.
For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias but I fell in love with the orange flowers of Begonia southerlandii and Tony suggested the white flowered Begonia evansiana ‘Snowpop’ would be a good partner. Both, he assured me, are fully hardy and well able to cope with the less than ideal conditions.
For the thin strip at the foot of the wall, they suggested Cardamine trifolia, which has what Sylvia describes as ‘clouds of white flowers’. It should spread happily to fill the space.
Continuing with the begonia theme, wall planters that have in the past been used for violas, now have some cream-flowered begonias that I found at another local grower, Dundry Nurseries. I liked their long, tubular flowers and slight bronze tinge to the stems, which works well with the rusty planters and old bricks. The begonias are in plastic pots that sit inside the terracotta so that I can change the planting easily.
Finally, I shifted the old sink into a better position in the courtyard and planted it with mint while the chimney pot has been moved to another part of the garden.
I’m pleased with the transformation and the courtyard is already proving popular – especially as a cool place to escape the recent heat. I can see the table and chairs being well used.
• Brundle Gardener’s table and chairs are available from garden centres and online stockists. The suggested retail price is £119.99.
Argyranthemum ‘Banana Split’
A little bit of show garden magic will be coming to the Cotswolds this weekend as leading designer Paul Hervey-Brookes sells plants from his gold medal-winning design at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (pictured top).
Hostas, beautiful blue chicory, Verbena bonariensis, asters, myrtle and some large shrubs that last week were being admired by the Hampton show crowds are among the plants on sale. The Garden of Discovery, for Viking Cruises, won Paul his ninth gold medal, six of them consecutively.
The plant sale is raising money for the Dogs Trust in memory of Paul’s husband, Yann Eshkol, who died a year ago.
“Yann was always very keen on animals and them being cared for and our dogs are all rescue animals,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud.
The Dogs Trust was chosen because Yann died just weeks after last year’s Hampton show where Paul won gold with a dog friendly garden for the animal charity.
Slad Valley House in Stroud is hosting the plant sale as part of two National Garden Scheme open days on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17.
The one-acre informal garden is set around an 18th house and is gradually being restored by the owners, Debbie and Michael Grey.
“The garden is interesting because it’s turning what was a mill owner’s house back into a home after being used for a variety of different things over the past 40 years,” says Paul. “It is bringing a garden back to life.”
What was a lawn at the front of the house is now a flower garden, there are mature trees and shrubs.
“It also has some challenging terraces to garden on.”
Some of the Hampton Court plants have been added to the garden this week and it also features elements of Paul’s earlier work, namely two sculptures by Andrew Flint that were used on his 2013 Chelsea show garden for Brand Alley.
While some plants were sold in the traditional end of show sell-off at Hampton, many have been brought back to the Cotswolds.
“It seems right to bring them back to where we made our home and where people have been so supportive over the past year,” says Paul, who runs garden and home shop Allomorphic in Stroud. “The whole thing feels right, not as though we’re doing it for the sake of it. It has got a good purpose.”
• Slad Valley House, Stroud, GL5 1RJ, is open for the National Garden Scheme from 2-4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17, 2017. Admission is £3.50. There will be homemade teas for sale.
It’s so disappointing to spend weeks carefully nurturing fruit and veg only to miss picking them at the right time. Turn your back for a moment and it seems tomatoes split, radish turn bullet-like and courgettes morph into marrows. Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables aims to take the mystery out of just when to harvest.
The book has been produced by the Mel Bartholomew Foundation, which carries on the work of the American who started the pioneering square foot method of cultivation more than 40 years ago. He advocated growing in a 4ft by 4ft box that was subdivided into 16 squares with one type of plant per square, arguing that it required less work and produced just the right amount of produce, reducing waste.
“He had seen a lot of ripe produce go to waste in his local community simply because of inefficiency and gardener burnout,” the introduction tells us.
Yet, popular though his method has proved, it did not answer the problem of when to harvest and it’s this “missing link in the chain” that Growing Perfect Vegetables aims to provide.
The book begins with an overview of exactly what we mean by ripeness and how it occurs. We learn about crops that will continue to ripen even after harvest (climacteric), such as tomatoes and apples, and those that stop ripening as soon as they are picked (non-climacteric) with examples being cucumber and lettuce.
There’s advice on which fruits to ripen in a bag and a warning about “enemy plants” – those crops that don’t work well as kitchen garden neighbours; basil harms cucumber plants while strawberries compete with cabbages for nutrients.
The bulk of the book is the ‘ripeness listings’, crop by crop analysis of what to look for in a ripe veg or fruit and how to store it, both in the short-term – asparagus spears with the cut end in cool water – and in the long term, layering beets in damp sand for the winter. And it’s not just for the kitchen gardener as how to choose the perfect shop-bought produce is also covered.
The listings are divided into three: crops that will grow inside the square foot system; those that have to be grown outside, such as fruit trees; crops that are generally imported into the USA, such as avocados and bananas.
There are nuggets of additional advice scattered through: wear gloves to pick aubergines because of their spiny stems; restore limp radish by soaking in ice water; snipping off the foliage on a cantaloupe melon decreases rather than increases the sweetness.
Also useful are lists of the crops with the shortest shelf-life; the 10 healthiest fruit and veg and the most beautiful crops, such as rainbow chard and Romanesco broccoli. The book also suggests some “less-famous winter squashes” that are worth growing.
Some of the advice is of little use to a British audience – who has a problem with racoons? – and some of the crops lose a little in translation; I’m still not completely sure what a pole bean is, while you have to read closely to work out that cilantro is what we know as coriander.
Growing Perfect Vegetables is also, despite the title, not a guide to growing but harvesting once you’ve successfully raised your crops.
But, if you’ve ever puzzled over whether a leek is ready to pull or how to extend the ripeness of apples, this book will more than solve your problem.
• Square Foot Gardening: Growing Perfect Vegetables is published by Cool Springs Press, RRP 11.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)
• Review copy supplied by Cool Springs Press.
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Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’
There’s simply no getting away from colour and – thankfully – plants at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Many of the show gardens seem to have made a welcome return to putting plants rather than hard landscaping first while there are take-home ideas aplenty from pretty pastel combinations to in-your-face primary colours.
Now, I must admit to a bias towards Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes. I’ve followed his career since his first show garden – in a tent – at the Malvern Autumn Show back in 2008 but his gold medal-winning exhibit this year is one of his best.
Paul is known on the gardening circuit for his skill at planting up a border but even so he has excelled with his Viking Cruises garden. There’s a sense of movement in the planting that drifts under trees, with variations in height and some beautiful combinations.
How’s this for a mix of blue?
Or pink – the bees were loving it.
Who says green is dull?
Simple but really effective.
I really loved these Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.
They come in a mix of colours that Paul had carefully separated out to give different effects. Here is the cream with bronze variant.
And Persicaria bistorta is given a whole new feel when combined with carex.
I was glad to see I’m ‘on trend’ as I’ve just planted up an old wine box with this erigeron.
Another Cotswold success at this year’s RHS Hampton is Martyn Wilson, who also started his design career at the Malvern show. He has won his first RHS gold medal with a celebration of the regeneration of brownfield sites.
I really liked the colours in this garden – rusted steel, oranges, creams, yellows and the odd touch of purple from buddleia.
The attention to detail was superb.
While my Cotswold neighbours are using refined colour combinations, two of the show gardens are unashamedly brash.
Bright, primary colours dominate the ‘Journey of Life’ garden by Edward Mairis, which has an acrylic wall in rainbow colours.
In Charlie Bloom’s ‘Colour Box’ garden it’s the plants that sing out. Built with donations of time and products rather than financial sponsorship, it is dominated by plants in every colour.
“I think the public want to see plants at a horticultural show rather than lots of impressive hard landscaping,” explained Charlie. “The idea was to rebel against the concrete and box ball fraternity and go mad with colour.”
That said, it’s a garden that has plant combinations you could try.
I also liked the peep-through architectural wall from Stark and Greensmith.
And the way the plants were set off against it.
Here are some of the other things that caught my eye.
There was more than a touch of the seaside.
And some boats.
It was good to see vegetables weren’t forgotten. Here on the gold medal-winning Blind Veterans UK garden by Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer.
A nifty way to grow strawberries on the RHS Kitchen Garden by Juliet Sargeant.
And an edible green wall.
Finally, at the end of a long day . . .
there are some tempting places to sit and rest . . .
or even lie down.
• RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017 runs until July 9. For more details, visit the RHS website.
* Flower-filled Mini (pictured top) is part of Primrose Hall’s Floral Marquee display.
Brocklehurst may be one of the smaller Cotswold gardens I’ve visited but the design principles that underpin it are the same as for far larger plots.
There are changes of mood, secret corners, long vistas and – most important – plenty of places to just sit and enjoy.
It was the deciding factor when Anne Wood first saw the property: “It was the garden that sold the house to me,” she recalls. “It definitely had the bones of a good garden.”
Anne spent the first year learning about her new garden: “You have to live with a garden to what gets the sun and the light, to see how things work,” she advises.
It was obvious to her that Brocklehurst had been carefully laid out, in what she describes as “patchwork style” with hedges dividing it into smaller rooms. Using this as her basis, she has gradually adapted and tweaked the layout to put her own mark on the garden.
At the back of the cottage, she has levelled the ground and extended a Cotswold stone wall to create a large enclosed terrace; an ornate gate, made to her design, gives glimpses of a small kitchen garden beyond.
Around the generous outdoor sofa, she has put scented plants, such as lavender, and herbs including sage and rosemary, while Rosa ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ scrambles over the wall.
Indeed, roses are a feature at Brocklehurst. Most are white or pale pinks, such as ‘Generous Gardener’ and ‘Spirit of Freedom’ but she has put in ‘Teasing Georgia’ against a wall near the entrance. Chosen for its name – her goddaughter is called Georgina – it is the only splash of yellow, a colour Anne dislikes, in the garden but is tolerated for its strong growth, abundant blooms and because it looks fabulous against the Cotswold stone.
The path to the front door used to be box-lined but blight led to its removal and it is now lavender-edged. Again, scent is used by a seat – this time philadelphus whose perfume is ‘trapped’ in the space by hornbean hedges.
Flower borders edge two sides of the lawn in the middle section of the garden. The planting is mixed – roses, geraniums, astrantia and peonies – all protected from Anne’s dogs by low rusted ‘fencing’ that she had made. Split into lengths, it’s easy to move when she needs to weed and acts as a support for the herbaceous as well as a protection.
A long hornbeam hedge used to run across the garden but it’s been shortened to allow the creation of a shady bed and new arches have been cut to allow different routes around the garden.
Tucked away behind hedges, the wildlife garden is shady surprise. There’s a small pond, masses of hellebores and nettles that are left for the butterflies.
In contrast, colour dominates the last of the flower gardens where four ‘mirror’ beds surround a formal, raised pool. Many of the alliums and peonies were already there but the forced removal of box hedging, again due to blight, has allowed Anne to add to the collection and bring in Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.
Again, there are places to sit – a bench under one of the hornbeam arches and a summerhouse – while ‘badgers’ in the corner are a quirky touch.
“They’re the only badgers you want in your garden,” she says with a smile.
Six years on Anne has achieved much but still has more ideas. A new terrace to give somewhere to sit and look over the flower borders has just been completed and there are plans for a small garden, probably with a Zen influence, in memory of her son, Daniel, who died earlier this year.
• Brocklehurst, at Hawling near Cheltenham, is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sundays July 2 and 9 from 11am to 5pm in conjunction with Littlefield. Combined admission is £8 for adults; children’s entry is free.