IQ Quarry Garden lives on after RHS Chatsworth

Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brooke’s award-winning IQ Quarry Garden has found a new home at the National Memorial Arboretum. He talks about the challenge of moving a garden and the responsibility of designing for the future.

Paul Hervey-Brookes’ re-imagined IQ Quarry Garden may not be facing the scrutiny of RHS judges but he is just as nervous about how it’s received.

IQ Quarry garden
The IQ Quarry Garden won top honours at RHS Chatsworth

The garden, which won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction at RHS Chatsworth, has been re-designed for a site at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, giving it a life span far beyond the norm for a show garden.

“It’s one thing to win the medals we did at Chatsworth but it’s another thing to have a garden that you know has the potential to be there for two or three generations,” he says. “There’s a weight of responsibility knowing generations of designers will be judging my work.”

IQ Quarry Garden
Paul Hervey-Brookes

The move to the NMA is fitting as the garden was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the Institute of Quarrying and the arboretum is on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry. Yet, despite the move being planned from the outset, the garden’s future use did not influence Paul’s design for the inaugural Chatsworth show.

“What I wanted from the start was that we would re-purpose it rather than just plonk it down brick by brick.

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The new garden occupies a long, narrow site.

Indeed, the two sites could not be more different. The Chatsworth garden was a large rectangle – one of the biggest RHS show gardens ever built – whereas the new space is a long, narrow and sloping piece of land.

“I was really keen to use a site that nobody else wanted,” explains Paul, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the IQ for his work, the first person not involved in the industry to be given the Institute’s top honour.

Taking key elements of the original garden, including paving, seats and the striking rusted wall by Stroud sculptor Ann-Margreth Bohl, his aim was to create something that gives an emotional break between memorial gardens.

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The striking sculpted wall is one of the elements that has been reused.

“It’s so that it’s not one very emotionally consuming garden space after another. It is much more an area to sit, think and rest or just walk through.”

While the planting follows the same semi-naturalistic style of the Chatsworth project, there is far more of it, and wide grass paths and level hard landscaping mean it is accessible for those with reduced mobility.

Reusing show gardens is preferable to their otherwise rather brutal demise in skips but it does come at a cost.

“It makes it really expensive,” says Paul. “Once you know things are going to be re-purposed you’ve got to be as careful taking them out as you were putting them in, which is time-consuming and costs a great deal more.”

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The IQ’s motto: ‘the fruits of the earth for the children of men’.

Much of that cost has been looking after the plants since the Chatsworth show in June. The hard landscaping was stored near the NMA but the trees and plants went back to their original nurseries to be repotted and grown on.

“The nurseries don’t really like doing it simply because they know the stress the plants go through. They really need to go in the ground after the show and be allowed 18 months to recover. Trying to nurture them back into looking good at the end of the year is quite a challenge but it was all part of the deal.”

Meanwhile, Paul called in the same construction team, headed by Gareth Wilson, to rebuild the garden: “I thought it was important to have the same contractor who understood the lifting and shifting the first time around to see the project through to the end.”

IQ Quarry Garden

It’s not the first time the Stroud designer’s work has found a new home. His first Chelsea garden was won in a competition and is now installed at a house in Hemel Hempstead while plants from his two Chelsea gardens for online fashion retailer BrandAlley were sold for charity and the hard landscaping given to community projects.

“I don’t think the physicality of a show garden is important at all but it’s really important that stuff is reused because otherwise it’s an incredibly wasteful kind of journey.”

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Turning a forgotten space into an outdoor delight

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.

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‘The Courtyard’ has long been in need of a rethink

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.

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The wall planters needed redoing

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.

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The table and chairs are easy to put up

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.

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The euonymus needed cutting back

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.

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The euonymus has been tidied up

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.

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The back of the Begonia evansiana leaves are beautiful

For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.

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Begonia southerlandii has lovely orange flowers

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.

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Cardamine trifolia was suggested as ground cover

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.

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New planting in the wall pots

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.

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The courtyard has been transformed

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.

RHS Hampton 2017: roses, butterflies and melting ice

Roses, butterflies and how to garden in the face of climate change are just some of the features at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

There are nearly 100 specialist nurseries in the Floral Marquee – six of them, ranging from cacti to daylillies, new to the show – and there will be four new roses launched, including ‘Lovestruck’, the 2018 Rose of the Year.

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Rosa ‘Lovestruck’

Wildlife is a major theme and the popular Butterfly Dome will be surrounded by a wildflower meadow, with plants that provide food for butterflies and caterpillars.

Show Gardens

Naturally, top of my list of ‘must-sees’ is Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden for show sponsors Viking Cruises.

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Paul’s garden is inspired by travel

Just weeks after winning Best in Show at the new RHS Chatsworth, Paul is making his third appearance at RHS Hampton; he won gold and best in show in 2012 for ‘Discovering Jordan’ and gold last year with a garden for the Dogs Trust.

He’s creating a small, urban garden for a couple who have travelled widely and incorporated ideas from those journeys into their plot. These include a triple arched feature wall based on Rome’s Arch of Constantine, a large Malaysian pot and paving that has an arabesque pattern.

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The Manzano paving has an intricate pattern

The planting will also echo their travels with motherwort, found growing along the Danube, Italian alder and a species of mint from the Lebanon.

Herbs grown by Jekka McVicar will be woven into sweeping mixed borders in a white, yellow, mauve and blue colour scheme.

“Being influenced by travel is at the core of English gardens historically and this modern day interpretation is no different,” says Paul. “I hope people will see the various different influences and feel excited by that exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

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A willow vine sculpture will enclose the Blind Veterans UK garden

Other show gardens include Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer’s design for Blind Veterans UK, which explores the work of the charity and the sense of community it provides, represented by a willow vine sculpture that wraps around the garden.

Emma Bailey looks at dealing with depression in ‘On the Edge’ and the benefits of a sensory garden for children with autism is explored by Adam White and Andree Davies in the Zoflora Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden.

Designer Charlie Bloom is celebrating the people within horticulture with a garden built on co-operation and gifts.

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The Colour Box garden is being built with donated products and help

‘Colour Box’ is being built with no financial sponsor, relying instead on donations of time and products from the horticulture industry following a social media appeal.

“I wanted to create something that credited ‘the team’ and not the designer or the sponsor’s wants,” explains Charlie. “I asked the different trades involved to be an equal part of the process and given appropriate credit, not forgotten sub categories.”

Bold, bright planting and limited hard landscaping are the key features of a garden that Charlie describes as “a celebration of people helping people”.

Tackling climate change

‘Gardens for a Changing World’ is a new category for 2017, designed to show how gardening is becoming more sustainable in response to changing weather.

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Will Williams’ garden uses natural flood prevention measures

Among the entries are a natural solution to flood prevention by designer Will Williams using trees and leaky dams and another by debut RHS designer Rhiannon Williams showing how to manage rainwater in a garden with storage systems and planting.

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Managing rainwater in a garden

Perhaps the most unusual will be ‘The Power to Make a Difference’ by Joe Francis, which will have an ice block at the centre. The ice is intended to melt during the show, filling a pool below.

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There’s ice at the heart of Joe Francis’ design

Tom Massey has interpreted the title as “finding sanctuary in a storm” in his garden for Perennial.

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The Perennial garden

The charity provides support for people in the horticulture industry who are facing difficulties and the garden shows movement from chaos to sanctuary with the planting colours from reds and orange through to blues and greens echoing the journey.

I will be heading for Martyn Wilson’s design ‘Brownfield – Metamorphosis’. Worcester-based Martyn made his show garden debut at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival in 2014, having studied at the Cotswold Gardening School, and designs gardens for private clients across the Cotswolds.

Inspired by post-industrial gardens, such as New York’s High Line, his garden looks at what happens when a former industrial site is reclaimed by nature.

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Martyn Wilson’s design

“What interested me initially was the changing nature of urban landscapes which are so often are in state of flux,” says Martyn. “There’s the process of demolition and reconstruction but between the two, before building work starts, you often find nature moves back in and a new, temporary landscape is created. “

Twisted steel monolithic structures suggesting decaying industry will be set against a mix of plants, including many that naturally self-seed on brownfield sites, such as ferns and grasses.

Conceptual Gardens

There’s also Cotswold interest in the category that sees designers push the boundaries of what constitutes a garden.

Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens have joined forces with wildlife charity Tusk to sponsor a conceptual garden that aims to highlight the illegal trade in ivory.

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Mark Whyte is putting the spotlight on the plight of elephants

Designed by Mark Whyte, it will feature an arch of 200 tusks – the average daily tally of elephants killed by poachers in Africa.

Visitors will walk through the arch to the sounds of the African savannah, there will be African-style planting, and the bones of an elephant at one end will symbolise the risk to the elephant population.

Finally, the World Gardens will take visitors to Oregon, Northern Spain, Charleston and Florida.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs from July 4-9, 2017. For more details, see the RHS website.

Getting nostalgic at Gardeners’ World Live 2017

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The Nostalgia Garden recreates a 60s village

Sometimes it’s good to look back, to reminisce and say ‘Do you remember?’ It’s something this year’s Gardeners’ World Live delivers in spadefuls with many of the gardens taking the 50th anniversary of the BBC programme as their theme.

Crazy paving, the original Mini, brightly coloured bedding, it’s all there at a show that celebrates five decades of the nation’s gardening obsession.

For me, and I suspect for most of the visitors, the highlight is the Anniversary Garden which chronicles five decades of changing gardening tastes with ‘snapshots’ of gardens of the time.

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Crazy paving and a washing line

There’s the bedding and veg-planted 60s garden, complete with washing line – before the days of tumble driers.

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The 70s garden

The 70s garden is enclosed by a fancy breeze block wall – one of my childhood memories – and borders of heathers and conifers with a move away from ‘growing your own’ at home, something that doesn’t reappear until the last garden although only in the form of a container of strawberries.

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Who else remembers breeze block walls?
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An outdoor entertainment space was an 80s’ idea

With the 80s came the idea of the ‘outdoor room’ and a built-in BBQ and seating, while the 90s with make-over programmes brought us decking and more imaginative use of hard landscaping.

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Decking was a 90s’ trend

Finally, the garden of 2000 onwards is more geometric with clipped box and a smart stainless steel water feature.

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The sharper outlines of contemporary gardens

It’s an exhibition garden – so not eligible for the best overall garden award although it won gold from the judges – and has been designed by David Stevens, who agreed with me that the nostalgia is likely to be popular.

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A stainless steel water feature on the 2000 garden

“It is ‘I remember that. My grandmother had a garden just like that.’ It’s bringing back memories,” he said.

“You can see how gardens have developed and how plants have come in and styles have changed.”

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You can play ‘spot the presenter’ among the plants at the show

It’s been a nostalgic project for him; 25 years ago, he worked on the first Gardeners’ World Live show with the late Geoff Hamilton in the days when the entire show was under cover, even the gardens.

“We did gardens then but built them in two days, which was crazy.

“It’s brilliant to be back for the anniversary and it’s really good of them to ask me,” he added.

The five gardens have been built by Peter Dowle and his Howle Hill team, who, as he put it, started on “the rebound” from RHS Malvern, where he won gold, Best in Show and the construction award for a Japanese-style garden.

“It’s been a really good experience doing this,” said Peter, who is based near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean. “David was at Chelsea winning gold medals when we first started there and was always the one we aspired to.”

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The star of the show?

The star of The Nostalgia Garden by Paul Stone is likely to be the original 1960s’ Mini parked at the period petrol pumps; it certainly struck a chord with me, as my first car was a classic Mini though not quite that old.

The village shop and plant stands display prices from 50 years ago – look out for the Gardeners’ World team in plants – and there’s even a Flymo tackling grass by the bubbling stream; the electric mower was first sold in the sixties.

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Claudia de Yong’s garden

Claudia de Yong’s romantic garden amidst the ruins of a castle for Wyevale Garden Centres was a deserving gold and best overall garden.

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I particularly liked the benches!

Roses, a soft colour palette and a loose style of planting make the design live up to its name: Romance in the Ruins. I particularly liked the benches from Worcestershire firm Home and Garden Ironworks – I have an identical one in my own garden.

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There are ideas for soft planting schemes
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with others in vibrant colours

Show director Bob Sweet told those of us gathered for a special press preview that Gardeners’ World Live is an “accessible show” with plenty of take-home ideas.

“We want people to look at the gardens and say ‘I could do that in mine.’, he said.

One of the best places to do this is in the APL Avenue, a series of small gardens built on a limited budget as a collaboration between a designer and a member of The Association of Professional Landscapes.

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Reclaimed construction materials won the judges’ approval in the APL section

The judges picked Living Gardens ‘It’s Not Just About the Beard . . .’, designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson, as their top APL garden but there were ideas to be found on all of them.

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I liked the mix of seating and water
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Moss used as wall art
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and put in the frame

If you’ve got a really tiny space, the Beautiful Borders section gives ideas on planting schemes, this year with the starting idea of celebrating 50 years of Gardeners’ World.

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This border inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel is bone-shaped
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and has a well-used tennis ball on it

They’ve nearly all been built by newcomers to the show circuit – another thing Gardeners’ World Live prides itself on with the floral marquee often a starting point for nurseries new to exhibiting.

I didn’t get a good look at the massive marquee – not this time due to the weather unlike Chatsworth – but because the more than 90 exhibitors were still putting the finishing touches to their stands ready for the first day of the show.

It was the first time I had been to Gardeners’ World Live for more than 20 years and I was struck by how relaxed it is compared to many other big gardening events.

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The programme’s presenters were in a relaxed mood

The judges or assessors weren’t cordoned off as they deliberated, with warnings from officials not to get too close or photograph them. The current presenters of Gardeners’ World wandered from garden to garden, filming clips for Friday’s programme or just chatting with the designers and contractors, and the awards were simply announced to a gathering of the garden teams, press and anyone else interested – no dawn run with certificates here.

I’m already planning a weekend trip to fully investigate the floral marquee and, somehow, I don’t think it will be 20 years before I return again.

Gardeners’ World Live is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18, 2017. For more details visit the website

RHS Chatsworth 2017: a soggy start

There’s no way of softening the conclusion that yesterday’s press day at RHS Chatsworth was quite simply a washout. Torrential rain was bad enough, turning parts of the ground into a swamp but high winds forced organisers to close the show early.

Was it the right decision? Yes, definitely. The Floral Marquees – split into two either side of an inflatable replica of Paxton’s Great Conservatory – closed just hours after the event began, such were safety concerns. Big wooden signs were laid on the grass as a precaution, the press tent was shaking ominously in the wind and I saw a large metal barrier blown over.

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Dressed for the weather – the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire talking to designer Paul Hervey-Brookes

Still, on the first day of this new RHS show it was hugely disappointing for everyone involved and meant I saw but a small part of what is on offer. Like many others, I had opted to walk around the show gardens first, as the forecast for later in the day was worse. I did get to all of them but it meant that with only three hours at the show I saw little of the experimental Free Form installations and nothing of the nursery stands, well dressing or RHS exhibition on gardening in a changing climate – ironically named in the circumstances. It was also difficult to fully appreciate or photograph the gardens when they were being battered by the wind and rain.

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The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
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. . . set against soft planting

Obviously, in such circumstances it’s difficult to fully assess this latest addition to the RHS line-up. However, there seems little doubt that it has potential.

The setting with the backdrop of Chatsworth House and its parkland is beautiful, although there was a feeling it hadn’t been exploited to the full, possibly due to restrictions on what could be dug up.

Many of the show gardens are difficult to photograph as any shot seems to include the bright white marquees, trade stands or food outlets; this is something that RHS Malvern has finally got right in recent years with the gardens sited on the showground so that the hills form a natural backing.

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The hot end of the Palladian Bridge

The Palladian Bridge, stunningly dressed by celebrity florist Jonathan Moseley and his team, frames not the house, but looks towards what seems to be a rear entrance at one end and the ‘Great Conservatory’ at the other; the latter divided opinion on press day with one person describing it to me looking like an overgrown bouncy castle. Having not managed to get inside, I couldn’t really decide its worth but pictures I’ve seen suggest it is striking.

So, what of the things I did see? Naturally, I headed first for the garden of Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes who heard this morning that he had won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction.

Designed for the Institute of Quarrying, it was envisaged as a garden for a professional couple and inspired by the life of a quarry.

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The IQ Quarry garden is one of many with a water feature

As such, it is a garden of contrasts: soft planting, so typical of Paul’s style, set against angular rock and concrete.

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Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
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. . . including foxgloves

Foxgloves and elder, are framed against grey, rocks are set into planting and a striking sculpture by Stroud artist Ann-Margreth Bohl, makes a dramatic end piece.

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A dramatic end to the IQ Quarry garden

Indeed, plants silhouetted against hard landscaping seemed to be a theme of the show as did water – and not just from the sky.

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Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
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More water this time on the Cruse Bereavement Care garden

The Cruse Bereavement Care garden is set around a central wall-enclosed seat area, with a long rill running through the garden.

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The sheltered seat was welcoming

On a grey day, the yellow lupins stood out and the curved seating area offered a welcome retreat.

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For me, the highlight of the Wedgwood Garden was the ‘windows’ that gives glimpses of the garden. There’s loose planting in shades of blue and yellow with splashes of red, and a long canal of water. It is just a shame that the main window also ‘looks out’ onto a restaurant.

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One of the ‘windows’ on the garden

There are good ‘take home ideas’. Tanya Batkin’s Moveable Feast garden cleverly showcases how mobile planters can be used to create a garden anywhere.

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Moveable containers and a great green roof on a store cupboard

Aimed at ‘Generation Rent’, it demonstrates how fruit, veg and flowers could transform an area of paving, while the large containers are on wheels to make them easy to move around.

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Meanwhile, Butter Wakefield has produced a dreamy idyll with the Belmont Enchanted Gardens with wild flowers and vegetables, grown at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

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Butter Wakefield’s idyllic retreat

Jackie Knight has created an informal water and rock garden to celebrate her silver wedding and the 25th anniversary of her first show garden. Aptly, given the conditions at Chatsworth, it was called ‘Just Add Water’.

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Jackie Knight’s garden
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I liked the way Jackie picked out the colour of the hammock in the planting

And Jonathan Moseley follows his success at RHS Malvern with another stunning display of how fresh flowers can transform a space. The Palladian Bridge takes visitors from cool greens and whites through a rainbow of colour to fiery shades of red and orange, while a willow snake – based on the Cavendish coat of arms – slithers through the display.

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RHS Chatsworth 2017 runs until Sunday June 11. For more details, visit the RHS

Review: The Gardens of Japan by Helena Attlee

I’ve never been to Japan and, aside from Ishihara Kazuyuki’s Artisan Gardens at Chelsea, know little of the country’s gardens. Ask me to sum them up and I’d have probably muttered something about moss, rocks and gravel. So, I was hoping to learn more with Helena Attlee’s The Gardens of Japan.

gardens of japan

It definitely falls into the ‘coffee table’ category, despite being a paperback reprint of the original 2010 edition rather than a hardback glossy. This is not a ‘how-to’ book but one to inspire further research.

Attlee takes us on a whirlwind tour of Japan’s finest gardens, pausing in each long enough to give only a little historical background – vital to understanding many of the gardens – and a brief overview of what’s there. It is brief and would be insubstantial were it not for the stunning photography of Alex Ramsey, which helps to flesh out the description.

What she does do is give a sense of a different way of appreciating gardens and even of what constitutes a garden.

Many, especially the kare-sansui, dry gardens created from gravel and stone, were, she tells us “not made for touching or walking through. They were designed like paintings, to be viewed from a static position.”

gardens of japan
A representation of the Mystic Isles at Tofuku-ji

This is taken to the extreme at the Adachi Museum of Art and Gardens where the carefully constructed landscape can be seen only through specially constructed ‘picture frames’ on a viewing platform around the building.

Everything in Japanese gardens is carefully controlled from the precisely raked gravel – often done daily – to the carefully positioned rocks and, when you can enter, the route you must take; there is only one way around Katsura Rikyu. Surprisingly, a string-bound rock is universally recognised as a ‘no entry’ sign, something I cannot see being effective in open gardens in Britain.

In Kenroku-en, pine trees have their needles thinned by hand to give the trees a more transparent feel; at Heian Jingu, weeping cherries are supported by a bamboo frame and pruned annually to create a lattice effect; in Daichi-ji, azaleas are clipped tightly to produce undulating topiary.

Gardens borrow from the landscape – shakkei – and create a false perspective by using small trees to suggest distance. In some cases, the view beyond is vital.

“Without its view the garden is nothing,” Attlee says of Entsu-ji, which has one of the most famous examples of borrowed landscape.

gardens of japan
Early morning at Suizen-ji

Some have little in the way of plants beyond trees and moss – there are 48 different mosses in Ginkaku-ji – and Ryoan-ji has no plants or trees but just gravel and rocks.

There’s a sense of time slowing with stepping stones, double bridges and zig-zag paths all designed to stop a headlong rush from one end of the garden to the other.

Where there are flowers, they are revered with thousands celebrating the cherry blossom season with flower festival picnics, or hanami.

The Gardens of Japan would be a good starting point for anyone who is thinking of creating their own Japanese-style garden or planning to visit not least because it has a map and contact details for the gardens. I certainly feel as though I know a little more and will be looking at Ishihara Kazuyuki’s Chelsea entry this year with greater insight.

The Gardens of Japan by Helena Attlee, photography by Alex Ramsey, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £14.99. Buy now. (If you buy through this link, I may get a small fee and it doesn’t affect the price you pay.)

Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.

For more book reviews, see here

RHS Malvern Spring Festival gardens 2017

One of the joys of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the chance to get some design and planting inspiration from the show gardens.

Their new site at the festival gives them a beautiful Malvern Hills backdrop while plenty of space on the Three Counties Showground means they are easy to navigate.

This year, there’s the added bonus of the new Spa Gardens contest, which is billed as the perfect forum for up-and-coming new talent.

RHS Malvern Show gardens

Meditation, gardens as art and the plight of refugees are just some of the themes behind the show gardens at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

There are six gardens in the contest with designs from several former gold medal and Best in Show winners.

The Refuge

RHS malvern

The current refugee crisis has prompted Gloucestershire designer Sue Jollans to return to Malvern for the first time since winning a gold medal and Best in Show in 2008.

Designed to celebrate Britain’s history as a refuge for those in need, the garden features a boardwalk over wildflowers and corten steel pools with a ripple effect in the water. Moving through the garden over the boardwalk symbolises the journey across water many refugees make.

At its heart is a Middle Eastern-style bread oven and a communal area.

“It is a space that is intended to feel safe, grounded in the British countryside,” explains Sue, who is based in Painswick. “The oven was inspired by Help Refugees UK distributing bread griddles in the Greek refugee camps, which brought people together to make bread.”

Sue is hoping the garden will be relocated after the show at an organisation that helps refugees.

Tree House Garden 

RHS malvern

Last year’s Best in Show winner, Mark Eveleigh, is bringing a tree house and hot tub to the show with a garden inspired by Malvern’s history as a spa town.

Using the nearby Victorian St Ann’s Well as his starting point, he has given the theme a modern twist with an octagonal tree house and a wood-fired hot tub.

Although the garden is being judged by the RHS, it will be kept as a permanent feature at the showground.

“The fact that this will live on and evolve does appeal to me,” says Mark.

At One with A Meditation Garden 

RHS Malvern

The theme of spa is also behind this year’s design by Peter Dowle, which is designed to be a quiet retreat within a larger garden.

There will be three stone pieces by sculptor Matthew Maddocks, a 16m-long water feature and huge rocks from the Forest of Dean while planting will include Peter’s trademark acers and other large “statement” plants from his Howle Hill Nursery.

“We’re hoping for something quite dramatic,” he says.

The Retreat 

RHS Malvern

Olive tree specialists Villaggio Verde are regulars at RHS Malvern but this year sees a move away from their usual recreation of a Mediterranean scene.

Instead, they are using the spa theme to create a modern private garden designed for well-being and health.

Olives and planting associated with aromatherapy, including lavender, bay and rosemary, will surround a salt water hydrotherapy pool while a lounging area will be cooled by mist.

“It’s a step out of our comfort zone,” admits Villaggio’s owner Jason Hales.

Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden

RHS Malvern

Devon’s Buckfast Abbey is making its flower show debut with a garden to celebrate its millennium in 2018.

Designed by Maia Hall, it allows visitors to look through a Gothic arch ‘windows’ onto a tranquil garden where a stag, echoing the abbey’s logo, drinks at a pool.

A meandering path, suggesting a river bed, a glade of silver birch and a planting scheme in blue and white contribute to the feeling of peace.

Head gardener Aaron Southgate says the idea was to combine a sense of spirituality and naturalness.

He explains that the gardens – which total 35 acres at the Benedictine monastery – are often used by local people.

“The gardens are a tranquil, peaceful space for prayer and reflection.

“We felt we wanted to tell the world about them a bit more.”

A Garden Framed

RHS Malvern

Designer Tim Lawrence is planning a something different for RHS Malvern with his exploration of gardens as art.

More an art installation than a typical show garden, it is a series of four framed ‘pictures’ of plants, rocks and wood set around large tree sculpture.

“This is a garden for people to find some peace and space to reflect,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a garden to walk around or go through but a garden where you sit and are still.”

It’s the first time Bristol-based Tim has made a show garden and he says the garden has been inspired by his love of not only plants but also Japanese art and design.

RHS Malvern Spa Gardens

The new Spa Gardens contest not only gives designers the chance to take part in an RHS show, the winner will also get the opportunity to exhibit at Russia’s top horticultural event.

A link with the Moscow Flower Show means the Malvern winner will be invited to build a sponsored garden in Russia in June.

Meanwhile, as part of the exchange, one of the four gardens in the Malvern contest has been created by two Russian designers, who are being mentored by top UK designer Jo Thompson.

All the contestants have been asked to give a modern interpretation of Malvern’s Victorian spa heritage and were given a busary to help fund their entry.

Molecular Garden

RHS Malvern

Design duo Denis Kalashnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova are creating a garden for relaxing in after spa treatments at a Russian resort.

While it is enclosed to give seclusion for guests, the hilly landscape beyond is suggested in the curved shapes of loungers while a timber panel symbolises the rising sun.

Ocean Garden

RHS Malvern

The Art Deco architecture of Miami has inspired designer Michel Damien’s entry to RHS Malvern.

There are strong lines and sinewy curves throughout the garden, which is seen as a modern spa garden with links to the past, as well as water in pools and as ‘tram lines’.

To counterbalance the hard landscaping, Michel is using blocks of colour, with plants that have an architectural quality.

I Follow the Waters and the Wind

RHS Malvern

The poetry of Ted Hughes lies behind Annette Baines-Stiller’s garden, which explores the experience of countryside walks, such as those in the Malvern Hills, with the feel of the wind and sound of water.

Designed to look as though it is floating, the garden has undulating paths and water collecting in a rock pool.

The planting will include one ‘cool’ area of pink, lilac and spring and a ‘hot’ area of red, orange and yellow.

Bubble Drops

RHS malvern

One of the most eye-catching designs that this year’s RHS Malvern looks set to be Keith Browning’s entry.

He’s hoping to encourage visitors to think about shape, materials and structure with a colourful structure made of laminated timber.

Designed to be perplexing, it celebrates water, which is essential for life, and is inspired by natural Jurassic rock formations.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 runs from May 11-14. For more details, visit the website.

Find out what Jane Furze, the new head of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, has planned for 2017 here

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Review: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom

Some years ago, I encountered a garden that has left a lasting impression. With its perfectly choreographed borders, striking design and air of romance, it was a slice of Chelsea Main Avenue style transported to the Cotswolds. The garden was at Temple Guiting Manor and it features in designer Jinny Blom’s new book, The Thoughtful Gardener.

the thoughtful gardener

Using examples drawn from gardens she has created across the world and her own modest-sized London plot, she explores her approach to the process of making gardens. The result is a beautifully illustrated and thoroughly enjoyable glimpse into the thinking of one of our top designers.

The creator of four Chelsea Flower Show gardens with a gold medal in 2007, Jinny came into the business obliquely. She describes her life as one that “unfolded as I walked” and it has taken a varied route encompassing drama college and work as a psychologist, a “career I loved”.

Then, on a holiday in Northern Spain, she discovered an unspoilt area in the Picos Mountains, full of wild flowers.

“Always obsessed with plants I was now on fire with them,” she tells us. She left her safe job and “armed with energy, enthusiasm and blind faith,” began her design career, choosing not to study the subject but to learn by doing.

Her initial emotional response to the Spanish countryside still underpins her work. Despite utilising the nuts and bolts of garden design from surveys to determine levels, exhaustive lists of what to include and even marking out a site with sticks, it is more a visceral feeling for the space that seems to drive her.

the thoughtful gardener
A tantalising glimpse at Temple Guiting Manor. Photo Andrew Montgomery

“More often than not when I arrive somewhere new I get to grips with what needs altering within hours. It’s a sort of fact-based intuition.”

Nevertheless, she will have carried out detailed research first into not only the geography and geology of the site but also its history and even what is growing in neighbouring plots.

Sometimes, as in Temple Guiting Manor, this research will form the blueprint of her plan; the garden at the manor house is laid out on the ancient framework of old farm buildings and animal enclosures.

Yet, her approach is not sentimental: ‘First we must destroy!’ is often her opening line, although she adds that her numerous ‘death warrants’ can be alarming to garden owners.

And it’s not just plants, trees and shrubs that are cleared, any building or structure not worthy of inclusion is swept aside. Conversely, she is quite prepared to build to perfect her design; a ‘little piggery’ was the solution to the meeting point between two sets of box-headed limes in one project. And she lavishes as much care on these constructions as she does on plant choice.

the thoughtful gardener
Vines housed in pots in Jinny’s own garden. Photo Andrew Montgomery

Some elements are regular features: she likes to include water; plants a hedge on every project “as a matter of course”; and ensures there is always something edible, telling us “There is no solace like a freshly pulled radish!”

While she admits to being nervous initially, Blom is now confident in her own judgement, although she believes fear is an essential ingredient in the design process: “only when this heightened state starts to calm down do you understand that a good design is within grasp”.

Written in an engaging, conversational style, The Thoughtful Gardener is also peppered with good advice from the choice of plants – “Plants that are popular are popular for a reason, so don’t be too clever – just plant them and enjoy.” – to the need to prepare the ground well – “Good soil is a reward beyond words.”

Above all, she is concerned with what we leave behind: “Making gardens well means leaving a legacy far in excess of our own short lifespan”.

At one point, she advises: “If you want to be seduced by the subject [gardening], then just look at the pictures and stop reading!” To do so would be to miss a treat.

The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom is published by Jacqui Small, RRP price £35. Buy now(If you buy through this link, I may get a small fee and it doesn’t affect the price you pay.)

Review copy supplied by Jacqui Small

For more book reviews, see here

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Review: Urban Flowers by Carolyn Dunster

It’s been some years since my gardening was confined to a few houseplants and some pots balanced precariously outside a window but I still remember the compulsion to grow despite the lack of space.

It’s a challenge faced by many city dwellers with little more than a balcony or at best a small garden. Yet with just a little thought even the tiniest area can be turned over to plants.

Urban Flowers by Carolyn Dunster is the perfect guide to getting the best out of what little space you have.

Visually appealing with informative and inspirational photographs by Jason Ingram, it’s the sort of book that invites you in and I found myself starting to read as soon as it was delivered.

urban flowers

Dunster, a florist and award-winning planting designer – she won the People’s Choice Award at the 2016 RHS Hampton show with a small cutting garden – specialises in planting for urban spaces.

She starts by outlining why urban flowers are important: “the absence of greenery can actually cause us to feel stressed,” she says, urging us “plant it rather than paving it over”.

Examples are given of enlightened municipal planting, community schemes and small steps that make a big impact, such as putting flowers below street trees.

She then takes us through the basic steps required to turn an urban patch green from assessing the space available, including soil type and aspect, to drawing up a detailed plan.

Privacy, gloomy spots, maintenance and even buying compost without storage space are all tackled along with suggestions for using roofs, walls and steps for plants.

urban flowers

There are some nifty ideas for containers, including transforming the plastic trugs many gardeners use, old catering-sized tins and wooden boxes.

“With a little imagination you can create a container garden almost anywhere,” we’re told.

She outlines three contrasting styles – classic, contemporary and rurban, a mix of rural and urban – and details how to achieve them with ideas for hard landscaping and plants.

For me, the section that makes this book a winner is where she deals with colour and plant combinations.

Using five different colour combinations, she outlines plant partnerships for every season, including cultivation tips with each suggestion.

urban flowers
Thyme is suggested as a space filler in containers

Woven through are projects ranging from hiding ugly drainpipes with plants and creating a rose tepee to making a ‘herb wall’ and putting alpines in crates. I loved the dahlias grown in an old wooden box but wasn’t sure about growing pelargoniums suspended upside down.

The book ends with advice on getting more out of your plants including how to make cut flowers last, creating a preserved wreath and seed-harvesting.

And that’s the book’s strength: it may be primarily about urban flowers but the advice and ideas are applicable wherever you garden.

Urban Flowers by Carolyn Dunster, photographs by Jason Ingram, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £20 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy through the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Frances Lincoln.

Read more book reviews here.

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