Friday 31 December 2010

The Wise Old Sage

I have to thank Irenethegardener for introducing me to the Kitchen Diaries of Nigel Slater as a birthday present last year.  Fitting then that at the end of 2010, on the night when the autobiographical 'Toast' was aired on BBC TV, I cooked his pheasant recipe ( Nigel Slater - Kitchen Diaries: A pot roast pheasant with celery and sage,  page 25)

Sadly the only ingredient I could harvest from my kitchen garden was the wise old sage but the pheasants were proudly labelled 'West Wight: some buckshot within'. I could even hear the echos of gunshot across the road at Afton Farm as I browned my mis-matched pair in the pan.

Now I must confess to holding mixed feelings about game-bird farming.  Where I live they are now so abundant as to be a public health hazard.  Pyschotic pheasants seem to inhabit every hedgerow bottom with their will they/won't they throw themselves in front of your wheels, every damn time you set out on a country lane. They are also frequent visitors to the garden bird feeder that we even named one particularly  vocal chap, 'Lucky'...

Not so lucky though the two ( or more correctly Brace ) in my pot tonight, but what a delicious evenings menu of both food and TV viewing.

 'Toast' was the best TV programme I had watched all Xmas.  It so accurately portrayed, without sentiment the drabness of those 50s years whilst conveying the young Slater's path to culinary liberation.  The whole cast was admirable but the young actors were perfect in their roles and I loved Mr Slater's mischevious cameo appearance at the end.   The screenplay was as apt and tempting as the man's writing - not a wasted word. 

But, then who wouldn't be 'awakened' by such a gorgeous gardener. No wonder Nigel's yearnings encourage him to recapture those lost feelings in his Veg patch!   Happy New Year indeed!

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Garden Consultations - are they worth it?

Unexpectedly for a bleak December day I received an email request for a Garden Consultation from a keen gardener who felt 'she had lost her way'. Now this type of request for the help of a Garden Designer is reasonably common and it highlights how our experience and training can, often in a single visit, help to answer any queries and also to reassure, or put a fellow gardener on the right path.

My client had a fabulous period property with a large, shadey, woodland-style garden, full of collected memorabilia and antiques, wine-crates, pots and artefacts arranged attractively, mostly in her 'courtyard area'.  She was very hands on and loved growing vegetables and also flowers from seed. She was aware of the limitations of her garden but also knew that it could be even more attractive.  Recently retired she was determined to iron out the few problems she was facing and focus on making the garden less labour intensive and more rewarding. Hence her internet search and request for me to help her.

Our correspondence neatly summarises what took place:

enquiry: I would like to add a gazebo / pergola in our courtyard to add some interest. Courtyard is a walled garden approx 17ft x 20ft but on 2 levels. Gazebo would probably be in area 10ft x 10ft.  We are in Ryde. Would you be able to arrange a site visit to give some advice please. 

So an appointment was made and armed with this information I planned my visit.  Now, it is important to stress that a Garden Designer can not 'design' on the spot.  But because of our general horticultural  and design experience we can often lend a fresh eye to a situation and provide real help to someone who wants to sort out a problem for themselves.  Often, an initial consultation can lead to further design work and also a follow through contract to build the garden.  But, in this case I knew I had a practical gardener to meet.
My email and notes sumarise that:

Hi Sue,  Good to meet with you yesterday and to discus ideas for your intriguing garden.  Here are the summarized notes of the issue including plant choices we discussed:

The Courtyard Area:
1. Introduce 2/3 very large containers to make a statement
2. Include large characteristic plants e.g. Olives, pencil thin Cypress trees or the hardier Fastigiate Yews
3.  Simple evergreen box plants in large  balls give substance and have a calming effect amongst all the collectibles
4. Define the edge of the change in levels
5. Introduce scent especially night-scented plants e.g. Trachelospermum jasminoides, Rosa Alberic barbiere or Rosa Mme Alfred Carriere,
6. Large feature pots of Citrus trees are evocative as are Angels trumpets (Brugmansia) but both of these will need winter protection.
7. White plants look great in the night especially Nicotiana sylvestris (tobacco plant) grown from seeds( can also be used in the garden)

The Main Garden:
Create new clearings by eradicating ground ivy etc., improve the soil and then plant in repeated drifts ( 7- 10) through the evergreen areas:

  • Digitalis purpurea var. alba( seed)
  • Anemone japonica alba/'Honorine Jobert' ( perennial plant)
  • Leucojum aestivum ( Snowflakes) bulbs
  • Lunaria  rediviva (Honesty) (seed)
  • Hydrangea 'Annabelle', 'Snowflake' or Quercifolia( shrubs)
  • Miscanthus 'Morning Light' (tall, stately perennial grass)
  • Euphorbia amygdalodes var. robbiae ( perennial) limey green flowers
  • Geranium phaeum 'Album' - white hardy geranium ( perennial)
  • Epimedium perralderianum ( perennial) soft yellow flowers, evergreen Anemone nemerosa ( wood anemone) bulbs
  • Galium odorata ( Sweet Woodruff) ground covering perennial with white flowers
  • Acanthus mollis ( perennial) big architectural perennial , leaf motif often used in mediterranean gardens 
Finally, the on-line company to check out is  for the rusted metal garden features. They have a bespoke service so you could send in your own designs/measurements. Check out the 'Walled Garden' page and you will see a delightful gazebo, covered in white roses against a tall wall, very like your area. It should inspire you.

Good luck, Chris

A fairly immediate reply informed me that the time had been well-spent.  Very satisfying to enable a fellow gardener to take control again of her garden.

Hi Chris
Thank you so much for your time on Thursday and for your notes.  It's good to chat things over with someone new, and to have a new set of eyes looking over the place.  I'm starting to research the Mediterranean / Moroccan ideas.  I had a look at 'Room in the Garden' - fabulous ideas, and gives me a good sense of direction and will keep me more disciplined - I think that's what I need - find a style/theme and stick to it.
Thank you also for the planting notes - I'm going to get started and sort out which seeds I can start off now, and print myself off a shopping list, so I don't get waylaid in the garden centres!!
All the best, and I'll keep a regular look out on your website.

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Tuesday 14 December 2010

" The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun"

When a grand old tree comes to the end of its life it is always a sad day.  But turning that beloved tree into an inspirational wood carving, capturing the spirit of both the tree but also of the place where it is planted is a very real and sustainable solution to the problem. The picture below clearly demonstrates the difference between the two oaks within this walled garden.

Having introduced wooden carvings into my earlier garden projects I felt encouraged again to see if this once mightly oak could inspire, Guido Oakley local wood sculptor. Fortunately my client was intrigued by the prospect. Once having spoken to the gentle Guido about his philosophy and creative ideas she commissioned him to carve this oak. This was indeed a very exciting turn of events for the life of the garden restoration as a whole.  I couldn't wait to see it......

Entering the walled garden was always a special moment but nothing had prepared me for the surprise of the massive scale of Guido's sculpture. Standing at some 15 feet tall it had all the presence of a mighty oak tree.  Still surrounded by scaffolding it was clearly a 'work in progress' but we quickly rushed over to its base marvelling at the intricacies of the carvings, rotating around the trunk. From top to bottom there were a series of faces, a beautiful woman, the green man, youth and child all positioned like the oak rings within the tree itself, symbolising the passing of time. Elaborately under-cut carvings of clouds, oak leaves and acorns, spiralled around these faces in sinuous tactile trails tempting the hand to stray out and stroke the wood. It was beautiful....

Dragging ourselves away from the carving it was hard to begin our more mundane mornings work in the nearby border.  But once the usual work had begun I soon became aware of a new dimension in the garden.  Whenever I looked up to stretch or move my tools, there was the sculpture in my sightline. It was curiously reassuring, as if some benign woodland presence was overseeing our work.....

A week later I couldn't wait to see if Guido's sculpture would be finished.  He had laboured on it for days, quietly supported in the cradle of the scaffolding, adding further layers of interest to this work.  If you read his philosophy of art and nature you will see that he invests more than just his time into every project and this was to be no exception.  As we drove down the drive to the farm the sculpture was clearly visible above the tall red brick walls.  But now reflected in the low morning light a sun and  crescent shaped moon seemed to crown the giant wooden sculpture.

It had a luminescent quality to it and had really taken the spiritual symbolism of the carving to a whole other level. I gasped with a thrilling recognition.   How could Guido have known that he had carved symbols from  my favourite verse?

       " The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun" *

It really did feel now that a spiritual presence had entered this lovely garden of guardianship and a connectivity to the place and woodlands surrounding it.

 * W. B. Yeats - The Song of Wandering Aengus

Monday 6 December 2010

Riding high

Inspired by a trip to Hilliers last February and wanting to develop further creative ideas for Winter gardens I have planned and planted a large border high on winter impact for South Riding, the home of my troubled clients wrestling with the demands of a large garden. Would this be a solution to some of their concerns?  I hoped so...

What is it about the way the low winter sun illuminates a silvery bark or coppery stem  that stops you in your tracks? A reminder of warmer days perhaps or is just the simplicity of paring down nature to its barest essentials? Like a spotlight on a stage highlighting the main character.  All I know is I was loving playing and positioning a fabulous collection of plants high on winter interest.

Cliched or not, there is no beating the bleached white stems of Betula utilis jacquemontii. So building upon this my winning combo is definitely Cornus alba Kesselringii , Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire, Cornus alba sib. Baton Rouge with their stark vertical stems in deep black, vivid red or fiery orange. Stately Miscanthus Malepartus will stand until Spring with their feathery awns catching light and mist.  Close to, the bleached mop top heads of a mass grouping of Deschampsia Goldtau lend a simple low matt contrast.

My absolute favourite plant, Libertia peregrinans and Libertia Taupo Gold, lend further vertical accents and wonderful evergreen colour combinations. Then for sheer drama  I have placed at the front of the border Black Ophiopogon with white hellebores behind.  White snowdrops will complete the picture, peeking through in January.

Looking for a simple, under-statement at the feet of the Birches I was encouraged to try the plain green Ophiopogon planiscapus by experienced Nurseryman, David at Fromefield Nurseries. He was spot on when it came to this choice as the bright emerald green of these little fat stemmed plants gave me exactly the contrast I was looking for. Planted in a sinuating river-effect they draw the eye through the planting.

A heavy snow fall last night on this newly planted winter garden should test the theory. Meanwhile, I am confident that an exciting winter planting, coupled later next year with additional late summer perennials and grasses will really make this well-loved garden take a revitalised turn and continue to inspire its hard-working owners.

Friday 3 December 2010

In praise of Native Hedging

Yesterday as I stepped out of my back door, bin in hand, to make my usual short trip to the Compost heap,  I stopped dead in my tracks as a whisper of red flitted before my eyes. In a moment it was gone, bounding across the terrace and slipping through the gaps in the gate. But there was no mistaking it - a red squirrel!

Oh joy! At last! After 10 years I had finally enticed one of the IOW's best loved mammals to my door.  I am truly passionate about these lovely little creatures and set about planting my garden and surrounds with mainly native trees and shrubs that squirrels feed on.  I even planted a 50 metre long 'squirrel walk' of just hazels to create a 'wildlife corridor' . This would enable them to safely stay in the trees from the road boundary to my garden.  Such was my vision as I planted very small hazel 'whips ( bare-rooted  one year old saplings) one cold winter morning through the stripped turf.  At last it seems as if my patience has been rewarded.

I know that they have never been far away, in fact at either end of my road and sometimes in my neighbour's gardens.But when would my turn come?  I believe that a bold individual encouraged both by the tree cover and also the bird feeders all around my garden has done the trick.

So planting hazel, chestnut, beech, hornbeam, pines, filberts will all help to encourage red squirrels. Proof indeed!   I just can't wait to see them coming regularly now so that I can get some pictures like this one of Paul Blackley's, acclaimed IOW Wildlife Photographer. He has also given some useful tips on hiding nuts in strategic places in order to get that 'special' picture.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

From Eyesore to heavenly haven by Sue Lupton

Creating a terraced garden on a steep coastal site in Totland proved a challenge for designer Chris Barnes and landscaper Miles Norris.
Clients Mike Oldham and Lesley Forde had lived in the house for several years. "We had done lots of work on the house but the garden was a mess," Mike said. "It sloped so steeply you couldn't see the garden from the house.  We wanted terraces that could be appreciated from the house and from the bottom of the garden. We got in touch with Chris and really liked her thinking and her ideas."

Chris's brief was to improve the upper terrace and create planting bays to soften the area. She was asked to create a lower terrace for sitting out. The planting was to reflect the coastal site and to look good from above and below.

Once Chris's design was complete, Miles took on the landscaping work.  His company is MJN Services and he regularly collaborates with Chris on garden makeovers.

Miles explained: "The steepness meant stabilising the terraces was a mammoth task, taking several months. We built foundations from hollow concrete blocks, filled with concrete and reinforced with steel. There was a lot of stone on the site and Chris designed a scree slope using these boulders. Elsewhere we used a tapestry of materials, oak sleepers, sandstone paving, wooden decking and paths of terracotta chippings framed with sleepers, said Miles.

Once the hard landscaping was in place, Chris planted the borders with tough, attractive plants. She explained: "It was important the borders worked together so the separate terraces had waves of the same planting. This makes the garden very easy on the eye, with pools of colour, texture and foliage interest working across the space."

"I chose plants to cascade over the retaining walls, prostrate rosemary, anthemis, osteospermums, alchemilla and hardy geraniums. To give substance to the borders I used phormiums with their striking leaves, cistus, pittosporum and hebes. Agapanthus will add height in summer, as will dierama ( angel's fishing rod). Grasses and gaura, sedum and verbena bonarienis will give ripples of movement and attract bees and butterflies to the garden."

My goal was to create a garden which was high on wow factor but low on maintenance, looking good from every angle, all year round but particularly colourful in summer," said Chris.

Mike said: "Between them, Chris and Miles have transformed the garden from an eyesore into a stunning area that enhances the property."