Wednesday, 14 September 2016

National Trust Gardens - Buscot Park

This summer I had the opportunity to visit a number of National Trust gardens, all of which were absolutely stunning and inspiring. While the scale of the gardens is often very different to the scale of the gardens of us mere mortals, there is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from them. From planting, to styles, and not forgetting the plant sales and shops!

Buscot Park is a large estate, with many formal gardens, centred around a late eighteenth century Italianate country house. Aside form the house, which houses the extremely impressive 'Faringdon Collection' of paintings, there are extensive gardens. By the way, make sure you check the opening hours as it is not open at all time - look at

The faced is very impressive, but my favourite view of the house was from the side, with a view of the swimming pool. This could possibly be to do with the fact that it was an absolutely scorching day!

The garden is split into a number of areas, each very different and equally attractive. The first area to visit is the Parents' Walk, which has colourful and well tended borders planted in 1986 by Peter Coats. The striking colour combination of bright green Indian Bean trees, Euphorbia characias 'Wulfennii', Alchemilla mollis contrasted with purple berberis and salvias.

Leading straight off from the Parents' walk, is the four seasons garden. This was created in the old walled garden in 1978, from the eighteenth century kitchen garden. Each quadrant corresponds with each season, and the quadrants are separated by dramatic axes which are lined with hop hornbeams along the east west axis. and judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum) trained over arches along the north south axis. There are wall trained fruit trees and clipped box hedges, giving the garden a feel of the old formal kitchen garden.

The planting in each quadrant represents the seasons, with spring blossoming apple and cherry trees, trees such as Acers for autumn colour, coral bark Acers and golden holly for the winter and summer flowering Syringas. The perennial planting is seasonally led, with a backbone of shrubs and the wall trained trees.

The dramatic avenues, and seasonal trees and shrubs are well tended, but my favourite planting was in the herbaceous borders, where climbing gourds, runners and marrows were left to trail over the roses, which were past their best. It is a great method of successional planting, taking the edge off of the formal planting often seen in grand houses, combining productive and decorative planting.

The rest of the garden was equally charming, with looser planting of avenues, a surprise army of terracotta soldiers, sculptures and vistas of long grasses and avenues of trees. The woodland avenues lead to smaller gardens at intersections of the avenues, with themes of Egypt and, my favourite, the 'Swinging Garden', with urns, ornamental pyres trees, swinging chairs and white planting.

The jewel in the crown is really the Peto water garden, built between 1904 and 1913, which links the lake, key to the eighteenth century landscape garden, and the house. It is a stone edged channel, following the lines of an earlier victorian arboretum, which has tall hedges, statue filled recesses and quatrefoil pools. There is a very tranquil and reflective feeling in the garden, with the gentle sound of water coming from the fountain.

There is a lot to see, so make sure wear comfy shoes!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

"The Bradford Job" - 9 months on

This week, I have had an invitation to go and visit a garden that I designed last year in Bradford on Avon. Since completion the owners have worked really hard on planting and putting all the finishing touches into what is a lovely garden.

The garden is on a tricky site, which is relatively narrow and long, with a sideways and lengthways slope. The garden is shaded by some large conifers from a neighbouring property, and one of the boundaries has a large stone wall. The front garden had an open lawn and was overlooked by the neighbouring houses.

The rear garden is now on three separate terraced levels, the impact of which is softened by planting. There is a long vista from the summerhouse to a bench under a pergola. The front garden now has a curving stone path, with a newly planted beech hedge providing privacy. Additionally, there is a parterre planted with buxus and low growing white roses. The garden has been designed to wrap around the house, without any division between front and back garden, making the most of the existing stone wall running along one side, by curving a path beside it and placing a pergola and bench up against it, making the most of the long views along the garden.

The clients are delighted with garden - and so am I! It is great to see a design which works well for the owners, and I can see that as it develops, it will go from strength to strength and become even more beautiful.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Seed planting and plant swaps - the cheaper way to fill your boots.

Making a garden from scratch can be an expensive business. With perennial plants costing £5 upwards per pot, filling a new bed can be daunting. However, there are ways to make it a little less harsh on the pocket.

One solution is to plant seeds - and now is a good time to do that. It is tempting to go for perennial plants, that will flower year after year, but I always make sure I have some annual and biennial plants in the mix too. Perennial plants will provide you with a regular flush of flower, but annuals will provide a long, one off flowering season, and fill some gaps while perennials and shrubs fill out. You don't need to buy all your seeds - you can collect them at the end of the flowering season each autumn, or else swap with friends and neighbours.


Some half-hardy annuals, such as cosmos, nasturtiums, marigolds, snap-dragons, nicotiana and zinnias, need some protection from the elements while they are growing. A cool windowsill, greenhouse or conservatory usually does the trick. Hardy annuals, however, are more robust. Poppy, sweet-peas, cornflowers and sunflowers can be sown where you want them to flower, in April. There are also biennials, such as foxgloves, sweet williams, stocks and wallflowers. These are sown around May, to flower the following year.

Another way to fill your garden is to swap with other gardeners. While some of us are lucky enough to have neighbours with plants to spare and share, sometimes you may not like the plants that are on offer - generally they are ubiquitous in the area. In some ways, this is a good sign, as they will thrive and do well on your particular soil, but they may not complement the particular colour scheme or style that you are trying to achieve.

There are often plant swaps going on in a village hall near you. These are a great chance to pickup, or pass on, some seedlings to other gardeners. Alternatively, there is a website, , which pulls together nurseries and plant swappers, predominantly in Somerset. You can have a look at what is on offer to sell or swap near to you, and contact the grower to take them up on their offer. It also offers the opportunity to offload those plants that you have dug up, or those seedlings that you have grown, which are surplus, but too good to put onto the compost heap.

I'd love to her how you get on!

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Sarah Raven, 'The Cutting Garden'

Don't panic! It's not too late to plant tulips!

The mild weather so far this year means that it should be a pleasant experience to plant out some tulip bulbs in the next week or so before temperatures plummet, To be honest, I've planted some tulips around Christmas time and they just came up a bit later than normal.

This image on the right is from Sarah Raven's classic book, 'The Cutting Garden', where she mixes tulips with other flowers which are in season, euphorbia and anemones.

I don't lift all my bulbs every year, which caused my Great Uncle, (an amazing gardener), a raised eyebrow. I tend to plant a few bulbs which are likely to come up again in the flowerbeds, with a few others which are gorgeous but unlikely to return. The more glamorous and slightly less vigorous bulbs, I put into pots. By putting the bulbs in pots, I can move them around the garden to be viewed to their best advantage, and then shuffle them down the garden after they have flowered, allowing them the 6 weeks or so that they need to absorb nutrients for next year.

Giant Darwin Hybrid Tulip Mix
In terms of selecting which bulbs to plant, choose what you fancy! Try and choose a selection of bulbs which would flower over a number of months. Bear in mind that early flowering bulbs will not need to match the later bulbs, as they won't be out at the same time.

Tulips need very good drainage in order to come back year after year. They originate from Turkey, where they grow on shale and get baked by hot sun in the summer. Here in the UK we can try and replicate the drainage, even if the weather is hit and miss! It also helps to plant them fairly deeply, about 8-10 inches below the surface of the soil.

Purissima & Groenland tulips

In my garden, two varieties that have come back fairly reliably are Purissima and Groenland, but the Darwin group of tulips are also one of the most reliable varieties.

Image result for princess irene tulips

This year I will be planting some exotic shades in pots for the terrace, to give some dramatic impact after the gentle shades of the daffodils and snowdrops have gone. 'Princess Irene', an award winning tulip from 1949, features orange and magenta, and will look fabulous alongside some zingy euphorbias, alongside some darker shades, such as 'Queen of the Night'.

Whatever you decide to plant, here's to looking out to a glorious display in April and May - well worth a little bit of effort now......

Friday, 24 July 2015

RHS Greening Grey Britain

At the moment, Tatton Park Show is on, and it is focusing on 'Greening Grey Britain', following a report published by the RHS. ( This report highlights the growing trend of paving over or covering front gardens in hard landscaping materials in order to increase parking and reduce maintenance. In London, half of all front gardens are paved over, with a nationwide trend of 14% increase in gardens becoming fully paved over in the last 10 years.

Image result for tarmac drivewaysUnfortunately, the increase in hard landscaped front gardens is not good news. The extremely wet winter of 2013/14 showed the huge problems that excess surface water can cause. Whereas a front garden with planting can absorb heavy downpours, a paved garden will create runoff which can flow into the drainage system, causing localized flooding. Add that to a loss of habitat for wildlife, and the localized 'heat island' effect caused by lots of tarmac and paving, and there is a problem. Aside form the all the practical issues, in my opinion, too much hard landscaping looks terrible - unwelcoming, utilitarian and ugly!

Spiralling-into-Control-CroHowever, the need for parking and low maintenance gardens is ever present, so this year some of the designers at Tatton Park have come up with some great designs to combine the need for parking with the desire to incorporate environmentally friendly and attractive planting.

This design is by Simon Fagg and is called 'Spiralling Into Control'. It incorporates permeable paving, a green roof, small trees and a wildlife area.

Permeable paving comes in many forms, including porous paving blocks, aggregate, spaced pavers and reinforcing grids. In a front garden I have recently designed, I have incorporated an area of grass which has a plastic grid embedded. This area is next to the driveway, so can be used as occasional overflow parking, but is also useful for increasing the turning circle for visitors pulling away from the house.

Other ideas to 'green up' your front garden include planting small trees, shrubs and climbing plants. Large multi stem shrubs such as Amelanchier Lamarkii are of a relatively small size, but with a long season of interest - ideal for front gardens. Creeping plants such as thyme, can be planted between hard landscaping to add interest to an otherwise bare area.

For further ideas you can call me to discuss your garden, or flick through this leaflet from the RHS:

Thursday, 30 April 2015

A visit to Hauser & Wirth....

Bruton is having a moment. Very trendy with the Sunday supplements at the moment due to the combination of mellow stone cottages, The Chapel cafe and the arrival last year of art world heavyweights Hauser & Wirth.

Hauser & Wirth run a collection of galleries internationally, and have set up a world class series of exhibition spaces on a converted farm on the outskirts of Bruton. There are a collection of galleries, a restaurant serving locally sourced food, a facility for seminars and arts events, a beautiful farmhouse to rent, a perennial meadow and, last but not least, a landscaped garden designed by Piet Oudolf.

At this time of year, the perennials are really only just showing their heads above the ground. There are some bulbs in bloom, but the focus for me really was the layout and the planning of the plants. Piet Oudolf often refers to 'matrix planting'. This is a way of planning planting, whereby a backbone of key plants, often grasses, dominate the planting and form a backbone for other plants to be woven into. This method of planning planting relies on matching the right planting to the situation, and so encouraging species to thrive. Over time the plants become embedded, and maintenance is reduced.

The plants, which I will have to return to see in full swing later in the year, include Achilleas, Echinaceas, Sedums, prairie grasses, Molinia, Euphorbia griffithii, Actaeas and Astrantias. Don't worry if this all sounds double Dutch - I will return, with my camera, later in the year, when the scence should have moved on somewhat from this....

On a smaller scale, I was delighted to see something that I am in the throes of creating myself - raised planters made from old cattle troughs. I am at the stage of filling the bottom half of mine with polystyrene, so that they are not impossibly heavy to move, so I was keen to see the planting at Hauser & Wirth.

So far, it looks like Cardoons, Heucheras, strawberries, sage and other herbs. I am planning on adding some pak choi, (to avoid the ravages of slugs), bronze fennel, thyme and bergamot. I'll keep you posted... 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Do as I say, not as I do....

So, I visited Frome Vintage Market at the weekend, and gave in to temptation and bought some plants that looked lovely. A perennial wallflower, some hyssop, bergamot, saxifrage and pink daisies. They look great together. The hyssop will work well on the edge, the wallflower gives a long season of color, while the saxifrage and daisy give colorful ground cover.

However, in a pick and mix style, I picked up one of each, with only a vague idea of where I should put them. Earlier this week, in a consultation, I was extolling the virtues of planting in groups of three or five, and repeat planting throughout the garden in order to create a sense of unity. Why don't I follow my own advice?!

What I should have done was to buy lots of each in order to repeat the planting group along the bed. Whoops.

All is not lost! I have managed to split the saxifrage and daisy into three separate plants before I planted them out. I will have to take cuttings of the wallflower, and I have just picked up a packet of hyssop seeds. Now I can sow enough hyssop to plant the low edge I had in mind, and I have high hopes that the ground cover plants will spread out and fill the gaps over the season.

Note to self - plan ahead and don't buy on impulse!