Falling for a view

I may be a Yorkshire-woman by birth, but my heart has been in the West Country since I first visited 40 years ago. Living close to the coast has always been a dream, not only for the beauty and the wildness; but also for the opportunity to grow some more unusual plants in the milder coastal conditions. IMG_1343.jpgSo excitement was high in June as I left behind what had been my base for most of my adult life and headed to the South Hams of Devon to set up a new home and garden advice business. What is more, for the first time in my life I owned a garden bigger than a postage stamp! One third of an acre of garden, orchard and woodland perched high above the Avon Valley near Kingsbridge. The sensational views across the valley which put us on birds-eye level and make me sometimes feel I am living in a tree-house, also come with a very steeply sloping garden in places. IMG_1356.jpg

The garden finishes just beyond the lonesome Pine in this photo, most of which is hidden as the slope drops off quickly beyond the Rose hedge which is just coming into flower in this photo taken the week after we arrived.IMG_1142.jpg

We started with the veggie garden which had been rather neglected.DSC_0132.jpgLevelling an area to build a greenhouse and shed, and turning over the soil ready for creating a fruit and veg garden as soon as possible

IMG_1158.jpgIMG_1253.jpgNote the water butts and the compost bins, crucial elements of sustainable gardening. I are committed to gardening organically and always encourage my clients to do the same. Other improvements have included building new steps to the main lawn using sleepers and slate chippings

.IMG_1323.jpgIMG_1365.jpgThe borders either side will become a tapestry of ferns, Hellebores, and other textural woodland perennials. Here are a mixture ready to be planted.IMG_4520.jpg

We have also started to renovate the mini orchard by mowing paths through the rough grass and planting apples, pears and plums. Wild flower plugs and spring bulbs for naturalisation will also go in this autumn.IMG_1327.jpg

The moist, mild west country climate is perfect for Hydrangeas and here are a few that have graced the garden for the last 3 months. I think I might just have fallen in love with their generosity of flower as they tumble down the slopes; some a little blowsy, others very elegant. They will need a little extra pruning in spring to bring them back under control as you can see!IMG_1207.jpgIMG_1206.jpgIMG_1205.jpgRoses also seem to thrive in the conditions here. The previous owner of our house trained these Ramblers beautifully over a low fence.IMG_1148.jpgI purposely did not deadhead the Roses as they faded as I knew we would have an amazing show of hips too if I left them alone.  And we have.


The joy of my new garden is the mixture of habitats and conditions, each suiting different types of plants and planting styles, and the wonderful countryside surrounding us. Creating a garden which acknowledges all of this and sits comfortably as a foreground to the view is going to be a lot of fun. Oh, and here is my neighbour, Fudge. He keeps an eye on what I am up to over the fence!





Oudolf Field, Hauser and Wirth, Somerset

How exciting to hear that there was a major new contemporary garden designed by Piet Oudolf opening in Somerset in September 2014 around the Hauser and Wirth Gallery.      www.hauserwirthsomerset.com/garden  Luckily, I had plans to attend a couple of workshops run by Thornhayes Nursery in Devon at the end of September so could visit on my way down there, shortly after it had opened.DSC_0003

Hauser & Wirth Somerset is a pioneering world-class gallery and multi-purpose arts centre, which acts as a destination for experiencing art, architecture and the Somerset landscape through new and innovative exhibitions of contemporary art. (So say H & W!) And I have to say it is a remarkable place and well worth a visit. Beautiful grade II listed farm buildings which had fallen into disrepair have been converted into various stylish galleries and public spaces, bar and restaurant and surrounded by gardens designed by Piet Oudolf. I loved the whole concept, which was that the buildings, garden and exhibition spaces expressed the spirit of the old farm. Agricultural drinking troughs were used as containers for perennials around the restaurant and metal sheep feeding troughs found new life as a sink in the ladies loo!DSC_0037

Oudolf’s Field lies at the back of the complex and blends with the surrounding Somerset countryside beautifully. It covers 1.5 acres and is billed as a perennial meadow.

DSC_0005As you can see when I first emerged from the gallery this is the effect given by the dense planting. Once I began to explore, however, I discovered that the planting is divided into interlocking borders with gravel paths between. I felt as though I was disappearing into the tall, airy planting; a lovely feeling of seclusion. A shallow pond references the dew ponds that would probably have been created to water the livestock on the farm in the past.DSC_0009There are around 26,000 herbaceous perennials of over 100 varieties and my camera was snapping away capturing the best  of Pete’s tasty and tasteful plant combinations. DSC_0012 DSC_0023 DSC_0046A fascinating exhibition of Piet Oudolf’s planting plans was running in one of the galleries. I think all garden designers love to see how other designers present their plans particularly for gardens that they have seen,DSC_0003 so that was a real opportunity to gain insight into how Piet puts his schemes together. I am glad to see he is a pen, paper and drawing board man!

I was lucky enough to encounter the Head Gardener whilst I was strolling around and had a chat about what it is like to look after a garden like this. Within 2 or 3 years he will be digging up, dividing and replanting three quarters of the perennials. They were planted densely for instant effect so will soon become congested and need thinning out. That will be quite a task!DSC_0015 DSC_0016 DSC_0017Within the gallery is a more intimate cloister garden planted with Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’, Molinia ‘Moorhexe’ and Seslaria autumnalis woven through with Baptisia and Astrantia ‘Venice’DSC_0031 DSC_0032

It is free to visit the gallery and garden which is open again from the 12th of January 2015. I plan to follow it through the year to see how the planting looks in each season. Hundreds of bulbs were going in for spring, and if you look at photos on the website now you will see how well the borders look in winter. This garden is a real inspiration for anyone who enjoys contemporary and informal planting.

Gardens on the drawing board

DSC_0012It really is time I dusted off this blog after an embarrassingly long period of neglect. The end of the year is rushing to meet me so this seems a suitable time to take a look at what has been on my drawing board over the last few weeks. But first, I wanted to share photos I took of my garden this very frosty morning. The structure in winter is created by leaving the seed heads on all the perennials and grasses until they become battered or flattened. I also have some evergreens in there to contain all that froth.DSC_0021Some stalwarts such as Rudbeckia and Stipa gigantea are still looking perky in March, but with most things I have a careful chopping-back session towards the end of February. Watch out for over-wintering beneficial insects as you go…they will often have made a cosy bed amongst the papery stems.DSC_0019I also left some apples on the espaliers around our tiny veggy patch for the birds. Their cheerful orange glow lights up that part of the garden like christmas decorations!

So back to the drawing board. Actually that should be ‘boards’ as I have two. One is a massive A0-sized board which is reputed to have been used by BAC at Filton in the 1960’s to design Concorde! It certainly is a serious piece of vintage equipment which lives out its retirement helping me design my larger garden projects. For the last couple of months I have been working on a North Bedfordshire country garden surrounding a stone cottage undergoing major renovations. In its time, this garden must have been very well loved and cared for (and will be again once building work is over) with some interesting shrubs and trees still surviving. One of my favourites is this Clerodendron trichotomum var fargesiiDSC_0026Coppery young foliage, fragrant white flowers and these crazy metallic blue berries in autumn. The owners have worked very hard to reclaim and maintain the best of the original garden and it is my job to help them enhance these fragments and turn them into a coherent design. This will be a family garden of four main parts. A sunny, contemporary courtyard enfolded by the two main wings of the cottage will be built first.

DSC_0006Here is my Concept board for this area of the garden. The ‘before’ photo and the ‘after’ sketch along with the ‘mood’ photos help the client to visualise my ideas. This was presented along with a scaled Concept Plan. This contemporary design will contrast with the character cottage and with the more traditional style of the remaining garden. Three other areas include the main dining terrace with stone-faced raised beds at sitting height, a large area of grass for children’s play behind a curved Beech hedge and a small area of woodland.DSC_0007I presented the Concept before christmas so am waiting whilst clients consider the detail over the holiday. Once I have the go ahead, then the Master Plan and the specifications will be drawn up and quotes can be obtained from Landscape Contractors for construction of stage one.

On my smaller A1 drawing board I have been working on a garden in West Yorkshire that wraps around three sides of a modern stone house. It is very important that this garden is accessible to a powered wheel-chair with some awkward level changes to contend with. Raised beds will bring plants up to nose height and make gardening less challenging. Although we are in the suburbs of Huddersfield here, attracting wildlife into the garden will be important with a small pond, a Silver Birch, feeding stations for birds and a wide variety of bee-friendly plantsDSC_0004DSC_0003I plan to complete Master Plan and Specifications by mid-Jan and we hope to have the build completed and planted up by early summer.

Beyond this, I will be making site visits to inspect the progress of the building of a water-garden in SW Northants and looking forward to planting up a cottage garden for a very talented Leicestershire designer-maker in April. Bring on the New Year!