The Waiting is Over – I’m Getting a Garden!

Tomorrow, 1 August 2011, my landscaping team arrive to make a start on our garden… finally!

I’ve had to wait even tantalisingly longer than expected whilst they finished a six week client build for me then went on to RHS Tatton to build a show garden for Alexandra Froggatt, a finalist in this year’s ‘Young Designer of the Year’ (Silver Gilt).

But now the waiting is over! And this is how I feel!

In my last post I talked about the background to it all and gave a brief description of the design.  Unfortunately and typically, I don’t have a drawing I can show you. What I gave my landscaper was slightly better than a ‘back of a fag packet’ drawing, but not much!  But it was to scale and based on my survey, so we should be ok!

So then, for posterity, here are a few ‘before’ pictures…

The plants in the pots that you can see are pretty much all I have, but the green beech hedge planted in March 2010 is looking pretty good now – though a few plants never made it from dormant whip to flourishing plant, so will have to be replaced this winter.

My Other Half will be glad to see the back of what some may call a lawn but is actually no better than field grass.  The lawnmower (which is on its last legs) is going to the tip. The new design has no lawn – OH is ecstatic!

The old patio was lovingly built by my OH 11 years ago. There will be no formal patio in the new design – we’re using large chunks of re-claimed York stone set in gravel and, as it will be lower than existing, a new step from the patio doors.

The objects on pallets in the foreground are a solid stone birdbath , which will be a central feature and two solid stone planters to go either side of a , yet unsourced, bench at the bottom of the garden.  I got them in the Foras sale a while back.  I’d originally planned a central, working water feature but struggled to find anything I liked or liked and could afford (!) and wanted to keep costs down because our neighbouring farmer can be unpredictable and we plan to move house at some point.

Talking of the farmer.. this week we were due to get the communal drive at the front of the house resurfaced but it’s now happening  tomorrow instead. Typical!  Thankfully the farmer has agreed to let us put the skip just behind our rear hedge on his land, phew! Nice farmer. Not unpredicatable at all… lovely chap!

So there you have it. Some decisions, like whether I have any extra detail in the paths and do or don’t have a plinth for the birdbath will be decided as we go along. As will the addition of any archways or features to provide height and a framework for climbers.

It’s a well-worn blog phrase, but…. watch this space!


My Garden – The Emperor’s Getting Some Clothes!

For many years I have lacked something rather essential. Like a chef with no ingredients or a carpenter with no wood, I have been a garden designer with no garden! This was not only frustrating but also made me feel like the archetypal Emperor with no clothes.

When I say ‘no garden’ I have had a garden of sorts; that is, a north-facing flat rectangle 8m wide by 16m long. When I moved here 4 years ago it had a past-its-best patio, scruffy boundary fences, overgrown uninspiring, un-renovatable shrubs on 2 sides and a solitary hawthorn tree blocking a lovely view.  Although we live next to a busy A-road, as you can see below we have great rural views and lots of mature trees and hedgerows nearby.

We actually did make a start in March 2010, fully intending to get it landscaped that spring.  I was incredibly excited!  We had the hawthorn felled; it was not only blocking a view and light but was touching overhead electricity cables. It made me sad in one sense to see it go and deeply guilty for evicting an almost-fledged wood pigeon baby.  But to my great relief, the youngster soon flew off to join its mother in a nearby sycamore.

A 'before' shot of my garden, minus the hawthorn tree

Next my landscaping team removed the tatty old fences, dug out the hawthorn stump and roots, installed new timber fencing to the boundary with our neighbour (which we painted dark green),  and unobtrusive post & wire fencing to the other boundaries and, joy of  joys, planted a green beech hedge.  Well it wasn’t green at the time but it is now if you get my drift.

Cleared garden with new beech hedging


New left hand boundary fence & end view of copse beyond

The rest of the landscaping work was due to start in May 2010 but then there was a totally unexpected and disturbing development.  See that lovely space and copse beyond the end of our garden above? Well the farmer owner built and opened a farm shop just to the left of it and put chickens, ducks and pigs on that piece of land. We literally had a pig sty at the end of our garden! There were a lot of other belligerent farmer shenanigans that I won’t bore you with that led to us putting the landscaping on hold to await developments.  A particular low point was when there were at least 12 cockerels on said land driving us to distraction with their incessant crowing; not the best when you work from home as we do.  Other neighbours of ours complained, the farmer locked them up in a coop and left them there for two weeks; cue the RSPCA.  It was a dark time.

Fast forward to May 2011

There is great news!  The farmer has realised that pi**ing-off his immediate neighbours isn’t the best idea; the pigs are no more (probably literally I’m afraid) the cockerels were removed (we know not whence – don’t like to think about it) and the chickens and ducks have been moved to another area that has a stream, which is lovely for the duckies. Although the farmer is pumping water from the stream almost certainly without the required licence.  He’ s not one for bothering with trifles, like planning permission and all that other annoying red tape. However we are now on friendly speaking terms and he is growing nice quiet well-behaved vegetables on the area beyond our garden. The local rabbit population loves it!

So here we are again about to get our garden landscaped, as soon as my landscaper has finished on my client’s garden in around 7 days.  I can’t quite believe it’s going to happen.  I have simplified the original plans and specification so that it’s less expensive than it would have been before, just in case it all goes horribly pear- or pig-shaped again.

It’s a simple, symetrical design with central and side axes  (kind of celtic cross shaped), with four beds (rectangles with internal  angled corners) set in antique-looking brick and gravel paths with a central octagonal area that will have a simple stone bird bath, probably with box hedging planted around it.  A new patio area near the house, made from large pieces of reclaimed York stone set in gravel and a bench at the far end flanked either side by stone planters.

I will probably incorporate some arches or other vertical elements but that’s the beauty of doing your own garden; unlike designing for a client you don’t have to visualise the entire thing and decide on everything at once.

And, with apologies in advance to keen grow-your-own’ers, if the worst should come to the worst, I can always join the farmer and just grow veg in it!

A Rebirth of ‘Arts & Crafts’ or ‘Going Green’?

I recently attended a Garden Design & Landscaping seminar focussing on what seems to be the hot topic of the moment – sustainability. Here’s a pretty Venn diagram showing a model for sustainable development.

After hearing from ‘Scotscape’ about green walls, from ‘Allturf’ on green roofs, wildflower turf  and a really long talk by a ‘Marshalls’ representative desperately trying to convince us of how ‘green’ their products are – with pictures of acres and acres of block paving, at last the product sales pitches ended and we were treated to an excellent talk by the designer, Sarah Eberle.  If you’ve never heard her speak, I can recommend it as a dynamic, entertaining and thought-provoking experience!

Sarah suggested that garden designers are, by definition, pretty ‘green’. We plant lots of green stuff.  She also mentioned the use of local products and local artisans; something that all garden design students learn about.  We all know for instance that local stone is far more congruous in a garden design than stone that has been shipped thousands of miles around the globe; not to mention more ethical and sustainable.

Sarah also touched on the Arts & Crafts movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Which got me thinking about the link between the current emphasis on sustainability and the resurgence of interest in local crafts and all things ‘hand-made’.  ‘Bespoke’ is the ‘mot du jour’; ‘bespoke’ is very trendy indeed. And Acoustic, folks, is the new electric!

A few decades ago, learning a new craft was pretty much limited to pottery classes (RIP all those pottery wheels & kilns) and being made to wear a jumper hand-knitted by your mother rather than a shop-bought one could lead to merciless teasing by your peers. ‘Global warming’ was unheard of and townies growing their own were viewed with much amusement, as portrayed by Tom & Barbara’s enthusiastic dedication to ‘The Good Life’  But more recently there has been a veritable explosion in courses like woodcraft, willow-weaving, hedge-laying, bee-keeping and much, much more. And these days if you ‘grow your own’ you’re more likely to be viewed as a bit of a hero rather than as quaintly eccentric. In fact it has given rise to a new form of guilt in those of us who don’t. I’d better not even mention the ‘O’ word!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the point of this blog.

In terms of garden materials, out are pink and yellow chequerboard concrete patios (remember them?!) and in are natural products and locally sourced, hand-crafted items. In a garden design I’m currently working on we have commissioned a local oak craftsman to design and build an oak gazebo and pergola and some local willow growers/weavers to make a willow play house and obelisks.  The crafts people concerned are a total delight to deal with, their products are beautiful and the whole process is enriching and fascinating.

The Arts & Crafts design movement, amongst other things, was a kick-back against the rapid expansion of industrialisation and mass-produced goods.   Is the current renaissance in locally made, hand-crafted products born  of  a similar dissatisfaction? Or does it owe more to the the call to arms.. or rather the call to spades, to live greener more sustainable lives? Is it even an expression of our ever-growing fear that if we don’t learn how to live and look after ourselves without a reliance on oil and fossil fuels our days could be seriously numbered?

Whatever the reasons I for one think our lives and our designs are all the better for it.

And if you now feel desperate to learn an ancient (!) craft and make something by hand; here’s a little instructional video for you 😉

The Power of the Click – Why I Love Social Networking!

I’m a recent convert to and now a big fan of social networking – verging on the evangelical! And this is the story of how it led to my first professional garden design job.

Around the same time that I started out as a garden designer I happened to join Twitter, initially to follow my favourite music artist. I was very sceptical about social networking (having dubbed Facebook ‘Faceache’) and at the beginning found Twitter a bit of a puzzle and thought ‘what’s the point!? So I started by following celebs I like, yes, including Stephen Fry (no link necessary!) However I’m by no means a technophobe – I love my iPhone – look at this cool app! – and rapidly started following and being followed by lots of lovely people from the ‘gardening world’. And my goodness, what a big world it is!

Twitter, which I now see as a wonderful gateway to all kinds of possibilities and connections, led me to some ‘garden’ networking sites, like The Garden Network and Landscape Juice, both of which I joined.

I introduced myself on these sites and received a very warm welcome. Shortly after, Sue Davis, a lovely local garden designer contacted me to offer her support asking if I’d like to meet for a coffee. She is a very successful designer with ten years experience in the industry. We exchanged a few emails and then met up at a local garden nursery. Sue was, and still is, so generous with her time, sharing of information, tips and support and we have become good friends.

In turn, Sue put me in touch with Rob Dulson, a local landscaper. Rob and I had a chat on the phone, got on really well and decided to meet for a coffee. But before we could do that Rob called me one evening about a prospective rear garden design job for some clients he was already in touch with, asking if I could meet them the following evening! GULP!

Now this is where things got a bit surreal. The next evening I met Rob, who let’s face it was a total stranger , in a Waitrose car park (classy at least) 30 minutes before going to the client meeting; “Look for a bright green van” was all I knew. Rob and I exchanged notes, briefly discussed our mutual approach and I followed his ‘bright green van’ to the clients’ house.

Rob already knew the clients, having done a front garden design for them. The meeting went very well indeed, no questions were asked about our connection (phew! that would have been a difficult one to explain) and I got the job!!!

How the job went will be the subject of a future post. But is it any wonder that I’m such a fan of social networking?! I am now working on my second professional garden design that also came as a lead from the generous Sue Davis, I really can’t thank her enough!

So Sue, this post is dedicated to you with my deepest gratitude for being such a generous person and valued friend. And of course to Rob, The Garden Network, Landscape Juice and last but not least Twitter!

Drawing a Plan of Veddw Garden – Part 2

We arrived at the Veddw to a wonderfully warm welcome from Anne…….
Over a cold drink on the patio we discussed our plan of action for plotting the layout of the garden onto my basic plan. This process would have been a lot faster if I hadn’t kept stopping to look at the garden and talk to Anne about it, but it was impossible to resist. It would also have been more efficient if I had any sense of direction and orientation! Thankfully Beloved does, I’m told it’s a ‘man thing’, so he was mostly able to keep Anne and me on track. On Saturday afternoon we covered as much of the garden as the scorching weather and our addled brains would allow. Where did that path go? How many steps were there?…..

Our hard work was rewarded by a perfect summer’s evening in an idyllic setting in the fantastic company of Anne & Charles, with lovely food, courtesy of Anne, rather a lot of wine and a bottle of champagne. I can’t remember the details, so it must have been good!

The next day, which was surprisingly hangover-free and fuelled with Anne’s bacon sarnies, we set off to plot the rest of the garden. Unbelievably the weather was even hotter and I got bitten by a huge Horse Fly with enormous teeth; I suffer for my art, I really do!

That afternoon I was really sad to leave the Veddw. The garden had really got into my soul and I’d have been happy to stay forever. Unfortunately Beloved wanted to get home for that (dreadful) England World Cup match, so we said a reluctant goodbye.

Once home I had to make sense our jottings to progress the plan. Another hurdle was getting information from Anne’s publisher on what size and format was suitable for publication but they hadn’t even decided what size the book was going to be! In the end I didn’t get precise information until very late in the process, so I just had to hope that what I was doing was suitable; it was rather nerve wracking and still is we’ve not seen the finished result yet! But they did ask for no text to be included in the event that the book is published in foreign languages, so I produced a transparent overlay.

I then made a start on the finished plan, in ink on tracing paper. Occasionally I emailed Anne and Charles with teasing previews….

Having completed the ink drawing, which seemed to take forever, I had it copied and started the colour rendering process. And here’s the finished result. (It’s slightly off kilter because of the way it was scanned. Click on image for larger size.)

How I Came to Draw a Plan of Veddw House Garden – Part 1

I first came across Anne Wareham on Twitter around six months ago. Initially I found her rather formidable but there was also great humour, a questioning nature of perceived garden wisdom and a passion for well-designed gardens that kept me following her tweets and sent me a-clicking to her website

Her garden was a revelation!  Up to then I have to admit to having been shamefully unaware of Veddw House Garden and was extremely disappointed that it had never been mentioned on my garden design course; an unforgivable oversight in my opinion!  I have since made my ex-tutor aware, suggesting that garden design students would benefit hugely from a trip to Veddw. Not to mention the tutors!

Anyway, that’s how I came across Anne’s tweet asking if anyone fancied ‘sexing up’ the plan of her garden. I was intrigued and rather impetuously I told her I’d be happy to give it a go. Impetuous as in I’d only drawn two garden designs, having just learnt technical drawing on my garden design course! I thought Anne only wanted the plan for a visitor leaflet which was partly true but, when we spoke on the phone, I was shocked to lean that she also wanted it to go in the front of her forthcoming book, ‘The Bad Tempered Gardener’ and on her new, soon to be launched website. To say I felt deeply inadequate at this point is a vast understatement! I remember asking Anne if she wouldn’t prefer someone to do a CAD drawing. I think she replied; ‘What’s CAD?’ But she felt and I agree, that a hand-drawn plan has more character and soul. It was a delight to talk to Anne who seemed genuinely excited at the prospect of having a plan drawn for her. I, on the other hand, was shaking in my size 5½ boots!

As Veddw garden is so large and by no means flat, it would have been almost impossible to survey it and draw the plan to exact scale, so Anne sent me a copy of a basic plan she had done, an aerial photograph taken in 2005 and a disc full of wonderful photos taken by her garden photographer husband, Charles Hawes I also managed to obtain a decent Google Earth image that I got enlarged.

With these resources available, I used the Google image as my basis, tracing over as much of the garden as I could see. But the problem was that not all of the garden was visible due to the surrounding tree canopy and shadows cast and Anne had also made some changes to the garden since 2005. The garden layout is complex and we concluded that I would have to see it ‘in the flesh’ in order to make sense of it all on paper, so Anne & Charles invited us to visit. Hurrah!

On a scorching weekend last June, armed with my basic plan taped to a clipboard and plenty of bottles of wine, Beloved and I set off on the 150 mile journey to the Veddw.

Coming soon, Part 2 in which lots of wine is consumed and a plan begins to emerge.

New Beginnings, or the Slightly Painful Birth of a Garden Designer

Designing gardens is a relatively new thing in my life. I had reached ‘that point’ where the combination of disillusionment with my chosen path, a certain maturity in years and an increasing sense of mortality, resulted in a deep desire to do something I actually enjoyed, that might even be fulfilling and in a ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ attitude. Some, I suppose, would call this a mid-life crisis.  And when I say ‘chosen path’ what I actually mean is office administration, or, the path-that-chose-me-when-I-wimped-out-in-my-teens-and-didn’t-follow-my-dream-to-go-to-drama-school.  In practical terms, this new beginning became a possibility when, a few years ago, I moved from the Midlands to Cheshire to be with my Beloved.

Thus, armed with nothing more than an artistic nature and a love for gardens, but no background in gardening beyond amateur pottering, and the massive convenience of having a very good Land-Based College on my doorstep I decided to investigate the possibilities.  Initially I enquired about a workshop; I think it was ‘Planting Hanging Baskets’, which led to sending for a prospectus, attending an open evening and signing up for a Professional Diploma in Garden Design. Yes I know, slightly more ambitious than a workshop on hanging baskets; which, incidentally, was cancelled due to lack of interest, so I still don’t know how to plant one.  <Wink>

So I embarked on the course with a huge sense of trepidation, a new pink pencil case and the obligatory ring binder. My expectations were that I would enjoy it but also be pretty bad at it. Not a particularly happy prospect suffering, as I do, from a terrifying fear of failure. However I unearthed a hitherto buried passion for garden design, some talent I didn’t know I had and acquired some new skills.  These, combined with a very competitive group of mature students, tons of hard work, tons of books (why are gardening books so heavy?!), lots of blood, sweat, tears and red wine (ok, maybe not the blood) resulted in me gaining the Diploma with Distinctions in all modules. I’m still pinching myself.

At this juncture I would like to thank my sponsor, Beloved, for his very deep pockets, his endless patience, encouragement and never-wavering belief in me. Not to mention his willingness to be dragged round endless gardens whilst being indoctrinated with the principles of garden design and to hold the end of the tape when I’m doing a survey.

I started practicing as a garden designer in April this year and feel even tinier than the tiniest of fish in a vast ocean full of very big, much more talented fish. I have re-designed our own garden which is awaiting completion, am working on my second professional design and have also completed a fascinating commission to draw a plan of a ‘well known garden’ owned and designed by one of the ‘talented big fish’ to appear in her ‘forthcoming best-selling book’, more of which in my next blog.

Since gaining my Diploma I have also completed RHS 2 to gain more knowledge of plants and horticulture. I’m beginning to feel less daunted, in no little part due to the amazing support of the online gardening community, who are a lovely bunch, on the whole. And a lot of them are seasoned bloggers, so I hope they’ll treat my first offering with gentleness and honesty; after all, both are attributes that I come across time after time in my interaction with them.