Monday, 14 November 2011

Good enough to eat - West Dean Gardens

Last month I did manage to visit one fantastic garden and on this grey, murky day I just thought I'd share some sunny photos of that day in October!

West Dean Gardens are the grounds to West Dean College in West Sussex which is a renowned College offering post-graduate and short courses in various arts, crafts and garden design. The gardens include a wonderfully restored Victorian kitchen garden. That put it on the list for a visit as part of researching my final project, a former frameyard at the National Trust's Mottisfont - see my last blog post

Visiting West Dean really brought that heyday of Victorian walled gardens to life, a time when producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers for the big house was a year round operation on a grand and energy intensive scale. At the height of exotic fruit production, having pineapples on the table was like having a Rolls on the drive. Seeing the restored glasshouses, coldframes, pits for forcing pineapples and melons and trained fruit trees at West Dean, as well as the beds packed with vegetables and cut flowers gave me a lot of inspiration.

The beautiful weather really helped - it made the glass architecture shine and all the produce look even more amazing. Here are a few photos. Definitely worth a visit and the courses there look amazing if you want something creative.

Above: gourds in wonderful and weird shapes on display. What a great word gourd is.
Above right: the fab glasshouses which I became faintly obsessed with taking pictures of. Figs are growing in the top one and a late vine still has grapes on it in the one shown below. Peaches, nectarines and the like are also grown in these wonderful buildings.

Left: I don't know what they are putting in their compost, but something is working - all the veg looks amazing. Giant everything!

Below top: the orchard in the late afternoon sun. This really inspired me for my project: I included an orchard meadow with spring bulbs and wildflowers.

Below middle: a restored pineapple pit. It would have been heated by putting manure in the trench around the edge(under the planks) and the heat would have gone through gaps in the bricks. So now you know.

Let the mild weather continue but some sunny weather please!

My mum in the Harold Peto pergola, a massive 300 feet long Edwardian masterpiece - also at West Dean

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Emerged, finally!

There has been a bit of a lapse in my blog posts. The reason is complete submersion in my two final projects for college, very different but both utterly consuming. Very little time for my garden or visits to anyone else's. Now I've emerged, just about still intact, I thought I would write just to give a flavour of the projects, see what a garden designer in training gets up to before being thrown into the big, bad world again.

Our final project has been a real privilege: to redesign part of the walled gardens at Mottisfont, a National Trust property in near Romsey in Hampshire. It's a fascinating place, and the walled gardens there are best known for housing one of the best rose collections in the world. There is part though that is fairly undeveloped now but which in its Victorian heyday was a bustling frameyard, packed with glasshouses, pineapple pits (hothouses for growing the sexiest fruit of the day), as well as beds for cut flowers, trained fruit trees etc. Our brief was open - design a contemporary garden with a nod to the history of the frameyard and Mottisfont. At 65m x 65m, the project is on a completely different scale to anything we've tackled previously. So I'll just show you a few images of the design I came up with - based on the concept of the 'lost architecture' of the frameyard and Mottisfont house, which has foundations of the original priory below the current house. For this project I used Google Sketchup a lot, which I mentioned in my last post. It is great for mocking up models and giving a background for sketching or painting over.

An overview of my proposal for The Old Frameyard - a raw Sketchup model

The garden I've designed has lots of different areas, designed to give what can be upto 3000 visitors a day a place to for exploring, relaxing in etc. Lots of the planting includes fruit, vegetables and plants used for cutting and drying, all to link back to the history of the space. There's a sunken garden inspired by the hidden foundations of the priory, a glasshouse garden, orchard, vegetable beds, seating areas and a viewing platform giving a sneak peak over the rest of the garden. So much work has gone into this but I really like the result and can just imagine now being in it!

Glasshouse garden

Sunken garden with a herb parterre and pool with rill flowing into it
I could put a lot more up here but I hope this gives you a flavour! It is all go now for our final exhibition at Chelsea Harbour on Tuesday December 13th.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A great insight to how a plant nursery ticks

It's been a while! My final term at KLC has now started and it's full steam ahead to complete the Diploma in Garden Design by December. By the way, some of my work has managed to find its way onto the KLC Diploma website I've linked to, namely hand-drawn visuals I produced for our last project at a primary school in Wimbledon. Scroll through the image slide show on the page and you'll see some of my ideas for the school's proposed new garden. The pictures are only quite small so the detail is tricky to make out but I think the essence is there. These images were presented directly to the kids so I chose a bright, bold and colourful style. Picking the right presentation style for the right project is important and it is the fun part! I love trying out new sketching styles by hand and now combined with 3D computer programs such as Google Sketchup (free to download, easy and fun to use). Also, a quick plug for our final exhibition which will be at KLC in Chelsea Harbour on Tuesday 13th December. So near and yet so far!

To my blog post subject. For most people, their first and only port of call to buy plants will be their local garden centre. Garden designers source their plants from nurseries on behalf of their clients, they don't just pop down to the local garden centre. Nurseries propogate and grow on plants, and good nursery owners are passionate and highly knowledgeable plants people who produce beautiful and healty plants. So, top tip: find a local nursery! Many are open to sell directly to the public as well as trade, and they are significantly cheaper than garden centres. They are often fairly low key and tucked away, try using the RHS Nursery Finder to hunt a local one out.

I knew this summer would be the perfect time to find out a bit more about how a nursery ticks. Some behind the scenes knowledge of how nurseries propogate plants and bring them to market is invaluable to any garden designer. Getting to nurserymen/women with specialist plant knowledge has to be a good thing too!

So with that in mind, I spent six days in August at Pioneer Plants a wonderful nursery near Letchworth in Hertfordshire. I bundled my bike on the train from Finsbury Park and cycled from Letchworth station to the small village of Willian where Pioneer is situated. (I got soaked virtually every day on that cycle ride which is testament to the state of the summer weather!)

Propogate your pinks. These Dianthus cuttings
I took at Pioneer Plants
will hopefully be strong plants by next year
Pioneer Plants - nursery near Letchworth where I spent
several days in August (many of them grey like this!)

Pioneer Plants is run by John Hoyland and Nick Downing and the nursery specialises in growing what they described as a "wide and eclectic" range of plants, mainly perennials both hardy and tender. I learnt so much from them as well as staff Delith, Rachel and Karen who are mines of information and experience. I also ate a lot of very yummy cakes, as the days spent taking cuttings, potting on growing plants and tidying up plants were punctuated by enjoyable breaks for refreshment! It really was a fun experience as well as being a very useful one for my work as a garden designer as well as my skills as a gardener - taking cuttings is actually very easy and it of course means free extra plants for the garden, not that we have any more space in ours at the moment!

Rachel tidying up a Pelargonium stock plant
ready to take cuttings - I was doing the same on the opposite
side of the bench

Delith taking cuttings of Verbena bonariensis (below), her favourite
(I think that's why she's looking so happy about it!)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

A wonderful week at Great Dixter

I'm still revelling in the experiences I had last week at Great Dixter, a magnificent garden in Sussex known for the daring, unusual and exciting planting schemes created by the late Christopher Lloyd and continued by his head garden Fergus Garrett.

It is a truly inspiring place to have spent a week working - the spirit of the garden is unique and I hope that even just a tiny bit of it will have rubbed off on me and will influence the way I approach garden design. It is a garden which looks and feels spontaneous yet it is the product of careful planning, continuous upkeep and the tireless application of a principle of 'succession planting' whereby plants (bulbs, self-sown annuals, early and later flowering perennials) replace each other in a bed to provide constant, packed interest in borders.

I was at Great Dixter with three of my classmates from KLC. Also there for a work placement was John, a trainee gardener at Hidcote in Gloucestershire, another famous English garden. I'm not sure how he really felt about being landed with us four girls for week but we certainly enjoyed his company and as well as his excellent plant knowledge and splendid attire. One evening during the week he arranged for us to visit Sissinghurst, yet another classic English garden. We had the place to ourselves and it was a wonderful experience. So here's a picture of four of us there that evening:

Back to Great Dixter. Even with my limited photographic skills I could fill pages and pages with beautiful images of the garden. All the fantastic planting combinations are set against a structure which is the backbone of the garden: the house, a series of outbuildings, and a network of clipped hedges, topiary and stone paths which divide the space into distinct areas or rooms. Here are just a few images to try and capture it:

Perhaps the most famous of Christopher Lloyd's creations in the garden is the Long Border - I had the pleasure of spending much of last Friday in there tidying, dead-heading and generally enjoying the experience of talking to visitors in the sunshine.  

I took some of my best shots early one morning when Abby and I spent a good couple of hours sweeping many of the paths in the garden. Even a seemingly mundane job like this was fun, providing a chance to get up close to the plants, admire the colours in the morning light and even take a sneaky picture or two...

 Another of the activities we got involved in was harvesting vegetables for sale to visitors at the house, for cooking in the house and for selling at the Hastings carnival street fair last Thursday. We went down there and Great Dixter stall stood out along the street with giant Gunnera leaves towering into the sky.

 Around 50,000 visitors a year come to the garden and most, if not all, will be inspired by colours, textures and shapes which they never could have imagined working together. Fergus is providing the leadership to make sure that the garden continues to be new and exciting for visitors now and we experienced first hand how he is still experimenting each year in the garden with new ideas. If they don't work, so be it, he'll try another idea next year. This was very refreshing to see!

Great Dixter is an amazing place to visit, even for those who aren't really into gardening at all. I'm not sure there are too many gardens you can say that about.  

Monday, 8 August 2011

Backyard haven

I have been away on some adventures for the last few weeks and it's high time I posted a bit about these experiences. I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Brighton getting some very valuable work experience in the studio of designer Andy Sturgeon His work is high-end and of exceptional quality, right to the very last detail of landscaping and planting. I worked on planting plans, researched design elements and styles, and rapidly improved my computer drawing skills on Vectorworks. Last week I spent 5 wonderful days working in the gardens at Great Dixter in Sussex. But more about that in my next blog post. In between these two placements I spent a fabulous week camping with Jon in the Saas valley of Switzerland. A plant-free week? Err, no - we became alpine plant and meadow geeks and have thousands of photos to show for it. A few of those will make it into a blog post by the end of the week as the combinations and habitats really were inspirational.

And so this week I am just having a couple of days to gather my thoughts (and thousands of photos) at home before heading off to get more hands-on plant experience at Pioneer Plants, a nursery near Letchworth run by plantsman and writer John Hoyland along with Nick Downing. 

I thought I might start my run of posts by putting up my latest photos of our garden in N4. Despite being a neglected in our jaunt to Switzerland, some things are thriving and I thought you might like to see some fruits of our ladder allotment - cherry toms - and some flowers looking beautiful. I'm finding it's best to concentrate on our little backyard haven when there are riots happening just a couple of miles away!
Japanese anenomes - excellent for late summer colour particularly pinks, blues and white

Our climbing Rosa 'Penny Lane' has had a new lease of life since we removed the Ceonothus from its bed - the shrub was just too big for the space and the rose and perennials are all now breathing a sigh of relief! The Ceonothus has a new home in Jon's parents' garden and it seems to be doing well so far.
Nictotiana alata 'Lime Green' with a backdrop of magenta Cosmos. The trumpet flowers of this form of tobacco plant make a great company for many brightly coloured perennials