Saturday, 31 October 2009

Planting Plans: Looking for Inspiration

I am often asked where do you start with a design. This is a tricky question as I have had relatively little training in this area - I originally designed by trial and (lots of) error like most people who garden do. It is only in recent years that I have designed more formally for clients. Obviously, when working, my first concern is that the garden is suitable for the owners lifestyle, whether it should be formal or low maintenance or more complex. This post is about what I find the most exciting part - the plants.

Inspiration for planting is easy for me. I began by looking at nature and trying to emulate it, not always with a natural 'wild' look but more by texture and colour. Over the years, this has developed to include anything from furnishings to paint colour charts to pebbles on the beach..... The photo below show how sunsets (which are always full of amazing colour combinations) in the mountains inspired an herbaceous border.

Sometimes it seems as if flowers have inspired the sunsets! Here is the rose Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis' trying to outdo another mountain sunset. This rose starts with the most intense pink bud and, as the flower fades, turns to the softest apricot, ending up with this wonderful colour combination.

This old mossy wall was the starting point for a mini parterre - the 'moss' is made from the box (boxwood) framework, the 'stones' from variegated Iris and Cotton Lavender. The wall reminds me of our garden wall in the secret valley (Sunday 20th September 2009) but this one is in north Wales and is a hard, cool grey and silver granite unlike our soft, mellow Cotswold stone. This planting is tiny compared to the usual grand parterre designs and has been used to link two levels of a small garden.

I found this reproduction plate in a second hand shop. It became the inspiration for this blue and white border in an old walled garden. It would never have occurred to me to be so sparing with the red (or to put any red at all into a blue and white garden) but the plate told me otherwise. This planting is a combination of delphinium, tall aconitum and two salvias - the dark salvia nemerosa and the taller, whitish salvia sclarea var. turkestanica. The dots of red are just our native wild poppy which I use quite a lot in my gardens although care has to be taken not to let them run riot.

So let your imagination take you where it will. Sometimes the combinations don't work but, more often than not, there will be some exciting discoveries to be made and a lot of fun will be had along the way. And make sure you tell me all about them......

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Monday, 26 October 2009

Blowing Your Own Trumpet.....

Regular followers of this blog may have read one I posted in September discussing reasons why I love living in the Cotswold Hills - Three Very Special Cotswold Reasons: Thursday 24th September 2009. This was developed from an idea suggested by The Guardian in conjunction with the English tourist board, enjoyEngland.

To my amazement and delight
, they have selected this blog as just one of ten to feature on their website. The link is

So thank you to all
my readers and especially my regular followers for encouraging me to keep writing. Your feedback is especially welcome.

........high above the secret valley........

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Sunday, 25 October 2009

What a Load of Rubbish!

Recently, I visited a waste recycling centre - what would have been called, until recently, a rubbish tip. But it isn't just political correctness that has brought about this change of name: once not so long ago, this would have ended up in a landfill site, whereas now it is composted on an industrial scale and the resulting material is worth its weight in gold.

Green waste from the garden, as well as other material that will rot down, is brought by lorry to the site and piled up in long lines - windrows -stretching into the distance. The size of these heaps dwarf the heavy machinery used to move it.
Unlike the compost heaps of our gardens, the temperatures that are built up destroy all harmful bacteria, noxious weed roots and seeds, resulting in a clean, fertile and very marketable resource. The compost shown here is destined to be spread on fields and has made a significant reduction to the amount of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers being used on the farm, so there is a double positive effect to the environment.

This method of composting can be recreated on a smaller scale. The compost heap below belongs to a large garden which produces a lot of garden waste, whether from flowers and vegetables, from leaves or from the sheep which help to keep the grass low.

The result is the same: although the temperature does not reach the same height as with the industrial scale, the compost quality is excellent.

These timber compost bins, with removeable fronts, I make for my own garden as well as those of clients. Ideal for the smaller plot, they last for years, and keep the heaps tidy and easily managed. For smaller gardens still, there are numerous plastic compost containers...., there is no excuse! Get composting and help the environment as well as saving money on all those expensive bags of fertiliser.....

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Monday, 12 October 2009

Exmoor - at it's best

Followers of this blog may have noticed a gap - I have been away on Exmoor. How I love that place! First visited just over 40 years ago, it seems to be an unchanging landscape, partly due to it being one of England's National Parks. Of course, there are changes but they do not seem to have altered the character of the place much and the changes are subtle - removal of signposts to (I assume) dissuade drivers from taking their cars down impossibly steep roads and over almost impossibly narrow bridges. And, up on the high moor, passing and parking places for cars are slightly larger to allow for an increase in visitors.

October on Exmoor saw weather changes from day to day: one moment mists, another driving rain and cold winds but, more often than not, warm sunshine. How many times do walkers get fooled into wandering on the moor only to find the mists creeping up the deep coombes (as the valleys are called here) before spreading out across the wider, open spaces where landmarks are few and bogs many? To my knowledge, deaths in the bogs only happen in fiction but a cold plunge to chest height in sticky, peaty water and a twisted ankle miles from anywhere has the potential to be fatal. The wild ponies of Exmoor are one of Britain's oldest native breeds and survive all year finding their feed on the moor. During this month they are gathered up by the local landowners and checked over, branded and the foals weaned. These are normally sold at the annual, local pony sales although this year, for various reasons, the sales have been cancelled leaving a gap in the social calendar, for the sales are one of the great meeting places of the widely scattered population. Another meeting point is the local hunt. On Exmoor, there are packs of staghounds as well as fox, for the moors are one of the few places where the Red Deer still run wild in England. With the change of law, only two hounds now hunt the deer, the unfortunate creature having been selected by the Harbourer - a local person who knows both the deer and the moor inside out. Once the correct deer has been found and separated from the rest of the herd, the beast is shot. This is a necessary culling as the population is continually increasing to the detriment of both the moor and the deer themselves. Hunting is becoming ever more pouplar as the crowds and cars, pictured, prove. As soon as the hunt moves off across the moor the crowds get left behind and, with the hunt hidden deep in the coombe, the moor seems deserted once again.
More on Exmoor to follow.....
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