Here we are in July, and already I’ve said ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to some of my favourite plants. Continue reading “Battle Worn”
What makes a good garden design? The floral display? Hard structures? Or the ambience of the space? With so much choice, materials, inspirations and established methods, garden design can be like Pandora’s Box. Once you start on this creative process, it can be overwhelming.
Once again, flower shows across the land are upon us. With RHS Malvern Spring Festival only last week, RHS Chelsea Flower Show is close on its heels in late May, and gardeners, suppliers and designers are busy buzzing around to get their displays perfect, not only through the design but also in the timing. It always amazes me how these horticulturalists manage to get their flowers, shrubs and vegetables looking at their best for those few days. Whether they’re in season or not, the amount of preparation, resources and time it takes is phenomenal.
Although these shows can mean a mass of people, they’re also places where people are a little nicer, a little more friendly and a little more patient. We’re mostly gardeners, and as such we move at a slower pace. But that’s only because our senses are taking in every colour, texture and smell. We are finely tuned receivers, who have come together to share. And as someone who has to face the daily commuting hell in and out of London, this rare sense of harmony in the city is most welcome.
As the years go by, and my experience and knowledge grows, so have my tastes changed. Of course, what I like may not appeal to someone else. Whilst studying for my RHS Level 2 certificates last year, I was introduced to garden design, from linear site survey to plant design, colour palettes to informal gardens; the secrets of those elusive show garden designers, were now spilling before my keen eyes.
There’s so much out there for a budding gardener to be inspired by. Last year, Dan Pearson, who took both Gold and Best in Show at RHS Chelsea Flower, for his Chatsworth Garden, was a big inspiration for me. I love his designs, and have since been reading up on his work, his attitude to horticulture and what inspires him.
From my back garden to my front garden, and even the allotment, I’d like to say all flowers, shrubs and vegetables have been selected by design. However, I’d be lying. Much of it has been the gentle touch of Mother Nature, weaving something beautiful from the chaos.
I’ve said it before, but one day I’m hoping for a spot at one of these shows. As a small player alongside the big boys and girls, I’d love to prove that even a very amateur gardener like myself can hold his own when it comes to garden design.
With the clocks going forward last weekend, my journeys to and from work are now almost tolerable again. With the lighter evenings, I can see spring wildlife and fresh growth emerging alongside the railway embankments; a sight I sorely need, as travelling into the big smoke is getting more and more of a chore. However, as someone who tries to take a positive spin on things, I recently put this glorious sight to good use.
Earlier this year, BBC local radio and the RHS joined forces to launch a garden competition to design a ‘feel good’ front garden. Four designs would be chosen, with the winning designers given the opportunity to create their garden for this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. This was a fantastic opportunity I couldn’t pass up on. After all, I have a genuine dream of designing a garden for a prodigious flower show; it was like the gardening gods were trying to tell me something!
We live in an old railway worker’s cottage, from which I commute everyday into London. The railway has been central to the life of my village since 1837. But aside from its practical purpose, it’s also an alleyway for nature, with wildlife thriving along the track from the countryside to the heart of the city. Although initially the railway construction had a devastating effect on the countryside, it was short-lived. Nature always finds a way to reclaim its territory. Today’s railway line is living proof of this, with the Buddleja growing between the tracks to the Russian Vine tumbling over the fences.
When commuting, I often catch fellow passengers looking for a moment’s escape as they stare idly out of the window. Distracted by something blooming on the embankment, I see their face soften for a moment. There’s something uplifting about seeing wild flowers thrive in a harsh urban environment, and these types of plants can be easily incorporated into a garden design. They’re inexpensive, relatively low maintenance, and beloved by wildlife. Combining these plants with authentic railway features (tracks, sleepers, luggage trolley), I wanted to create a railway-inspired garden.
My plant list incorporated the wild plants that grow along railway lines/embankments as well as traditional cottage gardens. These plants benefit wildlife, such as bees and butterflies. Fruit trees are often growing on embankments; I incorporated two varieties native to my area. As espaliers, they have a linear look, which I thought would work with the vertically spaced sleepers.
The plants (full list here) have a gentle palette, to encourage calm and relaxation. This would be a place to stop (like a train) and think. Not only would a visitor lose themselves in the colour and design of the garden, but also in the sounds, from the buzzing bees and other insects. My list incorporates plants seen in late spring/early summer.
Entering the garden, the pathway replicates a railway line. Sleepers have faded to an almost washed out grey. The tracks (decayed and rusted) are embedded into the ground, reaching the White Clover, they’re totally submerged. The path brickwork (aged and worn) represents bricked railway terraced houses, built in our area from 1880s onwards.
There’s a slight incline on either side of the path, levelling out towards both the bench and apple trees, to represent railway embankments.
All furniture used is Victorian, pointing to the construction era of the railway line. I have incorporated a wooden railway porters luggage trolley upon which some battered Victorian luggage spills out trailing ivy.
A wooden bench is positioned parallel to the path, representing a platform, with broken brickwork reaching out to it.
The front of of the garden displays a broken iron railway trolley. On an angled slant, the front left wheel is embedded into the ground. It doesn’t have decking, allowing Buddejla to grow up through it.
Either side of the garden at varying heights are railway sleepers, vertically planted, worn to an almost grey colour. A gap between each sleeper allows light through, representing the juxtaposition of light and darkness as a speeding train passing through tunnel.
Along the front garden is a white picket fence. Often used at Victorian railways, it’s also popular in cottage gardens.
Trains are evocative of time, arrivals and departures. However, speed has no place in this garden except for the slow journey of nature reclaiming the land over time. With that in mind, I titled my design ‘Passing Through’. To be honest, Agent Soph came up with the title. She discovered it in Thomas Hardy’s poem, ‘On the Departure Platform‘.
So there you have it, my first attempt at garden design and trying to do my bit for Mother Nature. The results are in and.. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Although a little disappointed, I’ve learnt a lot and it’s opened another creative door for me…
And like my Dad always told me growing up, ‘So long as you try your best, that’s the important thing’.. Good old Dad! In the meantime, good luck to the winners and I look forward to seeing your gardens at Hampton Court later this year.