For those of you who read this column regularly you’ll know that at this time of the year I start getting excited about trees. You see autumn is the very best time to start planting trees so that the roots have plenty of time to start establishing through the damp of the winter and are ready to start packing on the growth in the spring. There is nothing better than getting out on a crisp autumn day to plant trees – you can almost feel them throbbing into life at the prospect of some rich soil.
The last two years have seen a turnaround in the fortunes of fruit trees as high prices in the produce aisles have sent gardeners into their gardens with a mission. Not only have we been planting more fruit trees but we’re diversifying the range of trees planted which is always a good thing. Faced with a limited variety of commercial apples and pears in the supermarkets – how easy is it to get bored with the same old apples each week? – we’re planting old varieties like Brownlees Russet, an apple that has stood the test of time since it was raised in Hemel Hempstead in 1848 by Mr William Brownlees. Other apples like Charles Ross raised in 1890 from Peasgood Nonsuch crossed with Cox’s Orange Pippin has an RHS Award of Garden Merit for its large round and showy fruit.
With apples you need to make sure that you buy two trees to allow pollination to work. Select trees from groups that are next to each other – its not complicated but check when you are buying. But if you have only space for one tree then consider the few self-pollinating varieties available or buy a family tree where three varieties are grafted onto one tree, giving an extended season of fruit. My favourites? Well Sunset has always been reliable but I also like Russets and James Grieve. If you’’re not sure which apples you might like then get along to an autumn tasting at places like RHS Wisley gardens and the Brogdale Trust in Kent which is the guardian of all our old varieties of English fruit – especially apples.
In South west London we have a great heritage in fruit trees especially in the John Innes Conservation area of Merton where I’ve regularly found unusual and long lost varieties of great apples and pear trees leftover from the original trial grounds. Its not unusual to find Cottenham Park and Merton Park pear trees which are great for espaliers but unfortunately its really difficult to buy new young trees in these varieties. Indeed the only place that I’ve ever been able to purchase them is the Brogdale Trust down in Kent (http://www.brogdale.org) These guys are the real deal and their websites are packed with all the information you’ll need to know about fruit trees.
Of courses it’s not all apples. Pears and plums are handy to have if you have the space but consider also some more unusual fruit. Damsons, greengages, medlars and mulberries are traditional fruits that are difficult to find in supermarkets but the trees are readily available from people like Blackmoor Nurseries (http://www.blackmoor.co.uk) Cobnuts and cherries are also great but I find the birds get cherries before I get a chance to pick them. If you are into preserving fruit then I can recommend no better fruits than Quince – especially Meeche’s Prolific - and crab apples like John Downie for making the best jellies and cheeses. Crab apples are everywhere this year, even in streets so its food for free!
Autumn is also a fab time for planting fruit bushes and even if you only have a balcony you can do some great things with fruit bushes like blueberries and goji berries and I’m thinking of trying some cranberries next year. For a useful climber I’m a Loganberry fan but there are also some new Tayberry varieties getting good reviews like Buckingham Tayberry and the new Sunberry which are both ornamental and will crop into early autumn.
I actually just got asked if you can mix all these through an ornamental border and my answer really is why not – just experiment. Having just seen a proposal for a rhubarb wall it would be silly not too!
We've been asked alot this week about autumn tidying so here are soem tips to get ahead of the game by starting your autumn chores now!
The news seems full of how we’re all turning our hand to growing our own vegetables and fruit again. Gardening has come back into fashion as we strive for some balance in our lives - and our diet - but talking to the professionals you’ll find that there’s much more happening in garden design and horticulture than a glut of apples and leeks. What is really happening in the world of garden design and gardens and what can we expect in the future?
For a number of years now we have seen a growth in the idea of slow sanctuaries - gardens that are often about nature, and wildlife but most importantly about slowing down. We’re retreating away from the outside world, it’s economic pressures and challenging society. The feeling is mirrored by the slow food movement and essential to this has been people reconnecting with their food and growing their own produce.
The concept of health and home is increasingly important where grow your own and has seen a phenomenal revival over the past three years with seed sales rocketting and allottment waiting lists growing. There are even private firms buying up land to rent out as allotments and schemes to share gardens with people who don’t have their own outdoor space but want to garden.
And with flexible working we’re working from home more than ever so garden workspaces have become the simple option to find extra room in a healthy environment and enjoy a short walk to the office each day. Which also leads to having smaller spaces and we’re really gardening in ever smaller spaces these days. Have you noticed how many people are developing their front gardens? Already in my road there is an increasing interest in making the most of our front gardens for growing food.
We’re also seeing the rise of gardens that are all about entertainment and sociable spaces that include outdoor kitchens, showers, swimming pools and outdoor gyms. Outdoor kitchens are a hot new fashion statement and swimming pools are back in vogue as the summer extends and seasons become less obvious.
And of course we are increasingly interested in the environment. Environmental awareness is the norm and the buzzword is sustainability. It can mean anything from wildlife areas, recycling materials, solar power to waterwise planting. But the most significant trend we are seeing is in sourcing and low energy. We want to be greener but in the future we want responsible sourcing of what goes into our gardens. Local sourcing is becoming increasingly important with local plant varieties and an emphasis on British grown plants as well as using local designers, local not imported materials and local contractors to cut down on work miles travelled.
And in the future? Well, with extreme climate change will come a lack of adequate productive land, increased global disease caused by carbon emissions and pollution, which may change our attitude to genetically modified plants and certainly the way we garden. What many fail to see is that global warming in the UK has also produced more rainfall, so maybe Mediterranean dry planting isn’t the ideal option? And the technology to produce small scale energy requirements and computer controlled environments is just taking off for our personal outdoor spaces.
There may be some gloom to all of this but ultimately the changes we are seeing are improving our health and home. There are lots of new developments that will give us back some independence in food supplies and create a greater sense of community. All this and great designed products and gardens.
Like many horticulturists our love affair with the Mediterranean started with plants. We have a fascination for the history of exotic plants arriving in Europe and nurserymen like Philippe Andre de Vilmorin who helped introduce many of these plants to Europe. Plants like Westringia the coastal rosemary, and Grevillea, now commonplace around the Mediterranean but once spectacular introductions from the new world. Many of the European gardens that we love are those that take the Mediterranean style we know so well and twist it with gems of exotic plants, the Leptospermums, Acacias and even the more humble Fuchsia.
We’ve been fortunate to make gardens on islands like Cyprus and on the coasts of Italy and France and always sourced our plants locally. In Cyprus we are supplied by local aromatic farms set up for the fragrance industry and buy small trees from the forestry commission for a euro a piece. Our best ever find was a field of 900 year-old olive trees, once listed in an ancient doomsday document, that a local farmer was grubbing up. We re-homed many proving the toughness of this tree even in such a harsh, dry climate.
We do realise though that, a little like Ralph Lauren’s unique idea of English tailoring, we’ve made those gardens based on an ideal of a Mediterranean garden. From visits to well known places certainly but also from being invited into private gardens and less known places, sitting under the olives, drinking in the atmosphere and the wine. Our design style is much more informal than the high precision planting styles of the gardens we see at Chelsea Flower Show and inevitably that comes from the relaxation of gardens that we’ve made in warmer Mediterranean and Caribbean climates. Here are some of Andrew’s favourite Mediterranean places to get that feel and inspiration.
Majorca – Jardines de Alfabia
Of all the Balearic gardens this one has to be top of the list. I was first drawn there by the famous view of water spraying out from pots along a covered walkway but found a garden that merges with the landscape, perfect terraces of palms and grottoes. It’s a grand garden in a rural setting, unfussy but sumptuous and a perfect retreat from the coast if you need to get away from the crowds.
Spain – the Generalife Garden
This might be an obvious choice but its here for good reason. One of the best-loved castle gardens of Europe and probably the most photographed water features in the world. The enclosed courtyard of the Patio de la Acequia is timeless with proportions that any designer would do well to copy. The garden is much changed from it’s original 13th century design but it’s a great visit if you have non-gardeners with you as its hard not to fall for its charm and there’s a castle to distract them whilst you soak up the atmosphere.
Italy – the Bardini Gardens
The Bardini Gardens are just a short distance from the gates of the famous Boboli Gardens. The gardens are on a site going back to the 13th Century but as a relatively unknown garden, renovated and then opened in 2005 it’s easy to have the garden to yourself. The terraces on the hill are everything you think of when dreaming of Italian hillside gardens, shady walkways banked with long drifts of Hydrangea beneath Wisteria roofs. Views of Florence and that other great garden nearby are an added bonus
Italy - Villa e Giardino Peyron al Bosco di Fontelucente
Who could resist a garden with a name like this?! One of the best of the historic gardens of the Fiesole Hill it owes its name to the nearby woodland and like the Bardini Gardens it has terraces and fabulous views of Florence but it is more spacious with a formality in parts, numerous fountains and a lake with olive groves, citrus trees and Cypress as well as flowers in abundance.
Israel – The Jerusalem Botanical Gardens
The Jerusalem Botanic is one of those gardens that has plants you’re completely familiar with but also has those exotics that we can only hope to produce under glass. As a botanical garden it naturally has a diverse collection of plants from across the planet beyond its oldest Mediterranean garden that has magnificent Cedars of Lebanon. Its motto of ‘Plants Grow People’ means that it’s a great family visit for children as much as plantaholics.
Italy – Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel Sorrento
When visiting Sorrento its tempting to stay ‘in town’ but just a mile out of the centre is this jewel of a hotel designed by the great Gio Ponti set within a plot of land once owned by the King of Naples. It’s a fabulous place for any lover of 1950s Italian aesthetic but it also sits in a wonderful garden at the top of the cliffs. There’s a hint of faded glamour from swimming in the cliff top pool surrounded by flowers and palms, or dining under the stars. Why settle for visiting gardens when you can stay within one?
France – Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild, Cap Ferrat
It’s not often you get to step inside a piece of history and the Villa and Jardins Ephrussi tell a story of a singularly dedicated woman’s aim to establish a villa and gardens in a quite inhospitable place. The gardens were designed by Harold Peto and Achille Duchene and by all accounts this is not a place entirely conducive to gardening. The completion of the gardens in the early 20th century require dynamite and a lot of imported soil. Apparently the gardeners were required to be dressed as sailors with berets with red pompoms! This is a series of nine gardens on different themes, unsually for the Mediteranean there is a Japanese garden, but also a rose garden and they host a rose festival in early May which I am told is worth planning to visit.
Cyprus – CyHerbia Botanical Park and Labyrinth
Having made gardens across Cyprus you get to know that the locals hold great store in the power and value of plants and especially herbs. There are though relatively few gardens to visit and this garden is a great introduction to what they do best here, the organically grown herbs and aromatics for the fragrance industry as much as for wellness and health. If you’re on a family holiday the labyrinth maze is a great diversion for the kids!
Italy – Castel Gandolfo
I had been unaware of this gem of a garden until quite recently when, watching Jude Law in ‘the Young Pope’, I suddenly noticed this amazing garden. This is the papal summer residence, a country retreat just 20 miles south of Rome which now, under the express orders of the current Pope Francis, is open to the public for the first time. This is a garden of shady Holm Oaks, Umbrella pines and geometric parterres that give a structure to the garden year round supplemented by Begonias in the summer months. Maybe not a romantic garden but certainly a stunning example of the power of the gardener over nature.
And finally, this might be a little cheeky but it’s always good to see into other people’s gardens and I have an abiding memory of a stroll around the ramparts of Dubrovnik. Our intention was to see the views of the Adriatic (so strictly not the Mediterranean) but we spent nearly all of our time gazing into the terraced gardens of all the houses crowded within the city of walls. I brought back an idea for a show garden from here, so you never know what ideas you might steal!
One of the more noticeable fashions in garden design over the past year has been an interest in all things green. It’s a trend that started some years ago when we started to embrace all those grasses that you now see everywhere. Garden designers have got a little bored with all that wavy grass and have moved over to a new aesthetic of foliage. I remembered looking at a photo with Carol Klein from Gardeners World and she pointed out that this particular leaf looked just like a dress by Issey Miyake – foliage as catwalk fashion!
My fascination with foliage comes from the knowledge that there are lots of plants out there that will give you 3 or 4 weeks of flowering interest but almost a year of foliage. Take some trees for example. A great small garden tree is Sorbus aria “Lutescens” , some delicate early blossom is followed by months of beautiful pale green-grey foliage that shimmers in the wind. Take note that this isn’t a tree to place in an open spot because its large ‘sail factor’ acts just like a yacht’s sail and, if the ground is too wet, the wind can knock it over.
Other great foliage trees include all the Acers such as the Japanese maples and those related to sugar maples and Norwegian maples like Acer saccharinum “Wierii”, Acer griseum and Acer palmatum. These will give you fantastic autumn colours as will Liquidamber styraciflua and that old favourite of mine Parrotia persica. For something more exotic have a look at the Tree of Heaven Ailanthius altissima or an Imperial tree Paulownia imperialis which is also great for shading a hot conservatory or garden office in the summer.
Shrubs are really good foliage value and here you can plant a really exotic mix with plants like the castor oil plant Fatsia japonica and of course all the bamboos. Bamboo has become really popular over the past few years and not without reason. In a London garden it can help provide privacy but it also gives a touch of exotic flavour to a garden as well as movement, shade and gentle noise. They can be thugs but most species sold through garden centres are suitable for medium to large gardens so check out Phyllostachys aureo-sucata “Spectabilis” and Phyllostachys nigra, the black bamboo. Take a look at some of the striking purple foliage out there too like Cotinus coggygria “Royal Purple” and “Sambucus “Black Lace”.
My favourite source of foliage however comes from the herbaceous plants that we usually associate with flowers. The list is endless. For an exotic, often-shady space look out for all the Hosta varieties that are easier in pots. My favourites among the almost 30 I have in my garden are Hosta “Halcyon” and Hosta “Frances Williams” . The African lily Agapanthus has strappy leaves almost all year round as well as those amazing flower heads through June and July. Groundcover plants like Blue Bugle Ajuga spp. and Pachysandra terminalis are brilliant foils for other plants. But for something really special I have two favourites, the first of which is the Rodgersia family such as Rodgersia pinnata and Rodgersia aesculifolia with its horse chestnut shaped leaves – and they don’t mind a slightly damp soil. My second favourite is Bugbane or Actaea (previously and still found as Cimicifuga) with varieties such as Actaea simplex “Atropurpurea”.
If you think there are a lot of scientific names in here well that’s with reason because you can now easily go find them on the google and it might just inspire you to have a few foliage stars in your garden.
I’ve lost count of the number of times that someone has shown me where foxes, badgers, rabbits get into their gardens. Or where they manage to get birds nesting, newts and frogs swimming or even just a few nesting solitary bees. Covering some 4% of the 93,000 square miles of this island we’re lucky that our gardens are truly the biggest wildlife park we have in the UK. What’s more it’s not just our individual gardens that are important but the sum of gardens that is vital to biodiversity.
We once worked as designers to the Royal Horticultural Society for their contribution to the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Individual gardens are usually quite small and it is the sum and, especially, the variety, of plants and features within an area's gardens that is valuable. Other features such as canal, railway embankments, street trees, parks and other communal green space also contribute to the variety of habitats and resources but it’s our gardens that are important. The message is that whilst you might not have a pond for wildlife, your neighbour might and if you have trees for birds and flowers for food it will work with the gardens nearby that provide shelter for other wildlife.
One of the big stories in recent years has been the demise in honey bees due to many different factors, not least the use of pesticides in the countryside. Interestingly honeybees are thriving in our cities and it’s the solitary bees that are really on the decline. Rothamsted Research studied an important group of pollinators, the bumblebees, in gardens and farmland and found that gardens support around 5 times as many nests as farmland, with about 36 nests per hectare, regardless of garden size. This was put down to two important features of gardens: presence of potential nesting sites and food resources. Gardens offer a variety of nesting site opportunities, such as compost heaps and bins, bird boxes and flower-beds and a long and continuous season of flowering plants. The abundance of flowers in gardens provides much more nectar and pollen, from early spring to late autumn, than is usually found in the countryside. The conclusion was that gardens are one of the most important refuge for pollinators in Britain!
We can all do our bit and for those low maintenance gardeners out there you’ll be pleased to hear that it doesn’t matter too much about the state of your garden as a few piles of leaves, debris and even a few bricks can be great nesting sites for our bees and insects. But if you want to be more proactive and help these creatures then start building some bee hotels using all the materials you might find around your garden but normally throw away. A few upturned flower pots stuffed with dead leaves is as simple as it can get or you can create some wildlife towers. Check out something we designed for wildlife in Smithfield Market a few years ago, it even appeared in a James Bond movie!
All the indications are that this year is heading towards being another dry one with a long hot summer and a lack of water despite teh recent heavy downpours. The past few winters have been wet so we’ve topped up the reservoirs but even if we don’t get a hose ban we need to think about how we can future proof our gardens against future shortages.
A great many of our local London garden design customers come from countries such as South Africa where waterwise gardening has become a way of life. They are a little surprised that in the UK we haven’t seen the water shortage problems coming and have been relating how they are used to gardening back home in hot climates. Their waterwise gardening techniques are all about understanding what’s going on in the soil, using drought-tolerant plants and watering wisely.
We always recommend that if you are doing any planting make sure you incorporate lots of organic matter into the soil before planting, plant closely and mulch annually in the spring after heavy rainfall. The interaction of water, soil and roots is crucial and mulching up to 150mm (6 inches) deep suppresses weeds, retains moisture and lowers the soil surface temperature. Ground cover plants are also great for cutting down evaporation from the soil and we’ve found that there are lots of useful groundcover plants like perennial Geraniums, Epimedium varieties and Periwinkle (Vinca) that are great for this.
Not all plants need more water in warmer weather and it’s these plants that we should be planting more of. Plants need water when they are in active growth and for many drought resistant plants this is in the cooler months. They all need watering to get established but usually after 12 months these plants can cope well with just rainfall and in long drought periods by slow watering to the roots. So what are our top ten waterwise plants? Well this list should give you some ideas.
The third important element of a water wise garden is to do just that – water wisely. Head gardeners and nurserymen say that watering in the cool of the morning is always the best option but an evening wander with a watering can will also take away the pressures of the day.
You’ll actually save time by cutting out the need to water and feed plants but make sure that you are planting the right plants in the right place. Even in hot weather we’ve seen gardens with boggy lawns and wet areas at the bottom of slopes. This is great for plants that love those conditions but the plants listed above would not survive. Shade is important and dappled shade from trees can be a positive advantage in keeping soil temperatures cool.
Water wise planting is something we’ll all have to get used to but also remember to save every bit of water including grey water from baths and showers and diverting it to your garden. More and more we’re seeing people installing grey water tanks to conserve waste water under the lawn and recycle it for the garden. It’s not a cheap option but over a period of time it will be cheaper than a water meter.
So garden wisely this summer and hope there’s some rain on its way.
We've been working with Blind Veterans UK for 4 years, ever since we were asked to help them with a new Woodland Centenary Garden at their newest centre in Llandudno. This garden went on to win 2 Britain in Bloom Awards and special mention as an 'outstanding neighbourhood garden'. We have also helped the charity in a joint collaboration with Blesma, the veterans limbless charity.
One thing we've always picked up is the amazing community of veteran members, their families, volunteers and staff that we felt part of and we wanted to celebrate this in a garden that looks forward showing some of the activities that members take part in. This community garden demonstrates how Blind Veterans UK can bring people together; how we can train and rehabilitate; highlighting the skills building that is important for the future; all with youthful energy and fun.
From the garden entrance you will be able to walk through a willow artwork by Tom Hare. This willow sculpture embraces the whole garden threading through the space like a vine, reflecting how everyone and everything works together as one community. The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace, the oldest vine in Britain, was once maintained by blind veterans after WW1.
The ‘village square’ is where beneficiaries, volunteers and staff can meet and take part in activities. There are places for crafts, for just hanging out under the trees, working in the workshop, or gardening in the productive garden. An orchard will provide fruit and a pictorial meadow planting provides ideal space for guide dogs. In other spaces ornamental plants enclose and embrace the space with trees and particulary a high summer interest.
When you visit a garden show the planting design is always the element that visitors are most interested in. This is especially true of Hampton Court which attracts some very keen gardeners and plant collectors. This year we are celebrating the work of Blind Veterans UK with a community garden for the members, their families, staff and volunteers. It is for passive and active enjoyment and will be relocated after the show to their centre in Brighton.
The charity’s work for over 100 years, supporting blind and partially sighted ex-military personnel (the members) and their families is inspirational; helping members to regain their independence through activities and training. But we wanted to celebrate the whole community whilst making sure that we were maximising the potential for blind members to enjoy the garden.
This is especially important in the planting design and with 4 years experience working with the charity we have come to gain an understanding of the key factors to remember when designing with plants. Here are some ideas if you're planting a garden for a vision impaired person.
1. Remember that vision impairment can still mean that people might be able to have some vision. Often this is in the form of colour and we've found that contrasting colours, especially yellow against blue or red is often seen.
2. But you need to be bold with the colour and use bright blocks, so avoid the delicate meadow look and bring in big sweeps of the same flower or mix red and yellow varieties of the same species such as red and yellow Crocosmia.
3. Fragrance is a big factor in all gardens but be bold again and let one scent predominate so that a vision impaired person recognises where they are from the fragrance.
4. Texture is also good and don't forget bark as much as foliage. Were using the paperbark maple Acer griseum which has a great textured bark as will the Liquidambar and Acer davidii. Fruit trees also give an opportunity to experience the tree through touch.
5. Sound is a harder one as sounds can be confusing so whilst the sounds of say the wind through bamboo is great, it may be less useful in a garden than colour or fragrance.
6. We're also creating a kitchen garden which also gives some opportunity for taste as well!
If you come to the show please pick up a leaflet and see what we've used to plant the garden for some summer inspiration.