Water has always been an essential and defining element of our landscapes and gardens. It’s a symbol of wealth and power, personified in the great European houses of le Notre’s Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte and the great English parks such as Lord Carlisle’s heroic Castle Howard. It’s an expression of the art of garden design seen in the 20th Century modernism of Thomas Church in California and Louis Barragan in Brazil. And it’s a defining feature of architecture that so often sets a building in the context of the landscape. Aesthetically water creates reflection; it often calms the spirit but can also create dramatic force and vitality. It brings stillness and movement, cooling and focus to a space. It is essential to the life of a garden, for plants and wildlife.
But for much of the past 100 years we have taken the availability of a ready supply of water for granted, particularly in the western world where we have become increasingly detached from where our resources come from. This is particularly true of the supply of fresh water and food. In our gardens we have had a ready supply of water with only moderate climatic changes that cause a little discomfort. Why worry about a brown lawn when there is a ready supply of irrigated water to keep it green? Indeed we have become so complacent about water that the ‘water feature’ has become a derided element of the contemporary garden.
In modern times our relationship with water, as individuals, communities and nations, is changing quite dramatically. We are quite rapidly moving from an emphasis on the aesthetic nature of water to a concentration on the practical power of water. Biodiversity has become a watchword in the future battle to save the planet from the destructive way in which we live our lives. Crucially it has been identified that the five major ecosystems; forest, coastal, agricultural, grassland and fresh water are all seriously threatened and leading thinkers and bodies believe that the single issue of water will increase the likelihood of global conflict between countries. Water demand in the majority of European cities is now exceeding the rate at which it can be replenished. Major cities such as Mexico City, Bangkok, Manila and Shanghai are all reported to be at potential risk of major supply challenges and it has been predicted that by 2025 two out of every three people on the planet will live in water-stressed areas.
Most importantly we are starting to understand this on an individual level because we are experiencing the impacts of climate change on our own lives. In the past 15 years climate change is characterised for most of us by extreme weather. As garden professionals we are experiencing these rapid, diverse changes in weather and water supply everywhere. In the UK we have moved from a drought in 2006 where hosepipes were banned in the south of England to one of the wettest winters on record in 2007. At the same time we are battling to establish plants and trees in teh Mediterranean because there has been no rain for as much as 12 months at a time. And in the Caribbean, we are experiencing increased hurricane activity and sporadic rainfall.
Regionally we are experiencing extremes of flooding and drought within very short periods of time where one year we are banned from using hosepipes and cleaning cars and the next we are experiencing the destruction of homes and property from flood waters. It is this impact on our lives that has started to change our view of water as a limitless supply that arrives at the turn of the tap.
If we are going to take individual responsibility then the place to start is in our homes and gardens. Essentially this means catchment and conservation. Harnessing the water we have and then conserving and using this water in the most efficient ways.
We are only just starting to recognise the need to harness water in our homes. Whilst water companies struggle to replace worn out pipes we are preserving our own supplies by storing rainwater in systems as simple as water butts supplied from downpipes and as sophisticated as large underground filter systems. Commercially the latter has been going on for many years but it only now that a combination of lower costs, awareness and planning directives are causing us to install large storage systems within residential gardens. Ten years ago a client of ours, a water company executive, installed a 1,000 cubic metre tank beneath his lawn and we could not understand his reasoning. Now we get it.
Of course water catchment is only part of the story. We need to use the water and in most part that stored water has been used for gardens in periods of drought, and where metered, as an alternative to paying for supplies. However, we are increasingly seeing a wider use of that water, not just for plants and lawns but also for secondary uses, taken into the home to flush toilets etc. What this means is that we are being asked to accommodate larger underground tanks within gardens.
In contrast to recent developments in water harnessing we have been aware of using water wisely since the 1970s. Efficient toilet systems are widely used throughout Europe but this alone is too little for today’s challenges. In the garden our most important use of water is for plants, and of course plants are part of the solution to climate change but the use of water for plants is a primary target for the water companies and politicians. Irrigation companies have been fighting a rear guard action for many years as they are often accused of inefficient use of water. As designers we actually find that our clients do not know how to water a plant properly and irrigation systems use water much more wisely than someone with a hosepipe.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK does much to encourage efficient watering. Garden water use is estimated at less than 3% of the annual water consumption of an average household but at peak times as much as 70% of water supplied is used in gardens. Water supply records indicate that peak demand begins in the evening after two weeks without rain in summer. This surge in demand can lead to water companies being forced to deplete groundwater and streams, which can cause serious environmental harm. As the RHS says “The cost of this peak demand has to be born by water users. In the wider interests of the environment and for the use of water in the garden to be acceptable to other water users, gardeners should use mains water as sparingly as they can.” ¬ The RHS urges gardeners to make economical use of water by understanding the needs of plants and taking steps to reduce the loss from plants and the soil.
The politics of water within different regions varies widely. In the UK there has been an ongoing debate about hosepipe bans for many years. Promised reforms have led to a relaxed system but no actual legal framework which leaves planners and gardeners in limbo. More encouragingly garden designers and gardeners are taking the concept of water conservation and use into their own hands and using water wisely. Garden designers in particular are counteracting the lack of water and the cost of water supply by specifying alternative measures within their designs. At a basic level this includes mulching the soil around plants to conserve water in the soil. At a creative level there has been a surge in the design of dry gardens and waterwise planting.
Dry gardens use plants efficiently to reduce, or often remove, the need for artificial irrigation. They rely solely on rainfall and good examples are Mediterranean aromatic gardens. Waterwise planting is a concept that is taking on more importance in the conservation of our water and soil. If you visit a South African garden you will notice much denser planting that encourages stronger root systems and retention of moisture in the soil.
Both of these planting methods are essentially for ornamental plantings. Forest gardening on the other hand has many of the same principles but is a method of planting on different levels from low growing ground cover to tall trees capable of providing a sustainable, low maintenance environment for food production. It is essentially a great source of food, a sustainable method of conserving resources including water and whilst used for centuries in countries such as Indonesia it is relatively new to the western world. In a time when we are all worried about the supply of food it is predicted that this system of gardening will become wider spread.
We should not forget that there is still a place for the aesthetic use of water in our gardens and landscapes. Ponds and water fountains, swimming pools and spas will still have a role to play. And whilst we are swapping the outdoor patio heater for a sweater as a necessary contribution to halting global warming we are not prepared to give up all the pleasures of the garden in the name of climate change. We are, however, changing the way in which we design these elements. Most notably natural ponds and pools have become the latest must have for those wanting the ubiquitous trophy garden. Natural pools harness the power of plants to clean their water without chemicals. In a world where we are more aware of the toxic effect of chemicals we are seeing clients moving towards natural pools in increasing numbers and, in some cases, converting existing pools to natural systems.
Water is essential to life in a garden. We cannot expect to enjoy birds and wildlife in our gardens without it. Our gardens are the largest free wildlife sanctuary we have in many countries, especially crowded countries such as the UK where we are steadily losing space and greenbelt agricultural land provides too few wildlife habitats. We are finding that demand for formal ponds is starting to fall but conversely natural wildlife-friendly ponds are in great demand accompanied by wild, often native plants and local varieties of plants that encourage insects and wildlife.
One area that is still vastly unexploited however is the use of reed bed systems in conjunction with natural ponds and pools. Reed bed systems are designed for the treatment of sewage and polluting wastewater effluents to create recyclable water. A secondary advantage is that they can provide wildlife habitats and natural swimming pools and, using a combination of horizontal and vertical plantings, they look great. They do however, need larger gardens and a challenge for the future will be to see how we can all harness this natural power in our small gardens.
On a global scale the supply of fresh water will define the security of nations. On a local scale the reality for our gardens wherever we are in the world is that there will likely be long-term water shortages. How we cope with these shortages as individuals will be a defining issue. Principally we need a new relationship with water and how we value it. For our gardens we need to harvest, conserve and use efficient systems. As designers we already give good advice on planting effectively to minimize our impact but we now need to take a holistic view of the issues of harvesting not only rainwater but also wastewater and build these into our schemes, creatively and realistically.
Education is key. We need to understand the issues and take personal responsibility. We cannot all afford reed beds and green water systems but we can take small steps by mulching soil, planting drought resistant plants and recycling water. There is a huge opportunity for new homes builders to act on these issues but they are caught between profitability, the limited requirements of planners and the need to provide affordable homes. In many countries there is no long term planning by our politicians and so we are learning how we can help ourselves. That’s where community ties, whether physically in the form of allotments, community gardens and front garden food growing schemes or through shared values where a wider audience can meet via organizations such as the RHS or over the Internet, become important.
It can be depressing to feel that we can only ultimately solve this crisis by the will of politicians and global leaders, knowing that their short-term visions will not solve long-term challenges. However, we have faith in the individual, we see the influence of their beliefs everyday in how we design their gardens and support their efforts to create a better solution to future water shortages and climate change. With the support of garden professionals like us we can educate and disseminate the best solutions to make a difference and help solve the water crisis garden by garden.
This article first appeared in Bridge for Design the interiors magazine.
For long the preserve of the wealthy and those with plenty of sunny days the swimming pool is starting to become the must have luxury for new garden owners. We’ve been designing pools into our overseas projects for many years but we have started to see a new demand for swimming pools in less traditional regions such as the UK. Environmentalists should also be pleased as the majority of our clients are opting for natural pools that use minimal or no chemicals and can have a very positive impact on wildlife values.
This new fashion for pools is partly a result of warmer temperatures as climate change allows a longer period of use but it’s also a function of experience. Many of our clients have experienced the luxury spa style on their travels and want to bring a little of that back home.
And its not just traditional swimming pools that are in demand. We are getting a lot of requests for professional style lap pools for the serious swimmer and where there’s little space counter-current pools are definitely a serious choice. Even where there is limited space its still possible to have some form of water and plunge pools and spas are a growing trend in city gardens.
Here are a few key questions that you need to ask when considering a pool.
A bright blue pool is fine for summer, but what do I do in the winter?
One of the best pools I’ve seen was in the US where the owner had used a very dark inky blue tile to line the pool. This gave great reflections, particularly from lighting at nighttime but it also gave the pool an unusual lake-like quality when not in use. The colour was set off by the winter snow as well as looking good in the summer. So my advice is not to go with the usual bright blue and consider a colour that will add a new dimension to the garden.
Will an infinity pool work in my garden?
Infinity pools work best where there is a good level change that opens up onto a distant view. Many of the pools we design have a great coastal view and lend themselves naturally to an infinity pool. But in the absence of that distance I would always opt for something that focuses on the space and away from surrounding distractions such as other houses.
Should I consider a lap pool?
Lap pools are a good investment for serious swimmers and look great in a contemporary space where they can double up as sleek reflective strips of water. But you need at least 15m for a decent length. If you have limited space consider a counter-current pool - great for city bachelor pads or roof gardens! Remember that only one person can use it at a time for swimming but they double up as spas for evening entertaining.
How can I integrate the pool into my garden?
If you have a large garden then create a separate space for the pool. Give the area around it structure – maybe through planted beds and, even better, its own boundary wall that will also make it more secure and safe. If your garden is small and chic then make the pool the focus of your space and entertainment, add some glamour from lights and exotic planting and invite some friends over!
What advice can you give me on plants?
As with any garden plants integrate the elements and this is especially true for a pool. Be careful if you decide to go with a jungley, foliage look using lots of palms etc if you’re in the city. Plants need to take some reference from the garden’s location as well as the pool.
Wherever you live a swimming pool is a great investment that will give years of enjoyment for the whole family.
Our garden design business has a distinctly different model than most others in that over a decade ago we decided we wanted to travel a little, see the world and when we got there, design some gardens. A combination of environmental concern about all that travel and our embracement of new technology means that over the past couple of years we’ve cut back on the flights and found partners to work with us across Europe, the Caribbean and beyond who manage and construct the gardens we are designing from the UK. An interesting side effect is that through these partners we get to see what’s happening in gardens and landscapes all over the world.
The biggest changes in gardening and gardens are led by social and demographic trends wherever you garden. The world is changing rapidly and what’s current today might be old fashioned next week. Living trends such as wealth, living units and changes in family size are vital but so is the march of technology and where we will shelter from the economic realities of the next decade.
In the past when there seems to have been a never ending stream of wealth we saw an almost religious conviction to stylised hard landscape design in the UK and USA that led to vast amounts being spent on sleek, styled and uber-cool outdoor spaces and a competitive streak in our clients wanting the most up to date equipment whether it was the latest counter-current pool or mature trees craned in over the house. In the wake of a global economic crisis it’s a trend that has very quickly given way to a new austerity that, even if you have the money, means that you don’t want to show you have money. Everyone has a budget and for those with more than most there is still an interest in spending it on a garden but whereas a stainless steel water feature and garden kitchen were the ultimate statement of the noughties we’re seeing a rapid move towards a more natural style and a connection with nature and plants where natural swimming ponds and kitchen gardens are the new cool.
We’re using our gardens to protect ourselves from the outside world. The idea of the slow sanctuary means that our UK gardens are harking back to nature, wildlife and slowing down. Relaxing is the new fast living.
When you look across Europe you realise that in many countries nothing’s changed. In the Mediterranean states such as Cyprus, Greece and Italy there’s been no great trend towards fast gardens but there has been a growth in wealth. Our clients may be spending fortunes on great gardens but they are still connected to nature. Kitchen gardens have always been a norm here whilst in the UK the idea of growing your own food has skipped a generation and it’s the over 60s and the under 30s that are leading the move back to gardens that include food production rather than gardens solely for entertainment. This concept of our gardens as a focus of health and home reveals itself in fledging schemes across the UK, France and Germany encouraging front garden farming and the message that you can grow your own even on the tiniest balconies is widely documented.
These trends have also revealed themselves in show gardens and although designers are still producing gardens that are dramatic and striking there is a move towards more calming lines and a profusion of relaxed planting that translates into our own gardens. In Sweden, for example, there has been an upsurge in gardening and a move towards enclosing spaces that were once open to the neighbours but here plants predominate and our Swedish colleagues indicate the influence of the celebrity designer creating a soft planted look that everyone wants to follow. This will undoubtedly continue as we escape to our gardens and the outwardly hard landscape increasingly gives way to soft landscaping.
The environmental imperative is now the greatest influence on commercial and public landscape design. The trend back to plants in our gardens is following a move in larger landscapes away from vast areas of lawn grass towards a more conscious planting of meadows, whether led by a purely native species approach or planting design that includes ornamentals to achieve a new look to our landscapes.
For these large landscapes low maintenance requirements have been as necessary as environmental concern but the latter has focussed the minds, and budgets, on creating planting schemes that create diverse habitats for everyone, including wildlife to enjoy. It is a trend that is particularly prevalent in northern Europe but because the design of these landscapes is led by climatic need, climate change and site restraints the idea of mixed species meadows has fast been adopted by other regions as a basis for new sustainable landscapes. Our own experience of designing parks in Sweden, Cyprus and France, all quite diverse in their climate and culture, reveals an interest in responding to the locality and working with what we have rather than recreating an idealised version of a public park that is no longer relevant. And because we respond locally we also source locally.
In developed nations there is an increasing adoption of a biophilia perspective with an emphasis on native planting in design. This is particularly prevalent in the USA. A search through US blogs reveals a huge movement towards using regional and local natives and ornamentals. It is an approach that is taking hold in the UK but is distinctly challenging because of the greater extremes of climate that we are now experiencing. Undoubtedly we are seeing an emphasis on local character but we are losing the ability to grow some species whilst we are able to grow new species that have never survived before. Plants that were once annuals will fast become perennials. Trees are under attack from imported diseases that are spreading through our native species so that we have to replace our selection of, say Aesculus hippocastanum with other species such as Aesculus indica ‘Sidney Pearce’, selected on the grounds of survival rather than local distinctiveness. In growing plants for food we are seeing an even greater trend towards the different and seemingly exotic species of plants and a new interest in gardening in different ways borrowed from other cultures such as forest gardening which has been a way of life for centuries in areas of the far east and is ideally suited to both our European climate and need for low maintenance.
It also leads us to the much discussed ideal of sustainable landscapes but because sustainability is a term that few care to define or agree upon we find that the concept of biodiversity, that is steadily gaining consciousness for our gardens in the UK, is having greater global impact. There is greater awareness of valuing the sum of our gardens as a wildlife reserve and their role in creating green corridors into cities. This is not solely a UK trend but a global phenomenon.
We all want to be greener but in the future it won’t be just about being green. Amongst other trends we now see responsible sourcing, human welfare awareness, waterwise planting, preserving distinct regional heritage in plants and gardening, using technology, focussing on plants not hard materials. There is a growing debate internationally about negative carbon landscapes, creating gardens that create no carbon footprint which, of necessity, means re-using whatever is on site and importing only plants and then only those grown locally or even just growing from seed. It may seem an extreme form of garden creation but it’s what we used to do and it might just be a design model that our clients, not just our climate, forces us to adopt in the next decade. Whatever happens, all these trends will continue to change and to influence the way we design our future gardens and landscapes.
This article originally appeared in the annual report for BALI, the British Association of Landscape Industries.
As autumn approaches our thoughts turn to tidying, planting and even redesigning our gardens. A fabulous garden can greatly improve a property’s potential so what should you ask a professional and make sure you’re getting the best service and inspirational ideas?
We all lead busy lives these days and only few of us are brave enough to attempt building a whole new garden from scratch. Whilst many of us are able to plant a garden and even turn our hand to putting up a shed or digging a border some of the larger jobs like walls, water features and lighting are best left to a professional who can provide a fast, efficient, professional service. And how do you bring this all together? Well that’s the job of a garden design professional.
Designers come in all shapes and forms and can provide anything from a short on-site consultancy to full construction and planting services. A good garden designer will take time to work closely with you, discovering what makes you tick, offering a variety of solutions and recommending the best way of meeting your individual requirements. How can you tell which ones best for you when you meet them? Well here are some tips for when you first approach a garden designer.
Design prices will normally be about 15% of the total project price and you will more than appreciate the value by avoiding costly mistakes and possibly getting a garden beyond your dreams. It’s likely that much cheaper design prices are boosted by higher construction costs so don’t be fooled that you’ll get the same service for a cheaper price.
There are lots to think about and if you are struggling or want the eye of an expert cast over your outdoor space a garden designer can lead you through the jungle! Here are some top tips.
Bring in a professional and your garden project should be plain sailing with inspirational design and great construction and planting.
For a podcast interview with Andrew all about hiring a garden designer please visit https://rootsandall.co.uk/portfolio-item/episode-4-hiring-a-garden-designer/
All the indications are that this year is heading towards being another dry one with a long hot summer and a lack of water. The past two 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 my local London 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.
From now on if you are going to do 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 my 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. I’ve asked around and the best 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 I’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.
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!
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.