Thursday, November 29, 2012

Something yellow?

I believe it is called the 'sun' and it made an appearance today - at last. That and an absolute stonking frost. So the lanes are skating rinks, the last of the leaves have gone from my apple tree and the birds are starting to look hungry. I have seen more fieldfares and redwings this autumn/winter than I have seen for a long time but then the winds are in the right direction. And we have also been visited by that delightful small bird, the firecrest, who has been searching up and down my apple tree for the small insects it loves to dine on. My favourite winter plant Cornus, Midwinter Fire is just coming into its own. The leaves go a delightful, bright pale yellow (sounds a direct contradiction in terms but isn't) and its stems are the most stunning orangey red. I use it in virtually every planting that I do as I find its cheerful stems, and the fact that it does not get as large as other Cornus an invaluable addition to the winter garden. As it is now pitch dark I cannot post a picture, but I will endeavour to do so in the next few days when hopefully we will have some more sunshine!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

At last.....

Well it took 4 years almost to the day of sheer bloody minded determination. I never in my wildest imagining thought it would take that long, and cause so much heart ache. But then I also underestimated the impact it had. I am talking about the Combat Stress Therapeutic Garden, the concept for which I first had in August 2008 when I approached Toby Elliott, then Chief Executive of Combat Stress. A mad woman on a mission I must have appeared at the time, as we bullied people for donations, assistance and help. But then PTSD is a bit like that really. It raises its head when you least expect it, isn't easy to deal with, is little understood in reality and means different things to different people. What the garden did was help raise awareness of the problem. We handed out about 18,000 leaflets at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2010, and bearing in mind we only probably gave away 1 leaflet to every three people who walked through we did amazingly well.
And now the garden is where it is supposed to be; in the courtyard at Combat Stress' headquarters in Leatherhead. And it has transformed a barren, bare, bleak space into something fit for healing and peace. Every person involved in this, especially the unsung heroes, anonymous donors, hard working behind the scenes staff take a bow. You deserve it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I haven't vanished

Just in case you thought I had completely vanished off the face of the earth I thought I ought to let you know that you will be disappointed! I just have been absolutely manic trying to finish projects off against overwhelming downpours of tropical severity (and not completely succeeding it has to be said) and also setting up a charity.... More of that later on. I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this weather. On the one hand we needed the rain (remember April when we were officially in drought) and on the other hand I am absolutely fed up of squelching through mud in steel cap boots trying to plant when the ground is so waterlogged everything acts like the clay on a potters wheel. The only good thing is that we do not need to irrigate; the only concern is that the smaller plants going in now might rot off. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Having had a little time to sit down this week and look at plants in the garden there are some that seem to be to me much more than mere plants. They have a quality that is both restful and almost magical. One such is Alchemilla Mollis, which goes by the preferable name of 'lady's mantle'. I know it can be a ground cover thug, but it produces glorious wafty, clouds of lime green flowers that look stunning in borders, or cut, in vases. I love also the slightly acidic smell of it, and the way it looks brilliant with any colour at all. It is also incredibly generous in its growth.... no sooner have you cut it back than it is putting on new growth. But the most enchanting thing about it, is the way that the slightest bit of dew or rain beads on its leaves. In medieval times they used to believe that if you went out and collected the dew it helped your skin, and the water was popular with alchemists, who thought that the dew drops on its leaves could help their work. I just love the way that the water looks like small quicksilver drops of mercury. An absolute 'must have' plant in anyone's garden.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

So very exciting.....

Those of you who know me at all will know how passionate I am about helping those who suffer from PTSD, combat stress or any of the myriad problems that beset our Service personnel when they are in as well as out of our Services. I am absolutely over the moon that I am going to be assisting the Stoll Foundation set up a Gardening Club. The aim of this is to help them improve their garden in London, grow plants and assist them with looking after their gardens, however they choose to do that. There are one or two other things in the pipeline too, but I have to be patient about that and cannot tell anyone yet.... watch this space.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


I know it seems to be stating the blindingly obvious, but to me scent is one of the most important of our senses. And yet, it seems to be one of the least utilised within garden design. Scents are subtle, evocative things. Too much is so overpowering it can make us feel physically sick. Lavender in particular can do this; I know several people who have searing headaches if they release its perfume by crushing the leaves. Apparently this is becoming an increasing problem as lavendar is used more and more in 'natural' products such as soap, body lotions, washing powders etc. We ignore the potency of such natural oils and essences at our perils. But I diverge..... Scent brings back powerful memories, both good and bad. And planning for scent is perhaps a little more complex than most of us realise. There aer certain scents for certain times of the year; for certain times of the day and night; and for certain temperatures. All these elements affect the release of perfume from flowers, and to my mind a garden without scent is a garden without a soul. Certainly some of the scents that are the most lovely can come from the most unassuming shrubs imagineable. Winter flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii)is a shrub that should be planted at the back of a border in all gardens. The lemony scent that is released in the winter sun is just glorious. It is deciduous, with largish leaves and an untidy habit - not pretty in summer, but worth planting for its winter scent. The other plant that I simply love is Elaegnus Ebbingei, a silvery leaved evergreen that produces small, insignificant white flowers in autumn and the most glorious scent. The flowers are so inconspicuous that it always catches me out, as I can never work out where the perfume, which is sweet and jasmine like, comes from. And then of course we have my favourite flower; the rose. A rose without perfume is a bit like eating a flavourless apple. Why would you bother? Chandos Beauty is a favourite with a heavy wonderful perfume that will scent a room. And I love its colour, creamy pink. Gorgeous. And at the moment, when walking down country lanes the perfume of honeysuckle pervades everywhere. Its heady scent brings back to me some of my happiest memories of time spent in the sun, in our glorious countryside. Think I am dreaming ..... well perhaps I was hallucinating, but I am sure that I did see something yellow in the sky today!

Monday, June 11, 2012


There is so much I want to do, and even need to do, but somehow just somehow, it is almost more than I can do to put one foot in front of the other. The way to hell and all of that...... Our grey skies are wondrous for those who want to stay curled up in bed - I wish. Looking at the pictures I posted only a few weeks ago, I can hardly believe that the weather was so hot and gorgeous. Mind you it brought its own problems (where would we be without the weather to complain about - well we would not be living in the UK that is for sure!). We went from gloopy mud to baked hard ground within the space of 3 weeks. I do not think I have ever had to plant in such contrary weather. In one garden, 4" of thick mud (so thick that my steel capped boots stuck regularly, and a small plaintive yelp could be heard across the flower beds as foot and boot parted company (luckily my arse did not end up in the mud, nor my face, although that did happen to someone else, who shall remain nameless) and I had to have a strong manly arm extended to grasp onto)to drought riven ground that even the rotivators had problems with. All of which begs a fundamental question - irrigation - whether it comes from the sky, the ground, or the tap. In our mad British weather it is absolutely essential; although you can bet your life on the fact that once it is installed it will rain for the requisite 30 days without ceasing, and your client will look skyward and deem it unecessary. It so is NOT. Nor does it have to be complicated or mind blowingly expensive. Leaky pipe is what we use, with a simple timer connected to a tap. It has saved the life of many a tree and plant, and it means that you can even plant when you should probably not ie. high summer because you can put the timer on, leave the irrigation and go away without worrying about a thing. It is in these dark dog days that I find that madly unfashionable colour orange so warming and cheerful. I know, I know,that it is a colour everyone loves to hate, but mix it with white and blues, and it lifts the spirit. The more draining and grey the colour of the sky the more upbeat it makes me feel..... And here, just to cheer you up is a wonderful selection of plants in a garden at Chelsea, to make you feel that there is sunshine... somewhere!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Highlight at Chelsea

There were a couple of absolute highlights for me at Chelsea. One was the delightful artisan gardens and in particular Kazuyuki Ishihara's Satoyama Life. How can such a small garden be so beautifully balanced? Exquisitely composed and full of detail and yet completely devoid of clutter,it was a miracle this garden got to show at all given the destruction of so much in the tsunami. The garden deservedly received a gold medal, and I would not be surprised if it was voted as People's Choice Award. When you look at this picture it is almost impossible to tell where the garden begins or ends, never mind comprehend that it was not there three weeks ago, and in two weeks time there will be no evidence left of its existence.
And then of course there is Diarmuid Gavin's garden? I know for many people his concept would be deemed incomplete, untidy, and 'what on earth is it anyway'. But he poses a real question, and for me an answer. As our cities become more and more crowded there is less and less room for gardens. The only way therefore is 'up'. A modern Hanging Gardens of Babylon, if you like. So I take my hat off to him for creating this, and for Westland Horticulture for taking up the challenge, because it must have been an epic act of construction for the contractors. And there is some really good planting. The problem is that it was impossible to see it, unless you were able to get in there. So thank you Diarmuid for making us think again - that after all is what designers are all about.


What a day of contrasts Tuesday was; bitterly cold to start with and then so hot that people were passing out! Who ever said the British weather was boring? Impressions? Well as one lady put it: 'If you put together grasses, stones and water you have a Chelsea show garden'. Harsh perhaps but fair. To put it in perspective, the weather conditions for Chelsea have been atrocious so many gardens had flowers that were yet to bloom - so with this hot weather by Thursday this week everything should be starting to look spectacular. However, when I went there were very low light levels, it was very cold and I have to say that none of the gardens made me either laugh (very important) out loud with delight, or stop dead stunned by the planting or beauty. For me the highlights were: Joe Swift's Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden (above right) which had fabulous wooden structures that sang with warmth and contrasted and complimented the planting; and,
Chris Beardshaw's Furzey Garden (left) which may go some way to bringing azaleas, rhododendrons and shrubs back into fashion (long overdue), and yes Diarmuid Gavin's The Westland Magical Garden of which more late.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Looking out of the window the sky is overcast and it is 'mizzling' as we used to call it. That rain that soaks you through without noticing..... not quite drizzle, and once it is set in, it tends to stay for the day. So to brighten up the day and start the week on a positive note, I thought I would post a picture of some Red Campion (Silene dioica) and the beautiful bluebells (hyacinthoides non-scripta)that are
peppering our banks and woods at the moment. The origin of the name of Red (or White) Campion delights me on such a day. Silenus was the drunken, happy god of the woodlands in Greek mythology. Entirely appropriate for a flower that creates splashes of colour along the banks of lanes. As for our beautiful bluebell, which is under threat from hybrisation (sounds like an electric car) and/or the Spanish bluebell, they are finally blooming despite dire warnings about an early spring. The miserable April we had has put their flowering back and they are only just carpeting the woods and banks around me, like an inverted sky.
This weekend I also sighted my first Orange-tip butterflies - such pretty butterflies and much less commonly sighted around here than the Peacocks and Red Admirals.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Left field

I was thinking of all the possible titles I could use, and they were all so hackneyed I gave up. Independent Gardening was set up to focus on designing/advising on therapeutic gardens (you could debate that all gardens are therapeutic, and therefore there should be no separation but that discussion is for another day). However, I also 'do' project management for Adrian Fisher who designs the most incredible mazes. I am also fortunate the work with the best contractors I have ever come across (take a bow Wright Landscapes) and we have just completed a wooden panel maze. Now, I have to admit that ridiculous though it is I get chlaustrophobic in mazes.... I know I know. This wooden panel maze is in Liverpool and is simply fantastic. Have a look at the pictures. The guys did sooooooooooo well, right angles all over the place; everything lined up and stunning. It forms part of an adventure area down by the Mersey at Aigburth and is quite quite amazing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I have to admit to having had a 'fiddle'. Somewhat frustrated at my inability to find pictures to improve a gardening concept I am working on and with my creativity in full flight, I decided to update my blog design. I hope you like it! I would be interested in any feedback you might have about what you would like to see more of on here - or even less of! I will try and get some more pictures put on here, particularly at the moment when the countryside is exploding into fabulous colour; the intensity of the green is mind blowing and the primroses, wood anemones, and violets seem to have lasted for months. The year is cracking on, with Chelsea Flower Show in a couple of weeks time; I will report back on what I have seen there.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

We are fashionable!!!

The title is slightly tongue in cheek, but it is nice to see that Cleve West is following in the footsteps of our Combat Stress Therapeutic Garden which was designed and installed at Hampton Court Flower Show two years ago. Cleve is designing Horatio's Garden for the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury and there is a very similar theme developing. Resin-bound gravel paths (they are brilliant and smooth for traversing); amelenchier, box balls, stipa, panicum, acanthus, agastache, echinacea, dry stone walls........ Perhaps, finally the awareness of how important gardens are in the healing process is getting across to the general public, institutions and the like. It would be nice to think so.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interesting times

If I ever, ever doubted about the importance of the work I do, then the last 4 weeks have shown me the truth of it. I have been lucky enough to have had a new hip replacement, which despite my moans and groans regarding pain, immobility and frustration and not being able to do what I want to do NOW, has gone very well. I was also lucky enough to have had the operation done privately which meant that the room that I came round in after the op had a window which looked out onto the street, and a large plane tree. Subsequently I moved to a friends house where I could look out onto a garden, and my bedroom (downstairs) looked out onto a conifer hedge. The latter became of huge importance when I was lying in bed (for a fair few hours a day) as it harboured several blackbirds and other small birds, who were busy thinking that spring was not far away; cue snow! And now I am home with my stick, enforced 'taking it easy' and the every changing scenario of spring seen through my windows. (Above is one of the spectacular sunsets we have been having seen through one of my windows.

All of which reinforces what I think is so important. Hours spent lying on my back and in pain was made bearable by what I could see out of my window. Clouds, sky, the shifting of branches in the wind enabled me to shift my focus to something else other than my battered body. You can call it what you like (and all sorts of experts put all sorts of fancy names on it) but it seems to me that being able to see outside, to see people, plants, animals and the shifting cloud patterns, shadows, light - all of which when we are healthy we so take for granted - provides a panacea for pain and sickness that is hugely underestimated by health professionals, architects, and planners.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Belated Happy New Year

I, along with I am sure, most other people cannot believe that it is 2012. Where did 2011 go? However, perhaps unlike a lot of other people, I am really excited about this year. It seems to me to be full of 'possibles'; open to excitement and development in a way that I have not come across before. The 'recession' seems to me to be an opportunity to do things differently; to be awake and aware to opportunity. There is no room for 'second best' or 'making do'. At least perhaps not in the way that most people would see this. What is important to me in this time of change and for many people, shrinking circumstances? Friends, joy, appreciation of what is really really important. I am so thankful that I have a roof over my head, a garden that I can look at and see colour, growth, and new life. I have wonderful friends and family who provide a network of support; I have my life in front of me, and behind me. I wake up in the morning and go to bed at night, hopefully knowing that I have done the best I can, and if not, then I can take a breath, forgive myself for that and know that I have another opportunity in the morning to put it right, fix it, or apologise for it. How fortunate is that?

And today, fossicking around in the garden and planting some bulbs - too late I know - I was blinded by the colours of my favourite plant for winter, Cornus Midwinter Fire, whose stems in the gloaming of a subdued sunset were almost too painful to look at. A tall poppy of a plant, unashamedly colourful and upright. Perhaps a good metopher for life!