Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’

Week 19 – More living wall maintenance in Knightsbridge

This week it was all back to Knightsbridge to check on another of our walls. Although very different in scale to the pair of walls we visited last week, this little living wall packs a real punch. I have to admit it is one of my personal favourites. It’s packed full of flowers and it is packed full of fun. Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’ and Erigeron karvinskianus are currently stealing the show but there’s lots of other delights waiting in the wings ready for their star turn. Move over… Bravo!


Week 18 – Knightsbridge living wall maintenance

Last week we were back in Knightsbridge carrying out our regular health check on the pair of living walls we installed last year. I was delighted to see that the plants are knitting together beautifully to create a wonderful green tapestry. Liriope muscari, Soleirolia soleirolii, Euonymus fortunei ‘Harlequin’, Brunner macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’, Asarum europaeum and Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ with their differing leaf shape, colour and size have combined to create a picture that I rarely predict correctly. That’s the joy of experimenting with plant varieties and planting combinations… surprise!

Week 17 – Pinner

This week I returned to a garden we planted last year in Pinner, North West London. I grew up in neighbouring Stanmore and for one reason or another I still find it emotionally challenging to return to the area. On this visit, to my delight, I arrived to find the garden is doing very well. The sort of very well that means more well than one could ever have hoped for. Healthy plants, developing perfectly are knitting together and harmonising in such a way that leads to an end result that is more than the constituent parts. So, I would like to say a heart felt thank you to the plants for reminding me that it is they that are the stars of the show and it is they who are actually in control of what us designers like to try and take credit for. Plants take a bow. I simply planted you. You did the rest. Bravo.


Week 16 – Maintenance

This week I returned to Nottingham to check on one of our living walls. We like to return to each installation every three months to top up the liquid feed, monitor the health and progress of the plants and to undertake any pruning or plant replacement as required. This particular wall is now into it’s second year, is in fine health and starting to mature nicely. The hydrangea are putting on a bit of scale, the Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (or slender sweet flag) is forming a striking sweep, the ferns are romping away and the hellebores are very happy indeed. If the plants are happy, then I’m happy and that usually means the client is happy too. As Alan is fond of saying – JD (job done).


Week 15 – Dartmoor

Last week I was in Devon with my family (week two of the Easter holidays) and it was fantastic. Walking on Dartmoor is always a pleasure and I often also find it quite humbling. As we start up the increasingly steep hill that climbs out of the picturesque village of Lustleigh you can’t help but notice the increasing numbers of amazing granite boulders slowly appearing from out of the undergrowth. Nearing the top of the long steady climb the woods slowly disappear, the sky grows wide and the view opens up. We stop for our picnic on top of the ridge among the ancient rocks and boulders that are known as ‘clitter’. The quiet stillness is water for the soul and the fresh air feels pure in my lungs. I am alive and I feel happy. My two children, Olive 9 and Frankie 7 follow in my footsteps and we all walk an impressive 7.5 miles. I’m delighted to share one of my favourite pastimes with them, and they seem to enjoy it too!

Viola riviniana

Week 14 – Viola riviniana

It’s the Easter school break and I’m on holiday in Pembrokeshire. This is a part of the world I know well, return to often and love like an old friend. Walking the coast path is a favourite family activity and yesterday we all walked from Whitesands Bay to St Davids Head. A dramatically beautiful walk along a well trodden cliff edge path, past the ancient Cromlech Stones, which are Neolithic burial chambers (around 5000 years old), dozens of wild horses and a plethora of beautiful flora. The bracken smells like butter and the masses of violets create subtle drifts of purple that are incredibly beautiful. The Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) grow well on nutrient-poor soil and this type of vegetation is characteristic of the coastal peninsulas of St Davids and Stumble Head. The plant is an early nectar source for butterflies and is the larval host plant for a range of Fritillary butterflies, including the Small Pearl-Bordered, the Pearl-Bordered and the Silver-Washed Fritillaries. It flowers from April to June but its flowers are not scented, unlike those of its cousin, the Sweet Violet. They are tiny… so get down on one knee to get a closer look and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Digitalis trojans

Week 13 – Digitalis trojans or Foxglove ‘Helen of Troy’

Apparently foxgloves used to be called “Folks Glove,” because its flower resembled the finger of gloves worn by “good folk” or fairie, who, like the plant, dwell in deep hollows and woody dells. Another theory is that the infamous ‘mr fox’ wore the gloves so he wouldn’t get caught raiding the chicken shed.

For me ‘Helen of Troy’ is a beautiful member of this relatively small family. I love it when they’re planted en-mass, so last week I planted about 100 in a couple of large drifts. Unlike many other members of the genus which tend to be biennials, D. trojans is a hardy perennial growing somewhere between 60-90cm. Straight-backed stems, garbed in gleaming darkly green lanceolate leaves with fine gray haired margins, spring from a handsome evergreen rosette. Indigenous to Turkey, this hard-to-find foxglove’s signature is its remarkable soft-looking, earthy flower spikes. fuzzy, tightly set, silver washed buds unveil caramel-colored blossoms, featuring elaborately patterned gold and rusty brown throats and luminous white lips. Long blooming, more drought tolerant than other digitalis and happiest in a cool, somewhat shady setting.

Planting in action

Week 12 – Planting in action

Gardening is not known as an adrenaline filled pastime. This is as good an ‘action’ shot as you’re ever really going to see. But just in case anyone wanted to see behind the scenes, this is the reality. Mud, compost, plants, spades, a wheelbarrow and lots of plastic pots. In fact that’s actually one of our pet hates. Plastic pots. As opposed to throwing them away we try keep all the pots so Alan can re-use them to pot on the next batch of plugs and 1L plants. Surely this is the least we should all be doing in order to do our small part in reducing unnecessary land fill. Better still let’s start to see a complete rejection of plastic pots and move to an effective biodegradable replacement. Now there’s a good business plan. In the meantime we’re going to push on and finish this monumental planting job. After all the sunshine has arrived.

Crown lifting Rhododendrons

Week 11 – Crown lifting Rhododendrons

On my way up to Nottingham this week I popped into Deepdale Trees to pick up a huge Pittosporum that’s part of the rapidly developing scheme. Whilst wandering around (as I often like to do) I spotted these magnificent Rhodedendrons that have been pruned up to reveal their impressive stem structure. This is a very effective technique as it allows light into the base of the plant which makes underplanting possible. This is exactly what I plan to do as part of our next major project which starts in a few months time in the Lake District.

Echium candicans

Week 10 – Echium candicans

Last week I retuned to Nottingham to start planting a garden we’ve been working on for some time. The hard landscaping is done and the trees are in. Now it’s time for the bigger more architectural plants to go in before moving on to the perennial plants. This stage is always fun, always exciting and always harder work then I remember. This is the first time for quite a while that I’ve found myself planting into the ground (as opposed to a living wall) and the client, a keen gardener and knowledgable plantsman himself, has allowed me to take complete control over the plant selection. As the garden starts to take shape, unexpected vistas start to appear, like the dappled evening sunlight seeping through these newly planted Echium candicans. It’s still a little early in the season, but you can just see the blue flowers spikes starting to open. Wonderful.