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!
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.
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.
Week 8 – Soleirolia soleirolii, my trusted not so secret, secret weapon.
In my continued search for effective creeping ground cover or should I say creeping wall cover, Soleirolia soleirolii is still my number one choice. This tiny unassuming plant is a huge horticultural help to me. Quick to establish, it will tolerate sun or shade and is relatively frost hardy. The masses of tiny leaves clothe slender spreading stems that root as they run, forming a dense deep-pile carpet – perfect as a backdrop on my living walls. When planted in and amongst other favourites such as Asarum europaeum (wild ginger), Pachysandra terminalis ‘Green Carpet’ or Euonymus fortunei ‘Harlequin’ it slowly but surely starts to envelope them creating a power struggle for both light and attention which I find both exciting and intriguing. It is capable of vegetative reproduction which is a process by which new organisms arise without production of seeds or spores so all in all a useful almost maintenance free, not so secret, secret weapon.
Week 6: Imagination
Designing a garden is all about imagination. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it seems to me it’s often lost during the long process of creating a garden. It’s not just about imagining what the layout of the garden might be, the materials you could use or even the specific plants that might work. It’s not even about imagining what the client might like or worse, request. It is about all of these things and another much more critical thing. It’s about trying to imagine what the garden you create is going to look like in the years after you’ve finished it. It’s all about imagining the future.
When it comes to trees you need to imagine what they’re going to look like in 5, 10, 50 even 100 years time. You do of course also need to imagine how they might look the day you finish, as this is what the client is actually going to judge you on, in the short term at least. This is not so easy, but you need to try and imagine it. It’s all part of the design process.
Right now I’m imagining planting three large Rhus typhina (Stag’s horn sumach) in one of my new schemes. I love the architectural quality of the Rhus which work well when underplanted in a simple monocultural way. One of my favourite designers, Tom Stuart Smith used them to great effect in this garden in Norfolk. I’m imagining my scheme might look as good as this. I’ve clearly got a vivid imagination.
Week 5: The Hellebore – as my son would say, now is your time to shine!
There are few perennials that can rival the seasonal interest of hellebores… often called Christmas or Lenten Rose. Hellebores have long been grown in gardens, although originally for their medicinal properties. Hellebores are filled with alkaloid toxins and have been used both as a poison and a purgative. Most are primarily European natives, growing in open meadows in Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and even China, where the deciduous species Hellebores thibetanus can be found. As long-blooming, low-maintenance, basically evergreen perennials these plants have few equals. I’ve included them in my living walls from the day I started and they’ve never let me down. You simply have to love a plant that braves what nature throws at it and still manages to show off at this time of year.
Week 4: Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’
I used to think Fuchsia were a bit old fashioned. Whatever that really means. These days I certainly don’t pay any attention to fashion when it comes to plants. I just like what I find attractive at any given time. Right now I absolutely love Fuchsia. Call me old fashioned, I don’t care. My favourite is Fuchsia ‘Hawkshead’. Most fuchsia flowers are pink and purple, but this has elegant, slim, white flowers with a hint of pink. It does particularly well in living walls and I have used it a number of times now with absolutely fabulous results. Fuchsia are not that fussy. They like full sun or partial shade and flower for ever, well mainly from June to October. Quite a few of them are frost hardy too. They bloom like crazy and don’t need much attention. What’s not to love. I would recommend fuchsia to anyone who is not particularly bothered about being unfashionable… unless of course they’ve become 2017’s hottest horticultural must have… I wouldn’t know.
Week 3: Pop.
Sometimes an idea just pops into your head. Whilst doing a little brainstorming and research for a new project the ‘pop’ art movement literally popped into my head. I loved it as an art student and I still love it now almost 25 years later… wham, bam, crash, bang, wallop!
Week 2: ’Sea of slate’ Castle Crag, Borrowdale.
I’m currently developing a plan for a new project in the lake district. I’ve decided on my key ideas (I think) and I’m now putting together a visual Smorgasbord to show the client. This involves hours of research and finding visual references that help better explain my thinking. Whilst doing this I’ve stumbled on a photographer called Mark Hewitt. This image in particular resonated with me. Simple, beautiful, powerful and totally natural (with just a little help from the occasional walker).
At home Adam has his own living wall. Here he likes to experiment with different varieties and combinations of plants.
Every season it changes and as the years pass it matures and develops. The fuchsia flowers are now long gone and as the low winter sunlight illuminates the leaves it reminds us that even the fading skeleton of a once lush green leaf is a thing of beauty.
Living wall in Crouch End by The Landscape Architect