Verbascum olympicum

Week 27 – Verbascum olympicum

I planted this in my garden back in the Spring. In June the flowers are packed into long heads which can tower to 3m. Flowers open randomly up and down the spike-like inflorescence and carry on for a long time. We are now well into July and my Verbascum is still in full flow. Apparently it would be unusual not to have a few flowers as late as November. It’s my new favourite. Until my next new favourite comes along…

Learning by osmosis

Week 25 – Learning by osmosis

Osmosis, a definition: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.

My business partner Will has obviously been paying attention. With very little input from me he has single handedly put together his rather beautiful new garden. It looks like one of my designs and I’d like to take some credit but it’s all his own work. Unless of course it is in fact an unconscious nod of approval to one of my gardens. Seriously though, it is beautiful. 10/10 for the planting. (I did help him choose the acers). The only downside is that it looks like I’m becoming redundant in my own company.

Planting living walls ‘off-site’

Week 23 – Planting our latest green wall.

We’re all quite excited at TLA HQ as we start to plant our new batch of living walls ‘off-site’ at our new nursery space. This will allow us to plant our walls in advance of delivery to site which is good for lots of reasons. Most importantly, the planting in advance means a more mature and developed wall at the point of installation so our clients ultimately get an improved product. We also reduce the time we need to spend on site so it becomes far easier to install our living walls as part of wider garden schemes. On a more selfish level, it is also a joy to work in the peace and quiet of the countryside where all we can hear is the birds chirping away and not the sound of builders, scaffolders and traffic!

What is a show garden?

Week 21 – What is a show garden?

The “Chelsea Flower Show”, what can I say, am I alone in feeling confused? Is that a show garden over there or is it a trade stand? Can I tell the difference? Do I care anymore? Well yes actually I do. My problem is that I just don’t understand what is so interesting about re-creating a familiar landscape from elsewhere. This seems to be a safe route and one that more and more are following. Be it a quarry in Malta, a vineyard in France, a piece of Dartmoor or a slice of Tuscany. It’s all very ‘inspiring’ apparently. A piece of the moon might be more interesting. I want to see designers developing original ideas and creating inspiring spaces, not showing me how well they can reproduce a ‘scene’ from another location. To my eyes this is just a display of technical ability. Over the years many designers have chosen to delve a little deeper. In 1997 Christopher Bradley Hole’s ‘Latin Garden’ was inspired by a Roman poet and won best in show. Diarmuid Gavin’s 2004 garden drew inspiration from the national lottery and Sarah Ebele’s 2007 garden “600 days with Bradstone” represents the personal space of an Astronaut on a 600 day tour of duty and was an investigation into the psychological effects of long term stay in space. Now that’s what I consider an original and exciting ’show garden’.

Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’

Week 20 – Selaginella kraussiana ‘Aurea’ is an amazing, beautiful, delicate and very useful little plant.

Spike moss is another of my little secret weapons. I use it in the same way and often alongside soleirolia soleirolii as an effective ‘surface’ cover. Close cousins to the true ferns, it forms a low creeping mat of feathery leaves. It prefers moist to wet and shady conditions. This variety has leaves of bright chartreuse yellow, forming a beautiful carpet that lends itself to creating all kinds of interesting contrasts when used in one of our living walls.


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!

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.

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.

Soleirolia soleirolii, my trusted not so secret, secret weapon.

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.