Landscape Diary

Below are selected excerpts from my Elaine Hughes Landscape Facebook  page, which is an informal diary and insight into the day to day of my landscape interests and landscape design work. 

Planting perfect. May 2016

The last few weekends have been taken up with some really fun community planting days at the Oborne Estate and Lowden Road Traffic Island in Herne Hill for which I prepared the planting plans for the beds that are intended to absorb surplus rain water thus diverting it from the drain system.

Lots of the local community turned up to help plant the 1000 plus plants I had specified for the beds. Everybody mucked in and worked really hard over the muddy and soggy days and I think I am right in saying that great fun was had by all.

The plants selected are robust and once established should tolerate periods of dry weather and periods of wet weather. Each bed has year round seasonal and wildlife interest with a mixture of evergreen plants and grasses as well as long flowering plants across the seasons. It is always fantastic to see a project come to fruition and I am really looking forward to watching these beds develop over time.

These gorgeous images were taken by Joe Twigg who can be contacted via Twitter @avectwigg

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With compliments.  14April 2016

Here’s a cheering daffodil and bluebell combo that perked me up while out walking the dog at a blurry hour this morning. In colour theory, purple and yellow are complementary colours and have a special relationship and resonance with each other that can be both calming or vibrant depending on the tone and hue. Out in the park at 6am these trumpet and bell shaped flowers were just catching the slanting morning light for a pleasing and soothing view. It was an experience helped along no doubt by the sparkling dew on the grass, the orchestral bird song in surround sound and the fresh, crisp morning air.

We are coming into bluebell season and I am reminded to find myself a proper woodland carpet of the English variety to visit in due course. Any advice on where to go?

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Natural Born Digger….(chewer, splasher…..)  13 Apil 2016

Introducing the new-ish addition to the Hughes Landscape team. Her name is Saffy and she is 6 month old Lagotto Romagnolo, which is an Italian water dog and not a labradoodle or a cockapoo as I am asked all of the time. Her instinct drives her towards any water source and she is happiest in a big muddy puddle, often criss crossing whatever park or woodland we are walking in to jump from puddle to puddle. Lagottos are also famous truffle hunters because they have a great sense of smell and really, REALLY like to dig. Perhaps this is not the ideal dog companion for a garden proud landscape designer!!?? She has bags of character and of course I completely adore her even when she digs up my plant beds and pots and decides that my first camellia flower of the year is a more interesting chew thing than an actual, meant to be, chew thing.

Fortunately camellias are non toxic to dogs. If you have a dog and especially an indiscriminate chew crazy puppy like mine, keep a note on the plants that you have in your garden and the risk that they may pose if ingested. Here’s a useful link to the Kennel Club website which lists some of the worst offenders. Bulbs feature quite highly so if you have a digger like mine keep an eye out on your daffs and tulips at this time of year.

http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/…/house-and-garden-plants-…/

Honestly I have no idea how that flower got there I am just chewing this rope chew thing.

Honestly I have no idea how that flower got there I am just chewing this rope chew thing.

Saffy loves a muddy puddle

Being a water dog, Saffy loves a muddy puddle

Digging is as natural to a Lagotto as breathing

Digging is as natural to a Lagotto Romagnolo as breathing

12 April 2016

Continuing on the tree theme from yesterday how about this wonderful cherry that stopped me in my tracks yesterday? With a blossom that is so gentle and pillowy against it’s sturdy and characterful trunk. Rather like a stout lady of a certain age in her finest frock ( I may be speaking of myself there…) It’s such a wonderful time of year for watching trees emerging from their long winter rest with colourful blossom and new buds unfolding in the longer, warmer days.

I don’t have many friends in my circle who have the opportunity for a fine specimen like this their front garden, I hope the owners know how lucky they are.

Beautiful cherry tree

Beautiful cherry tree

 

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Soft, pillowy blossom

 

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Soft, pillowy blossom

A cut above….?  11 April 2016

Many people would, quite understandably, find the pollarded knuckles on this row of plane trees that I walked past recently to be a brutalised treatment of their natural form. If left untethered a plane tree would comfortably reach a height of over 30metres with a wide, proud crown and a thick, firm trunk. Stalwarts of London’s street and parklands these grand trees are handsome, long living and are, crucially, great absorbers of pollution via their handsome, camouflage like, trunk.

These dear wee fellows have had their natural growth stunted by a regular regime of pollarding, which is the hard pruning of the stems close to the trunk. Pollarding is a common rural practice for cropping shrubs and trees, such as hazel or willow, to encourage a new crop of stems that are out of reach of any greedy, fresh stem munching, wildlife. In this scenario the pollarding is used to limit the trees growth both above and below the ground to enable them to coexist with the apartment block that they frame.

I see the view that it is an emasculation of a magnificent living creature but yet… but yet I also find their form to be intriguing and sculptural and a testament both to the human need to manage nature as well as natures ability to push on through against some rather brutal odds. New stems will soon sprout from these gnarley nubs creating a rather formal and unusual hedge in front of this minimalist block. I will make a point of coming back to check on their leaved form later this year to compare it with this rather twisted, deformed but striking skeleton.

I would also be interested to hear what others think of this pruning technique or plane trees in general as they are a controversial urban tree due to their relative lack of wildlife value. Feel free to write a comment below.

A row of plane trees

A line of pollarded plane trees

Line of pollarded plane trees

A line of pollarded plane trees

 

Parklet competition – 15 December 2015

Here’s the drawing I did for a recent competition to design a ‘Parklet’ space in the London Borough of Southwark. A parklet is a mini park if you like, a small community seating and meeting place that is built into an existing parking space on the street. It is an idea that is taking off in America and seems to be gaining some currency here in the UK. It is a lovely idea that creates break out spaces for people and reclaims some of the road back from cars. The spaces are tiny though – 8m x 2m – so they require some ingenuity of design.

The competition called for sustainable materials, a modular build and ideas to incorporate air pollution monitoring. I proposed a variety of familiar items such as metal cans and steel drums recycled and reformatted into features such as planters and a screen to shield the users from the street. Seating and a floor from recycled boards and integrated pollution friendly planting also featured. The whole space could be built and relocated as a series of modular features.

If I had won I would have posted images MUCH sooner. The competition was strong and I didn’t get placed but as well as putting my mind to a different type of pop up design I enjoyed the process of designing a tiny streetscape space with emphasis on a simple and transferable construction. 

Parklet design for a tiny streetscape

Parklet design for a tiny streetscape

Warming up in the Hot House – 10 December 2015

I was visiting a friend in Copenhagen recently and took a chilly stroll in the immaculately laid out Botanic gardens there. The grounds were large and really very tidy with just enough species information to read without it interrupting the simple experience of a nice walk somewhere green. It was jolly cold so I didn’t dawdle much or take in as much as perhaps I would have liked focussing more on where the next coffee stop might be but I did pause and take notice of this species of Barberry that I am not familiar with, Berberis vulgaris L. var. asperma. It was a cheering sight on a darkening and cold winters afternoon. Its elegant drooping form and bright berries stood out luminously with a festive nod and reminder that colour does still exist in the world. It would make a fine addition to any reasonably sized garden providing winter interest and a fruity crop. It is clearly no stranger to a colder climate but all I have found out about it since is that it is cultivated in arid and semi arid areas of Iran and is widely used as a food additive.

I managed to warm up rather dramatically and steam up my glasses for a few minutes in the large, lusciously planted hot house just before it closed for the day. It was very brief and somewhat defined by trying to avoid the chap telling people the house was closing but as I was surrounded by the tropical species and humid misting air I felt the excitement of intrepid plant hunters and explorers and half expected a monkey or some tropical beasty with scales and big eyes to swoop down on me. Had I have been more organised during my trip I would have gotten there a lot earlier for a proper look around – but I guess the much colder weather in Copenhagen froze my brain a little during the trip and not just my fingers. I will definitely try to go back – but maybe in Spring or Summer time so I can focus on more than trying to keep warm.

The impressive greenhouses at Copenhagen's Botanical Gardens

The impressive greenhouses at Copenhagen’s Botanical Gardens

The tropical and humid jungle

The multilayered tropical and humid jungle

The tropical and humid jungle

The tropical and humid jungle

Well laid out and informative gardens

Tidy, well laid out and informative gardens

Colourful and cheering Berberris vulgaris var. asperma

Elegant, colourful and cheering Berberris vulgaris var. asperma

Dear old dears – 09 August 2015

Here is a pleasing, if somewhat old fashioned, late summer combo that’s brightening up my back yard at the moment. We have a window trough with hot pink and red geranium pom poms, a big pot of hydrangea with its vivid and enticing flowers and a kooky leaved nasturtium, one of my top 10 hall of fame plants, scrambling between the two.

The geraniums (Pelargonium) have been flowering for months now and are giving me a good show from both inside and outside from their elevated position on the window sill. There are many many flowering forms across the many many varieties within the Pelargonium genus. These globes are a bit gaudy maybe but they are reliable, robust and cheerful. Despite being mostly evergreen, geraniums are generally rather tender and are often grown indoors or as temporary outside summer bedding (…often in large, ugly displays in public parks before being chucked out like unwanted battery chicks…. I really must get around to putting down my antagonism for large, wasteful amenity bedding displays…). My much luckier, free range geraniums benefit from their sheltered potted position and will go right through the winter to reward me with a cheering green view from inside on the greyest winter days. Give them a good dose of daily sun during flowering, don’t let them get too dry, dead head and chop back to lower budding growth from time to time to prevent too much leg and they will keep putting on their unapologetic bouffant flowery show that I defy anybody not to be cheered by.

This hydrangea has the more subtle lacecap style flowers rather than the big ballsy mop heads of some varieties. These round, flat flowerheads have a central core of gentle, subdued, fertile flowers surrounded by outer rings of showier but sterile flowers. I have never been much of a fan of a hydrangea and inherited this plant with a resigned sigh but the more I study the flower the more I like it’s interesting combination of refined elegance with a blousy lack of subtlety. It’s a bit like getting a kiss from an elderly lady wearing a full face of bright make up over her translucent skin and leaving a powdery whiff of Bronnley perfum lingering in the air. Unfamiliar and a bit alarming at first but gentle and quite lovely really.

I have raved before about the delightful, slightly loopy nasturtium, which is an annual plant with lopsided leaves that will tumble and run through a bed like a gleeful, unkempt child after a sugary snack. You can eat nasturtium leaves and flowers in a salad though, which is not recommended for children no matter how well fed up they are.

As much as I love a cheeky nasturtium, if I was being a snob and I guess I am, the geranium and hydrangea is not a planting combination at it’s most – or even slight – contemporary best and not I one I would specify in a planting scheme. I’m looking after this back yard for travelling friends whose flat I have adopted for the time being and as such am not in a position to change it too much with my new fangled fancy ideas. However, truthfully, I am getting daily pleasure from these dear ladies who I have known for some time now and who have never stooped in the face of my disdain and aversion. They have been here longer than I have and quite rightly deserve some respect and good manners from me.

A bright and blousy combination

A bright and blousy combination

Vivid geranium ball

Vivid geranium ball

Attractive lace cap Hydrangea flower

Attractive lace cap Hydrangea flower

Kooky nasturtium leaves

Kooky nasturtium leaves

A design is born! – 5 August 2015

I am really pleased to see that the Benhill Community Garden that I designed not so long ago has recently opened.

The Benhill Community Garden is tucked away in the London Borough of Southwark. It used to be an overgrown, scruffy plot of land adjacent to the Brunswick Park Primary School. The creepy sort of place you would not want to walk through alone – even if you could get into it. There had been a nature garden on the site many years before but it had been long neglected and was little more than a rubbish dump and possibly a site of illegal activities.

I worked closely with London Wildlife Trust, the London Borough of Southwark Parks and Ecology department together with the local community to develop a design that maximised community interaction with wildlife and nature. The design aimed to maximise the space to incorporate as much habitat as possible together with good access points, natural play for children, seating and social areas and peaceful places for people and nature.

I visited the garden this week and am delighted that it looks just as I hoped that it would. There is a small woodland area, meadow and a large and happily establishing pond habitat. The ornamental sensory beds are loaded up with plenty of nectar for bees and butterflies and log piles will keep invertebrates happy. The public seating and children’s natural play areas are well integrated into the garden, which should ensure that people and nature can happily coexist. It is essential now that the local community keep an eye out and discourage anti social behaviour in order for the garden to thrive and fulfil its potential to be of proper benefit to the community and wildlife.

I am very much looking forward to watching the garden develop over time.

 

The site was dense, scruffy and little bit creepy

The site was dense, scruffy and little bit creepy

 

The design aimed to inprove access and integrate natural habitat with gentle recreation for people

The design aimed to improve access and integrate natural habitat with gentle recreation for people

Compost bins, standing log piles and drought resistant nectar rich planting

Compost bins, standing log piles and drought resistant nectar rich planting

natural play

 

The good sized pond is establishing nicely

The good sized pond is establishing nicely

Nectar rich ornamental planting

Nectar rich ornamental planting

 

Retained and thinned woodland with a brand new boundary fence

Retained and thinned woodland with a brand new boundary fence

Small but perfectly formed – 28 July 2015

It was the sweet, fragrant smell of this gorgeous bed at Kenwood House that caught my attention first yesterday during a much needed tea pit stop. Sweet peas, limonium, lilies and verbena colliding in frizzy, ragtag bundles are bookmarked by huge hydrangea pom poms and contained with a wee lavender hedge and a dense Virginia creeper curtained backdrop. This little scheme looks thrown together but the only accident here is a happy one.

Gorgeous, scented frizzy collisions of sweet pea, lilies, limonium and verbena

Gorgeous, scented frizzy collisions of sweet pea, lilies, limonium and verbena

Hydrangea poms poms and a backdrop curtain of Virginia creeper

Hydrangea poms poms and a backdrop curtain of Virginia creeper

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New Balls Please  –  13 July 2015

If I have the time, I like to walk or cycle longer routes home from wherever I happen to be to better my chances of spotting some interesting landscape intervention in a lesser visited spot. There’s no harm in staying off the beaten track and often I am rewarded with an introduction to a new plant species, design idea or other inspiration.

The other day, doing just that, I happened across this cheeky use of box balls – Buxus sempirvirens – in a front garden just around the corner.   This hedge is simply a series of box balls planted close to each other so that they have merged together in this undulating, bulbous manner.  It is a clever and unpretentious update to the more mundane box hedging or stand alone box balls that are often plonked here and there in a garden with no great purpose. This evergreen, humorous, bulbous hedge would raise a smile on returning home all year round no matter how rough the day.  It is also easy enough to maintain with an annual trim in late spring to keep it in shape.  All in all it is a winning combination of panache, year round interest and an easy care regime that I can’t wait to try out myself.

Clever, evergreen, undulating hedge

Clever, evergreen, undulating hedge

Sutton Surprise – Green Wall – 24 June 2015

So there I was walking through Sutton High street as you do on a Monday afternoon. I was in between visiting clients, looking for a tea shop and a loo, when I came across this fantastic and thriving living wall. At first I walked past it, typically lost in my thoughts and not looking at the world around me for inspiring features but also, and I’m not proud to say it, not expecting great landscape interventions from Sutton High Street.

How wrong I was. I stopped, because something didn’t make sense, looked up at the 3 story wall above me and saw that it was green and textured instead of grey, dirty and flat like many of its neighbours. It still took a moment to register properly that this was a living, breathing wall cloaked in a variety of typically ground dwelling plants such as astrantia, bergenia, fern, erigeron, hellebore and ornamental grasses. I suppose my confusion was an internal conflict of the actual evidence of the undulating green wall above me versus the deceptive assumption of mine that Sutton could not possibly host such a splendid thing. More fool me.

This type of vertical green space is a step up from your everyday ivy or other wall climber. These plants are set into a modular series of planting bays,which are fixed to the wall and with an integrated irrigation system running throughout. This planting stability and reliable water source accounts for the variety of plants that can be grown successfully in a way that defies common sense and gravity. The selection of evergreen plants is a good choice for long seasonal interest with reduced perennial gappage exposing the unglamorous plastic planting trays beneath and shattering the fairy world delusion that this sort of planting creates,

Out of nowhere emerged this fabulous living wall

Out of nowhere emerged this fabulous living wall

Such a steep and exposed method of planting is not without its complexities. Earlier versions had irrigation issues with water running away on the steep gradient without irrigating the parched plants. I have also seen green walls planted high up in exposed wind pockets taking some of the chosen plants well out of their familiar ground based comfort zone and damaging them with scorch and dessication. As I write this I wonder if alpine species wouldn’t be a good choice in these situations being as they are tough plants used to higher altitude climatic conditions, but as I write that I realise that many alpines are small and prone to being a bit straggly, which would conflict with the dense mat planting effect desired.

 

Hellebore, fern, ornamental grasses creating varied texture and colour

Hellebore, fern, ornamental grasses creating varied texture and colour

Hellebore, fern, ornamental grasses creating varied texture

Hellebore, fern, ornamental grasses creating varied texture

These living vertical carpets are more expensive to install and higher maintenance than ivy or some such but the results are truly eye catching. I have seen them sporadically in city centres such as London, Paris and even in Mexico but they are still an uncommon feature and certainly not usual in more suburban areas such as Sutton, which I hope account for my rather snooty surprise at happening across this one. My snobbishness was soon replaced with an appreciation at how this proud solitary green wall elevated the surrounding built environment into something special. Suddenly I was in a place to be appreciated and not disregarded as yet another boring linear shopping street. I sure hope that living walls like this one become a much more familiar sight for this design value and enhanced experience of a place, for their environmental benefits and habitat potential.

A wonderful, living, breathing, beautiful and textured wall

A wonderful, living, breathing, beautiful and textured wall

Planting countdown – 24 June 2015

I have been visiting with my plant supplier, Provender Nursery, to have a look at the plants that are being compiled for a planting job I start soon. It’s great to see so many of the gorgeous plants I have specified for the design, many of which are about to burst into flower. There’s rather a lot of them ready for delivery and more to be added soon. I can’t wait to start getting them in the soil with the planting team on site and to watch as the design on paper begin to take shape on the ground. Excited!

Hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous plants really to go in the soil

Hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous plants really to go in the soil

Hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous plants really to go in the soil

Hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous plants really to go in the soil

 

GROW London – 22 June 2015

I had a lot of fun presenting a workshop about wildlife friendly container planting at GROW London on Sunday. The workshop attracted quite a big group of friendly and chatty people. It’s a great business to be in because, on the whole, people who like plants and nature tend to be decent, receptive and switched on folk who like to question information but don’t heckle needlessly. I hope that everybody who attended found it as enjoyable as I did.

Me presenting the workshop

Me presenting the workshop

I also enjoyed wandering around the GROW event after my workshop. It was a compact event with a selective group of garden related contributors, presenters and displays nothing like the ocean of planty innovation at the large RHS events such as the Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Shows, which can be a little overwhelming at times. There were fun and messy workshops for children and several of my personal horticultural heroes such as designer Cleve West and Head Gardener Fergus Garrett from Great Dixter were scheduled to give talks over the weekend too, which is an added draw for attendees.

Wood carving demonstration

Wood carving demonstration

Floral displays

Floral displays

I chatted to several merchants who were all passionate about their various products and even managed to buy myself just one plant to take home. Before I entered the arena I had a stern word with myself that, if I really must, then I could only buy myself one plant. This is a conversation motivated by my general inclination to load myself up with a gamillion little potted orphans at these events that I simply do not have room for in my tiny yard. I can barely walk outside now for all of the pots of new ‘I must have it and hang the consequences’ purchases and other plants grown this year from seed and it must stop. I was immediately drawn to this graceful papyrus whose distant ancestors would have formed papery sheets for the ancient Egyptians to write their script on that is now in a somewhat less glorious residence in my bathroom. It’s not quite the Nile but I hope that it will do well for me here.

My new Papyrus plant

My new Papyrus plant

Greenwich Planting – 16 June 2015

This gorgeous and well thought out planting scheme underneath the recently restored and imposing Cutty Sark hull on the London Borough of Greenwich’s river front is a fine example of when an amenity planting scheme can enhance its context and unify a multi functional space.

The planting is laid out in bold angular blocks of a limited palette of single species in a series of rectangular raised beds. Each bed has its own identity and interest but as a group, helped along by repetitions of some species across the beds, they present a united front that is not in the least bit diminished by the massive and very famous Tea Clipper ship looming above. Block planting is a style of planting that can look formulaic and conventional but here at Greenwich the use of soft grasses such as stipa and penesetum together with loosely formed flowering species such as cimicifuga lends a rebellious cheek with added winks of hot, disco pinks from astrantia and persicaria flowers complementing its unapologetic nature. A common problem with block plantings like this is that a failed plant or two within a chunk can be very noticeable much like a goofy tooth in a perfect smile. So far these plantings are holding up to the rigours of a 24/7 amenity life without too many losses or gapped grins.

Which is just as well because for all of the boldness of these beds it is not to say that they aren’t under some pressure to scrub up well and know their place being as they are in the heart of the remarkable and somewhat traditional Greenwich Maritime World Heritage site. This place was once the epicentre of old maritime Greenwich – an area defined by fishermen, boat and barge builders, watermen and all the riverside trades but also the home to the Royal Naval Hospital and College, now forming the University of Greenwich, the Royal Observatory where time itself was standardised, the Royal parkland, multiple architectural landmarks and and and…

 

Soft and Natural planting

Soft and Natural planting

Punctuations of Hot Pink Colour

Punctuations and Blocks of Hot Pink Colour

Within this formidable context the planting has an assertive fluidity to it that complements its historic Thames side location, without being consumed or intimidated by it. In fact, at times, the waves and drifts of plants and grasses appear themselves to be a flowing extension of this capital waterway. From some angles the Cutty Sark herself even seems to sail again atop these green waves, which is a fitting tribute to her seafaring history and the long maritime tradition of the area as a whole.

All in all the planting scheme at the Greenwich river front underpins a jolly clever synthesis between the remarkable Cutty Sark with her surrounding pedestrian zone, the historic maritime context and iconic capital river that flows alongside and, indeed, created all of it in the first place. Sitting alongside these beds really does give pause for thought and wonder of the long story that brought them here.

The Cutty Sark Seems to Sail atop the Greenery

The Cutty Sark Seems to Sail atop the Greenery

Waves and Drifts of Grasses Along side the River Thames

Waves and Drifts of Grasses Sway Along side the River Thames

 

The A2 – I cant find a funny headline – 11 June 2015

The A2 is not a road that I can say that I have ever enjoyed whether by car, bicycle or on foot. It’s a long dirty gash of vehicular noise, congestion, car exhaust and most likely user exhaustion too. I am allowed to say it is a horrible creature because it is permissible to be mean about a tedious family member in a same way that it is proper to correct a stranger for saying the same thing about them.

Once upon a time the A2 was a celtic trackway that evolved into a strategic Roman route whose importance as a major link between SE London and Dover remains today. I know this road well and can trace my own evolution in London and the South East by its path. The A2 hosted many of my local living needs when I lived in the Elephant and Castle for years and years, also the twice-weekly trip to Greenwich from the Effluent and Crustle (see above for being mean about tedious loved ones) for the 3 years of my masters degree in Greenwich University, clients to garden for from New Cross to Sidcup came before that, design projects in Chatham and Rochester since, a short stint living in Blackheath and another in Greenwich and the longer occasional trips to the ferry on the coast have sealed this route firmly in my blue print. The prospect of a jaunt on the A2 does not make my heart soar but it is a part of me and my story so I put up with it (back to the bit about tedious loved ones etc etc)

In one analysis it is interesting to see how the landscape has molded itself around this long established route. Mostly the A2 is about being somewhere else. It is a road to get from A to B and fast. This is not a road to dilly dally unless of course when stuck in the frequently constipated traffic along its intestinal route.

Occasionally there is a little unexpected punctuation mark that nudges the A2 into some sort of humanity. This is apparent where it severs the wide expanse of Blackheath from the walls of Greenwich Park in a blur of a single laned fast moving vehicles pent up from escaping New Cross and impatient to get to the duel carriageway beyond. I had to walk this portion earlier this week and the point that I have taken far too long to get to is that this short walk alongside the roaring traffic was made much more bearable by the soft long grass and flower meadow verges that have been grown to buffer the road and walkway. The effect is a reclamation of the natural connection between heathland and parkland without blunting it with fences or hedges. Oxe eye daisy, red campion, soapwort and feathery grasses shield the view of the lorries and sway gently, softening the urban reality and much improving the pedestrian and road user experience. I dare say more than a few bees appreciate the flowers too.

I have often thought it was a shame that such a major road breaks open the heathland at Blackheath and royal parkland beyond but it is true that the route was there first and the rest came after and has had to tolerate the persistent traffic. I suppose also it is the urban reality of natural spaces that are conjoined with hard spaces and the trick – indeed the task – is to make the transition more bearable for people, road users and wildlife. For a few minutes, walking along the meadow verges, I was in the city but more aware of nature than the 12wheelers and it was lovely. These flowery verges can only have a temporary impact as the meadow will eventually fall to their seasonal pattern but for that short precious time nature and her tedious urban road relative seem to get along well enough.

Softening the vehicular view

Softening the vehicular view

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Gentle transition between green space and road space

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Wildflowers and grasses

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Interesting texture and colour

Plugging away 6 June 2015

I have been preparing my upcoming presentations about container growing with wildlife in mind with The Wild Flower Company at GROW, London and at the pop up event for British Flower week. There is loads to say about the Why, How and What can be planted into a whole range of containers.

As part of the presentation I will planting up a window box with some wildlife friendly UK and naturalised species, which I have bought as small plug plants from a specialist nursery because, sadly, it can be hard to source native UK species in typical high street garden centres.

Trays of native wildflower plugs

Trays of native wildflower plugs

Plugs are small but can be an economical way to buy plants

Plugs are small but can be an economical way to buy plants

They have a bit of growing up to do but these plug plants are an economical way to buy plants with each plug coming in at less than £1 each and much less if you buy in larger numbers. I am potting my plugs on into slightly bigger containers to give them a bit of extra breathing and growing space ahead of their big showing at my presentations in a couple of weeks.

As an aside, these balsa crates that every fruit and veg market stall chucks out by the gamillion make fantastic and attractive storage carriers for little pots in the garden.

Plugs potted on and stored in balsa crates from the local market

Plugs potted on and stored in small crates from the local market

 

Herby harvest part deux – 6 June 2015
I first posted on this eclectic little planter by my back door about five weeks ago. Strictly speaking it isn’t a conventional or traditional way to grow herbs but I rather like my little pot with it’s recovering supermarket mint and chives tangled up with a late flowering winter pansy and over hanging scruffy little spray of ivy. I didn’t have anywhere else to put them you see and couldn’t bear to throw them away or compost them when I had used up the best of the plastic potted crop so I shoved them into a nearly redundant container that had a few winter bedding plants hanging on. Sure enough the herbs have bounced back and respectfully claimed themselves a pot squat and I have an extended herby harvest.

Five weeks on and unbelievably the pansy’s are still going strong, with their colourful, pudgy little faces grinning away cheerfully. The chives have stretched up and flowered into pungent pom poms, the ivy is filling out and the mint keeps providing me with plenty of leaves for tea and cocktails.

In their own way, each little plant in this pot is an orphan but they seem to have found themselves a happy and harmonious home that makes me smile every time I walk past.

The container in April

The container in April

 

The container is still going strong in early June,

The container is still going strong in early June,

More on Moore – 4 June 2015
Following on from my post about how inspiring it was to view the Henry Moore sculptures afresh at Tate Britain this week it occurred to me that, in fact, I either walk, jog or cycle past these three dear ladies by Moore in Battersea Park pretty much every day. I knew that they were there but like an old rug walked on absent mindedly I hadn’t really looked at them properly for a while or thought about what they represent to me or their landscape context. Yesterday, I decided it was time to get acquainted.

The Three Figures from a distance

The Three  Standing Figures from a distance

The Three Standing Figures were carved out of Darleydale stone by Moore in 1947. They had a resonance for him with his famous war time shelter sketches and he said that he wanted to overlay that feeling of a “unified human mood” with “a sense of release and create figures conscious of being in the open air, they have a lifted gaze for scanning spaces” (i)

Moore fully expected the stone to weather and take on colour, especially in the polluted 1940’s context close to Battersea Power Station. For my money the work still looks as fresh and relevant today. Set well away from the path, positioned at the crest of a daisy lawned, gentle slope, enclosed in trees and overlooking the Battersea Park lake their setting is natural and peaceful. No one is going to creep up unannounced on these three ladies who from a distance could be a trio of classical beauties having a little private gossip, serene, aloof perhaps. On closer acquaintance they are solid, reassuring and very dear. These are thoroughly modern women. They have a curvacious femininity but are strong and very powerful indeed. I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

The three of them gaze out towards the lake, perhaps enjoying the natural setting as much as me. Quite rightly, their placement in the park is open access and many a time I have seen kids and dogs cavorting around them, picnicking families munching away and couples canoodling on rugs all under the gentle, undemanding guardianship of these gorgeous women.

Solid and strong women

Solid and strong women

Kind and Serene

Kind and Serene

Overlooking the Battersea Park Lake

Overlooking the Battersea Park Lake

I am very glad I have spent some quality time with these kind, ageless gals and plan to do so again. Art in the landscape provides a vital energy for people to charge themselves up with. A well conceived and well placed work of art can punctuate natural spaces and give them layered meaning and enhanced beauty.

(i) Sculpture in the Open Air: A talk by Henry Moore on his Sculpture and its Placing in Open Air Sites” Recorded at the British Council 1955.

Moore than Special – 01 June 2015

What has some sculpture in a gallery got to do with landscape and landscape design you might ask? What indeed? Turns out it had rather alot to do for me this weekend.

Feeling stale and uninspired on a planting design project and fed up with the British summer weather I took advantage of break in the rain, layered up and cycled across to Tate Britain on Millbank to get a coffee and to spend an hour or so wandering around the public galleries. I go to Tate Britain quite a lot and like to mooch around aimlessly and see what catches my eye. I rarely get direct inspiration for a project but generally leave refreshed and happier for the artistic break and caffeine booster.

The Henry Moore room is a fixed feature in the gallery and is very familiar to me. I have walking through it countless times and felt secure in the familiarity of these large, solid, abstracted figures. On this trip I must have lost my bearings or been lost in my head because I came into the room unexpectedly and in doing so I thought I was seeing the work of a new artist for the first time and it quite literally took my breath away. I stopped in my tracks amazed at these fresh and bold figures that were just so exciting. I could see at a glance that they were recognizable as people but they were distorted and inhuman too. They were sensuous and curvy and yet also quite bent and creepy. For a moment the room and the art absorbed me in a way I had forgotten was possible.

It is ridiculous now to look back on this experience and of being so amazed and wondering whom this great artist could be. Regardless of liking his work or not, a basic follower of art should easily identify a Moore sculpture from a distance. Henry Moore was an incredibly successful and well-regarded artist throughout and beyond his life, albeit not without controversy for the modern form of his work. As with all great artists, Moore created a world that is believable and instantly recognisable.

It was hugely refreshing for a second or two not to recognize that world and to see beyond what I think I know and to go back into what I feel. I guess that was my lesson. There I was, mooching around aimlessly on auto-pilot, bored, a bit cross, stale and spending too much time looking at the ground and being in my head rather than engaged with the world around me. How is it possible to design and create interesting and engaging spaces from that position? Simple, it isn’t possible. My experience of seeing the Moore sculptures afresh was a good wake up call to remind me not to take what I think I know for granted and to try to keep looking afresh at the world to better interpret it in my work. It was a refreshing experience and a well timed inspiration for my current design project.

Breathtaking view of the room of Moore sculpture

Breathtaking view of the room of Moore sculpture

Human and inhuman at the same time

Human and inhuman at the same time

Sensuous yet creepy figures

Sensuous yet creepy figures

 

The High Green Life 27 May 2015

As the name ingeniously suggests, green roofs, also known as living roofs, are planted up roof spaces on buildings. Increasing the numbers of green roofs across a city could go a long way to improving green infrastructure and mitigating the effects of climate change. In larger buildings they can regulate the internal temperature helping to keep them cooler in summer and warmer in winter thus reducing energy consumption and emissions. Green roofs increase habitat value and are a valuable asset for absorbing and channeling rain water. They also look jolly nice and can soften an urban landscape by creating a chain of vertical green spaces across a city instead of the usual depressing sea of grey tombstone buildings. Frankly, we need more of them and soon.

The soil levels required for planting in a green roof vary based upon the weight bearing capacity of the building and the intensity of planting desired. There are several planting strategies that can be used on a green roof such as simple sedum matts and grassy meadows that only require a few cm’s of soil as well as more complex ornamental planting schemes set into deeper soil. Rubble based roofs that replicate brown field habitats are increasingly popular as wildlife friendly roof spaces that appeal to invertebrates and bird species. Other features such as log piles and water puddling can be integrated for additional habitat value for a range of wildlife.

Many smaller structures such as this tiny shed in my back yard can be modified to have a green roof added. Strictly speaking the planting on the roof of my little shed is not typical or conventional for a green roof or for any ornamental bed for that matter. I acquired the shed in my recent move and apart from having a bit of a tidy up with a few little deletions and additions I have been mostly watching to see what crops up, which is no bad thing to do in the first year of acquiring any new green space in order to understand its character and value more fully.

It seems to me that my shed roof has probably been left to its own devices for some years now and it is fascinating to see the echoes of a former planting scheme together with what’s blown in or been planted by my predecessors. A few sedum species are onboard and thriving, which I assume are original settlers. There is also a chirpy ox eye daisy wafting and mingling with a proud fern, both rising above a variety of little annual flowering wild flowers I sowed in March such as corn cockles and poppies who themselves will flank the nasturtiums I also sowed on the corners of the roof and which I hope will tumble wantonly over the sides of the shed in due course.

There are also some standard tufts of grass and native weed species such as herb robert, chick weed and clover getting their boot in. I have been keeping an eye on those and thinning them out if they become too vigorous for their more decorous bed fellows but a few can do no harm and they add grist and a natural texture to this eclectic, eccentric little roof. A weed is a wild plant growing in a cultivated place, a definition that does not necessarily imply danger and destruction to all cultivated plants if left unchecked. Maybe there is a way to combine and celebrate combinations of native and non native species? Achillea millefolium for example – a yarrow native to the UK – is officially a weed in a private garden but in another analysis it is a beautiful feathery leaved and creamy flowered native meadow species. I can see a few of these achilleas will soon be poking through the ox eye daisy and wouldn’t dream of pulling them out.

By far the most random and intriguing resident on my shed roof is a couple of cuttings of a plant I am familiar with only as a house plant known as the Spider plant, which is an indestructible, pollution busting, variegated, grassy looking indoors stalwart. I can only imagine that this has been planted by a previous tenant to get rid of an excessive number of progeny spiderlettes created by the mother plant. I haven’t got the heart to pull it out, it was here before me after all and seems to have survived whatever the weather has chucked at it so far. This determination must give some case for it’s leave to remain in place for now at least.

I expect I will take my shed roof to task one of these days and whip it into a slightly more formal shape. However, at the moment this scruffy, non conforming little elevated space is giving me a great deal of pleasure and intrigue in return for very little work on my part. As well as creating additional green interest in my small yard it is providing habitat for birds and bugs and absorbing rain water as well. Perhaps it is not a planting combination that I would specify for a new roof scheme for a client but it is happy, colourful and full of character and working hard for its keep.

Little green roof on my little shed

Little green roof on my little shed

Oxe eye daisy, fern and native weed species

Oxe eye daisy, fern, sedum and native weed species

A spider plant seems happy enough outdoors

A spider plant seems happy enough outdoors

Colourful and eccentric green roof

Colourful and eccentric green roof

Brompton Cemetery – 25 May 2015

On my way to be a Green Flag Judge at Magravine Cemetery this week I cycled through the Brompton Cemetery, a Royal Park in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is a remarkable Grade 1 listed site with natural green space containing several historic buildings such as the cemetery chapel as well as 35,000 burial monuments all of which punctuate a whopping 205,000 graves. Notable below the ground residents include Emily Pankhurst, the leading suffragette, actor Brian Glover and journalist Bernard Levin.

The Brompton Cemetery is a magical place full of atmosphere and history and is probably one of the lesser known places to visit in London. It is true that it is a little scruffy and wild but this just adds to it’s charm and character, which is fizzing and humming with nature. This week there were endless clouds and puffs of cow parsley rising up ethereally between the tombstones, which seemed entirely appropriate for the holy location.

There is currently a major restoration project for the cemetery being developed by the Royals Parks with a funding bid submitted to the Heritage Lottery and BIG lottery in March 2015 to conserve and enhance the cemetery. It is good to see that wildlife and ecology feature high on the list of priorities. Find out more by clicking here

Chapel at the Brompton Cemetery

Chapel at the Brompton Cemetery

Puffy clouds of cow parsley rising up between the tomb stones

Puffy clouds of cow parsley rising up between the tomb stones

Atmosphere abounds

Atmosphere abounds

 

 

Pleached perfect – 24 May 2015

On my recent trip to Holland I was taken by how big the Dutch are on pleaching trees. Pleaching is a form of severe training of trees into boxes or narrow strips by tying in young shoots onto a frame to form an uninterrupted interwoven barrier or hedge that is elevated by their trunks. I thought that it was a technique mostly reserved for fancy parklands and estates, such as this row of boxed limes flanking the fountain feature at Battersea Park in London that I photographed recently, but it seems to be a standard front garden hedging feature in all of the towns and villages I passed through in Holland. These long, immaculately clipped and trained green barriers on their trunk stilts create a sense of elegance that is perfectly suited to the flat, refined and spotless Dutch towns.

Lime is a popular choice for pleaching but ash, beech and hornbeam are also suitable species. As deciduous species their winter form after leaf fall is a dramatic, sculptural framework of branched grids. These images show a junior pleach with its training frame in place for the tying in of shoots over the summer and pruning against in winter. When the desired pleached form is set the frame can be removed as with its neighbour.

It’s a tricky technique to achieve and like most high maintenance beauty regimes the immaculate results of the sustained grooming can be eye catching and alluring. In Holland it is a ubiquitous feature perfectly suited to the well ordered and even landscape but I suspect that if my neighbour in London set themselves up with a pleached grid outside their home that it might seem somewhat aloof and haughty.

I like a bit of order and it would be untrue to deny that these green geometric barriers very much appeal to my inner neat freak and symmetrical being. However, there is a little nagging thought from my innate nature loving being that training a large tree species into a small box is a little like making a bear wear a dress at the circus.

Boxed pleached lime in Battersea Park

Boxed pleached lime in Battersea Park

An establishing pleached lime hedge in a Dutch town

An establishing pleached lime hedge in a Dutch town

A more established pleached lime hedge in a Dutch town

A more established pleached lime hedge in a Dutch town

Both of the above pleached lime hedges together

Both of the above pleached lime hedges together

Floating Gardens  – 23 May 2015
Downings Road Moorings features a series of seven linked 23m x4m unique floating barge gardens in London, SE1. The gardens are beautiful living walkways created on top of old Thames lighter barges, which themselves are converted into living spaces beneath. Horticulturally these gardens are interesting as living (and floating) roofs, demonstrating that it is possible to grow a thriving mature garden in relatively little soil that, at its deepest, is only 35cm. They are also valuable to nature by providing habitat for a range of wildlife including marine and land based birds, pollinators and other insects and invertebrates.

The plants on the barge gardens display year round seasonal interest with a variety of blossom, berries, flowers, evergreen foliage, colourful stems and attractive seed heads. Each garden has its own planting identity but they all feature some degree of periwinkle and ivy groundcover, as well as repeat plants for visual continuity such as choisya, hebe and nepata. Self sown plants such as poppies, marigolds, cerinthe and nasturtiums are encouraged to add to the naturalistic effect. Height, structure and green punctuation is enhanced by several well established trees including native birch, holm oak, false acacia, a winter flowering cherry and a dramatic weeping ash.

I managed the gardens for a year while I was completing my Landscape Architecture Masters degree some years ago now. The basic planting structure was already well in place but I tidied and moved things around and planted up one new barge from scratch. It was hard but rewarding work, which gave me a lot of satisfaction and taught me a great deal about plants and managing a big garden. I developed understanding of creating naturalistic successional planting where plants grow in and around and through each other throughout the seasons with a range of texture, colour and form. It is a technique that requires a certain amount of management to create the right balance by being tolerant and ruthless with plants in equal measure. I continue to be mindful about the effect of layering plants through the seasons when developing planting schemes for clients.

The floating gardens are much valued by the moorings residents as well as by the wider public who have the opportunity to visit the gardens several times a year during Open Garden days. Walking through a mature garden in the middle of the River Thames in the shadow of the iconic Tower Bridge is a remarkable experience that inspires people time and time again to see the world through new eyes.

The next open day is 31 May 2-5.30pm for the London Open Garden Squares Weekend and again on 13-14 June 2015 2-5pm for the National Gardens Scheme. The residents makes oceans of tea and coffee and mountains of cakes for you to enjoy. Proceeds of tea and cakes sales go to the marvellous RNLI. I highly recommend a visit if you can, you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s a link to my website for more images and information

http://elainehughes.co.uk/?page_id=647

garbage after 1 yr

Flying the Green Flag – 22 May 2015

I am a judge for Keep Britain Tidy, the organisation who administer the Green Flag Award Scheme. The Green Flag Award is a national scheme that recognises standards of excellence in public green spaces across the UK. Many parks and other green spaces aspire to Green Flag status both for the prestige of winning the award as well as to facilitate access to funding and other infrastructure opportunities.

Each site is allocated two judges to work together on the assessment to ensure a fair response. To be a judge is a voluntary commitment for a wide variety of professionals in the landscape industry such as landscape designers like me as well as park managers, gardeners, horticulturalists and landscapers. Every judge must undertake a day or two of training before they are allocated sites to judge to ensure that there is parity across the judging process. The role requires time for desk research to assess literature such as management plans and maintenance paperwork as well as a good half a day for a site visit and time to write up the final report between the two judges. I sign up to be judge for at least two sites most years. It is a day or two of work for each site but it is worth it to have the opportunity to meet new people in the landscape profession as well as to visit sites I may not know and, of course, to contribute to the profession and quality standards of green spaces.

I am judging one of my allocated sites soon and have been doing the desk study of the management plan and other literature this week. The site is a not insubstantial 16.5 acre cemetery called Margravine Cemetery, in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Magravine Cemetary dates back as a burial site to 1869 but is now a public amenity green space described, rather delightfully, as a Garden of Rest. It is not a site that is familiar to me and I am intrigued to find out more about the challenges and opportunities of managing a cemetery that is also a public open space. It never fails to amaze me how London keeps presenting me with new green spaces to explore despite me having lived in the city for most of my life.

Magravine Cemetery is not far from the Brompton Cemetery, which it might be surprising to learn is one of London’s famous Royal Parks along with it’s more illustrious companions such as The Regents Park, St James Park and Hyde Park. The Brompton Cemetery is a marvelous, atmospheric spot with overgrown foliage and ancient head stones set into the ground in crooked angles like broken teeth. I have always found cemetery’s to be peaceful and gentle places, which are often full of natures fizz and buzz and a great sense of time gone by. I am really looking forward to meeting Magravine cemetery to see how it compares.

Here’s a link to the LB Hammersmith and Fulham website with more information on Magravine Cemetery.

http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/…/Fin…/115144_Margravine_Cemetery.asp

 

Green Roads – 21 May 2015

I am back from traversing the inland waterways of Holland helping my skipper friend to deliver a Dutch barge from the North to the South of Holland last week and I am now restored following some catch up sleep and a hot bath or two. In amongst the waterscapes and barging we did a fair amount of driving across the Dutch motorway system and what a pleasure it was too, which is not something I ever thought I would have to say about motorway driving.

It was much less stressful driving along a motorway and seeing that the middle and side planted verges were often wider than the roads themselves. These images don’t really do the experience justice being as they were taken at speed, on a smart phone and hanging out of a passenger window in grey weather but the verges were beautiful and softened with colourful wild flower meadows, grasslands and woodlands too. If there wasn’t space for one of these larger habitats then ivy hedges were often utilised, creating a tall enough green barrier to reduce vehicle glare whilst enhancing green value. A further sign of a progressive country committed to greening up their spaces wherever possible and a good reminder that there is opportunity for enhanced green infrastructure even in the most mechanised and hard surfaced of areas.

Wide and soft meadow verge on a dutch motorway

Wide and soft meadow verge on a dutch motorway

Tall ivy hedge barrier

Tall ivy hedge barrier

If you go down to the woods today… 21 May 2015

If you go down to the woods today…..hopefully it won’t be a surprise to hear that you will be benefiting from around a £270 billion resource or so says the Woodland Trust in their report, “The Economic Benefits of Woodland”. Essentially, the report says that woodlands are good for mind, body, soul, the world and the collective pocket and it has put a price on the value of these benefits.

Historically, the UK was predominantly covered in woodland from way back when, which has been whittled down to about 13% as the woods have been cleared for farming and living space. Many of our native wildlife species have evolved with a woodland blueprint and benefit from the varying canopy structure that a woodland habitat provides. Although much diminished our woodlands are an essential and intrinsic wildlife resource. In a sense, our neighbourhood gardens can act as a series of interconnected mini woodland glades with taller surrounding trees and vegetation tapering to open, grassy areas. We would do well to remember the value that a well conceived garden can have for wildlife. I’m a fan of all trees and many species offer a range of food, shelter and nesting potential for a range of wildlife but if I can only fit one tree into a design I try to encourage a client to have a native species to boost the habitat potential of the site.

In the Woodland Trust report the economic worth of woodlands is put against their contribution to all manner of factors. These include climate change mitigation, urban cooling, rain water absorption, combating air pollution, increasing rural economies, mitigating flooding, cropping, biodiversity, green space amenity value and yes, even house price increase. It is true that I for one would rather have a woodland near me than a well known supermarket thank you very much but not necessarily because my property might increase in value. To experience natural history in an ancient woodland that creaks and stretches and buzzes and chirps with time past, present and hopefully time future is a grounding experience that has restored me on many an occasion.

Woodlands are a remarkable resource, for all of the reasons in the Woodland Trusts report but in one analysis it is concerning to see a economic worth placed against them. I understand that it has become more and more relevant to put monetary value on natural features and resources with the aim of securing their protection but I’m not entirely comfortable with financial value being placed on these features away from their intrinsic importance as entities and characters in their own right. Does placing monetary worth on a natural feature put it at risk of ultimately devaluing it in the event that some other resource is subsequently discovered to provide a similar gain? Can importance be attached to a natural feature such as a woodland that is predominantly about that woodland’s character and personality that goes beyond its worth to humans? Can that woodland be talked about in a language that doesn’t even use the words ‘worth, value, prosper’ and so on? These are big questions that only create more questions about the world we live in. I wonder if it is possible to see natural features and resources in more equal terms and what that world might look like?

Here’s a link to the report,

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/…/2…/03/european-economics/

Wistful Wisteria  – 19 May 2015

Most seasons there are one or two plants that I am drawn to more than usual. Plants that aren’t normally in my inner circle of green family favourites but that present themselves to me in new ways. At the moment Wisteria seems to be jumping into view all around me and demanding my attention. Their flowers seem brighter, bigger, more fluorescent this year and their form more arresting. I’m not the biggest fan of over-complicated, fussy flowering displays and I may previously been a little dismissive of Wisteria’s flowering appeal, thinking them a little froufrou and showoffy but I am seeing them anew as much more complex and appealing characters.

Wisteria are deciduous, twisting climbers commonly trained up pergolas and across walls but they will also run up a tree and pretty much anything within their reach. These are tough, vigorous plants and I have seen their limbs seem to absorb and swallow up fences and railings like a beast if not controlled with pruning.

In fact, rather than something from day of the triffids, Wisteria are members of the pea family, Fabaceae. This becomes apparent on more closely examining the individual little ‘clutch bag with fan’ like flowers grouped on their long racemes when you will see that they are related to their pea cousins. For a plant that is energetically reaching higher in a tortured and twisted growth the flowers of a wisteria have a distinctive and elegant fall.

I came across this tough old dear holding court in the Battersea Park Herbaceous garden yesterday. She has been around a while and is likely to have a few tales to tell and hopefully many more to come. She isn’t as tightly trained and ordered as the Wisteria I saw at Cliveden Gardens the other week (currently my FB page cover image) but she more than makes up for that with bags of sinuous character. It is amazing that those graceful, melancholic and proud flowers can come from the same creature of those gnarled, twisted, cynical limbs that twist and spill across the ground.

Like a lot of old soaks – I’m speaking for myself and maybe a few of my friends – Wisteria enjoy a drink and some sun on their limbs so find a bright spot and keep her well watered. Pruning in late summer and winter will keep her vigorous growth in check and encourage a fine flowering display, which I for one will look forward to some more each year.

Marvellous old wisteria claiming the pergola for herself

Marvellous old wisteria claiming the pergola for herself

Twisted limbs and elegantly drooping flowers

Twisted limbs and elegantly drooping flowers

Dutch Waterscape – 15 May 2015

I am in Holland this week helping a skipper friend of mine deliver a Dutch barge from Groningen in the North to Amsterdam further south and so my landscape is mostly waterscape. We are criss crossing the Dutch inland waterways and have been mooring up in wonderful wetlands. Here we are on our first evening in a lake called the Burgermeer. The barge is a lovely old bird called Willemyntje. She’s a former cargo vessel and is about 100 years old. Her top speed on her compressed air start engine is about 6mph.

It is inspiring to go to another country to look at the landscape and how the world is moulded around the people and culture and to ponder how that might impact upon a national psyche. Holland is rather flat it’s true but it is also very green and the flatness lends itself to a sense of expansiveness. In my experience the Dutch are quite serious folk but gentle, helpful and friendly. It must be lovely to have a culture based around waterways. It is calming but fluid and dynamic too. It reminds me of the positive benefits of specifying water features in designed landscapes because it is such a draw for people.

Willmintje moored in a wetland

Willmintje moored in a dutch wetland

Expansive, flat dutch waterscape

Expansive, flat dutch waterscape

Sexy saxifrage – 11 May 2015

I know, I know, these corny headlines have got to stop and that one is about as bad as they get, I’m sorry, but it does have a little bit of truth to it. I couldn’t help thinking earlier that these Saxifrage Urbana in the green roof above the bin store at the front of my flat have rather suddenly got their sexy on – as the saying goes – with the emergence of their enticing pink flowers contrasting rather coquettishly with the more conservative planting in this little green roof.

I’m still a newbie to the apartment that I’m living in and am getting to know what is planted where. It was a lovely surprise to see these familiar whirly gig clumps of Saxifraga Urbana tucked away in the ivy there while taking out the rubbish. It makes perfect sense to me now that these gorgeous plants are also known as Look Up and Kiss Me. They have rather exotic evergreen rosettes of serrated tongue like leaves that form an unusual ground cover. From mid spring these send out pretty, petite pink flowers on long enticing red stems. I have cleared away some of the more bullish ivy to let this saxifrage run a little and hopefully make my bin share neighbours as happy to see them as I am.

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Gorgeous pink flowers of Saxafraga

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Saxafraga among the ivy

Nasturtium – 9 May 2015

I’m not particularly sentimental but there is something delicate and vulnerable about the not quite round, slightly kooky leaf of the Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, that brings out a little soft spot in me. Don’t be fooled however, nasturtiums are vigorous, cheeky annuals that will hang, tumble, and spread to fill a space. They hold their own as a specimen hanging plant and will confidentially twist through a shrub and over a borders edge to enhance a bed. Nasturtiums are a good bet to fill in some gaps in a developing planting scheme, which can look a bit bare in its first growing season. The first cold snap will turn the plants into a soggy mush overnight but it’s worth it for their gorgeous long summer display. I guess you could say that they live hard and die fast – how’s that for rock and roll in the garden!

Every spring I push some of their gnarled seeds a few cm’s into the soil on the edges of containers and higher beds such as in these images. A window sill or green roof is a perfect height to host their tumbling nature but they are also eye catching when spilled around the bottom of a lower level container. Nasturtiums prefer a sunny spot but aren’t too fussy about needing a nutrient rich soil and so are perfect to pop into existing containers of older soil that need some cheering up. Sometimes I might start a few seeds off in an old plastic food container on a bright window sill indoors if I want an earlier display and can’t wait for the cold weather to pass. A little bit of water to settle them in and very quickly the first lopsided little leaves will break through. Soon enough their vivacious trumpet like flowers will bloom in a rich range of red, orange and yellow hues. The flowers and leaves of a nasturtium are edible too and will add a pretty, peppery tang to a salad.

Try to save a few flowers to go to seed to harvest for next years crop. A pack of shop bought seeds will do for a season and then you will never need to buy any more ever again as just one plant will seed prolifically. Just wait for the seeds to begin to fall off the plant naturally and to dry out a little, collect them up and save them in a dry container or envelope until next year. It’s not to late to plant some seeds soon or even buy a couple in the green to plant into your garden or container. They are great for children to plant too as they are so fast growing and easy and reliable to grow. I will post more images as these plants develop and their flowers emerge. Enjoy!

 

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Kooky nasturtium tucked in the base of a container

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The charming not quite round leaves of the nasturtium

Arum  – 7 May 2015

Just a quickey to show off the Arum Lily’s,  Zantedeschia,  that have come into bloom in my yard.   These arum’s have exotic, large juicy leaves and in late spring their flowering stems gradually present these graceful and elegant, creamy flowers that remind me of a sheet of immaculately folded icing sugar.

Creamy flower of Arum is like a rolled sheet of icing sugar

Creamy flower of Arum is like a rolled sheet of icing sugar

Cool Beans – 6 May 2015

I do like to grow a little something to put on my plate each year and one day I hope to have enough space to grow a large percentage of my own fruit and vegetables.  For now,  I only have a tiny yard and my tiny yard only gets an hour or so of direct sun mid morning.  It is mostly patio surfacing and so I must plant my harvest in modest containers, which makes my current food growing options somewhat limited.    I always have a few herbs on the go on the window sill and dotted around in various containers and I generally have a couple of tomato plants tucked in with the geraniums.  As I write this, I realise the tomatoes are more a tribute to my father who grew nothing, ever,  apart from a grow bag or two with tomatoes outside his kitchen door each year without fail.

This year I have high hopes on these runner beans that seem to be shooting up 10cm or more a day.  Runner beans are a perfect small garden vegetable to grow.  They are happy in beds or pots, vigorous and large cropping.  Train them up a stick or cane wigwam and they will add some height and structure to a bed.  They have attractive spear like leaves and graceful, vivid, red flowers that are popular with nectar loving pollinators to feast on.  I have squeezed two into a little pot, which will harvest more than enough fresh bean meals for me and my guests, if I feel like sharing that is.  I’ve also popped in a few English marigold, Calendula officinalis,  seeds that I collected last year to add charm and colour to the base of the pot as well as edible flower petals to sprinkle over a bright salad in due course.  These marigolds are in my top ten all time plant hall of fame but more of that another time.   You could try chives around the bean base as well whose onionyness may help to discourage a snail and slug invasion.

I have specified runner beans in a professional planting scheme on several projects too.   Apart from looking good, growing fast, adding height and providing food they can fill in the gaps for a year while a newly planted scheme develops.  I see no reason why food plants can’t be mixed in with ornamentals.

Saving money on shop bought veg is appealing, reducing my use of packaging and air miles makes me happy too but it’s mostly the romance of picking a little something from a plant that I have watched grow from a seed or small plug,  transferring it immediately to the kitchen and feeding myself with that is completely compelling.   A couple of beans in a pot in the yard is hardly self sufficiency but it is just enough to remember and respect that food comes from the ground first before the supermarket.

Yummy runner beans running up their cane support

Yummy runner beans running up their cane support

A few marigolds in the base of the pot for added colour and edible flower petals in due course.

A few marigolds in the base of the pot for added colour and edible flower petals in due course.

Polarding Plane trees – 5 May 2015

London traffic is frequently slow moving enough to be able to have a good look around and sometimes to even retrieve a phone from deep within a messy bag, turn it on, open up the camera app and take a couple of shots. I managed to do just that of this string of recently pollarded Plane trees on an Earls Court side street this weekend. Note – I was the passenger, the driver was too busy cursing the roadworks and slow pace to notice much else.

Pollarding is a method of pruning that can maintain a tree’s size and form, prevent its overgrowth from knocking overhead wires and buildings and to reduce shade. What it also does is to reveal these magnificent woody silhouettes of tentacled, twisted limbs with their rugged, strong knuckles. Late winter into early spring is pollarding time. It’s best done by experienced tree surgeons for safety and to maintain the health of the tree.

Pollarded trees are a fairly common sight around town at the moment but this string of mature Planes really caught my eye. The photos may be a bit rubbish but I thought the trees looked dramatic and bold and elevated the street into something more appealing and smart when all lined up together.

My friend driving thought that the trees looked wrong, somehow shamed and bald, creepy even. He might have muttered something about it being like shaving my cat. Best keep your eye on the road then I said.

Dramatic form of the pollarded London Plane tree

Dramatic form of the pollarded London Plane tree

Rain rain soak away! – 4 May 2015

What better subject to think about on a soggy May Bank holiday weekend than a rain garden? Broadly speaking, a rain garden is a recessed planted area that is designed to absorb excess rain water run off from hard surfaces and boggy sites and so help to irrigate planted areas and reduce the strain on our urban drainage systems, which are under great pressure these days.

A rain garden might be placed on the bottom of a grassy slope, or slightly lower than surrounding hard surfacing or positioned at the end point of a chain of gutter fed rain water or harvested grey water from a house. In their simplest form they are soil based planting bays but they may also have a layer of gravel to assist with water absorption, underground drains or soak-always are sometimes also integrated to channel excessive water flow or combat more compacted areas.

The rain gardens pictured here are at the Camberwell Road and Old Kent Road entrances to the recently revamped Burgess Park in London. They blend in well with their urban context, quietly doing their water sponging job, looking good but without too much pomp or frou frou. It is still early in the season but they are cleverly planted and eye catching with a variety of seasonal interest featuring a range of species with varying water needs and root systems. Each species is positioned at different levels on the slope to best utilise the varying levels of rain water run off. Plants here include coppery carex, astilbe and ferns, rudbekia and echinacea. I cycle past these gardens all of the time and will post more photos as they develop through the season.

POSTSCRIPT. These rain gardens are well kept and litter free indicating good maintenance as well as respect and guardianship from the local community. However, let’s not forget that Burgess Park is a large, metropolitan, very urban parkland with a great deal of foot fall and sometimes less than sociable activity. What you can’t see in the images below is the man, just out of frame, casually filling a bucket with the gravel from the beds, I hope, at least, to take home to fill in his own rain garden. There was also the dog that jumped in to make a large turd deposit left steaming in situ by it’s less than observant owner. Ornamental planting schemes are tricky to design for public areas. A great deal of thought must go into their planning and maintenance and not just for anticipating plant behaviour, but more of that another time. Happy bank holiday!

Recessed planted rain traps

Recessed planted rain traps

Plants with different root structures and water needs are planted at different heights in the rain garden

Plants with different root structures and water needs are planted at different heights in the rain garden

Attractive and functional planting in a rain garden

Attractive and functional planting in a rain garden

 

Hedge your bets – 2 May 2015

I don’t want to be a privet hedge basher – because privet is an attractive, robust, evergreen hedge plant that provides plenty of habitat opportunities for wildlife – but these alternative hedges wrapped around the mansion blocks near my home have really caught my eye. A range of pittosporum species, dwarf hebe and even a block of fragrant bay have been formed into hedges rather than being grown more typically as specimen shrubs. As evergreens these are super choices for creating a year round softened boundary, some privacy for the ground floor residents as well as providing shelter, nectar and nesting opportunities for wildlife.

It looks like they are being maintained to allow for some of their natural form to show rather than being constantly butchered into those rigid, modular blocks that so many amenity pruning regimes seem to find acceptable.

These plants have an appealing mix of leaf colour, texture and form to provide visual interest for the residents as well as passing pedestrians like me. I’d urge anybody to grow a hedgerow where possible over building a fence or a wall. Hedges are attractive, colourful, soft, water absorbing and often habitat rich, which is a winning combo in the city.

The herb bay trained into an attractive, fragrant, glossy and culinary hedge

The herb bay trained into an attractive, fragrant, glossy and culinary hedge

Dwarf hebe and pittosporum make attractive evergreen hedges

Dwarf hebe and a golden variegated pittosporum make attractive evergreen hedges

Bright, variegated pittosporum makes an elegant and unusual hedge boundary

Bright, silver variegated pittosporum makes an elegant and unusual hedge boundary

Hazel cloches – 01 May 2015

It is still early in the season for bold, showy flowering perennial displays but it is certainly worth making a few garden visits to get a chance to see what plants are up to at this time of year. The flowering period is only one part of a plants potential for design and display and the stages of a plants growth are as intrinsic to how a planting scheme might work in your garden as the flowering period itself.

Sometimes other features can give an emergent spring garden a little visual boost. During a visit to the Cliveden Estate yesterday I was very taken by these living hazel cloches that were protecting and containing the developing growth of a whole range of perennials such as  Sea holly, Eryngium and bluebell, Campanula. Their twisted, gnarly crab like form were compelling sculptural features in themselves that added interest to the emerging but still somewhat bare scheme. I’ll try to use these in a design sometime for sure.

Living hazel formed into cloches to protect the emerging growth of herbaceous perennials.

Living hazel formed into crab like cloches to protect the emerging growth of herbaceous perennials

Cliveden 01 May 2015

Popped in to the fancy Grade I listed, RHS managed Cliveden Estate near Windsor yesterday as I was in the area. I say popped in but at 350 odd acres it takes more than a quick stroll to see everything. The house is famous as the site of the Profumo affair in the ’60’s but I was more interested in the landscape, which is laid out as a series of formal gardens set in a large, absolutely gorgeous natural woodland area with marvellous views over the Thames Valley.

The Parterre garden laid out on the lawn in front of the house was an impressive feature and can translate well as a reduced size feature into smaller front garden displays. Seems to me that the more formal bedding displays contained within the low box hedging, such as these tulips and forget-me-nots, are a bit pointless as they are generally short lived and high maintenance for such a short display. You just don’t get much bang for your buck with tulips especially and other bedding plants in general. Same goes for the Long Garden area where the daffs had gone over and the bright anemones were dotted around looking a bit lost and lonely. These large scale amenity bedding schemes are a jolly wasteful practice given that the displays get ripped out, chucked out and replaced with more little victims every few months.

I may get hissed at in the street for saying this and truthfully my beef with transient bedding displays is not a fair representative of my trip to Cliveden, which is a inspiring estate to visit with its wonderful gardens and landscape. Here’s an image of a stunning and elegant wisteria tightly espaliered against a wall to prove it.

Parterre garden at Cliveden

Parterre garden at Cliveden

Wasteful bedding?

Wasteful bedding?

Magnificent espaliered wisteria

Magnificent espaliered wisteria

Free plants for all! 29 April 2015

Buy one get infinite more for free!

I thought that might grab some attention. Here is my free plant for today, a cutting from a house plant called Tradescantia zebrina hosted in an old yoghurt pot with nothing more than tap water. T. zebrina is a creeping, trailing and tangling succulent plant from Mexico with juicy, exotically banded lance shaped leaves. I’m hoping to see some pinky purplish flowers blooming at some point too. The parent of my cutting is growing indoors on a bright shelf in my kitchen. It certainly brightens up this chilly and grey late April morning and reminds me of sunnier places.

For some plant species propagation can be a dark and tricky art but with a succulent like zebrina it is really very simple. Just snip off a long shoot and pop it in some water in a pot or a glass so that a good 2-3 cm of the stalk is submerged. You could dip it in hormone rooting powder but I don’t bother as the roots will soon sprout with vigour on a diet of water alone. Keep the water topped up and within a couple of weeks or so there should be enough roots to plant it up into soil. Here’s an image of one I potted up last week with some new leaves already sprouting.

This could make birthday presents for friends an easy find this year! Try it, you don’t have too much to lose and loads to gain.

The mother plant

The mother plant. Tradescantia zebrina, on a bright shelf

A cutting in a small container on the window sill

A cutting in a small container on the window sill

Heres a cutting happily potted on into soil

Heres a cutting happily potted on into soil

Don’t take advice from a cat. – 28 April 2015

There is a definite correlation between a messy desk and a landscape design proposal coming together – not that the cat is any help!

Thank you to Vera the cat for all her help with this project

Thank you to Vera the cat for all her help with this project

Daisy Daisy – 28 April 2015

A daisy lawn is such a pleasing sight why would anybody think they are a weed and try to mow them out?

Bellis Perennis is a wee poppet of a plant, with simple white flowers (with a pinky tinge sometimes) and a rich yellow core. En masse they can elevate a boring old lawn with a sort of magical inflorescence. Daisys are beneficial to many small insects as well as keeping the little uns happy making daisy chains (and big ‘uns too truthfully). Even better, having a daisy lawn gives you the perfect excuse not to mow your lawn so often. Cutting on a higher sward every couple of weeks will dead head the flowers whilst still keeping the grass in good shape and you will have a cheerful flowering display right through spring and summer.

If your lawn hasn’t had a few daisys drift in and spread naturally you can buy little plug plants online for just a few pence each. Make a plug in the grass with a dibber or a teaspoon, pop them in, squish the soil around to settle the roots and seal the edges and water well. Easy peasy. Enjoy!

Daisy flowers brighten up any lawn

Simple little daisy flowers brighten up any lawn

Simple little daisy flowers brighten up any lawn

Simple little pin wheel daisy flowers brighten up any lawn

Extended herby harvest – 27 April 2015

Strictly speaking it isn’t a conventional or traditional way to grow herbs but I rather like my little pot with it’s recovering supermarket mint and chives tangled up with a late flowering winter pansy and over hanging spray of ivy. I didn’t have anywhere else to put them you see and couldn’t bear to throw them away or compost them when I had used up the best of the plastic potted crop so I shoved them into a nearly redundant container that had a few winter bedding plants hanging on. Sure enough the herbs have bounced back and respectfully claimed themselves a pot squat and I have an extended herby harvest.

Supermarket herbs can regenerate and refresh a tired container

Supermarket herbs can regenerate and refresh a tired container

Seedlings 26 April 2015

A bright window is all you need to grow some seedlings. Here in the big pots I have some pungent coriander from my trip to India last year and some feathery dill given to me by a friend. In the little pots are some tiny ornamental tobacco seedlings, Nicotiana langsdorfii, which were a big hit with visitors to a show garden I designed and built for the Hampton Court Flower Show a few years ago. It was a wildlife friendly garden that highlighted the cycles of life in a natural garden ecology. Apart from being a beautiful and graceful plant with delicate, soft yellow, long bell shaped flowers the langsdorfii is beneficial to night time nectar seekers such as moths as it is night scented. Hard to believe that these tiny chaps will eventually grow to my height. These seedlings are direct descendants from the HC show and I would hope never to have to buy seeds for this species again as I can harvest them year on year.

 

Seedlings coming along on a bright window sill

Coriander, dill and Nicotiana langsdorfii seedlings coming along on a bright window sill

 

Woodland walk 26 April 2015

Walking the Woldingham loop near Caterham this week and the Ramsons were forming a dense, sweet onion smelling carpet just on the cusp of an early spring mass blooming fest. They are taking advantage of the additional light coming through the still emergent leaf canopy and their flowers will provide nectar for pollinating insects. The bluebells are about to pop too. It’s like the woods are holding their breath ready for the big moment. How lucky are we to have these old woodlands, which are a remarkable and enduring natural resource. If you get a chance to go walking in one it will be quite a show for a few weeks yet. You won’t be disappointed. It can be easy to forget how grounding and life affirming these year on year natural displays can be. Many are within the M25 and easy enough reach for this urbanite.

Carpet of ramsons

Carpet of ramsons

Blossom fantastic –  24 April 2015

Nothing wrong with a bit of blossom on a sunny April morning. How refreshing it is to walk through an avenue of candy floss pink cherry tree pom poms especially when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. This lot were in Battersea Park this morning but it’s a familiar Spring sight on streets and parks all over.

Row of cheery cherries

Avenue of cheery cherries in the park

Candy floss like blossom against a vivid blue sky

Candy floss like pom poms of blossom against a vivid blue sky

Arum and Bergenia combo – 23 April 2015

A long drift of Bergenia (aka Elephants Ears) in full bloom with arrow headed Arum Italicum (Lords and Ladies) in Battersea Park this morning.

Both are attractive, semi evergreen, robust, woodlandesque plants, which are happy with dappled shade and tolerant of drier soil conditions and so are perfect for a lower maintenance parkland scheme. It was a vivid and arresting sight that’s for sure but I couldn’t decide if they were natural bedfellows for such a long stretch. Or perhaps I hadn’t woken up properly and needed another coffee!

And beware, the Arum is highly toxic when ingested.

Perhaps not the happiest of bedfellows

Bergenia and Arum italicum are perhaps not the happiest of bedfellows

Cheery camelia 22 April 2015

In my little garden today…a blousey Camellia is in flower with some emerging new leaves coming through. The Camellia puts on a heartening early spring show in a range of colours that really blows out the winter lull. They are a perfect plant for small urban courtyard spaces like mine because they are happy and contained enough in pots and have a glossy evergreen foliage so there is always something green on show no matter how grey the weather is. I shouldn’t know this but they can take a bit of neglectful treatment too.

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Cameliais an early spring flowering beacon

Showy photinia – 22 April 2015

Photinia in it’s glorious, pompous spring bloom here spotted in a couple of locations in Southwark recently. It makes a marvellous hedgerow plant with it’s richly scented spring blossom, hot red coloured new growth and evergreen foliage. It is often cut into a modular hedge but has a lovely spraying natural form when allowed to cut loose a little.

Showy spring flowering display of the photinia

Showy spring flowering display of the photinia

Brain storming 21 April 2015

Brain storming some sketch ideas in the very early stages of a project today. The beginning of a design is always exciting but sometimes it is also a bit daunting as I get to grips with understanding a space and what I want to propose doing with it.

Messy sketching is part of the design process for me

Messy sketching is part of the design process for me

Sucker for a succulent – 19 April 2015

I’m a sucker for a succulent. Been potting up alpines and house leeks and a few geraniums. There always seems to be some space in the garden to shove a few more in.

Always room for one more plant

Always room for one more plant