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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Starting the New Year with a Horticultural Bang!

The New Year dawns as our busiest time at the nursery.  In January & February the Rococo Garden becomes a magnet for Galanthophile’s, traveling from across the United Kingdom & Europe to see them.  The garden is literally covered in the thousand’s.  

(Photo: Snowdrops at the Rococo Garden) Being so consumed by snowdrops at this time of year it is easy for us to slightly forget other early flowers, after all, for us the snowdrop comes after some very delicate and beautiful early flowers.

(Photo: Eranthis hymalis) One of my favourites is the winter aconite, Eranthis, the tiny collared buttercup flowers which make such a bright carpet.  They are in the same family, Ranunculaceae, as the rather more brash, Ranunculus ‘Brazen Hussy’ and are native to Europe, Asia and Japan.  Eranthis is a fairly small genus with about 8 species.

If you thought Eranthis was a bulb you would be quite mistaken, it is actually a herbaceous perennial and division is exceptionally easy by simply digging up the tubers once the plant begins to die down and cutting sections off.  Pot these on and keep in a cool place before planting back out next spring when in leaf.  

Eranthis hyemalis, the species native to Europe, generally grows in deciduous woodland in the wild and is used by lots of gardeners as early ground cover.  I have often paired it with Acer griseum when using the acer as a specimen tree.  If you plant the acer to catch the winter sunlight the papery bark glows golden with a buttercup yellow carpet of the aconite's underneath.  Because Eranthis is summer dormant, aestivation, they are gone long before you need to start either cutting the grass around the base or a successive plant begins to take its place.

(Photo: Eranthis stellata) Now I really enjoy the yellow cheerfulness of the traditional winter aconite but recently I was introduced to a rarer russian cousin, Eranthis stellata.  Imagine the depths of winter the forest floor is extremely cold and in Russia crisp.  A slender green stem appears with a refined green collar and large pure paper white flower with purple to white anther’s.  This little treasure will sit reliably and happily through the worst weather for weeks before disappearing before April and all it asks is a well drained humus rich soil in exchange.  

(Photo: Eranthis pinnatifida) Another white flowering species is Eranthis pinnatifida, this is native to Japan and produces a tuft of heavily divided purple tinged leaves.   The pure white open flower has deep purple anthers and waxy yellow pronounced styles.  It prefers light shade, and again a humus rich soil.  E. pinnatifida is as the name suggests a tiny species so if you grow it put a marker in, like I would, or have a good memory.

All parts of the plant are poisonous and according to Greek Mythology, Medea tried to kill Theseus by putting aconite in his wine.  Greek's believed the plant came from  the salvia of the 3 headed dog Cerberus, guardian of the underworld.  As Hercules pulled the dog from the underworld Cerberus turned his head away from the light and as he did salvia fell from is mouth hardening into the aconite.  If you are not a follower of mythology more likely is the the reasoning that aconite comes from the Greek for akone, meaning whetstone, a stoney soil where Eranthis occurs naturally.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Mistletoe - Not Just For Christmas

Mistletoe seems to be everywhere this year. At the Rococo Garden and all through the Painswick Beacon up to Minchinhampton, the trees seem laden.

Mistletoe belongs to a rather large and complicated family. In the plant world parasitism had only evolved nine times and of these the plants which make up mistletoe have evolved independently 5 times creating families Misodenraceae, Loranthaceae, Santalaceae, and to complicate things here, the modern family Santalacea contains the old Viscaceae & Ermolepidaceae.

Our Mistletoe, common European Mitstletoe, Viscum album (Pictured Left) belongs to the family Santalacea, and is the only species native to the United Kingdom.  There are a number of sub. species belonging to the species Viscum, including Viscum album subsp. austriacum, with yellow fruits preferring larix and pines as its host.  It is uncertain where the name Mistletoe came from but many think it comes from the German Mist, for dung & Tang for branch.  This could be due to it being spread in bird dropping as they move from tree to tree.  If you have ever read old english herbal’s which I have written about before or really old cook books, you will have heard of mistel. This is the old English for Basil and not Mistletoe, which is not edible and will give you a rather unpleasant bout of diarrhea and a low pulse if digested.

Our mistletoe is unmistakable with long broadly ovate green leaves always occurring opposite each other, fairly brittle woody stems and clusters of up to 6 waxy white berries.  

(Photo:Tristerix aphyllus)
European mistletoe grows on a fairly broad range of host trees but it is particularly fond of old orchards in the English Countryside.  Lost to parts of the South Coast it is particularly prevelant in the rolling subtle Herefordshire landscape.  Mistletoe has developed a form of hemi-parasites, which means, that in most species it develops evergreen leaves which are able to photosynthesis and therefore using the host predominantly from water and mineral nutrients only.  In most cases it will only reduce the vigour of its host shrub or tree, but with heavy infestation this removal of resources  from the host can kill it.  In such a large family there are some odd exceptions such as the Cactus Mistletoe, Tristerix aphyllus, native to the Andes, Chile and Columbia which lives deep inside the vascular tissues of its hosts appearing only to flower with rich red flowers once a year. Before rushing out to the Garden Centre with a renewed interest in Rhipsalis baccifera, it is not this plant, although this was brought from the New World as a Mistletoe substitute.

In Europe Mitsletoe is generally spread by the Mistle Trush and is a source of food to many grazing animals which help transfer pollen between species.  

(Photo: Arceuthobium abietinum) In The United States and Northern America the genus Arceuthobium, manufactures considerable less sugars than it needs and lives off its host much more.  It is a dwarf species and makes tight witches brooms which in turn become roosting and nesting locations for Northern Spotted Owls and Marbles Murrelets.  Arceuthobium is made up of 42 species with 21 being native to the United States.  Unlike European Mistletoe its host of choice are pines and cypress.  Arceuthobium abietinum is dioecious, meaning they are individually male or female.  Uniquely following fertilisation hydrostatic pressure builds internally when ripe, shooting single sticky seeds up to 50 miles per hour into the forest.  The seed is covered in a glue like substance, viscin, which enables the seed to stick and develop of its host.  

The smallest known mitsletoe species. A minutissimum lives only  on Pinus wallichiana,a stunning, afghan hound,like pine, both native to the Himalaya’s.

 (Photo: A. minutissimum)
The Mistletone most Americans will be familiar with and grown as a harvestable crop for Christmas decorations is Phoradendron flavescens.  Known as the Eastern Mistletoe this has shorter broader leaves and longer clusters of up to 10 berries.  Phoradenderon is in the family Santalaceae, like our own, but has over 35 species.  

(Photo: Phoradendron flavescens)
One I particularly like and it’s not for purists, is Phoradendron californicum, the mesquite mistletoe.  Native as the name suggests to Southern California it grows in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts under 4000 feet.  Its a leafless species which sends out tiny, heavenly fragranced flowers in winter which are followed on the female plant by beautiful berries in shades of copper, garnet and dusky pink.

Oddly the numbers of mistletoe species are much large in the Subtropical and Tropical climates with 85 species in Australia and 900 genera in the family Loranthaceae.

Now not much more need be said of mistletoe and Christmas, our traditions of keeping some in the house from December through the year for good luck is largely unheard of in Europe, we are all agreed however that it is the last of the Christmas Greens to be removed from the house after Candlemas, so it remains for 40 days as stated in the Torah.

The other tradition we all take up, some not knowing its full history is the kissing.  This comes from Scandinavian Mythology. Baldr was a god who was associated with light, beauty, love and happiness. His mother Frigg prompted by a prophetic dream, made every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm him. 

(Photo:Phoradendron californicum)
But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god Loki took advantage of this oversight, tricking the blind god Hoor into killing Baldr with a spear fashioned from mistletoe. Baldr's death brought winter into the world, until the gods restored him to life. Frigga declared the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga's wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldr's resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

Frigg herself has some lovely associations, such as Galium verum, known as Friggs Grass.  Frigg was associated with married woman and Scandinavians used this grass due to its sedative qualities during child birth.

I know this has been a rather long post, but I will not be posting again until the New Year when, and not to keep you on tender hooks, I will have some exciting news.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Brilliant even on the darkest winter day.

Whilst working at the nursery today I was struck by two things, firstly the cold silvery light and threat of darkening clouds rumbling overhead and the cheery almost diffident brazenness of a Coronilla in full flower.

Praised by Vita Sackville - West as ‘Flowering continuously between those two great feasts of the Church - a sort of hyphen between the Birth and the Resurrection," and "its persistence throughout the dreary months".  This little shrub works wonders in the winter garden.

(Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina') Native to Portugal it was first introduced to Britain in 1569 and although never widely available has always been valued.  Victorian’s would often grow it in cold greenhouses, giving us a clue that even although our climate is warmer today Coronilla still needs some protection if it is to be grown outside.  A dry sunny spot is best.

Provided then that you have found it a lovely little niche of shelter and the winter sun comes out Coronilla will reward you with clusters of bright yellow pea - like flowers with a delicate faint scent of narcissus.  The flowers are held in clusters of up to 15 and have something of a Galega about them.

(Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Variegata') The plant itself is evergreen and a member of the leguminosae (or to please nomenclature standardisers, Fabaceae) family, it forms a matt of roots and is used in Portugal on banks to reduce soil erosion.  Its growth tends to be a little be way-ward and just like the officinalis galega’s tends to make its own loose shaggy mound.  The leaves are very attractive having a grey shade which harmonises with our English light.

(Coronilla valentina) Looking at my plant today at the nursery I was struck by its incredible vigour this year.  Last winter was colder and dryer, to this point, in the Cotswolds but as it has been relatively warm and wet so the Coronilla  has put on a fine burst of growth.  This although welcome means we will be taking extra cuttings next year, not only for sale but also because like many transported Mediterranean plants it will lose vigour and become somewhat woody.

If I have sold the idea of this little treasure to you, don’t rush out and buy straight forward Coronilla valentina.  It tends to be a bit brassy and brash, theres nothing refined or subtle about this form.  The best is Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina' with its soft grey - green leaves and bright clear yellow flowers its an eye catcher but one which you will want to look at again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Starting Over

Since the Autumn of 2008 we have been managing and developing our own website, With each new development we struggled to add more content and over time a little like an Apple Mac computer we have had to update and re - jig almost on the same 6 monthly basis!

Over the past year and a half we have given our site a few face lifts but the last, and ironically worse, seemed to make it even less clear to use and not terribly attractive.
Over coffee with friends in Minchinhampton a couple of months ago we realised there was nothing for it and prepared for a new website. We have patiently stood back and allowed the process to slowly evolve.

So our new
website has been totally updated. I am please that all of the plants we sell at the nursery are now listed.  This includes some really exciting new introductions we have been able to grow on from fragile seed sent from all over the world. We have grown them on and propagated over the Autumn ready for next year. It was much easier to grow them than think about the process of putting them onto the website, thankfully for me however that is all done now. 

Another development is the number of courses we have added for next year from the few we offered with the
Painswick Rococo Garden this year. 
Now with some really talented people leading very informative and enjoyable courses along with a  weekend break, learning the basics of growing your own, in association with Cotswolds88 Hotel I think next years courses look promising.
I am really pleased for everyone involved as 2 of our courses are now Royal Horticultural Society Recommended.

Lastly on this starting over blog, the nursery itself is getting a new broom.  We are closed until the 9th January but in that time we are busy resurfacing the entire nursery site and adding additional tables for an increase in plant range.  We have also created to new 11m long show border with some of our favourite plants in them.  I hope visitors to the Garden next year will like the improvements, the resurfacing has made it much easier to walk on and the cows in the neighbouring field seem to like watching us move 50 tonnes of hoggin by hand & barrow!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Thank you Box

To all members of Box Gardening Club who I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to last night.  Thank you for inviting me and for a really enjoyable evening with you all - It was a great deal of fun!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Italian Villa's & Their Gardens

One of my favorite books about gardening and it is so much more than just about gardens, is Italian Villa’s & Their Gardens.  Not a novel, or travel writing or purely garden writing this book still stands as a bible for those seeking the essence of an Italian Garden.  

I read an original edition of this book whilst at University along with many precious original texts all stored for future generations at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's Library.  It was here that I first read Hortus No. 1 and many old RHS publications with articles by the likes of Vita Sackville  - West.

Italian Villa’s does not bother with the tedious detail of how to get somewhere but rather assumes you to are intimate with the owner of each villa and knowledge of location and entry is rather a foregone conclusion.  Edith brings to life the essence and it is her narrative which is the books biggest strength.  She stresses that ‘ One must always bear in mind that it (Italian Garden Craft) is independent of floriculture’.  Her persistent attention to the describing the layout of the gardens she visits and the visitor routes give the book its constant fresh appeal.  After all gardens may fade, planting disappear but the spaces and voids remain and the book describes this effortlessly.

When I first read Italian Villas I was also reading Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Italian Gardens, between them they became my guides on my first trip to Italy and  I went for 4 months in the summer of 1999.  

One villa which has always remained in my mind which I visited more than once is the Villa Barbarigo.  Jellicoe called it Villa Donna Della Rose and wrote  ‘Consider an amphitheater of hills, the ends linked by a great avenue flung across the valley, and this valley an arrangement of lesser avenues furnished with all the delights of an Italian garden, box hedges, lemon trees, sculpture, pools and fountains, and you have an impression of the gardens at Valsanzibio'. The building was designed by Bernine for Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. The baroque gardens have seventy statues, cascades, fountains and water features’.

Edith Wharton called it Villa Valsanzibio and simply described it as one of the most beautiful pleasure grounds in Italy. 

The villa itself dates from the 17th Century and the garden is divided by colossal 20ft High Buxus hedges each room as we would now call them divided between green structures, statuary and water.  I don’t remember seeing a single flower here, but this garden stood out for me as a singular joy and lesson in proportion and taste.

The village of Valsanzibio is very near to the City of Padua, not only famous for the Pedrocchi Cafe, a favorite haunt of Byron, Dario Fo and Stendhal but also for having one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world with its original 1545 layout intact.  Arranged over a circular format Padua Botanic Garden sets out each plant in its own bed so that the specimens could be observed and catalogued at ease.  

When talking about Italian gardens I think I will leave the last words to Edith Wharton
“The traveller returning from Italy, with his eyes and imagination full of the ineffable Italian garden-magic, knows vaguely that enchantment exists: that he has been under its spell, and that it is more potent, more enduring, more intoxicating to every sense than the most elaborate and glowing effects of the modern horticulture.........” 

Monday, 26 October 2009

Nothofagus - The Not So False Beech

With autumn we often think of trees and colour.  Sometimes if you look closely at a tree you will begin to notice the way it grows, or the way its branches hang.  Often during autumn when our eye is concentrated we also notice the bark of a tree.  Some trees have slightly grotesque bark which comes off in ragged edged plates whilst other have long scar like fishers of tissue which builds up into a micro-landscape.  Other trees have smooth almost silky bark, which has a soft sheen and appears almost stroke-able. (Picture View from Painswick Beacon)

 I wonder that it these similarities we attribute to trees must have been how one of my favourite non-native groups of trees was recognised.  Explorers in Chile discovered Nothofagus oblique and named it ‘roble’ after the Spanish word for oak with which they thought it shared a resemblance.  First introduced in 1902 Nothofagus, meaning false beech is related to Fagus and currently in the family Fagaceae, although it does have marked differences with some taxonomic experts suggesting it should move into its own family Nothofagacea.  Bear with me, plant taxonomic identification is a pet subject for me, and one of my favourite plant family, although an artificial one was always Amentiferae, or as those who prefer all floral families to end with the same ‘acea’ (such as Umbelliferea, now slowly becoming Apiaceae) the group Amentaceae.  Amentiferae is the family of plants, which bear their flowers in catkins, amenta.  This includes Salicaceae, Corylaceae, Betulaceae, Platanaceae, Juglandaceae and Myriceae.  This group was still widely used when I studied 10 years ago but most modern classification systems have not retained the group.

(Picture Nothofagus Obliqua) Nothofagus are a close relative of beech and look strikingly similar.  N. Obliqua is a narrow crowned tree fairly fast growing reaching heights of around 100ft.  At the top of the tree the branches grow upwards whilst in the middle they arch with smaller lower branches spreading out and down, resembling a young fagus.  The leaves are small bearing pairs of veins reaching the edge if the leaf in-between the serrations of the edge as opposed to the tip of the serration which is more common in this type of leaf formation.  The distinctive herringbone pattern the leaves of N. oblique make is shared by only one other member of the family, Nothofagus antartica.

Now the amusing thing with Latin is that the species name we are often taught tells us something indicative about the plant, such as Convolvulsu chilensis, or Aster novi-belgii, both referring to the place of origin or Viburnum sargentii and Crinodendron hookeri both referring to the person who discovered them.  Therefore Nothofagus antarctica should be straightforward however it is in fact native to Chile and Argentina.  It is also the most southerly growing tree occurring on Hoste Island, which is 2200 miles north of Antarctica. 

The Antarctica in its names refers to its extreme hardiness, not surprisingly it does rather well in the United Kingdom.  N. antarctica can reach heights of up to 80ft.  It has a slender trunk with scaly bark and alternative small mid green leaves, which are covered in a sweetly scented wax.  Unlike N. obliqua with its serrated leaves N. antarctica has broadly ovate leaves with crinkly rounded edges, which are almost wavy. (Picture Nothofagus antarctica)

N. obliqua and N. antarctica are both deciduous and turn rich shades of crimson and gold in the Autumn.  Nothofagus betuloides is again native to Chile but is however evergreen.  It can withstand cold temperatures down to -20C and is therefore a very hardy and valuable landscape tree.  It has a columnar habit, up to 80ft and with maturity develops a large almost flat topped head . 

(Picture Nothofagus betuloides) The leaves are very small, ovate, serrated and a rich glossy green.  New growth appears on stunning bronze red shoots.  It has been widely grown in Scotland and has lovely pinkish timber, which being a hard wood makes lovely furniture.
Although Hornbeam, Beech and Lime are my favourite landscape trees, Nothofagus comes very close to them for its merits of inclusion in broader and large scale planting.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Thoughts of Autumn

As a gardener I approach the end of the year with a slight sense of satisfaction.  The glorious weather of the last couple of weeks has allowed me to sit, at the end of a days toil I must add, with a cup of tea and just take stock of the garden.  

Its easy to do yourself a dis-service and remember what hasn’t gone so well, the seeds that didn't germinate or the plants that no matter how hard you tried either died or were eaten.  Overlooking this endless list I instead concentrated on what had done well and I could be pleased with.  

(Photo: Rudbeckia in front of the Exhedra, Painswick Rococo Garden)
Our trial bed of grasses revealed which plants are indeed worthy of inclusion in the garden, Muhlenbergia glomerata really stood out, not only were the basel clump of leaves still buzzing with fresh green colour but the delicate seed heads and stalks have seemed to defy the winds and remain up right and perfectly posed.  No mean feet in our wind swept garden and being over 5ft in height.  

I planted Aster l. 'Calliope' for the first time last year, after admiring its rich black stems, dark green leaves and almost neon purple flowers in other peoples garden.  Mine is now looking looking just perfect, reaching well up to 6ft and covered in flower it looks stunning.  I planted it in a border which is backed by Eucalyptus. The combination of the peeling pinkish - brown bark and silver foliage with the aster works really nicely.  I have noticed however that the Elymus canadensis does not work here at all as there is to much green in its leaves and its delicateness would be better shown off elsewhere in the garden, perhaps with the long lasting Eupatorium ‘Gateway’?

In the spring we planted a long border in front of our chickens run.  We have 8 in total, a mixture of Rhode Island Red, Brahma and Crested Cream Legbar.  We keep them within a sizable run due to scratching.  However this did not stop them escaping and in one afternoon turning the border into something which resembled a newly plowed field.  Rather than be annoyed at the loss of Agastache schropulariaefolia amongst others, we realised what great workers chickens are and we have devised a pen which fits over the raised beds in our kitchen garden where a pair of birds can be set to work bug clearing and turning over the top layer of soil before planting.  An added bonus will be the free manure they will deposit.

(Photo: Autumn Colour in the garden)
Of course gardening is an unending series of lessons.  Nothing is ever in vein, earlier this year I was asked to be involved on a gardening course and I talked about the history of herbal gardens.  In the afternoon a young lady lead a practical session on herbal remedies.  We all learn’t many valuable lessons on different plants and use’s.  One plant was lemon balm, Melissa officinalis.  I left the day thinking I must plant more of this wonder herb and now after forgetting to cut down the flowering stems to get a second crop of fresh foliage I fear that the herb garden may actually become a lemon balm garden. If only it was enclosed by protective walls I would be able to bring in lemon trees and olives in huge terracotta pots long with olive jars and claim it was for underplanting in a courtyard I hoped would catch something of essence of Grasse over the happy mistake it will become.

For many of us the coming winter is a great time to sit down and start searching through seed catalogues and nursery lists, as they seem to arrive almost daily in the post with renewed promise captured in each page.  By January I have written and rewritten so many lists that I wonder where the space will come from to grow everything on.  This problem is always added to by listening to talks and lectures.  I am sometimes invited to speak to gardening groups and often, like many speakers, get told off for adding a fresh suggestive list of plants to be included along side the seed catalogue and nursery list.  Still this is a part of gardening which is inevitable, the addictive need to grow more plants and ones we haven’t got! - or perversely ones which insist on dying!

(View Across the Valley from Painswick) However whilst the sun is still shining then we will continue to be working at the nursery and out on clients projects enjoying the changing autumn landscape around us.  Tillia and Oak are turning rich shades of yellow and gold each day now and will soon begin their progression to the ground.  Liquidamber is a great choice for the garden being amongst the first to start turning to rich burn’t sugary colours and one of the longest lasting, holding its leaves well into November.  I love to crush the leaves and breath in the cinnamon fragrance.  

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Starting Block

As a boy I was lucky growing up a stone trows distance from the Botanic Garden in Oxford and I would spend many happy hours wandering around pretending it was my garden - this would lead to some slightly hairy moments when the gardeners rightly wondered what I was doing in the midst of the herbaceous borders!

At the weekends I found myself a little job working in a small plant shop in Summer Town, I never asked for money but rather took home seeds, plants and all manner of bits and bobs to make my own garden at home.

Although, looking back I had the most dreadful sense of 'taste' (I was only in my teens).  My own garden felt very much an escape from everything, school masters, noise etc, and I was encouraged by our elderly next door neighbours who had seen the War first hand and knew lots about plants and nurturing not only a garden to life but also my growing gardening ambitions.

At Malvern Autumn Show I was approached by a young lady who, as we got talking, told me about a school she was involved with in the centre of Worcester.  The children there were starting up their own school garden.  I was very excited for them and asked how it was all going, sadly it was not going as well as you may take for granted and finding plants and materials to get started was proving difficult.  I made some suggestions and also offered them a couple of plants from the show garden.  I gave them  a couple which are good hard working plants and can easily be propagated either from seed or cuttings.

Over the weekend a letter arrived for me at the Rococo Garden, nothing unusual about that so I opened it with little thought as to what may be inside.  The school children had all written to thank us for the plants, each member of the gardening club had signed the letter.  I was slightly taken back and felt very happy that something I had done without thought of reward had been so sincerely received. 
It took me back to my school days and our next door neighbours patiently teaching me about gardening and instilling a passion for plants.  Their garden was well tended and carefully considered, my own little plot was a jumble of colour, textures and a collection of my latest finds.  However that didn't matter,  it was a starting block and I rather feel that the children who took the time to thank me for just 3 plants I gave, have found a starting block in the lady who approached me at Malvern.

Because I know that they are really keen to make the most of their garden, Sean and I will be sorting through our bags and packets of half used or forgotten seed as soon as the nursery closes to send to them.  If you have any spare packets or half packets and would like to pass them on please let us know.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Autumn, The Equinox & The Show!

Autumn is almost always thought of as a glorious last chance, a celebration of the year passing. Harvest festivals offer a blaze of colour and opportunity to reminisce with friends old and new, over the joys of the summer.

For me the Autumn also signaled the approach of the Malvern Autumn Show and my first public test as the Chris Beardshaw Scholar 2009. Since my first show garden at Malvern a year ago I have felt a connection with Malvern. The drive for me through the Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire countryside before opening up on Birtsmorton common is filled with natures signals. Along the way hedgerows seemed to be bursting this year with rich berries, juicy blackberries seemed to jostle for space with glossy burgundy hawthorn and darker sloes. Through Eastnor a canopy of fine landscape trees was beginning to flush golden as Tillia begin to draw energy back for the winter ahead. Another sign that a different season is becoming to us was the numbers of pheasant across the fields as the traditional game season begins.

At Malvern the hills both seemed to bask in the late sunshine whilst both taking on a brooding presence with clouds hanging low. Natures signals prompted the theme of my own garden at the show.

During September a natural event takes place which is natures sharpest signal of the approaching change. It effects us also and this year I noticed that almost everyone on the show ground complained for one brief day of feeling ‘out of sorts’, the Equinox had arrived. 
My garden was designed to ask what it means. For many and traditionally the calendar tells us this is the beginning of the end, the warm summer days are over and the dormancy of winter is almost on us. Pagans had a tradition for this time of year and saw winter as a time to sit and reflect over the past years successes but also the things which haven’t gone so well or as we may have hoped.

For the garden I wanted people to reflect on this but also ask if the Equinox removed from our Gregorian calendar is actually the small sparks and beginnings of the process of renewal? Without this clear natural message to produce seed and the chill period which many genus need to germinate in the coming spring then spring itself may not actually happen. I took the average day length hours of the seasons and built a wall which surrounded a garden planted to celebrate the joys of the autumn season. Through this wall I cut 4 openings with paths, all calculated in size to give a hypothetical window on to Autumn from another season allowing the on-looker to engage with this time of year from points you would not normally engage with it from. To add to this sense of questioning I placed a large urn, deliberately off centre with a carpet of textural green planting to signify our own hopes and desires through the seasons. Just like Pandora’s mythical box with only hope left inside the urn disappeared when you saw the garden from the opening with represented Autumn and Summer but became very dominate when you looked from the opening representing Spring and Winter, both times when we as gardeners project a lot of hope in the coming seasons.

Over the course of the show the garden was very well received by the public and its sponsor Bradstone. The Royal Horticultural Society awarded it a Silver-Gilt Medal and Best in Show for the show garden category, which I was utterly delighted with and which came as a total surprise.
Now just 72 hours after the closure of the show all that remains of the garden are photographs and a collection of materials waiting to live again. Bradstone very kindly allowed me to give the materials to a school local to my design practice, who with a little guidance from me will create a long term show-garden based on ‘The Umbrella’s’ by Renoir at the Rococo Garden, Painswick.

Monday, 14 September 2009

More peaking

I have included a few more pictures from the 'Fashion Through the 20th Century' shoot for you to enjoy and as way as my saying thanks to all the guys involved who worked so hard!


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