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

Hello Office

Before winning the scholarship I seemed to exist in a slight daze of 'one days' and 'what ifs'. One of the luxuries of this seemingly pleasant existence was my 'office' however with a busier work load and some rather exciting projects coming up (I'll keep you posted) the old office has to go - replaced by a rather more business like version. Now I should explain, our old office was in our house. Not in the room we lovingly call the study, due more to its pokey size over any activities which should take place there, and its use is curtailed to only late spring and late autumn. Our house is a small farm workers cottage with a series of un-heated extensions - a gentle blend from victorian to the 1940's and during winter a rather pleasing pattern appears on the window in our little study thanks to Mr J. Frost, however closer inspection of these patterns, sadly for the use of the room, reveals its generally on the inside pane.
Our office therefore up until this coming weekend has been our faithful piano stool come filing cabinet, a Georgian wing-chair for stationary storage and our dining table for any written and drawing activities. This collection will now be over taken by a shiny wooden summerhouse building to be erected at our nursery complete with a secondhand old pine bookcase for storage and a nicely weather beaten desk. The best thing about this new office is that we can have the dining room back for starters and secondly have a great new usable space at the nursery where we can store collected seed and all manner of bits and bobs and I have already collected up some great old wooden seed trays. It will also mean either Sean or myself will be at the nursery almost every day, so if your passing in our direction then please pop in and let us know what you think to this upgrade.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Mrs Pettigrew lives for another day

Mrs Pettigrew did not live for another day as there was only one book without a sequel. The book by Winifred Watson lay almost forgotten for fifty years before becoming popular again. However we did live for another day as on Wednesday we (Sean & I) met up with Claire Potter, of Claire Potter Design and her partner Mark, for a lovely afternoon and evening looking at the finished Chelsea Flower Show. It was a great chance to look at the gardens complete and I have to say very interesting. When Claire and I went around the site the week before the gardens were part-furnished and we discussed at great lengths the merits, in our eyes, of each. Claire with her massive knowledge of construction pointed out many details in the finish of the construction work and gave me some great pointers of how to do it, and on some gardens how not. This was really interesting to me as I had a good chance to pick her fairly un-exhaustive brain over the details. For my part I hope I added something to our conversations. What I found really exciting about both trips around the gardens was how we interpret the spaces differently and coming from different view points how we saw the interaction between the plants and landscaping. I think its fair to say we both feel strongly about the role of plants in outdoor space and I really got a lot out of it.
Sean and I also enjoyed our discussions on the gardens and we spent the train trip back to rural Gloucestershire dissecting ideas which had come from the show. I really left the show with the overriding feeling that its not important if you like the gardens as much as the stimulus they provide to create ideas in your own mind about your own garden. These ideas can be really small like a plant combination, on the 'Dawn Chorus' garden Verbascum 'Helen Johnson' was planted with Aquilegia 'Ruby Port' which really brought out the dark centre of the verbascums flower. These little details are really clever and demonstrate the subtle plant knowledge needed to really combine plants to a higher level than just a pretty scene. Other larger ideas came to me from a garden I wasn't very enamored with but found the use of landscape material very interesting. I think with a little more work its an idea I will 'recycle' after all apart from selling your wares as a designer there is an element of idea 're-use' at these shows.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009


I am currently a bit too interested in Pokeweeds or to use their proper name Phytolacca. My interest started with the American species and has grown from there although I don't like P. americana 'Silberspinne' in my opinion its foul looking rather more diseased than variegated. This year I was lucky enough to source through a friend in Europe a whole host of exciting Phytolacca species including P. acinosa, P. bogotensis, P. chilensis and most excitingly due to its rarity P. insularis. I know in its native Korea P. insularis is very endangered and rest assured the seed I was given has come from a garden plant and not wild collected seed. The fantastic difference from a gardening point of view with the korean pokeweed is that instead of plump purple cone like flowers it has clear green-white flowers which are in turn followed by the alluring black/purple berry like seeds. I have 13 (lucky for me I hope) in 10-cm pots and hopefully along with the other Phytolacca, which all make impressive large back of border hardy herbaceous perennials , we will be able to steadily increase and offer for sale (a tiny amount this year) through our nursery. I am quite excited about them. I saw a stunning P. americana at the Bishops Palace in Wells last summer and I think they are a much needed larger perennial. The picture is the flower of Phytolacca insularis.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Strange callings

I woke this morning, bright and early (5.30) and went to let the dogs out - nothing unusual here. In the garden I noticed our sadistic cat looking very pleased with herself and the panicked shrill callings of a game bird, possibly a partridge. Looking around I couldn't see the bird so I grabbed the lawn rake and proceeded to 'pacify' the cat away. That done I became more aware of being outside in the early morning, in a slight drizzle, unclothed, I therefore noticed: a - the cold and b - the bird still calling and a couple of tiny chicks darting around. To cut a long story short with the cat safely pacified I went in, least I lost something of my own and got dressed. At roughly 6.20-ish I opened the back door to find an abandoned lone partridge chick looking forlorn and cold standing slightly dazed. I proceeded to pick him up and keep him warm in the airing cupboard whilst we debate what next to do. We do have a hen who has recently hatched 5 chicks so our friendly Brahma may well be taking on our new addition.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Miss Pettigrew lives for a day

Big lights, noise, expensive leather soled shoes - I have been to London. I have spent the last 3 days working along side Chris, his team and Lindsay Anglin on the 'Dawn Chorus' Chelsea garden. I arrived nervous and very unsure of what to expect and with some trepidation of what I had to live up to. Lucky for me the whole team was very welcoming and once I spotted Chris deep in the planting we had a chat and I set to it. I hope I settled in nicely and proved to be helpful.

I had a fantastic and rare opportunity to look at the flower show behind the scenes and I have to say it was an inspiration. I looked very closely at the way materials are used and with out giving anything away Luciano Giubbilei & Ulf Nordfjell's garden have given me hours of thought about how they work with landscape materials alongside plants and how to challenge myself.

I learnt a few priceless lessons from Chris and a wonderful lady called Nina, who I hope I have made a friend in. In all it was a fantastic trip topped of by meeting up with Claire Potter on Friday and taking a few minutes (sorry really hours) off to look around along with popping into Potterton Books in Chelsea and purchasing Gardens of the Loire Valley through the seasons by Marie-Francoise Valery.

I will be back at Chelsea, with Sean, on Wednesday to have a look around at the worlds most prestigious flower show, in all her finery.

More Malvern

Well firstly I sat down for a brief rest to watch Gardeners World, I won’t lie I haven’t watched it since Monty Don departed but I wanted to see the Malvern coverage, glad I did I’m off to the Auricular nursery tomorrow morning. The reason I ramble was my shock at seeing my totally shocked face peeping out as Chris announced the winner. Anyway enough on me I wanted to share with you the most amazing border at Malvern. The creation is by Debbie Bird and she, the creation, is called Lola. Its so simple and clever but we watched Debbie struggle un-pinning the clematis from fan trained trellis and pin it back onto the most intricate wire work frame. The finished result is amazing and she was awarded a very well deserved RHS Silver Medal. See my picture of Lola and believe me my photo does not do her justice.

Malvern Spring Show 2009

The first day of the show opened to initial disappointment when we received a Bronze Medal for our Show Garden ‘Il Ballo Della Vita Humana’. I must now explain the disappointment: Felice Tocchini, the amazing Tuscan chef had chosen the garden to turn into a scale model cake to be auctioned for charity. Not only this accolade but my friend and broadcaster Johnnie Amos had come over to the show to interview me............... with this there were so many other people who’s faith and belief I felt I had let down. After talking through the judging with the judges at feedback it became apparent where the mistakes (all mine) had be come all to clear. Sean ever pragmatic said to be ‘well you have learned for next time’ and by this time I had to agree and get ready for the show.

The other news and if you have studied the picture may not be a total surprise was that I was also entered into the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship, sponsored by Bradstone. I had written myself off actually. When Chris introduced the winner I was sat thinking yep I know this person and yes its not me. When my name was said I went into total shock and disbelief. Anyway more later as its currently time to go back to Malvern for Friday’s Malvern Spring Show day.

I’ll leave you with a picture of me and the fabulous Sabrina Duncan International.

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