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Plant writings, gardening thoughts & observations of Paul Hervey - Brookes, Award Winning Garden Designer & Plantsman.
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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!

A sneak peak

Its said that Alfred Hitchcock used to put footprints on the floor for the actors to know where they were expected to move to in a scene. The Legendary Marlene Dietrich studied stills of actresses wearing gloves and came up with idea of adding little wooden blocks to the tips of her own gloves to give an elegant silhouette on film. Marlene also had a full length mirror to the side of the camera so she could see herself, and the lighting to ensure it was perfect and you will never see a picture of her without the butterfly shadow just under her nose.

What I love about these stories and the countless other ones like them is the attention to fine detail, obsessive perfectionism and down right potential to trick you get from the camera. With all that said, and the reason why I am saying it is because we had an opportunity to be part of a 'Fashion Through the 20th Century' photo shoot over the weekend which gave us the ideal close up to study what is an art form.
With countless models, makeup artists, stylists, hairstylists, costumes and not to mention photographers it was a very busy and very much
fun time. Another love of mine is vintage machinery so you can imagine my delight when an original 1940's jeep which saw action on the beaches at Dunkirk along with 1960's scooters and a 1950's ford pick up all turned up to be part of the show. I could have spent all day just breathing in the scent of oil and worn leather! Some of the props where rather amazing, our own Cavalier Kings Charles Spaniels were used in a 1950's shoot with 3 stunning young ladies and some flower arrangements over 6ft high were also created for the show.

Now I spent quite a while looking at the flowers, burnt spindle berry foliage had been combined with dried Eucalyptus gunni to amazing effect. If you have not seen it dried the Eucalyptus takes on a much deeper metallic sheen which looks although moodier and brooding. Other nice touches which made these arrangements stand out from the ordinary was the addition of grasses such molina and muhlenburgia. I also spotted some tree lupin foliage which was soft to the touch and silky from the tiny hairs.

I have included my own, bad pictures of the day but sadly they do not convey the atmosphere or the excitement of the day however I can assure you I did learn a few tricks of camera!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Gothic Gardens

I don't want to appear lazy but this post has recently appeared as an article in one of Archant's 'Life' magazines, and as it was quite a while ago, combined with a recently visit to a fantastic garden which prompted my mind to colours, themes and style I thought this article would make a nice post.

I have always been attracted to gothic styles of planting and the heavy macabre black foliage which is used to create ‘The Gothic Garden’. One of the most instantly recognisable plants almost made to be planted en-masse in a gothic garden is Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ also known as the black Queen Ann’s lace. Having highly decorative delicate filigree blackish purple leaves and during late spring and early summer, stunning black stems topped with white umbel flowers held over pinkish bracts. It looks go

od at the back or front of the border and I love it combined with purple sage, much maligned and ‘common’ it is transformed with the right combination of plants and really earns it keep holding the Gothic together. Another useful black foliage plant which is ever-green or should I say ever-black and incredibly useful for flower arrangers is Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’. ‘Tom Thumb’ is a low growing variety only up to roughly 1meter (3ft) in a neat mound with rich, glossy ovate leaves which range in colour from golden green when young through to deep purple bronze all borne on conspicuous black twigs. P. tenufolium is one of the hardiest species and ‘Tom Thumb’ also bears highly scented chocolate coloured flowers.

Another stalwart of the gothic style is the aptly named, Geranium phaeum ‘Mourning Widow’. Although it has green foliage irregularly blotched with brown markings, the flowers are the most sombre blackish flowers and it copes well with shade. Expect it to flower from May through to July.

It can grow fairly tall up to 80cm (2.5ft) and looks excellent when planted with the black leaved Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ as a back drop. Not only are the Sambucus leaves really deep in colour but the foliage is finely cut turning rich red in autumn. It also grows well almost anywhere including normally difficult situations such as waterlogged and chalky ground. During its flowering period it can look breath taking with a mass of creamy flowers against the back foliage. To keep its youth the Sambucus can be pruned back to the ground every spring.

I like traditionally laid out Gothic gardens and two which I think worked very well were the Gothic Garden at Arrow Cottage, Herefordshire which was complete with gothic grey gates and black reclaimed bricks for the paths. This garden also had mandrake, Mandragora officinarum, growing which added to the sinister feel. The other garden is the Crackenthorpe at Bryans Ground; I don’t know if this is strictly Gothic but it has one of the best melancholy feels I have seen. The two long stretching borders, terminated with large rust coloured stone urns at one end and the Sulking House with Gothic detailing at the other certainly have a gothic influence on me. The garden has a couple of features that really stand out, the large yew hedges and when I visited, masses of Astrantia. One of best Astrantia’s is Astrantia major ‘Hadspen Blood’ which will take full sun or partial shade, flowering from June through to August. Astrantia has been cultivated in Britain since the 16th century. A. Hadspen Blood has deeply lobed, dark green leaves with imperceptible black margins. The deep red button flowers are surrounded by a ruff of nearly black bracts and make long lasting cut flowers.

A really good hard working border addition to the Gothic Garden has to be the Ajuga. There are a number of dark foliage varieties from the very large leaved A. Catlins Giant through to A. Black Scallop. One of the most widely available is Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’ which again grows well in partial shade to full shade. It is a mat forming ground cover plant growing up to about 15cm (6in) and is very robust. The leaves are held in rosettes and range from pinkish purple to deep purple black. During spring small upright spikes of blue flowers appear and are a lovely added extra.

One of the most recent dark foliage plants which has been introduced to gardeners is Anglica ‘Ebony’. This form has to have the darkest foliage of any Angelica available. The foliage is deep, almost black, finely cut and highly glossy. Back purple buds appear opening up to sprays of pink flowers reaching a height of 1 meter (3ft). I have under planted mine with Tulip ‘Black Hero’ having deep maroon silky flowers appearing slightly ruffled like old damask. The Angelica flowers during May and reach about 60cm (2ft) and do best in a sheltered position.

For me gothic gardens work best when flower colour is limited which means some great dark foliage plants are sadly excluded. These include one of my favourite Dahlia’s, D. David Howard, which I believe has some of the deepest coloured foliage of any of the dark leaved Dahlias. It grows up to 75cm (2.4ft) and is topped with stunning rich orange flowers in late summer and early autumn and as we all know, Dahlia’s make excellent cut flowers. If you have a damp garden or want something a little special for marginal planting then Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ is a fantastic choice. Its leaves scream gothic, large flat glossy chocolate black leaves with deep purple reverses. Its only draw back for my taste of gothic are the brilliant orange/yellow flowers, appearing in August and reaching up to meter. It is highly attractive to slugs in the early part of the year, so beer traps at the ready and be prepared to give a generous mulch of manure or garden compost for really good results.

Lastly, I quite like the idea of incorporating topiary into the gothic garden, buxus hedging is a must to keep the gardens shape over winter but I rather like the idea of terminating a pair of gothic borders with purple beech, fagus sylvatica Atropurpurea, columns. Beech makes fantastic hedging, holding its crisp dried leaves long into winter. Giving the hedge a trim in later summer will actually encourage the plant to keep hold of its dried leaves longer. The purple varieties will turn the same stunning golden bronze as green varieties in autumn. Beech doesn’t do well in frost prone areas or if its feet are wet for long periods.


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