It took the garden I created for my sister to appear in this month’s Period Living for me to finally get my act together. Her house and garden conversion won the Best Renovation Award as part of the magazine’s 2017 Readers’ Homes Awards. Mention was made of the garden along with photos (although it poured with rain on the day the photographer came so the outside shots are a bit soggy!) And I get a name check. And would have got a website address included.
Except for I didn’t have one. Website that is…
But now I have. And this is it. Or at least the link above will take you there. And it’s all my own work. Words, pictures, creation of website using nifty WordPress template. And of course the gardens. There may not be many of them (yet!) but the gardens are all my own work.
It’s been another damp and drizzly week in the garden. Until yesterday, when there were proper blue patches between the clouds, a bit of proper sunshine. And for the first time this year I was able to go outside and do a proper shuffle.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the garden shuffle? It’s one of my favourite things: the slow meander around the garden, usually with cup of tea in hand, not doing, just seeing. It’s when I take the time to properly look at what is happening out there, without feeling I have to do anything about it. (Apart from pulling up the odd weed!) My favourite time to shuffle is first thing in the morning. Ideally the temperature is warm enough for me to go out in my dressing gown. Although we’ve got a while to go before that happens!
Yesterday the sunshine didn’t appear until the afternoon, so a dressing gown would have been entirely inappropriate. But still it was warm enough to wander, and within minutes of being out there, cup of tea and me were shuffling in perfect harmony.
There’s more to see than you might imagine. Snowdrops are opening, yellow aconites are bright against the brown earth under the ash tree by the drive, the unfolding heads of the hellebores are rising up out of the leaf mould.
And yesterday the low sun of afternoon was playing wonderful tricks with the leaves of the Asplenium scolopendrium fern.
This is the week that the green shoots have really started to get going, pushing up all over the place, and as I shuffle I’m thinking about all the bulbs I planted last autumn. (One of the great joys of bulb planting when your memory isn’t what it used to be is the element of surprise!) It’s coming back to me that I crammed the recently re-edited centre bed with tulips, choosing my selection after reading an article in Country Life by Tom Coward at Gravetye Manor… but what were they? I can’t remember and I can’t find the article.
There are the narcissus I planted under the new hornbeams in the field garden, selected following advice from The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley that was my bible last year and will be again in 2017. There are more alliums in the front garden, a row of muscari under the espaliered apples in the vegetable garden. Probably other stuff that I’ve forgotten about. I can’t wait to see what comes up!
And this week I’ve been writing lists of plants to buy to fill the gaps I didn’t get round to last year, and I’ve ordered my dahlias, (one of my choices is Otto’s Thrill after seeing it at Petersham Nurseries), and I’m sorting through my seed packets, and watering my pelargonium cuttings. And next week there are roses and wisteria to be pruned, and I’m hoping for another dry day so that I can tidy up the apple trees.
And finally, I’ve been getting on with Assignment 3 for the Photography course I’m doing with mygardenschool. One of the topics set for us was still life sequences, shooting the same subject from different angles. This is a shot of a moth orchid I submitted – now I’m waiting for feedback.
It’s beginning to dawn on me that my timing may be a little out, it being January, and here I am committed to weekly posts about my garden, which at the moment is grey and gloomy and perishingly cold, and reluctant to offer up too many good stories.
Not much happening!
So it’s a challenge.
But January feels like a good time for a challenge. And I’m telling myself that if I can come up with something to write about for a post at this miserable time of year, and if I can come up with subject matter to shoot for the online plant and flower photography course I’m doing at the moment with the great Clive Nichols at mygardenschool, then it’s going to seem like a piece of cake when things warm up.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself!
And when I’m really struggling it helps to remind myself of the damp and dismal winter we had last year, when it didn’t get cold, it just got murky. This year we have had more than our fair share of frosty mornings when the the sun shines and the world is ice encrusted and glistening. The silhouettes of the trees stand like sculptures against the winter skies, the sunsets take my breath away. And why is it that on these glorious days I don’t have time to get outside with my camera and only have spare time on days like today when it’s perishing and grey and…
Oh stop moaning woman and get on with the job in hand.
Because the truth is there’s still so much to enjoy in the garden. I just have to brave the elements, whatever the elements happen to be. And even though it’s freezing degrees fahrenheit outside and the ground is rock hard, the plants know that spring is around the corner and they are getting themselves in shape for it.
First the Galanthus nivalis, the snowdrops. Never ones to be put off by the cold they are getting ready to flower any day now.
One of my all time favourite plants, the Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, which has delivered its structural elegance to the winter garden, is limbering up and preparing to put on it’s lime green loveliness for the benefit of contrast, so that when the tulips and the daffodils and the scillas and the muscari come into flower they have something to work with. I have several strategically placed around the garden. Last year’s mild winter saw it flowering from November. This year we have to wait. But it’s so worth it.
The hellebores are getting ready by the driveway. The Sarcococca confusa is wafting occasional bursts of scent, but really wants it to warm up a couple of degrees in order for it to release the full strength of its sweetness. The Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is laden with buds whose scent is one of the most exquisite of any I know, so that people who rarely notice such things comment as they walk past it to the kitchen door.
In the front garden buds are showing on the Amalanchier and the guelder rose and the Prunus. Once you start paying attention it’s amazing how much is happening out there.
And inside I’m playing around with reflectors and backgrounds and apertures. And I’m breaking my resolution not to buy flowers because at the moment I have no option.
I can’t wait until the cutting garden starts delivering because this year I’m hoping that I will have much more of a clue about how to take photos of what comes out of it.
So… I’ve written myself into a good mood. This week’s post has delivered a whole lot more than I imagined it would. And there’s next week to look forward to.
I come home at the end of September after a month away, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, and full of creative energy. And wondering what to do with it. But before I’ve had time to put away the suitcases and pack up the summer clothes, a project lands in my lap. Completely out of the blue. And it’s a cracker!
The project is to design the garden for a house on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, a stunning 17th century cottage which is undergoing a transformation and needs a garden to go with it.
I couldn’t ask for a better job. But it’s a big deal for me. My first proper project for someone other than myself. Which feels pretty mega… And a little bit scary. But there’s no time to ask myself if I’m up to it. Because it has to be done immediately. Like right this very minute.
The situation is that my sister, (who owns the stunning 17th century cottage), has found herself in a bit of a fix. Along with writing cookery books and becoming a bit of a media superstar in the past couple of years, (which you can read all about at https://trufflehound.wordpress.com/) she has been up to her eyes with the planning and construction of an extension for her newly purchased home. She’s adding a kitchen, and a bedroom and bathroom linked by a glass walkway to the original house. The builders have been hard at work since June.
This project started a couple of years ago, when architects were called in to help turn a lovely but impractical house into a lovely but practical one. The lovely but practical house needed a lovely but practical garden to go with it. At the time I was still on my garden design course, and not in a position, time-wise or experience-wise to take on such a challenging job. So my sister briefed other garden designers, and they visited the site and drew up plans for her.
But now it comes to the crunch. Because, as tends to happen with these things, plans changed and the build cost went up. Which meant the original plans for the garden were no longer viable. The builders are at the stage where they are ready to start on the outside space. But the original plans can’t be achieved within the new budget. Time to call for the cavalry. In this instance the cavalry is me!
We’re talking about the perfect country cottage here: the oldest house in the village, tucked in between the church and the school. The garden folds itself around the cottage like a security blanket. There’s an orchard and a well and an old brick path leading into the churchyard. It’s very very lovely.
Or rather… it could be very very lovely.
But the cottage was a weekend retreat for the previous owners, and, both inside and out, shows the lack of attention that goes with people not spending much time in it.
The architect and builders are doing a great job of turning the building into something amazing. Now it’s time to do the same for the garden. But time is what we have very little of, so I take the site survey away with me, and I get going, and over the weekend I come up with a solution to the most pressing requirement, which is a plan for the courtyard garden in front of the new extension.
I turn up at the house on Monday morning, talk my idea through with my sister, who likes it (phew!), and passes it on to her builders. They begin marking out right there and then. At this stage it’s still on tracing paper. I haven’t even had time to put it on the computer.
So I’m hard at work. And loving it. This site isn’t easy – it drops away by several metres from top to bottom, there are gardens to be planned front and back, a request for different areas for sitting and eating and screening needed from nearby neighbours. My sister’s thing is food, so she wants to be able to cook outside, she wants a space to entertain, a separate seating area in front of the downstairs bedroom because she’s thinking about doing bed and breakfast; she wants places to sit and contemplate; and both she and the house demand a cottage style planting plan.
All this has to be achieved with respect and consideration for the spirit of this wonderful place. Because this cottage has been here a very long time. The architect and builders have done a superb job of adding an extension that fits perfectly with the old building. Now this stunning new old house needs a stunning new old garden to go with it.
It’s happening before I have time to draw breath. I do get a chance to tweak and make changes. After they’ve started! And I do manage to put the plan into the computer. But there’s been no time for any frilly bits – this is all about producing something that the builders can work from. ASAP!
And there’s no time to rest. Because there’s the front garden to consider. And again another plan to be produced at speed, because the builders have to lay a terrace and want to know how and what and where. And then there are the planting plans to be done for the courtyard and the front garden.
So no pressure then!!!
But it seems to be going ok. My sister is happy. The builders are happy. I’m happy. And on top of that I’ve got a garden to plan for sister number two.
Looks like I might be a garden designer after all!
Ok folks…. Prepare yourselves…. Because today’s the day.
I’ve finally gone and done it. After years of fannying about, self doubting, prevaricating and generally believing that nobody would be interested in reading a book written by me, I’ve taken the plunge.
And this is it.
My book. The one I started writing nearly ten years ago, the one I researched and wrote, found an agent for, didn’t find a publisher for, gave up on, picked up again, thought ‘you know what I really like this book,’ self-edited, self-edited some more, found a really cool self-publishing service provided by Amazon, turned it into something that looks like a real book.
And now all you have to do is click on this link for Amazon.co.uk and order your copy. If you’re in the US you can click on the Amazon.com link, and you will be able to get it right now. And by August 21st you will be able to read The Greenyards Legacy on Kindle.
So there you have it. I really hope you read it. And if you do, I really hope you like it. And if you do, I really hope you tell all your friends and write a glowing review.
And I’m hoping that those of you out there, who might have been aware that something was missing in their lives but couldn’t put a finger on what it was, will be sighing with relief knowing that all’s well with the world again.
Because I’m back…. And I’m better than ever. At least I hope I am.
I’ve been taking a breather. From blogging, from garden designing, from rushing around like a crazy person thinking I should be doing loads of important stuff, from trying to be what I have convinced myself everyone else expects me to be. I’ve given myself some time.
And I’ve concentrated on two things. My garden…. That’s my garden. Not other people’s…. Mine. And my book…. That’s my book. The one I’ve been writing for so many years I’ve forgotten when I started it. I had convinced myself it wasn’t good enough. And at the first hint of rejection I abandoned it and left it to fend for itself. But now I’ve gone back to it. I’ve realised it doesn’t have to be perfect. Because nothing ever is. And if I wait for things to be perfect I will end up with nothing.
So this is another of my ‘watch this space’ posts. Except for this time the space is going to be filled. Because the manuscript is as good as I can make it. And within a couple of weeks it will be available in print or as an ebook. So you can read it if you want to. I’ll let you know the details. And I really hope you like it. But if you don’t….. You know what. It’s not the end of the world.
You know how it is when you’ve got a really good friend you’ve been meaning to ring….
The thing is that you haven’t spoken for a while and there’s a lot of catching up to do. So you keep putting it off until you’ve got enough time for a really good gossip. But the longer you leave it the more there is to talk about. And before you know it weeks have passed and you haven’t made the call and she (or he) is beginning to think you’ve forgotten all about her and don’t love her any more.
Well that’s what it’s been like with this blog. There’s been a lot going on, and I keep sitting down to write about it. But then there isn’t enough time. So I leave it and promise I’ll go back to it. But I don’t. And now, how did that happen, a month has passed and I’m coming to the end of my course, and spring is here in all its fabulousness, and I’m all set to embark on the next stage of this journey called life (ooer, sorry about that…. I’ve just come over all Frank Sinatra).
Anyway, loads has been happening, and it’s exciting, and I’m just going to have to write a few posts in quick succession to bring this blog up to date. And then I can go back to the weekly updates that have been working pretty well for me – and hopefully for you – until it all went tits up and I stopped writing regularly.
Where to start?
Well first there’s the career. You know what I’m talking about? That thing you’re supposed to embark on when you get to the end of a course that has been preparing you to offer a service that people will (hopefully) pay you for. Well next week I’m going in to the KLC studios at Hampton Court for my last day, and it might sound a bit mad but I hadn’t really given much thought until now about the bit that comes next. And now it’s here, and it’s all a bit new and scary, and there’s a part of me that’s thinking that maybe I’ll just go back to writing my unpublished books and forget about the whole garden design thing.
Except for life isn’t letting me duck out of this one. The garden in Hampton that I went to see a year ago is still waiting for me, and I’m going back next week to remind myself of what needs doing. I’m helping friends to plant up their front garden in Kinston; getting on intimate terms with pleached hornbeam. My sister wants me to come up with a cunning plan for her garden in Broadstairs. And hopefully there are more people out there who want some help with their gardens and like the idea of a bit of old dog knowhow. So I can’t stick my head in the sand and pretend I was just doing this course for fun. It’s time to get out there.
Which I’m really excited about. Because now that the year is finally ending (after a fair amount of ducking and diving) I can’t wait to get started. Although it hasn’t always felt like it, I’ve learnt a lot. And now I want to put it into practice.
So watch this space. From hereonin this blog will record the ramblings of a newbie garden designer.
There I was on Wednesday morning. Panicking in traffic on the M25, crossing the Thames with the irregular outline of the palace against the sky to my right, parking the car, heaving bags and cases and presentation boards out of the boot, staggering through the security barrier. It was good to find that the old place hasn’t changed much while I’ve been away. But then it has been there for several centuries so I suppose it was unlikely to get up to much in a few months. The mellow brick, the clustered chimneys, the ring of the flagstones under my feet as I walk through the dim corridors, the smell of woodsmoke from the Tudor kitchen as it gears up for the day’s visitors, the way the light falls in the courtyards – all still the same, all still wonderful in the pinch me I can’t quite believe that I’m here way. I’m happy to be back again.
What is different is that, when I climb the stairs up to the KLC studio, the sign-in list by the door has got eight names on it rather than eighteen, and the faces when I go in are new and different. Annie is there for the Crane Park presentations, but no Humaira. Instead Juliet and Philippa and a new bunch of fellow students to get to know. It doesn’t take long though. We’re all in the same boat.
So at last I got to present the dreaded Crane Park Project and hand in the dreaded Construction File. And I’m so glad I did. Because they were both a huge amount of work – and I’ve been hard at it since Christmas finishing off what I started in the summer – so it would have been an awful waste of time not to hand them in and…. get them marked.
Hmmmm…. that’s the bit yet to come. Not looking forward to that bit quite so much. Still it’s done. And it’s a great feeling to have got the other side of both projects.
Because you know something…. I’m feeling really pleased with myself. Because in the course of doing these godammned, are you kidding me, you cannot be serious, this is a crazy amount of work, projects, I found out that I’m capable of an awful lot more than I ever thought. Which is what this course is all about.
So for starters there’s Vectorworks, the movie. Well not actually a movie, it’s a computer aided design package thing. Which when I started out was like trying to learn a foreign language, where nothing made sense, and when I did learn how to do even the most basic thing I had forgotten it by the following day. Well you know something – I did sixteen construction drawings with it. And used it in the Crane Park project to draw up an admittedly basic plan. And I discovered how great it is for doing planting plans. I didn’t do all the fancy stuff that some of the others did to such great effect. But hey I’m an old dog learning new tricks. What do you expect?
Then there’s Sketchup. Another computer design tool that had me a bit stumped. But hurrah for Sketchup for Dummies. So aptly named in my case. Because I used it to help me with my 3d perspective sketches. And it was a bloomin’ miracle. See….
This is a very basic rendering of my plan – which was based on the Shot Tower at Crane Park as the centre of an explosion with shock waves radiating out from it.
The other thing I did which I have never done before was make a model. This was the thing that finished me off in the summer. But luckily I took photos before I chucked the whole thing in the bin. So I was able to use it in my presentation this week.
Compared to the models that some of the others made – particularly Delphine’s which was a thing of absolute beauty – mine was…. well pathetic would be a fair description. But I did it and it kind of showed me something about the site and my idea. So not a complete waste of time.
And there were the watercolour illustrations of my concept.
And the sketches of my ideas for the burnt wood bridges and benches and fences throughout the site.
And then there was ‘The Dossier’. The leave behind folder to go with the presentation. I used Ipages to do it. That’s Ipages to the uninitiated. I hadn’t heard of it either. It’s a wonderful tool for pulling together images and words. And it allows you to put together a presentation which looks…. well see for yourself.
When I gave up work fifteen or so years ago we were still handwriting documents, giving them to our secretaries, who typed them up and gave them back to us. We corrected them, gave them back, and finally we had them in our sweaty little hands. But only words, no pictures. And no clever stuff like colour and different fonts and sizes and moving bits around the pages. So this is like magic to me….
So I’ve learnt a hell of a lot. And it all came together this week. And now we’ve got our next project. Which is an absolute peach. Because it’s at the palace. It’s the private garden outside the offices of the chief exec and other members of staff. How awesome is that.
So hurrah for garden design. And boo to the old me who wanted to give it all up. There’s life in the old dog yet….
This blog is taking on a life of its own. It’s expanding.
It started out as a way of recording my experiences as a trainee garden designer at KLC. But along the way other things have crept in. And recently they’ve been threatening to take over.
But I don’t want you to think that, just because it’s the summer holidays, the course work is taking a break as well. Oh no….
Because there’s the dreaded Construction File to complete, which I’ve been working on since term ended. I’ve still got 11 CAD drawings to do – which I keep putting off, because CAD and me are not exactly what you could call the best of friends… and I know it’s going to be painful.
Then there’s the work experience. Regular readers of this blog may remember that I was supposed to be going to Great Dixter for two weeks. I had to pull out of this because my father in law died, but I did get to spend a wonderful week at Long Barn, Vita Sackville West’s first garden after she left Knole. Of which more to come in later posts….
And running alongside everything else this summer is the project that we have to be ready to present on our first day back in September. Which is no small ask….
This week I’ve been working on the 3D model we have to make as part the project. And it’s been a tortuous experience. There are people out there who are good at this sort of thing. I’m not one of them. I went out last weekend and spent my life savings on tissue paper and plasticine, and anything else that looked like it might help me to build my dream garden in miniature. On Monday morning I went to the little shed in the garden where I work feeling quite excited. The excitement lasted about five minutes.
By Wednesday morning I was on the verge of packing the whole course in. You should have seen the state of my shed. There were bits of torn up tissue paper, drinking straws cut into pieces, broken cocktail sticks, lumps of plasticine, cardboard. It was like the scene of an explosion in the Blue Peter studio.
Which is ironic. Because explosions are what my project is all about.
Crane Park in Twickenham, the location of Project Number 4, is the site of a gunpowder mill which closed down in the early 1900’s. Making gunpowder is a dangerous business. While the mill was in operation there were numerous explosions, some of which could be heard as far away as Heathrow. And over the lifetime of the mill seven workers died.
It was this aspect of the site that caught my attention. So, at the start of the holidays, I began to research explosions. And while I was away in Majorca I spent many happy hours on the internet (feeling uncomfortably aware that some big brother somewhere was aware of the person in Puerto Pollenca typing ‘gunpowder’ and ‘the aftereffects of explosions’ into Google). And this was how shock waves became the theme of my summer.
There was one picture in particular that caught my attention. Not because it was useful for the Crane Park concept –
but because it made me smile.
And I got this idea in my head that while we were in Scotland I should try and persuade the rest of the group to re-enact a ‘shock waves’ moment on the beach up there.
Which is how it came to pass that, if you had been on the Achnahaird beach near Alchiltibuie on a particularly blustery day a couple of weeks ago, you might have been a little surprised to see ten fifty somethings drawing circles in the sand and leaping into the air.
Ok so maybe the jumping isn’t quite as accomplished as the original….
But if anyone else happens to find themselves on a beach with nothing better to do….
Just remember you don’t have to be young to have a laugh.