My Eureka Moment….

So – to borrow from the Olympics – I’ve negotiated the rails, executed a couple of backside 360s, a pretty spectacular frontside 720, and the finishing line is in sight.

Project 5 is presented and put to bed, and we’ve had a few days to dust the snow off our bobble hats and clear the ice from our goggles. Tomorrow we pick up the brief for the final part of this mad, bad and dangerous to know….

….garden design course.

Ok, so I know it’s not a dangerous sport. But it hasn’t half felt like it! In the course of the year I’ve laughed, cried, decided that garden design most definitely wasn’t for me, dropped out, and dropped back in again. I’ve cursed, thrown things, had several nervous breakdowns…. But I’m nearly through. And the last few weeks have been a bit of a revelation for me. Because I’ve realised that…. you know what…. I can actually do this thing.

It took Project 5, set at the beginning of this final term, to show me the light. Our brief was to come up with a design for the private garden of the Chief Executive and Information Department Staff at…. drum roll…. the one and only, wonderful Hampton Court Palace. My favourite place…. How lucky was that…..

It wasn’t an easy brief. Oddly shaped garden, split into three awkward areas with limited access, which needed pulling together and turning into an inviting space to tempt the staff outside to use it, while delivering year round interest for those inside looking out while they worked. They wanted fragrance, cottage style planting, places to sit. All this had to be achieved without obstructing the view of the building from the outside. So quite a challenge.

But you know what…. I did it. I came up with a concept, design and a planting plan that really worked. That had cohesion and flow and functionality. That I would have been happy to see turned into reality. And that has given me great confidence.

Ok so the presentation of the concept was…. well let’s be honest…. it was pants. Because I came up with the concept, layout and planting in reasonably good time. And then spent the next couple of weeks doing battle with the technology.

Computer aided design – three words that strike fear into the depths of my soul. I lost entire planting plans never to be found again. Spent days trying to work out why I couldn’t get the plants to appear with their names. Prepared lists and schedules in one part of my computer that I simply couldn’t find out how to transport into a place where I could print them out. Things appeared in one shape and size on my computer screen and came out of the printer looking completely different. It was a nightmare. But in the end I managed to produce a master plan and a planting plan.

Master Plan/Hampton Court Project

So I’m getting there. Slowly, in my own time. There is light at the end of this particular tunnel. I won’t get a good mark for my presentation. But that’s fine. Because now it’s just a question of polishing up my skills. You can learn this stuff, this computer generated, bells and whistles, walk me through a 3d model of your design, technology. It’s not rocket science. (Ok so maybe it is. But it’s rocket science for mere mortals like me.) The important thing is coming up with a good design in the first place.

And I can.

Time on my hands…..


For the first time since Christmas I’m enjoying that rare and wonderful thing – a bit of time on my hands without a deadline to meet. And OMG – how good does it feel. If nothing else it’s worth doing this course just to appreciate not having anything to do.

I know there’s the Construction File to get started….. And there’s all the sketching, and watercolour and pastel and pantone practicing that I haven’t been doing over the past few weeks…. Then there’s trying to get to grips with the computer aided drawing programmes…. And let’s not forget Mint Tea and Sympathy at the Chelsea Fringe Festival, which some of us are helping with the weekend after next. And then there’s the Chelsea Flower Show (where I’m going to be handing out leaflets on the Ulf Nordfjell show garden on the Friday). So it’s not like I’m going to be bored….

But hey. The sun’s been shining. The birds have been singing. And we’ve been out in the gardens at Hampton Court. On Tuesday afternoon, (after we’d spent the morning presenting our designs for the Concept Garden Project,) we were rewarded for all our hard work with a session outside with Amanda to learn about pruning. It was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have my camera with me. Big mistake. We wandered through the Wilderness Garden. It was glorious. You should have been there…..

But I did have my camera with me the week before when we went back to the Privy Garden with Debbie in our Garden History lesson. When we went to the Privy Garden last term it had been a cold, grey winter’s day. And I hadn’t been a fan. But you know what, I think I might have changed my mind…..IMG_0539


Little and Large

On Monday we dodged the rain to make it outside into the Palace gardens as part of our garden history lecture. Wonderful Debbie Trentham – whose knowledge, enthusiasm and sense of humour has made learning about the history of gardens such a treat this term – took us out to show us the Privy Garden. We went to look at this recreation of Henry VIII’s private garden, recently restored to the way it would have looked in 1702 when William and Mary moved into the Palace.The Privy Garden

All very formal…. and a bit tight arsed for my taste. I suppose that was what turned them on in those days.  But see the pointy cone shaped things. Well those are yews. 

And if you look at the great trees that we see from the windows of the studio ……

IMG_0376…… those are yews too. And when they were planted they looked just like those little pointy things we saw in the Privy Garden. Which is an amazing thought.

These great yews are so ancient that there is real concern that they won’t last much longer. So then the big question will be what to replace them with. This part of the Palace grounds is known as The Fountain Garden because originally there were thirteen fountains here. Now only one remains. And very beautiful it is too….


But the foundations of the other twelve are still in place. So when the great yews finally fail there is the possibility of recreating the original Fountain Garden in their place.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s one of the great thing about gardens – that they don’t stand still. They have a life of their own. They develop and change and move on, even if you don’t want them to. But replacing these stunningly beautiful trees with fountains and formality seems rather tragic to me.

It’s the great challenge for the people who are responsible for managing these historic  properties. When nobody lives in a building their continuation is dependent upon their relevance as part of our cultural heritage. And the rules change.

But for now, go and see the yew trees while you still can……

The truth they couldn’t hide.

Now we get down to it.  Now we uncover the truth….

The timetable said Practical Horticulture with Amanda. An afternoon session in the Palace gardens.

Go to the Twentieth Century Garden, they told us. It’s a beautiful day. You’ll really enjoy yourselves.

It all seemed so innocent.

But this picture tells a different story.


Remind you of anything……

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And the smiles on the faces of our so called tutors…..


They look so friendly, don’t they?

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If only you knew….

The Great Vine

If you go to Hampton Court…. or should I say when you go to Hampton Court… you have to go and see The Great Vine.

On our first day at KLC we were given a tour of the Palace gardens. And as part of our tour we went to see this venerable plant.

The Great Vine was planted in 1769. That makes it 254 years old…..

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The Great Vine has its own glasshouse – and a dedicated expanse of richly fertile looking soil outside the glasshouse where the roots of the vine are fed and watered.


The Great Vine also has its own specially designated carer, a charming lady whose job it is to look after this ancient plant. She took us in to the hallowed glasshouse and told us all about its history. I thought she looked remarkably relaxed. Because if it was my job……

The Great VineHas she seen The Little Shop of Horrors? How does she sleep at night? If there was ever a plant with attitude this is it.

And even if it doesn’t turn round and look at her like she’s dinner, what happens if it starts looking a bit peaky? This vine is the largest grape-vine in the world. It’s 254 years old.

That’s one hell of a responsibility…..

A Room with a View…

… remember that thing at school.

It’s half way through double maths. Stuffy classroom, logarithms and algebra, boring teacher droning on –

It feels like hours – no, make that days – maybe even weeks –  have been ticking by while you count down the seconds until the end of the lesson. You gaze out of the window. The view outside is as uninspiring as the view inside. Tarmac paths, red brick, classrooms….

Well, it’s a bit different at KLC.

For one thing we never have time to be bored. But if we ever did have a moment to look out of the window…



And in the snow….


This is one view I will never tire of.