The Old Dog Book List….

So here we go….

I’ve met with my first client, agreed the brief for my first job and I’m going back to do the survey next week. I’ve been down to deepest Kent to look at my sister’s front garden. Taken photos, done a bit of sketching. My pencils are sharpened, my desk is tidy, the books that were piled up on the floor are neatly arranged in the bookcase….

…. hold on, they should have been neatly arranged. But when I sat down this morning to organise them I got sidetracked. Because to hell with fiction, who cares about poetry; this year I’ve been gardencentric to the point of obsession. I’ve discovered the joys of secondhand gardening books and the postman has been plodding up to my front door on a pretty regular basis with parcels of garden focussed literature. When I pick one up I find it very hard to put it down again without reading a few pages. So this morning turned into more of a reading than an arranging experience.

I was amazed to find out how many there were. But when the books cost less than the postage it’s hard to resist. Some have been good, some have been bad, some have been downright ugly. But the good have become close friends and they’ve seen me through some tough times.

There have been some unexpected pleasures. Open the front cover of A.M. Clevely’s The Integrated Garden and you find a handwritten message on the flyleaf – ‘To my Darling from his Darling on his 30th Birthday.  14.11.1988.’ And the imprint of a lipstick kiss. How intriguing. Like the plot of a Richard Curtis film. Who were they and where are they now? Did ‘my Darling’ lose interest in his garden? Why did he give the book away?

Then there is the book with the Northamptonshire Central Library sticker inside the front cover. Turns out it should have been returned by 1.11.2010. Oops. Someone’s in trouble. I hope it’s not me.

And there’s the rough sketch of a planting plan for a rose garden tucked into the pages of Beth Chatto’s The Green Tapestry.  The scent of old roses and lavender drifts into my imagination from the faded scrap of paper. I’m tempted to try and recreate the plan for one of my designs.

These books are so much more than they seem. Each one is a mystery, has a history, a backstory of usage and inspiration. I feel honoured to be the next in line to benefit from their wisdom.

I realise that my crammed bookcase is a testament to my quest for the book with all the answers. Have I found it? No. But there have been some pretty close contenders. And before I turn my back on studenthood I just want to offer up a list, for anyone who might be interested, of the books that have been most useful, the titles I will be keeping by me to turn to for guidance and inspiration in times of need.

First off…. anything by Beth Chatto.

Then there’s:

Brian Davis’s Gardener’s Essential Plant Guide

Roy Lancaster’s Perfect Plant Perfect Place

Hilary Thomas and Steven Wooster’s The Complete Planting Design Course

Jill Billington’s New Classic Gardens

John Brookes The Garden Book

James Blake’s An Introduction to Landscape Design and Construction

Tania Compton and Andrew Lawson’s Dream Gardens: 100 Inspirational Gardens

Michael E Doyle’s Colour Drawing (for advice on hand-rendering plans – and lots of what looks like good stuff for Photoshop users but since I’m not one it’s lost on me!)

I’m sure there are others that my fellow students could add to this list. And if anyone feels that way inclined I’d love to know what they are. But these are the books that I keep on going back to.

And maybe I’ll tuck a few notes and messages in between their pages for the next person in line to use them.





Back at the Palace….

So I’m back.

And you know what…. it feels great.

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….

Crane Park sketchup drawings colour version

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.

IMG_1276Compared 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.

Scan 2 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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 10.57.25

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….

Back to the Drawing Board….


Because I am. Back at the drawing board I mean.

I thought I was done with all of that stuff. Wind back a couple of months and there you have me shutting the door on my little office in the garden and vowing never to go back in there again. I packed up the drawing board, put away the pens and the layout pads and all the stuff that goes with trying to be a garden designer, cleared up and threw sackloads of rubbish away. My unfinished novel was calling to me.

But the moral of this particular story is never say never….

The unfinished novel is still calling. But it will have to wait a little longer. My final term at KLC, which should have started last September and finished in December, commences on January 15th. It’s an odd feeling – going back after a few months off, to the same place but to different people. My fellow students from Diploma 6 are all done and dusted, embarking on their careers as…. well as whatever they are embarking on. And here’s me going back to school again.

I did have a moment’s…. well actually several moments’…. panic last week when I went to dig out all the work I did in the summer for the dreaded Crane Park Project which has to be presented on the first day back. And couldn’t find it. Had I thrown it all away? Please, please, please don’t say I had….

Well thank goodness I found it. Because if I hadn’t the thought of doing it all again was enough to make me…. well who knows what I would have done. Best not to go there….

Now you have me shut away in my office, discovering that all my pens have run out of ink, remembering what a nightmare it is trying to draw measured perspective sketches, struggling with the challenge of mastering the computer aided design programmes which still baffle me. With the wind and the rain howling outside my window. Was going to back to all of this really such a good idea?

Well you know what…. it was. Because it’s great to get the old grey cells working again, great to be scared, great to face new challenges. With more time and less panic (and Sketchup for Dummies!) I’ve actually managed to master (to a very basic extent) the art of drawing a 3d model of my design for the area round the Shot Tower in Crane Park. People who are comfortable with designing with computers would probably laugh at my pathetic attempts. But I feel like a million dollars.

So I’m presenting my work on the first day of term to a new cast – the students of Diploma 7. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s a bit daunting. But I’m determined to be more relaxed and less anxious about this last term of mine. I got so tired and emotional by the end of the summer that I had stopped enjoying myself. So I’m going to try and take it a bit easier, be kinder to myself. And we’ll see how it goes.

The Bare Bones….

It’s easy to feel down in the dumps at this time of year.

The long dark nights, the cold, the fog, the feeling that summer is a long way off and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better….

But as always there’s a lesson to be learnt from what’s going on in the garden. Because out there things are settling themselves down, tucking themselves in, and taking the opportunity to renew themselves for next year. All the action and the noise, the colours, the scents, the hustle and bustle of the changing seasons has died away leaving the bare bones, the structure, the frame on which everything else relies.

So now is the time for contemplation and consideration, for taking stock and deciding what works and what doesn’t. Which is what I’ve been doing a fair bit of over the past few weeks.

Take this garden design course for example. You know those voices in your head that you don’t actually stop and listen to but are there egging you on in the background. The voices that whisper about what people are expecting from you, what hill you need to climb in order to be successful, how the last thing you did that you thought would count doesn’t anymore. Well this year those voices have been going into overdrive – don’t be boring, don’t stop, don’t rest, prove yourself, achieve, show people you’re not past it, you’ve got to be the best, nothing else is good enough. And I wound up tired and emotional and unable to carry on.

But now that I’ve had a bit of time to think about the course, about why I’m doing it and what I want to get out of it, I’ve discovered something rather surprising. I’ve discovered that I don’t have to prove myself to anybody else but me.

Which has been a gift. Because I’ve stopped and I’ve rested and I’ve taken stock. And you know what – when you take the time to stop and listen that’s when you realise that the voices aren’t real. The ‘people’ who have been driving you don’t exist anywhere else but in your head.

So hurrah for winter, for taking time out to consider and contemplate.

And don’t be fooled into thinking there’s nothing to enjoy in the garden at this time of year….

Tucked up for the winter....
Tucked up for the winter….
Gentle greens and subtle silvers....
Gentle greens and subtle silvers….


The view from my front door step....
The view from my front door step….

Winter colour

Winter colour doesn’t have to shout….
Although sometimes....
Although sometimes….

And my advice for what it’s worth is to take some time out, even if it’s only for a few minutes, to stop and settle and contemplate. You might be surprised by what you find.