Thursday, 31 December 2009

Are you eating your garden?

Some time ago I wrote a piece about my new social front garden and how, in the summer, it became a focus for cups of tea with neighbours, and chats with passing strangers. Now I’m hoping the interest will increase, since I’ve planted some fruit trees – a line of columnar plums, greengages and cherries (minarettes and duo-minarettes from the Ken Muir mail-order nursery) alongside my decked path, leading up to a standard cherry “Merton’s Glory” on the dwarfing rootstock “Gisela” from the same supplier. In between the trees, I’ve planted Blueberry and Bilberry bushes in large meshed bags which are buried in the ground and filled with a mix of soil & ericaceous compost. The intention of this is to provide the berry bushes with the acid conditions they enjoy, whilst keeping the soil around the trees a more neutral pH. As this is my front garden, I’m hoping not to resort to netting to protect the fruit from birds – I’m quite happy to share some of the produce with them, but I’d like some reward for myself too. We already have an Amelanchier tree in this garden which produces edible berries as well as being very decorative – though I’ve never yet managed to beat the blackbirds to the crop!
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Eating flowers ...


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Many ornamental plants are also edible.


Obvious things are the culinary herbs – we grow various species of Thyme and Oregano in our Purbeck stone planter wall (these will also grow readily in rocky crevices or gaps in paving, etc), Rosemary in small bush form (keeping it compact and fresh by clipping back after spring / early summer flowering), Sage in several colours, Bronze Fennel in the very dry places, Chives in moister places and Apple Mint (in a pot to stop it being invasive).

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Less obviously we grow Borage - the leaves can be used like spinach and the very pretty cucumber-tasting flowers used in salads or to decorate desserts or drinks; the peppery leaves and flower petals of Nasturtiums (cleaned of aphids!) are great in salads or sandwiches where I use them in place of watercress. Rocket is a very common ingredient now in “gourmet” salads. Daylillies - Hemerocallis, NOT Lillium species which are poisonous - can be deep fried, or used in desserts; Lavender flowers are also sweet & fragrant in savoury dishes & baking.

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Most of these aromatic plants are also nectar-rich, providing a food source for bees as well as ourselves, so doing a valuable job for the environment generally, as discussed in my earlier blog posts here and here .

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Do please be careful – some flowers are poisonous or can affect allergy sufferers – for more information see these recipe sites:



Sustainable gardens ...


Sustainable gardens expert, Mark Laurence has some great ideas on urban living and sustainability that he calls “whole systems” thinking - including green roofs which I've previously blogged about - and green walling. What I find most interesting are his ideas for growing foods – the edible landscape - where most of the plants in a design can be used as edible crops.

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Mine is a small garden, and the potential for expansive cropping is limited, but if you have a larger space available, an article in the Telegraph by Bunny Guinness explains about forest gardens, first pioneered by Robert A de J Hart in the sixties.

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The edible playground garden, which won an award at Chelsea in 2008 was created to encourage schools to build their own vegetable garden. There’s more information on edible school gardens here.

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Encouragement from the top?


Even the American president is “on message” - growing crops at the White House !

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Lastly, I can’t leave this topic without a mention of my Twitter friend, Tracey, whose blog Norfolkkitchen provides amusing stories & fabulous recipes for food using ingredients from her garden and foraged from the local environment. Happy eating in 2010!

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Disclaimer: The author, Steve Rice, has thoroughly researched all the plants (leaves or flowers) mentioned in this article as edible. However, individuals consuming the flowers, plants, or any derivatives do so entirely at their own risk and the author cannot be held responsible for any adverse reactions.
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Friday, 18 December 2009

School Woodland / Wildlife Garden: Progress

Earlier this year I was invited to design a woodland / wildlife garden for a local infant school.

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The school has a good-sized playing field alongside the playground and they had already planted a corner of the field with mixed tree saplings, but wanted help to develop it as a wildlife area with trails and study spaces which could be used as an educational resource, but which would also be fun for the children.

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My design includes a variety of habitats - scrub & hedgerow, trees with underplanted storeys of shrubs and perennials, a sunken bog area alongside a raised pond with a pebble beach, and adjacent wildflower meadow areas. There's also a living willow tunnel, a green-roofed shelter and we intend to include nesting boxes for birds, bats, hedgehogs, bees, lacewings and ladybirds.

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After completing and agreeing the concept design with the school, I structured the project into self-contained stages - each of which has an incremental, usable result, within a limited budget.




I'm very pleased to say that the school's fundraising efforts have been progressing well and the school "Friends" committee has approved starting work on the first 2 stages early in the new year. We're hoping that volunteers from amongst the community will take on some of the physical work - which will not only save costs but give everyone involved a sense of ownership and pride in the end result.

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The "Friends" group is a registered charity and organises events throughout the year to raise funds for projects at the school. They also liaise with businesses who may be willing to give donations or sponsorship. If you are in a position to help, please contact me and I'll be very pleased to introduce you to the school.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Tour Around My Blog

If you're already familiar with blogs, and how to subscribe to them, this post will not be of interest to you - my apologies! On the other hand, if you’ve found your way here, but don’t know much about blogs, here’s a quick description of mine own humble offering – including how to get more, if you should like it!

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The intention of my blog is to write short articles which are related to garden design – could be design ideas, gardens to visit, book reviews, gardening topics, ecological aspects, and so on. The material is written by me, usually related to something I’ve recently experienced or thought about, but could also be prompted by something in the news media or “blogosphere”. I try to write at least one post (a short article) per week. I also try to include links to other related sources on the web so that you can get further information, as well as my personal opinions, about the post topic.

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The format of the blog screen





















There is a central, scrollable, panel – the grey sidebars to the left and right are blank space which could be used for advertising, but I don’t currently do that. Within the scrollable panel, beneath the main heading, the wider left side is the series of posts, whilst the narrow right side has various “widgets” that add function to the blog – for example, the “follow”, “subscribe” and “search” facilities – more about these below.
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The post itself is text, pictures and/or video clips, which you can scroll through. I try to structure it with paragraph blocks and sub-headings to make it more readable, and to allow you to more easily scan through for a sub-topic of interest. Within the text, certain words or phrases may be underlined and in a different colour - if you hover your cursor over them it changes to a hand symbol – these are links to other places either within my blog or another source on the web. Just click to go there – you can use the back arrow on your browser to return to the blog post.

At the bottom of the post























are the labels (keywords) which I’ve tagged the topic with – click on any of these to show other posts in my blog which include the same label. The labels are followed by any comments left by other people (if it just shows a value, e.g. “3 comments” click on the word comments to see them) and a box where you are welcome to add your own comments & opinions and so take part in the discussions. Beneath the comments section there will either be the heading for the next post or, if you came into the blog via a specific article link, the words “newer post” (which is the next post in time sequence), “home” (which takes you to the top of the blog – i.e. the latest post) and “older post” (which is the previous post in time sequence) – just click on any of these words to take the indicated action.

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Just before the labels is a small envelope icon with an arrow pointing from it. If you found the post interesting and have a friend or contact who might be interested, you can notify them of it by email. Click on the envelope symbol to bring up a window to enter your friend(s) email address(es), together with any message you’d like to include, then hit the send email button. They will get your note and a link to take them directly to the blog post; they can read it and, if they like it, follow, subscribe or email to their friends.
























The widgets ...

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As I said at the beginning, the right hand side has a series of action “widgets”. Starting from the top these are:

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Followers – if you like my blog and would like to automatically receive new posts, one way is to become a follower. Click on the follow button which is just above the symbols (avatars) of my current followers. If you’re not signed-in to a Google account, you’ll get a window asking you to sign in using an existing Google, Twitter or Yahoo account – if you haven’t got one, there’s an option to easily set one up – it’s free!


























Once you’ve signed in, you’ll be asked whether you want to follow the blog publicly or privately, as explained on the screen. Click the button to select your choice, then click Follow this blog – my blog will be added to your reading list and show new posts as I publish them.

























Subscribe to is an alternative way to automatically receive new posts and/or comments which is useful if you already receive other internet news feeds via an RSS facility such as Google Reader. Click the down arrow alongside posts or comments to show the list of subscription services and just click on the one you use.

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Search this blog allows you to search my entire blog archive for words or phrases of interest.

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My website gives you a direct link to my main website http://www.blooming-good-gardens.co.uk/ if you’re interested in finding out more about my garden design services.
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Blog archive shows the posts, by title, for the current month, and the number of posts for previous time periods. You can click any title to go to that post, or click the arrow alongside a previous time period to show the post titles for that period, or click the time period name (e.g. September) to go to the series of posts for that period.

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Twitter updates shows the most recent tweets from my Twitter timeline – click on any of the names to go to that person’s timeline, or the referenced web page link. If you’d like to follow my tweets just click on the words follow me on Twitter.
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About me lets you see a bit more information about me – for example any blogs which I’m following via Google Friend Connect – just click on view my complete profile.

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So there you have it – my tour’s complete – now why not follow or subscribe – costs you nothing!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Walking Around a Garden Design

Using 3D Animation in Vectorworks Landmark
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A short while ago, I blogged about Tamsin Slatter's book "Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark". With the help of this I've now mastered some of the skills of using Vectorworks to develop 3D representations of a garden design, and I've explored further into this, including the animated "movie" facility. So here's a short sequence which allows a client to "walk around" the design and see how it suits them.
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At this stage it may not be the most impressive artwork, especially the robotic-looking human figures, but even they help to give the animation a sense of scale - and my clients get a much better feel for the design than could ever be achieved from a 2D plan or sketch view.
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The next 2 clips show an animation of the sun sweeping around the garden so that the shadow effects of the house, structures and planting can be explored. The animation is set for the summer solstice (June 21st), but could be changed to explore how the light & shade work at other times of the year.
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video video
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For the "techies":
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My walk around animation is a "move along path" camera using 20 normal perspective views, rendered using "final quality Renderworks". I specified it at 10 Quicktime fps, so there's around 270 frames in the sequence. On my HP laptop (Windows Vista, Core-2 Duo T5800 2.0Ghz processor, 3GB RAM) it takes not far short of 2 hours to generate! The animation seems a bit "hurried" and plays much better at 1/2 speed in Quicktime, so I should probably slow it to "time scale 0.5" when I generate it - next time I've got 3 or 4 hours of idle time on my machine!!! The other 2 clips are "solar animations" using a high elevation orthogonol view and a normal perspective view. These take about 40 minutes to generate at 10 fps.

The British Garden in Winter

Considering all the rain we’ve had lately, and looking at my own soggy garden, I asked myself:


















“Can a garden look good in a British winter?”

I mean, it’s all very well the books & glossies eulogising about “frosted seed heads and frozen spiders’ webs on crisp, sunny days” but what about the dull, damp weather which seem to form so much of our winter months?

For gardens on a somewhat grander scale than mine, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, near Romsey in Hampshire boasts the largest winter garden in Europe, using massed plantings to give good winter structure and colour – though The National Trust now seems to challenge this, claiming their property at Dunham Massey: Cheshire, to be the largest winter garden of its kind in England! Their site also offers some advice on creating your own winter garden

Looking good whatever the season...

As a professional garden designer, I am (of course!) convinced that a great design can lay the foundation for a garden which will look good whatever the season - but what makes “a great design”? Well, it should be composed of strong basic shapes and have a balance of mass & space; it should employ structures such as walls, screens & pergolas - using materials which are sympathetic to the property and its environment - together with architectural planting such as hedges and groups of trees & shrubs, to create framing of any external views or to focus attention to interests within the garden space if there are no external views, as would be the case in most suburban / town gardens. The highlights in such a design then arise from the counterpoints of light & shade, colour & texture set against these basic elements - and it is the changing mood of this relationship through the seasons which brings dynamism, excitement & subtlety to the design. Andy Sturgeon addresses this subject in a Guardian article, stating that “Winter lays bare the bones of a garden and so is a good test of the strength of its design.”


What sort of planting?

In the main, the planting of a garden that has winter interest will rely on trees & shrubs, not perennials, for its form, and on berries, stem/bark and foliage, rather than flowers, for colour.

Perennials, ferns & grasses...

To avoid it looking a soggy mess on those days when the climate is not bright sun & frost, select perennials with interesting seed heads that retain strong verticals, or good mounding forms, as they die back, or those that retain good leaf structure ready for flowering in early spring. Plants such as Echinacea, Echinops, Foeniculum, Geranium, Hellebores, Heuchera, Lythrum, Papaver, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sedum spectabile and Veronica fit the bill.
Also make use of the ornamental grasses – in a garden of sufficient size to cope with its bulk I love the way a stand of Miscanthus species can capture low light levels in their faded-amber colouring; in smaller gardens use billowy drifts of Stipa tenuissima, perhaps blended with the taller and more erect grasses like Panicum and Calamagrostis. I’m especially fond of Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’ which retains a low mound of arching basal leaves and holds the faded flower heads aloft on wiry stems through the worst of gales, to wave around in gentler breezes, looking delightful against even a winter sky, or a reflection of that sky in a still pool. Grass-like perennials such as Dierama and even some of the Irises & Kniphofias can be used to similar effect.

My last mention in this section goes to the ferns, which are, in the main, naturally at home in damp or soggy, low-light conditions. The various genera & species cover a range of sizes, and most have that beautiful “shuttlecock” shape with either glorious bronze deciduous fronds or semi- or fully- evergreen fronds in greens that range from pale-with-reddish tints through to near-black. They’ll also reward you with the fascinating “bishop’s crosier” forms of their new growth at the end of winter – these develop astoundingly quickly into their fresh fronds.

Don’t be too keen to clear up your perennials after they’ve flowered - you can see my earlier blog on the virtues of not doing too much autumn tidying up work here but remember that leaving fallen leaves to rot down beneath the trees will work best around shrubs and those perennial plants that would naturally exist as woodland marginals (Aconitum, Anemone hybrids, Astrantia, Bergenia, Brunnera, Dicentra, Epimedium, Geranium sylvaticum, Polygonatum, Pulmonaria, and Tiarella), not those which like sun & open spaces – as these may well rot themselves if buried under wet leaves.

Trees...

There aren’t too many trees (other than conifers, of which there are a great many forms & colours) which are reliably evergreen in our climate, the main ones being Acacia dealbata (Mimosa), Arbutus (Strawberry Tree), Cordyline (Cabbage Palm), Eucalyptus (Gum Trees), Ilex (Holly), Ligustrum lucidum (Chinese Privet), Luma apiculata (Myrtle family), Magnolia grandiflora, Pittosporum, Prunus laurocerasus or Prunus lusitanica (Laurel), and Quercus ilex (Holm Oak) – though, of these, all but the Holly will only succeed in sheltered aspects in the milder parts of southern England and many are very slow growing, more often regarded as shrubs or hedging than trees.

In fact, whilst I like to include evergreen structure – most often in the form of shrubs rather than trees – it’s the deciduous trees that can be the real stars of winter structure. Go for those with great “skeletal” form and amazing bark textures or colours. Some of my favourites are:

Acer griseum (Paper Bark Maple), with flaking, curling, coppery bark which reveals a shiny cinnamon-coloured “skin” beneath, and has pretty leaves through the summer that take on great autumn colours too; it’s a small, slow-growing tree, so is ideal for a small garden’s focal point and associates really well with ground-cover perennials & grasses.
Acer capillipes (Snake-Bark Maple) which has striped grey-green bark on the trunk and older branches. This is also a small tree, but with a much denser crown and larger leaves that have all the colours of New England in just one tree during the autumn.
Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis (Chinese Birch) a taller, graceful tree with grey-pink peeling bark or Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii (Himalayan Birch) which is a larger tree with stark white bark on its select cultivars such as ‘Dorenbos’, ‘Grayswood Ghost’ and ‘Jermyns’. Our native Betula pendula (Silver Birch) can also be very attractive with its rough, craggy silver-and-charcoal bark. Prunus (Cherry) varieties, especially P. Sargentii and P. Serrula are justifiably renowned for their shiny chestnut / mahogany bark.
Salix alba and S. daphnoides (Willow) varieties also have strongly coloured winter stems that give a similar effect to the Cornus (Dogwood) shrubs, but on a larger scale. They need to be hard pruned by stooling or pollarding to ensure a good supply of the colourful young stems.

For trees that don’t have especially good bark colour, but which retain colourful berries, remember the Euonymus europaeus (Spindle) and Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan, Mountain Ash) varieties, especially those with yellow or white-pink fruits, rather than orange-red fruits, as they are less appealing to birds, and so last longer – some examples being S. cashmiriana, S. hupehensis, S. vilmorinii, S. xanthocarpa and S. ‘Joseph Rock’. There are also winter-flowering trees, notably Prunus, and in particular P. subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ which will blossom from November through to early spring.

Shrubs...

Amongst the many winter-flowering evergreen shrubs that make great companions to the trees are: Camellia varieties (but protect from exposure to icy winds and don’t plant facing east as the quick-thaw after frost will damage the flowers), Daphne odora, Garrya elliptica, Mahonia japonica & M. media varieties, Sarcococca and Viburnum tinus. Also don’t forget the luscious-looking, winter-lasting berries of Gaultheria (Pernettya) mucronata varieties. Deciduous winter-flowering shrubs include Chimonanthus, Corylus, Daphne, Hamamelis, Jasminum nudiflorum,
Lonicera purpusii, Stachyurus and Viburnum.

More information on plants which look good in winter can be found in this Telegraph article.

Where to find out more...
Obviously, designing a garden with great winter-appeal needs more than just selecting individual plant species that last well or provide foliage, fruit or flower colour. It’s the arrangement and combination of these, and other artefacts such as benches, planters and so on, which make the garden work. So, do some homework ... buy or borrow books which cover designing with plants – I can recommend the Hillier Gardener’s Guide series published by David & Charles – or, if you don’t have the time or enthusiasm, ask for help from a professional garden designer!

So, can a well-designed garden look good in a British winter? You bet it can!