This week started brilliantly with a trip to see the final samples of the concrete that is going to form all of the hard landscaping within the Chelsea garden next year. I knew months ago that this would be a basalt based concrete and that the various finishes would be: highly polished, broken edged, acid etched and then there was this other unknown. I wanted a surface that had the visual qualities of polished concrete that would achieve the terrazzo look but that had depth of texture and importantly for any paving, was non slip.
The acid etched concrete that is being used on the inside of the buildings and the sides of the stairs is too plain as a paving surface and while I’d toyed with the idea of sandblasted, honed and hammered finishes I had a suspicion that what I was after was a more distressed version of the polished concrete.
I arrived at the manufacturers and had lots to discuss with the owner. The samples were all laid out ready for me to see but this one unknown finish was no where to be seen. I was told it was still being dried off and after an hour the sample got brought into the room for me to see. Within a second I knew that this was what i’d been looking for. Bright shiny pieces of polished basalt are surrounded by speckled sand and crushed stone. The combination is fantastic, without being bling, it has a different quality to anything I’ve seen before and one I’m really excited by.
Unlike my previous gardens at Chelsea where all the slate paving and sculptural elements were made in house by me and my team this is all in the hands of others. To know that we now have a finish that i’m totally satisfied with is a huge relief. To ease my discomfort at not making this myself I quickly volunteered to be the person who distresses all the broken elements of the concrete features. Three days sculpting concrete edges is my idea of heaven. There is nothing quite like having a physical understanding of the material you’re working with and It’s only when I fully experience the sensation of those hard materials that I can really relax in to the world of plants.
Posted on: 13th November 2016
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Maggies Centre Swansea, this formed part of the research in to the design I’m working on for the new Maggies Centre at Bart’s due to open in late 2017. Turning a corner towards the centre, this is the view I was presented with and it lifted my heart and filled me with excitement. A curved, streamlined building designed by Kisho Kurokawa appears to rise out of the ground in a sleek, armadillo like way. The garden, designed by Kim Wilkie, consists of a large, well used allotment and at the rear, a cleverly landscaped meadow area with hedges atop of landform. The most spellbinding thing about the layout for me was the position of the Figs seen here. Maybe it was just the fantastic Autumn colour but they work brilliantly to signify a change. Change in pace, one which is considered, yet joyful. Once in the building, the planters appear in glimpses through the many windows and help the building connect to its planted exterior.
The brief given to Maggies Centres architects and designers is incredibly powerful and is lifted from the blueprint Maggie Keswick wrote down before her passing on how she hoped cancer patients could be supported in well conceived and imaginative buildings with views on to gardens and the natural environment. This has been achieved with aplomb at over 20 centres established over the past 20 years and being asked to design the Barts project is not only a huge honour but a unique chance to understand how one single brief can be interpreted in so many ways.
Discovering Maggie Keswick through her writing and the way in which Maggie’s operates has been life changing. The message is clear. stand up for beauty, stand up for a loving, caring society and importantly for all garden designers out there, believe that your work can have a profound effect on the persons who use the spaces that we design. All to often I think we applaud the aesthetic of wonderfully built gardens without talking about the effect we hope our gardens have on the soul.
Posted on: 8th March 2016
Lots has been written about professional development, career development, study leave etc. and until my time at Great Dixter, I’ve loved the sound of that but have ’till now seen my continued journey through horticulture as a constant upwards learning curve not requiring weekend courses and late night swatting. To begin with it was how to make good mixes as a labourer for the guys doing the building within a landscaping team and how to sweep up and clean tools thoroughly. Later it became how to identify plants and what conditions they best thrived in and after that it was scale, proportion and drawing skills as I began to develop my skills as a garden designer.
In recent years my time has become more taken up with administrative work and less and less with the hands on stuff. This would seem like progress to most people but it’s something I’ve found very difficult to adapt to, and no matter how many inspiring images sit on the walls around my computer my best garden design ideas still come whilst I have a fork in hand gardening or when I am on site moving and shifting materials around. I’ve always found it easier to think whilst outdoors and no doubt this was what pulled in to gardening in the first place so it should be no surprise now that I’m trying to find ways of including site work, both landscaping and gardening as part of my working week. The only trouble is time!
Having to always be ready to jump in to any aspect of the business as well as get through my own workload is the nature of being in charge. I have been looking for a way to hide, disappear off and reconnect with the gardener in me who can do one task at a time without having to respond to emails, chase deliveries or organise fee proposals and not only have I found it I think the prospect excites me more than anything I’ve done in years. I’m going to Great Dixter http://www.greatdixter.co.uk for a week in June. I told Fergus I was good at sweeping and pushing wheelbarrows around and that I wanted to be a junior for a week. Kindly he offered me the chance to join them and I can’t wait. What could be better for getting back in touch with plants than spending a week at one of the most exciting gardens in the country? Sharing enthusiasm for our chosen professions is a responsibility we all should relish and it’s made me think about ways I can help this starting out in horticulture too.
Not being afraid.
Posted on: 27th November 2015
I recently attended the opening of a garden and house lovingly created by an architect and garden designer who I was introduced to this Summer. The designer had invited to lunch people from within the industry as well as garden lovers to enjoy the late Autumn sunshine and some lovely food to boot. During discussions about the benefits of front gardens we were all congratulating the designer for his decision to plant the front of the victorian town house rather than turn it into a car park. Clearly there are huge merits ecologically in favour of this and we chatted about the benefits to community harmony and well being that a shared garden can bring, however the thing that impressed me most was the comments made by an older lady who, promoted by my question about the effect on people who step from the roadside through the garden to the front door, responded by talking about the changes plants can bring about on the soul, changing our heartbeat and our brain activity.
I loved this and felt buoyed by this persons confidence in touching on things that I feel strongly about but wouldn’t have the courage to share with strangers for fear of seeming either pretentious or away with the fairies.
This made me realise how restricted I can be an inner resistance at revealing my true self.
Yes to emotion, yes to touching the soul and yes to standing tall and sharing our inner thoughts with conviction. Our work is made all the more exciting by the passion we feel for it and I for one am no longer going to feel shy about it!
Design to draw the eye.
Posted on: 16th June 2015
I’m never sure where ideas should come from. I’ve always been inspired by things outside of the gardening world, mostly art, architecture and geometry, all bring ideas at the outset of starting concept plans and it’s always on plan in my mind.
Lately though I’ve begun thinking about elevations and views in that early stage when ideas come at me as if out of a tunnel. It’s of interest to me and I suspect it’s a semiconscious thing that I am forcing myself to think about as part of the learning curve of professional experience. Designing a show garden at Chelsea is quite unlike working in any domestic setting. Rarely do I have to attempt to disguise or woo the eye away from every single item beyond the garden boundary as you do with a show garden and it’s this discipline that i’m trying to secure and keep with me now that job is over.
Grabbing ideas from space as if it’s a solid thing that exists for us to walk into is a theory I’m fond of. It allows little room for the ego – ” How great am I for having this wonderful concept? ” and instead suggests that ideas are there for the taking, available to whoever wishes to find them and bring them to life. If i’m only just discovering the ideas and images of elevations after years of scouring through ideas on plan I wonder what other plain or dimension i’ve yet to discover ? Ideas coming completely through the sense of touch or ideas built solely around colour. So much to look forward to!
Chelsea Flower show day 3
Posted on: 2nd May 2015
It’s friday night but I only know that from the date on my computer because it feels as if the past three days have been more than a week as so much has happened. It’s truly exhilarating working in such an energised environment. From arriving on the Embankment at 6.45 and joining the queue of lorries, vans and trucks waiting for the gates to open at 7am until leaving the site later that evening ( yesterday was close to 8pm ) the day feels like a cross between a long distance race and a brilliant party. There are so many decisions to be made and things to check throughout the day that at one point this morning I just had to pick up a broom and sweep for a while as my brain just refused to work! I find that in times of high stress a mundane physical activity can really calm the nerves and help you get back on top of things.
Last night I stayed late until everyone had left the site as I just wanted to experience the place on my own and enjoy a bit of it for myself as it might be the only chance I get. Being in the the hospital grounds whilst all the build takes place is the highlight of my working life and to be working alongside a team of people like we have on this project is an immense privilege and something I will learn from far beyond these next few weeks. The commitment, hard work and enthusiasm that has been brought by others to this garden is quite humbling. A simple idea I had nearly two years ago is now becoming a reality and to see brick archways, stone walls and wells being built at last is not only flattering but bemusing too. All these people are here because I thought I had a good idea and it’s the belief of others is that gives meaning to this and prevents it being a vanity project.
The past couple of weeks have been intense in the extreme. Time has raced away and so much has been achieved but it has taken right up to the 11th hour. Not good for the mind or body.
Plants have been checked, numbers doubted and my fears of having too few plants to work with skyrocket out of control. I’ve worked on the surfaces of the ‘magic carpet’ feature in the garden for days on end loosing all sense of objectivity and being unable to know whether it looks amazing or awful! On top of that lists have been written about things to take, work to be completed in my absence and delivery schedules for the 4 arctic loads we have coming from Cornwall to SW3.
In the end one has to say enough. If its not done now it will never be done and we’ll just get on with it regardless.
One wonderful gift has been the surprise in seeing the garden plants appear in the hedgerows around me and that has reminded me of the initial impulse. The need to capture a moment before Summer when everything is full of promise and unfolding for the first time. The precious, intimate feeling of witnessing something magical and if I can hold on to that sensation for the next 20 days we just might create something special.
Gardener, Designer or Administrator?
Posted on: 9th April 2015
It’s a very strange role I seem to be performing at the moment. In the past week i’ve travelled to York to give a presentation at the wonderful Scampston Hall walled gardens, I’ve stood in a pond with my jeans rolled up ( don’t ask ), I’ve dug up plants from other gardens and put them back in to pots to take to London three years after planting them originally and yesterday was spent pulling around huge flagstones for the Brewin Dolphin garden. All of this is sandwiched between all sorts of admin and managerial tasks such as organising 4 arctic lorries for our deliveries, checking on progress in the workshop and buying yet more plants!
Andy and I stood in the brilliant sunshine and sorted out huge reclaimed granite flagstones that make up a public viewing area above our pond and a narrow pathway along the back of the garden. Sunburnt and thirsty from all the dust we drove home having numbered all the stones and wrapped them on pallets for collection. Very satisfying indeed.
Posted on: 27th March 2015
One of the sad things about being in charge of this whole kaboodle is that I’m not free to do all the things I want to. That sounds like a contradiction but the truth is I am dealing with so much communication that most of my time over the past Month has been spent in the office completing drawings and liasiing with everyone involved in the Chelsea project . I would love to be in the workshop working with the Wheelbarrow team making the garden structures but it’s just not possible. The work Andy and George have completed in the past week is as close to art and sculpture as garden design gets and I’m sick with jealousy that I haven’t been a part of it!
Our main monolithic structure is nearly complete and it looks amazing. They have worked so carefully at creating a surface that is not only mesmerising but breathtaking in its detail. John, the farmer whose barn we are using for our workshop was brilliant in assisting the guys with moving this beast of a piece. These are normally the kind of days I relish and are the highlight of my working life but this time I have had to take a back seat and let everyone else just get on with it. I know there are plenty more days ahead where craning and loading and precision positioning and setting out will fulfil my need to be hands on but for now I have to be satisfied with having clean hands!
Posted on: 22nd March 2015
The past few weeks have been really quite painful. So much stress has been building inside all fed by my own worries, paranoia and insecurities and of no use to man or beast. The doubts and fears build throughout every waking hour and interfere with the sleeping ones too. Endless lists appear before my eyes and then are immediately followed by the thought that if I don’t either act then and there or write it down that I will forget this detail and find myself at Cheslea without trees or that I will have forgotten to bring a spade!
As daft as it is, no reasoning with oneself seems to work so I was surprised this week that I found the weight slowly lifting and a sense of calm arrived. This hasn’t been prompted by me achieving a million things, in fact there seems with every week ever more to do, however, I will enjoy it whilst it’s here with me and make the most of being able to get things done without the little devils whispering!
The Wheelbarrow team have been brilliant in powering ahead in the workshop and the slate work looks absolutely incredible – maybe once again it was the excellent team around me that lifted the gloom. Power to the workforce!