In Praise of the Humble Pea: The Seedlip Garden

In 2013, in a North Lincolnshire kitchen, pea farmer Ben Branson began experimenting with a copper still after reading about the non-alcoholic remedies distilled by apothecaries in the 1600s. Ben’s family have been farming for 300 years and their peas are picked by hand by Ben and his team. His kitchen experimentation led to the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit, the Seedlip drink, which was launched in 2015. This is the second Seedlip Chelsea Garden and it views the humble pea from an unusual angle as every plant in the garden, designed by Dr Catherine MacDonald, is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae.

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Ben serving his non-alcoholic cocktails at the show

Bringing together diverse plants in the same family on one garden highlights their similarities – many have papilionaceous flowers (shaped like a butterfly) with a central standard or banner petal raised above the smaller pair of wing petals, with the two keel petals forming a boat shape below. The most obvious example of this in the garden are the lupins which draw the eye across the planting as they blend from the soft yellow of Lupinus ‘Desert Sun’ to the bright purple Lupinus ‘Masterpiece’.

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Lupin ‘Desert Sun’

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Caesalpinia gilliesii (Credit: By Krzysztof Golik [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)

The plants in the garden are fascinating because of the vast diversity in the family, from the ground cover clovers like Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’ (one of my favourite plants) and the other nine clover species in the garden, to the larger specimens like the Japanese pagoda tree (Styphnolobium japonicum), Laburnum anagyroides ‘Sunspire’ and the striking crimson threadflower (Caesalpinia gilliesii) which was attracting much admiration when I looked round the garden on Monday. A large evergreen shrub from northwest Argentina and Uruguay, the crimson threadflower is unfortunately only hardy down to about -5, so only an option in colder areas of the UK if winter protection is available as it can be grown in a large pot.

 

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Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’ may be small but it has big impact with red-veined patches on the leaves

The garden is filled with circular structures, from the pea panels underfoot acting as grills over split pea shingle to the pools which are filled with deep blue-green water, coloured with a pea-dye.

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Circles are everywhere in this garden

Even the peavilion at the back of the garden is a shrine housing a collection of articles relevant to the pea, topped with a pea-shoot green roof.

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Lupins floating in the foreground and the Peavilion behind

The Seedlip Garden celebrates the work of three pea pioneers: Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who discovered the basic principles of heredity through his work with peas, Dr Calvin Lamborn (1933-2017), the breeder of the first sugar snap pea, and Seedlip creator, Ben Branson. Many of the edible peas (Pisum sativum) in the garden are varieties bred by Dr Lamborn and there are also two of his new varieties released for the first time on the garden.

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Split pea shingle

After admiring the plant diversity on the garden I was persuaded to try the non-alcoholic Seedlip Garden 108 drink (the average number of days it takes to sow, grow & hand-pick the peas), mixed by Ben himself. It’s a floral blend of hand-picked peas, homegrown hay, spearmint, rosemary and thyme, with no sugar or additives. I liked the absence of saccharine sweetness; it has a minty refreshing taste with a slightly sour tang in the background, reminiscent of gin. Well, it would have been rude to say no – and it is gluten-free too!

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My Seedlip cocktail

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Plastic Pollution in the Pearlfisher Garden

I have loved the marine environment ever since my first school biology field trip to Anglesey. Although I moved through a career in English to garden and nature writing, I’ve never lost my affinity for the sea. I became a member of the Marine Conservation Society many years ago and started learning about and campaigning on the issues of marine pollution. Although society is slowly coming to terms with the fact that our throw-away culture is doing untold damage to many habitats – especially the marine environment – we are still too quick to dismiss the changes that are needed, perhaps because their magnitude seems beyond our powers.

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The Pearlfisher Garden aims to stimulate debate on marine pollution

But attitudes can change – I was involved in campaign organising in my home town around ten years ago – we surveyed the public about their attitudes to plastic bag waste and tried to persuade retailers to reduce the number of plastic bags they gave out to customers. At the time we were greeted with incomprehension and, at times, derision whereas now one-use plastic bags are accepted to have a negative impact on the environment, even if there is still some way to go to eradicate them completely. I believe the more we debate issues such as these, the more quickly change will brought about, so a Chelsea garden focusing on plastic pollution in the marine environment immediately caught my attention.

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Air plants (Tillandsia usneoides) in jellyfish mode

The Concept

The Pearlfisher Garden, created by Pearlfisher Founding Creative Partner, Karen Welman and designer John Warland, celebrates the largest garden on the planet – the underwater world of the great oceans, and highlights the perils it faces due to human activities. Descending into the garden is an immersion on many levels; ripples play on the crazy paving from sunlight passing through the aquatic tanks and plastic bottle wall, and marine flora and corals (represented by the succulents, cacti and air plants) are growing or floating in every corner. 

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Submerged in the underwater garden

Planting

Designer John Warland has used the San Pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi f. cristata) with its undulating foliage which mimics the look of kelp suspended in seawater and woolly senecio (Senecio haworthii) which has similarly waving fronds. Coral is represented by the jade plant (Crassula ovata) with its red-edged, tubular foliage and cacti like the chin cactus (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii) and the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) create the contorted shapes and vivid colours of the coral reef. 

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A selection of succulents and cacti from the garden

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The bleached and dying Coral Man

Every year more corals reefs across the world are being devastated due to rising sea temperatures causing acidification of the water and their plight is highlighted in renowned sculptor and environmentalist Jason deCaires Taylor’s ‘Coral Man’ figure by the entrance to the garden.

The contrast between the organic shapes and vibrant colours of the planting against the muted tones of the Coral Man suggests the beauty and diversity that will be irrevocably lost unless solutions to climate change and warming oceans are found in the near future.

Solutions

The garden also offers solutions to what can appear to be an insoluble problem. Across the world we manufacture 78 million tonnes of plastic annually, of which a staggering 32% ends up in the oceans. This waste plastic, as we’ve all seen in the news recently, harms and kills marine life, and we are just becoming aware of the dangers of microplastics to human life too. 

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The bottle wall

In the garden, 500 plastic bottles make up the transluscent wall at the rear of the garden, representing the amount of plastic thrown into the ocean every 2.5 seconds. Reducing, reusing and recycling plastic is becoming increasingly important, as shown by the 3D printed pearl diver – made from recycled PLA plastic – rising from the centre of the circular suspended ocean ceiling. The pearl diver – or Japanese Ama uminchu – symbolises humankind living in harmony with the ocean; an largely forgotten skill which needs to be revived if ocean ecosystems and human life are to have a long term future on earth.

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The recycled pearl fisher

What Will The Pearlfisher Garden Achieve?

The garden acts as a window into an underwater world that few of us will have the privilege of seeing in person. It has always been the case that ecosystems outside our common experience, especially those beneath the sea or the ground – marine and soil environments – are afforded less protection. These habitats often go unseen and we don’t recognise what is being lost until it’s too late.

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Tanya Streeter, world champion freediver, modelling a gown made by Brighton Art students from waste plastic washed up on the beach

But with the pioneering work of marine scientists being brought into the public realm by organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council and programmes like ‘Blue Planet’, we can no longer plead ignorance of the state of the world’s oceans. There are, undoubtedly, many unknowns when it comes to solving the plastic crisis, but there are also many small changes we can make which, collectively, will make a big difference:

  • use reusable water bottles
  • use reusable coffee cups
  • boycott balloon releases
  • avoid plastic drinking straws (unless a necessity) and use paper cotton buds
  • join a beach clean
  • support the work of organisations like the Plastic Oceans UK and Marine Conservation Society

If the Pearlfisher Garden stimulates debate and helps to encourage change – for example, persuading organisations like the RHS lead the way on banning one-use plastic from their shows and sites – then, to my mind, the Pearlfisher Garden will have been both an aesthetic and ethical success.

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Theresa May visited the garden whilst I was photographing it – I hope the garden highlighted to her the urgency with which this issue needs to be treated

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Oh Happy Day! New Tomatoes, Pepper and Watermelon Launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

The flowers are dazzling, the designs immaculate and the stories behind the show gardens engaging, but sooner or later my path always leads into the Great Pavilion – to check out the newcomers on the fruit and vegetable displays. 

As usual the Pennard Plants display was fascinating with its Writer’s Retreat Garden inspired by Mark Diacono’s work – particularly A Year At Otter Farm and The New Kitchen Garden. The edible growing space includes a Riverside shepherd’s hut – a place where a writer can feel creative – surrounded by vegetables, fruit, herbs and a summer meadow full of nectar-rich ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). The use of naturalistic planting to bring in wildlife within a productive garden creates a warm, inviting atmosphere – I could happily sit here for hours writing about plants, listening to the bees buzzing around me. 

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The Writer’s Retreat Garden

The Alitex greenhouse is surrounded by cordons of ripe tomatoes including the new varieties that Burpee (who have partnered with Pennard Plants in the Writer’s Retreat Garden) are launching at this year’s show. I loved the delicate gold sheen on Tomato ‘Shimmer’ with its green stripes and sweet succulent flavour. Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’ lives up to its name – not only is it a blight resistant variety, it also has a good flavour, mingling sweetness with acidic notes. It has performed well in trials across the UK from Yorkshire to Somerset, and like all the varieties in this display, it has been grown at leading horticultural research station, Stockbridge Technology Centre in North Yorkshire. 

Tomatoes ‘Shimmer’ and ‘Oh Happy Day’ (Credit: Burpee)

Tomato ‘Honeycomb’ is another prolific cropper with 35 to 40 fruits on an average truss. I find the focus on flavour in all these varieties an encouraging sign as it is a quality which is often overlooked when breeding for disease resistance and heavy cropping. ‘Honeycomb’ has an exceptionally sweet flavour with an aftertaste, somewhat like honey. This is one variety I’ll definitely be trying next year.

Tomatoes ‘Honeycomb’ and ‘Rugby’ (Credit: Burpee)

Although I’ve found plum tomatoes rather tasteless in the past, Tomato ‘Rugby’ has prolific small pink fruits with a good flavour. Its fine sugar-acid balance makes it an ideal tomato for cooking, preserving and salads, so if you have a small greenhouse like I do, ‘Rugby’ would be a useful multi-purpose tomato.

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Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’ (Credit: Sarah Cuttle/RHS)

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Pepper ‘Afterglow’ (Credit: Burpee)

Burpee are also launching two new peppers at the show: Pepper ‘Lemon Dream’ and Pepper ‘Afterglow’. I particularly liked the look of ‘Lemon Dream’ with such zingy fruits and a hint of spiciness even though it’s a sweet pepper. It is suitable for growing on a sunny patio which makes it an option for gardeners without a greenhouse.

Pepper ‘Afterglow’ has more traditional yellow fruits and crops well from July to October on a sunny patio or in a cold greenhouse. It has been bred with good disease resistance to Tobacco Etch Virus, Potato Virus Y and Tomato Mosaic Virus, so if these diseases have been an issue in the past, growing ‘Afterglow’  might be a good solution.

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Watermelon ‘Little Darling’ (Credit: Burpee)

Not content with tomatoes and peppers, Burpee are also launching Watermelon ‘Little Darling’: a beautiful dark fruit with deep crimson flesh. I was interested to hear that it has performed well in unheated greenhouses across the UK, including Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland. Having spent a decade in Durham, I know how cold the growing conditions can be, so I’m impressed by the trials which have conquered my usual cynicism about the practicality of growing melons in the UK.

 

While I browsed through the seed packets on the stand and admired the Writer’s Retreat Garden, the gospel chords of ‘Oh Happy Day’ drifted across the garden as a group of singers from Brighton School of Music began to serenade us. While the quintet sang, Mark Diacono mixed me a cocktail with homemade orange and limoncello, and I drank in the sights, smells and sounds of the serene Writer’s Retreat Garden – a joyous haven in the busy Great Pavilion. Oh Happy Day!

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Brighton School of Music students sing ‘Oh Happy Day’

What fruit, vegetable or herb from RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 would you most like to grow next year? I’m after new ideas for my list 🙂

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Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

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The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

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The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

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The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

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Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

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Mellow paving to match the planting

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Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

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The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

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The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

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Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

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These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

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Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

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RHS Chelsea Flower Show Highlights

The attention to detail in the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show gardens surpasses anything I’ve seen before; I love the way the planting maintains a sophisticated and elegant feel, yet is more grounded than in previous years. Many gardens focus on naturalistic forms and soft planting with coppery tones, highlights of deep purples and pinks, and fresh green foliage alongside white and ivory flowers.

After an busy and truly inspiring day I’m finally home. I’ve taken off my sandals and had a cup of tea; so now it’s time to look through my photographs at some of the highlights of the day:

Pearlfisher Perfection

The Pearlfisher Garden combines a big idea – the plastic crisis in our oceans – with immaculate planting to create a garden which draws the visitor down into its watery recesses. The use of cacti, succulents and air plants mimics the underwater environment and my initial impression of the garden was of waves washing over me – from the curved steps, the tillandsia fronds undulating on the ceiling, the circular motion of the fish to the spiral cobbles at the heart of the garden. I’ll be writing more on the exquisite planting in this sub-marine garden later in the week.

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Pearlfisher Garden

As I walked into the central area the water from above sent shadow ripples across the paving and the detail of the planting – down to individual lithops in the paving and wall gaps – was revealed. I lost myself taking photographs of the planting until a commotion ensued and I was ushered to one side while Theresa May came to look round the underwater scene.

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Theresa May admires the planting in the Urban Flow Garden

Oh Happy Day

Sooner or later I always find myself at the Pennard Plants stand, marvelling at the latest salad crops, or new varieties of chillies. It’s a dangerous move for a vegetable obsessive like myself. Today Pennard Plants were launching a new tomato called ‘Oh Happy Day’ to the accompanying voices of the singers from the Brighton School of Music.

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Tomato ‘Oh Happy Day’, Burpee images

‘Oh Happy Day’ is a new beefsteak tomato with blight resistance and a sweet taste with acidic tones. For those of us growing outdoors, blight resistance is key to the success of tomato plants, so this looks like a tasty and interesting variety to try.

Wormhole

Alice might have fallen down a rabbit hole, but I fell through a wormhole on the David Harber and Savills Garden. 

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Through the wormhole…

The design showcases sculpture in a garden setting and the large sculptural pieces create energy as you pass through and see the space from different angles. The planting is airy without being insubstantial and the final view reveals a wormhole through which Aeon, a nucleus of energy can be seen in a state of equilibrium.

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…and relaxing on the other side

Tea Break

Halfway through the afternoon, feeling rather parched, I arrived at the Wedgwood Garden. Not only has Jo Thompson designed a sumptuous, modern tea garden for relaxation, in which Iris ‘Kent Pride’ lives up to its name and takes pride of place, but it opens onto the Wedgwood tea pavilion. 

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Wedgwood Garden

After sampling a light Darjeeling and an aromatic Ceylon it was back to the gardens with renewed vigour.

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Tea drinking, Wedgwood style

Feel Good Gardens

It’s great to see such a focus on relocating the gardens after the show this year so that many other people can continue to enjoy them for the future and one garden due to be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust is the RHS Feel Good Garden designed by Matt Keightley. This beautiful garden with its cantilevered stone terraces and aromatic planting will give patients, staff and their families the opportunity to enjoy the relaxation and also the stimulation that the garden creates. I’m looking forward to writing more about the planting in the garden and the ideas behind it later in the week.

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RHS Feel Good Garden

Cocktails and Dancing Box

At the Pennard Plant stand I was lucky enough to have a garden cocktail mixed for me by Mark Diacono from Otter Farm. It was a delicious mix of homemade orange and limoncello with sparkling water, but afterwards strange things began to happen – as I passed the Space to Grow gardens, the box balls started waving at me – then they were still. Just another day at the most inspiring garden show in the world…

What has caught your eye so far? What gardens do you think will win gold?

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Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe – the landscape, arts and the mind

I’ve spent much of the past week reading about one of the twentieth century’s most influential landscape designers and it has left me surprised that Geoffrey Jellicoe’s name doesn’t crop up more often in discussions of contemporary garden design. As someone who has always worked between the margins of different disciplines – especially focusing on the often disregarded connections between literature and science – I find Jellicoe’s focus on the links between design, landscape and the mind, both refreshing and inspiring. So I though I’d share some of his life and works on the blog this week:

Background

Geoffrey Jellicoe is known for his private and public landscape designs. He was born in 1900 and continued working through retirement and beyond, well into the 1990s. He believed that landscape design was part of a wider creative movement throughout history, which encompassed visual arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture, and he was influenced by such disparate forces as the writings of the ancient Greeks, Cubism and the psychology of Carl Jung.

Jellicoe was trained as an architect and in the early 1920s he travelled across Italy with fellow student, J. C. Shepherd, drawing the villas and their gardens, and immersing himself in Italian garden design. When he returned in 1924, the two young men published Italian Gardens of the Renaissance and the influence of this trip can be seen throughout Jellicoe’s later work.

Early Work

By 1929 he was a master at the Architectural Association school, a founder member of the Institute of Landscape Architects and was established in private practice with Shepherd. He continued to write, teach and design and in 1931, set up his own practice at 40 Bloomsbury Square, London. In 1934 he began designing the restaurant at Cheddar Gorge; the project which really saw him take his place at the forefront of modernist architecture. He included influences from German expressionist architecture, created a glass-bottomed pool with fountains above (water became a key element in his designs in later years) and also drew inspiration from the surrounding landscape.

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Modern view of the Caveman Restaurant designed by Jellicoe without the original pool and fountains, image by Philippa Crabbe, Creative Commons Licence

As his practice developed, he began to take on larger private gardens. From 1935 he was involved in designing the garden at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire on a site where little of the original garden remained. He designed a formal landscape heavily influenced by his knowledge of Italian design, creating a long formal terrace overlooking the lake and a water-curtain of secret fountains to allow bathers to use a semi-circular pool unobserved from the house.

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Front view of Ditchley House, image by JeffJarvis, Creative Commons Licence

He also became involved in designing more public landscapes throughout the 1930s and 40s. 1935/6 saw him working on the surface layout of Calverton Colliery in Nottinghamshire, the plan for reconstructing the Mablethorpe foreshore in Lincolnshire and the town plan for Hemel Hempstead. By the 1950s Jellicoe was back in Hemel once more, this time designing the water gardens which surround the River Gade in the centre of the town. The gardens formed the shape of a serpent from the lake as the head, past a fountain which formed the eye and culminating in a curving tail resting on a mound. Bringing water into the town as a feature was intended to allow people to become closer to nature and the landscape.

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Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens

As Jellicoe developed as a designer, the role of the wider landscape in his designs became more important. With projects like Harvey’s Store Roof Garden (1956), Jellicoe made the most of the view of Guildford and the North Downs. Jellicoe wrote in Studies in Landscape Design that it ‘is primarily a sky garden and the underlying idea has been to unite heaven and earth; the sensation is one of being poised by the two.’ He based the design on the launch of the first sputnik which took place in 1957 while he was designing the garden. The circular pools represent the spinning of the planets and originally there were fish in the pools and a waterfall cascading over the parapet to the levels below. Once again Jellicoe was creating movement and impact through his use of water in the garden.

Paul Klee

Throughout his career, Jellicoe was heavily influenced by the work of modernist artist Paul Klee. The Swiss German painter lived from 1879-1940, but the two men never met. Klee’s work on colour theory and his use of elements of Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism inspired Jellicoe in designs like the rose garden at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire in 1959. This design was based on an abstract Klee painting The Fruit (1932), which depicts an embryonic being inside a fruit. Jellicoe created a garden with soft curves and described it as a vegetable form, like a cabbage, which was intended to absorb the visitor deeper into the garden.

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The Fruit by Paul Klee, 1932, oil on jute, LACMA, 1932, {{PD-US-not renewed}}

The roses ranged in colour from soft pinks, through deep oranges, reds and yellows, again inspired by Klee’s experiments with colour. The rose garden demonstrates Jellicoe’s increasing interest in the relationship between garden and people in the way he uses shape and colour to create a connection between the visitor and the landscape.

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The Rose Garden at Cliveden was replanted with herbaceous perennials in 2002 as shown in this image, and then restored to a rose garden in 2013, image by Simon Q, Creative Commons Licence

More prestigious commissions followed with projects like the Kennedy Memorial Garden in Runnymede, Surrey indicating Jellicoe’s position as one of Britain’s foremost landscape designers. One of Jellicoe’s original ideas for this garden was that it would represent an allegorical journey from darkness to light, following the spirit of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. The garden opens on a stretch of meadow and then a pathway leads through the wood to the seven ton block of Portland stone monument at the top with views back over the Thames and the valley in which the Magna Carta was signed. The path is irregularly laid with 60,000 axe-hewn granite setts and the view of the monument is obscured until the visitor reaches the top, when the culmination of the pathway is finally revealed. In this way the garden is both a physical and metaphysical journey – mind and matter combined through landscape.

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John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden

Later Designs

In the 1970s and 80s, Jellicoe worked on a number of long term projects such as Shute House in Dorset (1970-90) and Sutton Place in Surrey (1980-86). At Shute, Jellicoe made use of the spring to create a series of watercourses guiding the flow through bubble fountains, rills, seven pools and out towards the open landscape. He experimented with creating a true harmonic chord with water as it passes over the four cascades in the rill, and the sounds and views created with water are intended to replenish the mind.

In 1980, Jellicoe was commissioned to design the gardens at Sutton Place for the American Stanley Seeger. Jellicoe proposed significant changes, such as moving the lake, adding a walled garden to balance the house, and developing a Paradise Garden and a Moss Garden. There was also to be a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore ‘Divided Oval’ and a ‘White Relief’ wall created by Ben Nicolson. Although the wall was installed, a change of ownership meant the sculpture was never added.

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Ben Nicolson 1934 (relief) oil paint on wood sculpture 1934, Tate Modern, similar style to the Nicolson Wall at Sutton Place, image by Wmpearl, Creative Commons Licence

One of Jellicoe’s final projects was the Moody Gardens in Texas, US which he began when he was 86. The scheme was to design a human landscape in the wetlands which would allow development of the site for domestic and leisure purposes. Jellicoe proposed a landscape which would explore the evolution of plants with a range of areas within the gardens demonstrating the ecology and habitats of different species. Creating the 126 acre site to encompass the botanical history of the world was a way to foreground nature within the landscape and to make a point about the importance of plants to the past, the present and the future. Unfortunately his plans were never implemented, but they demonstrated his desire to promote a design which, as Michael Spens explains, shows ‘man ‘in’ a botanical landscape of the universe. The theme is one of creation, growth, pollination and survival of species on the edge of chaos.’

A Designer For Our Time

Geoffrey Jellicoe’s work cannot be reduced to a single style or influence. His projects spanned the subjects of garden design, landscape design, architecture, town planning and teaching, and he was active in these fields for over seventy years. His influence on modern design tends to be overlooked, but his interest in the ways that garden and landscape design interacts with many other creative disciplines, his desire to see it as part of a wider artistic and historical movement, is innovative and exciting. He wrote in The Landscape of Man in 1982, ‘The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognized as the most comprehensive of the arts. Man creates around him an environment that is a projection into nature of his abstract ideas. It is only in the present century that the collective landscape has emerged as a social necessity. We are promoting a landscape art on a scale never conceived of in history.’ His deep conviction that gardens should relate to the wider landscape and his belief that our relationship with the landscape is intrinsically linked to our subconscious, mean that Jellicoe’s work has acute contemporary relevance, especially in a world which has become increasingly divorced from the reality of external landscapes, with far-reaching consequences for our present and the future.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on modern garden design. Which landscape/garden designers or styles do you find most inspirational and where do you think the future will lead us in terms of our relationship with the landscape? 

Featured image, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and Ben Nicholson by Harris Lynda, Creative Commons Licence

Humphry Repton: Art and Nature for the Duke of Bedford

2018 is Humphry Repton’s bicentenary year and over the next few months events and exhibitions all over the country will be celebrating his life and work. The first person to use the title of ‘landscape gardener’, Repton (1752-1818) began to practise in 1788, five years after Lancelot Capability Brown’s death. His designs reinstated the importance of the garden around the house, whilst also developing the landscape to create vistas with impressive visual impact. One of his most elaborate garden designs was at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, and this year the Abbey is showcasing Repton’s work through a new exhibition featuring a collection of designs, maps, letters, artifacts and two of his red books in which he presented his proposals for his clients. The red books include watercolour scenes showing before and after views of the estate, intended to impress upon the client the beauty and scale of Repton’s designs.

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The restored Doric Temple (Photo credit: Woburn Abbey and Gardens)

Repton was commissioned by the 6th Duke of Bedford in 1802 to create a design to enhance the gardens and parkland, and by 1805 he had produced one of the largest and most ambitious of his red books for the Duke showing detailed plans of the approaches to the Abbey, the lakes and plantings in the surrounding parkland and the formal pleasure grounds. In 2003, nearly 200 years after the red book was created, Her Grace the Duchess of Bedford and her dedicated team of gardeners began to work on plans to bring Repton’s designs back to life.

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The restored aviary (Photo credit: Woburn Abbey and Gardens)

One of the projects involved reconstructing the aviary and cone house which were burnt down and later deconstructed during the second world war. In 2011 restoration work began to rebuild the aviary using green oak and the final stage of the project commences this month with the construction of green oak open-sided cottages complete with cedar shingle tiles situated either side of the aviary to mimic the keepers’ houses.

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The restored cone house (Photo credit: Woburn Abbey and Gardens)

When discussing the project, Estate Gardens Manager, Martin Towsey said “It is fantastic to reveal the reconstruction of the aviary according to Repton’s plans and it has felt like a true ‘phoenix from the ashes’ project. We have all worked so hard to restore this magnificent structure to its former glory and the aviary is now home to an array of birds once again including golden pheasants, budgies and a quail. The final structure is due to be opened by Her Grace during the Woburn Abbey Garden Show held on 23rd and 24th June.”

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The folly in the children’s garden (Photo credit: Woburn Abbey and Gardens)

Alongside the ongoing work on the aviary, temple and walled garden, the children’s garden with its folly and planting has also been restored. This area of the garden is still used by the Duke and Duchess and their children, and it is important to them that the gardens are designed for the use by the family as well as for the public.

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The folly in spring (Photo credit: Woburn Abbey and Gardens)

The launch of the exhibition, Humphry Repton: Art & Nature for the Duke of Bedford took place last week and it will be open daily between 11am and 5pm (last entry 4pm) until 28th October 2018. It’s a fascinating opportunity to see the work behind the design of the gardens and a rare chance to see Repton’s red books and accompanying documents, maps and artifacts alongside the restoration work of the historic garden itself.

Secret Seed Club: Agretti

It’s a rare treat when the postman brings a letter these days; it’s even more unusual when the envelope is sealed with red wax in the impression of a tree and the contents include an information sheet about agretti and a pack of seeds. The Secret Seed Club for Ethnobotanical Explorers was launched last month by Emma Cooper, The Unconventional Gardener, to cater for those of us who enjoy trying new things and learning more about the background of the crops we’re growing. I’ve been reading Emma’s blog for a couple of years now, and it always introduces me to interesting scientific facts and new botanical information. With a background in ethnobotany and several gardening books to her name, Emma’s enthusiasm for unusual edible plants is infectious and her articles are both informed and engaging.

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An interesting beginning…

When Emma kindly sent me the first of her Seedier Explorer Mailings, I was excited to see a pack of agretti seeds as it’s a plant I’ve neither grown nor heard much about before. Agretti (Salsola soda) is in vogue at the moment as a gourmet vegetable but Emma also traces its history in the soap and glass industries, alongside its potential as an edible crop which can be grown in salty soils. Exploring the historical, etymological and scientific stories behind edible plants is a fascinating approach to growing and I’m currently spending much of my time researching the background of plants which have local significance for my book on engaging with the wild in our local landscapes, so I really enjoyed this aspect of the Seedier Explorers Mailing.

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Fascinating facts about Agretti

Agretti is a ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop that apparently tastes like a cross between salty asparagus and spinach. I love seafood: chowders, mussels and fish pie are some of my favourite dishes, so I can’t wait to get sowing in the next few weeks. I’m told I’ll need patience as it can be ‘a most infuriating seed to germinate’, but I’m up for the challenge and its unpredictable germination patterns will make it all the more satisfying when I sit down to my first agretti salad later in the year.

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For all your seedier exploration needs…

If you are interested in joining Emma’s secret seed club, details can be found on her Patreon website. Oh, and let me know if you sow agretti and it germinates – I’m keeping all my fingers crossed…

Winter Treats: Redwing and Fieldfare

Yesterday there was a frantic scramble at the breakfast table – there was a fieldfare in the birch tree – the first we’d ever seen in our garden. Later, as I drove down Bedfordshire lanes on the way to visit a friend, I saw fieldfare in the hedgerows and when I arrived there were redwings and fieldfare in her garden – again the first they’d ever seen. In the last few days thousands of fieldfare and redwings have arrived from Northern Europe and have been visiting gardens in search of food and shelter. There have been so many that the RSPB organised an impromptu redwing and fieldfare count today and reports of large flocks have been sent in from all over the country.

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Fieldfare in the snow (image: Alan Garner)

It’s a rare treat to see these birds so close to home, but they are visiting gardens because of the harsh weather and they act as a reminder that all garden birds need our help in the cold weather. The RSPB recommend:

  • providing fatty food, making fat balls and homemade bird cakes, and putting out kitchen scraps such as mild grated cheese, porridge oats and soaked, chopped currants, although be aware that currants are poisonous to dogs
  • providing water – with a ping pong ball in the bowl to stop it freezing or putting out juicy fruit like apples and pears
  • providing shelter – nest boxes work well and will be used by garden birds like long-tailed tits for roosting
  • offering winter shelter such as in evergreen climbers, dense hedges like privet and hawthorn, and evergreen shrubs and trees
  • even if you don’t have bird boxes or evergreen shelter, the RSPB advises propping a bucket up sideways or grouping plants in containers together to provide some shelter from the wind

Considering the fact that around one quarter of a typical UK city comprises private gardens and that the total area of UK gardens is roughly equivalent to an area one fifth the size of Wales, the potential for gardeners to make a real difference to the fate of our garden birds is clear. Our birds need a little help from us and in return we get to watch one of nature’s most beautiful sights from the comfort of our own homes.

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Another occasional winter visitor to our garden (image: Alan Garner)

What birds has the Beast from the East brought to your garden this week? Do you have any tips for ways to help our garden birds through this cold spell? Please leave your comments below. Thank you  🙂

More information on feeding garden birds is available from the RSPB website.

3 Top Tasting Tomatoes…

If you only grew 3 tomatoes this year – which cultivars would you choose?

I’ve never had this dilemma before as the greenhouse is usually a jungle of tomato foliage by June and I always defend my excessive tomato habit by claiming that growing for the school fete necessitates producing several extra trays of tomatoes – as indeed it does. But this year, having passed the responsibility of the stall onto fresh hands, I might have to acknowledge the other reasons for the tomato chaos, which include:

  1. An inability to compost unwanted seedlings
  2. An endless desire to try out new cultivars
  3. Too much focus on sowing: not enough on growing

So this year, with no pressure to grow for others, I’m going to raise fewer plants and make more time and space to care for them better. I’ve decided to choose only my 3 favourites – the ones with the best flavour – along with 4 new cultivars. I’m just intending to grow one of each type (please hold me to this) and thus I’ll be reducing my normal tomato numbers by three quarters.

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Beautiful summery colours

Reading back through my records to decide on the 3 ‘keepers’, I’ve come across a few which just don’t quite make the grade:

  • ‘Millefleur’ – a centiflor variety with hundreds of small yellow fruits, but a little disappointing on taste
  • ‘Indigo Rose’ – a deep black cherry tomato with beautiful red skin under the calyx and a sweet, meaty taste, but doesn’t quite make the top three
  • ‘Black Russian’ and ‘Black Krim’ – lovely mellow beefsteak tomatoes, great for salads, but not quite enough yield to make the grade
  • ‘Gartenperle’ – my favourite hanging basket tomato with a sweet taste and excellent yield – would be my number 4

Other good tasting tomatoes have included ‘Tumbling Tom’ – red and yellow, ‘Tigarella’, ‘Sungold’, ‘Black Opal’ and ‘Heinz 1370’, but my self-restrained top 3 would have be:

  • ‘Green Zebra’ – my children’s favourite with vibrant green stripes and a fresh tangy flavour which adds a real zing to summer salads
  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’ – an unsurprising favourite for its reliability, thin skins and sweet taste
  • Golden Sunrise – a deliciously sweet yellow tomato and my top tasting cultivar

Tomatoes form the basis of so many summer meals

Alongside these I’m trying:

  • ‘Rosella’ – a smoky rose-pink cherry tomato with high anti-oxidant levels and very few seeds
  • ‘Red Zebra’ – high levels of lycopene, excellent flavour and I can’t resist the stripes
  • ‘Sweet ‘n’ Neat Red’ – a sweet container tomato for the kids to grow, reaching only 30cm

And I’d like to add another tomato based on flavour recommendation, so please leave me a comment about your top tasting tomato. I’ll choose one from your delicious favourites and sow all my tomato seeds in the next few weeks. Then hopefully, come June, the greenhouse will be home to seven healthy, heavily-cropping tomato plants, with plenty of room left over for my chillies, cucumbers, marigolds and cucamelons.

Happy sowing and growing! If you’d like to follow the progress of my tomato crop in 2018, do keep in touch via social media and subscribe to the blog below…

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Thanks for all the recommendations. Here are your top tasting tomatoes, shared yesterday and today on the blog and social media:

Purple Ukraine, Japanese Black Trifele, Tigerella, Sungold, Gardeners’ Delight, Dona, Sweet Millions, Super Sweet 100, Black Russian, Tornado, Rapunzel, Bumble Bee, Black Prince, Ship Saint, Black Krim, Pineapple, Green Zebra, Rosada, Chocolate Cherokee, Maskotka, Roma, San Marzano, Rose de Berne, Tumbling Tom

What a glorious selection of assorted colours, shapes and flavours! I’ve chosen Rose de Berne to try this year. What a great excuse to order some seeds from Real Seeds and it’s just possible that some quinoa and tomato ‘Purple Ukraine’ may have snuck into the basket when I wasn’t looking… 😉