Rosewarne Gardens The Blog - still some work to do

The Blog – still some work to do

Apparently, according to the lovely Darren Rowse of ProBlogger in a recent posting, I should be aiming to post every day. Yikes. I say YIKES. I don’t know about you but that seems a lot to me. Like the person in the room who NEVER shuts up. Verbal diarrhoea, only virtually.

When I started blogging, moons and moons ago, it was suggested that one post a  month was enough to gain the attention of the Google ranking robots and possibly a small following of interested like minded folk. Now, that too seems a bit too little. The shy person who almost never adds to the conversation. So something in between has been my aim. Some months achieved, some months not.

What to post about is often a dilemma partly because I AM the person in the room who never shuts up, so I COULD talk and talk and blather on about all kinds of things garden-y, designer-y and planter-ly and a whole host of other thing-y‘s too.

In the words of Tim Minchin (11:22) “in my opinion, until I change it”… once a week is enough, a goodly amount for sharing of information, not so much as to annoy everyone!




I’m one of those wanderlust folks who don’t stay too long in one place. Putting down roots for me is about a 5-7 years exercise though it has been less and it has been more . Usually house moves are within a district or postcode area but sometimes it has been countries and even continents. In a month or so I’ll be moving house again, within the same locale but to a place with no garden! Quelle Horreur. Admittedly it is a temporary jaunt into garden-less lands but it’s a good opportunity to take stock of the garden and whittle plants down to those I love and cannot be without.

texture with a dash of colour

texture with a dash of colour

This house is rented so it is a simple case of putting the garden back to what it was. A bare strip of tatty grass with black landscape fabric on one side border and monstrously overgrown shrubs on the other. Shouldn’t bee too hard. I’ve dug, planted, fed, pruned and nurtured the space into a lovely garden full of foliage and exotic flowers from spring to late winter but that has to go. In the summer I took on a second allotment plot, idly planning a clear out of the garden and now it will be perfect for ‘heeling’ everything in for 12 months while the rest of life gets settled and a new garden is found to house them. Once the specimens are out it’s a simple case of raking over soil and scattering grass seed.

When I sold my London flat and it’s bijoux, plant packed garden a few years back I had to detail every plant and root I was taking on the contract. Laws are much stricter that they were and take a prized rarity, not on the list, at your peril. Plants in pots do not normally fall under this because clearly they are portable, never the less it’s wise to make a note of all containers that will be going, along with  garden ornaments, bird tables to avoid misunderstandings later.

Of course if you plan well in advance you can have a stash of cuttings and divisions stacked in a single pot size to ease the moving process all ready to be transported to a new home and planted in stunning new borders. Many will love the new environs, some won’t. Be prepared to find that a beloved plant loathes you’r new soil or aspect and turns up it’s toes in disgust. This has happened to me a few times and I’ve learn to take it on the chin. Best of all is to leave all but the most treasured plants behind and start from fresh. New house, new garden with all it;s inherent challenges. Be that a garden full of mature 1970’s conifers, a stunning designer plot full of stunning specimens or a field full of builders rubble. Each has it’s own charm.

For further advice on propagating your plants see the wonderful RHS book on propagating almost anything.

Summer planting coming into flower

Summer planting coming into flower

Planning & the noxious weed

Getting involved with garden projects where there is an aspect of planning involved can be a time consuming but usually an interesting aspect of being a Garden Designer. I spend a good number of hours trawling through the ‘not so intuitive’ Planning Portal, set up by government to make the process far more transparent. One can search by planning number – trying recalling multiple 6-8 digit number/letter combos I dare you – by address which is not always as straightforward as it seems house names and numbers are not interchangeable and what a human would consider one address , i.e. The Crotchety Barn, 11 Grouch Street…. is likely to show up as The Crotchety Barn, Grouch Street and entirely separately as 11 Grouch Street. That said in the age of Google Search one knows to look for multiple possibilities of face the incomplete consequences.

A basic rule of thumb and certainly in the opening gambit with new clients is to find out about the area in which their home is situated, from a planning regulations point of view of course. Is the house in a conservation area? is the house and/or garden listed? is their home in a SSI? Are there TPO’s on any of the trees? Many, most, clients know this information which makes quick work of those points but not all do. Each affects a potential garden design in different ways and each requires communication with various planning related bodies to ensure rules and regulations are followed and designs approved. Local Conservation Officers, Tree Officers, Planning departments, Highways agency teams are all on a designers speed dial.

Post and finial

Post and finial

It’s sometimes a surprise for clients to discover that though they own the house and garden it is not always theirs to do with as they please. If you live in a conservation area you cannot simply cut down trees down, or indeed even prune them. This also applies to larger shrubs and hedges over 20m long, put in before 1983 (>30 years old) can be protected too. Erecting any kind of permanent structure over 2m in the rear of the property usually requires planning consent as does a decking platform over 300mm and front fences above 1m….Access onto main roads require visual splays of varying width and angle and preservation of protected wildlife can make discovering them slightly less delightful. I recall finding my first ever Great Crested newt in a pond we were about to move….whoops

Of course more awkward than finding protected wildlife on a first visit is noting the Japanese knotweed lurking by the back fence……

2012 skids to a close

It’s been a roller coaster of a year 2012 though on the whole as many ups as downs. It started brilliantly well and sort of coasted in a bit from there.

6 weeks between posts is long even by our standards but December has been busy, mostly thwarted by rain and wind and then of course the freezing frosts entwined with sub-zero temperatures. Plans have been planned and re-planned, cancelled, re-booked and some even met on time!

Frosticled River Salix

Frosticled River Salix

The herbaceous garden held on in sterling show well  into December and it took some ruthless moments to cut back and tidy up while plants still flowered and flounced about. In the end a worthwhile sacrifice.

For photographers the thought is ‘what’s not to love about dead umbel seed heads and grassy fronds frosticled up and glistening?’ as a gardener by midday the soggy brown mess of after frost is ugly and not to be admired. Sometimes it’s a toss up, this year with the rain and wind it was not. Down it all came ready to be chopped up and composted.

The compost heap suffered this year too, too dry, too wet, too many ants, too much brown, too much green, too little of anything…and on it goes. We’re am fast coming to the conclusion that ‘hot composting‘ is the best route, although next year we’ll be trialing a method passed on from another National Collection holder who likes the idea of the ‘low-to-no work’ gardening. That will be green manure grown,  trampled and covered with a layer of weed control fabric pinned down, leaving the mulch to rot and then planting.  Moving towards the no dig movement is a definitely gaol for 2013.

The media was peppered with Mistletoe stories, learning about it’s history and uses from social to medicinal enlightened one and all. One of our clients is growing some from seed embedded deliberately in a wonderful old Bramley. It’s thriving  but surprisingly slow to start. Growing a plant is a favourite way to get to know it.

New Years Eve and New Years Day are a favourite time to retreat from the world and write todo lists, goals, resolutions, mind-map, doodle, cogitate, re-write and re-write again letting the imagination flow and take form (write it down, write it down, write it down!). This years cogitating will include Monty Don’s ritual (GWM Jan) of laying out seed packets on the dining room table, bed by bed and then make up the lists of when to plant and how much (space is at an optimum).

Birch hanging onto leaves in late December

Here is to 2013 regain some equilibrium lost in 2012 with snowdrops just poking up their leaves it is possible to ignore the flowering Hammamelis and the blooming Lonicera Winter Beauty (both a month early).

Exciting times ahead and we’re looking forward to the new projects of 2013

Wishing one and all a Happy and Prosperous 2013.

Law and Liability for Garden Designers

I studied this rather dry topic at college and was sufficiently terrified following the seminars to do plenty of reading. Following up 2 years later to update on new legislation and pick the brains of an expert I attended the SGD (Society if Garden Designers) DDD (Designer Development Day) day at the very quaint Greyhound Inn at Lutterworth with Nigel Thorne.

It’s sobering to realise just how ‘on the hook’ one is as a designer, how much the Law of the land holds the Professional accountable for their actions and words, even words spoken in passing can be used against one  and as British society becomes increasingly litigious (thank you America). I cam away with the idea that one can anticipate the threat of  being sued at some point in ones working life. Clearly here a GREAT Professional Indemnity insurer is crucial and one that actually understands Landscape matters even more so. I will be moving to McParland Finn next year as they are the recommended insurer for the LI and the SGD and likely to have more experience of landscape issues as a result. Interesting advice to pass any liability or law matter straight to ones insurer, obvious I suppose but well not so obvious if you have not done it before.

Some clients may not be aware that designers carry both Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance (or should!). In a way it reassures that not only is the designers a professional but takes their responsibility seriously.

I’m sure at some point during school we must have learned about the law of the land , the levels of court and what is tried where (BHS cannot have been so remiss as to fail in that?). Actually I am pretty sure we did nothing of the sort but we jolly well should have! Running through Civil vs Criminal prosecution, County Ct vs High and Supreme Ct and of course EU intervention and directive. Then there was Common Law and Act of Parliament, Statues of Law. My ignorance of my own countries governing law process is shocking and I will be researching at least some of this in the very near future, not least because as a small business owner I am expected to know at least my businesses part and potential interaction with and in all this.

Happily one is not expected to be a lawyer, one is however expected to know one’s professional limits and to say so, quite clearly. A good deal of common sense and risk taking ONLY if seriously calculated is advisory.

It was somewhat satisfying to find I did know much of the required legality stuff, my time as a (mostly terrified of being sued) PM for a build company paid off in spades though I’m not sure the sleepless nights were a good idea.

In a couple of months there will be more about Planning & Legislation and as this is simply a Dark Art varying frmo county to county and person to person all of course loosely based around some Act of Parliament or another and recently updated (April 2012)by Dave and Nick ending in a developer free for all, it should be an entertaining day. Can’t wait!


Lawn, or is that TURF?

Spring has sprung and the grass is growing. What more could you want? well an informal presentation on the ins and outs of lawn care might be nice!

I will admit to having succumbed to lawn fever earlier in the year and sprinkled the patchy patch behind my house with indestructible, shade loving lawn seed mixed in compost. Watered lightly and waited, and waited, and waited. Last week it decided to show it’s shoots and then shot up about 3 cm in a couple of warm days! I want a sward by the end of the year, it’s a long time to that point but it’s a modest goal I think.

Lucky for me the Rolawn rep came to visit the SGD cluster group meeting this week. Dave, plied us not only with info and promo literature but also soil and left me with 2 sample patches of their best product. Medallion and Minster Pro. I am gleeful, I will have two patches of fabulous turf in the garden, not exactly what I had in mind but nevertheless 2 patches will stand out and act as a good guide to perfection.

Medallion and Minster Pro in a sample box

Rolawn are the turf kings. They have been farming, yes farming, hectares of the stuff in Yorkshire for 40 years. Plenty of rain and a cool steady climate apparently, well up until the last couple of dry winters and hot springs that is, so a perfect climate for growing excellent turf.

Having studied lawn care with the RHS I thought I knew quite a bit about it but in fact there is much more to know. It’s not just about mowing, aerating, scarifying, weeding, feeding, top dressing etc but about laying it correctly in the first place. Gardening well, pretty much always comes back to good preparation.Thinking about  things like Where, When and What you lay turf on is important.

The absolute basics are to remove old turf, compost it elsewhere in the garden by turning it upside down and leaving for 6 months.

Turn over you soil to a depth of 5-10cm no more, overusing you rotavator can destroy the soil structure making it nigh on impossible for the turf roots to find food, water or purchase.

Raking the area over and removing/breaking down big clods of earth and then firming the soil with your heels. I laugh at this particular step but it is a vital thing to do.

Follow all this preparation with a application of pre-turfing fertiliser in the top 25mm.

Turf needs to be laid on a damp surface so if it’s been dry water before laying and then lay your turf in offset pattern on the fine tilth you’ve just prepared.

Dave says it should take in 3-5 days, so be prepared to get mowing as soon as a good tug doesn’t have you standing with a patch of grass in your hand!

Usefully there is every kind of information on how to make and keep a good patch of turf on the Rolawn TV website with some chap from TV series Emmerdale apparently. One wonders if he now actually knows how to lay turf?!


A bit more on being waterwise.

Cardboard Mulch.

I love it. I first came across it watch Alys Fowler’s You Tube segments on her allotment. She referred to it at some point as similar to making a lasagne but a mulchy version. What a great visual that has been.

After scavenging any piece of cardboard from friends and family, as well as my own, I have visited the local recycling unit who were only to happy, if a tad bemused, to load up the car with large thick cardboard sections. I have 100m2 of plot so the larger the better.

The way it works for me is that I lay it on grass or a weed patch at the plot and wait for it to decompose, now I know I should dig out and weed first but this way it makes the plant so much weaker that by the time it gets uncovered it’s much easier to remove invasive nasties.

The worm population loves it.

This is a good time to get your mulch down, before the annual weed seed  start flowering and scattering their progeny!

Drought and being a bit more waterwise….

So there it is from April 5th we, in the South that is, will be in an official hosepipe ban. Drought has officially hit (21st Feb 2012) due in the main to the drier winters and increasingly warm summers.

DEFRA is asking all of us to help by taking shorter showers, 4 mins which to me sounds like a ship shower (dowse, lather, dowse!) and not running the tap whilst cleaning your teeth – who does that, didn’t your Mother ever tell you about wasting the worlds resources? and pushing up the family water bill!

I have mixed feelings about a hosepipe ban as unlike many gardeners I abhor sprinklers and the mostly inefficient auto-watering systems one sees about the place. Of course I speak as someone with a small enough patch to not worry about watering by hand but then I don’t water anything unless it’s in a pot, in it’s first season of growth or a crop of some sort. Plants shouldn’t need it and doing it just creates bad habits in the plant/tree!

So how can we help ourselves with this imminent water shortage?


Yes that’s right improving your soil can help with water retention. The more organic matter it contains the better it stores moisture. Organic matter can be added as compost, well rotted farm yard manure or green waste from your council. Typically this is done in late Autumn (November) or Early Spring (Feb/March) when the ground is moist. Spread a thick layer (50-75mm) on top of your soil leaving a 7-10cm gap around the stem/trunk of plants and then let the garden worms do the rest.

Right Plant Right Place

I know I know broken record stuff but it holds true for a reason. Planting moisture loving plants on dry slopes of sandy soil is going to cause a headache even if we didn’t have a drought. Beth Chatto‘s wonderful Dry Garden has shown that even in areas with low rainfall, and they have one of the lowest in the country, it is possible to plant a fabulous garden that won’t guzzle water but will still make a breathtaking display right through from Spring to Autumn.

Good plants to aim for are those you might find in mediterranean countries, silver leaved Lavenders, Salvia’s all sorts of furry and silver leaved plants and of course succulent Sedum, Euphorbia  and Sempervivums. The hairy leaves capture any moisture that falls and traps it for the plant, small leaves transpire less, grey reflects more light, fleshy leaves hold water well and so on. These plants have adapted well to their native environment and we can make use of them in our bid for low water, drier gardening. The RHS do a good drought tolerant plant list but then also investigating your own local varieties is half the fun.



My favorite topic and a favorite pass time  – I definitely need to get out more – A bit like improving your spoil mulch helps in the retention of water, stopping it evaporating as quickly so the plant has more chance to sup it up. There are lots of types of mulch from black plastic and bark chips to aggregates including gravels.

I get my bark chip from a local Arboriculturalist for paths but for anything going on the border it has to be well seasoned or there is a risk of nitrogen leaching from the bark and causing imbalance in your soil, most shop bought bark chip will be well seasoned.

As with soil improvers make sure this is laid between AUtumn and SPring so that the soil is good and moist before the mulch goes down. Mulch acts as a barrier both ways, so if your soil is dry it will take much longer to get wet.

More solid barriers, like Terram (a permeable black membrane), can be very useful in weed suppression and water retention but I find them a bit annoying if I want to have a fluid planting style – i.e. planting all those things that have tempted me in the local nursery! – it can get tatty if cut too many times and basically should be reserved for industrial style mulching and weed suppression

Water Sensibly

So we’re back to those sprinklers! Water garden plants in the evening, after the heat has gone out of the day. Water at the base of the plant don’t waste if on the leaves, really dowse each plant, soaking it once a week rather than watering every day. The soaking of the soil makes the plant send roots down in search of water rather than noodling about in the top 10cm, which is more prone to drying out and consequently not a great place for a plant to have all its roots!

For pot watering I challenge you to a test, take a couple of pots and water them as normal, after 15 mins take the plant out of the pot, soil and all, and see how far down you watering has gone. I suspect, unless you already know this one, that you water will have gone down a mere cm or two and nothing like the depth of the pot. A good rule of thumb is to soak your pot from below for half an hour, so a deep drip tray  or bucket is good. This encourages the plant to send it’s roots down and also it takes up the water it needs.

One more thing on pots, large pots do better as the fluctuations in temperature and water are reduced, aim for 60cm or bigger. Terracotta are the best for root protection and limiting temperature fluctuations but plastic pots will obviously retain water better. Clustering pots together creates a cooler micro climate. Metal pots are the devils work and basically fry the roots!

Water retaining gels

When making pots or hanging baskets for the summer, mix in water retaining gel to your compost. The crystals soak up water and create tiny reservoirs of wetness to be released later. Do not use them in winter pots or baskets as the same dampness is likely to cause root damage and possibly freeze.

Water Butts

It has to be said they are not the most elegant of things but they are fabulously useful in drought a couple of well placed containers connected to drainpipes will really boost your plants. Rainwater is also far better for plants than chemically treated tap water not to mention keeping the water bills down. Some funky new designs are on the market. You might consider grey water recycling as well but this is a slightly more complex occupation, you can find more information about the how’s here.

One final note to all you lawn lovers, a brown summer lawn is the new green, it will re-grow once it rains, don’t waste your water on the sward!

A bit more info about this drought:

and something to annoy the English

Where are you chitting your potatoes?

Two varieties this year, Pentland Javelin, recommended a one of the best ‘doers‘ by a good friend who is a bit of a Vegetable growing aficionado and Pink Fir Apple because I want to try it out and see if they’re good to eat as well as fun to peel.

Pentland Javelin - chitting in the kitchen window

I sort of feel as if they are slightly abandoned, no egg box, no special treatment this year. Egg boxes have been pressed into ‘seed box’ type service. That said last year I didn’t even chit them (Charlotte) they went straight into the ground from the packet, very daring, but nevertheless successful for a late planting.

Chitting? oh yes, chitting simply means encouraging your seed spuds to get a wiggle on and sprout before they go into the ground, you don’t have to do it but I like to if I remember.

The kitchen is relatively cool in my house, south east facing and no more than morning to early afternoon sun if there is any, so they are getting off nice and slowly.

Pink Fir Apple

Pink Fir Apple - chitting in the kitchen window

The pink fir apple have been taking their time about it too, only just putting out some tiny shoots in the last day of so. If they don’t get a move on they might have to move to the south west facing office window – positively hot by comparison!

Of course all this said it’s not as if I have dug over the bed where they will be planted yet, in fact I still have to work out how they are going to fit in at all. I keep reassuring myself that I am good at space management…. no really I am!

Inspirations from a Walled Garden – Wimpole Hall

I know I have banged on about Wimpole Hall on several occasions, it is my ‘local’ NT garden after all but it  remains an inspiring place to go and is full of ideas to take home and try out, on a somewhat smaller scale of course!.

When I say it is inspiring I am not really talking of the parterre, which is best glanced at through dark glasses. Suffice to say it is a painful homage to bygone trends though may inspire budding Britain in Bloom entrants I suppose.

Making a right on the path to avoid the garish parterre one finds oneself ambling through a rather new woodland area that seems loaded with interesting specimen trees it’s difficult not to get distracted by the unusual selection and find it takes a long while to walk a short way.

Being determine though and knowing where I am headed I resist the urge and head decisively towards the Walled Garden. In fact it is a double walled garden.

Outer wall gate

The first gated entry, tucked into deep evergreen plantings,  leads into a well stocked, expansive orchard.

Hay drying under the apple trees
Juicy fruit

A well designed path encourages me to move to the inner gardens but it’s tempting to wander in the orchard admiring the uncommon fruit varieties and wondering if anyone would miss a juicy applethat it calling my name. The long meadow grass lies briefly as hay beneath the trees, a gardener tells me it will be collected once dry. It’s evocative of a rural idyll of the past and somehow pleasing. He also tells me of the new beehives installed at one end of the orchard.

Bees feasting on nectar

It’s not difficult to see how much the bees enjoy the enormous late summer borders that flank the outside of the inner walls. Wide flanks of abundant planting humming with insects.

Long wide, nectar rich borders of the orchard gardens

That said I will say that they seemed to be far more interested in inhabiting a hole in the tall red brick wall a few feet up from the nectar rich border than flying hundreds of yards away to brand spanking new purpose built wooden boxes.

Nectar rich borders

I can readily understand that desire.

Inner wall gates

 The inner wall gate states that rabbits are unwelcome and one can imagine Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton Tail would have a field day in the productive gardens that lie beyond.

The large green greenhouse

Then there are choices to be made, ahead, left or right. Ahead one is greeted by  a large greenhouse which is literally green and surrounded by a plethora of seasonal plantings both tender and hardy you can’t enter it but you can admire the gourds within.

Cutting borders

Plant label

To the right are blocks and blocks of flowers with enormous wooden labels identifying each variety.  Though you have to know your genus and species as these are not well documented.

Leading around the gardens hedges of Gaura froth over the path

Gaura lindheimeri at the path edge

and walls of ripening fruit line the inner, inner walls.

Trained fruit

Espalier, cordon and fan training all in evidence.

To the left the productive gardens are showing off

Rotavator pausing between shifts

and alongside education material incorporated into borders. I didn’t know I could grow Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Isatis tinctoria - Woad - give a blue pigment

still and am seriously considering a spot for it in the garden, though painting my face with it may not be on the list of things to use it for.

Though the walled garden is clearly used for educational purposes what stays with me the most is the idea that cut flowers can also be grown like a crop.

Echinacea purpurea crop

 Long blocks of them are dotted through the big cultivated areas.

Crocosmia Lucifer crop

Echinacea, Crocosmia, Lavender, Iris and lots and lots of Dhalia.

Cosmos bipinnatus

There is something pleasing about order in a productive garden, everything has a place and an order presides. The design is formal and symmetrical as are many productive plots, this one speaks of borders designed to enhance views as well as accommodate ‘crops’ .

Views within the inner garden

On every visit I come away with more ideas and plans than can possibly be put into a 30x10ft town garden and that is the joy of it, always something new to try next year. This year though I have an 80x12ft allotment to play with. Last years dahlia crop, grown from 3 packets of seed, in large garden pots is going in the ground once the frosts pass. It won’t be Wimpole but it will be fabulous all the same.

Dhalia from seed