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!