Dec 042012

Fondation Cartier, Paris

The French are much better at green walls than we are. There are a few in London – notably at the Athenaeum Hotel and at the O2 (and then there’s my favourite, inside Anthropologie) – but they haven’t really caught on. Paris, on the other hand, has lots, probably because the green wall pioneer, Patrick Blanc, was born there.

This green wall at the Fondation Cartier, created by Monsieur Blanc in 1998, is quite small – a few square metres – but it packs quite a punch. As well as lots evergreen perennials it contains some shrubs, including a giant Fatsia japonica. Apparently never been cut – a gardener just comes in a few times a year to remove any dead leaves.

The effect is slightly bonkers and a tad disconcerting – you  need to walk under it to get into the gallery, and those shrubs do stick out rather alarmingly. Plants do occasionally fall out of green walls – a few years back at the launch of the wall at the Athenaeum Hotel, a viburnum was dislodged by high winds and landed inches away from Tim Richardson, garden writer and founder of the Chelsea Fringe.

I read once that Jarvis Cocker dreams of shuffling off this mortal coil having being felled by a giant ‘G’ from a ‘Gaumont Cinema’ sign. Much as I like all things horticultural, I don’t really fancy meeting my maker courtesy of an earthbound Fatsia japonica.

Nov 052012


North Dulwich

This is Marcia’s garden, planted up just over a year ago by… me! When Marcia moved in, it consisted of the decking with gravel around the edge, plus a Fatsia japonica, a mahonia and a very large bay tree. Marcia asked for my advice over tea, and I ended up doing a planting plan for her.

In many ways it wasn’t an easy garden to plant up. For a start, Marcia’s budget was around £500. That sound like a lot but it doesn’t go far, even when you’re only filling a few square metres. We saved money by buying plants in the smallest possible size, and for the time being the perennials have outstripped the slower growing shrubs. There was also the orientation of the garden to consider – it’s largely shady (only the border on the right gets a decent amount of sun). There was no budget to alter the layout of the garden, or to do a proper survey of the site, so the gravel was removed and replaced with new topsoil.

Marcia wanted quite a contemporary look, so I dusted down my plant books and got Googling, and after a very long time spent dithering (if I was a full-time garden designer I’d be lucky to earn £1 an hour) I came up with a plan.

The garden has lots of plants with bold foliage such as bergenias, oak-leafed hydrangeas and ferns, and grasses such as Deschampsia and Stipa tenuissima  for texture. Hardy geraniums, Japanese anemones and sedums supply the flowers and Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) and Trachelospermum jasminoides (on the sunny wall) provide the scent. I wanted Marcia to have an awareness of the seasons changing, so there’s spring blossom courtesy of a star magnolia and autumn colour from the Vitis on the back wall. Many of the plants should die back quite gracefully and many of the plants are evergreen, so Marcia won’t be looking out on to a sea of hard landscaping in winter.

You’re obviously not seeing it at its best (this pic was taken right at the end of October), plus the plants are still establishing etc etc. But all things considered, I’m pleased with it. And most importantly, so is Marcia.

PS The furniture is from John Lewis.