Jul 032012
 


The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is very different to its older, cooler, classier sister, the Chelsea Flower Show. Personally, I prefer Chelsea for its sheer unattainable perfection, but Hampton Court comes at a more interesting time of year plant-wise so the gardens, while more modest, look more varied. You can buy plants, children are welcomed, and there are plenty of places to put your feet up.

Some of the exhibits and stands seemed a little off the mark for 2012: do people seriously buy hot tubs and savannah-style lodges during a recession (and in the worst summer in living memory)? But there was lots of grow-your-own inspiration (after a notable absence of anything edible at Chelsea), and a new area of urban planting ideas.

There was also a ‘High Impact, Low Cost’ category of gardens created on a small budget. I heard several people mutter that budgets of £7K, £10K and £13K are not exactly ‘low’, but I liked the spirit behind these gardens. They were all an average size and showed what you can do with a bit of ambition and a willingness to forgo a traditional lawn.

My favourite was ‘A Compromising Situation’ by Twigs Gardens (above). It wasn’t at all flash or fancy, just a simple layout that broke the garden into sections. It squeezed in two seating areas, a pond, lawns, lots of plants (including wildlife-friendly ones) and a meandering path. Classic design textbook stuff, and perfect for any smallish garden. I’m going to bear this vision in mind when an estate agent next shows me around a house with a small garden that I’m struggling to see the potential of.


Many of the grow-your-own exhibitors had eschewed the ‘harvest festival’ look this year. If I had more space here I’d show you the Garlic Farm stand, which was a delight – garlic and leek flowers mixing with cow parsley etc in a meadowy, billowy mass – or the Seeds of Italy display which took its inspiration from the Italian Alps.

But instead I’ll bring you the Otter Farm stand (above), a ‘forest garden’ created by Mark Diacono. It had a few plants that you might recognise – eg apricots and lemon verbena – and many more unfamilar delights, such as a Szechuan pepper tree (very pretty), Oca (Oxalis tuberosa), the rhubarb-like sweet coltsfoot, (Petasites japonicus var. giganteus) and Japanese ginger (Zingiber mioga, whose name I think Mark might have made up). The stand was original and refreshing and I wanted to buy all of it.


I fell in love with my friend Mark’s garden, A Coral Desert (above), before I realised his company designed it. Cacti and succulents were used to create a ‘coral reef’, housed within a walk-in blue box. I almost expected the plants to wave around gently in the water, that’s how realistic it was. A genius idea that won a Silver Gilt.


Dan Shea, who you last saw on this blog shaking Camilla Parker-Bowles’ hand at the Oranges & Lemons garden for the Chelsea Fringe, designed the ‘Uprising’ garden (above). It was inspired by the riots in Tottenham, where Dan lives. Orange and yellow have most definitely been Dan’s signature colours this year, and late last week he was still driving around the country trying to source flame-coloured plants such as Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ and Asphodeline liburnica (Jacob’s Rod). Luckily he found them, and he won a Silver medal for his efforts.


Last but not least, the prize for ‘best bench’ must surely go to the Edible Bus Stop garden. If the designer, Will Sandy, hasn’t patented the idea already, then he should. It could catch on…

Jun 032012
 

Shoreditch

Here’s the second of my ‘before and after’ posts – this time the Oranges & Lemons Garden in Shoreditch. I helped oversee the garden for the Chelsea Fringe.

This was an ambitious project: it’s a big site in a churchyard in gritty, trendy Shoreditch that’s surrounded by busy roads, shaded by large trees and covered in concrete. Plus, there was no sponsor and therefore, no money. But that didn’t stop the designer, Dan Shea, pulling off a garden that’s been a roaring success and a highlight of the Fringe.


Dan was going to clad the pillars in real oranges and lemons, but in the end he sliced them and dried them in his  oven, put them between clear tape and hung them: a neat solution. Real lemons were attached to obelisks that he placed in four raised beds (put in place by the Shoreditch Sisters). Dan bought fake turf from RightStep Grass and got hold of some deckchairs from Tropicana. Gorgeous mature olives, citrus trees and shrubs were loaned by Clifton Nurseries.

Dan says that people have been coming to the garden in droves. On a hot day, in an area that’s short on green space, it has proved a big draw – it has a mix of sun and shade and provides somewhere to sit. Dan had a flash of inspiration and turned his leftover lemons (he’d bought 1000) into fresh lemonade, which went down a treat during the hot weekend we’ve just had. A bookseller from Occupy has been selling books for £1 and leaving them dotted around the place for people to read, and Dan has been playing reggae music from his girlfriend’s stereo – this has helped to entice people in and has drowned out the traffic noise.

And in a somewhat bizarre turn of events, the garden was visited on Wednesday by the Duchess of Cornwall. She’d heard about the Fringe and expressed an interest in visiting some of the gardens in the East End. She visited Spitalfields City Farm, the Dalston Eastern Curve, the Geffrye Museum, the Oranges & Lemons garden, and a pothole. I’m no royalist, but it was a lovely, celebratory occasion – she met some gardeners from the Hanbury Project and some local schoolkids (who sang Oranges & Lemons) and everyone who had taken part. She seemed genuinely interested and chatted to everyone.

Dan Shea, Camilla Parker-Bowles and me

The Oranges & Lemons garden encapsulates what the Fringe is about – it’s original, fun, has brought greenery to an urban space, and has given pleasure to a lot of people. I look forward to see what Dan comes up with next year. In the meantime, he’s now  concentrating on a garden he’s creating for the Hampton Court Flower Show in July...

All pics courtesy of Paul Debois – www.pauldebois.com

May 082012
 

Shoreditch

On a rare sunny day last week (since when did May become the new December?) I went to St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch to see how the Oranges & Lemons Garden for the Chelsea Fringe is coming along. Things are really progressing – Dan, the designer, has got hold of some astroturf to cover the ground and is borrowing lots of Mediterranean plants from the very classy Clifton Nurseries. He’s secured 25 deckchairs for people to lounge on and is in talks with caterers, too.

The Shoreditch Sisters and a team from the Independent on Sunday are going to help build the garden (the paper’s political editor, Jane Merrick, wrote a great article on the Fringe that you can read here.)

Dan’s still working on the logistics of cladding the church pillars with real oranges and lemons – if anyone has access to a cherry picker or scaffolding (for free), please let me know.

The garden is also being worked on by some students from the Hanbury Project. The project gives practical training to people recovering from homelessness, addiction, mental health problems, learning difficulties and long-term unemployment. The churchyard, to the side of the church, is planted and maintained by them. It looked magical on a beautiful May morning.