There are rich pickings for nosey garden bloggers in Bradford-on-Avon at the best of times, let alone when it’s the Bradford-on-Avon Secret Gardens festival. We had a jolly afternoon ogling at gardens large and small, many finding clever ways of dealing with the steep slopes that are a feature of this part of the world.
I really liked this unusual parterre in a front garden, planted with alliums, heuchera and sedums for a long season of interest. It was originally lined with box, but that had to be replaced with yew thanks to box blight. It will darken with age, making it look even more contemporary.
The Secret Gardens festival runs on four weekends and you can still catch the last two, on the last Sundays of June and July. The gardens vary each time, but they’re well worth a visit.
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.
Now, here’s a window box with a difference. It’s around 10m long, a foot wide and deep and runs down the entire length of Locanda Locatelli.
It looks as if a meadow has been transplanted to central London – very Chelsea 2012 – and contains cow parsley, nepeta, penstemon, Stipa tenuissima, Allium sphaerocephalon and sedums.I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’d love to know who designed it.
The restaurant is within the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and around the corner, the same building is adorned with window boxes filed with the red, white and blue bedding that’s everywhere at the moment. All very nice, but not a patch on this.
On a Plants & Planting course at Capel Manor College a few years ago, we students joked that we needed faintly ridiculous, posh-sounding names if we were going to get ahead in the garden design business. Ann renamed herself Honey and Mark called himself Muddy. It was agreed that my name didn’t need changing – it’s ridiculous enough already.
Anyway, Ann/Honey is now busy gardening, designing and advising the good folk of south west London. Her own garden is tiny – just a few metres square – but it feels much bigger. She’s somehow managed to cram in a potting bench, a table, a shed (complete with a green roof covered in sedums, below) and umpteen plants in pots. She’s even managed to divide it into two sections, which gives the illusion of more space.
The climbing white rose is Rosa ‘Sander’s White Rambler’. It’s survived living in a recycling box for the past five or six years, a plastic half barrel for five years before that and a shallow raised border for five years before that.
Like most London gardeners, Ann would love a bigger space. But what’s she’s done with what she’s got is an inspiration for anyone with only a few square feet to play with.
I spotted Tania’s blue bike store with its green roof from the other side of a main road and felt compelled to make a beeline for it. Tania was working in her garden and explained that the roof was the work of her boyfriend, who had made it over three weekends. He followed instructions on Islington Council’s website.
It makes a change to see a green roof that isn’t covered in sedums. Tania said that the only problem is that she can’t see the plants that well from below as the shed is quite tall. She’s thinking of planting something trailing and bright next, like nasturtiums.
It’s a bit early for swathes of tulips yet – these are under glass at the Eden Project. As tulips need lifting and replanting every year for the best display (which is expensive, labour intensive and not sustainable) the gardeners tend to favour daffodils. The Mediterranean biome, however, is the exception to the rule. Particularly striking are the swathes of the orange ‘World’s Favourite’, so bright it almost looks photoshopped, set off by the tiny acid-green sedums and grasses.
The man in the green T-shirt and funny hat is a ‘pollinator’ – he shows kids how plants grow. When he’s not doing that he polishes leaves in the warmth of the biome. It strikes me as a pretty nice job.
Just down from the Abbey Road Studios and the famous zebra crossing is this mansion block front garden. The brick raised beds look like they’ve been there since Paul, John, Ringo and George’s day, when they would have probably have been filled with colourful bedding. Now they’re planted up with grasses, euphorbias, sedums, iris and other perennials and much better they look for it too. I’ll pop back in the summer to see what they look like then.