Jun 292013
 
Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire

There’s a new entry to my notional and ever-changing list of Top Ten Gardens That I’ve Ever Visited: Tom Stuart Smith’s garden in Hertfordshire. It was open for the Yellow Book a couple of weeks ago and a £7 donation to charity bought the opportunity to see the private garden of one of Britain’s best garden designers.

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And boy, it’s good. The setting is incredible – just off the M25, in one of the most densely populated areas of the country, yet surrounded by green fields. And of course there’s oodles of space – perfect for experimenting with different planting styles and indulging every design fantasy. But just like Tom’s gold medal-winning Chelsea Flower show creations, his own garden is not remotely showy, just perfectly executed.

The hard landscaping is classy, but not flash – it doesn’t detract from the plants. Part of the garden is more traditional, with deep, tall herbaceous borders against a backdrop of shaped but shaggy hedges. The more contemporary part of the garden is home to the water tanks that formed part of his Chelsea 2006 garden – one of my favourites ever at Chelsea. At the moment the dominant colours are acid greens, dark pinks and purples from astrantias, euphorbias, French lavender, grasses and sage.

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I’ve seen Tom do talks on his Chelsea gardens, and he’s very modest about his achievements. He makes the whole thing sound so effortless – like it’s really no big deal to create a Best in Show garden. On the open day, I heard him telling one visitor that he doesn’t do any particular lawn care and saying to another that many of the plants he uses are ‘bog standard’ – Geranium psilostemon, alliums and sweet rocket. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse – most people have bog standard plants in their gardens and don’t bother much with lawn care, but their gardens don’t look like Tom’s. Not least because of their size, but also because it’s darn hard to put plants together well. Mum and I went back to her problem border (home to several of Tom’s ‘bog standard’ plants), and made a note to get hold of some sweet rocket pronto asap. Well, it’s a start.

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May 242012
 

 


Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, you’ll know that the Chelsea Flower Show is taking place at the moment. I went on Monday, on press day. It’s a privilege to walk into the  showground early in the morning, the air heady with anticipation, and to glimpse the show gardens for the first time. I’ll admit that I’m more interested in the show gardens than I am in the displays in the Great Pavilion. Maybe that will change when I get my own garden, as I might actually be in the market for buying some plants.

This year, the must-have plant seemed to be cow parsley. A colleague quipped that he spends most of his life trying to keep it out of his garden. There was a very high box ball and topiary quota, too. Some of the big gardens on the Main Avenue looked a tad similar, with lots of naturalistic, romantic planting – a reaction to the double-dip recession maybe? Or a homage to the big Chelsea cheese and gold medal winner Tom Stuart-Smith? And oddly, there was very little grow-your-own in comparison to the last few years, so maybe that bubble is beginning to burst.

This year, I decided I’d ‘judge’ the gardens on whether I’d like to wake up looking at them every day. My favourites are below. I wouldn’t actually want Diarmuid Gavin’s creation (above) outside my back door, but it was most definitely fun. Due to vertigo issues I only got halfway up, but it was great being able to set foot in a show garden, especially one that involved ladders, waterfalls and slides.

And then, of course, there were the celebrities. I’ve come to the conclusion that spotting celebs on press day at Chelsea is a bit like going on safari. On safari you’re told what you might see – zebras, lions, elephants etc – and you really, really want to tick them off your list. At Chelsea, you’re given a list of the celebrities who may be present (Christopher Biggins, Floella Benjamin and Ringo Starr are usually guaranteed), and you really, really want to tick them off the list. You get jealous if someone has seen someone you haven’t, even if they’re a bit Z-list, and get over excited if you spot anyone at all (my colleague Jane, visiting Chelsea for the first time, cried: ‘Oh my god, it’s JENNIE BOND!!!!’. We haven’t let her live that one down).

If you get wind of a crowd gathering, see some flashbulbs going off, or hear a rumour that someone off the telly is nearby, you hotfoot it there indecently quickly, camera or smartphone held aloft and sharp elbows at the ready. This is what happened when I heard Gwyneth Paltrow was in the vicinity last year, and the same thing happened this year with Sir Cliff Richard. I’m not proud of it and I don’t know why I did it, but there’s a pic of him at the bottom of this post anyway.

The Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust garden by Joe Swift

There was a lot going on in Joe Swift’s garden compared to others on the Main Avenue, but it was ordered, welcoming, contemporary and considered. I’d seen some drawings beforehand and the garden didn’t look particularly inspiring, so the finished result was a surprise. All the years commenting on other people’s show gardens for the BBC have obviously paid off.

The Brewin Dolphin garden by Cleve West

I sat on Cleve’s bench for a few moments with a bunch of other hacks. I loved the planting  – naturalistic but with lots of pops of colour. Apparently there was some red, white and blue to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but it was very subtle.

Celebration of Caravanning by Jo Thompson

Jo Thompson’s garden was an inspiration for anyone with a small space. She used mature birch trees, Betula albosinensis  ‘Fascination’, which were perfectly shaped and not remotely overpowering – perfect for a town garden. And who wouldn’t want Doris (the 1950s caravan) at the bottom of their garden?

The Bradstone Panache garden

More inspiration for small gardens. The clever layout included a path that was a continuous curve, leading to a seat. The sweep of alpine strawberries (on the right) was a nice touch.

Satoyama Life

This Japanese masterpiece invited you to just stand and gaze at it. Which I did, for a long time.

The World Vision Garden

Lots of hard landscaping and tree ferns isn’t really my thing, but the underplanting was really pretty in this garden, in shades of purple and orange. I couldn’t really do it justice in this pic.

A national treasure