Category Archives: Garden Design

Awards – what are they good for?

Well, the short answer is quite a lot (purely a personal opinion, you understand). After reading Tim Richardson’s column in the November issue of the Garden Design Journal, I gave this a lot of thought. I have won the odd award in my time, so one could say my stance is biased, but read to the end and you can make up your own mind up.

Firstly, I think it is a pity that Tim fired from the hip without first waiting to see what the SGD awards had to offer, but let’s set that to one side. I was interested by his opinion, but I take a different view. If one ignores the over-the-top rhetoric and posturing (‘the simpering saps who have to go up and be pathetically grateful on the stages of corporate rent-outs in front of baying drunks’), then it seems to me that Tim’s main points are as follows:

  1. Awards ceremonies are principally a way for organisations to maintain power and influence.
  2. Awards are mainly given to those who have ‘been in some way useful or obliging to the presiding organisation’

Let’s tackle the second one first. Bowles & Wyer (my company) has won many BALI awards over the last ten years – certainly well into double figures. I would like to think the projects won their respective awards on the basis of their quality. It is certainly not (as Tim postulates) because we have ‘been useful or obliging’ to BALI. We have never had any involvement in the organisation, either as individuals or corporately (other than paying our subs). I have never sat on any committees, boards or made any contribution to BALI. The main reason for this is that my time has been largely taken up with the Society of Garden Designers, where I seem to have been involved on just about every committee going at one time or another, including the one which set up the awards. Which brings us to Tim’s first point.

The main reason that the Society set up the awards was not to ‘maintain power and influence’, but because its members have frequently asked it to do so. There seemed to be a bit of a vacuum in terms of celebrating good design in real gardens. That the awards scheme is filling this void is underlined by the real interest from the press and also from two separate TV companies. That of course is neither a guarantee or stamp of quality. However, I think most people would agree that the design quality of the winning schemes was very high, certainly higher than I have seen evidenced in other awards ceremonies, some of which have different criteria.

I suspect that the judging panel of the SGD awards would be deeply offended by Tim’s assertion that the gongs are handed out on a largesse basis. The judges were almost all completely independent from the Society and instructed to take a completely independent view in their decisions. Tim is entitled to his views and I would support his right to express them freely (and frequently have done so in my role on the editorial panel of the Garden Design Journal). His opinions are almost always interesting often introduce fresh light on a subject. Sometimes however, (as in this case) the arc of his opinion neatly skips over the facts. Charles Jencks, who won the John Brookes (or lifetime achievement award) has never had anything to do with the Society. Dan Pearson, who won the Grand Award, is a member but has never (to my knowledge) served on any committees or on council, or even does anything behind the scenes. I suspect he is too busy with his practice most of the time. As such, the two central planks in Tim’s article seem to be unsupported by the facts.

So what are awards good for? I cannot deny that it is gratifying to receive an award. But, as Tim suggests, one should not trust these instincts; they serve little other than to puff oneself up. Nonetheless, I have found awards to be a useful marketing tool. Confronted with trying to find a garden designer, many clients find the panoply of practitioners on offer confusing, and find awards a useful way of filtering. They view a designer’s involvement in the Chelsea Flower Show (and other similar shows) in the same light. Whether this is sensible or not is arguable, but clients will tend to take account of such things. I also find that preparing the publicity material for awards is a useful discipline in getting marketing material ready for more general use. Finally, all the people involved with working on an award-winning scheme feel some sense of gratification and recognition, from the client and designers through to the contractors and suppliers. It would seem to me to be curmudgeonly to deny this as a good thing.

It is true that some awards schemes fall short of the standards one would like to see. There are those which hand out awards like sweets. There may even be some that operate on the back-slapping principles that Tim suggests, although I don’t know of any. However, the real point about awards schemes is that at their best, they are all about a celebration of excellence. They inspire and encourage individuals and companies to strive for better quality in design and execution. And that has to be worth supporting.

 John Wyer

How to design in a material world

I went to the Thomas Heatherwick exhibition at the V&A recently. I was deeply inspired (as I expected to be). Here was an uncompromising and driven designer. Actually, that is wrong – it is no more appropriate to call him a designer than to say Leonardo was just a painter. His work spreads amoeba like from ‘design’ across furniture and product design to engineering, architecture, sculpture, and urban design.

However, although his polymathic qualities are impressive and somewhat daunting, they were not what I pondered as I left the exhibition. Few of us can reach that level of achievement and versatility. What interested me was something quite different, but at the heart of Heatherwick’s ability is something much more basic – his thorough understanding of materials. Like many great designers he started making things as a child, and never really stopped. This constant experimentation led to a familiarity with the properties of what he was working with.

Heatherwick's Gazebo - thanks the the RCA

An example of this is an early piece made by Heatherwick while he was still at the RCA in the early 1990s. Three square pieces of sheet steel were each cut, comb like, from either side. The slots cut were the same width as the tines that remained allowing the sheets to be slotted together. However, the beauty of this was that because the rigidity of the sheet had been compromised by the cutting, it was possible to bend them. When they were bent into a gentle arc and slotted together as a triangular ‘vase-shape’, the tension kept the whole object locked into one. This was an idea that he explored further with his work at the Royal College in the piece ‘Gazebo’ and other furniture.

The other interesting thing was his obsession with process-based design. Many designers follow this mantra, but for most (particularly in architecture) it can lead to a sameness of output where the process seems to have moulded the design into a house style. Heatherwick’s ‘style’ (such as it is) is eclectic and diverse. This appeals to me, but I fear that such process driven design is relatively rare in landscape design and rarer still in garden design. The designer I know who has come closest to it is probably Dan Pearson (who has of course worked with Heatherwick). Heatherwick’s devotion to material and process also led to a relentless pursuit of trying to find the best version of any one idea. Here I felt that he definitely set himself apart from most designers. There were dozens of versions of a single object until he thought that he had reached the best form of the idea.

5cm high original object

There are also lessons to be learned from his interest in the forms produced by instantaneous action. In his piece for the Wellcome Trust (‘Bleigiessen’) the whole project concept was built around forms produced by solidifying molten metal. As Heatherwick explains on his website (www.heatherwick.com/bleigiessen) “Following extensive experimentation, pouring molten metal into water was found to create extraordinary and complex forms in a fraction of a second. No two experiments produced the same result. Over four hundred of these were produced before a five centimetre piece was created and selected as it was felt it would work well with the building and is the basis of the final thirty metre project.”  The final piece is breath-taking and the leap from inspiration to reality is huge, but recognisable.

What I think is most interesting about this is that these processes, although instantaneous, follow natural laws. The results are random, but follow recognisable patterns. Such pattern-making forms the basis of a lot of landscape thinking. Our designs sometimes reflect the natural patterns made by wind or water – ripples, waves etc. These patterns are themselves etched on the landscape in many ways and the more grounded our designs are in these, the more interesting and captivating they often become.

The whole life cost of a Citroën (or why to think twice about water features)

In a recent trip to Paris, I made a point of visiting Parc André Citroën to the western side of the city. Wikipedia describes this succinctly as “… a 14 hectares (35 acres) public park located on the left bank of the river Seine in the XVe arrondissement (district) of Paris.” It was designed and built in the early 1990s by Landscape Architect Giles Clément and Architect Alain Provost on the site of a former Citroën automobile manufacturing plant, and is named after company founder André Citroën.

The design is daring and the scale breath-taking. The central lawn alone is 275m long by 85m wide and refreshingly there are no restrictions on games (unlike most Paris parks). The design is a very strongly structured. Two vast pavilions overlook the park from the south east end. Between these is a paved terrace with a field of water spouts in which children splash around (similar to those at Somerset House and elsewhere). The central lawn is effectively sunk below the surrounding ground.

 

The upper level canal as it was when the park was first opened...

On the south-west side it is flanked at the higher level by a canal, punctuated by at regular intervals by monolithic stone pavilions, alternatively housing staircases and cascades. On the other are colossal blocks of pruned hornbeam backed by a raised walkway. It is cut beneath by routes through to a series of secret gardens and also by enormous water chutes echoing the cascades on the other side of the lawn. Or it would be. Because sadly, most of the water features no longer function. The monumental canal on

…And the canal as it is now.

 the south west side lies forlornly empty, with nothing but a ruckled butyl liner to remind you that it was a water feature, along with a slightly ironic sign in French saying ‘for your safety, please do not enter the basin’ fixed to the concrete upstand in place of a missing coping stone. None of the water chutes on the other side function either, although the field of water jets still delights the children. The basic maintenance – grass cutting, pruning etc. has been carried out carefully. However, there is little evidence of ‘gardening’ in the half dozen or so themed gardens and whenever something breaks or fails, there is either no will or resources to replace it. The net result is a gradual decline in the park.

This is hardly an unfamiliar story to English ears. We have countless public parks and open spaces that have suffered the same fate. What interests me about Parc Citroën though, is how much of a part the original design (and perhaps more interestingly the commissioning process) played in its eventual decline. An article in the Boston Herald had a very good line on this. It said that “Citroën — for better or for worse — represents high-concept triumphant over public participation.” The article postulated that a project such as this could never have happened in Boston (and by extension I would say in the UK). The combination of vision, funding and single-minded project management meant the French Government was able to drive this project through with great speed and force. The piece went on to point out that there were good and bad sides to this. Interestingly, it was written shortly after the park’s opening, but the central point becomes even more strongly reinforced as time passes.

The design relies heavily on vast water features for much of its impact and structure. As landscape professionals, we all know what the implications in maintenance terms are for such features. How could the designers be sure that the funds would always be there to maintain and refurbish these features? The running costs alone are significant, but when the annualised costs of pump replacement, relining, etc. are taken into account, the bill becomes pretty much unsustainable in the longer term. Parc Citroën remains a great achievement and an exciting space. It is a reminder of what can be achieved by single minded vision. But clearly there is another lesson here. Perhaps we should all take more care to consider both the cash and skill resources that are likely to be (realistically) available for the future maintenance and management of a project before we let our imaginations (or should that be our egos) run wild.

Where do ideas come from?

As landscape architects or garden designers, many of us spend a good deal of our time designing (though perhaps not as much as we would like).  This is probably the most important and distinctive part of our work.  Yet try to get designers to talk about how they go about this and one is confronted with blank looks of misunderstanding.  During interviews I almost always ask prospective staff – how do they design?  Blank.  What processes do they go through?  Blank.  What do they actually do?  Few people can even put one sentence together about the design process let alone come up with any coherent analysis.

At college most of us were taught the ‘Survey-Analysis-Design’ method, which grew from and is linked to the modernist mantra of “form follows function”.  This principle is so deeply rooted as to have become almost unassailable.  At its core is the idea that an object is inherently beautiful if it fulfils the use for which it was designed.  In other words by satisfying the first two Vitruvian principles of commodity and firmness, the third (delight) is automatically satisfied.  Whilst in many cases this is true (Mies van der Rohe’s buildings for instance) it is also flawed.  Do you suppose that the beauty in Calatrava’s work is purely an expression of form follows function?  I think not.

Photo credit Jonathan Choe
Calatrava’s stunning work in Milwaukee. Photo credit: Jonathan Choe (http://www.flickr.com/photos/crazyegg95)

 The essential inconsistency in ‘Survey-Analysis-Design’ (SAD) is the implication that it is made up of three equal and similar partners.  On both counts this is untrue.  Survey is a process of gathering information and although there is a subjective element in the filtering and recording of information, it is essentially a quantitive process.  Analysis on the other hand is essentially a qualitative process.  Nonetheless, both elements have established methodologies and rely on ordered and rational procedures.  At this point we are expected to make what Tom Turner calls “the creative leap”1.  The SAD method is taught as though the design grows naturally and organically from the first two stages.  If this were true, we would all (like first year college students) come up with the same solutions to design challenges.  In fact the creative process is quite different in its nature.  It relies on ‘ideas’ that are filtered and modified against a rational framework to make them work in the real world.  Thus the SAD method is a way of modifying ideas rather than originating them.

So where do these ideas come from?  To most of us it is a mystery.  As Mattias Konradsson puts it: “..ask a friend to think up something creative on the spot and he’ll look like he ate a bowl of ice cream in a hurry.  It’s indeed an elusive process.  Creativity and ideas don’t come on command, they seem to spring up when we least expect it”2.  Much of the writing on the subject of design theory intellectualises this process.  Methodologies, systems and theories have been put forward, but most post-rationalise what is essentially an intuitive process. 

Instead of trying to dissect and categorise the process of idea origination, it probably makes more sense to try and examine how the brain works.  Most designers are exposed to myriad cultural, spiritual and other influences that are clearly inspirational.  Nonetheless, most people still talk about ideas coming ‘out of the blue’ and we are all familiar with the way in which they can be triggered by unexpected sources.  One theory that looks at this in more detail is that of brain hemispheres.  The “left brain – right brain” hypothesis was initially put forward by Roger Sperry who won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1981.  In simple terms, he postulated that the left part of the brain controls the rational, analytical, objective, and detailed parts of our thinking; generally in a conscious fashion.  The right part of the brain is responsible for the intuitive, random parts of our thinking.  It works on a subconscious level and focuses on aesthetics, emotions, creativity and subjectivity.  It is certainly true that the subconscious plays a critical part in the generation of ideas.

Perhaps it is impossible to successfully analyse creativity.  Some people are naturally creative designers, and others will never be.  For most of us in the middle, the ability to create and develop ideas that are the seeds of designs is something that can be fostered and refined.  This partly happens through practice, and partly by the adoption of specific strategies.

In my experience the most successful design strategies work by giving the subconscious parts of the brain more free rein to work.  The most effective of these is the deadline.  If I have all day or all week to work on something, most of it is spent in a state of constipated frustration.  Instead of producing something better I produce something worse.  The other strategy I use is to do something else.  Absorb the details of the site and then work on other things for a week or so before coming back and working ideas up quite quickly. Often just when I think I have things right, the client changes some parameter.  I reluctantly rework the scheme only to discover that I have come up with a better solution than the original.  All of these indicate that if we constrain our thought processes with too much methodology, we limit our ability to generate ideas.  Of course, these ideas are loose fluffy masses which must be clipped and beaten into shape against a framework of principles.  These may be site specific or more general and are part of the signature of individual designers as well as determining how practical their schemes are.

So where does this leave us.  Survey-Analysis-Design is not really a method at all.  The best ideas come while you’re in the bath.  And if you try to design things by a method you can’t do it at all.  Best not to think about it I say.  Now, about that deadline…..

John Wyer

This article first appeared in Landscape Magazine under the title ‘Finding the form’.

What are your favourite ways of stimulating the design process? Leave a comment.

  1. Tom Turner. Garden Design Journal Autumn 1999: ‘Timeless with delight’
  2. Mattias Konradsson. ‘The Creative Process’ A List Apart ISSN: 1534-0295. 12 March 1999 – Issue No. 8

Pollination nation

This spring it seems Britain is a-buzz about bees … many of us have suddenly woken up to the fact that bees are more than just our honey-slaves, and that if we don’t look after our pollinating insects, our food production system could be in serious trouble. If this sounds melodramatic then stop to consider that in the UK alone, pollination is calculated to be worth about £430m to the national economy – food for thought!

Paradoxically it is modern farming practices that have swept away so much of the natural foraging grounds for our bees. Bees feed on pollen and nectar which they collect from flowers, and there are simply far fewer flowers in the countryside these days. Hedges have been removed, marshes drained and over 97% of flower-rich meadows have been lost from the UK. Add to that new research from France suggesting that common pesticides damage bees’ ability to navigate and dramatically reduce the numbers of queens they produce, and it’s little wonder bees are struggling!

Gardens are just about the only place left to them and even they are becoming unwelcoming: the fashion for sleek lawns, monoculture planting and everything clipped to within an inch of its life does not make for an attractive world to pollinators. They need flowers – but not just any flowers – sadly most annual bedding plants (eg Pelargoniums, Begonias, Busy Lizzies) have no nectar in them – you might as well be planting artificial flowers for all the use they are to bees.

Gardens need to be designed for pollinators. The garden on the right has no flowers at all. The flowers on the left are double busy-lizzies, which may look nice but produce virtually no pollen or nectar so are useless to pollinators.

So, aside from campaigning to change the way Britain is farmed (good luck with that one!), how can we help the nation’s pollinating insects? Well there’s hope for bees in even the smallest garden:

Instead of filling your pots and windowboxes with bedding, why not plant flowering perennials or shrubs instead – lavender is the classic bee plant and there are many different types, but also think about catmint, lilies, sedums, hebes and heathers. If you’re absolutely wedded to bedding try wallflowers, sweet peas, cosmos, heliotrope or nicotiana – bees love them. 

Some bedding plants are good for pollinators

Herbs can be great for pollinators too: rosemary, fennel, hyssop, mint, oregano and sage are all nectar-rich and no kitchen doorstep should be without them. You could even plant up the joints between paving slabs with herbs and flowers – like thyme, thrift or erigeron daisies.

But if space is really at a premium think vertically: climbers are great way to add nectar – and texture – to a small space: favourite plants for pollinators include wisteria, honeysuckle, open-flowered roses, climbing hydrangea or if you’ve got room, wall shrubs like Ceanothus, Cytisus battenderii (the pineapple broom) or any of the Buddleias.

Climbers can be good for bees

For the medium-sized garden, why not create an area for cottage garden flowers? A sunny border filled with achillea, campanula, hollyhocks, delphiniums, penstemons and asters will be buzzing with insect life; or for shadier areas plant lungwort, bugle, foxgloves and astrantia. If you have gaps in existing borders, why not fill them with easy annuals like cosmos, cornflowers, love-in-a-mist, eschscholzia or calendula – there are some great colour coordinated bee-friendly seed mixes about. Or go wild and sow some native wildflowers: bistort, verbascum, teasel and viper’s bugloss – a brilliant bee plant.

But the mayhem of the cottage garden isn’t for everyone. If you like your planting strong and structural, you can still benefit bees by using statuesque plants like angelica, cardoon, globe thistle or drifts of iris, alliums, and the ever-popular but wonderful Verbena bonariensis.

Bee friendly plants with good form

For the larger garden there are several different ways you can improve your bee-friendliness, from tree or hedge planting to meadow creation (a subject so complex it merits a blog of its own).

Fruit tree blossom is very attractive to bees, so creating an orchard or forest garden (the more natural equivalent) would be a great idea if you have the space. If that’s not possible, why not plant a crab apple, cherry or Judas tree and enjoy it for the blossom alone. And, while people tend to either love ’em or loath ’em, bees adore laburnums, so if you’re that way inclined, a laburnum arch would be a pollinator’s dream. And for the yellow-phobes among us, wisteria is a more restrained alternative.

Bees love Laburnum

Hedgerows are great places for all sorts of wildlife, but they can be a really important food resource for pollinators especially if wildflowers are encouraged to grow up along the base. They also provide good nesting sites for bumblebees. If you’re planning on planting a new hedge, think mixed and native: the hedgerow blossom of hawthorn, blackthorn, wild plum, dog rose, and honeysuckle are all well-loved by pollinating insects – throw in wildflowers like ox eye daisy, knapweed, red clover, scabious, sanfoin and viper’s bugloss at the base and you have a year-round supply of nectar.

Native hedgerow plants are a really good source of nectar for insects - and attractive too.

 Which brings me to a few important considerations: bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects need a regular supply of nectar all year round, so it’s important to plan your planting so you have several plants flowering at any given time right across the year. Pollinating insects come in all shapes and sizes, and different shaped flowers suit different species so mix it up floristically-speaking. And as a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid plants with double flowers – they keep their nectar hidden away making harder for bees to get at.

Any good garden designer will be bearing all this in mind anyway: providing seasonal interest for their client and ensuring that sustainable, environmentally-friendly options are given full consideration. If you feel inspired to take on transforming your patch into a pollinators’ paradise, there is plenty of information on the following websites – enjoy!

http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardening/Sustainable-gardening/Plants-for-pollinators

www.bumblebeeconservation.org.uk/gardening_for_bumblebees.htm

www.plantforwildlife.ccw.gov.uk

One final thought – if you are keen to attract and encourage pollinators, but can’t completely kick the pesticide habit, then please check the ingredients of the products you use very carefully and keep your eye on the news. Several commonly used chemicals: Imidacloprid, Acetamiprid, Thiacloprid and Thiamethoxam, have already been potentially implicated in bee decline, and I doubt they’ll be the last…

Vicky Wyer

That plant is so……..

Cotinus Grace

A conversation in the office the other day between John and Jeff went something like this…. JohnI met up with Mr A.nonymous designer last nightJeff in replyCotinus Grace!’.  Jeff is a passionate horticulturalist but he has a broad vocabulary and frequently uses words that are not plant names to communicate a point.  So why the reply … well this was the plant that Jeff associated with the Mr A.nonymous when he used to plant his schemes back in the 1990’s.  Thereafter the conversation spread and the question.…what plant do you associate with schemes of a certain age became the topic of the day!

Do certain plants really identify a planting scheme, can a Cotinus Grace be used as dating evidence like a pottery shard on an archaeological dig?  Well no, Cotinus Grace still provides a lovely splash of purple today and we have planted it in several schemes without fear of being branded passé.  There is however definitely something to this, I have certainly visited a landscape in need of a refresh without a precast slab or shoulder padded client in site and still with a swoosh declared it so 1980’s!

So plants are probably associated with a time or fashion in the same way that a mini skirt is associated with the 60’s but still finds its way back into fashion and certain high streets on a Saturday night.  Some fashions and plants are probably best left in the era they are associated with such as Houttuynia cordata Chameleon and super glue spiked hair – the Bowles & Wyer publicity shot of 1977 should definitely not be repeated…..

Best left in the archive…..

A bit of a B&W office poll and the following plants were listed:-

  • 1950’s  Roses, esp hybrid teas Ena Harkness, Prunus Kanzan, privet, monkey puzzle, fruit trees as Britain started to try and feed its self again after the war
  • 1960’s  Heathers, dwarf conifers (esp Elwoodii), Mahonia aquifolia, variegated plants in general, ‘Japonica’ (Chaenomeles), pampas grass, bare root roses (in the post)
  • 1970’s  Rosa rugosa, Berberis candidula, Berberis wilsonae, Mahonia japonica, Vinca major, Lonicera Baggessens Gold, Hedera Goldheart, Hedera hibernica, Juniperus pfitzeriana, rubber plant, dwarf conifers
  • 1980’s  Photinia Red Robin, Hedera Gloire de Marengo, Hedera Montgomery, Ilex JC Van Thol, Cotinus ‘Grace’, Osmunda regalis, Amelanchier, Camellia, Rhododendron, Houttuynia cordata
  • 1990’s  Phormium tenax Purpureum/Bronze baby etc., Hedera Pittsburgh, County series groundcover roses (also late 80’s), Clematis armandii, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, purple sage, box – topiary, annual bedding plants, Leylandii, Acers, Bonsai
  • Noughties  Buxus balls, Astelia ‘Silver Sword’,  grasses esp Pennisetum, Stipa tenuissima, Echinaceas, Rudbeckias
Dwarf conifer and heathers

What plants do you associate with the different decades?  Are you using a plant that is so 1980’s?  Answers on a blog comment!

Stuart

When is a garden designer a landscape designer? Indeed, when is a garden a landscape – or vice-versa?

To define garden design, first we have to decide what a garden is. Personally, I love the idea that for something to be considered a garden there has to be a gardener: there is a poetic circularity in the definition. Some would argue that garden design is a branch of landscape design. It is not less of a skill for that, if anything the reverse. There is ‘nowhere to hide’ in garden design. Every element is important and there is no chance of fudging the design.

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The Hose Pipe Ban

Glorious weather, a weekend of gardening with blossom on the cherry trees and magnolias in bloom – perfect! Well apart from when I glance at the hose reel and realise my trusted tool and fellow reviver of greenery on the sandiest of soils is about to be confined to the shed, incarcerated, and forbidden by the hosepipe ban from the 5th April. A second glance at my splendid multi jet sprinkler with its variety of sprays has me on my knees howling why, oh why, oh why…..like the most agitated of points of view correspondents.

After a strong coffee, some apologies to the neighbours and a brief discussion with two chaps carrying a fetching white jacket with fancy buckles I gather my thoughts…

Well the why is simple after two dry winters the reservoirs and aquifers are low in the south east forcing seven water authorities Southern Water, South East Water, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Sutton and East Surrey, Veolia Central and Veolia South East to introduce a hose pipe ban. With my fanciful garden sprinkler using around 600 litres an hour I can see the need.

But what to do! ….. In fact this need not be the complete disaster I feared; my garden is established and there are steps to take that will keep my plants alive:-

• The use of a watering can is allowed when filled directly from the tap, use it in the early morning or evening to minimise evaporation and the amount of water needed.

• Install a water butt, this is the UK it will rain so store this precious precipitation.

• If you are planning major works to or around your house consider installing a grey water system which also will help stop that water meter spinning round at an alarming rate – watch this space for a more detailed blog on this.

• Install a drip or leaky pipe irrigation system with a timer set for the night or early morning. The efficiency of these systems has been recognised by all water authorities and is now permitted during hosepipe bans – but only with a timer. I am afraid any irrigation system which puts water into the air with a sprinkler head or micro spray is not allowed even with a timer.

• Apply mulch to the borders to keep the water in the ground.

• Mow the lawn a bit higher and make sure your mower blades are sharp and if the lawn does go brown don’t panic!! As long as it is established it will survive and be green again soon! See www.turfgrass.co.uk for more information.

• Save water in the house too, the water shortage is not just a problem for gardeners!

Drought tolerant plants

It seems clear that this will not be the last hose pipe ban and by selecting plants that are adapted to survive in periods of drought the effects can be minimised. Look for plants that grow or can trace their origins to coastal regions or sunnier climes.

These plants will have leaves that are adapted to minimise the loss of water this can be with narrow leaves, leaves with fine hairs to trap moisture, grey leaves to reflect the sun or with waxy leaves to hold the water in. This of course is not just a case of buying a drought tolerant plant, popping it in and job done. A drought tolerant plant will be as likely to shrivel up and expire as any other until it is established and gets its roots down so as ever preparation is key plant well and use a good compost to retain moisture. Make sure you plant early while the soil conditions are moist and keep the watering can handy.

It is also important to remember the winter – there is little point in planting that lovely Aloe with its waxy leaves or that silver leafed olive in that cold spot in the garden. They may well resist the drought only to be frozen to death in January!

For a comprehensive list of drought tolerant plants see http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=397 or Beth Chatto’s ‘The Dry Garden’ is still an essential read.

Some of my favourite drought tolerant plants are Lavendula, Cercis siliquastrum, Arbutus unendo, Rosmarinus, Quercus ilex, Pinus mugo, Vitex agnus-castus, Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii ……. I’d better stop… there are lots to choose from and I will go on and on!

Vitex, Lavenders planted by B&W in hotter climes and Euphorbia wulfenii<

New landscapes

One element of the hose pipe ban that carries uncertainty and has me back in the why oh why mode is that of exclusions. All water authorities state that the ban should not affect commercial activities and yet at this stage the professional landscaper is not universally exempt from the hose pipe ban. This is still the consultation period and the Landscape related professional bodies the SGD, BALI, APL, HTA and TGA are currently lobbying to have an exemption for the use of a hose pipe by the professional on newly planted schemes and newly laid lawns.

The landscape industry is a substantial contributor to the UK economy with for example BALI (British Association of Landscape Industries) members employing around 25’000 staff with an annual turnover of £1.5 billion and the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) estimating growers and plant wholesale/retailers employ 300,000 staff and an annual turnover in the region of £9 billion. These are significant numbers and sums and I hardly need say that in the current economic situation they should not be put at risk.

The exemption should not be an open invitation to splash water around with abandon, indeed all professional bodies offer guidance on how to minimise water use, but a chance to keep trading!

Visit the Society of Garden Designers website http://www.sgd.org.uk/Article/Detail.aspx?ArticleUid=CCA6588A-16BC-44E0-B592-5AADCB70B417 and British Association of Landscape Industries website www.bali.co.uk for news on the lobbying and how to get involved and watch this space for news.

Stuart

How do you solve a problem like a garden designer? Writing a brief – a guide for clients.

As the weather improves this week, the temperature climbs and we all begin to look outside again. At this time of year, I frequently go into the garden and think ‘what a tip!’ All those odds and ends, badly coiled hoses, un-pruned plants, and scrappy undergrowth – how could I have not noticed it before? It is true that without the kind veil of foliage, gardens can look particularly grim at this time of year. If all this is familiar to you, then cheer yourself up by leafing through magazines and books with their summery pictures of tranquillity that we all associate with gardens. Perhaps it is finally all too much? Maybe it is time to start again? After all if you’re not going to move house you might as well sort the garden out.

Where do I start?

But where to start? Most people really struggle when it comes to writing a coherent brief for a designer. As they are unfamiliar with the process of design, or what a designer might propose, they feel intimidated by the whole procedure. If you’re thinking of making changes in your own garden or have a new project, why not start by tagging images that you like, even if they are wildly diverse. This will help to get you thinking in order that you can write a simple brief. Start with a few simple bullet points:

  • When you are there: do you look at the garden all day or only evenings/weekends? Is it a second home, perhaps used seasonally?

    How keen a gardener are you? How much time do you think you can (or want to) devote to looking after the garden?
  • Think how you will use the garden: do you entertain? Do you have children, pets?
  • Are you a keen gardener? In all honesty, how much time are you likely to spend out there? If you haven’t shown much interest so far, then don’t lumber yourself with a high maintenance scheme with lots of herbaceous plants – leave that to the National Trust! If you are keen, perhaps you might consider an area for vegetables or fruit.
  • Instead of using clichéd phrases like ‘year-round colour’ or ‘lots of evergreens’, try instead to think in terms of how the garden will look and feel. Maybe you like things wild and romantic – scrambling roses, long grass with wild flowers, apple trees laden with fruit. Or perhaps you are more controlled – clean swept paving, topiary, clipped hedges, splashes of colour or white flowers kept to occasional containers. If there is a particular style or image that sums it up – cottage garden, Mediterranean, urban chic, or family friendly, then add to your brief.
  • Are there any particular features that you want in the garden hot tub, fire pit, water feature, swimming pool?
  • If there are any facts that the garden designer might not know at a quick visit – tell them – like: ‘It’s always sunny just here late in the morning’, or ‘I’ve never liked that house next door can we screen it’. Other than that, try not to lead your designer too much – no ‘I’ve always fancied a circular lawn’ or ‘I just thought a raised bed here would be nice’. Let them come up with the ideas – you will be pleasantly surprised!
  • Finally – BUDGET! Always a tricky one! In my experience most clients say that they don’t have a budget in mind or that they have no idea. In practice, everybody has some idea and most clients actually do have a budget in mind. It is supremely unhelpful if you don’t share your thoughts on what you want to spend with your designer. You would walk into an estate agent and say you had no idea of budget. In the end, the more detail you can give a designer on cost, the less of everybody’s time is wasted. This is especially important if you have an over-riding cost limit – you only want to spend the £40K granny left you and not a penny more. And do be clear whether you are talking VAT inclusive or excluding VAT.

 

Finally - that's a weight off my mind!

Presumably, if you have come as far as reading this blog, you are interested in employing a garden designer, either now or in the future. if you want to compare people, do try and start with suitably qualified and professional designers. Of course it goes without saying that B&W are the best, but if you want a comparison, go to the Society of Garden Designers website (www.SGD.org.uk) and look through a few designers in your area.

John Wyer