Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Been and Gone

Can't believe it's been a month since the show was on! I must have slept for the last four weeks or so as time gently pattered by. So, in a nutshell, here's how it all went for the garden and me:

- We got the garden finished by the skin of our teeth: I was still tarting up the accessories when the judges came and did their stuff and asked me, politely, to clear off

- BBC filmed us a few times: did the opening of the TV coverage from the roof garden with Rachel De Thame and Joe Swift

- Press loved the garden, so did the photographers!

- Gala night was very wet in true Hampton Court Show style, but the fireworks looked great from the roof garden

- We got a Silver-Gilt Medal! A bit disappointed it wasn't the Gold but the hedge and couple of other bits and pieces let us down

- Visitors loved the garden!

- I spent a bit of time catching the sun on the roof terrace and dodging the rain in the garden room

The garden is all gone now. Going there on breakdown was quite sad and I felt a bit emotional seeing the building reduced to a pile of rubble. All that work and you are left with a flattened building site!

Still, who knows what will happen at next year's show. Watch this space!

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Almost there

The final planting has just about been done today, with only a handful of plants to quickly put into place tomorrow morning (Sunday). Sam has told us to be clear of things by lunchtime, or in his words 'I need the garden for a few hours', to tidy up and finish off the tiniest details. I looked at him slightly despondently: 'don't worry, I'll give you the garden back afterwards.'

I've got a live radio interview on site with Geoff Hodge for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in the morning and previously to that, a two minute slot with the RHS assessors, a sort of advance party for the judges, to tell them about the garden. They have a written Client's Brief to refer to as well so it's more of a quick blurt about the key points/features and any plant changes. There haven't been any radical ones although some of my perennials I wanted to use are swapped (see earlier blogs!) with others. Essentially, I've created the effect I was aiming for with a slightly different palette of plants but I'm happy with that.

The Homebase team have been fantastic all week, so helpful and enthusiastic about things. On Thursday, I had them washing the three Prunus serula trees to bring out the lovely bark. From late afternoon, the sun shines behind these trees and brings a magical orangey-brown glow to them. Also on Thursday, Ed my gardening supervisor at Brocket Hall (where I'm gardening consultant) came and helped out. He clipped the hornbeam hedge but was told to take his shoes off so as not squash the meadow turf in the process!

Press Day is on Monday and I hope I have few functioning brain cells left to talk sense to journalists! Today I was asked if all the colour in the garden was a response to the cool green of Chelsea's palette. I created my plant list last October- November, not knowing that green was a predominant feature at Chelsea, so my plants were chosen for texture, effect and place and not a knee-jerk reaction to Chelsea's plants. Besides, a herbaceous colour without colour doesn't exist in my gardens!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Willing hands

I'm on a quick visit home (my daughter's school prom!). This week has been manic, but everything is coming together nicely and finally, this garden that's been floating around in my head for the last eight months is coming to life. Days have been long, 12-14 hours and I haven't eaten or slept enough (not much time for either!).

Lots of happy Homebase people are turning up each day and just get on and do as they are told. Their help and that from those yet to come is invaluable: all those little jobs, and some quite large hefty ones, means that Sam and the Scotscape boys and I can focus on our tasks more effectively. A different group turn up each day from various Homebase stores in the country and their team leader Spencer, who is here very day, moves them from task to task. One huge job has been painting the wood on the building - the Forth Road Bridge comes to mind here. Spencer has managed to do quite a large area every day, singing along with the radio in the process. On Monday no sooner had he arrived when I shoved a shopping list in his hand and despatched him off to get various things, ranging from sponges to buckets and lavender plants. From Homebase stores, naturally...

The roof garden has been planted and we are expecting the glass surround to come on Friday. It's still a haven of peace, far away from the madding crowd. Janet, Nick and Siobhan are cracking on with planting up. Today we planted up the first area of meadow turf which meant taking off safety boots so as not to flatten the long grass too much. Some delicious looking veg plants turned up in the afternoon which are now snug in their wooden raised beds.

The weather forecast is not looking too good for the weekend: foul weather gear is packed for my return to the show site!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Up on the roof

I went up on the roof garden for the first time on Saturday. First impressions? It's like a sanctuary, a haven of peace and tranquility amongst the hustle and bustle of the show site. I keep going up there to soak in the calming atmosphere.

I did a quick radio interview today for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Sue Dougan's show and I was asked if the site restrictions, such as wearing dayglo high-vis vests caused any restrictions. 'The main restriction,' I said, 'is that my sun-tan isn't very even in a high-vis vest.' Well, a girl has to get her priorities right...

The building looks so fantastic! The timber cladding started to go on today, even though I'm getting used to the sexy black exterior it's had for a few days (this is just for the spaces between the timbers). Trees are being planted and whoopee, plants are arriving in their droves tomorrow from Crocus and BWP. My wonderful planter-uppers arrived today, itching to get on with things: Janet from Offord Darcy, Nick from Kempston and Siobhan from Welwyn Garden City. A whole host of lovely Homebase people turn up tomorrow as well, it's going to be mayhem, but have written a long list of 'things to do' for them. I live by my lists.

I took Steve Cope, Deputy Show Manager, up to the roof garden today. He was gobsmacked and enjoyed the chance to see the show site on a different level and from a different perspective. 'The media are going to love this' he said.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Herbies go to Hampton

Instructions for use: lean forward to your computer screen (go on, a bit more than that), take a deep breath and inhale the intoxicating aromatic sensual delights of these herbs. Now, don't you feel better for that?

There's a little wholesale nursery near me in Cambridgeshire that has the most fantastic selection of herbs which I collected this morning. The drive home was soooo relaxing, just what I needed as stress levels are hiking up a gear or two. Peter Reason at the nursery also does a superb range of alpines so I stocked up on some chunky semps and sedums. Had to stop myself buying lots of other alpines (do you know a Plantaholics Anonymous group I can got to??).

Mmmm, still no news about the hedge....

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Stairway to heaven

Yesterday I drove practically all the way round the M25. Perhaps not quite my idea of great day out but it had to be done. Another early start saw me queueing (or joining a 'Q' as the motorway signs like to call it) on the Dartford Crossing then off down the M20 to visit a nursery near Ashford to pick up some lean and long Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Pink Elephant'. I saw these last year at Hampton Show: people kept walking past my show garden with these enormous tall plants stuffed into little carrier bags and I just had to find out what they were. I traced the trail back to Madrona Nursery's stand. These plants really do grow tall but exude a favourable see-through disposure. I spoke to Liam at the nursery a couple of weeks back and he said the plants were about 4ft high; yesterday they were 6ft, taller than me, and it was like standing in an airy jungle as I selected the best of the batch. I didn't take a photo of me stuffing them into my car (it's more like a van with a back seat as I have teenage taxi duties when not plant hunting), but it was probably an amusing sight!

Afterward, onto Crocus for the final plant selection there with Mark Straver. I felt like a judge at a beauty parade: 'not tall enough', 'don't like the colour', 'a bit thin, not meaty enough'. Mark and I de-selected then re-selected only the promising hopefuls for the 'big day' and over lunch Mark made a short list of people to call that afternoon for more plants. After all, only the best plants make it onto the Homebase garden.

Arriving on site late afternoon and wow, the stairs are teetering into position at the side of the building! Phew, at least I won't have to climb that ladder again (I hate heights). Sam is happy as ever and he and the other guys are looking quite sun-tanned. I made a few frantic phone calls about my hedge. It's a long story, with many a sleepless night to accompany it. I haven't actually seen my hedge (have rejected one along the way) but have been assured that I will love it, and it will be perfect. Friday is supposed to be the day when it arrives on the nursery. Watch this space!

As I un-coiled my Sanguisorba from out of the car, someone from an opposite stand came up to me: 'What are those plants?'

Saturday, 21 June 2008


I left home in Cambridgeshire at 5.45am yesterday morning to get down on site for the tree delivery. Thankfully, traffic on the M25 wasn't too bad and I managed to beat Sam there - he'd overslept! The trees from Deepdale turned up just before 9am and took a while to unload, taking all four men and a digger to carefully extract them from the lorry. 'Don't damage the bark!' I yelled as the five Acer davidii were man-handled to the side of the plot.

It was really busy everywhere on site yesterday, lots of people, lots of huge delivery lorries trundling along the temporary trackway. Since my last visit, the building structure has emerged: 'That building isn't going to fall down in a hurry', said Steve Cope, Deputy Show Manager as he walked by. My worries on Tuesday about how the big the plot is were a distant memory as areas where plants and lawn will be are now taken up with piles of wood, paving stone, paint and more wood. All waiting to be created into something else by the boys.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Going Wild

This morning I drove to British Wildflower Plants at North Burlingham in Norfolk to see my wildflowers. Ian Forster, with several medal winning gardens behind him, has been babysitting my wildflowers which looked fantastic, all waiting to peak at the right time in the garden. He'd not long moved them out of the hot glasshouse into the shade tunnel. I also saw Ian's mass of red poppies (well, they will be in two and half week's time) which are going onto another garden at Hampton show.

Leaving Norfolk and the Broads behind, I drove to Suffolk to Woottens plants at Halesworth to see my mate Mike Loftus. He has been looking after some absolutely gorgeous species Pelargoniums for containers in the show garden. The plants look amazing and I had a very aromatic drive back to Cambridgeshire, very calming! In fact, the whole day was lovely and relaxing and it was hard to resist the temptation to turn off the A12 at Great Yarmouth when various assortments of 'Seafront' and 'To The Beach' signs wafted tantalizingly in front of me. But I was a good girl and stuck to my route. Maybe next time.

Later, back at home I dashed into my local Homebase store in Biggleswade and did I raid on black exterior paint (sorry chaps, cleaned you out of stock). I spoke to Sam whilst loading up the trolley who told me the building was progressing well on site: 'We are ahead of schedule,' he said, 'but don't tell anyone.' I'm back down on site early tomorrow to see the trees arrive and look at marking out the rest of the site.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Open country

My first thoughts as I stood in front of the newly scraped and levelled plot, site of the Homebase Room With A View show garden, were...'Mmmm, this is a big space', quickly followed by 'Have I got enough plants'! The team from Scotscape, Project Manager Sam Bothwell with Ty, Joe and Joey, are mega organised and have years of show-garden-building experience between them. Sam was a little flustered yesterday as some of the deliveries were delayed (one turning up at 8pm instead of 8am!) but when I spoke to him this morning the schedule was back on track, so he was a happy man.

The corners of the building were marked out yesterday and footings made in preparation for the steel structure which arrives today. My next visit is this Friday and things will look very different then.

Afterwards, I went down to Crocus to see how my plants are getting on. This is the first time Crocus have supplied plants for a named designer at Hampton Court show so my plants are getting the TLC treatment. We spent sometime going through what was going to make it, what could be cajoled into making in and what plants were definitely not going to be ready. Plants were later sent off for intensive treatment either in a hot glasshouse to bring them on or put under shade, to hold things back. The hydrangeas aren't as far forward as I'd like but still another 10 days before they are due on site, and just under three weeks before the show opens.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Trunk call

Today I went to have my last look at the trees at Deepdale Trees in Potton, Bedfordshire before they are delivered on site this Friday (20th). As this was my fourth visit there since February, my last one being in May when a few 'swapsies' went on, I was just expecting to double confirm everything was looking great etc., etc.

Ah, if only everything in life was that simple! The Acer davidii for the Maple Glade looked great (I did some swapping last time) as did my Crataegus and the Tilia x euchlora (although I had been having doubts beforehand): the Betula 'Swiss Glory' which forms part of the landing on the building, was debated and compared with every other of it's namesake in the row. My original choice fared a possible de-selection well and remained. It's cousin, Betula nigra, has not done so well. Two were perfect but I need three the same size and shape. This seemed an easy task in February looking at the silhouette of the trees before they went into leaf after winter. The problem is that these trees are a bit temperamental, and not all of them decided to show any foliage. Mark Godden from Deepdale raced back to the office for an extra long measuring stick and we duly walked to and fro' amongst a couple of rows of B.n, trying to find the third match. Impossible! Too short, too wide, not enough peeling bark.....

These three trees are pretty key to the year round plant interest in the garden and feature in their own picture window at the back of the garden building. I had my heart set on the seductive peeling bark of the Black River Birch, but it was not to be as I can't have three trees that don't match. I looked at Mark: 'Prunus serrula?' I said, looking hopeful and clutching at straws as we looked and discounted a few other alternatives. I breathed deeply and calmly as we approached the Prunus row. Were their canopies going to be too wide, was the bark going to be second best to my peeling birch? Three gorgeous Prunus s. smiled languishingly at me as I approached them. Sold!

Today is also the first day on site at Hampton Court show ground. Scotscape, the landscaping contractors, have been there getting things ready and tomorrow I'm up at the crack of dawn to see the site marked out.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Georgian viewing

It seems an awfully long time on paper since last November when Homebase appointed me to do their show garden at Hampton Court show this year. The months have whizzed by in a haze of endless phone calls, meetings, visits to see plants and props, hours of tapping away on e-mails in the wee small hours....

Now here I am with Build-Up starting next Monday, 16th June! Three weeks to build the garden, 21 days of very long hours where night merges into day and please, God, some sunshine this year: in 2007 for my first show garden at Hampton (The Sadolin Garden of Regeneration) I think I ended up with trench foot it was so wet and damp. The BBC very kindly filmed me then looking somewhat bedraggled in torrential rain, wearing a dashing plastic poncho. My 'friends' and gardening clients still have a gleeful look on their faces as they remind me of my TV debut.

The Homebase Room With A View is all about accessing views and vistas, both in the show garden and outside of it, on different levels. The RHS have given us a great position on site (see photo on right) that is perfect for our garden. In the design, a garden room placed off-centre on the rear boundary has big open entrances and picture windows to see gorgeous planting and views from different angles; there's also an eco-roof garden for more views. What's an eco-roof garden, I hear you ask? Well, this rather hostile (windswept, dry, desiccating) environment needs plants that can withstand these conditions, so I've selected drought-tolerant ones, and a planting medium that can sustain them. The latter is a UK sourced recycled engineered substrate - crushed bricks organic matter and other things. It's very light so much better for weight bearing considerations on roof gardens. Sedum matting around the edge of the roof garden have low spreading sedum planted into foam padding. Another recycling initiative, as the foam mats were once old car seats and sofas. Eat your heart out Mr Landfill!

The garden is inspired by a visit last year to the Rievaulx Terraces and Temples, a NT property in North Yorkshire. Originally created in the 18th century as an extension of a garden, the landscaped half mile grass walk is flanked at each end by two temples. As you walk between these, 13 gaps in the wooded escarpment access views below of the ruined Rievaulx Abbey. In Georgian times, the walk ended with a meal in the stunning Ionic Temple. Last Friday, 6th June, I went back to to Rievaulx with Homebase and met up with NT Property Manager Simon Lee for another look at the site. Wonderful, and great to feel that the design inspiration I've harnessed from here seems to be working well in show garden format. I've not tried to re-create the Ionic Temple or the Terrace in the Homebase Room With A View, just adapted some of the design principles into a realistic garden.