A Cornish Sculpture Garden

Slate monolith sculpture by Darren Evans and view across to St Michael's Mount
The highlight of a recent trip to West Cornwall was Tremenheere Garden, near Penzance. It announces itself as a sculpture garden as soon you arrive; a slate monolith from a former Chelsea garden by Darren Evans rises up (above)and on the hill behind, a what appear to be a series of ancient stone pillars sway in the wind. (This is actually Penny Saunders’ Restless Temple, and the pillars are made of jointed wood).

But this is so much more than a conventional sculpture garden. It was carved into a sheltered valley in the 1990s, from land originally owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount, then cultivated by the Tremeneere family. There’s no great house and sweeping driveway to restrict the layout. Instead, the gardens are structured around a series of winding paths that follow the natural camber of the valley and experimental planting which frames and punctuates the sculptures.

Mature broadleaf trees provide both shelter from prevailing winds and shade, and a stream winds through the valley floor, opening out into a series of natural ponds. The soil varies from neutral to acid, and the combination of habitats means that all sorts of plants flourish here, from boggy, sub-tropical, to rocky alpines.

Follow the paths along the hills and views to St Michael’s Mount open up across the sea; turn a corner and the planting becomes exotic, with the biggest gunneras I’ve ever seen, unusual bamboos and exotic palms, then grasses studded with dark sempervivens (below, left)and huge banks of agapanthus. In the wooded valley, tender wild Arisaema gingers flourish among the huge-fingered leaves of Tetrapanax papyrifer and tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica). And there’s a collection of palms, bamboos and unusual plants from south Africa and Mexico.

The sculpture is of varying quality; there’s a wonderful camera obscura, but my favourite is Tewlwolow Kernow, by James Turrrell, an elliptical white chamber, with a disc cut out of its top to frame the sky. You reach it via a tunnel cut into a mound, and there you sit, perfectly reclined and gaze up at the sky and the clouds. At night the whole garden is floodlit, so if you’re lucky enough to go then, you can meditate under the stars.

Dark sempervivens, agapanthus and grasses
Exotic tree ferns (Dicksonia antartica) line the valley at Tremeneere Gardens

www.tremenheere.co.uk

In love with dahlias

riots of colour and shapes of dahlia at the national collection in Cornwall
Black monarch dahlia, dark blood red at the national collection in Cornwall

It’s always a thrill to visit the national collection of a plant. These growers might be the trainspotters of the horticultural world, but for those of us who care about plants, they do important, painstaking work – preserving, propagating and documenting a particular group, and by so doing, conserving plant heritage and preventing cultivars from dying out.

In the case of dahlias, which have come in and out of fashion more regularly than platform shoes and mini skirts, the years in the wilderness when they were derided as the height of suburban vulgarity, could easily have meant the loss of many cultivars.
So a wander through the beds of the 1600 varieties grown at the National Collection near Penzance in Cornwall, is a revelation. The first thing that hits you, even on a drab day in August, is the carnival of colour, one of the things that the late Christopher Lloyd, creator of Great Dixter garden in Sussex, who always championed dahlias, prized about them. Here brilliant yellow clashes with pink and scarlet with apricot. Then there are the shapes: pompom, waterlily, cactus, orchid, peony – from uptight, pencil-skirted waltzers to flamboyant glowstick ravers.

These are some of my favourites: Emory Paul, (below right) classified as formal decorative, dark pink, blowsy and the size of a dinner plate, Quel Diable, semi cactus, blazing orange; the twin clergy with their black, cut leaves contrasting with bright flowers – Bishop of Llandaff (peony, scarlet) and Bishop of Canterbury (below left) (single, magenta) and finally, Black Monarch (above, right) (decorative, dark blood-wine red).

Yet they are a labour of love. They hate sitting in water, so it’s a risk leaving the tubers in the ground over winter. And even if you do, slugs are likely to munch on the new shoots as they emerge underground in spring. But if you have time, patience and a handy dry cellar, the national collection’s website tells you all you need to know. https://nationaldahliacollection.co.uk/growing-tips/tubers-getting-started/.

If, like me, you don’t have space to grow them, just be glad they are back in vogue. And try to get to Cornwall.

Bishop of Canterbury dahlia with black leaves and magenta flowers
Dahlia Emory Paul, the size of a dinner plate, at the national collection in Cornwall

Recycling at Hampton Court Flower Show

Hampton Court Flower Show recycling sculpture from Cleve West's Chelsea garden
Hampton Court Flower Show crazy paving with a contemporary twist

Two noticeable trends at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show: new twists on recycling and, wait for it, crazy paving. One of my favourite gardens, The Power to Make a Difference, by Joe Francis (above right, below right), is a really well-thought out take on the perennial theme of recycling. Standing in the rubble was a huge ice sculpture that resembled shards of glass as it melted. In this garden, crevices of traditional concrete crazy paving were filled with mortar, then sand and finally grass as you moved round the garden, a lovely detail that demonstrated how nature encroaches when land is laid to waste.

At the other extreme, the fabulous show garden by Andy Sturgeon (above left, below left) used recycled plants, paving and sculpture from past Chelsea gardens to make a new space. And it was built by trainee landscapers to give them a taste of making a show garden. The theme here was how you can make something new from what’s around, and Sturgeon clearly had fun with the planting. In a conventional show garden, the planting has to have an integrity of its own; here, Sturgeon could use what was there in his own way, so there’s a splash of Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’ with the feathery grey leaves of Crambe maritima flanking two tall cylindrical sculptures rescued from Cleve West’s Chelsea garden of a few years ago. Elsewhere, ferns make a vivid green filigree against the monumental bronze slabs borrowed from one of his own previous Chelsea gardens. And, a lovely touch this, the recycled paving was sliced into large, haphazard shapes, slotted together with narrow joints in a nod to crazy paving that looked unfailing modern.

Hampton Court Flower Show using crazy paving to make a recycled garden
Hampton Gourt Flower Show ice melting in the recycling garden

Roses, part 2. Versatile and low maintenance

A lot of my clients want low-maintenance gardens and get worried if I suggest roses. Roses have a bad rep; greenfly, blackspot, mildew. But actually a bit of effort when planting (at the right depth, and throw in a handful of micorrhizal fungae) careful choice of varieties, proper pruning and a minimum of one feed a season see off most problems. I never spray with insecticide; I don’t like using chemicals, and of course, prevention is generally better than cure.
Rose – Munstead WoodRoses are more versatile that their cottagey image suggests. Some, such as the compact, deep crimson-red ‘Munstead Wood’, with its delicious fragrance, look fantastic with tall grasses, and a climber such as ‘Iceberg’ makes a crisp backdrop to an otherwise modern perennial border. And anyway, it’s good to stray from tradition and mix things up a bit.
Their only real downside is that most roses are not particularly widllife friendly; tightly scrolled petals and flower structure is too complex for bees and other pollenating insects to find their way in. I make up for this by making sure there are plenty of nectar-rich plants in the planting design to attract them. The exception is the Rosa rugosa species, with its single, open flowers which I use in wildlife gardens or more informal planting schemes. They don’t repeat flower, but develop fat, scarlet hips in the autumn.

Roses. Part 1. Deadheading

This week I’ve been deadheading roses. Here in London, the first flush of flowers is coming to an end, and now’s the time to be decisive and take out the whole truss to an outward-facing leaf node. Rosa 'Lady of Shallot'I quite often use this time as an opportunity to reshape the shrub a bit, too, particularly with varieties that put on a lot of growth in one season. One of these, and one of my favourites, is ‘Lady of Shallott’, a unusual pale sunset orange, very free flowering and fragrant, but it is pretty vigourous and shoots off in all directions, so it benefits from a bit of taming by deadheading by half a metre or so. A feed and water after doing this alleviates shock to the plant, which pays you back with banks of flowers later in the season.

Dali’s garden in Cadaques

Visiting Cadaques, Salvador Dali’s home in northern Cataluyna in springtime you can see straight away where he got his inspiration. First there are the crazy cloud formations, apparently strays from the trumontana winds that gust through here at this time of year. Then the trees — all sculpted and pollarded, to provide maximum shade – umbrella-pruned citrus trees, the giant, sinewy feet of Figus microphylla fromm which the tree gets its common name — elephant tree- topped with knobbly fists from which the leaves are just starting to burst. Then there are the mulberries, pollarded to within an inch of their lives. This is to restrain them and to restrict the growth of fruit. They have a strange beauty, like gnarly trees in a fairytale forest.
Go to Dali’s garden, and you can see these ideas played out everywhere. In one courtyard, a giant, white-painted pot contains an olive tree and spills over with white geraniums. The pot seems to grow at a skewed angle out of the crazy paving. The craziness of the shapes in the paving themselves are highlighted with thick, fat lines of white paint.
Turn a corner, and there’s a garden bench that looks like its been hewn haphazardly out of the rock. The fun continues with a white plaster Michelin man soaking up the shade by the pool in a white chair under the spines of a tamarisk tree.
But Dali loved the natural world too. On the green terraces that overlook the sea, wild flowers cluster everywhere. Red corydalis, Lupins, Orchids, Lavender and Rosemary.

Great Dixter’s autumn plant fair

To Great Dixter, the garden designed by Lutyens, revolutionised by the late, great writer and horticulturalist, Christopher Lloyd, and which is forging into the future under its present custodian and Lloyd disciple, Fergus Garrett.

Great Dixter autumn plant fair
Four years ago, Garrett decided to hold a plant fair, inviting hand-picked nursery folk from all over Europe to come and sell the plants they raise as quietly and painstakingly as children. Since then it’s become an annual event.
Autumn FlowerpotsI love few things more than pottering around a specialist nursery. Not a garden centre mind, a nursery, where staff know how to grow their stuff and can identify those oddball cultivars. So this, my first visit to Dixter’s fair, was heaven. Here were some of the champions of the horticultural world; those men and women who patiently propagate their own plants, develop new cultivars and talk about them with passion and knowledge. They came from France, Holland and Germany, Sussex and Kent, Essex and Wiltshire, selling (and selling out) of asters and salvias, grasses, hydrangeas and proteas from South Africa.
Of course you get to wander round Dixter’s gardens too, which always make me smile. This autumn, Garrett has replanted Lutyens’ famous circular stone steps with exotic aeoliums and succulents, and just as audaciously, flanked an old brick barn with bold rows of saucer-sized, flouncy pink dahlias two metres high.

Succulents
Dahlias

It’s already in next year’s diary.

Courtyard garden with roof terrace

Work is continuing apace on an angular courtyard garden in Hackney, with a roof terrace. It’s been a complicated job, involving to-ing and fro-ing with a structural engineer, a rotten joist supporting the doors to the roof terrace, crumbling walls, along with the fact there are no straight lines in the garden. It’s the kind of project where much of the problem-solving is done on site, and this one has gone smoothly thanks to a brilliant contractor and flexible, decisive clients.

I had wanted to reuse some lovely deco-style metal balustrades, but they proved too expensive to restore and make safe, so we’ve gone with Iroko posts and rails to match the roof deck, and glass panels between, which will look sleek and modern, if a bit less individual.

There have been quite a few changes as we’ve gone along. Originally the clients wanted to repaint some existing mdf panels around the garden, but they have been persuaded to replace these with acrylic, which will float in the space and have lights behind that will glow at night. In a space this small, it’s all about the detail, and it’s often harder to work with existing features, as they can look really shabby against the crisp, clean lines of new paving.

There are two levels in the main garden, and the original Heath Robinson construction was rotten, dangerous and made the space unusable. We’ve put in steps from the ground to the lower level, making two distinct seating areas, with a ground level, rendered bed linking the two.

Terrace view 2 onto courtyard
The final touch will be the planting that will soften everything. It’s what brings a garden like this to life.

Work is continuing apace in a angular courtyard garden in Hackney, with a roof terrace. It’s been a complicated job, involving to-ing and fro-ing with a structural engineer, a rotten joist supporting the doors to the roof terrace, crumbling walls, along with the fact there are no straight lines in the garden. It’s the kind of project where much of the problem-solving is done on site, and this one has gone smoothly thanks to a brilliant contractor and flexible, decisive clients.
I had wanted to reuse some lovely deco-style metal balustrades, but they proved too expensive to restore and make safe, so we’ve gone with Iroko posts and rails to match the roof deck, and glass panels between, which will look sleek and modern, if a bit less individual.
There have been quite a few changes as we’ve gone along. Originally the clients wanted to repaint some existing mdf panels around the garden, but they have been persuaded to replace these with acrylic, which will float in the space and have lights behind that will glow at night. In a space this small, it’s all about the detail, and it’s often harder to work with existing features, as they can look really shabby against the crisp, clean lines of new paving.
There are two levels in the main garden, and the original Heath Robinson construction was rotten, dangerous and made the space unusable. We’ve put in steps from the ground to the lower level, making two distinct seating areas, with a ground level, rendered bed linking the two.
The final touch will be the planting that will soften everything. It’s what brings a garden like this to life.

In praise of artificial lawns

The English love their lawns. Maroooned in a faraway fantasy that has more to do with the Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey than Belsize Park or Dagenham, they dream of swathes of manicured lawns sweeping between magnificent herbaceous borders off into the horizon.
All well and good if you’re lucky enough to have the time and the will to cut and feed and scarify and weed them. Or the budget to pay someone to keep them looking groomed for you.
In schools and public spaces, where heavy footfall and lack of regular maintenance will quickly turn new lawns into mud-wrestling arenas, artificial grass can be a boon. And when private clients with sunless, north-facing gardens, or time-poor parents with armies of small children kicking balls about tell me they really, really want a lawn, I often recommend artificial ones instead.
They cost a lot more to install, but a lot less to maintain. Once they are in, that’s pretty much it. And aesthetically they’ve come a long way from the lurid, scratchy, specimens of a few years ago. These days, fake lawns can look pretty natural and come in a range of different lengths and textures. I’ve even used them in wildlife gardens (see pictures of the School Wildlife Garden in the Portfolio menu) and softened the effect with ornamental grasses and frothy edging plants.
That might seem like a contradiction in terms, but a clipped lawn is a monoculture; it doesn’t support much wildlife. Far better to encourage biodiversity with the plants, which provide homes and hiding places for all sorts of insects and small mammals.
Anyway, for me it’s far more rewarding to use precious time spent in the garden making those herbaceous borders look magnificent than trudging up and down with a mower in pursuit of perfect stripes.

A poppy meadow for World War One

I've been commissioned to create a poppy meadow in a school to commemorate the centenary of World War One next year. We’ve found a sunny site near the playground that’s currently turfed over, which is ideal, as the soil needs to be weed-free. So we’ll have to scrape off the grass, dig over and possibly remove the existing topsoil. Next will come a layer of sand, so that we can see where the seeds are. The idea is that the children scatter the seeds in the spring and the meadow will be in full bloom in time for the anniversary in early July.
I’ve found a seed mix, which includes Flanders poppies, together with Bishop’s flower, Red Flax and Cosmos, which will extend the flowering season into the autumn and, importantly become a magnet for bees and insects.
It’s going to look fabulous for one year, but the dilemma is what to do with the space after that, so that it doesn’t just degenerate into a mass of weeds. Top of my list so far is to sow a perennial meadow the following spring which will just have to be mown once a year and raked over. It should be sustainable, even in a school environment, where maintenance has to be kept to a minimum.