Gardening with Nature and with the Wild

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Caltha or marsh marigold fringed by the yellow water iris. Recognizable to any good gardener or plants-man.

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Working with SSSI sites (Sites of Special Scientific Interest)

All the images show a SSSI Alder-Carr woodland that formed an extensive boundary to an estate property that I designed and managed. This was an important landscape not only for the reason that it is in itself becoming rare, but for a plant that in the wild is rarer still Aconitum (monks hood) a plant that is toxic. This beautiful plant finds the wet woodland the perfect habitat to thrive in. It can be seen in early spring when young growth emerges from the margin of wet and almost soggy ground, in fact in many places from beneath the standing water.

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   This spectacular plant is now rare in the wild landscape of Britain. It remains a plant of the garden, and it crosses from the wild to the managed landscape very well. So too do many plants, and those include the marsh marigold;d that grow wild in the same landscape.

 

Where does gardening and countryside management diverge. The garden is a special place, but although thought of as more intimate and much more controlled and managed, it is still nature and it is very much still a landscape driven by the seasons and the weather. Estates and estate gardens have the luxury or the curse of having extended space to develop and to manage. This wetland of some 12 acres was vital to the estate and the landscape as the wet woodland acted as a sump and filter for the trout lake just a few hundred yards away. Fringed and fed by a swift flowing river that was itself an extension to the SSSI, it ran for some three miles and developed into a further wetland on the site of the British Telecom Earth Satellite Station at Madley. This to I developed and managed. As a horticulturalist all landscapes overlap, all that is different, in effect, is the scale. Our countryside has been badly neglected since 1945. Development, in all but a few places such as Scotland and the landscape of the north has eroded and in some places buried the extensive wild tracks of land that could have been considered ‘wild’. The horticulturalist, the gardener must look to the native British landscape for inspiration, and must as surely look to become a guardian of plants and nature on many scales, large and tiny.

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Home Grown Year Round

One of the great pleasures in life, food fresh from the garden, into the pan and onto the plate. You can taste the fresh air and the garden and it is one of the joys as a gardener. Bringing good produce to the kitchen, and knowing exactly what has been done to produce it.

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I was talking with someone the other day who happened to mention that the trouble with gardening to produce food was that the garden was always a mess.

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I’m not altogether sure what his garden looked like.  I am sure that when he compared growing vegetables and the look of a garden to that of an allotment garden (a mess, his words)  that he may have been doing many good gardeners a disservice. I love to be in a good produce garden of fruit and vegetables. I feel very motivated and a great deal of pleasure in producing plants that look great and taste fantastic. The images show a number of what I think are gardens to be proud of and to sit and look at, and share.

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I read some little time ago that we need the high street greengrocer (we do) and the supermarket (we don’t) as we are unable to grow anywhere near what we need ourselves in the way of fresh produce year round. That is true, and is the fault of planners and architects who have migrated people into boxes with little or no land. However, it is also un-true when people in those boxes co-ordinate and plan for themselves as a community, and it is absolutely, definitely un-true if you have a medium size garden or larger. Good planning, design, thought and creativity can bring a big reward. This is ‘true gardening’.

This is why people began to garden centuries back, to produce food and importantly medicines, from the herbal garden and the wild hedgerow. Cleanliness, compost, care, creativity, all you need to garden well are vital in the veg garden. It all starts with the soil.

As an estate gardener I have been able to experience and benefit from the Victorian kitchen gardener. Top soils 150 cm deep, cultivated and dug three and sometimes four spits (spades) deep . Good crumb structure (which means compost and fertilizer applied for decades to create a soil that retains moisture but will not stay saturated) Manure and leaf-mold collected, composted and applied when digging. Gentle liming, and fertilizer applied to balance trace elements so important to veg and to fruit. Good soils and a clean crop, strong growth = less need to spray = more beneficial insects = less need to spray = clean and healthy crop = and so on. Preparing the canvas (the soil) will mean that you can build year on year and then begin to do what gardeners have done for generations, save seed, roots and tubers for next year. Then you are gardening, the equivalent in driving is moving from your everyday car to a nippy little car on the race track, you have the knowledge to do better and go faster. You learn more every day and with that your gardening is stronger and more confident.

So it amazes me that we treat the earth, the soil, with such little respect.

We walk all over it, in any weather and at any time of year. We drive on it, flatten it, crush it, flood it, contaminate it, and move it about without thought. We dig it up and stack it in piles for weeks, months and years on end. We plant things in it and we stand back in anticipation to see what happens, and more often than not, for a short time at least, it rewards our efforts. What we don’t seem to do is love it and care for it, as if I lives depended on it – they do. If you were painting a door in your house, would you batter it before you carefully painted or varnished it?. Please care for your soil and the land, if you do you will be amazed at what it will do for you. 

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One Aspect of my Work

Image The Rose garden

Designed as part of a series for The National Trust, this one shows the Rose Garden. The Heritage Garden Series was designed as a self build project and design for people to create a single garden or a collective of ideas to incorporate into a larger garden design. Supplied with recommendations and detailed ‘how to’ plans, the design also included detailed planting lists. The planting list was colour illustrated and included detailed descriptions and a growing guide for planning and care. Accompanying this were details of plant nurseries specialising in each plant group and associated plants for each separate design, four in the series. The Rose Garden. The Herb and Medicinal garden. The Moon Garden. The Perennial Garden and to be added later The Bird Garden and The Wildlife Garden.

Planning and Design

I have always combined my garden work with art. Painting gardens, landscapes, plants and wildlife has long held a fascination for me and brought a strength to my work in the garden on both a practical and design level. I spent a great deal of time during my initial horticultural training creating botanical studies and botanical scientific drawings for study and reference, and prepared them for the science department to use as illustrations.

Just spending time working in garden landscapes has inspired my work as a garden designer, it is an element of my work that I enjoy, no matter what the garden in relation to scale or ambition. It also makes my practical work in the garden stronger. There are now great landscape designers in the UK, we are lucky to have them. I think that the best of them know their plants well, and they know that the design is as good as the people who create the idea, put their ideas onto the ground. I think too that the best designers know that it takes good gardeners and people who will listen to them to make the landscape design work. People who are sensitive to their vision and will work carefully to create a good, indeed great garden.

Detailed on these pages are just a few of the landscape designs that I have worked on in partnership with my wife, a horticulturalist and plants women.
The Rose garden was designed as part of a series for The National Trust. The other designs below are examples of both large and small gardens. The design side of my work is, and has to be based very much on my practical work and knowledge in the garden, whatever the aspect of that may be. It may be creating or designing as part of working ‘hands on’ in practical projects or work in the garden. Adding to aspects and variety of design in an existing garden, or planning a garden landscape from scratch.

I would not consider myself to be a landscape designer per-say. My designs are based much more on practical knowledge and application, especially in relation to management and continuing long term maintenance in the garden. They are also influenced by art, and love for nature and all things natural.

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The plan above is a larger garden and includes wetland, some woodland, lawn area, all surrounded by and including a rose garden in the Old English Rose tradition. Also extensive herbaceous planting. A central Rose Arbor is a strong focal point and a place to sit, entertain and relax in a location where individual aspects of the garden can be enjoyed.

The plan to the right demonstrates the practical knowledge employed in designing a garden, in this case good plant knowledge, as shown in the sketch of plants in situ. A smaller, but nevertheless intensively planted garden, designed for year round enjoyment and interest.

The illustration below is from the larger garden plan above and shows the wetland and lake area to the front to the property with work in progress to create the planned garden behind in the lee of the house.

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The garden featured in Period Homes, and a related article on the development of The Humber Marsh Wetland Nature Reserve which I designed and built in conjunction with this project.

Details below:

http://www.windandsun.co.uk/about-us/humber-marsh.aspx

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Past projects and landscapes 1.

Past projects and landscapes.

Pond, lake edge and wetland fringe

A pond edge and wetland landscape that comprises part of an extensive four acre garden.

I was head gardener at this estate located in the West Midlands for a number of years. This image gives a very good idea of how a good and well maintained wetland area should look in a garden. Good access to the water for regular care and maintenance, and good plant choice for fringe planting. Contrary to general opinion, which often calls for individual ponds to be left alone with little maintenance, wetland landscapes need care and gentle handling to achieve both the best effect to the eye and for the benefit of wildlife, both above and below water. The water clarity in this image shows the importance of good submerged aquatic oxygenating plant communities that are themselves maintained well. In a new wetland water plants establish swiftly, good when you wish to create habitat and an attractive landscape quickly. However, it also means that care and good maintenance have to be equally efficient to  keep up, lakes and ponds can deteriorate and become a problem without thought. This may be desirable if you are allowing the pond to naturally evolve and become marsh, followed by colonization by shrubs and trees. If not, with care, a new wetland landscape can be kept in good order, and a neglected one can be ‘recovered’ just as quickly, but each stage of that process must be done in the right order and at the right time. A wetland landscape of any type when grazed by cattle up to and into the water brings a whole new set of issues, and those relate particularly to water quality.

A number of issues need to be considered whether or not your pond is man made or natural. There are more ‘natural’ ponds in the landscape than one might think. We often think of ponds as purely man made.

  • Avoid making all ponds appear the same – try to ensure ponds of different depths and in various stages of succession. ‘Succession’ refers to a pond that is new, one that is in the stages of transition and one that has evolved toward drying out and becoming a marsh. This of course depends on the size of landscape that you have.
  • Information about the pond over time is important. Especially when you intend to make decisions on management. Some ponds are very stable. This is often the case in ponds that are seasonal I.E. Wet in winter, drying out in spring and summer which dramatically changes and controls the flora in the wetland.
  • Where possible – create new ponds rather than dredge old ones. Dredging causes terrible damage and will destroy flora and fauna. It often has a negative long term effect on water quality. Leave silted ponds to develop naturally if you have the land area to do so.
  • Never suddenly radicalize the management of the pond.
  • Ponds chocked with vegetation are often rich in fauna. This is especially true with submerged vegetation. Be gentle in the care and management.
  • Bear in mind that ponds that are part of an extensive ‘pond-scape’ may need different management than individual ponds. Allow a natural evolution to occur in the ponds, this will dramatically increase the conservation and wildlife value
  • Where traditional and often attractive stock grazing is allowed (JMW. Turner paintings) the process of ‘change’ or evolution of the pond can be slowed, and can be beneficial, but that comes at a price – often low quality of water. Heavy poaching by cattle will create trampled muddy edges and contamination by dung from the cattle. If, in a larger pond cattle grazing is unavoidable, consider at least fencing them out of large areas.
  • In any wetland the surrounding land use must be taken into consideration. Tracks, lanes and footpaths all generate large amounts of water run-off, and that brings silt. Avoid creating ponds that will collect agri-chemicals from surrounding intensively farmed pasture or crops. The same with areas in towns where oil, solvent or pollutants may wash into the pond water. Remember that with thought many problems can be ‘buffered’ by clever use of spoil and drains that will re-direct problems to traps and filters.
  • Attractive though they are large numbers of waterfowl will achieve the same effect as cattle, mud and foul water. Again, fence and clever design can reduce this. Create areas where waterfowl will struggle to gain access.
  • Creating new ponds is vital to the well being of us all. But, if you are planning a new pond that will have natural fill, water quality is essential, and at the very least should be satisfactory. Aquatic species are generally speaking mobile and natural colonization will occur rapidly. If you are considering creating a wetland, please bear in mind that you do so in an area where you will not lose an otherwise valuable habitat.

My work in wetland and marsh gardens and landscape

I have created, managed and cared for a number of lakes, ponds and wetland areas, from small garden ponds to a seven acre marsh and wetland landscape. One in west Herefordshire was a SSSI site; an ‘Alder Carr woodland’ and wetland; listed as such for the stream and small river that flowed through it and for the extensive swathes of Aconitum (Monks Hood) and other wetland species of plant.

I have worked with natural, traditional materials as liners (clay and chopped straw)  and man made products, Butyl, and expansion water retaining powders mixed within the prepared excavation soils on sites too large for traditional liners or methods – all enhance a landscape and are important for wildlife. Wetlands and ponds, in any landscape bring a sense of peace and timelessness. They offer an opportunity to grow and establish plants that would otherwise be missing from the garden and therefore add a further dynamic expansion to it. To achieve that, good planting, where already present species cannot be used is essential. This is especially true of the many water lily varieties to be found, that will suit almost any size of pond or lake.  

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Alpine garden and raised bed

Alpine garden and raised bed

Please note that this page and all the following pages are under construction, and update.

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