The hottest day this summer found me walking with David Harber through the gardens of Eaton Square to view his spectacular new collection, this time of garden sculptures. It was a wonderful venue made available to him by the late Duke of Westminster. The garden planting, the immaculate level of upkeep both went towards an impressive backdrop to sculptures, mostly of metal, conceived to provide particular interest in a garden landscape at once both empathetic and dramatic.
One piece, a pierced ball of bronze petals, each petal gilded on the inside, created an extraordinary effect of captured sunlight and last Wednesday was certainly the right day to appreciate the inventive skill of its author. This piece, called Mantle, can be lit from inside creating a shimmering and evasive light effect in the darkening twilight. Another ball, made of tiny flat obsidian stones, has been seen at Chelsea, devised as a fountain, the water sliding evocatively across the stones so that the obsidian is presented with a permanent soft gleam. Another similar model has a quarter lined out of it like a ripe fruit, the new surfaces lined with mirror to conjure and delight the eye.
It was a privilege to be escorted round such an exciting exhibition by David Harber himself, surely the Grand Master of his profession in every way.
Find his work on his website. Forget the bust of Ceres and the Grecian urns; invest in a work of Harber’s art to intrigue and provoke all who visit your garden.
Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean reflects on the use of large trees in garden design on her visit to Audley End, Essex.
Last weekend I took the opportunity to re-visit the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Audley End and found it, handsome as ever and still in flower.
Audley End is one of the most extraordinary of the great English mansions. Once a monastic foundation more than twice its present size, it has served as a royal palace and latterly as a private home. There is much to admire in the house, but surely the pride of the estate must be the magical parkland setting with a rich variety of specimen trees; and included in this collection is a magnificent tulip tree. Find it to the left of the restaurant area as you look at the front elevation; not yet at its peak it is the perfect size and spread, the curious rather fat leaves giving the plant a particularly attractive texture. It is presently in the midst of flowering, the pretty bell shaped blooms with golden petals and orange stamens, the tree still covered in buds.
Through this exceptional parkland flows the Cam, with a small tributary running alongside the Walled gardens featuring a fine double herbaceous border and some interesting orchard planting which will look magnificent in maturity.
Last year I planted a handkerchief tree (Davidia) purchased from Landford Trees and must wait some years for it to flourish the remarkable white sepals that appear in the late spring – here in Eccleston Square is a well established specimen that emphasizes the drama and the joy of trees. This autumn I shall order a tulip tree from the same nursery and hope that some future guardian will benefit from its mature beauty.
If you find the notion of such a major tree in your garden overwhelming, then look at Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder, a beautiful plant of more modest size but offering a spectacular and long lasting flowering in the late Spring.
Water features of any size are a great asset to the garden. Not only do they provide a focal point but they also give a sense of well-being. Whether still or moving the tranquil effects of water can calm or uplift any space.
For the small garden think about scale. We assume that a small garden requires small features and that everything needs to be in proportion. This makes the space seem even smaller, a sort of miniature garden. So, have fun and take a risk! Large sculptures or pots add a sense of drama. Large leaved plants backed with smaller leaved plants help accentuate the depth, making the garden seem larger. Do not limit yourself to a very small water feature; for water to work well you need at least half a metre square of surface area. And remember the rule about using an existing measurement – try the door or window width or even a path dimension; coordinating measurements will anchor any feature you choose to introduce.
So, have fun and take a risk! Large sculptures or pots add a sense of drama.
Materials are important. Do you want the feature to stand out or blend in? Link back to a material that is already in the garden in order to harmonise. If the house is brick introduce brick again. For a cottage garden galvanised metal or rusty steel can be both contemporary and traditional. Is your water feature flush with the ground or is it raised? In a small space a raised pool often works better. A 1 m2 pool raised 450mm high provides an exciting focal point, is large enough for dramatic reflection and, the rim is the right height to sit on and enjoy.
Fountains can make or break. Think subtle and sophisticated.
A large fountain in a small pool is totally out of scale. Try a small bubble fountain fixed just under the water’s surface; the jet will gently babble away creating a calming movement and sound, or use a very fine jet and keep it simple. One arching spray of water on the centre is more than adequate. For a Mediterranean feel locate a jet in each corner of a square or rectangular pool and aim them to cross each other. The Alhambra Garden in Spain is a great resource for inspiration.
Still water requires a little more maintenance to keep it clean and it will also evaporate quicker. A little black dye will help heighten the reflective qualities and stop algae growing.
Do not overcrowd a pool with lots of plants; remember the design mantra that less is more. Again think scale. You don’t want a miniature water garden, but you do need to choose plants that are appropriate to the pond size. Miniature water lilies can work well if planted alone. For contrast plant large oval-leaved Hosta around the edge and sword-shaped Iris directly into the water. If you are looking for inspiration I would suggest visiting the flower shows or have a look at their websites – RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is generally the best one for water-plants. (Try not to look at the larger water gardens; this is not the look you are trying to achieve.)
Safety, with water in the garden, is paramount. A raised feature is safer, especially if you have young children, but I would always insist the client has a metal grid fitted just below the water surface so that if a child falls in, the grid would protect them.
Andrew Duff: How to make the most of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017
With the RHS Chelsea Flower Show just around the corner I would encourage you to visit if you can. This year the RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 23rd – 27th May 2017. Chelsea is the main event in a garden designer’s calendar and a rich source of inspiration.
As with any great show it is essential to plan ahead. The RHS Chelsea website is excellent for this; it lists all the individual show gardens, their designers, a drawing of the garden and the plant lists. It also lists all the main exhibitors from the garden furniture stands right through to the nurseries in the main marquee.
My plan of action is to print off the map well in advance: this gives me an opportunity to plan a route through the site.
I start with the main avenue and those jaw-dropping show gardens, then work my way through the main marquee for a little light relief where I look at the nursery stands before embarking on the smaller gardens, the exhibition stands, and finally the gardens set amongst the woodlands.
Don’t forget the gardens are not always as they might seem; lots of the show gardens have their plants forced in heated glass houses or held back in a refrigerator so you can never be sure that the planting combinations you see are realistic. Instead look at flower shape. A few years ago Luciano Giubbilei’s blood red peonies and bronze fennel were amazing, this can easily be reproduced with roses or other round flower shapes with grasses.
Make sure you grab a plant list.
The designer or a member of their team is often on the garden and there is always the chance to ask them questions. That is what they are there for!
Watch for colour trends – last year’s brilliant-white and plum-red stole the show. The year before acid greens and pale blues worked their magic. Check out quirky ideas such as different mulches, different path edges and other innovations. Look at style. There is often a certain style running through the show; last year it was very strong and proud, all making a statement. This year I predict an altogether softer approach.
If you have not been able to beg or borrow a Chelsea ticket this year, all is not lost. The RHS website is still worth researching and you can get tickets for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, which although it doesn’t have the same kudos as Chelsea, it is equally interesting and informative.