Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

A Year in Review - Twelve Gardens Visited in 2015

One of the most important aspects to my jobs is finding inspiration to keep projects different and to keep learning about this process of designing gardens. Part of this means getting out there, looking at other gardens for new ideas or planting combinations and keeping an open mind. I am constantly asked how I keep my style fresh and the answer is to really leave the office. armed with camera and notebook and look.

Look at gardens. Look at paving. Look at planting and be critical,analyse the use of colour, try out new and different hard materials. All these items are out there waiting to be seen and discovered and used again in different ways. 

Here are just a few of the garden I visited and the photos I took of things that inspired me:

Covered Entrance to the Windsor Club

January found the Smith family in Vero Beach, Florida for a bit of sunshine to kick off 2015. I love this covered entrance to the Beach Club at Windsor in Vero Beach for many reasons but the use of yellow and blue, often used less successfully other places, here is wonderful. The muted mustard tone on the walls works with the terracotta pots and the bench with it's light blue paint really pops. Add to this mix the large leaved potted plants and the checkerboard floor and this is a very stylish update to a classic look. 

Door, Windsor Club, Vero Beach

Muted colours here with another pop of yellow - this time a lemon tree next to the door into a garden. The grey paintwork of the door ties on with the metal wall light, the white pots and beautifully cut steps in a pale veined grey/white stone all create an image far removed from the steroetypical image of Florida. Not a pink flamingo in sight here. 

RHS Plant & Potato Show 2015

In February I went to the RHS London Potato and Plant Show (now rather more attractively called the Early Spring Show). And whilst I have to admit I did not spend much time in the hall entirely devoted to the growing and showing of potatoes, there were many there who did.

It was the bulb displays that wooed me with their promise that whatever the weather, Mother Nature is planning to send up those harbingers of early spring, winter aconites, snowdrops of all sizes and early flowering irises. The display from Lockyer's nursery, pictured above, was wonderful and won a Gold Medal. This is a particularly good show to see for ideas of how to brighten up the garden in the rather damp and dreary months of January and February and helpful for clients to see actually what bulbs can do to add a hint of light underneath planting. 

March brought the RHS Wisley Plant Fair to Surrey and a chance to stroll in the sunshine through the planting on Battleston Hill East where magnolias, camelias and other acid soil loving trees were flowering away despite the chill in the air. A large and bustling marquee houses nurseries such as Hardy's and Pepperpot Herbs and I left with several scented pelargoniums from Potash Nursery.

Potash Nursery scented pelargoniums

This cherry tree, Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai', the Fiji cherry, gets it's name from it's deeply incised leaves. The hanging flowers are delicate looking and would make a great focal point to an early spring planting scheme. 

Prunus incisa Kojo-no-mai

Traditionally the turning point into spring, April was gloomy and cold the day I drove to Essex to visit Ulting Wick garden near Maldon. Open for several days through the year for the National Gardens Scheme and also by private appointment, the tulips here are superb. Owner/gardener Philippa Burrough trials bulbs in her garden with colourful results. For more details about the garden, please see my blog post from May last year where the planting is thoroughly photographed. 

Pots and Pots of Tulips at Ulting Wick

I love visiting this garden as it gives me a chance to see Philippa's use of strong colour tempered with areas of paler interest. The Pink Garden is wonderful and Philippa uses tulips in spring and dahlias in Autumn to continue the theme.

Ulting Wick is a garden that merits several visits through the year to see how the planting progresses through the seasons. 

Bergenia and tulips. Ulting Wick.

I particularly like the use of tulips here planted with this pale pink flowered bergenia near the drive. Effective ground cover is often dismissed by clients as boring but this shows that there can be pops of colour through the year to add another layer of interest to the garden. 

May, of course, brings Chelsea Flower Show to London but I think there has been more than enough written about that for this year. I headed to Northern Ireland for a four day garden tour at the beginning of the month for a look at something different, some rather large gardens, including Glenarm Castle, Benvarden, Rosemount (or Grey Abbey), Seaforde, Mount Stewart and Rowallen Castle. 

Benvarden, with it's two acre walled garden, has been the seat of the Montgomery family since 1798. The Walled Garden first appears on maps of the estate from 1788 and has been cultivated ever since. It is a truly magical space and inspiring in the sheer scale of the size. 

Benvarden, Ballymoney, Potato

The Walled Garden is neatly divided into sections and shown here are the potatoes emerging into the May sunshine with part of the orchard shown behind. The entire garden is edged with clipped box hedging and fruit trees adorn all the walls. The apple trees shown below are truly wonderful to see and I love the scale of this planting. This is not the place for small or feeble trees!

Fruit trees in Benvarden Walled Garden

Glenarm Castle hosts a Tulip Festival in May and although we were visitng the weekend after the event, the garden was still colourful. In 2016, the festival will take place 30 April until 2 May. 

Walled Garden, Glenarm Castle Tulip Festival

Helpfully all the tulips are clearly labelled and I use the photographs from this day to show clients what tulips I am planting in their garden. 

Glenarm Castle walled garden, view from the Mound

Glenarm Castle Walled Garden demonstrates how hedging and trees can create different areas within a large space and this view from the Mound gives a good overview. Dividing a large space is important to keep a sense of perspective and to allow for different areas to develop within a single space. 

The long days of June floated by in a haze of work commitment s and garden visits. A trip to Yorkshire and County Durham to look at universities with my youngest child meant an excuse to visit Castle Howard for the first time. The sheer scale of the 9000 acre estate becomes apparent upon entering the gates and rolling over the hills towards the house which can be glimpsed tantalisingly through the trees. We limited our visit to the house and Walled Garden (I clearly have a thing about walled gardens...) which contains the Rose and Vegetable Gardens entered through this rusticated gate.

gate Castle Howard

The garden within was very quiet, most visitors seemingly to be contect with their ice cream on the grounds in front of the house. The Blonde one and I had the walled garden much to ourselves! 

Walled Garden, Castle Howard, lupins!

Divided into sections of produce. orchard and more decorative borders, the space and planting are inspiring. This glimpse to a perennial border accents with blocks of lupins underplanted with nepeta all beneath mature shrubs and the silvery leaves of the pyrus salicifolia gives a good idea of the sense of scale needed to plant large areas. The lesson here is not to be feeble or 'bitty' with your planting, go for blocks of planting for the most impact. 

One of the most exciting gardens I visited in June was Folly Farm, in Sulhampsted, Berkshire. The gardens were orginally laid out in 1912 by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll and have recently been subject to a restoration led by Dan Pearson Studio. Group visits can be arranged through the National Garden Scheme but there are only a few days on offer each year. Photography is not allowed which means actually that we found we paid more attention to the planting and to the garden. 

July meant a visit to Bury Court to see the Piet Oudolf designed garden. This garden always reminds me to be brave with scale. Plants do not have to be tiny at the front of the border and grow in height towards the back. Play with scale, bring taller plants to the front, crowd the space to create a sense of intimacy and let colour guide the look. 

Pathway, Bury Court

I do not think that this path would have the same sense of mystery if the planting was a more polite height, the tall planting gives it a real sense of intimacy and allows the viewer to get close to the blooms. 

Planting, Bury Court

August took us back across the Atlantic to the eastern coast of Massachuset and Cape Cod. Imagine rosa rugosa and hydrangeas growing with abandon with the blue of the ocean as the backdrop, that is the look going here.

Hydrangeas, Cape Cod style

A different look at New Perennial Planting was seen in September at Whitworth Park in Manchester. The park is part of the University of Manchester and is the home of the Whitworth Gallery and boasts a new garden designed by Sarah Price. 

Courtyard designed by Sarah Price, Whitworth Museum

Whitworth Park, Manchester

In the park, the Whitworth Park Obelisk is by Cyprien Gaillard and created from concrete and recycled brick from demolished buildings at Moss Side. 

On the first day of October I went to Hauser & Wirth in Bruton, Somerset to see the Piet Oudolf planting. This garden is as much an attraction as the world famous art collection within the gallery and the whole place is buzzing with a vibe not usually found in the depths of the country. There is a very good restaurant and shop on the grounds as well making it a great day out. But it is the planting that is of utmost importance and kept me riveted during my time there. The trick is, again, to use large blocks of planting and create varying heights which create a sense of frisson. This is not a polite traditional English country perennial border, it's more exciting than that and it keeps pulling in designers and students to study it's successes and failures. 

Hauser & Wirth

For a more detailed look at the garden and the planting, please see my blog post from October which has lots and lots of photos from the day.

November and December I may have been less inclined to get out into the great outdoors but I did manage one visit to Stourhead, the National Trust property in Wiltshire, originally built by the Hoare banking family and the site of the world famous landscape garden. The garden is impressive and a lesson in scale. 

The Lake, Stourhead

This view from the heights of the garden show the extent of the lake which is ringed by several different buildings in which to pause upon your journey around the lake to admire the views. They are not all visible from the ground at the same time and offer tantalising glimpses of destinations not fully seen. 

The Lake, Stourhead

I think the most important lessons I learned this past year is to experiment with scale and planting. Not to be afraid to take risks within the gardens I design and to look look look around all the time.

What 2016 will bring, I do not yet know. A short course in Garden History has been booked for spring and I ventured to Rousham in Oxfordshire last week but more on that to come!



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