Thursday, 11 April 2013

Urban renewal; Eastside City Park Birmingham

Bitterly cold and threatening to snow, it wasn’t exactly the ideal weather for a leisurely stroll to soak up the atmosphere of the new park in Birmingham’s Eastside; you had to keep moving to stay warm! The area adjacent to the Millennium Point Science Museum site was full of Easter holidaying parents and children having fun with the experimental gadgets and gizmos, whilst the rest of the park was almost empty, other than the ubiquitous skate boarders who obviously don't feel the cold!

There was plenty of places to sit and throughout the park and I could imagine office workers and commuters stopping to relax in the new uber-cool surroundings on a warmer day. I was impressed with the variety of seating and the consideration that had gone into their design and placement; wooden snaking benches underneath an oversized pergola structure, love seats and recliners, geometric block benches reinforcing the design and secluded benches set in beautiful symmetry;  there was somewhere for everyone to sit!

For me the planting looked slightly municipal – but that is often the case and after all this is a public park which will have to be easily maintained.  However, it’s a shame they didn't take some inspiration from the Olympic Park and incorporate softer areas of wild meadow planting, which is so desperately needed for our endangered bees. Maybe that’s for a later stage?

A geometric theme of clean lines, blocks and pattern repeats ran throughout the park sympathetically reflecting its urban surrounds; A run of black pergola type structures and white oblong stone seating, framing Silver Birch trees, looked like a representation of a railway line, regular block seating combined with square flower beds of mass planting contributing to the graphic grid effect, even the beach hedges and yews were clipped into rectangular blocks...almost Mondrian style!

I absolutely loved the dominating group of block sculptures, cast in rusting iron, with their lacework representation of nature, trees and flower heads. A man-made representation of nature, in materials synonymous with the midlands...very clever. This rusting iron work is also used for the gigantic lighting posts and as decorative railings around the Science Park. There’s a sight worry about the iron leaching into the light grey granite though!
I look forward to a summer visit, when hopefully I will be able to sit a while to people-watch outside the newly refurbished Victorian pub, whilst enjoying an alfresco beer or two!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Feeding the imagination - a Bloomsbury garden flourishes in East Sussex

 Garden torso hortensia: © Charleston Trust.
Photograph Axel Hesslenberg

What is it about the Bloomsbury Group that so captivates teenage girls? It can’t just be their infidelities – teenage girls are quite relaxed about affairs, if undying love elsewhere is the ultimate goal. It must be something larger; the whole, messy melange that Bloomsbury represents – the personalities, the atmosphere, the houses, the creativity, the progeny, the privilege and, at least for my teenage self, the indisputable force of the female protagonists.

I was fascinated by Virginia Woolf, with her lugubrious face and confused sexuality. I loved her writing – not just her novels, but her essays and letters too. I loved Vita Sackville-West, and her determination to make Sissinghurst a beautiful and welcoming home, in order to compensate for having lost her family pile through male succession. Katherine Mansfield was the most tragic of all – elfin, racked with TB, stricken with poverty, mistreated by her beloved, producing so few, but such exquisite stories.

But I saved my greatest affection for Vanessa Bell. As the sister of Virginia Woolf, I felt she had a lot to compete with (I say this as the sister of an brilliant, competitive girl), and yet she seemed to make a world entirely for herself, in which her sister and her circle were welcome, but not the centre. 

Studio Mantelpiece © Charleston Trust.
Photograph Axel Hesslenber

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Frosty February’s Winter Flowering Treats

Snow and hard frosts are still the order of the day in wintery February and we are all desperate to see an end to the cold weather and signs of spring. If you take a look in your garden there are clear signs of new life; trees and shrubs budding and bulbs forging their way through the rock solid earth. Thankfully there are also plenty of specimens putting on a show in the garden this week, despite the snow and cold weather;

These Crocii, just popping their lance shaped heads through the ground, are great naturalised in a lawn and a classic sign that spring is on the way!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Rhubarb reminiscences and other stuff about Rheums

We have always had a patch of rhubarb in the garden and I remember, as a small child, being marched down the garden by granddad, who was a keen vegetable gardener, to the rhubarb patch. I used to suffer from terrible all-over heat rashes and he was convinced that a stick of this plant would cure me… “sort your blood out our Mel” he would chunter. Chinese medicine does use rhubarb to purge the system and to encourage the liver to detox, so maybe there was some truth in his traditional country remedy. It became a real treat to go down the garden, break off a stem and dip each mouth-full in the handful of sugar I had been given to sweeten it. At the time I thought It was the best medicine I’d ever had, not sure it cured the rash but I definitely felt better from the experience and attention! 

Thursday, 31 January 2013

After the snow its business as normal this week for the Lupin gardening team

This week has seen a full return to garden maintenance work for the Lupin lady gardeners. 

The Lupin Team

Here is a diary of their week maintaining gardens;


Today we are in Henley-in-Arden, in a garden we have been developing for several years (see photos). It was redesigned and implemented by the usual team - Mel at Gardenplan, Mick at Avalon Landscapes and planted by Lupin. We maintain this garden on a quarterly basis and it seems to have come through the winter. Nice to see the end of the snow, though rain apparently on the way...

Henley-In-Arden Garden in Summer

Monday, 28 January 2013

Viburnum opulus attracts a special winter visitor to the garden – right on cue for ‘Birdwatch’!

It was the RSPB ‘Big Garden Birdwatch’ this weekend and I thought that the contrary birds would, as in previous years, lie low and only visit in small numbers, frustrating the people who were on their annual bird monitoring mission! 

Well, they did this as I predicted, but to compensate we did have a fantastic treat a first time sighting - a new visitor to our garden!

It was early on Saturday morning and the local fox had paid us a visit and gave a bark prompting an early garden viewing. At first, without the binoculars, I thought these birds were pigeons.  However, on closer inspection they were definitely not, as they had a stunning yellow beak and a speckled chest, some of the features of a thrush, a bird that unfortunately eludes us. These birds, four in total, were taking it in turns to feast on the Viburnum opulus berries. (I am now so glad that I was lazy and didn’t remove them earlier to make a jelly). These beautiful birds, still to be identified, were very nervous and moved off at the slightest sound. Out came the bird books and even after much deliberating we still didn’t have a definite identification, but it was a bird clearly form the Thrush family. Thank goodness for Internet images as a positive match was made. The Fieldfare family had paid us a visit on this important day of bird watching! Apparently, according to the RSPB, they will visit gardens if snow covers the countryside. Living in urban Birmingham, we were lucky to catch this winter visitor! Oh! and thank you Mr Fox for your little bark to alert us to looking out on Saturday morning! 

The Fieldfare in our Viburnum, well disguised with its beautiful plumage.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

National Trust Gardens to revisit and discover in 2013

I received the new National Trust book and magazine in the post this morning, which is always exciting! After fighting over the car sticker, (I always win!), hub and I scan the book to see what’s new, making a mental list of what properties we should visit this year. I can’t remember how long I have been a member of the National Trust but it’s a very long time and the only regret I have, is that I should have taken the ‘Life Long’ membership for about £400 when it was offered way back when!

I never tire of the Trust’s gardens and regularly visit local properties, which have become like old friends and part of the extended Mel Smith estate!,
 Hanbury Hall , Packwood House  and Dudmaston are great for walks and garden visits. I have watched with great pleasure and admiration the reconstruction of Hanbury’s laid out parterres, sauntered through Packwood’s clipped yews, which have great presence, so much so that I imagine they might come to life and dance around the garden at night! Dudmaston has so much to offer both inside and out, the great modern art collection and the lovely walks. My first priority for a visit here this year will be the Dingle Snowdrop walk, which is lovely.

I have been truly inspired by the National Trust gardens that I have visited over the years; offering an inordinate variety of historic styles, quirky designs and copious plant collections, that delight the senses. So heavily impressed are they in my subconscious, I’m certain that any garden I design will have a bit of National Trust in there somewhere!

Packwood House Yews 

Here are a few of my favourites;