A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing

The budget and shopping.

Breaking news! The garden is now live on the RHS website [RHS Tatton Park 2018] . It now seems very real and I am pleased with the beautiful illustration by Steven Jacobson and Janet Haigh [Janet Haigh, Stephen Jacobson], it looks quite different in its simplicity and so it stands out. The other seven B2B gardens look amazing and I cannot wait to meet the other designers and builders. My garden design business ‘Trug Garden Design’ website is also live! [ Trug Garden Design ]. The other news is that I was asked to give a talk about the garden for the Friday of Wellbeing Week at the University of Liverpool [Wellbeing Week talk].

I thought I would talk a little about budget and sourcing – when I decided the garden was for wellbeing (sleep) it was always the intention to rebuild it where it would be used for just that. I therefore decided to fund the garden myself, since the NHS/charitable organizations are desperately cash poor and I would be happy to donate the garden. My budget was set at £3k with the hope most of the bills would paid from my monthly salary as they arose, I have an understanding husband who can pay the mortgage! The cost of higher ticket items such as the lily bowl were spread over 2-3 pay packets and £3k was to be everything down to travel to the show and accommodation during the build – we live one hour’s drive away.

January sales!

Once I knew my design had been accepted I allowed myself to shop online for the key plants I needed. Mature specimens are necessary for instant effect so were a good place to start, I found Paramount Plants [Paramount Plants]. ‘There’s 70% off quite a few mature trees at Paramount’ I shout, barely able to contain my excitement. ‘That’s good, so how much are the things you want?’ comes the distracted reply. ‘Not sure which I want, but about £60’. ‘That’s good-is that for a few?’ ‘No, each’. Now focused: ‘so something you’re not sure about costs £60 per plant?’ ‘These are full standard fig trees as high as a door, they’re so good’. ‘Mmmm- what’s the point of the garden again?’ I concentrate on the trees -figs or silver birch? I dither for two weeks, it is now February but the sale continues. I decide on three figs and log on to buy them- only two left!!Things are better in threes or fives, what to do? Ho hum, I click pay – two bargain trees secured. I’m sure a pair will work well!

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Some magnificent fig trees and an example of the Santolinas I have 36 of- only 20cm tall!

Boomerang orders

One of the key plants in my design was Santolina ‘Edward Bowles’, to make the ‘cushions’ in the front of the show garden. I needed pale yellow button flowers, not bright yellow. No joy anywhere, only 1 litre plants available. After 4-5 weeks of searching/calling nurseries in the UK (and France) I plump for the common Santolina (I can cut the flowers off) and Santolina Lemon Fizz, a rather interesting variety with lime green foliage and cream flowers. I order and pay for £300 worth of the two types. Pleased to secure them I received an email to say they would be delivered soon. The next week they tell me the plants will be delivered the following day, I book a last minute day’s leave from work to be at home when they come. We live up a very narrow unadopted road that on some days even a mini driver from the Italian Job would struggle with! When I return from work there is an answerphone message telling me the plants are not available and the money has been refunded. I phone up the next day and the manager apologizes and assures me that some Santolinas can be found and ‘leave it with me’. After a further 1-2 weeks I call them to check progress. They call back- sorry the plants are not available in those numbers! And so goes the rollercoaster of obtaining plants-more ups and downs will come I am sure of it. I am pleased to report that Paramount came up trumps with 36 x 3 litre Santolinas, which are now in our tiny back garden. To try and create large (10 litre sized) ‘cushions’ I have forced 3 x 3litre plants into 10 litre pots, with plants facing slightly inwards with the aim to avoid gaps in the foliage. We shall see how they turn out!

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Santolina chamaecyparissus with bright yellow flowers and Santolina ‘Edward Bowles’ with cream flowers

Unexpected windfalls

‘That ironworker has stopped corresponding’, I am exasperated. Trying to find an arch wide enough to span the daybed to serve as a canopy had been impossible and so I had been planning to get one made. ‘Look at these-they do an extra wide arch’ my husband sensing the proximity to meltdown had found a 2m wide gothic arch from Agriframes [Agriframes]. ‘Good I say, struggling to hide the annoyance that I had missed this when I was searching. ‘I’ll order one at the weekend’. Friday evening I look to check they are really the right thing, there is a 50% sale- and the arch is there with 50% off! I click buy- kerching, the little beauty (or not so little!) is in the basket.

Another lovely surprise arrived in my email box after ordering the lily bowl from Urbis Design [Urbis Design]. They were going to give me a discount- I open the pdf of the invoice-wow! A very generous discount has been applied. I thank them sincerely. The biggest ‘tale of the unexpected’ happened a couple of weeks ago with an email from University of Liverpool Ness gardens [Ness Gardens] to say they would like to hear more about the show garden, could I meet them for coffee? I had contacted them in January to tell them about the garden and wondering whether they would like to contribute something since I have been an employee of the university for >20 years and wanted the name to be part of the show garden. I went along and ‘pitched’ to the director and the head of plant collections, and last week they offered a generous contribution towards the plant costs! For me, the exciting thing was that they must have liked the design and the whole wellbeing theme. I have ‘lecture captured’ my talk for them so they can play it at Ness – hope they still think I’m a good investment after that.

Lily bowl
Lily bowl in ‘rust’ finish by Urbis Design

Evolution of the budget spreadsheet

My Excel sheet for the garden budget evolved weekly, with sums added on and discounts applied. This week I have added a timber bill, paint, screws and two nights in a Travelodge (for the last night of the build and the night before judging day- my nerves will be shot!).

Anyway, at the moment I feel tremendously lucky. Janet Haigh and Steven Jacobson are providing illustrations and a wonderful quilt, Kaffe Fasset [Kaffe Fassett] is donating some of his stunning fabrics, and I have a great landscaper [Richard Gordon] who is doing the build. Let’s hope for a splendid outcome as a big thanks to them for their generosity!

Thank you for reading!

Next time: site visit plus the team

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A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing

‘The bed and the quilt’

There has been a very exciting development! The ‘Sleep Well’ garden will be rebuilt at Wirral Autism Together, Bromborough Pool Garden Centre, where it will be enjoyed for years to come [Wirral Autism Together]. I always wanted to donate the garden to a place where people could use it as therapy through sleeping, relaxing and/or light gardening. At Autism Together it will serve exactly that purpose-although Joan (the centre’s manager) is fearful there will be too much temptation to sleep and not get gardening!

Back to the show garden

The full sized bed arrangement that features in the garden includes an extendable daybed covered with a quilt and partially sheltered by a covered arch.

The bed

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Lying ‘in state’: the extended daybed, an old quilt and the arch

The bed consists of a metal daybed with an extension (called a trundle) to make it into a double bed size. The daybed is like a very deep sofa with high sides and back, and I have painted the whole thing with black Hammerite to weatherproof it. The daybed (and the arch that will stand over it as a canopy) is ornate and will look elegant even when the bed is undressed during winter months. The width of the daybed is 198cm and easily accommodates a tall person lying down, and the high sides and back give a feeling of enclosure and shelter even though it was snowing in the photo! The wooden slats that form the bed base (or seat) were flimsy and so we are replacing them with stronger slats. I picture the scene as an RHS judge hears and feels sharp snapping sounds as they lower in for the whole relax/sleep experience but end up on the gravel beneath!

The arch

This a wonderful Gothic style arch from Agriframes [Agriframes] that looks very stately and is a beautiful garden feature. It stands at 3m high and I tell myself it WILL look good in the 6 x 4m show garden. Of course I chose the arch for the design, but looking up at its 3m looming towards the sky I feel a little anxious about scale and design rules being broken. The arch has a great outline and it seems a shame to cover it with a canopy, but the effect with the canopy will be opulent and add to the marvellous theatre of the whole ‘set’. One will feel less ‘person lying in state’ and more the ‘Mata Hari’!

I can also imagine the arch overgrown with glossy dark green ivy and its globular midnight coloured berries providing interest in the garden in the winter, as well as providing a refuge for wildlife. Plantlife may be ‘allowed’ to take over the daybed too, creating a scene I have in mind from my ‘Giant Book of Fairytales’ where Sleeping Beauty lies in a deep sleep amidst undergrowth of brambles, which the prince has to cut through. I wonder if Kate Moss is free?

The quilt

The quilt is bespoke and will be designed and made by textile artist Janet Haigh [Janet Haigh][Kaffe Fassett quilt]. We used the plant pictures to select a minimal number of fabrics taken from an extensive collection of floral prints designed by Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably.

 

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Illustration showing ideas for the  day bed quilt, canopy, cushions and fabrics

This was almost impossible since I wanted all the fabrics!! Janet asked me to choose my favourite print (a brassica head in a green/purple colourway) and showed me how to ‘fussy cut’ it to make the central square for the quilt, from which the rest of the quilt ‘grows’. The whole process was started by attaching fabric squares to a grid on the wall to facilitate arranging the fabrics to the desired effect. She demonstrated the use of colour and pattern in the design, and how different the fabrics looked from a distance and when placed next to different neighbouring squares. As my colour scheme is quite cool and restful, Janet suggested using warm colours for the fabric inside the quilt, where one will be asleep. The size of the quilt will be large for a sumptuous effect, and all the bedding (quilt, pillows, mattress roll) will fit into a weatherproof pack that will sit within the folded trundle under the daybed when not in use.

From my initial ideas to the current design

Originally I had pictured a wooden four poster bed set in an overgrown meadow made from reclaimed timber. The issues with this idea included: looking a bit rustic/clumsy in a show garden setting, not much winter appeal, and the fact that it’s always a double bed size. The day bed and arch should provide the same impact but will mean it can provide structure and interest to the garden even during winter months or inclement weather.

Will it rain? Probably. If it does shall I stow the quilt away or cover it with thin plastic? If I stow it away and later, when the rain stops, dress the bed, it will show off the versatility of the arrangement. Lord Leverhulme slept outside most of his life despite the weather!

Lord Leverhulmes Bed
Carl Walker’s atmospheric photograph of Lord Leverhulme’s bed outside on the balcony [Carl Walker]
On a more positive note- will somebody famous lie in my bed? Dan Pearson, Monty Don, or just me- exhausted and making full use of the ‘Sleep Well’ garden!

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

Next time: the budget

A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing

cropped-perspective

The plants

Last Friday was World Sleep Day! I have it from a reliable source that a representative from the Mental Health Foundation carried a bed onto Hampstead Heath and fully dressed it-presumably to educate the public on the importance of sleep for good health. So I won’t be the only mad fool to install a real bed outdoors in the UK!

Back to sensible issues-choosing the plants for my Sleep Well show garden

Where to begin choosing plants? I have been close to plants all my life; my parents are keen gardeners and used to grow their own fruit and veg. I helped out at Dad’s garden centre when I was a teenager and in my early twenties I spent eleven glorious years working in Plant Biology, UCNW Bangor. I now have an allotment where I grow mostly fruit, including black, red and white currants, raspberries, strawberries and gooseberries to keep daughter #2 in smoothies. It should have been almost impossible to choose plants for the show garden because I just love them. However, because the concept of the garden was clear in my mind, and my garden design training had instilled a set of rules in me, I found plant choice relatively simple (whether I manage to acquire the plants remains to be seen!).

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Maisie and I on our allotment

I used the following selection criteria to start the plant list:

1. Create the mood-comforting, calming, dreamlike and scented
2. Choose a limited colour palette to reflect the mood
3. Choose a variety of leaf/flower shapes, textures and heights
4. Ensure year round interest
5. Plants must have a healing/medicinal quality (I have exercised some artistic licence here to allow for grasses)
6. Plants must be happy in full sun and similar soil type

From the RHS Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers to a few main plant groups

The process of whittling down a world of plants to very few was similar to playing ‘Guess Who’ but instead of Eric, David and Susan I ended up with Echinacea, Sanguisorba and Salvia! Each plant under consideration from the first plant list was put through further selection criteria:
Player 1 (me): does your plant have bright red flowers?
Player 2 (the selection criteria): No (because I don’t want bright red) – put down all your plants with bright red flowers
Player 1: does your plant have an airy form?
Player 2: yes- keep all plants with an airy form up
etc
At the end of my game I had a number of plants from which I selected a limited number of genera and colours.

Plants were chosen for three main height groups: tall, medium and low. The tall planting should disguise the fencing and over time make the bed look like it had grown from the garden with the plants. Medium and low planting would create ‘cushion’ shapes as well as allow for viewing the garden from the boundaries. Plants of one type will be placed in ‘drifts’ or small groups, next to drifts of complementary types. For example, amongst the ‘Santolina cushions’ would be the ‘airy Sanguisorba’ providing movement; similarly loose airy grasses would be used in the tall sections to complement Salvias. Verbena officinalis planted in the gravel will create a delicious lemony aroma, and Santolinas and Sage will complement this. The colour palette is limited by design to be calming but there is a ‘pop’ of colour from Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’ in the low beds, and Sanguisorba officinalis in the medium beds.

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Some of the plants featuring in the show garden. Airy Sanguisorba ‘Tanna’, Santolina ‘cushions’, Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Salvia officinalis purparescens.

Keeping designing rules –and breaking them

Where possible I have chosen different species from the same genus for unity in planting: tall and shorter Sanguisorbas and Verbenas. Similarly I have two types of flowering purple ‘spires’ in Salvia ‘Amistad’ and Agastache ‘Black Adder’, two ‘button flowered’ plant types in Santolina and Echinacea buds (or centres if the flowers are open). Variety is important, with the contrasts in form and colour – broad ferny leaves of Artemesia ‘Powys Castle’ and the intricate coral-like leaves of the Santolinas, silver leaves of Santolina and purple of Sage, and the broad flat Fig leaves and slender grasses. It is always good to adhere to a planting plan, but I have a feeling that when I am trying out placing different plants next to each other at the nursery I may be surprised by some unlikely and pleasing associations! In addition, some plants may not be the expected size in July, and some might be in flower instead of bud (I would like Echinaceas in bud for a feeling of newness and future promise), so plant placing might well evolve over June.

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Echinacea buds, Santolina ‘button’ flowers and ‘dreaming spires’ of Salvia ‘Amistad’ and Agastache ‘Black Adder’.

Sourcing the plants-the hard bit!

Hard as I tried I could not find Santolina ‘Edward Bowles’ in a decent pot size, which was disappointing as he had looked magnificent in garden blogger Rosemary’s garden when I visited last year [Here’s my garden]. In fact, any Santolinas greater than pot size 5L are not on sale so I will try to create my ‘cushions’ by growing 3 x3L plants together in 10L pots. I have also realised I am never going to find everything in one place and so will be paying several delivery charges.

I needed to decide on a large statement plant and after much deliberation it was between a few Silver Birches, with their ethereal white trunks or some sumptuous full standard Fig trees. After much deliberation and several email correspondences with Tim at Paramount Plants [Paramount Plants], who patiently sent me photos of said trees, I opted for the Figs. Figs wouldn’t get too big for the future garden; they have fabulous leaves and edible fruit (if you’re quick enough to beat the birds). I have a beautiful Fig in my garden and had a bumper harvest last summer, with some for the birds too. My only concern was that standard Fig trees might look too ‘designer’ for my naturalistic/understated planting, but I think they’ll work – we’ll see!

In an attempt to save money (I will talk about budget in another post) I have sown some Verbena ‘Hastata’, Verbena ‘Bonariensis’ and Scabious atropurpurea for weaving into the tall border; I also ordered some plug plants of bronze Fennel, all of these are from Sarah Raven’s beautiful collection [Sarah Raven]. The Scabious germinated in a few days, Verbena ‘Hastata’ after two weeks, but no sign of the Verbena ‘Bonariensis’ yet! I feel I’ve tempted fate by even mentioning them, but if some of them come good and tall I will feel that great elation one does when growing plants from seed.

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Late February 2018: Brrr-it’s cold outside but the seeds are warm

 

Quite a few friends have asked me how my plants are growing for the show garden and I realised that this must be a common misconception that one would obtain plants big enough for a show garden in one growing season – I wish I could have grown them myself but on this occasion I will need to buy them from nurseries.  For the recipient of the garden I shall create a maintenance plan to outline gardening jobs for the year-although there won’t be much to do aside from sleeping or using the plants for medicinal purposes. Even if you can’t see yourself making a tincture of Echinacea to stimulate your immune system, you would probably enjoy a nice cup of lemon tea or a fresh succulent fig!

I hope my blog has inspired you to think about plants for your own garden. Thank you for reading!

Next time…..the bed and the quilt

 

 

A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeing

The embryonic garden

The back to back (B2B) show garden plot

“Make sure you buy some spray paint and mark out the plot- do it now. It’s bloody small!” Clive Scott, an experienced B2B show garden designer imparts countless hints down the phone (Clive Scott). He kindly spends a good half hour of his Saturday morning answering questions from me- a first time show designer. The following weekend I visit my ‘home’ in North Wales and I arrange bamboo canes, bits of wire edging and three garden chairs on my parents’ lawn (my garden is positively miniature compared to their plot) to visualize the plot I will get. The chicken is roaming the garden as usual and enjoys the company-if a little unconventional. 6m x4m (or about 20 ft. x13 ft. in ye olde currency) is the size of a B2B plot at Tatton, with a screen wall 2m high and 4m long along two sides forming a barrier between you and two other plot holders. I have already submitted my design of course but there’s no substitute for marking out the real space.

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Should the ‘bed’ be on a diagonal or straight?

Three garden chairs are arranged to fill the width of a double bed (yes a real bed….) and I try in vain to fit a sheet onto some shorter bamboo canes to simulate the bed’s volume in the space. The bitter wind mocks me and I fail to get a shot of the assemblage before the whole thing collapses. The sheet makes off like a spectre towards the chicken, who is disgruntled to say the least, and runs full pelt towards the house with her splendid blue/black plumage ruffling in the wind. Mam has to administer freshly grated cheese and later some pate on toast to placate her. Clive is right…..of course

The ‘client’

The Sleep Well garden is designed for a client wanting an informal private garden in which to relax and unwind, away from distractions. He/she enjoys being outdoors and likes gardening, but wants a medium maintenance garden, preferring to enjoy the space more than gardening it. The garden would be attached to the house, or if space allowed, hidden away at the bottom of a larger garden- a secret hideaway (want one of these?). It goes without saying that a good garden designer ensures year round interest.

I imagine I am the client and I consider how to relax. I need to feel warm, safe (from the Betterware man/whoever else rings the front doorbell, the PPI person on the phone, the sun, the rain [more about that later]); pleasant smells are also on the list. To unwind requires slowing down, being ‘in the moment’ and mindful of surroundings (which must therefore be calming too). So I need softness, wafting forms, faint rustling sound and maybe some water. I am getting sleepy already. To add to this, I want the sky to be part of the garden to remind me that I am but a small speck in a vast universe and nothing REALLY matters that much. I will feel part of the garden and I will slow to its pace. It is a private inward-looking space, being enclosed with boundaries (fence/wall/hedges).

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This was the first ‘mood board’ for the planting

The point of the garden

It’s big ask to make a garden that will serve as a form of therapy. In effect that’s what my brief is to myself and it would be great to be commissioned to make these gardens for anyone. I imagine a GP prescribing: “What you need madam is a private garden with a bed with comforting quilt, and space for yoga on some grass”. You might laugh but lifestyle medicine is at the forefront of current clinical practice. This January the Royal College of General Practitioners ran a course for GPs to teach them the principles of Lifestyle Medicine and how to deliver it to the NHS. The four pillars of preventive/Lifestyle Medicine are EAT, SLEEP, MOVE, RELAX- so maybe I need some Figs trees in there for the EAT bit?

Next time

The next blog will be about the plants. I hope you have enjoyed reading!

Julie

 

 

Julie Dunn – Tatton Show Garden

This is my blog about creating my first RHS show garden at Tatton Park 2018

A Tatton show garden in the making: ‘Sleep Well’ a garden for wellbeingPerspective

I’ve got a show garden!

January 16 2018.
“Got the garden!” I text my husband and our two daughters. “Well done” (husband), well done Mum (D#1) and “fab-what is it?” (D#2). I phone Mam and Dad-“I got the garden!” I blurt out. “Oh that’s great, did you not think you would?” says my mother. It’s the stuff of my dreams I think-of course I didn’t expect it! I run around work but no-one is around as it’s lunchtime, so I leave a note on a keyboard saying “OMG got the garden!!!” About five minutes pass and I think to myself-now I have to deliver it. I re-read the email from the RHS to check it’s still there (and real). I phone Jan (Janet Haigh) and Steve, ‘proper’ artists and creative mentors, who have helped it happen with their beautiful illustrations and many discussions (and a few Brancott’s). A string of expletives emerge from the receiver. I tell them that they were instrumental to the process and Jan says “YOU did it babe”.

May 2017: The dormant seed and its sudden germination

Lets start at the beginning…
Almost sixteen years ago I had a dream I had a show garden at Chelsea with planting based on garments my mother had created from Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Knitting book. The particular knitwear was not defined but the idea was planted. My scribbled notes upon waking were stuffed into a file and soon after that I had my second daughter.

KF-jumpers

A selection from my Kaffe Fassett collection knitted by my mother

About a year ago…
The notes remained in the file until last May when I found myself with a lot of spare time. Not ‘nice’ spare time, but the post-op type -sitting, not allowing myself to sit in garden (or I would garden), and reading Thomas Hardys and dreaming/planning life in general. After about four weeks I was mentally relaunching my garden design business (after more than a ten year lapse). Daily doses of Doctor in the House programs telling me about Lifestyle Medicine (daytime TV!) combined with the desire to escape a scientific career (I blame Hardy [Thomas]) germinated into an idea for a Tatton back to back show garden.

So we are up to date again now – I will create a garden in which to sleep, which would (obviously) have a fully dressed four poster bed within. I’ve had to refine the design a bit but most of it is still there – seems a concept many people are struggling with. If I had a pound for every time I have to say “No, an actual bed” we could just about afford the Fig trees (more about them later).

Perspective

So I would like to take you on a journey with me through the stresses, highs and lows of creating a show garden at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2018.

Next time: the client, the early design and the whole point…

Thanks for reading my blog – I hope you enjoyed it!

Julie