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.

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).

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 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.


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).


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!