The pruning goes on…

February 9th, 2016

Whilst pruning the other day, I was surprised to come across this damage on one of the tree trunks.  I am presuming it is woodpecker damage but I didn’t think they would attack such a young tree nor so close to the ground.  Well I will have to dig up and replace this tree now…

Wind swept garden

February 9th, 2016

I am working on an exciting yet challenging project – a front line sea-side garden at Burton Bradstock in Dorset.  Last year I visited the site on a lovely summers day, this week when I returned, storm Imogen lashed at the sea and land alike, it was good to be reminded of the power of nature.

I have yet to start the planting plan however I do not foresee any large plants in the front garden, although there is an existing 1.1 metre high wall to provide a tiny degree of shelter. To add to my challenge, there are rabbits on site too!

Formative pruning – young trees

January 16th, 2016

It has stopped raining, we have blue skies, frost and sunshine – what a delight. I have emerged from my office and the warmth of the woodburner to start pruning the orchard.

Day 1 I made a good start, pruning 86 trees in four hours.   Starting with the youngest trees (aged 4 & 5 years) I aim to create space around each branch and a gentle taper in the central leader with a good framework of near horizontal branches.

On day 2 I reached some older trees (7 years), tall and dense with a good framework of branches, surprisingly I did very little to these, cutting out one or two whole branches near the main stem to encourage a more uniform taper.

Most of the trees in the orchard are too tall for me to reach the very top where some of the leaders need ‘clearing’ of side shoots (removal of competition and thereby increasing the auxins at the main growing tip of the tree), I will have to come back with a telescopic pruner.

I enjoy formative pruning, it is a bit like puppy training – establish the rules early then reap the rewards thereafter. It is a very rewarding job, unlike fruit thinning which went on for weeks and weeks last June.

In summary our young orchard of 450 trees produced 4560kg of fruit in the autumn, all of which was made into cider.

Sculptural forms – architecture

November 17th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a small clearing in the middle of a forest amidst a medley of exciting experimental buildings. I was at Hooke Park in Dorset, an educational facility owned by the Architectural Association and set in 150 acres of working forest.

The buildings were particularly interesting because they combined innovative architectural design with the use of forest thinnings, timber not usually considered of economic value. Other cheap materials such as fabrics were widely used too.

It just so happens that I am in the process of designing a tractor shed for our old Leyland, now I am seeing all timber buildings with new eyes and am having to revisit my designs.

The visit to Hooke Park was followed a few days later, although only coincidentally, by a film and discussion at the University of Bath on Frank Gehry (Sketches of Frank Gehry – a documentary film by Sydney Pollack).  I have visited the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao twice and each time this massive sculptural building has not failed to impress me however the buildings in the wood also defied the need for straight lines, were more modest and more achievable.


Sustainable sculpture

October 8th, 2015

Sculpture in the garden can act either as a focal point or as an element of surprise enlivening an otherwise dull area of wall or a dark shady corner.  Right now during Somerset Arts Weeks you will be able to see many different forms of sculpture: bronze, stone, steel, wood, ceramic and willow…  My medium is willow and other natural materials (silver birch, leaves, field maple, dogwood…), woven into simple forms highlighting the colours and textures of the materials.

Willow is an amazing material, exploited for its pliable stems and ability to regenerate after cutting.   It has been used for thousands of years woven into functional objects such as baskets, fish traps, fences, tracks for roads over boggy ground… It is a truly sustainable material and traditionally most small holdings would have had their own stand of willow for ongoing repair and making of new structures.

My willow sculptures not only do they slowly return to nature in the garden but often birds nest in them during this process.  I harvest my materials in the winter from the garden, local hedgerows and withy beds on a completely sustainable basis.  Sculptures outside will last approximately 2 years however given a bit of shelter (north facing wall or under a lean-to) will last much longer.

First big harvest

October 8th, 2015

Our orchard this spring was a mass of flower, every single tree flowered and set fruit, it was a sight to behold.  However this meant days and days of hand fruit thinning to ease the burden on each of the young trees.  This autumn the trees looked beautiful as they stood laden with brightly coloured fruit, branches bowing under the weight.

The trees are new cider apple varieties that ripen about a month earlier than traditional cider varieties.   We checked ripeness using the standard iodine test where iodine reacts with any starch in the fruit turning it black or if the fruit is ripe (starch converted to sugars) the iodine does not change colour.   The orchard was harvested last week producing 4650 kilos, our first serious harvest!

Piet Oudolf planting – Bruton

October 4th, 2015

A leisurely start to the weekend with a garden stroll taking in the late summer colour and architectural seed heads.

Aster macrophyllus ‘Twilight’, Thalictrum ‘Elin’stems & Deschampsia grass

“Keep off the grass”


Stachys ‘Hummelo’ seed heads in front of the grass, Bouteloua curtipendula and seed heads of Nectaroscordum siculumbehind

Other plants that caught my eye included:

Aster lateriflorus ‘Horizontalis’ – low growing very dense aster with masses of tiny pale pink flowers October
Eryngium yuccifolium – architectural sea holly with round flowers
Penstemon ‘
Husker’s Red’ – dark red foliage early in year with pink / white flowers. Red foliage in autumn
Sanguisorba ‘Red Button’ – tall growing, small red drumstick flowers October
Molinia ‘Transparent’ – attractive grass
Eryngium bracteatum – flowers look rather like a Sanguisorba
Dianthus carthusianorum – tall dianthus
Serratula seoanei – low growing, dense habit, masses of tiny ‘knapweed like’ flowers October
Selinum wallichianum – soft umbels all summer long

Plants with good seed heads adding depth to the planting design include:
Echinacea purpurea
Allium
Eryngium alpinum
Origanum
‘Hopleys’
Papaver orientale ‘Karine’
Phlomis russeliana
Stachys
‘Hummelo’
Aruncus ‘Horatio’

What does your garden say about you?

September 21st, 2015

Last week I was shown around a friend’s garden, it was a long garden in a country setting, narrower at the house end (but not too narrow) and a little wider at the far end. The borders were deep and defined by a meandering grass path, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow – a bit like the course of a lazy river. I see a lot of gardens and this was refreshing, it felt peaceful and private, there were several benches and a lovely carved log bird bath which apparently a small frog occasionally visits!

The beds were mostly weed free but there were pockets of bindweed and ground elder – my friend’s attitude is relaxed with regards to these, she deals with them as and when. This is also her approach to the garden as a whole, she looks after the grass path but doesn’t become a slave to the borders. This fine balance of gardening and enjoying the garden is something I think most people fail to achieve, myself included. Wonderfully refreshing, thank you Ann.

Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’

September 19th, 2015

Dahlias offer a fantastically long flowering season brightening the garden into early autumn. They may not be everyone’s favourite however with the huge variety on offer, it would be very difficult to not find one you like. From miniature pompoms to neat anemones, massive semi-cactus to dainty water lily forms they come in colours ranging from pure white, vibrant orange to deep velvety red.

In my garden I grow Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’, an anemone type which is very beautiful but it also provides a late source of nectar to insects. This week I have seen a variety of bees, butterflies (comma, peacock) and moths (tiny day time moths as well as larger moths at dusk) feeding from it.

Garden delights

June 19th, 2015

The beauty of a garden never reveals its whole self to you in one visit, tonight whilst spot watering some new plants, a tiny goldcrest caught my attention. Apparently unafraid, it hopped from branch to branch in the Buddleia then flew over me to the pond and back. It was so close I was able to marvel at its distinctive yellow and black striped head and hear its delicate squeaks. This sighting made my evening but there was more to come when later we spotted a resting privet hawkmoth – large, majestic and elegant with beautifully pointed black wings.