Green and white

June 25th, 2018

This is a friend’s garden – long and narrow creating an immersive experience with deep borders of tall herbaceous borders either side of the grass path. The garden is dominated by white flowers through the summer, here the oxeye daisies catch the eye but there is also white Hesperis matrionalis, Digitalis, Astrantia, feverfew, Centranthus, Philadelphus, Thalictrum, Ammi, Orlaya and Cosmos. Green and white creates a very relaxing feeling in a garden and can be lifted with spots of lime (e.g. Alchemilla mollis) or blue (Nepeta).


Walking in the Picos de Europa

June 15th, 2018

Last week whilst the UK has basked in a mini heatwave, I was walking in the Picos de Europa (northern Spain)  enjoying the wild flowers of alpine meadows.

The mountain weather was much cooler than here and trees were only just coming into leaf.  One high altitude walk was curtailed by snow and cloud and our alternative lower altitude walk was through a hail storm.  However I spotted wild Narcissus I have never seen before, notably the tiny Narcissus asturiensis (the size of a Euro coin), a lone Narcissus bulbocodium, lots of Narcissus triandrus and on the last day, high up valleys of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Other highlights included orchids, especially the lovely pink butterfly orchid (Orchis papilionacea) and Erythronium dens-canis.

I love walking in the mountains as you see so many plants that we grow in our gardens,  it reminds me of the 19th century plant collectors and the task they set themselves of getting what they thought were interesting plants, safely back to the UK down difficult rocky paths with mules.

Lithospermum diffusum grows almost everywhere on free draining rocky land whilst Primula veris

It is a fine way of learning and appreciating native habitats of our garden plants.


Masterclass with Dr. Nigel Dunnett

June 8th, 2018

I was both taken by surprise and transfixed by Nigel’s introduction:

‘We are bound into nature, we are tied tight to nature, this bond is buried and hidden in people explaining our affinity for nature, it is in our core, it is inescapable. Nature makes us feel complete’. Bold statements, I love them!

He says his mission is to provoke positive emotions in people (i.e. Joy), offering an immersive experience; ecology and biodiversity are secondary. Think back to the stunning Olympic park plantings, mass pictorial meadows on derelict sites with paths mown through and check out his more recent roof garden at the Barbican.

Then there is his skill in ‘layering’ where the planting schemes change through the season like a never ending roman candle firework, finally coming to rest in the winter with a strong structure (a garden should be judged in the winter not in the summer).

I have come away from the day with my head buzzing with plant combinations and the challenge to increase my plant densities, cramming my borders in search of an even better roman candle effect.

Invisible intervention – making space

June 4th, 2018

In my experience people are afraid to prune and take control but I see this as the pivotal role of the gardener. To garden is a verb, it is a doing thing, gardening is a creative process, a collaboration with nature and the gardener has to decide what stays and what goes (e.g. take control of self seeding), how big things are allowed to get (e.g. spreading perennials, size of shrubs) and even the shape of trees and shrubs. This month gentle tweaking will make the garden look even better, here are some tips:

  • Pull up 90% of Lunaria annua (honesty), leaving a few plants so that you still have some plants for next year. This will free up a lot of space in the beds and prevent too much seeding. I love the early purple flowers in the garden.
  • Be ruthless and dig up any Aquilegia in the wrong place or the wrong colour, this will also reduce seeding of this prolific perennial.
  • Snip off the seedheads of Aquilegia that have gone over, you can be quite ruthless, they are tough plants.
  • Cut back Arabis (Rock Cress) once it has finished flowering, there will be a lot to cut away but you will be left with a neat cushion.
  • Tidy and deadhead Pulmonarias
  • Pull up 90% of self seeding annuals & biennials as they start to pass their best (e.g. forget-me-nots, foxgloves)
  • Dig up / reduce a good number of self seeded perennials (e.g. Papaver cambricum, the Welsh Poppy – in my garden they pop up everywhere).
  • The chelsea chop, I have cut back half of my Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’, they are big plants so it also controls size a bit too.
  • Keep an eye on those weeds, I have small patches of bind weed and then there is the ever present bittercress that can set seed in only 8 weeks.
  • Staking, this needs to be done as early as possible (e.g. May). I move my metal cradle supports around the garden as plants get cut back / go over and others need support.
  • There is pruning to do too, at the weekend I pruned the Choisya ternata and the inherited Lonicera nitida both of which can be thugs unless kept in check.Done right, this removal of plants should not show!

Secret garden

May 22nd, 2018

We transformed this sloping walled garden by taking the radical decision of removing a huge overgrown pergola that divided the space and then pruning  many of the shrubs and putting in some stone retaining walls.  The garden has been opened up to create an outdoor kitchen with hoggin paths that link to a theatre space (a yurt space in the winter), there is also an enlarged upper terrace and several of my willow pieces installed around the garden.

A walk in the Picos de Europa

May 18th, 2018

Last week whilst the UK has basked in a mini heatwave, I was walking in the Picos de Europa (northern Spain)  enjoying the wild flowers of alpine meadows. The mountain weather was much cooler than here and trees were only just coming into leaf.  One high altitude walk was curtailed by snow and cloud and our alternative lower altitude walk was through a hail storm.  However I spotted wild Narcissus, notably the tiny Narcissus asturiensis (the size of a Euro coin), a lone Narcissus bulbocodium, lots of Narcissus triandrus and on the last day, high up valleys of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.


Walking through the countryside allows you to discover so much more than driving past and looking out of the car window.  Even when walking I didn’t at first notice the tiny Narcissus asturiensis and I would have certainly missed the Lathyrea clandestina lurking in the grass.

Other highlights / new plants for me were the lovely pink butterfly orchid (Orchis papilionacea) and an unsual Heart-flowered Serapias (Serapias cordigera). In woodland I came across Erythronium dens-canis and Scilla lilio-hyacinthoides.



Lithospermum diffusum
grows almost everywhere on exposed free draining rocky land whilst Primula veris, ( looks quite different from our cowslip with a much more open flower) and Asphodelus albus grow widely in meadows and woodland edges. Hepatica nobilis carpets woodlands and I found the tiny Narcisssus asturiensis both on thin soil at 1800m altitude and in high up woodland only recently free from snow.

Close to Potes, we climbed a very steep 700m up through Mediterranean scrub over acid shales dominated by evergreen oak, juniper, turpentine tree (Syncarpia glomulifera), Rhamnus alaternus, Lavandula stoechas and white rock rose (Cistus psilosepalus).  A mountain holiday is a fine way to learn about the native habitats of our garden plants.

I love walking in the mountains as you see so many plants that we grow in our gardens,  it reminds me of the 19th century plant collectors and the task they set themselves of getting what they thought were interesting plants, safely back to the UK down difficult rocky paths with mules and then all the way up through Europe and across the Channel.


The edible tassle hyacinth

5 Tips to encourage wildlife

April 26th, 2018

As spring unfurls, hedgerows are greening up, garden borders are crammed with new shoots, noisy birds are busy nest building and raising young. Warmer temperatures get the lawn growing, dandelions flowering and hungry insects seeking out nectar and juicy shoots. So what can we do to keep nature in balance and to encourage wildlife in our gardens?

1 Provide overwintering sites for insects (and their eggs), bats and amphibians, for example leave access to sheds and barns, south facing dry stone walls, ‘wildlife hotels’, log or stone piles which can be be ornamentally stacked and therefore act as a focal point. Avoid cutting back everything in the garden in the autumn instead tidy up in March, composting all debris or making a log pile with the woody material.

2 Value trees, hedges and large shrubs in your garden (or plant some), these are very important to birds for shelter, nesting and as a source of food since insects will live, feed and breed in the crevices, on the leaves and flowers. Birds eat huge numbers of caterpillars and some even time the incubation of their eggs to coincide with caterpillar emergence

3 Grow a range of early flowering plants such as Lonicera fragrantissima, Daphne, snowdrop, Scilla, Cyclamen, Hellebore, Pulmonaria, Begenia to provide nectar for early emerging insects (for example honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies)

4 Create a pond, the larger the better however even a small pond will attract some wildlife. A pond without fish and with at least 1/3 of the base covered in submerged oxygenating pond plants is ideal. In my pond I have a healthy population of newts including great crested newts.

5 Don’t be too tidy in the garden, an area of long un-mown grass is important for a wide range of moths and butterflies (moths being good bat food), it will also save time and money. Mown paths through long grass look good, and can lead to an attractive seat or a glade with some furniture. Mid summer and in October this can be cut however consider cutting it a bit higher than the rest of the lawn for permanent interest and structure to the garden.

Snowy tracks

March 18th, 2018

The snow blankets the garden, bends snowdrop and hellebore flowers to the ground and reveals otherwise unseen tracks.  I am looking forward to warmer temperatures so I can get gardening and my vegetable seeds to germinate

Working against a slope

February 23rd, 2018

Steps, retaining walls and levelled lawn optimising space in this garden where there is an overall 10 metre drop.

Exhibition preview

February 9th, 2018

My ‘Taking Refuge’ exhibition opens tonight until 10 March, here is a sneak preview of some of the work.
There is a workshop on Saturday 3rd March to learn a simple knotting technique for wall hangings, see ‘workshop’ page.

In this exhibition I draw links with the shape of the wigwams to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where shelter is of prime importance. Nests signify many things however here they can symbolise the higher levels on Maslow’s hierarchy, for example security, family, love. Esteem and self actualization at the tip of the pyramid or wigwam, have to be reached for, by taking refuge somewhere safe, there is the opportunity to grow and fulfill dreams.

I love the winter starling murmurations that occur in Somerset, these vast numbers of starlings have taken flight from northern Scandinavia to escape the winter cold there, to find food and shelter here. The work on the exhibition walls are  entitled ‘flight’ representing this phenomenon.

Check the opening times for AceArts here before visiting to see all the work.