On friday I flew home from the sunny south of Fance to the snowy south of England. Driving home from Bristol airport the weather got wilder, colder and as I neared home suddenly very much snowier. Now I know everyone has been getting a bit carried away with beautiful photos of everything ‘snowy’ including me, but this shot simply sums up my love of south Devon. A wind sculpted Ash that looks amazing most days, but on this particular wintery evening, looked simply stunning. I know when I see this tree I’m almost home, and on this particular occasion I was very very glad to see it…
This week I returned to France to check on a garden we created in 2015. It’s always nice to return to see how things are developing albeit with a certain amount of nerves. You never know how your planting plans are going to develop... it might have turned into a shambles! I am pleased to report however that the garden is looking rather good. No death, disasters, or disease here just happy healthy plants that are all maturing as they should. I’m now heading back to Devon and more snow!
I’m starting my next wall in a few weeks which is destined for a very nice garden in Richmond designed by the charming, talented, RHS gold medal winning, Tom Massey. As always I’ll be experimenting with my plant selection and this time I’m looking to include a number of fabulous Epimedium’s including the stunning Epimedium stellatum ‘Wudang Star’.
The 20th March is officially the first day of Spring but here in South Devon it feels like it’s already arrived. Snowdrops and daffodils are appearing everywhere as new life returns once more. Life is getting busier and business is booming. Over the last week I’ve been drawing up planting plans for our next batch of living walls. Delving once more into the wonderful world of plants, I’m introducing reliable old friends to exciting new ones. I feel it’s essential to keep experimenting and this requires research and investigation. From Devon to Scotland I roam, hunting for delicate beauty for sale. I stumble across exciting new plants offered for sale by nurseries I’ve never heard of in the most unexpected places.
One such nursery in Scotland, Growild Nursery is ‘a small nursery located on a 200 year old farm in south-west Scotland that specialises in growing rare and unusual species plants, in particular hardy perennials from Japan, China, the Himalayas and North America’. Perusing their website, I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. I want one of everything. There are so many fabulous specimens, including some that have been discovered by the internationally recognised living wall designer, botanist and plant hunter (and my personal plant-hero) Patrick Blanc. I buy numerous plants including the stunning Saxifrage stolonoifera ‘Ginkgo 98’ PB (below). It’s an evergreen species with beautiful, white, starry flowers on tall stems and rosettes of fleshy, green leaves, marked slightly with silver on younger leaves and I am very excited at the thought of including it in my next wall.
We’ve not met, but I wanted to say thank you to Lisa and Andrew at Growild and all the other dedicated plant loving nursery owners up and down the county. Your hard work brings me so much pleasure. I owe you.
A weed is just a point of view or a matter of opinion. In the latest issue of the RHS magazine, The garden, there’s an article entitled ’Tackling small, early weeds’. One of the weeds listed is Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) and it advises hoeing or the application of weedkiller to get rid of it. In stark contrast, Marlow Renton and Eric Biggane who are wild food foragers say “this plant tastes like peppery cress crossed with rocket and is one of our favourite edibles. Great for salads, soups, salsa, pestos and anything else you might ever use cress for.” On their homepage Marlow and Eric state “We have put this site together because we have a genuine love of wild British food. We like wild food. We forage it, harvest it, cook it, dry it, prepare it, store it and eat it”. I think it’s safe to assume that they don’t consider Cardamine hirsuta (otherwise known as Hairy Bittercress, Lambs Cress, Land Cress, Spring Cress, Shot Weed or Flick Weed) a weed.
I think a weed is more often just a plant in the wrong place. It is not something to be killed and certainly doesn’t deserve to be sprayed with nasty chemicals.
Week 42 - Will's wall A fine mix of evergreens planted earlier in the year are doing very well in Will’s wall outside his kitchen window. Personally I like to include a vivid splash of colour in my planting schemes, but equally there is something very calming about a sea of green. Staring at it the other day I realised that leaf shape is just as important as colour and flowers when it comes to the entertainment value of a living wall.
Week 41 - SGD Awards Finalists I’ve cast my vote. SGD Awards People’s Choice 2017: Harbour Garden - Helen Elks-Smith MSGD As strictly come dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood would say “absolutely FAB - U - LOUS… darling”
Week 38 - One year later (part 2) So I finally got to sit at my laptop for half an hour and put together this three part joiner in photoshop. I think the image says it all, so I’m not going to say another word...
Week 36 - One small step. One giant leap. This week has a been a big week for all of us here at TLA as we’ve just successfully installed our first modular, planted off-site, installed in ONE DAY living wall... and it went without a hitch! Installing this wall in Belsize Park has been a delight, a pleasure, a dream, a breeze... I’m delighted, the clients delighted… what more can I say... who wants one!? Call us now. Onwards and upwards!
Week 34 - The Great British Bake Off I have an admission to make, I love the Great British Bake Off (and Noel Fielding). I also love a nice piece of cake (preferably with a cup of tea). I like most types of cake, but I definitely have some favourites. If I had to choose a favourite slice, this week it would probably have to be lemon drizzle, but next week it’ll be different. It’s the same when it comes to choosing my favourite plant. Right now it’s most definitely Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (which is currently looking amazing in our latest living wall)... Next week it’ll probably be some unpronounceable fern. That’s the beauty of plants (and cake) they’re all so lovely (and tasty). Just don’t get them mixed up as eating plants is not as nice as eating cake (and planting cake is just stupid).
Week 33 - One year later This is the living wall we installed last summer in Eaton Square. It’s extremely rewarding to arrive back on site to be greeted by such a sight... I am thrilled with how it’s doing. It’s moments like this that make all the hard work seem worth it!
Week 31 - Red Admiral butterfly, Devon Scientific name: Vanessa atalanta
It's the summer holidays and true to form the family Shepherd-Gray has headed to the coast. Walking along the cliff paths of the South Hams (in Devon) it's hard not to be enchanted by the erratic dance performed by the numerous butterflies swirling around our heads. The Red admiral is probably the most common of all the butterflies in the UK and they are everywhere this year! These delicate creatures seem so fragile yet strangely sturdy at the same time. Apparently in Britain and Ireland the most important and widely available larval foodplant is the common nettle (Urtica dioica). What!? Who would have thought the scourge of both gardener and walker alike actually had a valid use! It's certainly made me feel (slightly) more fond of the dreaded stinger now I know the role it plays in this super summer dance. Although I'm not sure my kids feel quite the same.
Week 28 - Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ This is another first, taking me (rather surprisingly) ten years to include this wonderful plant in my own garden. While most forms of Echinacea have purple-mauve or red ray florets, ‘White Swan’s’ are (as you might have guessed) ivory-white with drooping petals that reveal burnished, orange-brown centres. They are lightly honey scented and very attractive to butterflies and bees, especially bumble bees. Because they are originally prairie plants, they are happiest in a well-drained but humus-rich, moist soil in full sunshine. Removing faded flowers regularly will greatly increase the flowering period, alternatively if you refrain from cutting down the stems until February it will allow birds to feed on the seeds in winter... which personally I think sounds like the right thing to do, as although I love a repeat flower I like the idea of feeding the birds more.
Week 27 - Verbascum olympicum I planted this in my garden back in the Spring. In June the flowers are packed into long heads which can tower to 3m. Flowers open randomly up and down the spike-like inflorescence and carry on for a long time. We are now well into July and my Verbascum is still in full flow. Apparently it would be unusual not to have a few flowers as late as November. It’s my new favourite. Until my next new favourite comes along...
Week 25 - Learning by osmosis Osmosis, a definition: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas, knowledge, etc.
My business partner Will has obviously been paying attention. With very little input from me he has single handedly put together his rather beautiful new garden. It looks like one of my designs and I’d like to take some credit but it’s all his own work. Unless of course it is in fact an unconscious nod of approval to one of my gardens. Seriously though, it is beautiful. 10/10 for the planting. (I did help him choose the acers). The only downside is that it looks like I’m becoming redundant in my own company.