Monday, 26 November 2012

FutureScape the best bits...

Kempton Racecourse was the venue for this year’s FutureScape Landscape and Garden Designer trade exhibition and seminar programme. I went along with Avalon Landscapes’ very own Mick and Dan, to see what was new and interesting and hopefully to learn something too!

Here are my highlights of the show...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The latest collaborative project from Gardenplan Design and Avalon Landscapes; A two level terrace in Edgbaston

The terrace is finally complete - hurrah! We are waiting for the garden furniture to arrive from Spain and the planters to be filled and put in place. All this along with the maturing planting, will give the clients the outdoor space they're looking for.

Everyone, the client included, is really pleased with the results and the space feels light, bright and airy. The split level paved area, formed in beige sawn sandstone gives a contemporary feel and is a complimentary extension of the client's newly built kitchen/living space.

I am very delighted that the clients have now asked me to design the rest of their garden; I am confident  that adding more interest into the borders and paying careful consideration to the views beyond the patio will enhance their experience of the garden further. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Berry Delicious

Plants with berries, fruit or coloured seeds can add blasts of sensational colour and interest to an autumn/winter garden; here’s a small selection.

 Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'

Love it or hate it, this shrub (in my humble opinion) is a great addition to an autumn/winter border, It looks sensational combined with a showy white mop head Hydranger too. 
If you are looking for something different, and out-of-the-ordinary, this is the plant for you; its unusual purple-violet berries, look a tad artificial, as if a mad crafter has snuck into your garden overnight and glue-gunned, nail varnish painted, purple polystyrene balls to one of your plants! 
I love its iridescent quirky attributes, which always bring a smile to my face and cheer me up on a cold autumn 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Project: Terraced Patio Edgbaston - Designed by Gardenplan Design and constructed by Avalon Landscapes

Week 3
The terrace is finally coming together after a frustrating spell of bad weather. We, including the clients, are all really pleased with the results so far and the space is already feeling light, bright and airy. The split level paved area, formed in beige sawn sandstone to give a contemporary feel, is a complimentary extension of the clients newly built kitchen/living space. The wall will be rendered over today and tomorrow, which will progress the job nicely.

Bespoke bullnose stone step tread with light fitting in riser

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Wildflowers in Vogue

Wildflowers are truly in vogue and have popped into my world on a number of occasions this year, leaving me both open-mouthed with delight and transported back to my childhood and my fascination with my local flora. As a child I lived in a small Derbyshire Village surrounded by hay meadows. I would spend hours searching out different varieties and identifying them for my pressed flower collection. I also liked to pick small posies of Clover, Penny Moons, Hair Bells, Yarrow, Buttercups and Lady's Smock, to give to my mum. In Summer there was always the ubiquitous bunch of wildflowers on the kitchen window sill spilling its ring of pollen.
I have been constantly surprised by wildflowers this year; not only on account of their sheer beauty and abundance but also encountering them in situations that I would never have imagined. I nearly crashed my car at the end of Broad Street as I craned my neck in disbelief to catch a glimpse of the central reservation full to bursting with the riotous colour of wildflowers. Birmingham City Council, steered by Sarah Raven's campaign to encourage and preserve our wildlife by planting indigenous wildflowers, experimented with the inclusion of meadow planting in this year's 'Birmingham in Bloom', display. I hope they decide to persevere with using wildflowers, as I find them a welcome change to the omnipresent and over-showy bedding plants.
Then there were the Olympics! Never mind the lightning displays of the likes of Usain Bolt, and the mighty achievements of Team GB. What about the Olympic Park itself where the area equivalent to more than ten football fields have been planted with wildflowers from Norfolk. It took two years of experimentation to ensure the best display possible and timed to the minute to produce a ribbon of gold around the stadium. This shows true innovation and showcases the creator’s sustainability and ecology policy while forming the future legacy of the site. This to me is a true British achievement!

 Read more about the Olympic planting to encourage wildlife here in an article from the London News 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Interesting plants for your garden in August

Here are a collection of photographs taken in my garden today, 18 August 2012, of flowering trees,shrubs and perennials. You may wish to use these plants to add interest to your own garden.

White Agapanthus and Hosta - a lovely combination

White Agapanthus and Hosta - a lovely combination

Verbascum chaixii - A splendid tall and upright perennial ideal for a sunny border.

Verbascum chaixii - A splendid tall and upright perennial ideal for a sunny border.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Not just for summer

As well as being interested in vegetable and fruit growing I have become increasingly concerned with preserving and transforming these natural treats into goodies that can be enjoyed throughout the whole year.  Loving Elderflower cordial I made a promise with myself to pick and make some this year.  I had been waiting since May to find a plentiful and not by the road side bounty of Elderflower.  These two tips are important, fumes from the road can damage and toxify the delicate floral notes of this flower and also it is wise to pick from trees that are bountiful in flowers so that your foraging will not compromise its future growth.
Having satisfied these criteria I spent a good hour shaking and picking of all the bugs.  Some may find this tedious – this is where I know I have weird OCD type behaviour because I just love the preparation of food: music, my own thoughts, knowing that this care and effort is going to lead to something delicious that can be shared with friends and family - couldn’t be better.  There are various recipes that can be found, most say that you require citric acid so off I went to various Chemists, without any luck – and quite frankly probably being logged as a drug addict.  Citric Acid apparently is used for the mixing and consumption of illegal drugs.  However did my research and found this recipe which uses lemons,  it worked brilliantly:
10 large elderflower heads
900g granulated sugar
600ml litres water
2 lemons

Pick off any insects and beasties you see on the flowers.

Heat the sugar and water in a large saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Strip large ribbons of zest off the lemons with a vegetable peeler, lose the knobbly ends, then slice the lemon and place in a large bowl with the elderflower heads.

Pour the hot syrup over the lemons and elderflower heads and give it a good stir. Cover the bowl with a cloth or a big plate and leave it for 24 – 48 hours. (the longer you leave the more floral notes will be achieved)

Strain the mixture with muslin or kitchen paper in a sieve and pour into sterilized bottles. I used a couple of small glass ones for the fridge which should be used within a month and a small plastic bottles for the freezer for future use.

Apart from using it as a drink with soda water for day and the addition of a shot of gin at night, I'm looking forward to using this long after the summer has gone.

Mushroom foraging in Quinton, Birmingham and still here to tell the tale!

I have always wanted to eat wild mushrooms and other than occasional breakfast treats of wild field mushrooms that grew in the meadow alongside our family home, I am bamboozled by the information and the  minutiae of detail that helps you differentiate the edible species, which would help me to forage for other types. So when, for the third year running, a ‘giant puffball’ mushroom (Calvatia gigantean) appeared in my garden I was determined to pluck up ‘Bear Grylls’ type courage and sample its lovely white flesh. I was also pleased to have discovered it before the insects had made a meal of it and prior to it reaching maturity when it turns brown and dispersed its spores (up to nine trillion spores, according to one expert).

But first, I had to be sure that I had identified it correctly…
·        It is easily identifiable due to its distinct appearance, a large white mass without a stem ü
·         Aptly named these mushrooms grow between 10cm and 60cm in diameter ü my specimen was about 5cm a lot smaller than the first one that appeared which was at least 30cm!
·        Puff balls lack gills or any other exterior spore-producing features ü
·        It is found growing on domestic lawns ü
·        The final identification test is to cut it open, it should reveal a dense white flesh with no spores ü

Yippee I had found myself an edible puffball!

I prepared the mushroom by removing the outside skin and cutting it into slices. I simply sautéed it in a little oil a sprinkle of freshly grown parsley a twist of salt and black pepper and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Served up on a slice of toast made by our local baker Albert (from the Bearwood Pantry) the fungi stayed firm and plump.
There was one more thing to do before I ate this culinary delight… a text message to my husband asking him to call me in one hour exactly just to check I was still alive!

The mushroom did not disappoint and was a scrummy lunch time treat especially so because it was foraged from my own small city garden!
Although I survived this experience please ensure you thoroughly research any mushroom before you consider eating it.

For more information about click here  

Follow this link and scroll down to find out about the false giant puffball, a.k.a. the ‘poison goalpost fungus 
very funny!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Get a buzz from this plant….

My plant of the week is Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropureum’. Although it is from the thistle family it is by no means a weed! It is an ideal plant to attract bees and butterflies into the garden and also a handsome addition to a border. Unlike other thistles you do not need to handle this one with care as this ‘garden friendly’ variety has none of the prickly attributes of its distant cousins.

In my garden bees a plenty are getting drunk on nectar from my plant and at least six varieties of bumble bee are wallowing on the plants perfectly designed landing pads. Totally oblivious of our presence we were able to watch closely as they concentrated on the job in hand and almost getting into a stupefied state, it was fascinating!

About ten years ago this was ’The plant’ at Chelsea Flower Show and I am proud to have been a dedicated follower of floral fashion, as this plant has never let me down!

In design terms this plant is ideal to use at the back of the border as its tall heads proudly stand over one metre high; however in my garden it takes centre stage in my east facing border. Combined with Alliums, Aquilegias, Rosa ‘Iceberg’, Astrantia major and Clematis ‘Henyi’ it is the feature plant in my dark pink and white border.

Hopefully I have tempted you to consider this plant for your garden - and for the bees!

To find out more about this plant click here 
Author Melanie Smith - Gardenplan Design 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Share your garden?

Our neighbour is having problems selling her mid terraced property; feedback from the selling agent has been that potential buyers don’t not mind the small bedrooms but they have problems with the shared access to the rears of the properties! I personally haven’t a problem with this aspect of my property, and worry about those that do.

I think that having a shared access encourages neighbourliness and helps to create a sense of community.  (Obviously I have been lucky to have had good neighbours who I like and who respect my privacy. I’m not so sure that I would be of the same view if I had the neighbours from hell!)

My elderly neighbour, two doors down – but only a hop, skip and a jump away at the back of the house, regularly puts her guinea pig on my lawn for exercise and to eat the grass. She fetches in my washing when it rains and we regularly swap gardening tips and exchange plants. All this would be very difficult if it were not our common shared access.

Way back in the mists of time, a gentleman who had previously owned our house built a wall at the bottom of the garden leaving a gap to access the adjoining property. This was done with the sole intention of aiding a blossoming relationship with the lady of house on the next road! He eventually married her but would this have happened if he had to walk around the block?!

As a garden designer, I have created quite a few gardens where access to adjoining gardens is crucial to the client and the new design, whether it is a garden gate or a hole in the hedge left for children to squeeze through. I am glad some people still think along the same lines as me and I think that the world is a better place for it!

Let’s also not forget that at a slightly smaller scale, it’s equally important that the natural visitors to our gardens, such as hedgehogs, are able to use ‘wildlife corridors’ or links between adjoining gardens. Gaps in hedges and holes in fences encourage all manner of creatures to extend their territories and enjoy more diverse surroundings, turning our garden spaces into mini nature reserves! Click link for more information

So are we all too keen to put up barriers and keep ourselves to ourselves? Why are we so precious about our small plots of land remaining oh so private? 

By the way, my neighbour has popped round just to show off my garden to her friend as she thinks it looks lovely at the moment!

Author Melanie Smith - Gardenplan Design 

Friday, 18 May 2012

I’ve got the Viburnum Beetle Blues!

I have worked hard over the last few years to rid my Viburnum opulus of this dreaded beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). I have made regular, furtive trips into the garden with the sole mission of ridding my beautiful shrub of this hideous beastie!

It became an obsession to hunt them down; Firstly squashing the larvae with my fingers between the leaves (yuk), then dealing withthe beetle itself, I would spend at least half an hour drowning the blighters, sometimes even mid coitus (which gave me even more pleasure!). All this sounds terrible I know - but I love this beautiful shrub and over the last few years my poor specimen has struggled to produce even just a couple of flowers atop its ravaged lace-like leaves.

Now, at last! my hard work has paid off and this year I have a beautiful shrub with umpteen snowball like flower heads and not a trace of my arch enemy. What shall I do now that I have all that spare time on my hands? Shall I spend time looking with joy at my newly resurrected bush? No! - for I have just spotted a lily beetle demolishing my Lilium superbum – let the killing commence!

For more information about the Viburnum beetle check out these links: