Archive for the ‘ Inspiration ’ Category

A living wall of vegetation

Posted Wednesday, 12 August, 2015 at 2:57 pm


A visit to central Birmingham can sometimes surprise.  A trip to see if we could find various large owls set out at certain locations throughout the city as part of the “Big Hoot”. This is a huge art event to raise money and awareness of the Birmingham Children Hospital.  Whilst my children were less taken with the prospect of walking to find the next ‘Owl’ I found the experience very enjoyable.  Having not grown up in Birmingham and preferring the countryside to a city I found it offered me an opportunity to walk around the city see the changes taking place around Birmingham.  There seems to be a desire within the city to raise it’s profile and improve upon a less than impressive national image which does not reflect the wealth this city has to offer.  With retailers such as John Lewis moving in the whole atmosphere seems to be that of a city realising that it is capable of being more than just a metal bashing hub and capable of being a city of culture.

With my landscaping head on I was very taken with the roof garden seating area at the Birmingham Library. www.libraryofbirmingham.

So often roof gardens can be dull affairs, windswept, effected by drought and so often poorly planned and executed as an after thought and given such a poor budget that the design is compromised.  This does not seem to be the case here.  The architect has made the terrace a valued and integrated asset to the library.  With   careful positioned raised beds creating movement and seating areas movement through the terrace area became  more appealing.  The selection of planting was well selected and to date well maintained though I fear in time the planting will suffer from poor maintenance and failures and gaps will not be replaced due to financial pressures imposed upon the library and it’s running costs.  The street/terrace furniture was most attractive reflecting the curves of the landscaping and the buildings facade.  The use of wood for this contracted well against the metal work and the detail of paving.  As a municipal building the ability to draw people in and provide a viewpoint to see the city is valuable and I hope this raises the profile of good landscaping within an urban area.


My walk back to the station was equally interesting for as I rounded the corner from Birmingham’s Bullring towards the New Street Station a wall of vegetation appeared to my right.  The use of such vertical planting is not new but how I valued it.  It could have been so easy to have just put up another brick wall but maybe we now see how the use of plants can make a difference.  Less harsh to the eye with it tones of green and yellows the wall curves down to the station and reflects upon the stainless steel sheets that have been used on the stations facade.  I loved it and hope we can see more use of such features – Ps see if you can spot the garden designer in the image.

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Stonemarket Paving Haus

Posted Saturday, 14 December, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Have recently been looking at using some paving for a modern garden project and thought I would look through the Stonemarket range.  This is a range of slabs I have used in the past with their Millstone concrete slabs that re create a riven flag well and their Avant -garde range which is a sawn natural stone ideal for modern projects.  In this case I was seeking a darker slab and have elected to use the Stonemarket haus range.  This is a re consituted slab which comes in a smooth or riven finish.  As I have designed a more modern look the smooth is more appropriate and as their are steps required the design incorporates the bull nosed steps.  Stonemarket slabs are not cheap but they are a slab that offers a great finish and good client/ contractor service.

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How about having a Posh shed?

Posted Tuesday, 27 November, 2012 at 9:41 am

The quality of a garden shed ranges enormously, from cheaply constructed sheds that are designed to provide quick but relatively short lived life expectancy, to bespoke buildings that serve as a practical store but are designed to provide a visual appeal within the garden.  Selecting a building for your own needs will require you to look initially at what your wishing the structure/building to achieve.  Is it a storage space hidden from view that will be just for a garden tools and mower to a large play space/ garden home office.

I have noticed over the years that the quality of most sheds has dropped considerably.   Whether this is a response to a competitive market that is focused on price and therefore cheaper materials and construction methods are selected I do not know, but it always amazes me when I visit a site and someone says I have a building that was built in the 1960s and is still in good condition.  I then visit another site where a shed has only lasted ten years.  Admittedly maintenance is important but often the main difference is the type of timber and thickness and method of construction selected to build the shed in the first place. Most sheds are sold with tongue and grooved boards used as an integral part of the actual buildings structure.   With the tongue and groove boards nail gunned to batons and relying on these batons to provide additional support on the corners, base and roof line.  In the past a sturdy frame was built and the facing applied to the shed to cover the frame.  This method did not rely upon the actual facing boards for structural support.  The disadvantage however was the cost as the timber frame , however it seems to me that it was structurally stronger.

When recently looking for an attractive shed for a project I came across’The Posh Shed Company’ built in my neighbouring county of Herefordshire.  I was impressed by the companies approach and how they have bucked the trend for cheap and unattractive sheds.  They provide a selection of sheds from the modern lines of the Contemporary to the classic elegance of the Gothic. If space is tight the ingenious ‘Half’ Sheds offer a solution that you might find appealing.

Providing a bespoke service if you require something tailored to your own needs.

Have a look at their site it makes a pleasant change from the usual






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Inspirational Objects February 2012

Posted Monday, 30 January, 2012 at 10:03 pm

There are some items that are inspirational because they are attractive to look at, some that are aspirational and others that are just what you need.  My choice falls in to the later group this month based upon my own experience and many thousands of other gardeners who use this product.  This months inspirational object is the Felco secateurs.  With March soon upon us and pruning tasks loaming it seems an appropraite time to look at such an inspirational object that should be a must in every gardeners shed/garage/store.  Like the the names Hoover and Biro, Felco has become a name that has become so dominant as the brand it needs no other explaination to most gardeners.  If however you are new to gardening I would strongly suggest you invest in a pair.  I use a pair of  Felco 2 which have servered me well and offer the ability to dismantle, replace and repair damaged parts easily.  The cut is very clean as they are a by pass style of secateurs that has a blade that cuts through the material.   This is a very different cutting method to the anvil styled secateurs that use a blade that pushes down on the material to cut against a solid base (anvill).  This causes crushing of the stem and I would only suggest using this for cutting material that you are discarding both sides off.

Felco’s were  developed by Félix Flisch who in 1945 decided to create a pair of shears unlike any others. Developing his ideas he worked to turn what had been seen as an agricultural tool into a piece of precision engineering.  Constantly developing his ideas he responded to the needs of discerning gardeners and has remained the tool of choice for professional and knowledgeable gardeners alike. Over the years the new Felcos have been developed including left handed secateurs (felcos 9 and 10) and even a pairs of secateurs that have a rotating handle (felco 7,10 and 12) to reduce straining the hand.

Call me old fashioned but I prefer my basic Felco 2 which retail currently at about £35.  There are many copies on the market and if you are looking for an alternative to the Felco brand their are similar models made by Fiskars, Wolf tools and Spear and Jackson.  Always try a pair placing them in your hand to ensure the grip is comfortable.


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Hanbury Hall, Droitwich Spa Visit

Posted Sunday, 8 January, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Despite my wife’s insistence on telling me I had already visited Hanbury Hall, we selected this National Trust House for a recent visit.  Located close by we took advantage of yet another mild January day and jumped in the car to visit this fine William and Mary style house.  Regrettably the free access to the house was restricted to guided tours of the first floor so we choose to make the most of the fine weather to explore the gardens surrounding the house.

Drawing upon the French influences Thomas Vernon set about developing a French Baroque styled garden.  The source of such gardens initially came from the 14th and 15 th Century Italian Renaissance gardens.  The French expanded the proportions of these gardens to create spaces that were enormous compared the the gardens they drew influence upon.  As the country grew richer with increased trade to the new colonies land owners such as Thomas Vernon choose to show their wealth by building fine houses and gardens.   The gardens they build showed how’man’ could dominate and manipulate nature.  This display of power conveyed the wealth, power and authority of the land owner to all the surrounding population and visitors to the property.

At Hanbury hall many of the features of such French formal and axial garden style can be seen  placed the house centrally on predominantly flat plain. A large central axis leads directly to the front door through a series of formal gates.  Whether this central axis narrowed to create the illusion of a larger property is difficult to ascertain.  However you can see how the National Trust has developed the garden.  Using the idea that the garden had a cohesive design smaller gardens where formed to add mystery.  Small component gardens were developed that were initially hidden but came into view as you approached.  At Hanbury Hall there are small changes in levels that help conceal the gardens surprises as well as elongate the gardens views.  The image of Hanbury Hall  right shows the formal garden and the strong linear theme that runs throughout the garden.  the plan view conveys how the garden was created making the most of long avenues to guide the eye to distant features.  At Hanury there is a semi circular amphitheatre that is clearly shown on the plan.   

Whilst visiting the garden in January  you become appreciative of the garden form and use of planting.  This is never more apparant then when you see the very neatly clipped box hedging that forms the parterre.   For those un-familar with the term a parterre is a formal garden constructed on a level surface consisting of planting beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging such as box with and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern.  Looking down from this vantage point you can see a small pond and beyond this open countryside.I really enjoyed this first visit to the Hall and will be visiting again in the summer.  Since my visit I have set myself a challenge to read up more about this house and garden.


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Inspirational Objects January 2012

Posted Wednesday, 28 December, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Log Carrier

With an interest in design I am often leafing through books and magazines for inspiration not only for the latest trends, project or even future project but because I find it interesting.  I really enjoy the whole design process gathering the brief, viewing the site, understanding how the space could be used and very importantly how it can be built.  The same process is followed by product designers.

This object caught my attention as it can be used for many tasks and is an extremely practical product.  This may even end up becoming a present for I know of two family members who would find this a useful item to own.  made by the Carrier company in Norfolk it is a heavy weight jute log carrier.  Ideal for carrying logs from the log store into the house .  It could also be used as a garden tidy.   I like the simplicity of the product and the use of a natural product that makes it simple and comfortable to use.  So often things can be over designed and the original brief is lost.  This can happen in garden design which leads to a garden that is very busy.  I put great weight when designing a garden on understanding the client.  Listening to what they want and why means you can deliver a garden that fits their needs rather than the designers.  The hardest brief is from a client who says the do not know what they want.  In this case the designer has through careful questioning tease out of the client the brief.

I am having a cherry tree felled in the new year and the wood saved from this will be stored allowing it to season.  Once ready this carrier will be put to good use importing the logs from my log store into the house.  I hope you like my first object.  I will over time add more and more objects that will provide some ideas for you.







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Urbis Design Planters

Posted Tuesday, 6 December, 2011 at 8:37 am

As a designer I would like to think that have an eye for what I consider to be good design.  By this I mean the product is pleasing on the eye and is practical.  The later statement is very important to me for I can see no purpose in having a product that does not last or fails to work as intended.

Planters within the garden are exposed to some terrible weather conditions.  Freezing weather in winter, and high temperatures in summer can damage planter.

My preferred planter comes from a company that creates creates contemporary plant containers, furniture and modular garden systems.  Called Urbis design they use glass-reinforced concrete technology which enables them to produce chunky architectural statements with a fraction of the weight of conventional cast concrete.

They have created a range of planters that have pure and sculptural forms that work very well within the landscape schemes I produce.  Offering a range of colours and surface finishes these planters command a place within the garden in their own right as beautiful objects.

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Hylands House, Chelmsford, Essex visit

Posted Sunday, 4 December, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Hylands House over recent years has become synonymous with the V music festival and has even hosted the European scout jamboree in 2005 as a child I remember the house exploring the gardens.  At the time the house was boarded up and in a terrible state of repair.  During these visits I would be  informed by my parents that the gardens had been designed by Humphry Repton.  At the time this had little meaning to me but now as a garden designer I was curious and looked forward to visiting the restored house and gardens.

Over recent years the house and to some extent the gardens have been restored with extensive work being carried out to the house.  Cornelius Kortright employed Repton to produce proposals and it is understood he produced a leather bound  ‘red book’ with maps and sketches showing ideas for the estate.  Sadly the red book of Hylands is lost and only a 1814 Tithe map remains which shows the estate.  Based upon the tithe map it is assumed many of Repton’s ideas were executed by Kortright.

Visiting the site following the restoration work was interesting and I was very impressed with the work that had been carried out to the interior and exterior appearance of the house.  The house now feels as though it is the grand house it was intended to be, rather than the decaying hulk that I remembered.  Sadly I was left disappointed with the landscaping, it just failed to deliver the same impact.  Hylands works very well in providing a house for functions and a large open space for walking.  There are pleasant views back towards the house and some interesting landscape features that remain from past periods of the houses history, though many have been altered and their value diluted as a result.  Features that you would expect to be seen from the house such as the serpentine lake are not clearly visible.  The impression left from this is that it is either too small a lake or that it is not in the correct location.  To have such an important middle distance feature hidden from view from the house would surely not have been considered by Humphry Repton.

As if to emphasis the lack of care taken to the external areas manholes some over 450 mm high erupt from the grass like man made mole-hills as you approach from the house to the serpentine lake.  It is such a shame and shows little management of the project.  As if to reinforce this there is a modern garden added to the western pleasure garden area, which celebrates the European Scout Jamboree.  Great idea but if you intend to restore the Humphry Repton garden or add so much weight to his involvement with the site why add such a feature in such a close proximity to the House.  Just another one of the mixed messages that adds to the confusion that is Hyland House/Park.

For more information on Hylands House the following links will take you to the Chelmsford Borough Council site and to the Friends of Hylands House where additional information can be obtained.

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The value of Autumn colours

Posted Tuesday, 1 November, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Whilst the approach of Winter is not a prospect I relish, I always enjoy the display that heralds it’s approach.  The variety and range of colours can and does sometimes take ones breath away.  During a recent visit to a clients property in Alcester I choose to drive through Redditch.  This is a ‘New Town’ in Worcestershire and like many ‘New Towns’ it has various ring roads and roundabouts to confuse however there is a plus to these newly constructed roads.  My decision to take this route was rewarded with a wonderful visual display of Autumnal colours along the road verges.  The range of colours from butter yellows to bright reds were a delight and almost a distraction as I drove to my site meeting. How often we forget how valuable such displays our to both the big landscape but also to our own gardens and that when designing a garden the inclusion of plants that provide such a display are a worthy bonus to an garden.

Plants such as Euonymus alata make fantastic contributions to a garden this time of the year and whilst they may not be showy plants during the Spring and Summer come into their own during the Autumn and Winter.  Their leaves turn from a bland green to a vivid red that commands attention within a bed, inviting you to explore a spot that for most of the year had been occupied by a shy and frankly bland shrub.  Then once the leaves are finally shed the winged bark provides another level of interest.

One of my favourite shrubs for autumn colours is Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’. This plant transforms from a shrub displaying a finely cut mid green leaf  to a plant that looks dazzling with yellow, bronze and reds with such intensity that the plant has the appearance of a burning bush.  It must surely be a plant that should be included within most gardens providing they can find a site that is sheltered from strong winds for the newly emerging leaves are so delicate that they are easily burnt by the wind and late frosts.

We can sometimes be too concerned by always demanding evergreens within a garden providing a block of green within the garden and ignore the value of change and seasonal transitions.  I challenge any one to visit Sheffield Park and witness the display without been moved by the sheer colour of the trees and shrubs.







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