These blog posts are produced by James Scott, Garden Company MD and Principal Designer:
'Creating beautiful outdoor spaces for people to enjoy is very rewarding. The purpose of this blog is for me to share some reflections on our work and our industry with you. Your comments and views in return are very welcome indeed'.

Chelsea Flower Show – A change of direction?

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a fantastic institution, undoubtedly the best of its kind in the world. I haven’t missed a show I realise for 25 years!  It has shaped the way people view gardens and gardening, continually setting the scene for future trends and movements in garden design. This year I have had the opportunity to spend several days at Chelsea, allowing me to absorb the beauty of the show and now back at my Hertfordshire desk, to reflect on its significance for garden-lovers everywhere.

This year’s show was particularly fascinating for me. I am noticing a change in

James Basson's Gold Medal winning garden

James Basson’s Gold Medal winning garden

direction to softer  geometry and more organic forms. As always the show gardens are of an exceptionally high standard but a few stood out for me. Dan Pearson’s garden (‘Best in Show’ winner) provided a beautifully crafted and executed celebration of nature with exquisite details, while the garden I would most like to spend more time in was that of James Basson (gold medal), based on a perfumer’s garden in Provence, with simple and highly effective features including mini rills, a bath house and – of course – many colourful aromatic flowers.  My favourite piece of theatre was Charlie Albone’s (Silver Gilt) water feature which filled up and refilled on an 8-minute cycle, the pool holds at brimming point for a minute then after a few ripples disappears in moments

Charlie Albone's water feature in his Silver Guilt Medal winning garden

Charlie Albone’s water feature in his Silver Gilt Medal winning garden

before repeating the cycle.  As for the small gardens – Howard Miller’s Dark Matters Garden stopped me in my tracks with its highly innovative structures constructed from rusted iron which contrasted beautifully with the planting.  I was also struck by Sarah Eberle’s Breast Cancer Haven Garden which conjured up the notion of a ‘nest’ (beautifully provided by a sculpture of wood and willow created by artisan craftsman Tom Hare).

To conclude, I found Chelsea as inspiring as ever this year and particularly noticed the following themes

  • With regard to plants, the planting palette of the show was deep rusts, oranges, blues and purples. The recent proliferation of umbilicus type plants such as cow parsley was replaced with stronger, more defined blocks of colour.  Interestingly, several gardens had few or no grasses, while still featuring significant drifts of herbaceous plants.
  • The rigid rectilinear designs of recent years were few and far between and – while beautiful in their own right – starting to look somewhat ‘dated’ in my opinion.
  • A much more fluid geometry is on the rise, with sinuous curves and looser, much more organic forms. I welcome this trend because I believe it is more pleasing and approachable for people who look to Chelsea to provide inspiration for their own garden.  And it happens to be a design style that I am more in tune with and also relates to the gardens we produce.

If you have been inspired by the coverage of Chelsea this year and would like to progress your own plans for your garden/outdoor space, then why not make 2015 the year that you do so?  For those of you in London or the South-East, we would of course be delighted to talk your ideas over with you – please email james@thegardenco.co.uk or call the office on 01442 832666.  Examples of our garden design work can be viewed at http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/garden-design/ and we have also constructed 100s of beautiful gardens over the last 20 years – http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/garden-construction/.

A tasty way to celebrate nettles

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The stinging nettle is one of the most important native plants for both rural and urban wildlife in the UK, supporting many species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies. I often find myself with the conflict of wanting to redesign a garden overgrown with nettles and knowing I run the risk of destroying a beneficial habitat. A good old fashioned compromise is often reached by creating an area of wildlife garden where we leave some nettles and add further native plants beneficial to local fauna. Nettles
I thought I would celebrate ‘Be Nice to Nettles’ week this year (starts May 16) by sharing my favourite recipe for nettle soup – easy to make, highly nutritious and a wonderful way to celebrate this undervalued plant. The only tricky part is collecting the nettle tops – long sleeves and gloves are recommended! We harvest the nettles on woodland walks in various parts of Hertfordshire. For best results only harvest from young plants and take the tips and couple of leaves below the tips.

You will need:

300g fresh nettle tops
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium potato (peeled and thinly sliced)
Freshly grated nutmeg
200ml light chicken (or vegetable stock)
Sea salt and black pepper
40g mascarpone, 100g fresh soft goat’s cheese, 1 tbsp chopped chives (optional!)
A table spoon (or two) of double cream (Crème fraiche or plain yogurt also works and gives a lighter finish).

What to do:

Pick over the nettle tops and discard any bruised leaves or tough stalks. Wash the nettles well in 2 changes of cold water. Shake off the excess water.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and sauté the potato for about 5 minutes (until soft but not brown). Add the nettles and stir over the heat.

Add the stock + 800ml litre of water plus seasoning and a little grated nutmeg (optional). Bring to the boil, stirring. Partly cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times.

For special occasions, I add goat’s cheese quenelles – beat the goat’s cheese and mascarpone together and fold in the chives. Set aside.

Ladle the soup into a blender or food processor (I use a stick blender) and whiz until smooth. Pass through a sieve back into the pan, rubbing with the back of a ladle.

Stir in the cream and slowly bring to the boil, adjust the seasoning and simmer for 1-2 minutes.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls. Shape the cheese mixture into quenelles and place carefully in the centre of the soup.

Top tips:

Harvest only as many nettle tops as you will use and use them as soon as possible – don’t waste them.

It’s ok to harvest a plant if there are 20 others available to maintain the population.

Leave the biggest and best plants behind so they can continue to propagate the healthiest population.

Leave damaged plants or plants with ‘residents’.

Harvest with a clean cut so the plant will continue to thrive.

Never put anything in your mouth unless you are 100% sure it is safe to ingest.

Clients often ask us how to attract more butterflies and other wildlife to their gardens – one simple technique is to create a patch of nettles in a sunny, sheltered location. If you are based in London or the South-East and would like expert advice on your own planting choices, why not contact our Maintenance and Small Works Manager joanna@thegardenco.co.uk or by phone on 01442 832666. For design enquires you can contact James james@thegardenco.co.uk or Alex alex@thegardenco.co.uk
Our website pages http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/garden-maintenance/ and http://www.thegardenco.co.uk/grounds-maintenance/ provide you with examples of planting schemes we have developed in private gardens, schools, public spaces and business parks.
Happy soup-making!

Woodland walks are wonderful….. so are woodland gardens

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The month of May brings us the Tree Council’s annual celebration of trees and woods, Walk in the Woods. Walks, talks and other events will be taking place across the UK to encourage us all to make the most of our woods and local parks. Spring flowers and new leaves on the trees make such places particularly appealing at this time of year. For more information about events near you, see www.treecouncil.org.uk/Take-Part/Walk-in-the-Woods.

Blue bells with beech trees, taken this morning at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire.

Blue bells with beech trees, taken this morning at Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire.

One of my favourite woodland treats at this time of year is to visit the bluebell woods at the National Trust Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire. The contrast of the deep blue flowers against lime-green beech leaves can be stunning and it always amazes me how nature manages to produce such a perfect colour contrast (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge-estate).

I love woodland gardens too – some of the client projects over the years that I have liked best have featured woodland habitats that will encourage many wild creatures including moths and other insects to visit, as well as hosting carpets of wildflowers such as wood anemones, winter aconites, primroses and (naturally) more bluebells. These plants act as perfect foils to ferns and larger woodland shrubs and trees.

If part of your garden is shaded by mature trees, why not take the opportunity to create a woodland area, choosing plants that will thrive in dappled shade. Clients are often at a loss what to plant in shadier woodland settings but in fact there is a vast array of beautiful plants that thrive given careful choice and adequate moisture. My advice is to get out in the woodlands this Spring to get your inspiration from nature. Look at the type of plants that work in the wild (never dig up plants from the wild) and use them or similar ornamental cultivars in your own garden Go naturalistic in style to get the best from plants that will thrive in light shade.

Woodland edge planting, image taken today at one our gardens in Berkhamsted.

Woodland edge planting, image taken today at one our gardens in Berkhamsted.

At the Garden Company we have over 20 years’ experience of helping clients to make the most of their gardens/outdoor spaces, creating havens where people can relax. If you are based in London or the South-East, do give us a call on 01442 832666 to discuss your own requirements.