This unique landscape speaks of its farming heritage by taking cues from the agricultural buildings, which have been left in situ and reclaimed by time, the elements and its hospitable owners, Rob and Kim Hurst, who have upcycled on a grand scale.
Steel structures, like the monumental Dutch barn, which once housed a hop machine, have been partly deconstructed and repurposed as rustic garden rooms and prodigious plant supports clothed in colossal climbers.
A scree garden seamlessly segues into a swimming pond, serving up a coastal vibe in this exposed site beneath big, blustery skies. A grain-silo-come-beech-hut, is home to a fanatical filtration system, which preserves crystal clear waters.
From its peat-free beginnings in 1976 to the numerous awards, including Chelsea Gold Medals, this inspiring family-run nursery, in the Teme Valley, continues to set the gold standard for growing quality herbs, aromatic plants and hardy perennials.
The nursery and garden are not usually open to the public, instead offering garden and plant enthusiasts the opportunity to visit, usually followed by teas in the barn or garden, if weather permits. For further details visit: www.thecottageherbery.co.uk
As we leave 2020 behind us, I choose to approach 2021 ‘without fear’ – a mindset inspired by the title of the stunning Dermot Kennedy album, which I currently have on repeat. 2020 was never going to get off to a good start after losing a close family member, immediately before Christmas 2019, so I already had a sense of foreboding even before we knew that a global pandemic was about to induce panic and anxiety.
However, after developing and recovering from mild symptoms, just before the country went into full lockdown in March, some of those fears were allayed and I was able to resume work after a period of self-isolation. Others have not been so fortunate: lives and livelihoods have been lost, and many people face an uncertain future, so we must sit tight and continue to follow the rules until this modern-day plague packs its bags and does one!
It’s been heart breaking witnessing close friends and family struggle under difficult circumstances, but I’m proud of the strength they’ve exhibited and inspired in me. In the words of Bob Marley: “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.” In fact, it’s the strength of those close to me, my community and our keyworkers who inspired me to launch the Plant a Thought project, to bring about positive change.
Last, but not least, I cannot thank Ann-Marie Powell, Tamsin Westhorpe and the whole My Real Garden gang enough for the love and support they’ve all shown me since I dared to share my garden live, on Instagram, and found the most compassionate and creative community waiting for me at the other end. We’ve literally grown together, ever since, and I now have a zillion tulips to look forward to, come spring, thanks to their enthusiasm and encouragement.
To everyone who’s had my back, in 2020, thank you for putting a smile on my face during one of the most challenging, but life-affirming years I’ve had both the misfortune and pleasure to experience. I love you all. Happy New Year!
Love lockdown with a My Real Garden book pre-order and get Christmas all wrapped up by our November 17th publishing deadline, to secure yourself the gardening book of our time.
Have you or someone you know discovered gardening, for the first time, during lockdown? Or maybe you’re a seasoned gardener who’s given something new a go? Then you’re in good company…
A historic new book, My Real Garden, tells the story of real people, just like you, who’ve come together to share the lessons learned in lockdown and in life, and you might even recognise a few of them!
Nosey over the fence of more than 100 real gardens, dig the dirt on their disasters, and share the secrets of their success as they reveal their top tips and triumphs of this defining year.
If you gift any book this Christmas, make sure it’s this one. Arriving just in time for a new growing season, it’ll lift your spirits and spur you on as you grow alongside gardeners the world over.
Bulk buy books, or select one of many perks, giving your recipient one of our free gift certificates, available to download at www.myrealgarden.co.uk, with the promise of a beautiful book in March 2021. It WILL be worth the wait!
Back in March, when the country went into lockdown, renowned Garden Designer Ann-Marie Powell (@ann_mariepowell) began her My Real Garden (@myrealgarden) journey on Instagram. She went live from her own ‘real’ garden every lunchtime, without fail, for 100 consecutive days, attracting an audience of gardeners from across the UK, Europe and North America, which totals 13.4K followers on Instagram and she has now been shortlisted for a Garden Media Guild Award for Social Media Influencer of the year, which she never expected to be nominated for, and has dedicated to us.
As someone who has continued to work throughout lockdown, as a graphic designer and writer, I often caught up with Ann-Marie’s daily live posts later in the evening, but missed that instantaneous connection they provided, until the weekend when I could tune in live and hang out, online, with the rest of the My Real Garden gang who joined her for the eagerly anticipated ‘Sunday Social’ at 12:30pm. On Sunday 5th July, I defied my ropy WiFi connection to go live with Ann-Marie and shared my small garden, on the outskirts of Birmingham, just as others have done, and we continue to ‘grow together’ as a community.
I even had fun linking up, live, with Ann-Marie as an unofficial ‘Roving Reporter’, sharing my visit to the Piet Oudolf garden at Hauser & Wirth, on Sunday 23rd August, during a weekend break in Somerset. As a result of our shared interest in gardening, connections have been made across the world, which has seen many local satellite groups develop as virtual friends have become real friends, meeting in person for the first time, while following government guidelines on social distancing. We are now one big family and support network, sharing our passion and keeping each other motivated during darker days. All thanks to Ann-Marie and her philanthropic personality!
When lockdown restrictions were lifted a little, and Ann-Marie returned to her design studio in Hampshire, the Lunchtime Lives ceased, but the friendships didn’t, and she continues to keep us entertained, during ‘Sunday School’, while brandishing her trusty – and surprisingly legal – Hori Hori knife. What next for Ann-Marie and the My Real Garden community? Well, not content with becoming the ‘Lara Croft’ of Gardening and our lockdown sweetheart, this warm and generous woman has drawn on this experience and is turning it into a book, to raise money for Greenfingers – the UK charity that fundraises to build beautiful gardens in children’s hospices.
Many of us have submitted our lockdown survival stories and scenes from our real gardens; the very same gardens that we invited people into, when we dared to share them with Ann-Marie and friends on her Sunday Social. Pushing that button, and sharing the screen with this lovely lady, was one of the best experiences of this extraordinarily challenging year. Who knows what the future holds, but what I do know is that we are in safe hands, and as one of many My Real Garden book contributors and ambassadors, I owe Ann-Marie a debt of gratitude for all that she has done and continues to do, by lifting our spirits and inspiring us with her kindness.
I have already met up with several local members of this community, but keep in touch with many more, and one day I hope to thank Ann-Marie in person, for the positive impact she has made and the many hours she, and her friend Tamsin Westhorpe, have dedicated to the creation of this unique gardening book, by the community for the community. After just one week of going live on the Indiegogo site, we are half way towards meeting our publishing target. Only then can we start to raise money for Greenfingers and the many children who could benefit from the sale of this book.
Below is a link to the fundraiser, where Ann-Marie shares her passion and experience of My Real Garden, and her wishes for the launch of the book, in March 2021, but we need to act fast! I hope you can get behind our campaign, help us to promote this positive example of community spirit, and put a smile on children’s faces.
Another wonderful evening in the company of my horticultural hero, where I went on a second journey through all four seasons, during the most inspiring and profound portrait of my garden idol and guru, in Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf. I had been waiting to see this film, following my pilgrimage to Oudolf Field, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset – a garden Piet considers his best work yet – which features in the film, from its inception to maturity.
As we witness the passage of time from seedling to skeletal stem, Piet personifies the process in his own inimitable way, reminding us that plants, like people, pop up like faithful old friends, each year, seeing out the seasons with us, and sharing our moment in the sun. This sublime showman’s sense of self has been shaped through a sentient study of the seasons, observing the cycle of life, which he uses as a metaphor for our own transient existence.
In Thomas Piper’s thought-provoking biopic, Piet challenges our perception of beauty, and demonstrates the dignity in decay, reminding us that every season should be celebrated for its unique qualities, be it those of the plants that display them, or the plantsmen and women who ‘conduct’ this symphony of the seasons. You’ll leave a little richer for this maestro’s musings, and you’ll never look at a plant in the same way again.
A collaboration between Jessica Makins and Stephanie Tudor, this garden defied its diminutive dimensions by confining seating to the sidelines, in a clay-coloured, cob bench combo, by Jeffrey Hart at Hartwyn, consisting of cleverly integrated cushions and natty nooks, which smacked of New Mexico and its ancient Pueblos.
Heath Sawn Sandstone, with its uniform dove-grey colouring, by London Stone, teamed well with the organic cotton cushions and kept things light and airy. A natural, unpainted wooden pergola, connected to the studio, defined this area and echoed the treatment on the window frames and doorway.
Ethical AND exciting – yes, those two really can coexist – this dream space, inspired by the life and work of artist Georgia O’Keefe, stole the show with a contemporary palette of grey-green planting and monochromatic blooms, which would inspire any painter who took up residency in this garden’s artfully accessorised studio.
Well-deserving of its Gold and People’s Choice awards, don’t you think!
I’ve admired the gardens of Peter Dowle, from Howle Hill Nursery since my inaugural visit to RHS Malvern Spring Festival, in 2016, when his garden ‘Reflections of Japan’ won Gold and captured my imagination with its aspirational Acers and expanse of water. In subsequent years, his gardens have continued to inspire me and have even graced the pages of my garden design assignments, in which I’ve referenced his expert use of focal points, water and naturalistic planting. This year was no different.
Under the banner of his new venture, Leaf Creative, his 2019 Gold-award-winning garden, ‘A Garden of Quiet Contemplation’, was more formal than those of late, but his signature style was written all over, featuring the elements that I have come to know and love, and included the beautiful sculpture of ‘Zephyr, mistress of the wind’, by Simon Gudgeon Sculpture, atop a circular infinity pool.
The ‘Kast Dark Grey’ Porcelain, by Mandarin Stone, provided a stylish and non-slip foil to the soft landscaping, and looked beautiful wet or dry. Accessed from multiple angles, and perfectly integrated into the wider landscape, it was easy to see how this garden would form part of a larger space, but delivered the seclusion required to experience this garden in quiet contemplation, as intended, which won it ‘Best in Show’.
I’ve been pulled in all directions, lately, that it’s been difficult finding the time to be mindful, and truly present in the moment, but if ever a garden symbolises serenity and inspires self-care, this one does. The Spirit of the Woods, by Peter Dowle of Howle Hill Nursery, is more than a gold award-winning show garden; it’s an experience.
The moment you step onto that jetty, and look across the lake to the meditative mask, created by sculptor Simon Gudgeon, you disconnect from the baying crowds and reconnect with nature. Framed by the naturalistic planting, which blends seamlessly with the landscape beyond, it evokes empathy from the viewer as you become a reflection of the scene and intimately acquainted with it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to get up close and personal with this vision in the valley, such was the demand on its Designer, but it was so wonderful to witness its whispering waters, which spoke to so many, who may have needed it more than I did, from a young boy in his wheelchair, to many more who hugged its shores as I looked on from a distance. A sight to behold.
A selection of stunning show gardens from the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, yesterday. I have a particular soft spot for the Molecular Garden (bottom right) and had the pleasure of meeting one of its Russian designers, Denis Kalashnikov, to pass on my congratulations. But, the ‘At One With… A Meditation Garden’, by Peter Dowle, really stuck a chord with me (top left) and was the perfect way to conclude Mental Health Awareness Week. The gardens were all really rather good, though, and there was something for everyone.