High Line highlight was right on track for Platinum Award

Titled after its namesake, the ‘High Line’ in New York, this collaboration between Dan Ryan and the team at @designitlandscapes_ and Lucy Bravington of @lucybravington_design at Gardeners’ World Live, took its cues from the industrial heritage the High Line is a product of, employing structures and materials evocative of its transport links and theme of travel.

The pale granite paving has been laid on the diagonal to the proposed property, which increases the sense of space in any garden of diminutive dimensions, and also provided a ‘platform’ (no pun intended) for the contrasting corten steel elements, which unified the design and drew the eye through the garden.

A pair of cleverly engineered benches, constructed in such a way as to defy gravity, echoed those at the High Line, and emphasised the diagonal as you travelled from one to the other through the corten steel circle between. The naturalistic planting treatment, inspired by Piet Oudolf’s prairie-style planting, alluded to the ebb and flow of a disused railway.

This is a garden that’s going places!

Calling all the heroes

Today, we and the rest of Europe owe a huge debt of gratitude to the servicemen and women of this country and its allies, who liberated Europe from tyranny and sacrificed their lives for our freedom. They paid the ultimate price, so that we can live in comfort and complain about how hard done by we are, or the many choices we have to deliberate over to secure a more prosperous future. Many people, today, may not even talk to their neighbours, let alone defend them from a marauding mob.

I am proud to be British at moments like this, and there is something to be said for the comradery and shared sense of purpose, which galvanised the men and women of this country to fight for its liberty, on a local level, with more than a cursory thought for their neighbours. Your neighbours are your community, so show them kindness and be the reason they return the favour. Together we are stronger, but without the pride in our communities and the values we once lived by, which guided us to victory, we are lost!

The world may have changed, and despite the relative ‘peace’ we find ourselves in today, we are faced with a new assault on our wellbeing, which, of course, can’t be compared, but it’s worth remembering that the war zone can exist inside our heads, as much as it can on land, at sea or in the air. Years can be lost to depression, which can slip away unnoticed, without witness; and a lack of self-care, during periods of isolation, can leave indelible marks on us long after an episode has passed.

As the English metaphysical poet John Donne said: “No man is an island” – a concept shared by other religions, principally Buddhism. So, choose your battles wisely because, despite what your mind can often tell you, you do have the freedom to make that choice, and also the allies you need to liberate you, if you ask for their help. Seek solace in your society, or the healthy relationships that support you close to home, because your survival may depend on it, and your life is too precious to be lost to any war you wage on yourself or others. I salute you all.

Rustic-chic retreat makes a statement

Next up in the Green Living Spaces at RHS Malvern Spring Festival, mentored by Jamie Butterworth from Butterworth Horticulture, is the ‘Mediterranean Terrace’. 

Designed by Gabriella Pill, whose choice of russet tones were echoed in the interior decoration, it provided a sense of cohesion, which successfully unified the indoor and outdoor spaces. I really loved the evocative, rustic treatment, which was offset by the cool backdrop of white rendered walls and paintwork, with construction by Keyscape Design and Construction. 

It was an artfully curated space of architectural planting, from the statement Trachycarpus fortunei (chusan palm), and its stripy, stripped stem, to the burnt orange accent of the Iris Germanica flowers, which sat well with the red Acapulco seating beneath the driftwood pergola. 

From the Cretan terracotta pots, by Pots and Pithoi, to the beautiful Bearded Iris and Agave, I’m definitely taking away some styling tips from this Mediterranean masterpiece, which was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal.

Studio garden draws on Native American settlements

First up in the Green Living Spaces at RHS Malvern Spring Festival, mentored by Jamie Butterworth from Butterworth Horticulture, is ‘An Artist’s Studio at Home’.

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!

A Garden of Quiet Contemplation


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’.

Disconnect to Reconnect


A bit of a random post, but something made me google ‘Earth’ today, and I found myself looking at seemingly far-off images of our planet and the place that we are fleetingly lucky to call home. I have felt very detached, lately, for one reason and another, and posts about ‘connection’ have really struck a chord with me.

Sometimes it can feel as though we are existing, but not truly experiencing anything, and it’s easy to become disconnected from the miracle that created us, in an effort to survive the recurring monotony that can sometimes befall us when we lose sight of the life that we are attempting to create for ourselves.

I looked at the earth from the moon’s eye view, and it seemed out of reach, like I was stuck on a barren rock and had no way of getting to that sparking sapphire suspended in space and time. Then I realised that it was a metaphor for my emotions. It looked so near, but also so far, and I had no vehicle to bridge that gap across the void.

Perhaps you are feeling the same, but berating yourself for being self-indulgent when there are others around you who are less fortunate or experiencing their own very real struggles. All struggles are equal when it comes to our mental health, and observing how you are responding to your environment is one of your biggest assets.

It’s important, though, to keep things in perspective; you have infinitely more resources around you than you would have if you were stranded on some inhospitable satellite, and the void that you are visualising is just a black dog that can be tamed if you respond with kindness and remain open to the beauty of the world around you.

This concludes today’s lesson and World Book Day. Whatever your situation, take the time to do what makes your soul happy. And remember, you are stronger than you think and more valuable than you know. Don’t let anyone or anything eclipse those sunny thoughts or stand in the way of your progress. You’ve got this!


It’s a wrap!


With most gifts exchanged, in appreciation for all the love and support enjoyed throughout the year, it’s time to turn your attention to yourself and give the gift of kindness. As you go about gathering gifts for others, try to keep a little compassion back for yourself, in thanks for all that you have achieved, overcome or contributed to your community, this year. We all have a wish list, and for some of us believing that we are worthy is the first step to accepting what we deserve. Christmas and new year can be challenging times, full of pressure to perform and intentions to be set. But remember, whatever hopes and dreams you have for the year ahead, they do not include those curveballs or sideswipes that can knock you off track. So, reserve a little something to help steer you through uncharted waters and congratulate yourself for navigating the unknown.

May 2019 bring you everything that your heart desires and deliver you safely to the destinations of your dreams. Thank you for all the love and support. You are all very special to me.

Darren X


Chaos v. Creativity


Autumn has definitely been in the air, today, and a whole new layer is beginning to reveal itself. I’ve also given myself a moment to sit in my new happy place and respond to the change in weather and pace that is beginning to creep up on us. Long nights and log fires may not be far off, whether we’re ready for them or not.

Part of me is craving for a restful phase and also the opportunity to press pause on that relentless pursuit of perfection, which is always a little out of reach. There is always something to be pruned and preened, which often prevents us time-poor Gardeners from taking a break or appreciating our gardens as they are.

So, instead of berating myself for falling short and failing to find the time to titivate, I’m celebrating NOW and reminding myself that what I’ve created out of chaos was once just a dream. Chaos and creativity can coexist. We, and the universe, are proof of that. Chaos is not our enemy. It’s our opportunity to create!

Never give up on a good thing.


I’ve never been a fan of Hypericum (St John’s wort). Perhaps it’s because it seemed like a ubiquitous, common-or-garden failsafe, which tolerates a range of conditions. I even ripped it from my own garden, when I started from scratch, unappreciative of its medicinal properties and many benefits.

A year or so ago, I found a sprig, which had survived my brutality, and potted it up. I left it to its own devices and neglected to show it much love. It’s been watered intermittently, only because it was in the path of my hose when aiming at more ‘desirable’ plants. It has managed to hang on, through the drought, and despite its mistreatment and ragged appearance, it’s now bearing fruit, and I am feeling ashamed by my actions.

What I’m trying to say, is that you should cherish the plants and people who are always there for you, through all weathers. It’s easy to overlook those who are loyal to you, until you nearly lose them, or worse. In the words of John Betjeman: “A gentle guest, a willing host, affection deeply planted – it’s strange that those we miss the most are those we take for granted.”

Tell someone close how much you appreciate their love, today, and back it up with actions. 💚

Growing pains for growing gains

Lilium Acapulco

My pond is fast disappearing under a mass of foliage and duckweed. Even Buddha is beginning to berate me for his dwindling vista.

Neglect is neglect, but before you scold yourself for falling short of your self-imposed perfection, it’s worth remembering the bigger picture and that sometimes we have to take several steps back before moving forward, unabated, minus the nagging voice in your head.

The garden is thriving, in the main, thanks to my dedication during the drought, and a lot of encouragement from the foliage fraternity, who keep me inspired and in good company. So, while I reflect on the diverse plant life, which takes us somewhere between success and failure, I’m reminded that your last mistake is your best lesson.

Perfection is intolerant of mistakes and incapable of accepting flaws, but diversity is the result of flaws that have learnt to adapt into myriad forms. Thank heavens for imperfection!