Melissa Jolly Garden Design

Melissa Jolly Garden Design
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Monday, 27 February 2012

A greenroof for our bike shed

It's amazing how many jobs there seem to be in the garden as soon as we get a bit of sunshine - jobs and neighbourly encounters over the garden fence!
Number 1 on the list for our garden this weekend was to plant up the roof of the bike shed my husband made back in October. I have loads of wood left over from the various show gardens that I've done over the last couple of years so we were able to build a very sturdy shed - clad in the flooring from my conceptual garden Picturesque at Hampton Court and strong enough to hold the weight of a green roof.
'Picturesque' @ Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011 (Gold)
Re-used flooring from 'Picturesque' used to clad new bike shed!
I've done a little research into planting green roofs as last year the RHS invited me to build a roof top show garden at the London Plant and Design Show, and the garden I designed used green roof style planting within the terrace. I used plants that would survive both the harsh conditions that roof top gardens contend with (high exposure to wind and sun) and being planted in only 10cm of soil. I used hardy, drought resistant plants that were also evergreen so that the garden would look good all year round and also because the show is in February and I needed the plants to look good then! Planting in this depth of soil is known as an extensive green roof - there are two other types - Intensive where you plant in at least 15cm of soil and semi-extensive, which can be a combination of the 2
'Sky Green Living' @ London Plant and Design Show 2011 (Silver-gilt)
Like the show garden, our bike shed falls into the extensive category and we have about 10cm of soil to plant in. I kept most of the plants from the show and although some were planted up last year, many are still in the 9cm pots I bought them in over a year ago and have dealt with drought, lack of food and the recent freezing conditions. I feel that if they can survive that - they can survive anything! I've used a lot of Armeria maritima which has self seeded over the last year into our Breedon gravel path - which is a pretty hostile environment, and when you see if growing out of cracks in a windswept cliff down by the coast or growing out of sand dunes - see Colin Roberts' winning entry for International Garden Photographer of the Year , you know it will be ok in 10cm of compost. The other plants I have used are Ballotta pseudodictamnus, Stachys byzantina, a variety of Thymus' and some Alpine strawberries (which, at the moment I have covered in polythene until the risk of frost has passed). I mixed up a substrate of home made compost, shop bought, peat free, multi-purpose compost and potting grit.
Although the bike shed roof would take my weight, my daughter did the majority of the planting as it was much easier for her to manoeuvre about up there and more importantly - she was keen to help. Here she is carefully transplanting some of the 'saved' Armeria seedlings from our path (if you're worried about the Armeria seeding everywhere just pick the flowers off as they come - although the seedlings were very easy to pick out).
A couple of books that I found really helpful were Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury and Small Green Roofs by Nigel Dunnett, Dusty Gedge, John Little and Edmund C. Snodgrass. I got a lot of advice from Kay at Oxford Green Roofs - they are a great company to contact for advice on green roofs and definitely worth talking to if you're considering having a green roof on any part of your house.
The Shed after planting - February 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Good tutors

I came into the garden design industry with a passion for houses, design and nature but very little knowledge of horticulture. I have always gardened - but it's not until I started learning about plants that I realised how little I knew. Our college planting tutor was Chris Marchant from Orchard Dene Nurseries - anyone who has been taught by her cannot fail to be impressed by her knowledge and passion and I found her incredibly inspiring. A couple of things really stuck in my mind from her lessons; the importance of looking - really looking - at colour, texture, the way light might pass through plants to how they grew in nature and even what worked in a painting. She also likened planting design to musical composition, with repetition and rhythm being key to the composition working. Taking this on board, on my drive to college one morning, I spotted the young, lush leaves of a plant on the roadside, pulled over and took a branch in to show Chris - I didn't know what this lovely plant was that graced the verge to Oxford - she glanced at it... "Common hawthorn, Craetagus monogyna"...oh - I could have crawled into a box - I knew so little! However - I have moved on - and 3 years after this distinct lack of knowledge I like to think that I'm getting better and am really delighted every time I look at a plant and know what it is.
Cretaegus Monogyna
At college we learnt mostly about herbaceous perennials, which was fantastic as they are so diverse and can add so much seasonal interest to a garden. But I soon realised that most of my clients wanted low maintenance, year round interest from their gardens. So I had to learn about shrubs - in fact listening to Andy Sturgeon speak last year, his thoughts were that shrubs would be a big trend from now on as they have been slightly over looked in recent years.
I bought Shrubs by one of the UK's leading gardening experts, Andy McIndoe. and got reading. At the same time a unique online gardening school, My Garden School, was being set up by Elspeth Briscoe, a friend and contemporary of mine whilst at the Oxford College of Garden Design, and the college director and renowned garden designer, Duncan Heather. I saw that they had a shrub course run by Andy - which I signed up to and have just completed. You get access to an audio lesson every Saturday for 4 weeks. I found the course incredibly convenient - you can listen whenever suits you - and even do 10 minutes here and there when you have time. Although I like being in a classroom situation where you can discuss matters with other people - this is a totally different experience - but very good if there is a subject you want to know more about from the comfort of your garden bench!.
What I think makes My Garden School really stand out is the quailty of the tutors. Having personal access to some of the best minds in horticulture and design is a gift. The course had assigments to do each week which are not compulsory, but well worth doing for the personal feedback, advice and tips that you get back.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Senses indulged - Barcelona Style!

I just got back from a very rare weekend away with my husband. We went to Barcelona. It was the first time either of us had been there and we loved it. Good design, art and sculpture were around every corner. The shops, restaurants and hotels all seemed to give design high priority so at every turn there was something to delight us. On top of that my husband and I talked, walked, drank coffee and cocktails, ate cake and tapas, read books and slept - we rarely get to do even one of these things what with work, kids, pets and family to contend with, and all in a balmy 5 degrees whilst the UK froze.

The Port

Apparently, Barcelona pretty much ignored the sea front until the late 20th C when it realised that it could capitalise on the stunning sea front that is now one of the world's top urban beaches. From winding old town streets we strolled down to the beach where a few people were surfing in front of great art installations that appeared to be there just for Art's sake.

Beached Boxes

We visited Park Guell where Gaudi lived for a while and had designed many of the features there. The planting (even in the depths of winter) looked fab and must look superb in flower. Gaudi is not going to be everyone's cup of tea - I'm not totally sure he's mine - but you can't deny that what he designed was truly original, courageous and it was awe inspiring to see it in person. Makes you want to push the boundaries!

Planting at Park Guell

Some of Gaudi's Buildings with Barcelona City Centre and then the Mediterranean in the background.

We spotted Ash Mair, winner of Professional Masterchef 2011, on both the flight over and the flight back. I only managed to watch the final of this series, but was captivated by it. I'm no good at going up to people I don't know but I wish I had told him how much I admired his cooking. Or I could have asked him to recommend somewhere to eat...or at least a second place as we did find a gem of a place for coffee and cake - Bubo - sublime cake and with decor most high end Jewellers would be envious of!

For me, design, art, gardening and food all go hand in hand and I'm feeling like I want to do it all at once - starting tonight with making 'Chachouka' from River Cottage Veg - Everyday! Tomorrow, back to normality, construction drawings for a new deck and outdoor kitchen - Wednesday, a trip to Brighton to look at a new project, Thursday, in the garden to cut down all the grasses -Friday - no idea yet!


Thursday, 26 January 2012


I have just read the witty blog of my author sister about anagrams - a little piece on the anagrams of 'Garden Designer'

A garden designer ‘adds green reign’ to a landscape, although they must be wary of regarding needs’ of the client – and be careful the job does not entail an ensnared digger’ else the client may be heard to cry ‘Danger…redesign’! This may lead to the designer experiencing an ‘earning dredge’ and the designer exclaiming “we need to undertake a ‘grand reseeding’”!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Garden Bones

My take on garden design is all about getting the structure and bones of the garden right before even thinking about the plants...

However, the last bed I have just planted is all about using the plants, themselves, in a sculptural, structural way. I love the thought of tightly clipped forms (in this case Buxus sempervirens balls) with other plant forms coming together to flow through the geometric forms - here using Pittosporum tobira 'Nanum' and Hebe 'Sutherlandii'. I chose these plants after I visited the nursery and physically placed the plants next to each other which I find a really useful way of choosing plants.

The Mood board for the bed

Here is the result just after planting (as the light was fading) - really looking forward to photographing with a light frost and with the morning light in the spring. I have a feeling the clients might get used to seeing me skulking round the garden taking photographs over the next couple of years!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

What Are Gardens For?

I was at the Society of Garden Designer's autumn conference yesterday - having seen that Dan Pearson was talking on the subject of "What Are Gardens For?" I decided I couldn't miss this conference. What I hadn't been prepared for was the quality of the other 3 speakers - all superb and very different to each other.

The chair for the day was Lucy Huntington, one of the earlier members of the Society and practicing designer for 45 years. To hear her speak with such passion and obvious joy about her career was a delight. She spoke briefly on what gardens meant for her - in the beginning she belived they were for growing plants, but four decades on and her sentiment had changed. Now she believes that gardens are for people (to coin the title of Thomas Church's famous landscape book "Garden's Are for People") and that she, personally was moving towards creating gardens that were calm, quiet spaces - perhaps for meditation. In general she was coming across many more clients wanting and designers providing more ecological spaces that include wildflower meadows, areas for wildlife, green roofs, natural swimming pools and energy and water saving installations.

The first speaker of the day was the Australian born landscape designer Bernard Trainor, now practising in California. His talk made reference to the fact that he had been inspired personally by some of the gardening greats - having been offered a job by one of the 20th Century's most influential designers, John Brooks, he turned it down to work for Beth Chatto, which he said was fundamental to his understanding of designing with plants. He also recounted a story of introducing himself to Rosemary Verey at one of her book signings and asking if he could visit her when he was next in the UK - extraordinarily she accepted and invited him to stay! He spoke about how nature influences his work - about how he has learnt to 'Embrace Extremes' working with them and not fighting them - which is crucial when dealing with the harsh Californian terrain that he showed us. He reiterated what Lucy had said about wanting to create calm and peaceful spaces. The designs he showed us were utterly stunning - and certainly enhanced some of the breathtaking landscapes he has the good fortune to work on.

One of Bernard Trainor's landscape designs

On a completely different note, Wendy Titman, gave a very moving and inspiring talk about her work creating landscapes for primary schools. She has some impressive credentials to her name in both research, teaching and having been an advisor to the Education Department. Some of the statistics she produced were shocking to say the least: Time spent outside by a trial group of 2 year olds = 10 hours a week (a week?!!): Goverment guidelines stipulate that organic chickens must have access to 10 square metres of outdoor space each - there is NO such guideline for childcare facilities: Increasing numbers of children are spending 10 hours a day in childcare (places that do not have to make them go outside at all) - I realise that this in no way is representative of many childcare facilities or that children who are at home all day spend any more time outside - but it is a worrying situation nevertheless.

However, she had plenty of positives too - glorious photos of children in their new playgrounds - one gently cupping a strawberry whilst inspecting it through a magnifying glass, another offering newly picked daisies to all the grownups (a look of dilemma when handing one to the male teacher - was it ok to give a man a flower?). A moving story about a little boy on the verge of expulsion form primary school - with bad behaviour noted every day - until the school put in new outdoor facilities and he was given the job of head ranger (complete with hat). With immediate effect, his behaviour went from strength to strength, not getting any more black marks against his name. However, all who were there, will be left with a depressing image of a little boy pressed up against a 2m high wire mesh fence - not a hint of greenery, grass or anything other than grey tarmac.

During her talk I came up with a project that I could rope the family into to highlight this issue - more on that in a later blog!

Moving on to Jane Owen - Chelsea Flower show gold medalist last year, Financial Times journalist, historian, TV presenter...the list seemed to go on. She gave a zappy, thought provoking, intellectual talk on what has been going on in garden design over the last 30 years. How politics and the the world of finance had a bearing on design and what people want and do. She highlighted an interesting point that I hate to admit, I had been unaware of - the plight of the allotment holders who had been forced off their sites to make way for the Olympic village ( I believe they are able to return post Olympics in 2014) - her point was that what a wonderful British showcase they could have made to show the world - we are, after all, a nation of salt of the earth gardeners! She also showed us a wonderful image of Stefano Boeri's verticle forest in Milan - you can see more about this in a current exhibition at the Garden Museum in London "Going Green in the City: From Garden City to Green City on until April 2012. Rather strangely, she finished her address with the Chinese National anthem (I wasn't entirely sure whether or not we should stand...) but I guess being embroiled in the world of the Financial Times must make you accutely aware of where the money is!

Finally, Dan Pearson talked about his work and his own gardens and what they meant to him. He is renowned for producing tranquil, thoughtful, therapeutic gardens much like the way he comes across as a person. He has produced some incredibly inspiring gardens, but his knowledge and understanding of plants is what I find awesome. He also seems to be forever learning - even after working at some of the most prestigious gardening establishments in the country. I am currently reading his book, "Home Ground, Sanctuary in the City" about the making of his garden in London. A fantastic read and something to learn on every page. However, it really struck a chord with me when he spoke about the new home he bought just over a year ago with some land in the country. Having looked at his land for the last year - surrounded by stunning rolling countryside, he said he really wasn't sure whether he wanted to do anything to it. I have often had this feeling looking at a garden (if surrounded by beautiful scenery) and have had worrying moments where I wonder if, in fact, I am in the right profession, when I look at a space and think - I'm not sure I can improve on this....

Friday, 15 July 2011

Gold Medal At Hampton Court

I was over the moon to be awarded a gold medal for my Conceptual garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower show.

I want to say a huge thank you to my main contributors - the RHS, Benchmarx joinery and Pantiles nursery, without whom this garden would not have been realised to it's full potential.

Also, to my fantastic builders - John-William, who led the project, and his dad Bill who worked incredibly hard to get the garden finished in 18 days.

I've had some really great comments and articles about the garden - especially in The Independent. I also found a YouTube clip thanks to Contextual gardens.