Melissa Jolly Garden Design

Melissa Jolly Garden Design
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Monday, 30 August 2010

Bulldog Tools.....Spade Review

Bulldog tools sent me two spades to test - a shrubery spade and a rabbiting spade and at last I have put them to use.

As I hope you can see from the photo the two spades are well made and attractive to look at - so ideal for both the hardened gardener and fair weather digger alike. Having never paid too much attention to the variety of spades on offer and their different functions, I have been enlightened by these two and got a feel for the differences and how they are fit for their purposes.

Shrubery Spade (see left) - a spade with a small head ideal for a smaller user or for tight spaces. This is a very neat little spade which is easy to use and as it says can fit in between plants in a shrub border. It is also particularly effective in hard ground as the smaller head allows more pressure on the ground.

Rabbiting spade - ideally meant for digging holes for fence posts in confined areas. I didn't have any fence posts to put in this weekend but we did have to dig a hole half a metre deep to sink a 12ft trampoline into the ground - perfect road test! We're on quite stoney ground that I had tried to dig up before but gave up, quickly condemming the ground as totally rubbish and full of builders rubble.
However, after using the rabbiting spade with it's tapered, sharp end, breaking up the stoney ground became a far easier job and has made me less scathing of our soil quality. The T-shaped handle allows you to use both hands on the handle whilst stepping on the blade giving you good control and power. All in all the way it sliced through the compacted ground was very satisfying. The amount of digging we have done over the last 3 days, shifting about 3 tonnes of soil, would test any spade, and the Bulldog tools stood up well with no signs of wear and tear - I wish the same could be said of our aching bodies!
Thanks to Bulldog Tools for the opportunity to use their spades - they're not having them back...but next time could they send us a digger?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Aftermath

On the Friday of the show I was featured in the televised programme of Gardener's World Live which was great (to watch the programme click here) - I have been incredibly lucky with this show with such positive publicity. Joe Swift seemed to genuinely like the garden and the design details which was a great confidence boost.

To add to this, the public voted my garden as their overall favourite between the NS&I sponsored gardens which I am sure had something to do with the fact that a lot of the people coming had seen the programme on Friday night. Carol Klein presented me with the award and a much appreciated bottle of Champagne.

Amazing what a few minutes of TV can do - I even had one comment saying "You were just like us yesterday and now you're all famous"...not quite but maybe one day! Some of the best comments were that people (especially mums) had been inspired by my decision to re-train and set up my own business, and others said that they had come to the show to see my garden after seeing it on TV.

The garden was used as a set for numerous photo shoots for publicity and promotions by both the BBC and Haymarket, which again was great - although a fair few of the 'models' kept sitting on my raised bed and squashing the plants which was less than great. The celebrity chef, James Martin, came and sat on my coriander and I was advised to try and auction it off to his adoring fans...instead I asked him to sign my blackboard wall and he said he liked the garden - so all was forgiven.

So all is now done and the show garden is sitting in pieces in my garden ready and waiting to be installed there. I brought all the plants home with me as I couldn't throw them but have started harvesting and last night we had a box load of fresh peas straight form the pods (never seen my kids eat peas with such enthusiasm) and delicious strawberries. Having learnt very quickly how to grow some fruit and veg I can't imagine not doing so - it's such a cliche, but there is so much satisfaction to be had from picking and eating straight from the garden.

The whole process of putting on a show garden is both exhilerating and exhausting and I am glad to be back home and less an absent mother and wife....but design ideas are already floating around my head for either Hampton Court or of the judges did ask if he'd be seeing me at Chelsea...and I wouldn't want to dissapoint!
To see more photographs of the garden please visit my website.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Judgement Day

Woke up at 4.30am this morning....very annoying

Cleaned up the site and then cleared off for a much needed shower and coffee whilst the judges were on site...


Earlier on in the week I received the very prestigious Golden Gnome award for wearing a short skirt on site....(and making Hi-Vis site wear look glam) I am very proud! Hope Health and Safety don't get wind of this - had had enough of steel toe caps this morning...;{

Post shower/ coffee/ make up and after receiving Silver medal from the RHS...(Gold next time....did I say there wouldn't be a next time???)

Thank you for reading this - look forward to seeing people at the show over the rest of the week, lots of Pimms and Champagne to be drunk.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Judging Day tomorrow...

Ok - so that was bloody hard work...I'd like to say never again will I do a show garden but....who knows?

Tomorrow is judgment day when the RHS judges come and give us (or not) a medal for our gardens prior to the show opening on Wednesday. I'm trying not to mind what they think (but obviously I do), as the garden has turned out how I wanted and I like it...hopefully Charlie (my husband) will like it too as it going in our garden after the show.

After a bit of a dodgy week last week, losing a whole load of my plants, I am done - apart from leaf polishing (really???) and scrubbing the paving first thing tomorrow morning before we get kicked off site while the judges titivate.

Better photographs to come tomorrow when I've removed the delightful rabbit proofing orange fencing...but here's how it looks now.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Planting tomorrow and disaster has struck...

The show garden build is going well so far and the extensive planning has definitely paid off. The contractors did an exemplary job and their handywork has been much admired. The weather has been changing daily between 27 degrees and torrential rain but so far has not caused any delays.

However, I am due to take my plants up tomorrow and finally get them in the ground but disaster struck this evening. After a busy day up in Birmingham I went home to check the plants. I had thought my chard were suffering from leaf scald (which was strange anyway as I have been pretty meticulous about not watering them in the sun shine) - but today I got back and noticed that the leaves on ALL the chard, beetroot and (what had been stunning) red veined sorrel had all gone a delightful yellowy-brown colour. Closer inspection of the leaves revealed that each had a tiny maggot in - I knew it had all been going to smoothly and something like this was bound to happen.

After a few phone calls and a search on the internet, I deduce that they have all been attacked by leafminers. I've thrown the lot of them and am gutted as they were all very decorative plants...but the show must go on, as they say and I'm hoping I have enough other plants to get by...blinking (holding my tongue on strong language)..blinking.........very cross.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Building - Day one

Today was the first morning up at the NEC. The NEC is huge and I felt pretty pleased just to find my site.

The team from Simply Green Landscapes arrived and we set to work getting the site marked out and excavated. To be honest, with 4 strapping guys on site I felt like a bit of a spare part so aside from lifting a load of turf, I spent most of the day running errands - back and forth to the builder's merchants, whom, I am sure, will get quite used to me asking for obscure things.

I'm currently searching for some handles to go on my glass cold frame doors - the type you can slide on to the glass - sort of sprung loaded with a handle bit sticking you can tell I have no idea what they are called and describing them has got me nowhere so far. If anyone reading this has any idea what I'm on about -please let me know.

Today was actually the most stress free day that I've had in the last month or so. The sun was shining and although there were a few issues that cropped up, nothing was insurmountable and at least I felt useful in being the decision maker.
So far so good - and looking forward to day 2......

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Filming for Gardener's World

The BBC team from Gardener's World got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago saying they were interested in covering the background and build up of my show garden.

This was pretty unexpected - I thought there may be some coverage during the show but had no idea that this kind of feature would happen. So we had a ten hour day of filming today which was fun, exciting and exhausting.
I'm fortunate to live close by to my tutor Duncan Heather who is the director at the Oxford College of Garden Design so we were able to do the majority of the filming in his stunning garden. When I initially thought of studying Garden design, I went to meet Duncan at his house, and was so inspired by what he and his wife Carol have created. They have impeccable taste and the garden is truly awe inspiring. It has been beautifully thought out and is a very relaxing space to be in. Sculpture is planted discretely amongst the trees, plants and woods, there's an exquisite formal pond, picture perfect walled kitchen garden and a wilder beech wood.
We then moved onto my rather underdeveloped (as yet) garden to film all the plants I'm growing for the show and on to my carpenter's workshop to see my bar unit. Then back to catch the evening light at Duncan's, a few more walking shots around the garden, a glass of Rose, and home again - back to reality and still lots to do with 2 days left until the build starts.
I'm looking forward to seeing the film crew again up at the show with the finished article - it's got to look good now...

Sunday, 16 May 2010

I need bees....

I had some great advice recently - I need to self pollinate my strawberries as they are in a polytunnel and the cold weather means bees are scarce....Great - as if I didn't have enough to do. So out I went with a little paint brush to brush pollen from flower to flower. Easier said than done - pollen may be small but I was expecting my paint brush to come away from each flower bulging with pollen as the bees legs didn't happen - evolution did a good job at making bees legs magnificent pollen catchers.

Shortly after I spotted a bee in the garden and thought maybe I could catch it so I could place it gently on a flower in the polytunnel - I failed in this first attempt but will keep on trying otherwise I run the risk of irregular shaped starwberries... heaven forbid...I've heard the RHS are hard task masters - I need perfect berries.

I spent some of my University days studying honey bees in Portugal looking at their tendencies to be right or left handed - I can't quite remember the results but I have fond memories of lying in fields of lavender watching bees and have had a soft spot for them ever since. I have just bought a 'bee box' for the garden - got to look out for these important little creatures. See the Plight of the Honey Bee.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010


Gotta love Facebook - a friend just posted an update that he's bringing in his veg as there is going to be a frost tonight. A quick look at the weather revealed a prediction of -3's MAY....this is not supposed to happen. I just googled all my vegetables that are not in the polytunnels and it looks like they're all frost hardy so they will have to stay put - besides I really just want to go to bed....fingers crossed.

Monday, 10 May 2010


I went to see my wall and bar last week that my lovely carpenter, Gene Walters of Phoenix Carpentry, has been creating for me. It was a slightly nervous moment before I saw what he'd done as you never quite know if it will look like it does in your head and on plan as it does in the flesh. I was thrilled with what I saw - his attention to detail is superb.

It threw up the odd problem here and there as the seed tray I had designed to fit into the worktop was too big - so another meeting with my metal worker Richard Heron from Heron Metal Crafts was called to make a few amendments. He will be making a curved aluminium door to enclose the stogare area. Still a work in progress but looking good.

The large curved wall is a pretty bold statement and will be even more so when painted with matt black 'blackboard' paint. If time permits - only 2 weeks to go so may be pushing my luck - I've asked my sister to come up with some artwork for the wall to temper the large block of black. Having seen these 2 major components of the garden has made the whole show garden experience suddenly seem very real.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Potting on...

Spring has most certainly arrived (despite it feeling arctic) and the plants are looking great. The past few weeks have been taken up with 'potting on' - carefully planting the growing seedlings into larger pots. It's a time consuming but theraputic job - and each time I take a plant out of a pot that I have grown from seed and see it's delicate lacework of roots running around the pot perimiter I feel like I've done a good job. I know plants are supposed to grow and want to grow but still, I'm always surprised I haven't killed them!

So far, my polytunnel has provided the young plants with protection from the last frosts and (fingers crossed) any pests and diseases...
I've taken to buying and sowing more and more as the show deadline approaches, maybe the nervous energy is kicking in already.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Urban Edibles for rooftop gardens

Article on urban vegetable growing, in particular roof gardens.

Vegetables can be grown in small spaces - just choose your varieties carefully. Some of the best advice that I have read on growing your own is to grow food that you like and that tastes better than the supermarket. When starting out, don't be too ambitious: successfull crops will gives you a great confidence boost but failings in crops - which might be nothing to do with inexperience - can have a very negative effect on whether you are inspired to grow more.

Let's hope Monty Don is right when he says that grow your own is not a media fad and is here to last.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Sowing seeds

I've sown a good deal of seeds recently and am letting most of the germinate in the reletive warmth inside, covering them with newspaper to keep in the moisture. As soon as the seedlings appear I ship them out to the polytunnel to stop them from 'bolting' from being too warm.

My order of 120 bare-rooted Strawberry 'Elsanta' plants arrived last week from Pomona Fruits and needed planting within 24 hours - always good to know when you find then on the doorstep 15 minutes before the school run - needless to say it took a little longer than this and I duely roped in my Dad to come and help first thing the next day. I have planted them far denser than you would normally for showing purposes in the hope that each pot will give the impression of one large plant. I love my strawberries - they started growing within a few hours of planting - which was a superb morale boost compared with staring at trays of compost waiting for seedlings to appear!

I have a standard goosebery tree and some cordon redcurrants to go in the fruit bed with the strawberries - supplied by the specialist fruit growers Chris Bowers and Sons. With any luck these will put on some decent growth in the next couple of months....if we get some of our nice spring weather back.

Thursday, 18 March 2010


First things first, I bought myself a polytunnel from Grow Up, which was very straightforward to assemble and great value. It will mean that I can control the growth of many of the plants without having to worry too much about fluctuations in the weather. As I am lulled into a false sense of security by the stunning spring weather we've had this week, many people warn me that April can be a horrid month and I have no room for issues arising from late frosts or hail storms.

My first port of call with regards to growing advice was from a superb trade nursery near me in Henley called Orchard Dene whose plant knowledge is second to none.

Building a Show Garden

It was great news to find out that I was one of three winners of NS&I's Growing Garden's Today competition to build a show garden at BBC Gardener's World Live 2010. It's an exciting prospect but also a daunting one as the amount of work involved becomes apparent.

This is the first show garden I have designed and I hope that this blog will give an insight into what is involved in putting together this exhibit; from sourcing materials, plants and craftsmen to managing the team of people that I will need to help me realise the potential of this scheme.

The brief was to create a modern, sustainable 'Grow Your Own' garden, which resulted in my 'Salad Bar' garden. My main concern is that I am attempting to grow pretty much all the plants in the garden - many of them from seed - a task that is totally new to me. The only way I am going to make this work is by learning as much as I can - talking to everyone who will spare their time and knowledge. Thanks in advance to all those who hear me say - "I've just got one quick question..."