Melissa Jolly Garden Design

Melissa Jolly Garden Design
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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.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Finished and ready for judging tomorrow

Conceptual Garden for Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011:

It's been a long 18 days building with lots of ups and downs - weather wise we had everything - rain, wind, blistering heat, more rain and beautiful sun for the last few days. Mid week was a low point when panic set in and I really didn't think I was going to get it finished - I had that sick feeling and didn't sleep for 3 nights. However, my family came up trumps and all piled in from every angle: my Mum came and helped paint on the 2 hottest days of the year and has been all around everywhere finding bits and pieces that I have needed, my Dad came up and laid turf and cleared rubbish, Charlie shifted rubble and soil, my sister painted and encouraged - and most importantly they appreciated and shared in what I was doing which helps spread the load!

My builders, John-William and his dad Bill, worked tirelessly - often on site for 12 hour days, the plasterers didn't leave until they were happy that they had achieved a perfect finish - even working weekends. All in all, I had a great team who helped me get the garden together. I left the site this afternoon with it ready for the discerning team of RHS judges tomorrow morning. Here are some photos of the finished garden. Now I can relax a little I can start the enjoy the show - it's such a stunning place to have been working (although I often forgot that when exhaustion set in) - but it is a privilege to be a part of such an awesome show!
For anyone who doesn't know the background of the garden - it's an outdoor art gallery where planting compositions have been inspired by the following artists: Monet, Hockney, Rousseau, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Hirst...

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Hampton Court coverage on Landscape Juice

Carol Miers, a journalist from Landscape Juice, has been following the progress of Jill Foxley's and my gardens that we're building (click on the link to read more). There will be more updates to come from me soon - more photos to upload, comments on all the other conceptual gardens - but for tonight I just need a shower and my bed!

Above is the Rousseau image that I am using as the basis for my jungle composition - lots of lovely plants going in - big leaves and hot coloured flowers. Hoping my Crososmia 'Lucifer' flower in time - I went around the show ground this morning looking for a greenhouse to put them into for a few days and found a willing display greenhouse company that said they would look after them for a while - sing to them, coax them...whatever it takes!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Air Plants

Gill from Just Air Plants dropped off some plants for my Conceptual garden yesterday - air plants are plants that grow in jungle canopies and don't need any soil - literally taking all their nutrients and water through their leaves. At BBC Gardener's World Live last year, where I built my first show garden, Joe Swift commented that my aluminum cold frames reminded him of a Damien Hirst installation.

Not quite up to Damien Hirst's work - but kind of him to make the suggestion!

So when I was considering what to do in my art gallery I happened to read an article in the American 'Garden Design' magazine about Air Plants. This gave me an idea about suspending them inside my cold frame in Hirst style. I googled 'Plants in Formaldehyde' just to see what came up. I did not find any images of plants in Formaldehyde but, instead, articles about the benefits of house plants in detoxifying the atmosphere to get rid of Formaldehyde, which I thought was quite an interesting connection.

I had virtually no knowledge of these strange plants and not a clue on who might be able to supply me with them - I had visions of trying to get them flown in from the US (which some of them did eventually do - when Gill told me they were in the country and awaiting their DEFRA inspection before I could take possesion of them it all sounded very exciting). The first search came up with a specialist company that were showing at Chelsea Flower Show this year and happened to be based 5 minutes from my house - some things are just meant to be. Gill has been a font of knowledge and has really helped me to choose the correct plants. I am also using some of her other Tillandsia in my Rousseau jungle scene.

Here is a Tillandsia 'Jackie Loinaz' suspended from our living room ceiling - the kids think it looks pretty cool!

Air Plants on the kitchen window sill

Work on site is going well - although it was another wet day up there today - hopefully tomorrow will be a little dryer as I have the guys in rendering and they have to be done by Friday - nothing like a little pressure!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Hampton Build - Day 2

Day 2 was a great day's building. We'd been slightly phased by the dire weather on the first day, plus I think it took us a while to get our heads around starting.

My builder John-William and his dad, Bill, both came up today and they work so well together that we really cracked most of the build. I have spent pretty much every day of the last year with John-William and Bill as they were building an extension on our house and I think knowing people that well really helps on a project like this. So from the computer model below:

To the gallery taking shape:

The forecast for today was supposed to be dreadful so the builders are taking a well deserved day off and I am packing up the van with the rest of the bits and pieces to take up. My husband, Charlie, is being roped in today and we need to take up the larger plants - Ligularia 'The Rocket' (below) which has shot up to over 5ft and some Gunnera manicata - brought all the way up from Cornwall in April which are huge and ridiculously heavy. I imagine this will either lead to bickering whilst we try to lug them about or exhausted hillarity!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Hampton Court Build - Day one

I don't think there's much to say was pretty wet up there today!

This is my site after 2 hours of torrential rain.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Packed up and ready to get up there!

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 'Build Up'

I picked up the lorry this morning - I feel I have a slightly worrying soft spot for lorries and was very excited to be driving it! It's now all packed up and ready to leave tomorrow morning at 5.45am. It feels a little strange to be all ready to go - there is so much organising for these shows and I've got as much of it done as I can, so now it's all down to getting it built.

Unfortunately this is what Google says the weather will be like for the first few days of building....oh joy!

I had an email from a journalist at Landscape Juice today saying that she was interested in running a story on the build up of my garden and she also informed me of an interesting green wall outside the National Gallery to mimic a Van Gogh painting - seems like art and plants are very in vougue at the moment.

Time for bed - I will try and keep an update on the build progress but I imagine I'll be having a few long days for a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Radio Interview

I had a call at 11am this morning from BBC Radio Berkshire saying that their contributor had dropped out for the Anne Diamond Show today and would I be interested in going in to talk about my Hampton Court Garden. So an hour later I was sitting in the studio about to talk about my garden. Luckily, having thought about little else for the last few weeks, it's quite easy to think of things to say. I had a really lovely time and it reminded me that this whole process is supposed to be fun and enjoyable and not the stressful mission that it sometimes feels like.

Listen to the Interview here - I'm on at about 2 hours in.

An amazing part of this job is the diversity...I was on the phone yesterday to a metal supplier in Finland asking about some pre-patinated copper sheet that I'd like to use in the show garden...he was very sweet but said it would take 8 weeks to order. As I need it in 2 days this was not what I wanted to hear. I know I have left it late, but trying to think of good backdrops for the planting compositions has been harder than I thought. I was then set on the idea of a lovely aged green copper backdrop for the Kandinsky creation - inspired by the painting below.

I did however, track down a company who happened to stock this particular metal sheet - cunningly named 'Metal Sheets' , so it is now being packaged up and will hopefully arrive tomorrow. I chose the above painting, Sketch for Several Circles, Wassily Kandinsky 1926, as I thought it would be great to showcase some beautiful plants with either spherical flower heads such as the stunning Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue' (below) or spherical in shape such as a Buxus sempervirens ball.

It also gives me a chance to include some garden sculpture and I found a lovely metal garden sphere from The Edge Company - by the designer Garth Williams based in Sussex.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

I'm building a conceptual garden, Picturesque, at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year - 26 days to go and I'm feeling like I'm on adrenaline fueled auto-pilot! The show's from the 5th-10th July for anyone thinking of visiting.

Conceptual gardens are about ideas and I'm hoping to provoke thoughts and inspire but mostly to create a space where people will enjoy being.

I'm building an out door art gallery where pieces of art, inspired by some of the worlds greatest artists, will be composed of plants. The idea originated from wanting to create 'views' out of a small space - something that I believe is an important part of my job as a garden designer. It slowly evolved as I began looking at framing views, galleries and then on to looking at how artists interpret nature.

So my artists are chosen: Monet, Hockney, Rousseau, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Hirst. Planting compositions range from Water lilies to Jungle plants to Air Plants - the latter only needing the air around them to survive and hence are part of my Hirst creation where they will be suspended - as if in Formaldehyde - in a glass tank. In my head it all works - I just hope the real thing works in practice.

I start building in 8 days time so lists and schedules are abundant as is paint, wood, sculptures, a pond and plants to look after.

Although the category of Conceptual Garden at Hampton Court is Sponsored by the RHS - a huge thank you has to go out to my additional contributors - Benchmarx Kitchens and Joinery for all the materials they have given me and Pantiles Nursery for lending me some of their superb quality plants.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Cornish Air

The garden at home is looking great and I will be taking some photos very soon when I've done a little more of the planting . I've left it for now as we're away for Easter- I felt it was a bad time to leave with so many plants still waiting to be put in the ground and soaring temperatures meaning that the new planting and lawn could so easily ruin in the few days that we're away. But my landscaper and neighbour, Simon Stokes, has kindly said he'll keep an eye on it all and water everything.

So the kids and I packed up the car and headed to West Cornwall for the weekend. It was a sweltering car journey but we just made it down to Zennor with 10 minutes to spare before sunset - just stunning - wrapped the kids in blankets and sat on the deck to see the sun go down before having supper with my parents, grandmother and kids.

The 5 hour journey down here gave me time to think of the conceptual garden that I'm building at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year. As with a lot of things I do in life, I feel I have left my planning a little late. I was up at 6.45am on the first morning of my 'holiday' working on the show garden.

I'm building an art gallery where the artwork will be made up of compositions of plants inspired by artists or types of art. One of the pictures will be a jungle scene inspired by Henri Rousseau.

The house in Cornwall has a valley garden where a stream runs through planting dominated by the giant Gunnera manicata and I'm hoping we will be able to dig some up for the Rousseau composition. Gunnera is a magnificent plant, and is so exciting to see leaves unfurling and to know they will become giants 5 feet across.

I went with Dad to a local nursey as he was picking up some more Agapanthus for the garden and walked into a small unassuming place with a shed as an office with the walls laden with Gold RHS medals - what a place to stumble across! Churchtown Nurseries are regulars at all the Flower shows with their stunning Restios and they seemed keen to help out with plants for the jungle garden. Cornwall is the best place to be in my search for these types of plants and I'm off to Trevena nurseries now to see what they have there that might work.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Day 2 was not so good...

Work had to stop on day 2 as we noticed that our digging had uncovered a pretty nasty mess! Whilst excavating for the path, sewage water began to pool in every hole we dug...not nice and a bit of a worry whilst we tried to figure out why it was there and where it was coming from.

It turns out that when our houses were built we shared a septic tank with our neighbours so the tank straddles the fence line, and is still in use by our neighbours...(we have a delighful new one that is plonked right in the middle of our garden - I'm hoping the garden will look so lovely that you will not notice it but we'll soon see whether that idea works). After a discussion with the neightbours it was clear that they have some sort of fault with the drainage system on their septic tank and as soon as it was emptied all the flooding drained away.

Work stopped on the garden for a few days whils the ground dried out (luckily we had some exceptionally warm days and no rain). However, the delay of the project meant that work had to be carried out whilst I was away on holiday. Not ideal as I had wanted to keep quite a tight reign on what was going on. I've left Simon , my landscaper, with quite a few drawings and plans and I know he has a good eye, so I'm happy to leave him in control. One great thing about having the garden done whilst we're away us that I'm very excited to get home and see it - no holiday blues to deal with!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Diary of our garden build

We have just started work on our own garden and I have decided to keep a diary of how it progresses.

I was lucky that we moved house just as I finished my course at The Oxford College of Garden Design, as it meant I had a blank canvas of a garden to work with. I don't think I would have had such a free rein to re-do it if it was an established plot. So I have started from scratch and have found designing my own garden more of a challenge than I expected. Perhaps this is because I know there are certain expectations from friends and family - but mostly because I desperately want it to work. Gardens are pretty expensive to do well and although I think it will add value to the house (economically and from a lifestyle point of view), I really don't want to make any costly mistakes.

It's a year and a half since we moved in and over that time the design has been modified and simplified but crucial attention has been given to materials and details. I think this in an interesting point for people to think about when they set about doing their own garden. Don't rush the process - living with the space gives you such a good idea of how you would like to use it. This is a common piece of advice given to people about to make changes to their homes and I feel it applies as much to the garden. Also, as is so often the case, when people are carrying out work to their house the garden usually comes last when patience for building and funds are running low, so it's worth thinking carefully about it.

I have managed to nudge the priority of the garden slightly up the never-ending list of things to do and it has overtaken the need for floors in the house...I convinced my husband that we really didn't want new floors being ruined by the mud bath that had become our garden during the build!

So after Day 1 this is how the garden looked....trenches for electrics dug and the garden in chaos! Let's hope for a little more order tomorrow.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Show is Over....

The RHS London Plant and Design Show is now over and I am very happy to have a relaxing day at home, catching up on a few jobs and not having 16 hour they have been for the last 5 days.

I was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal - a step up from my Silver last year - so heading in the right direction - but God...I would have liked a gold! I didn't feel so bad about feeling this way after chatting to Tony Smith - who, having 5 Gold medals to his name and a few silver-gilts, told me that you're never really happy unless you get a gold...that's just the way it is!

I am now starting to plan for my conceptual garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this summer and getting back to work as normal with some exciting new design projects.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Nearly there

London Plant and Design Show - Build Up:

Just finished 2 days of building - yesterday started early and ended very late - thank you to my brilliant husband and fantastic builder for all their hard work.

It's Exhausting!!! Everything always takes longer than expected - loading and unloading the van took the majority of the first day and we did not even start building until 3 o'clock.

However, everyone worked hard and by the end of today I am at a fairly good stage. I still have a few things to do tomorrow to finish it off before the 4pm deadline - normal life still goes on, so I can not get up to London until after the school runs. I have a schedule for the next three days stuck to the fridge - so that the kids know who's supposed to be where, when and with what!

I've had no time to prepare a talk for the London Plant and Design show and was fairly relaxed until I heard that John Brooks (MBE) - ..."most influential designer in the 20th Century" will also be speaking - I am now wondering why on earth I volunteered to speak.

However, I am really looking forward to this show. I have not visited it before, and it looks like it will be a very intimate and friendly affair - and also over pretty quickly. Plans are already well underway for breakdown on Wednesday. After two and a half days of building we have just 4 hours to get it out of the halls - sounds like a tall order to me.

So, I am well into my second show garden and I realise that I do really enjoy them - I like the buzz, the event organising side, the number of people you need to be in touch with - and seeing a project come together from design to build in such a short space of time. I just wish I could finish our own 'building-site-of-a-garden' to the same discerning standard. Seems a long way off right now!

End Of Day 2....getting there

The Martha Schwartz lecture on Thursday night inspirational - her projects were immense and dynamic and I feel like Garden Design might be the tip of the iceberg...perhaps a further career in Landscape Architecture awaits...More on that later.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


It's about now that the pressure of a show garden really builds...everything is being delivered over the next few days - artwork came yesterday, leaflets arrived today, planters and furniture arrive tomorrow - so it's all go and the adrenaline has started to work it's magic - in that I seem to be able to survive on very little sleep!

My plants have arrived as well which is very exciting - for the middle of February I think they're looking pretty good. The frost has got to a few of them, so I have been meticulously snipping off each and every damaged leaf...a therapeutic process but one that does produce the occasional... "Why, on earth, I am doing this?"

I had a call from my furniture suppliers today and there has been a mistake with the delivery...not the best news I had all day, as the manufacturers are in Denmark. After establishing that it was pretty improbable that we could get the correct piece of furniture here on time, I have realised that I will have to work with what I have. I'm giving a talk on Show Garden Building at an RHS seminar on Wednesday (yes...the same day as the show is on, nothing like piling on the work load) - and I have included in my talk a section on the fact that mistakes happen and you just have to solve the problem the best way possible. So, I am adamant not to get stressed about it.

We have started to construct the garden so that all is ready for the 2 and a half day build that starts on Saturday. Here is John-William, my trusty builder, steadily cutting the porcelain tiles - not an easy job.

I'm having an evening off tonight and heading up to Oxford to listen to the eminent Landscape Architect Martha Schwartz, and to catch up with some of my college friends who I haven't seen for ages - can't wait.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A Roof top Terrace

3 weeks to go until my next show garden 'Sky-Green Living' goes on display at the RHS London Plant and Design Show.

Just before Christmas I had a call from the RHS asking if I would be interested in designing a garden for this London show - the first in the RHS shows calender. After designing my garden for BBC Gardener's World Live last year, I think I had been hesitant about doing another show garden - especially on a tight budget - but here I am getting on with another one. I felt flattered that the RHS had asked me and am very excited now to be doing another show. The brief for this garden was simply to design a roof terrace 5m x 4m in size. I am especially excited by the chance to showcase tiles from Royal Mosa, Netherlands, furniture from Cane-line in Denmark and artwork from LSd in Italy, combined, these provide a contemporary sleekness which will be softened by green roof and living wall planting - which happened to be in line with the RHS's push for urban greening - more on that later.

Just under 3 weeks to go until I start putting it together at the Royal Horticultural Halls in London, SW1. With only 2 days to build this garden it's going to be a different experience to last year's show, with virtually all the garden pre-made. I'll be keeping a diary on progress and explaining the design over the next few weeks. Until then....