New Job, New Blog!

Well here we are, about to start a new month and with some very good news to talk about.

The first and of course, the most important one is that since last Wednesday I am officially employed again and working with a former student of the OCGD. Being now one the most well-known and recognized garden designers in London, Charlotte Rowe has offered me the opportunity to work at her practice for 2 days a week but with the real possibility to increase these to 3 or 4 days a week once the new 2011 arrives.

I can not deny this is a very good way to push myself into the garden design business, as that will add more design experience to my “construction & management” knowledge and at the same time, will give me some more time during the week to work on my own projects. First week was good, starting a design for a new roof terrace and preparing some SketchUp views to show to the client this week but obviously, more to come once I settle myself into this role.

And talking about my own projects, the evolution of the works at the Fulham Community Garden on Fulham Palace Road has good pace. Some more volunteers came last Wednesday and kept going with the clearance of old greenery, digging all roots over and leaving the area almost ready to apply new compost and manure next week. Yes, and that is more good news, we have got already fundings for the purchase of all the compost plus half of the plants needed, thanks to a couple of businesses nearby and some other individuals (either living or working in the area) that have given funds towards the project. Still a little bit more to raise though so again, if you feel you would like to help, please contact me through a comment on this post.

Finally and as a result of the evolution of my garden design business, I am starting a new blog in Blogger where I will keep writing about my experiences, thoughts and everything else as I have been doing until now. Please keep visiting and subscribing to it as you have been doing with this one, I promise you will find it at least interesting, if not useful.

Thank you WordPress for this year and few months. It’s been a great time!!

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Communal Project in Fulham. Any help welcome.

Today I am going to talk to you about a Communal Project I am collaborating with in the area where I live, Fulham.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a local developer with the idea (maybe a little unrealistic one) of improving the look of a quite devastated piece of land which he thought could have a much better use for the whole community. The area itself, opposite to Fulham Palace Garden Centre, has been left without maintenance or care for several years now so everything in there is overgrown, full of weeds and in really bad conditions, something that promotes the place to be seen completely unattractive and unsafe when it gets dark as well.

After a couple of meetings to better know how the Project was going to be managed I decided to put my hands on it as much as possible, as the main idea was contacting volunteer people to help with the labour while trying to collect money through donations from shops and businesses nearby to supply plants and other materials needed.

The first point though is to improve the general look of the place, clearing all the creepers growing on the external fences to then chop down most of the overgrown and old shrubs, as the only thing they are doing at the moment is to completely hide the views of the garden from the streets plus shading almost all the area. And that is exactly what the first group of volunteers have been doing today, with the help of the Community Payback Scheme from the Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and some other anonymous volunteers. Here you can see a couple of pictures taken during the day but tomorrow I will tweet some more so you can really see the difference.

Works will continue every Wednesday morning for the next 2 to 3 weeks, so the area can be cleared of roots, tree suckers and rubbish for then, condition and improve the existing soil with the addition of some new manure, compost and fertilizer. But where do we want to get with all this? Well, here is where I come into action, as I have prepared a small but interesting design to plant up an area of 65 m² approx. which we are all expecting improves the general perception of this garden and therefore, its use by all the people living in the area and surroundings.

The problem as you can all imagine is the money, as the funds at the moment do not allow to even buy the first complete lot of manure/compost. As previously said, we are in talks with shops and businesses in the area, will have a meeting tomorrow with The Fairbridge Garden Society and the closest neighbours seem really interested but at the moment, that is all we have got. So if you feel having an idea to help or want to donate towards the purchase of plants, please feel free to contact me through this blog or e-mail me instead. Any help is welcome!

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Planting Guide: Perennials.

The idea of having flowering plants all year round is something that almost everyone likes and vital on that purpose are all plants referred to as “herbaceous perennials“, that is, plants that die back in autumn and grow again in spring the following year.

Mixed with shrubs and bulbs or even just a combination of them, they bring real colour, depth and focal points throughout the year quickly and easily. But before buying planting will be useful to plan which plants we are going to use, thinking on different heights and flowering times to create real interest in the garden.

Most herbaceous perennials are available all year round wether in spring as tiny plants or in summer often as bigger and already flowering plants. As has been said in previous posts is better to buy a number of the same plants to be used in groups (approximately from 3 to 7 depending on the size of your garden). Here some suggestions (thanks to the people from Shoot for some of the information):

Aster nova-angliae: An upright bushy perennial with rough, dark-green, lance-shaped leaves. From late-summer to autumn, it bears sprays of purple daisy-like flowers with yellow centres.

Euphorbia griffithii “Dixter”: A spreading, rhizomatous perennial with erect stems bearing narrow, red-flushed, dark green leaves and terminal clusters of bright, orange-red flowers in summer.

Hemerocallis “Sammy Russell”: Narrow, mid-green leaves and dark red flowers with yellow-orange throats from midsummer to early autumn.

Heuchera “Marmalade”: Semi-evergreen to evergreen perennial with red stems bearing rounded, lobed, leaves that emerge copper-red or pink and turn bronze. Small, bell-shaped, red-brown flowers in summer.

Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans: Large, rounded, heart-shaped, grey-blue leaves and spikes of lilac-tinged, trumpet-shaped, white flowers in late summer.

Kniphofia “Royal Standard”: Linear, grass-like, dark green leaves and, in summer, upright, stout stems bearing dense spikes of tubular, bright yellow flowers opening from scarlet buds.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii: Dusky-pink leaves uncurling to blue-green in ealry spring followed by bowl shaped single yellow flowers in late spring.

Sedum “Autumn Joy”: One of the finest of all Sedums. The flower heads are pink and change to a rosy red in autumn and contrasting with its green foliage.

Once you have got your plants selected, follow the easy steps recommended on the previous post for the planting stage, so the chances of succeeding with your plants increase.

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Planting Guide: Shrubs.

Already back in London after a well-deserved week of holidays in Barcelona that has allowed me to charge batteries after a really tough year.

With this post I pretend to start a series of them related with plants, from perennials to climbers, trees, etc. giving some advice and suggestions that might be useful for both, gardens already built with some maintenance/improvement needs or ones that are going to be designed, so these tips can be used as a helpful guide.

To create structure and shape in the garden shrubs are a the first plants you should think of, as these provide foliage, flowers, fragance and fruit so with careful planning you can have all-year round interest. Shrubs can be planted at any time as long as the soil is not too wet or frozen. Once you have decided which plants are going to be used think of the principles of Design, that is Continuity, Unity and Rhythm so there is a link and a feeling of balance among all the plants.

Before planting and as a general rule of thumb, clear the area of weeds and dig a hole twice the size of the pot, adding some slow-release fertilizer to improve the growth during the season. Once the shrub is planted water well and keep watering more than usual for the next few weeks until established. If you are planting in a dry spot, make a slight depression around the plant to ensure water gets into the soil and roots.

Some suggestions depending on the final placement or use of these shrubs could be:

Autumn foliage & fruit: Acer palmatum “Osakazuki” (Japanese maple), Amelanchier lamarckii (Snowy mespilus), Chaenomeles x superba “Crimson & Gold”, Cotinus coggygria “Royal Purple” (Smokewood), Pyracantha “Saphyr Orange” (Firethorn), Spiraea japonica “Goldflame”, Viburnum opulus “Compactum”.

Ground cover: Ceanothus tyrsiflorus var. repens, Cotoneaster dammeri, Hebe “Emerald Gem”, Pachysandra terminalis “Green Carpet”, Vinca major.

Flowers & fragance: Buddleja davidii “Peacock” (butterfly bush), Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom), Daphne mezereum, Elaeagnus angustifolia, Syringa vulgaris (Lilac).

When choosing your shrubs, take into consideration that small shrubs are easier to grow and more successful than larger plants and remember that while you may buy a small plant, it will grow over the next few years. To look after your shrubs, during the first years water well during dry periods and add some general fertilizer to the soil every spring. Pruning can be required on some shrubs, so check the plant label for information or ask your local nursery/garden centre.

Finally before the first frosts, move any tender plants in containers into a conservatory or greenhouse, protecting as well any plant of borderline hardiness with a 15 cm. thick layer of bark chips or any other mulch on their base. Evergreens keep their leaves throughout the winter, but if the weather is really tough drape a protective fleece over newly planted shrubs.

 

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Finished!

It is over, now I can really say it is finished. After a 15 days-long final sprint, tomorrow I will print and send the last assignment of our Diploma, the tough but very useful Soft Landscape Portfolio. Never thought this exercise was going to be such a hard work, collecting information of almost 200 different plants and at the same looking for nice pictures on the world wide web, which sometimes is not that easy. Among all the websites I have had to visit I strongly recommend you two of them: Shoot Limited and Dave’s Garden. Almost every plant you can think of will be in their databases and usually you will find some plant suggestions that work well with those plants, so an extra help for your planting plans among loads of other interesting information.

At the same time however, I must admit how valuable all this work has been. I have learnt so much about plants I already knew, how to combine them with other plants and discovered a series of completely new plants to me which from now I can start using on my designs. The second part of the assignment, the Seasonal Portfolio instead has given me the opportunity to see the evolution of different gardens throughout the year. How to use texture, structure, colour and some other plant characteristics to create gardens with all year round interest, which is a quality highly recognised in almost every single garden designer you can think of.

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Soft Landscape Portfolio & BusinessLink

Very busy times right now, as I am heading to the end of the PhD but first, need to finish the last assignment which is the Soft Landscape Portfolio. This is divided on two different parts, one Colour Combination Portfolio (ten combinations for both sunny and partially shaded spots, going from Yellow/Blue to Purple/Grey to name but a few) and two, Seasonal Plant Portfolio.

I can see it is very interesting and useful to start building up our knowledge of plants, but at the moment it is taking ages to find all the required information of every single plant, plus a nice picture from the internet (free of copyright of course) to add to it. This task is almost finished now and by next week I hope to be dealing with my own photographies, the ones I have taken during the year visiting gardens such Blenheim & Rousham, The RHS Garden Wisley or Waterperry which will be used to see the evolution of different borders during all 4 seasons of the year.

On the other side next week as well I will attend my second workshop with the people from BusinessLink. First one “Starting a business, is it for me?” was a bit of introduction to entrepreneurs to make you think if you really want to start your own business and what is involved with that decision. This one instead is more about “Getting the basics right” so I hope this will help me to know the basics of being self-employed, taxes, finances and best of all, a bit of marketing and how to develop my business plan, which I already have in mind.

A bit slowly but everything is taking shape. 😉

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Work Experience with Charlotte Rowe.

After some days of well-deserved holidays in Germany, back to work again. At the moment I am spending a bit of time on thinking how to set up my new garden design business, so I have booked a session with the people of Business Link, but that will be in a couple of weeks time though.

Last week instead I had the opportunity to have all five days of work experience with Charlotte Rowe, one of the most successful former students of our Diploma. Really interesting to see how a garden designer works in real life and a more personal approach to the business than the one we have learnt at College.

As well as my colleague did last week, mornings were time for site visits, from Hampstead Heath to Notting Hill to check how the construction of some gardens was going on. I have to say this was one of the parts I enjoyed the most, as for my previous experience as a Site Manager I really felt I was in my “environment”. Some new designs were presented as well to clients and the general feeling was excitement and surprise about what a garden can be…

Later in the days from midday to evening was time for design, so spent time with SketchUp and VectorWorks preparing sketches for new gardens and doing some planting plans as well.

Finally on Friday, after having a nice pub lunch to celebrate Tomoko’s birthday, we all headed to two different gardens built some time ago, to do a photographic session with Clive Nichols. The most enjoyable part of the week, as while I could see the gardens designed with all the plants already grown and mature so they had a completely different look to when they were built, I was able to take some pictures to show you and practice my garden photography skills.

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