As previously mentioned, time spent working on the garden at Little Acre has been somewhat lacking of late, partly on account of a whole lot of procrastinating but mainly due to gaining a bucket load of hands on experience working on Matt Childs Hampton Court show garden (see previous blogs part one & part two). This distraction continued with a truly wonderful day spent courtesy of the Garden Masterclass programme with Helen and James Basson at the Piet Oudolf designed Bury Court Barn in Surrey (photos of which can be seen below), learning about their approach to planting and sustainability. This was followed by an evening with Rosy Hardy discussing the current trends in flowering perennials.
James Basson is a internationally renowned garden designer, with Chelsea medals and Best in Show under his belt. Based in the South of France he has been running his garden design business Scape Design with Helen Basson for the past 18 years. For those of you that don’t know me, I started my working life as an ecologist and environmental manager, creating and managing landscapes with a focus on developing suitable sustainable ecological habitats. James and Helen’s ethos brought me back full circle. They centre less on creating individual statement gardens and more on creating natural landscapes that mesh and work alongside the environment they are in. Self-sustained gardens that work with the natural climate, selecting plants that thrive with little to no additional irrigation. Plants which require only limited maintenance. James in particular has a passion and knowledge of plants that is undeniable, after only a moment of conversation his dreams are clear. Designing gardens cannot be viewed as simply creating a pretty, stylish space, but provides an opportunity, if not an obligation, to work with the natural world, providing habitats that extend benefits beyond the property boundaries.
Their approach moves away from standard garden planting plans and towards the provision of planting mixes, laid out in natural drifts and blocks. Plants with different tolerances to shade and moisture distributed in different proportions through the mixes depending on their locations. Not just working with the standard will it or won’t it survive in shade but acknowledging that such things aren’t simply black and white. Plants ideally suited to full sun will still grow in shady conditions, they may not thrive or produce their most vibrant of blooms, they may become more leggy, woody or sparse but to varying degrees, more often than not, they will grow and can be found doing so in the natural world.
The day at Bury Court alongside James and Helen saw us analysing the planting beds there, breaking down their compositions and structures and looking at the balance of plants amongst them.
Using natural plant distributions and fully embracing a gardens surroundings and ecosystems brings me back to the basics of why I wanted to start this journey into garden design in the first place and given the right opportunities will certainly provide gardens that go beyond the standard remits. The Basson’s work in the South of France and often on properties that sit in wide open natural landscapes. How applicable such approaches are to the likes of the garden of a three bed semi on a housing estate in Milton Keynes, I’m yet to be convinced. James however believes these principals can be universally applied and although I have slight trepidation, they certainly sing a tune of which I am happy to get the sheet music for, regardless of whether or not I will ever be able to fully play the song.
Directly applicable or not, the day spent with James and Helen Basson opened up a new world of design principals to me. It enabled me to realise that the passions I had when obtaining my MSc and during the early stages of my career, could still be drawn upon and employed in my work today.
I found the day completely inspirational . It was a privilege to hear about how they got to where they are, how they developed their business and how they continue to mould their approach. If for no other reason that they were both just the nicest people you could hope to meet. Moving forward my design process will certainly consider if and how I can incorporate even just parts of the Basson’s ethos and I feel I will hopefully become a better designer because of this.
So, like buses, inspirational speakers from the world of garden design and horticulture tend to come along all at once. The following evening my education continued. This time in the form of the amazing legend that is Rosy Hardy of Hardy Cottage Garden Plants. Rosy and her husband Rob, established Hardys in 1988 and it has done nothing but grow in both size and stature ever since. Still a family run business but it now boasts no less than 23 RHS Chelsea Gold medals and has over 1200 different varieties of herbaceous perennials. Perennials, for those of you who aren’t aware, are defined as plants whose lifecycle lasts more than 2 years, those plants that come back year after year.
Rosy’s knowledge is renowned across the industry and I think I could possibly listen to her talk about plants for the rest of my days and be perfectly content. Rosy talks with an engaging enthusiasm that leaves you wanting to instantly purchase every plant she mentions.
The evening was hosted by the Surrey Garden Design Group, a fantastic collection of designers and enthusiasts who gather monthly either to visit nurseries or gardens, or to hear guest speakers such as Rosy share their knowledge and experiences. Rosy’s talk focused on late flowering perennials and she brought in a range of beautiful examples of those plants that were currently available. (who doesn’t love a good show and tell). Quite often at this time of year, once the late spring, early summer flowers have been and gone, the garden can start to look lack lustre and somewhat tired, so to bridge this gap Rosy ran through a list of plants that bloomed across July and early August, including Thalictrums, Veronicastrums, Salvias and Agastaches. Rosy has also recently released a book ‘Rosy Hardy: 25 years at Chelsea’ (of which I was extremely lucky to win a signed copy). This provides a narrative to the Hardy stands at Chelsea over the years, highlighting plant combinations used, the fashions of the time, along with tips for planting in a range of conditions, from sandy soils to dry shade, from windy sites, to waterlogged areas. Ideas were a plenty and I once again found myself gaining invaluable information that not only will help mould me into the designer I aspire to be, but help make Little Acre into the garden we dream of.
As the title of this blog states, every day can really be a school day if you just approach every opportunity given as a chance to grow, learn and develop, both personally or professionally. Take every moment as a chance to become more rounded and simply Never Stop Learning…… with so much out there, I certainly never want to.