Christmas is now passed and we’re shuffling towards 2012 which marks a suitable opportunity to reflect on the year just passed and our review of 2011. It’s been a busy year indeed. An exciting one too. We’ve designed and built more gardens than ever before and, with the help of some new additions to the Vialii team, managed to expand the maintenance operations too. We’re hoping to carry forward the momentum into the new year and continue the steady growth although as you’ll read below this is not going to be without it’s fresh challenges. So without further ado we present out Vialii Garden Design awards for 2011.
I’m going to be a Dad! Sometime in January 2012 Vialii will have itself a tiny little apprentice. Without question this has been the single-most exciting ‘project’ I have ever been involved in. It has blown my tiny mind. The learning curve has been both steep and illuminating and I know that I’m nowhere near the top of the curve as yet but I’m relishing the rest of the climb.
Due to the pregnancy we opted to holiday in the UK this year and we spent a lovely fortnight plodding around Cornwall. As is our way, we visited a bunch of gardens, Heligan, Trebah, St Michael’s Mount etc but the garden (if you can call it that) that really blew our socks off was The Eden Project. It is just fantastic. The sheer scale of the site is breathtaking and the attention to detail throughout is exquisite. You can read all about our visit to the Gardens of Cornwall here.
An honourable mention goes to Jupiter Artland which my beloved and I visited on my birthday in June which not only has stunning Charles Jencks landforms but has the most delightful sculpture garden.
RHS Chelsea. My beloved and I both made it to Chelsea this year and we both agreed it was an outstanding event and that Cleve West was a deserved winner with his show garden. As always we found it inspiring and invigorating. Due to the impending baby birth, however, it is unlikely we will make it the Chelsea in 2012 but we’re going to try and squeeze in a baby-friendly show somewhere later in the summer.
That’s about all I can think about awarding for now so I’m going to sign off. I would like to take this opportunity to give a hearty thanks to all the readers of this blog and to our clients for their continued support throughout the year and we wish you all the very best for 2012.
Michael and all at Vialii
Our design for Provost’s Park has been revealed by Bridge of Allan Community Council and the local community have an opportunity to provide their feedback on the design.
Shops are selling it, TVs are advertising it and radio stations are playing it. There is no escaping the advancing march of Christmas. Each year the pressure is on to find the perfect present, something a little more thoughtful than a selection box and a pair of socks. Fret not, to help you find something special for the gardener in your life, we at Vialii have pulled together our favourite gardening gifts for Christmas 2011 to suit all tastes and budgets…
So, the grass is mown and the flower beds weeded – it’s time to relax and enjoy your garden. And what better way to do that than on these recycled deckchairs. Made entirely in the UK from recycled sails, the chairs can be personalised with a name or a date too.
£150 from Not on the High Street
Now, this has got to be a favourite of ours – a recycled wine glass holder. Made from recycled plastic it well and truly ticks the green box. Simple to use, just push the spike into the ground and it’s ready to use. So get out the recycled deck chair (see above) and relax with a bottle of wine and now you don’t have to worry about the glass falling over on uneven ground any more. And a bargain at £4.99 for a pack of four from Lakeland.
Gardening gloves need not be boring and utilitarian. These leather and linen gauntlets cover much of the arm allowing you to get stuck into some good old pruning without ripping your arms to shreds. And with this pretty floral design you can be stylish to boot.
£32.90 from EBay
There is little as satisfying as growing your own, and with this personalised crate it is the perfect place to grow your choice of annuals, herbs or shrubs. Alternatively the crate could be used as a log store or somewhere to keep all your hand tools organised. There is plenty of space for personalisation and the crate is made from high quality pine.
From £31.99 from Getting Personal
There has been a lot of publicity in recent times about the reduction in the numbers of the humble bumble. We are always big fans of anything which will encourage wildlife into the garden and this is a great way of helping our friends the bees but ensuring the garden remains stylish at the same time. As well as attracting non aggressive bees such as the Mason bee, other wildlife such as lovely ladybirds will use it as a winter home. Available in a range of colours.
£19.95 from Not on the High Street
Having a rose named after you has to be the ultimate accolade. Normally the domain of the rich and famous, now you can give this gift to someone you love. Included in the present is seed for the recipient to grow and the opportunity for them to name their rose and get a certificate with its details. Certainly a talking point for the garden.
£9.99 from The Gift Experience
This alternative to the traditional watering can is so much fun and will bring a smile to your face every time you use it. They are recycled and come in a wide array of funky colours. Yes please Santa!
£9.00 from Hen & Hammock
We are big fans of encouraging kids to get involved in gardening and what better way than getting them to help make your very own scarecrow. Whether you have a larger garden with your own veg patch or are lucky enough to have an allotment, this is a fun and practical addition to any plot. The kit includes the basics you need to make your own scarecrow, illustrated instructions and ideas of how you can embellish your scarecrow to make it truly unique.
£28.00 from Hen & Hammock
Grow your own kits have been doing the rounds for some time now but these “bombs” caught our eye. The quirky holders are filled with local, recycled, organic material and are sold in a pack of 4 .
£10.95 from Kabloom
So happy shopping, and from everyone at Vialii, can we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2012.
All at Vialii
All prices and suppliers correct at the time of the blog being posted. Apologies if any of these change but it’s outwith our control.
As we at Vialii waddle into our third trimester, our minds are turning towards making our house child friendly. Whilst relegating our trendy shell door-curtains and glass coffee tables to the attic may delight our friends who already have kids who can’t relax round ours for fear of something being broken, it’s made us think about what really needs to be changed for our little one’s arrival. Does Baby Burt really mean that our home has to be all safety measures and no style? And how do we create a child friendly garden?
Of course you can be both stylish and safe. There will of course be certain common sense action to be taken but your child should be able to share your existing world without too much upheaval (well other than the sleepless nights from here on in!) This of course applies to your garden too. Whilst having a huge expanse of lawn may be perfect for kicking a ball about, is it the answer for creating a space for the WHOLE family? And will it encourage a passion for nature or foster their imagination? How can you encourage social interaction and be educational? Here are our tips to how to create a child friendly garden which is still a beautiful, relaxing place for adults and doesn’t compromise your style…
OK, let’s tackle the big taboo of gardens straight away – water. We have a pond in our garden and so many people have asked when we will be getting rid of it for the little one arriving. The short answer is we’re not. We are of course going to take some safety measures (we can hear our friends rejoice!) We will be purchasing a grid which is made bespoke and will sit just under the surface of the pond. Plants can still grow up through the grid and wildlife can still enjoy the water. However children (and other little animals like hedgehogs) can’t fall into the water. Technically, the grid can be walked over (great as a party trick!) but we don’t recommend doing this in front of the kids in case they think all ponds work like this. For us, keeping water in the garden is important for lots of reasons – it looks stylish, it adds another feature to the garden and of course attracts wildlife. We will also use the pond as an educational tool for Baby Burt. We want them to be able to get close to nature but also, importantly, understand the danger of water and how to respect it.
Having a pond may not be your thing, or you may not have the space or it. However, it’s worth considering a smaller water feature – anything from a rusty spout shooting out water to trendy metal spheres which gently spurt water can be placed anywhere in the garden. It will provide a relaxing sound, attract wildlife and children just love playing with water, filling cups and pouring it back in.
Now, garden toys are an area where we struggle to engage with the wide variety of mass produced plastic apparatus which seems to find its way into many family gardens. And don’t get us started on the dreaded trampoline! Of course, if that’s your thing then fine but there are lots of other options available which can be even more stimulating for children. And aesthetically, these options can fit into the most stylish of gardens so you don’t need to compromise your space.
Create raised beds or a box using chunky timber sleepers or an old pallet which can be used as sand pit while your children are young. A lid can be constructed for the top to keep the sand clean (and local cats out!) When your child outgrows the sand pit, encourage their interest in gardening but turning it into a veg bed, starting off with carrots to take advantage of the sandy base!
Children love stepping stones and these can be placed anywhere around your garden – in lawn, in gravel paths, through borders. Think about creating interesting patterns using the stepping stones. As an alternative to stepping stones, consider setting short logs on their end for kids to run along. Or introducing small boulders can have the same effect and then be turned into a rock garden at a later date.
If you have big old trees in your garden, use these to create play areas for kids. Is there anything more romantic than a rustic old swing hanging from a tree? Or hang a knotted rope for kids to climb and swing from. Feeling handy? How about creating a tree house? Take care to ensure that the tree is strong enough to support those who will be playing on it (big kids too!)
We are already discovering how expensive kids can be but with a little imagination, you can create fun areas for the kids in the garden with very little money at all:
Create a den using a sheet hung over your washing line (or hang a new washing line if the existing one doesn’t suit).
Ask your local timber yard if they have any chunks of old tree trunk which you could use in your garden for kids to sit or climb on.
If your child shows an interest in your garden, be sure to encourage it. Start them off growing seeds on your window sill and show them how that translates to plants growing outside. Perhaps they would like their own area to look after to grow flowers, herbs and veg or they would just like to potter with you. Educate children on plants to avoid for their thorns, stings or that are poisonous to eat. Introduce them to the wildlife in the garden from the good wildlife such as frogs, hedgehogs and ladybirds to the less wanted ones such as slugs, snails and greenfly. You don’t need a lot of space of fancy containers to grow your plants. Everything from bags and old watering cans to scrapped sinks and even old boots can be used to grow plants!
Create a wildlife tower using lots of recycled materials. Old timbers can be used to create the structure which children can then help you fill with various materials such as bamboo canes, old egg cartons, broken bits of slate or old straw packing. Not only will it be a fun project to make, you and your family can then keep an eye on what wildlife it then attracts into your garden.
If you have bigger expectations (and budget) then consider one of the following ideas…
Instead of buying plastic toys look at investing in or building something using natural materials. There are some fantastic wooden dens and tree houses on the market. Some can be pricey but keep an eye on eBay, Gumtree or Freecycle where people are often looking to get rid of something their little ones have outgrown.
At the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show, Marshall’s created a garden that Kids Really Want. Introduce tunnels, rock stacks and dens along with dense planting to create an area which wont fail to fire your child’s imagination.
Turn your deck into a ship wreck by throwing up some rope pulls and climbing nets. Make sure there’s a comfy landing though! When kids have outgrown it just lower the Jolly Roger!
We are huge fans of Charles Jencks’ work and especially love his land forms. We know how much kids love running around these spirals and you don’t need the biggest garden in the world to introduce one into your garden. Reduce the height to around 6ft tall so that it’s still safe for kids to climb and ensure the slopes are gentle enough. Not only will kids love running up and down the land forms you will have your very own art installation in your garden.
Even the smallest of gardens can be designed cleverly to create journeys which kids will love to explore and spend hours running around. Our own front garden, whilst not designed for kids, has swirling paths which we have discovered kids just love. They chase each other in circles or are intrigued with the bench under the tree or the topiary balls hanging from the shepherd’s crooks. If you have a bigger garden, create a woodland area with paths running through barked beds which can be filled with trees and shrubs. You know your children will be safe but they will think they are being allowed freedom as they hide in the “wilderness” and spend time with nature.
So next time you are pondering a plastic chute hopefully you will think about the other possibilities open to you and choose a solution which favours the planet, your child and the harmony of your outdoor space.
Thanks for reading.
All at Vialii (especially the Bump!)
More and more in recent times, clients have been asking us about using artificial grass. It used to be fake grass looked just that – fake. It was more akin to the base for a Fuzzy Felt scene (Google it kids!) and was far from being the building blocks of a stylish garden. These days, there are a myriad of products in the market place ranging from the cheap and cheerful (think old style football pitches) to the luxe end of the market. Many of the qualities on offer look just like real turf – some even have thatch in them to make them look even more real!
Now, it’s not for everyone and if you have the conditions and time to care for the real thing we would always recommend that route. A beautiful real lawn is one of life’s real pleasures. Sometimes though, the fake stuff can be the right choice for you. Here are just some of the benefits…
No need to cut the grass anymore! Get the lawn mower on eBay and from now on Sunday afternoons can be spent with your feet up with a nice cuppa instead of tackling the cobwebs in the shed to get the mower and strimmer out. You just need to find a way of getting out of cleaning the car instead!
No need for fertiliser, lawn weed killer, aeration, scarifying or the many other lawn treatments required to keep your grass looking green and lush. Some of these can have an adverse effect on the environment too so you are being eco-friendly by switching to the fake stuff.
Artificial turf is a great solution for pets and kids who can be prone to digging or generally getting everything, especially themselves, covered in mud from playing on grass. It is also a great solution on high traffic areas.
Cost! OK, so the initial costs are comparably higher than traditional turf, but long term you save money on mowing, treatments etc.
Fake grass can help with drainage issues although you will need to ensure a suitable base and possibly a drainage solution are installed along with the new grass.
There’s no need to water your new fake turf. A new laid traditional lawn needs a lot of TLC whilst it beds in and in hot summers with little rain (OK, we can but dream) you will need to keep your traditional lawn watered.
Whilst most clients want to consider artificial turf as a direct replacement for a traditional lawn there can be other, more innovative ways to utilise fake grass in your garden. One of our favourite ideas was showcased in the Urban Plantaholics Kitchen Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2010. The garden was created for an eccentric chef who had a passion for plants but didn’t want to cook at home. A fitted kitchen became plant pots with plants growing out of kitchen drawers and appliances! A cave-like seating area was encased with artificial turf with water cascading down the front. The magical grotto created using the fake turf showed that it doesn’t need to simply be used on flat surfaces that are to be walked upon.
For more information on introducing artificial turf to your own garden either as a lawn or as an innovative art installation, contact Vialii now for a free consultation.
Thanks for reading.
All at Vialii
(…and we don’t mean the clotted variety.)
The temperate climate in Cornwall means that it’s a haven for sub-tropical plants and creating horticultural delights. On a recent adventure to the South West we couldn’t resist sampling some of these gardens. We couldn’t fit in all the gardens, too many for our short visit, so we carefully chose five to explore…
Sitting proudly on an island in Mount’s Bay, just off the coast of Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount is known primarily for its stunning castle with fairy tale turrets. The castle indeed is well worth a visit, just make sure you are feeling fit as you have to tackle a pretty challenging slope on the way up. To get to the island itself you may be able to walk across the causeway (although take what NT say about on their website with a pinch of salt!). If the tide is in and the causeway covered, there is a merry fleet of locals constantly ferrying eager visitors back and forward between Marazion and the island. From the Castle, you can get wonderful views back to the mainland, across the ocean waves and of course, of the stunning gardens below. Like the Castle, the gardens are built into a rocky cliff face.
That along with the wind blasting off the sea makes it a challenging space but the gardeners have managed to create the most beautiful of spaces. Both from above and below, the different areas are fantastic to view and despite the coastal winds, many sub tropical plants – normally more common in the likes of Mexico or South Africa, which we couldn’t risk in Scotland, are flourishing. From aloe and aeonium to tropical palm trees, it is like walking into a different world. The garden is entered along the most stunning displays of Kniphofia rooperi, a traffic light display leading you along to the main gardens. Once you have wandered around past the pillbox look-out you can then wind your way (hmm, does that make it sound like the gentle slope? Ok, you can struggle and sweat your way, especially when 22 weeks pregnant!) up through the zig zagging gardens for splendid views across the Celtic Sea then through into the walled garden. The walled garden has recently been redesigned with each level a different colour combination, designed to be seen from above. Indeed the whole garden has been cleverly designed to be viewed from the Castle. We can just imagine the Lady of the Castle demanding that she could see every plant from her perch within the Castle. Now, that’s a proper diva!
VGD Score: 8/10
Hidden away in the back streets of St Ives, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden pays homage to the great artist. Affiliated to the Tate Gallery in St Ives, you can get a discount if you visit both in the same day. Like many artists, Barbara moved to St Ives when WWII broke out and stayed there until she died in 1975. Both the museum and gardens are limited in space but there was no limitation to the vision and skills Barbara used to create the wonderful sculptures on show. Like most gardens in Cornwall, the BHSG is filled with sub-tropical planting.
The planting focuses on form and texture rather than colour and provides a great back drop to the large collection of sculptures which you discover at every turn. When we visited there were artists old and young enjoying the garden, sketch pads out, taking their own inspiration. You can also view Barbara’s studio exactly as it was when she was creating her art. Indeed it looks like she has just nipped into the house to make a cuppa. This garden is a perfect example of how art and horticulture can make a great partnership and how a relatively small space can be transformed into a peaceful haven with a real sense of journey.
VGD Score: 9/10
The Lost Gardens of Heligan were “found” in 1990 when it was decided that the overgrown and neglected gardens would be brought back to life. The gardens have been in the Tremayne Family for over 400 years and have seen a lot of changes throughout that time. At the end of the 19th Century the gardens were having their hey-day but a short time later they had been left to wrack and ruin. Work began in the early 1990s to restore the gardens and let the public share in their beauty. If you are a fan of luscious lawns and perfect flower beds, Heligan isn’t the garden for you. It’s much more about the feel of the gardens, allowing some areas to run wild and for nature to take its course. Woodland walks, jungles and wildlife sanctuaries are as important as the dedicated areas for cut flowers. We did feel it was a little too wild though with a lot of weeds, even in the cut flower beds which could easily be addressed.
Huge beds are cultivated for produce grown on site and from the huge pumpkins and cabbages on show, the team are doing something right. The interpretation area showcases the wildlife to be seen around Heligan and there are lots of interactive displays and impressive use of technology to tempt visitors. A viewing station means you can watch the various birds and wildlife come and go as well as operating cameras to spy on various bird houses around the estate.
The Jungle transports you to another world, taking advantage of the Cornish climate. There are also New Zealand gardens as well as Italian, scented, floral, productive and Northern gardens, to name just a few. For kids and adults alike, the Mud Man and Mud Maid are great fun. And work is still surging ahead as Heligan comes of age. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea and is rough at the edges in many places but there is no denying that there is a certain spirit to Heligan which 400 years on can’t be ignored.
VGD Score: 6/10
Trebah Garden, hidden in the country lanes around Helston, has forged great links with the local university and is constantly moving forward. As with Heligan, it takes advantage of the temperate climate and there are a plethora of tree ferns, gunnera and jungle type plants. Bamboozle sounded more exciting on paper, promising a Bamboo Maze which in reality was just a walkway through some mass planting. However, the mass planting of Hydrangea was something to be seen. Hundreds of shrubs, all in bloom surrounded Mallard Pond, their huge mop heads demanding attention.
As we visited late September we had missed what would undoubtedly be a spectacular display of camellias and rhodos earlier in the year. A thoughtful area for children to play had been created and certainly there were several school groups exploring the gardens. A Koi Pond and Water Garden added another element to the garden and created a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere. From the top, a fantastic view down through the valley to the beach at the bottom showcases the extent of the garden. It’s a challenging site to explore (all of the gardens we visited were built into cliffs, not the handiest for an expectant mother but who said gardening was easy?!) but it’s worth making the effort. Trebah has its own beach at the bottom of the valley which families and school groups were making the most of too. For us, Trebah was a better all round garden than Heligan and didn’t have the rough edges of its neighbour. Oh, and the fruit scones and bacon butties in the café were definitely worth a mention too!
VGD Score: 7/10
We were worried that our expectations of Eden were too high and that we were going to be disappointed. As we drove down the country roads in Cornwall leading to Eden, we eagerly kept looking for our first glimpse of the famous Biomes. However, it’s not until you have paid and exited out of the Visitor Centre that you are treated to your first view of the striking structures, like aliens rising out of the hillside. From that moment onwards we were completely smitten.
Until you have been there you cannot understand the sheer size of the Biomes, the extent of the site and the transformation that has been taken the site from a china clay pit to a horticultural and educational haven. Our excitement was summed up by Michael’s comment that it was “like Disney for gardeners”. Whilst likening the attraction to such a commercial operation would perhaps be doing Eden a disservice, it showed just how immense and overwhelming it was. A land train regularly transports visitors around the site but despite being built into yet another hillside, Eden is much easier to get around than all the other gardens we visited. Everywhere you go, the Biome structures dominate but there is also architectural interest in the Core (the interpretation centre) and the Stage. On the day we visited temperatures were soaring which ironically meant the site was very quiet.
Many visitors think the whole site is under cover and thus keep their visit for a rainy day. Don’t be fooled though, most of the site is outdoors and there is plenty to wander around and see. The most impressive thing for us is the level of education provided throughout and the interesting way it is done. Every opportunity is taken to educate but it was always done in a fun way and you never felt it was forced down your throat or that you were being patronised. The tables in the café had fun facts on them about produce. Even the toilets had fascinating information on hand dryers they were trialling. Down in the Core, there was a myriad of information to explore. We particularly loved the interactive smart car, especially when it told us it was more efficient to use a dishwasher than hand wash!! Back outside the WEEEman is an impressive example of how recycled materials can be used to create a HUGE sculpture towering over the gardens. Computer mice were used for teeth and a microwave heart brought a new meaning to being warm-hearted!
Having explored the outside areas which featured everything from flowerless gardens and insect attracting plants to prairies and wild Cornwall, we eventually made our way to the Biomes to see if they were as impressive on the inside as they were from outside. First we visited the Mediterranean Biome. Not only is it filled with sub tropical plants there was a plethora of sculptures, structure, pots and features all relevant to the theme. Now, we only had the Rainforest Biome left to see. Having left this until the afternoon of a late Indian summer’s day, the heat was authentically overpowering when we entered. The viewing platform had been closed due to humidity but in reality I would never have made it up the steps to the look-out point. Regardless, the space was still fantastic to see. You would never believe you were in an indoor space with everything from lorries to native houses featuring in the Biome.
It was certainly humid and we were glad to exit but it was a fantastic experience. A quick visit to the café and shop then two exhausted but very happy gardeners made their way home. If you are remotely interested in gardens, and even if you are not, Eden is a must-see.
VGD Score: 10/10
Let us know what you think of these gardens or any others you have been to visit.
Thanks for reading.
All at Vialii
In an article on humanist’s weddings, the Sunday Mail featured Jill & Michael from Vialii’s wedding, aptly in their own back garden…
Our garden, whilst largely completed last year, has still got a few areas needing addressed before our full design can be realised. One of the bigger, outstanding items has been a new shed project involving the construction of a bespoke shed in an awkward space around the back corner of the house. This area has become a bit of a dumping ground which is rather unsightly, as I’m sure you will agree. The new shed will eventually house all our garden tools etc and maybe a bike or two and will liberate some valuable space in our already overfilled garage.
The plan for the shed is to have a pent style living roof. Due to the irregular size of this corner of the garden we are choosing to construct the shed ourselves (plus we never like to do “normal”! It’ll also help us use up some of our excess timber stock that we continually seem to acquire at the completion of garden build projects. We have also acquired some lovely canadian oak pallets which will form the main structure of the shed. The picture below was the state of things at the end of the weekend.
To see how the shed project turned out click here.
Thanks for reading.
All at Vialii
So, another year and another Chelsea Flower Show. And what a show indeed! With more show gardens and gold medals than last year, a revamp of the Courtyard Garden section and a return to Chelsea for some of our favourite designers we knew it was going to be a good one. So here is our run-down of some of our favourite parts of Chelsea Flower Show 2011 (and a few weird bits too!):
Container gardening has always been a key feature in all gardens whether it’s the expensive show gardens of Chelsea or your own humble back yard. Pots can add some individuality, extra growing space, an environment for plants that won’t grow successfully in your soil or just some added interest to an otherwise uninspiring area of your garden. As you would expect, at Chelsea everything is done to fantastic detail.
In Bunny Guinness’s garden, HUGE, bespoke terracotta pots were made and filled with feature trees:
Tom Hoblyn’s Homebase garden featured beautiful pots which were made to symbolise the rockpools of Cornwall and filled with native seaweed. Remember pots can be used as water features and filled with aquatics:
In the Monaco garden, again pots were made bespoke, this time to match the knobbly trunk of the exotic trees planted in the garden:
Pavilions have become a feature of so many show gardens in recent years and these outdoor rooms are becoming more common-place as we want to use our outdoor space more and more. We loved Tom Hoblyn’s pergola with the “floating” glass above it making it rain-proof as well as a stunning finish to the structure.
If glamour is your thing, then you couldn’t go wrong with the Monaco garden. The bold statement of the boardwalk cutting right down the middle and pouring water into the ultra-glam swimming pool at the end was just stunning. The rooftop planting of lavender was beautiful and we loved the steps going up the side of the living wall. All the glamour and glitz of Monaco summed up in one small corner of London.
We are always keen to see what new ideas are abound to encourage wildlife into our garden spaces. Wildlife towers have been a feature for a few years now but the Royal Canadian Bank’s garden this year took it to another level. Their fabulous wildlife walls even feature old books. And who knew an old shipping container could look so at home in a garden?!
Trees are always important at Chelsea and every year there is a tussle for the tallest/shiniest/latest trees to include. Our faves this year include Luciano’s Parriotia Persica trees and the ultra shiny Prunus Serrulas on the Winds of Change garden. But how did they get them so shiny??
Plants are what Chelsea is all about. Whether you are ooh-ing over the combinations in the show gardens or taking in the stunning displays in the Great Pavillion there is something for everyone. A plant which kept cropping up in lots of the gardens this year (and will keep cropping up in your own garden as it self-seeds furiously!) is Alchemilla mollis. It has beautiful leaves which look especially lovely with droplets of water sitting on them and pretty frothy lime flowers.
And we loved spotting our all time favourite plant nestled into one of the gardens. It is of course the Primula vialii:
Or for a feeling of utter calm, we loved the Trailfinder’s garden – a good book and a glass of Pimms and you could sit under that sail for hours quite happily.
Sculptures can add a real wow factor to the garden and give much needed height, structure and interest. They are there all the year round and clever lighting can make them a real feature at night too. We loved the columns which Cleve used in his garden for the Daily Telegraph. Reminiscent of the Roman ruined columns in Libya, these sculptures were made by artisans in the South of France who used an axe to create the effect on them! Not one to try at home kids!
Water features are another key feature in gardens and one that most Chelsea designers incorporated one way or another. Water provides sound, movement, a different surface and is a great way of encouraging wildlife into the garden. There were so many water features that we loved we simply can’t mention them all. There were countless simple, round pools (25 in Diarmuid Gavin’s garden alone!) but we especially loved Cleve’s spouts pouring water out of the wall.
Timber sleeper beds were a strong feature in Robert Myer’s Cancer Research garden this year. It’s a simple but effective way of creating raised beds, making them so much easier to look after. They also provide extra seating and can create a better growing environment if your soil is not suitable. And of course, they look lovely!
Seating is always an important consideration. Too often we spend time and money making our gardens look lovely, only to let them down by bringing our horrible old plastic furniture out. With the fabulous array of garden furniture available in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials there is something to suit everyone’s taste and budget. One of our favourite pieces of furniture was the driftwood bench in the Cancer Research garden.
Adding colour to your garden is important and this is often done through planting. In Anne-Marie Powell’s garden for the British Heart Foundation, she used hard landscaping to add colour to the garden. And colour she certainly did add! The bright red, powder-coated metal arches and the red “stepping-stones” gave a wow-factor to the garden and also provided a close link to the charity. The arches reminded us of veins and the stepping-stones like blood clots and certainly got the charity’s message across in a bold manner.
Having a wow entrance to your garden certainly sets the scene and none could be more impressive than the Tourism Malaysia garden. What a welcome into the garden with the floating entrance frames and the planting surrounding the entrance certainly evoked Malaysia with the tropical water lilies and trailing jungle vines.
Creating impact in your garden is important. It can be with some clever planting schemes, interesting features or lovely hard-landscaping. Few of us would consider having a full-size working water-wheel in our garden! That was the main feature of the Leeds HESCO garden. After the success of their lock last year, the industrial water theme was carried on again this year, winning another gold medal. Word is that next year they are considering a windmill in their garden…
Sustainability has been a buzz word for several years now and this year was no different. One garden in particular which gave a lot of thought to the subject was the B&Q garden. Everything in the garden had some use with every plant in the garden being edible and the main feature was the tallest structure ever to be seen at Chelsea – a tower block designed to encourage people to use every space possible, no matter how small it is.
For sheer, mad ingenuity, we doff our hat to come-back king Diarmuid Gavin and his Irish Sky Garden. The bad boy of gardening had never achieved an elusive Chelsea gold medal before but who could deny him that with this year’s effort? If a mass of pools and box balls was not enough, Diarmuid created a floating garden which is craned high above the show ground. Bonkers? Yes. Worthy of a gold? Definitely!
We want them! Yes, a garden packed full of huge, lovely box balls as far as the eye can see. Definite ball envy Diarmuid!
If chilling-out in your garden is your thing then the Japanese garden is for you. It certainly lived up to its name “A Beautiful Paradise” with its gorgeous planting, trickling water and sympathetic hard landscaping. And relax…
Another theme prevalent over recent times is recycling and this was well represented in the Winds of Change garden. Recycled objects included old gym boards, a Victorian safe and a prison door! The main feature though were the air-conditioning units which were used as wind turbines. Worthy of the best Urban Garden.
If you are bored with the traditional use of materials in the garden then have a look at the Bradstone garden for unusual ways to create interest. Instead of laying slabs in the traditional manner, they were held together by vertical pins to create a wall.
Living walls have become very trendy in recent years and even high street stores have used them in their shopfits. They continued to be well represented in Chelsea again this year. Our favourites were those in the Monaco garden and the Magistrates Association garden. If you want to achieve this affect then you will need vertical wall pockets and an irrigation system. Living walls can be created both indoors and out.
OK, so you’ve seen the beautiful but what about the weird?? Well it wouldn’t be Chelsea if there weren’t one or two things that raised an eye brow! Normally we love it when designers push boundaries and come up with something a little bit different. But we just couldn’t love the blue (yes, blue!) artificial grass in the Chilstone Garden.
Or, even stranger, a watering can that was on sale at Chelsea which you wee into (yes, you heard us!) and then water down and use to fertilise your garden. Hmm, think we might give that a miss!
And on that note we wish you a cheery Chelsea goodbye!
All at Vialii
We showcase some of the latest aspirational products available to buy for your garden this year.
Winter can be a difficult time of year for us gardeners. Opportunities to get out in the garden are not hugely frequent and it’s easy to get in a slump and some winter blues. So, we need to be thinking about exciting things, shiny things and cool things. Dare we say we need to be thinking about expensive things. We’re taking about aspirational garden purchases or things we would dream of owning. The things we see in glossy magazines or on cool websites that tell us what we need in our lives right now. We know that many of these things are beyond our financial reach but it’s nice to dream if only for a little while. So without further ado we present you with some of the things that, if we had the means and the space we would love to own.
Our office is at home. Whilst we are out and about a lot, we still require an office at home to both facilitate the design of gardens but also for the day to day administration of our business. Now our office is not a bad office, in fact it’s quite a nice place to be but we still wish we had incorporated the space in the garden for one of Archipod’s stunning new custom built offices.
They come in two different sizes, 3 metre and 4 metre diameter and prices start from £15k excluding VAT.
One of the most talked about purchases we have seen recently has got to be the concrete chesterfield sofa by Gray Concrete. There’s no doubt that, as a focal point in a garden it’s a real head turner. The detailing is incredible down to the inclusion of a 50p concrete coin stuck down the back of its cushions. It’s remarkably comfortable too, so we’re told.
There aren’t many greenhouses that would generally be regarded as exciting. Don’t get me wrong now; sowing, nurturing and growing your own covered crops IS exciting, it’s just that greenhouses generally aren’t and incorporating a greenhouse into a garden normally involves some form of aesthetic compromise. I don’t think it should though, hence my love of the geodesic dome.
With a design that’s based on 1960’s NATO radar enclosures it is both robust and graceful and the manufacturers claim it has several benefits over more traditional greenhouses including more even heat distribution, better airflow and enhance wind and storm resistance. Prices start at £9.5K excluding VAT. Visit Solardome for more information.
Not many of us contemplate having art in our gardens which is something I find strange. Consider if you will that we will have seating, dining furniture, cooking equipment and even lighting and sound systems in our gardens as well as our houses does it not seem like a logical progression to have forms of artistic expression in the garden too. Whilst oil paintings and watercolours won’t fair too well in the UK climate there are an abundance of artists and sculptors creating art for use in your garden. Whether it’s using stone, wood or metals they can be a real statement in any garden.
Modern gardens have to be flexible. You can design a garden to allow comfortable seating for say four or six guests but what do you do if you occasionally have more than that number over. Do you rummage through the garage or shed to fish out some aged, rusty folding deck chairs which, in practice, are more lethal than they are comfortable necessitating that your guests have tetanus shots before sitting. Or worse still do you lay out the faded green plastic seats that you hung onto for this very reason. The trouble is you had no space in the shed to store them so they’ve sat behind the shed for twelve months and need to be jetwashed before they get near a human posterior. Jetwashing plastic chairs isn’t enjoyable. What you need is seating that not only gives you flexibility but that are also attractive pieces to have in the garden when they’re not being sat on.
Dutch Summer have released what they’ve called the BUX seat (above and below). A chesterfield pouf inspired by a box tree in a variety of finishes and colour combinations.
Italian design house Pedrali have manufactured these stunning 17th Century inspired chairs in either black, white, smoke or transparent. Manufactured from injected polycarbonate they are suitable for use both inside and out and are very lovely indeed.
So let your ambition over the ensuing weeks and months be to dream of what you could have in the garden as opposed to the ice-age we are living with just now. To quote the Marquis De Vauvenargues “The most absurd and reckless aspirations have sometimes led to extraordinary success”
Thanks for reading.
All at Vialii
I was laying some Indian sandstone slabs the other day and in a moment of quiet reflection and whilst I gave my lower back a brief respite I got to thinking about how I ended up doing this? How did I end up not just building gardens but designing and building gardens? Before I go much further I would like clarify that my idle pondering was in no way negative. It wasn’t a case of my tired mind and midriff screaming “how the hell did I get HERE!” as grey rain poured down. It was more of a “I love what I do” kind of wondering as the winter sun warmed my face(1). Anyway, in case you’re interested, this is how we got to where we are…
I haven’t always done this. In a previous life I was a civil and structural engineer and before that I was a draughtsman. Structural engineering isn’t the most glamorous of professions; they don’t make movies about structural engineers(2) and you tend to live in the shadows of the all-powerful ethereal beings that are Architects but it had its rewards and not all of them were financial. In fact, barely any of them were. Unfortunately, over my last few years in the profession I slowly came to the conclusion that the career was no longer for me. The job wasn’t exciting me anymore and I couldn’t really see a way that it could get the blood flowing again so with a heavy heart and much trepidation I gave up, what many deemed, a perfectly good career.
I was a already a keen amateur gardener and enjoyed spending time tending and controlling my third of an acre plot but I had no inclination of setting up my own business when I gave up engineering. I had no inclination to do anything career-wise at that point. I spent the next three months catching up on various projects, both inside and out and had a thoroughly enjoyable time doing them too. I built a workshop, re-modelled areas of the garden, nurtured and harvested fruit and veg and planned for the next years harvest. When the projects were done, however, my thoughts turned to more long-term intentions.
Gardening, at this point, still wasn’t a forerunner as a career option although it was up there. Basically I had whittled things down to three choices(3). In no particular order, these were as follows:
1. Farrier – I owned a 16.2hh grey mare and loved all aspects of owning a horse so I seriously considered becoming a farrier. Trouble was the one year’s training and subsequent four years apprenticeship required to become one. Plus, it’s way harder on the back than gardening if you can believe that. Oh and you get kicked by horses…
2. Chef – I loved to cook, and still do I might add, so I had the whimsical notion to become a professional chef. It was only when I really got down to the nuts and bolts of it and I established that it would involve incredibly unsociable working hours, relentless pressure and a high cost to train. It didn’t take long to kick that one into touch.
3. Gardener – As mentioned earlier I already enjoyed gardening. I found it relaxing, therapeutic and incredibly satisfying, even after a hard days graft. My knowledge of horticulture was beginner but was always expanding. My equipment levels were adequate although some new acquisitions and upgrades would be required. I already had some startup capital behind me so it quickly became a no-brainer to setup a gardening business..
So, in early 2006, with vigour in my soul and enthusiasm in my heart I launched what was then called Wee County Gardening(4). A van and trailer were purchased, leaflets and business cards were printed, business courses were attended and word was passed around. I’d like to give a hearty thanks at this point to my friends and neighbours of the time as they did a great job with word-of-mouth promotion which allowed the business to quite quickly get established.
At it’s inception the business was purely garden maintenance. Whilst I would happily carry out all manner of landscaping in my own garden I lacked the confidence to carry out the work for others. I hugely undervalued my own skills to the point where I deemed them not worthy of paying customers. I passed on all manner of landscaping requests and basically talked myself out of a large chunk of turnover in that first 18 months of business. Doh!
The pivotal turning point for both myself and my business was in May 2007. On a starry Wednesday night, on Stirling Castle esplanade I met my now wife, Jill and I have no proper measure to tell you how much she has transformed both me and my business since that fateful evening.
Before I gush any more about my beloved I need to pause for a moment because as I read back over this post so far I realise two things. Firstly, my business has been going and growing now for over five years, Whoop, whoop indeed. Secondly, this blog post is getting a bit on the long side. So, with this second point in mind I have made the Tarantino-esque decision to split this epic into two separate, but equally enjoyable (hopefully) posts. It seems like a suitable cliffhanger type moment to bring this edition to a halt and I just hope that I’ve left enough mystery and intrigue to bring you back next time.
So without further ado I’ll sign off. Take care everybody and I’ll see you next time.
Vialii Garden Design
To read Part 2 Click here
p.s. As I write this I’m listening to ‘Elephant’ by the White Stripes (in tribute to the news that they split yesterday)
(1) Please don’t be under the illusion that I have never screamed at the sky berating my choice of vocation. It happens on occasion especially when the grey rain pours down.
(2) Only two instances of structural-engineers-in-movies spring to mind.
i) Tim Robbins, posing as an engineer, played the delightfully evil terrorist mastermind Oliver Lang in 1999’s Arlington Road and
ii) my personal favourite, Johnson; the pale-faced, wire-rim spectacle wearing, structural engineer skulking in the shadows at a tiny square desk who informs Steve McQueen and Paul Newman that the floor joists in the Promenade Room can withstand the explosion of the water tanks in Irwin Allen’s classic “The Towering Inferno”.
(3) Technically there were four choices but “option 4 – returning to my earlier engineering career” has never really been an option I seriously considered.
(4) The ‘Wee County’ is Clackmannanshire and the business name gave the impression of a nice local gardening business. It worked well too.
We’re now trudging well into 2011 and we’re all very excited here at Vialii (despite the weather). We have just been granted the builds on a further three of our garden designs and we have a further three in the pipeline so were holding out high hopes for another bumper year. Before we wax lyrical too much about what’s ahead of us, we thought we’d write a bit of a review of 2010 as it was memorable for all the right reasons (and the odd painfully sore ones!)
2010 was a fab year. Most importantly, we tied the knot. The ceremony was held in our own garden and was attended by our nearest and dearest and was the best day ever. The fine day was made all the sweeter by the preceding level of work that was carried out throughout the year to turn what was effectively a veg patch and some bare soil into a venue befitting of such a great occasion. As the saying goes “the cobbler’s bairns are aye the worst shod” so the same goes for a landscaper’s garden.
It was good year for the business in all facets; design, build and maintenance so the inclusion of an additional project (suitable for a wedding!) was always going to be a challenge both financially and physically. So much so that it almost didn’t get done. We reached a point where the cold realisation came that we could not complete all that had to be done in the time available to do it. An emergency meeting was held and a a humble and begging email was sent out to friends for assistance and to their credit, our friends came through, and in style too. Our garden was completed (just) and the ceremony went off with a bang. We thanked our helpers at the wedding but we’d like to take the opportunity to give a hearty thanks again to all those that helped. We wouldn’t have managed it without you.
So without further ado we come to the Vialii Garden Design Awards 2010…
As tempting as it would be to gush over our own achievements in Bridge of Allan for this category we’re going to restrain ourselves. Our garden of the year would have to be the Nitobe Memorial Gardens in the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Widely regarded as one of the best Japanese gardens outside Japan, it really was one of the most beautiful spaces we have spent time in.
Michael only made it to Hampton Court this year (Jill managed to squeeze in Chelsea too) and whilst there were some inspiring ideas, all-in-all Hampton Court left us feeling a tad underwhelmed so we’re going to award Chelsea this accolade.
Michael’s big toe! In April Michael picked up a slab and then quite quickly managed to drop the very same slab which subsequently landed on his foot. A valuable lesson was learned that day about always wearing steel toe capped boots on site.
Not garden related I know but, hey, this is our awards ceremony. The Defamation of Strickland Banks by Plan B. It’s a soulful soundtrack of a character who’s been ‘sent dahn’ for a crime he didn’t commit. Loved it…
Hope you all had a great 2010 too and here’s to a great 2011.
All at Vialii