Crafty Gardener’s Radio Blog

I was pleasantly surprised to be invited by Steve Yabsley to be his main guest on his BBC Bristol lunchtime show.

The timing was fantastic as I was launching The Crafty Gardeners in early 2018 and this would be a brilliant chance to speak about it. It was close to Christmas and I was busy running wreath-making workshops so I was asked to bring in all the materials you’d need. I arrived with my ‘gathered and foraged wreath’ I’d made earlier and my trusty secateurs, of course. As I was ushered through the radio newsroom, I got some great comments about the natural and wild character of the wreath. So I felt happy and prepared for the interview, despite feeling nervous about soon being in the spotlight.

The first question completely floored me as I was not expecting to be asked about my childhood home and what jobs my parents did. Thankfully Steve moved on to my student days which lead to a discussion about modern art and culture (3.40). It was at this point that the penny dropped that this was a desert island discs approach to interviews; but without my David Bowie, Talking Heads and Thin Lizzy tracks!

Next, we were talking about voyeurism, body image and the role social media plays which is an important subject for me both as a parent and personally (6.00).I managed to say a few things but probably not the most hard-hitting points as it really was the last thing I was expecting to be talking about that day.

I began to feel more at ease when I was talking about being a garden designer, explaining how the process works and what I was given the Tudor Rose award for (7.47). When Steve asked which was the hardest garden I had designed it struck me that I did have a large body of work to look back upon, built up over a long span of time; which suddenly made me feel rather proud.

To round off the interview, Steve looked to the future and I talked about my new joint venture with fellow garden designer Michelle Wake called The Crafty Gardeners. (17.48) The partnership grew out of a conversation we had discussing our continual surprise that so many of our clients were really scared of actual gardening and so didn’t feel confident to make their own gardens; even though they obviously appreciated and valued their beauty. I had seen the same fear in people with flower arranging too but always found that by teaching just a few basic techniques they could soon feel the pride and joy of making something themselves.

Michelle and I were both running workshops independently and we felt that by joining forces we could create a flower and garden school. Michelle offering workshops on specific topics for garden making and planning, and I would offer the same for flower arranging. Each workshop would stand on its own, a lovely day out, spent in a beautiful venue with delicious homemade food. But additionally, they had been designed to work together and create a complete course on garden planning and flower arranging. What appealed to us both was that we could build something very special over time, adding to the programme of workshops each year and bring in guest tutors.

I am glad I had the experience of being interviewed. I know it’s a cliche to talk about stepping outside your comfort zone but that is what I did that day. Plus it gave me the chance to take a moment of reflection which I am also grateful for.

Christmas Wreath Making

This short video will show you how to make your own Christmas wreath as a welcoming decoration for your own front door or a table centre with a large pillar candle in the middle.

Design Process – Part 5


Through The Garden Gate.

There was still one piece of the jigsaw missing. I was really pleased to hear that Tim and Ruth had decided to commission Iron Art to make their garden gate.

Everything was finally in place. Tim had always wanted the garden to be ready as soon as possible for the family to enjoy so when an earlier slot became available he took it. Normally I would be concerned that the planting would be establishing during the hot summer months but as Tim was installing a rainwater harvesting system this did not present a problem.

I visited the garden right at the beginning of the build to check that the setting out of the garden layout had been carried out correctly and that nothing had been misconstrued from the plan. The early phase when everything is being destroyed can be difficult but it does pass and soon the new garden takes shape; it is so exciting. Closing the old entrance and creating the new one was nerve wracking but surprisingly quickly the new location became a habit and then normal. The new approach did make the front door more prominent than before and the house sat comfortably within the garden. Adding the planting would alter things again. The change of dates meant the plant delivery had been moved and happened to coincide with the final week of preparations for the plant party in the park which I was organising with Rosie Nottage.


It took 2 days to set out and then plant the garden. Although the plants added some valuable greenery straightaway unless you buy mature specimens they are initially too small to add much real impact. Even though growing takes time Tim could water them daily giving the new plants what they needed to grow as fast as they possibly could.

Even with the plants in place the garden was still not complete; it lacked the icing on the cake. Opening a gate is the perfect preparation for the transition from a public space to a private haven. You couldn’t get a better way of entering the garden that by lifting the latch and swinging open the ‘anemone gate’. It is absolutely stunning and reflects the owners’ individuality and creativity and of curse their love of gardens. Personally I love it’s colours. The red is strong, bold and somehow beckons you into the garden. The incredible detail in the petals of the anemone flowers is amazing and hard to believe they have been made from metal. They certainly herald what is to follow; the personal space of Tim and Ruth’s garden.

Having designed gardens in the Bath and Bristol area for many years now I know that no two clients are the same and even though there is a garden design process this does needs to be fluid and responsive to both the client and the project in order to get the best results. It was a joy to develop the front garden with such appreciative clients as Tim and Ruth we are now working on the rear garden which is presenting a whole new set of challenges.

new-gateYou can read all about the creation of the anemone gate on the Iron Art blog:

The Anemone Gate in Larkhall

The Making of the Anemone Gate

Read part 1

Read part 2

Read part 3

Read part 4

Design Process – Part 4


Garden Planting Plan.

Tim and Ruth were clearly experienced and keen gardeners and so it was going to be really rewarding to create a planting plan for them. We met again to discuss their preferences and talked in great depth about their favourite plants and the mood they wanted for their garden. I knew Tim was keen on having a few blackcurrant bushes already but he also wanted to grow plants to encourage bees. He particularly liked plants which had several good features such as scent as well as attractive seed heads plus he wanted to see something special at all times of the year. I also needed to know how much time they wanted to spend in the garden and whether they might be employing a gardener. When all my questions had been answered I took a quick soil sample to test back at the studio.

Unsurprisingly for that part of Bath the soil was slightly alkali but it was also rather heavy. I have learned that soil is the backbone of the garden and without making it as healthy as possible the cost and effort of planting is wasted (not to mention the cost of installing a rainwater harvesting system). Every day I am grateful for my horticultural training from the WRAGS scheme; the knowledge I gained about plants and what they need has been invaluable.


Back at the studio I got all my planting books out and started the plan. Plants are beautiful things to work with and they are the reason I retrained to be a garden designer. Individual plants can be show stoppers of course but for me it is the combinations that are exciting. How colours react with each other, contrasting flower and leaf textures and using shape and form to create weight and density in a border fascinate me.

However there are many factors to take into account apart from look of a plant when designing a planting scheme. The starting point is to be sure the plants will grow well in the particular soil pH and to know how much sunlight they need to thrive. Then there are many ways that plants can be used. Apart from different effects made from how many plants you group together, plants can also be layered. For example following the seasonal flush of spring bulbs another plant with summer interest can perform in the same spot, giving joy for 2 seasons.


When everything has been worked out I arrange pictures of each plant in the order they are to be planted to see how the combinations work. This is an invaluable tool at the presentation of the planting plan. You don’t need to know the Latin name of the plant or to have grown it before to see whether you like the effect. As with the layout plan I go through all the details and make any changes needed before sending the plant list to the wholesale nursery to be priced.


Read part 1

Read part 2

Read part 3

Come back for part 5 on Wed 5th August!

Design Process – Part 3


Garden Landscape Contractor.

After the lawn shape had been tweaked there were no further changes and in this particular garden no additional drawings either for details like a water feature or pergola. (These drawings would clearly show the appearance of the feature and how to build it). Tim however did want a rainwater harvesting system Tim had already used an irrigation system in a previous garden and was impressed by the speed at which the plants grew; he wanted the same for his new garden. I knew just the right landscape contractor for the project.

Brett Hardy and I have worked together for many, many years on a whole range of gardens and I can thoroughly recommend him. At the quote meeting every detail of the new garden is discussed and options are explored where they arise especially any possibilities for recycle existing materials. We had already discussed various choices of material at the presentation meeting and I had brought a few different paving samples to leave with Tim and Ruth so they could take their time making a final decision. I like to find ways of linking the house to the garden and material choice is a simple way of doing so. I suggested a creamy white natural stone for the pathway to pick out the colour of the bath stone on the house. The lawn was to be edged in red brick (making an easy crisp edge to mow) echoing the main material of the house. Brett was going to look into brick choices and get some samples to be sure they were a good match with the house. Tim and Ruth didn’t like any of the wooden gates I had offered at the previous meeting and as gates can be a costly item it was important to get this detail fixed so the quote was comprehensive. It seemed that it was the material itself that didn’t appeal and so we discussed other options. When metal came up as a possibility I suggested they pop around the corner to Iron Art to see what they could do.

It took Brett just over a week to finish the quote and happily it was acceptable. We discussed time scales and booked a date a few months away. Now it was full steam ahead for the planting plan as I don’t start that until after the quote has been agreed, just in case the outline plan has to be altered and requoted for.


Read part 1

Read part 2

Come back for part 4 on Wed 22nd July!

Design Process – Part 2

plan-2Garden Drawings.

I was delighted to be chosen by Tim and Ruth to redesign their garden in Bath. I knew Tim wanted to move things along quickly so I popped back to survey the garden straightaway. I really like this part of the process as I am all alone in the garden. I record levels, take measurements of dimensions and photograph views or small details as they catch my eye. In the peace and quiet I can notice the garden’s special qualities and begin to test out my ideas.


I take everything back to the studio transferring all the information onto a single sheet in order to create a scaled garden survey. Then the actual designing can begin. I work in an old fashioned way with a drawing board, tracing paper and pencil. I often use sheets and sheets of tracing laid over one another on top of the original survey; each time refining the shapes that I have drawn. In this way I can work out how best to use the space available for the list of things the client wants. It can be a time consuming process when there is something tricky to work out such as fitting the right number of steps into a small space but by working through different variations you know when you have got the best option. It is such a good feeling when you have cracked the design.

When the garden layout has been worked out I draw sketch elevations to show how the garden will look to someone standing in it.

I also create mood boards by collecting photos of real gardens showing a particular style of planting or a specific feature I want to demonstrate. These boards really bring my drawings to life. When everything is prepared I set up a meeting with the clients in order to present their new garden to them.


I am both excited and nervous on the journey over as I never know what reaction I am going to get when I unroll the paper plan and the clients see it for the first time. After the initial reaction (yikes) I thoroughly explain how to read the plan. I find that unless you work in the design world you probably have limited experience of reading a plan. When I have gone through what all the squiggles mean I often take my clients out into the garden. I find by walking them around, with the plan in hand showing what will be where really helps them to visualise the new garden layout.


On arrival at their house in Larkhall I was met by a hive of activity. I was ushered into the quietest room where I unrolled the garden plan amongst the paint tins and dust sheets and started explaining what I had come up with.

There were several practical design issues to overcome in their garden the main one being wheelchair access. Currently the garden was entered from the main road and immediately there was a steep flight of steps rising about half a meter before meeting a sloping path. This path diverted around a saddle stone feature and continued to the front door which was set back quite a distance from the front of the house.

The pathway dominated the garden and marked which side was in sun and which in shade. Tim and Ruth wanted a family garden where they could spend time with their grandchildren. By moving the central path a large lawn could be made for all to enjoy. Borrowing the carved circle detail from the house’s stonework I could shape it to be a round lawn which would subtly connect the garden and house. The far corner would be a perfect spot for a bench and visually this focal point would act as a counter balance to the weight of the house. It would be a lovely garden picture when seen from inside the house too.


Tim and Ruth felt their front door was rather hidden. In fact one of the first things they carried out was thinning the crown of the beautiful but large yew tree adjacent to the house. This helped reduce the shadow it cast and rebalance it in relation to the house. I proposed moving the access from the main road to the side road which would change the angle of the approach to the house completely. The new angle showed off the front door by making it more prominent in relation to the rest of the house and by positioning the garden gate on the side road would lose the need for steps. A visitor could use the driveway to park, travel down the existing slope of the pavement entering the garden close to the height of the front door.


I waited for their reaction to the new layout; thankfully Tim and Ruth were delighted. It was big ‘yes’ with just a tweak to the shape of the lawn. I was pleased and relieved because it had been a big gamble.

Read part 1

Come back for part 3 on Wed 8th July!

The Garden Design Process

davises I was delighted when Tim and Ruth called me over a year ago, they have a gorgeous house in Larkhill, Bath and wanted me to come in and help them transform the outside space around it. In that time we have designed and built their front garden and are expecting to start on the back later this year. They have been very good garden design clients. I particularly appreciate how they have trusted my judgement and experience throughout. Also they have impressed me with their imagination and flair which is best seen by their unique ‘anemone garden gate’.

ironworkThey commissioned Iron Art to create this striking and characterful entrance gate, which I am not surprised is quite a talking point in Bath and the surrounds. I have chosen to describe their journey to show how the garden design process works although I have never come across a typical client or typical garden to be designed. My aim is always to match the client’s needs with what is possible.

Part 1 – Garden Consultation

The Davieses were moving to Bath for their retirement and planned to buy an attractive red brick house in Larkhall. Our first contact was via email in which Tim set out a list of requirements for the garden. I appreciated his clarity and explained the first step was to meet for an on-site garden consultation. As Tim and Ruth had already looked at my portfolio and seen the range of projects I had worked on we could spend our consultation time making a start at designing their garden. Also importantly getting to know each other as a good relationship between designer and client is vital.
Some clients have a clear idea of what they want in their garden which is very helpful but for those who don’t then I send out a questionnaire before we meet. This identifies how they want the garden to be used and what they would like it to look like saving time later on. It was unusual that my clients hadn’t even lived in their house for a day.

They were phasing their relocation; using the time to have work done to the house. Tim’s garden list was a good start, detailing what they planned to bring with them but it didn’t consider what the new garden itself had to offer. Together we looked at it from all angles, both inside and out, spotting the opportunities as well as the restrictions. I asked lots of questions to be sure I had understood what they were looking for and I showed them pictures to find out what they liked and disliked. When I felt I had a good grasp of their wishes I offered my suggestions of how it could all fit together plus I gave them a few ideas they hadn’t considered before.gate
I suggested to Tim and Ruth that as it was a corner house they might think about moving the entrance gate from the main road to the side road which would completely change the approach to the house. I couldn’t tell whether they liked the idea or not.

After a fairly intense hour or so the consultation was over and I explained what further options were available. Making a new garden has many different stages and I can take you through every one to the end or you can choose the particular stages you need and at the times you need them. Here is the list.

  • Site survey – a detailed survey measuring the house and garden dimensions, recording the site aspect, tree locations and taking photographic records of key views and features.
  • Concept plan – a drawing showing your new garden layout with everything you wanted worked out to fit your garden.
  • Master plan -a final drawing with all the details explained and the materials chosen.
  • Introduction to a landscaper – a meeting with a landscape contractor to go through the specifics of the project so they can quote for the works.
  • Planting plan – a drawing showing the locations of carefully chosen plants which are suitable for the garden’s soil conditions and aspect in order to give the effect you want.
  • Plant sourcing – collating the whole plant order and arranging its delivery to site.
  • Planting – positioning the plants according to the planting plan and planting them correctly.

Alternatively I offer the garden consultation as a ‘standalone’ service. This option is becoming increasingly popular. Many clients find that by exploring their own ideas with me combined with some of my suggestions too they have found the best layout for their garden. Often during the consultation I use quick sketches to give an impression of how things could look and this really helps clients make the decisions needed. Indeed this option works particularly well when clients want to do the work themselves.

plantsIf however the consultation has been mainly about how the plants are performing then the solution might be reshaping a border and rejuvenating the plants or even creating a new bed from scratch. Depending on the complexity sometimes it can be possible to improve the planting without preparing a planting plan in advance. Here I would collect the right plants from a local wholesale nursery, bring them on site and place them in their new position. I would only charge for my time and a small fee for plant sourcing. I always aim to match the project with the right service and that isn’t always to have a set of drawings.

I was pleased when the Davieses asked me to come up with a quote for the full garden design package. I didn’t know I was up against 2 other garden designers for the job so when Tim emailed me with the commission and told me I had won over the competition I was really flattered and wanted them to feel they had made the right choice.


Come back for part 2 on Wed 24th June!

Gardens Illustrated Festival


I am absolutely delighted to be one of the experts at the Plant and Design Clinic at the new Gardens Illustrated Festival which runs from 17- 18th  April in Malmesbury 2015.

Bring along your garden photographs, design plans and any specific queries and I will help find an answer.

Visit the Festival website for the list of notaries who will be giving talks on the Saturday plus details of the nurseries and garden suppliers who will be in the marquee set within the charming Abbey grounds. It promises to be a wonderful day out I look forward to seeing you there.

Here is the list of speakers to whet your appetite: Alys Fowler, Anna Pavord, Annie Guilfoyle, Chris Marchant, Dan Pearson, Derry Watkins, Fergus Garrett, Frank Ronan, James Alexander Sinclair, Jason Ingram, Noel Kingsbury, Rachel Dein, Sarah Price, Sarah raven, Tom Mitchell, Tom Stuart-Smith and Troy Scott-Smith.



The Plants Party in the Park


Thunder, lightning and torrential rain was expected for the 7th June (year) but Rosie and I refused to believe the forecast. We had spent a hectic 10 weeks organising the first ever Plant Party in the Park and could not conceive of cancelling it. Thank goodness we didn’t because apart from a light shower whilst the stallholders set up, the sun shone all afternoon. Crowds of people relaxed in the sunshine and took their time to enjoy the plants, music and food on offer at the Bandstand in Victoria Park Bath.


The original idea behind the Plant Party in the Park was to offer free garden design advice on the day. Of course, keen gardeners were not put off by the prospect of rain, happily queuing for their slot. There followed a steady stream of questions ranging from ideas for a large neglected country garden to plant suggestions for a shady city courtyard. Rosie, Tom, Michelle and I took it in turns to answer questions and offer suggestions. We were so pleased to see kids busily potting up young plants at Atelier’s gardening workshops as it meant we could really listen to the parent’s questions. All the planning had been worth it.


Dusty Ape the coffee maker did well at the start of the day but soon customers were either sampling the refreshing delights of Bath’s own gin or Midford’s tasty cider. As the afternoon progressed, handfuls of cocktail lollies or traditional ice creams were being enjoyed by all ages. By midday, crowds of people were sitting in front of the bandstand munching on a spicy pulled pork burger from Sam’s Kitchen pop up café whilst enjoying live music.

The young and talented Alex Part opened the event followed by the amazing Su Hart. Calamity Poets and Clevedon brass band went down a storm whilst Jamba da Samba could be heard ¼ mile away and brought in the curious and adventurous residents of Bath. This provided the perfect atmosphere for Bath’s plant lovers who were in for a treat as the great and the good of local plant growers were gathered in Bath for one day only.


Award winning Hardy’s Nursery did not even unpack from their stand at Chelsea to be there and the newbie ‘plant hunter’ nursery Evolution Plants brought plants no one had seen before. The Mead, Blooming Hill and Necia West all presented a fantastic selection of interesting and good quality plants. Two lovely professional gardeners, Beth and Cath, manned the special plants stall.

The Botanic Nursery had sold out of foxgloves by the time I got there and I did not have enough time to look at all the plants on Pennard plants stall. Wicked Lavender had the clever idea of putting lavender coloured flowering plants in lavender coloured pots and Teohs of restaurant fame had brought his amazing organic wooden garden furniture and petrified wood.

Rosie and I could not have been more delighted to be told, “This is better than Bath’s old Spring Flowers show; much more relaxed”. I think we can thank the sunshine for that, Cheers and here is to next year!

Photographs by kind permission of Cutch Studio

Helping the WRAGS charity

In 2013, I became the coordinator for the Work and Retrain as a Gardner Scheme (WRAGS) run by the Women’s Farm and Garden Association (WFGA). I was delighted to be able work for this charity as this was my chance to give something back. I knew the WRAGS scheme well because I had been a trainee myself soon after I trained to be a garden designer. To explain what the scheme is all about, this is what the website says:

“The (WRAGS) scheme provides part time training in practical gardening skills in a working garden, as part of a gardening team or with an experienced garden owner”.

My placement garden was Lyegrove in Gloucester; a beautiful small estate with three walled gardens that had been re-designed in 1930’s. I spent a blissful year learning ‘how to garden’ from the best ever gardener Barry Holman. I had the best of both gardening worlds, maintaining an historic garden that had been gardened for decades and creating and looking after a newly planted garden. Lyegrove’s owners were keen to leave their mark on the grounds and were always adding new parts to gardens.

The WFGA is an old and interesting charity; its key aims are training, employment and advancement for those working on the land. One famous member, Louisa Wilkins, is credited with the concept of forming a women’s land army working on the land to combat labour shortages during the First World War. Other notable members include Gertrude Jekyll, Eve Balfour, Brenda Colvin, Beatrix Havergal and Katherine Courtauld who were the movers and shakers of their day. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll was our first President and today Prince Charles’s garden at Highgrove has a WRAGS trainee who I am personally responsible for.

Although there is formal training available for gardeners from the National Trust and the Guild of Professional Gardeners, the beauty of WRAGS is that it is part time and runs for 12 months. Many trainees carry on their other work alongside their placement or some choose to study a one year RHS theory course. It seems to work well for people of all ages who want to explore their passion for gardening further. If the trainee wants to pursue employment in gardening after their placement then there is the Christine Ladlely fund available for financial support. This fund aims to “support members to further their education, learn specialist skills, travel or design projects to help schools and local communities”.

Apart from the WRAGS scheme, the association is well worth joining if you have a keen interest in all aspects of gardening. There is a wide ranging of workshops and workdays to enjoy. Looking at the 2014 listings, the planting design workshop with Rosemary Alexander the founder of The English Gardening School stands out for me. Additionally, the garden tours are brilliant. These tours are carefully planned and you get to see some well know gardens as well as unusual ones. All events are very reasonably priced. The newly launched Garden Recruitment Network is proving increasingly popular as a place to posts job adverts. In addition, if you have a gardening query you can post a question on the forum and get a choice of answers.

Personally I am really grateful for the gardening skills I learned under WRAGS as this has helped me become aware of what is involved in looking after a newly planned and planted garden. I can give something back by helping trainees find their gardening feet and support them with their next step. In the process, I have loved finding new gardens for an ever-increasing waiting list of trainees and have discovered some hidden gems.