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Fairy Tale of Bristol Book


I’ve always believed in Fairies.

Growing up on a Cornish farm and becoming a Horticulturist how could I not? I am hypnotised by the magic of Nature in all its forms; throughout the seasons, the years and each passing day. That moment when the sun pierces a grey day with a ray of light through cloud; rainbows of light seen in a single drop of water captured on a leaf; the fiery tones of autumn in a myriad of leaf shapes; that day when the air smells like Spring – all those times when you just have to stop and stare at the sheer beauty of it all.

I’ve been dreaming up stories since I was tiny. I would mentally record moments throughout my growing years of both happiness and sadness, storing them up for my next tale. Most of these have never been written but they are stashed away in my internal filing cabinet of memories waiting for the right time.

When we moved to Bristol in 2014 it was a brave step for us all. Having a very young family (the twins were 2, their brother 9), no work and no actual plan in place we existed on thin air for a while but gradually found our place and quickly fell in love with the bubble that is the Clifton and Harbourside area of the city. The architecture reminded me of my beloved Paris and where I missed the seas of Cornwall I could settle for the calm waters of the Floating Harbour.

We rented for a few years while we got back on our feet and then started looking for a home to love. One of these was a flat in an old Georgian building at the foot of Brandon Hill, which stands central to the area, that came up for auction. We loved it, but sadly, in the treacherous and unscrupulous world of property, it never got to auction as someone offered on it privately. It was a blow as I had already started picturing our new life there and the Fairy Tale of Bristol was already a whisper in my head.

The whisper grew into the tale of a city – with a little sprinkling of history, some important messages on issues such as climate change; it touched on myths and legends and it also told a little of our story – coast to city not being the norm!

I was always told that for your first book start with what you know so I’ve woven parts of our children’s personalities into the characters in the story. For me, and I hope for them, this will be a wonderful memory of our time in Bristol.

Please buy a copy of the book. Whether for yourself or for your children or grandchildren, whether you know Bristol or not, this is a Fairy Tale, a story of a family, a treasure trail around some of the cities highlights and I hope a good little read for all.

Buy a copy

Illustrations by Christine Harris

Show Gardens Preview – Autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

When the Pandemic hit in March 2020 I was working for the BBC Show team on the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show as a Horticultural Specialist, as I had been for a few years. 18 months later, looking through the gardens planned for the first Autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show some of the gardens feel like old friends, and my mind tells me I’ve already seen these gardens but that’s because they have managed to transform themselves for this groundbreaking show.

My role for the BBC involved co-ordination with all the Show Gardens and it’s interesting, if not slightly surreal, to see how some are even more relevant in their reincarnation post-pandemic – Robert Myer’s Florence Nightingale garden, celebrating our Nursing system, no prizes for how important that has been; Sarah Eberle’s Psalm 23 garden, now even more reflective of how we need nature to help us heal mentally, spiritually and physically; Naomi Ferrett-Cohen’s NHS Tribute garden, with its references to the pandemic, the NHS and the universities researching treatment and vaccines.

I’m delighted to see the Guangzhou China Garden has made it to Chelsea 2021. I recall researching and talking to the Designers Peter Chmiel and Chin-Jung Chen about their garden, and how when the virus struck in the area itself we were worried about them being able to continue with the garden and how quickly it became apparent that it was spreading fast and would soon cause the Chelsea Show of 2020 to be cancelled. I vividly remember the quiet conversation with the lovely RHS Press team about the ‘what if’s’. It all seems so long ago now but the hours of work that the BBC team put into the archive programmes that went out as a replacement are still very fresh in my mind – dealing with the new ‘working from home’ situation, navigating systems remotely and, the trickiest of all, wading through hours and hours of archive to pull a weeks worth of coverage together. All this alongside my 3 children being at home, schooling from the kitchen, my husband’s photography work all being cancelled or postponed. It is amazing what humans can get through though and my own garden was a haven during that time.

I was due to film with Jonathan Snow at a wonderful nursery in Scotland for his Trailfinders Garden, so I look forward to seeing the lush planting that will probably look even better in September and the creative powerhouse that is Hugo Bugg and Charlotte Harris will undoubtably give us a beautiful M & G urban haven garden.

Tom Massey and I have worked together a few times now, on the coverage of his Lemon Tree Trust Garden of 2018 and more recently on the last 2 series of BBC Your Garden Made Perfect. As the Horticultural Producer I help bring the gardens to life, both in Virtual Reality and reality and it’s a brilliant team to work with. Tom’s 2021 Garden for Yeo Valley is close to all of our hearts as we filmed the main VR sequences at the Yeo Valley Farm in Somerset and I look forward to a little slice of their ethos at Chelsea. Look out for series 2 of Your Garden Made Perfect in Spring 2022, presented by the ever-vivacious and BRILLIANT Angela Scanlon.

Back to gardens – I’m thrilled to see Taina Suonio will still be bringing a slice of beautiful Finland to the show and again a little sad that I didn’t get to go and film in her homeland for this garden. Taina has such a strong, passionate work ethic and I know this garden will perfectly reflect Nordic seaside life and show how we can create a little slice of it in our gardens. It will probably also put the sale of saunas off the scale! For many of us over the last 2 years, our gardens became our sanctuaries and I would personally LOVE a sauna after a day of heavy gardening! I visited a client in Rock, Cornwall in the summer who had a beautiful, curved sauna pod in their garden, clad with gorgeous warm-toned wooden shingles. Divine!

On a Cornish note, great to see new sponsor Bodmin Jail at the show too!

I’m sad to see only 2 Artisan gardens this year. These have always been my favourites – such perfection and use of skills – and I worry this reflects the loss of skilled craftsmen and women. So I shall I make a special beeline to see the Guide Dogs Garden and The Blue Diamond Forge Garden.

The Sanctuary Gardens have also become a favourite for many people at the show. They are just the right size, not too big not too small, the average British back garden so the public love them. Amongst those already mentioned we will also see creative Tom Hoblyn with a garden inspired by the classic children’s story ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson-Burnett; The Calm of Bangkok – I haven’t been there but can’t imagine it’s very calm usually so this garden aims to show a hidden side of the city; and The Parsley Box Garden which I think will look as cute as it sounds!

Two NEW categories to fill the gaps this year, which are going to be a BIG HIT with public and viewers alike, are the Container Gardens and Balcony Gardens. It became very apparent through news reports during the lockdowns that an immense amount of housing in this country does not provide any garden at all and this still feels an absolute tragedy, so these small space gardens are going to be a revelation to many at how to create pocket spaces of joy.

The RHS Feature Gardens are in very safe hands. Multi-talented Marie-Louise Agius brings the COP26 Garden, linked to the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in October and November 2021 (not 2026 rather confusingly! It will be the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties) The garden with its decline, adaptation, mitigation and balance areas is sure to be packed with a myriad of clever ideas for us all to use in our home gardens to play our part in making a difference to the health of our planet.

David Dodd with the Queen’s Green Canopy Garden is encouraging planting trees throughout the year to celebrate the Queens Platinum Jubilee and I LOVE that a September show means we can enjoy the warm scent of hay bale sculptures by Jay Davey.

Finally the lovely Arit Anderson is creating the BBC One Show and RHS Garden of Hope and let’s face it we all need a bit more of that, so I shall be heading for a catch up with her and enjoying the warm hug of both the garden and the company of this lady!

One other garden I’ll be heading to enjoy is the Gaze Burvill trade stand, designed by the joy-filled bundle that is Ann-Marie Powell and constructed by the amazing team at Landform.

So, that’s the CHELSEA 2021 GARDENS in a nutshell, hope I didn’t miss anyone out. Personally I can’t wait as this will be the first time in several years that I will be there to browse, not work, which means I won’t be dashing around at breakneck speed setting up filming but will mean I have to wait my turn to see each garden like everyone else!

For images of the Designs please click here

The road to France, and back again.

Let me tell you a story. I met my husband Mark over 20 years ago on a bus to France and in one thunder-clap, lightning-strike moment fell in love. Over the next few years whilst living in Cornwall we took numerous trips to Northern France before venturing further afield on our idyllic honeymoon. Not the sun-drenched Tropics or dreamy Maldives for us – we took a small tent and a camping stove and pitched our way down through France, eventually arriving at my dream location of Provence. One blissful week later we camped back up through France using a different route and started our married life together in a pretty little Cornish terraced cottage near Wadebridge, in the village where we had got married.

Fast forward a few years and we had just finished converting an old cow barn near Bodmin Moor and landscaping the 1/4 acre garden, when we decided France was calling to us again. We sold the barn and hopped on the next boat to the Gascogne area in South West France where we dreamed the dream of buying a campsite. We looked at a few but it was all just too risky, we got scared, so returned to Cornwall and bought a house – a bog standard town house which we didn’t love but did have a decent-sized garden and a greenhouse.

Not quite content we upped sticks again, this time with a scrumptious 7-week-old son in tow, and moved to the picturesque Cotswolds, to a quintessential village called Shipton-under-Wychwood. Mark had a new post as Headteacher at a Cotswolds school and all looked rosy, for a short time. We had a nice house, with a nice little garden and a nice view across fields. But something wasn’t right, evidently it was all too ‘nice’ and with France calling to us once again, we trundled back to Cornwall with the intention of looking at buying in France again. We rented a bungalow in Trevone with a huge garden and spent happy hours gardening or playing on the beach with our lovely, smiley toddler.

It was easy to settle into life in Cornwall for a bit, with both of us teaching or gardening and France became a holiday destination, with trips to the western coast and Normandy. We eventually bought a bungalow in Rock — playground of the rich and famous – and spent 8 happy years there, eventually filling up our space with beautiful twin daughters. With a wraparound garden and a dark room for Mark’s photography; prosperous clients to work for and beaches in easy reach, we should have been happy, content, fulfilled. But things changed; we felt too settled, we both needed more.

Cornwall is beautiful, it truly is, and I will always love my home county, but I have rose-tinted memories of my farm-girl childhood there; of lazy days wondering the farms hills and streams, and sunset bbqs on empty beaches. The reality of Cornwall in Summer now, especially mid-covid, is a very different picture.

So our next move, was not to France, but to the South West Capital City of Bristol. Mark is a Bristolian and we had 7 brilliant years there, loving the vibrant city, its colourful houses and inspiring views, with so many festivals to keep us amused and plenty of activities for the growing children. Bristol now has a little piece of my soul and it’s a move that was a success. I quickly got work with the BBC and had my dream job of working on Gardeners’ World, then Chelsea Flower Show. My gardening friends will understand that there’s simply nothing better than that; spending time with Monty, Rachel, Joe, Carol and the rest of the team – my type of celebrities and the nicest of people but through my work I have also met brilliant Horticulturalists who have become very good friends.

When Covid struck I was working as Horticultural Assistant Producer for the Chelsea Flower Show coverage and my role was looking after all things to do with the Gardens and Design. It was my third year in the role and I was happy to be there. When Chelsea was cancelled we were astounded. Nothing prepared us for that moment when the rug was pulled from under us. Locked down at home, the team pulled out every stop imaginable to pitch and then make the archive-led programmes that were shown instead. It was the hardest task, all working from home and I couldn’t be prouder of the programmes we made.

I was due to be furloughed as the other RHS shows were cancelled but was then offered work on a brand new show for the BBC, made by Remarkable TV, called Your Garden Made Perfect. In a normal world this wouldn’t have been possible as it was based in London but Covid’s new remote-working world meant I could be part of this amazing team, who had already had huge success with Your Home Made Perfect. My links with Chelsea Designers made this my perfect role and we have made a BRILLIANT show. (It airs from Thursday 4th February (2021) and I think you’ll love it!)

BUT, in the midst of all this perfecting of gardens, Covid still raged and we were once more unsettled. Would we have jobs this winter, could we afford the mortgage, would the children ever go back to school and would life ever be the same again? The Brexit end-of-transition date of 31st December 2020 was looming and in the summer heat of a city lockdown, from our tiny terraced garden, we decided we’d move to France, before the right to do so easily was taken away from us.

House on the market, area chosen, school for our eldest sorted, we pushed and pushed our agents and solicitor and finally exchanged on December 10th, leaving on the 18th for the Loire. No-one could quite believe we were doing it, or had managed to do it, nor could we to be honest! A tortuous 12 hour journey later, from Bristol, through the Tunnel, we arrived at a pretty farm in central France, near Loches, in the Loire Valley. Our Parisien hosts were charming, providing a beef casserole and champagne for our arrival and with a well-stocked barn full of logs, we hunkered down for the Christmas holidays.

It was bitterly cold some days, with thick mist on others but when the sun shone we revelled in our decision and felt hope for our dreams. We read, played games, ate endless platters of brie and bread and started to plan. After two weeks of festivities (although the French don’t tend to take down the decorations till at least March we discovered) we ventured abroad with my rekindled French (thank you Duolingo and Mr Chamberlain for my A Level) and started viewing properties. First up was a set of three buildings – a farmhouse to renovate and two barns to convert (€140,000). It was immense, not in the usual ‘large building ‘sense, more like in the Land of Giants. Our little van was positively dwarfed by the beautiful stone buildings and our budget was similarly dwarfed by what would need doing.

Next we visited a set of three smaller buildings with terracotta roofs in a pretty hamlet, bordered by a bucolic stream, this could have been the dream home (€115,000). The reality was the upstairs was accessed via an outside ladder, the rooms inside were horribly unliveable and the encroaching threat of the thickest and most invasive clump of bamboo I’ve ever seen, saw me running for the hills!

One thing we quickly noticed about the area was the sheer expanse of flat land in between the pretty villages and towns. The fields went on for miles, broken by ordered rows of forestry, where at the weekends there would be signs warning ‘Chasse en cours’ and men in high-vis with guns lined the woods ready to shoot their dinner. I missed English hedges!

We persevered with the houses, adjusting our plan of buying something that could be lived in whilst renovating, with land to play with (many came with their own section of woodland! ) to more habitable buildings with some potential to expand or make gites. We even got as far as putting in an offer on a pretty special artists home, who had retreated to London. It had a house, with a gite and second potential gite which he had used as his studio, filled with light from the huge windows, topped off by an immense garden and an in-ground pool (there are alot of above-ground pools, many badly done) (€255,000). Our cheeky offer was rejected, with a bit of huffiness from the artist, and we moved on.

We made plans to see a pretty little house in Montresor – one of the famous ‘Plus Beaux Villages De France’; a large village house with a garden and a more modern house, typical of the area, with a great hillside view and a large garden. We’d also increased the budget and compromised on the space and size of the land. Viewings booked we were finally able to get an appointment to visit the International School for Henry in Loches. This was the single most important point of the move and one which I thought we’d got absolutely pinned down. We’d corresponded both with the school and with an english agent in the area and hadn’t any concerns about our 15-year-old son being able to do his Baccalaureate taught in English there, instead of A levels. He was excited, had been practising his French for months and was ready to live the french dream. The sharp reality of sitting in a huge office and being bombarded with questions, and then tested on his French without warning was too much for us both. We left the office heads down, dream shattered and an uncertainty we’d not faced before. Henry would have had to take an extra 25 hours a week of intensive French, whilst also finishing off his GCSE’s as agreed with the Bristol school (who have been brilliant). We then received an email with a quote for the proposed lessons – an eye-watering 6000 euros…

We cancelled the next days viewings, talked and cried and talked some more. As a family we agreed that since there were no other options on schooling for our son, with other International Schools in France much more expensive, we had to go back to the UK. The Loches school is state-sponsored, meaning the government pays the teacher’s salaries, so the fees are cheaper, around €3000 a year. The girls weren’t an issue as they were still young enough to pick up the language and would have gone to the local french primary but with Henry at such an important stage in education we just couldn’t take such a massive risk with his future.

The weekend was a quiet one – thinking, exploring the local area, seeing some chateaux, all of them closed of course because of the pandemic, and trying to make a plan. The new week started with the final poisoned arrow – we had to give details of the kids new schools in France as they needed to give the Bristol school places to others on the waiting list. We had to return or lose their places.

We told our lovely hosts, who were sad but philosophical. We had spent a lovely 5 weeks on a remote, covid-free farm in the middle of nowhere. As they said, “C’est la vie”.

Ferry booked, family and close friends told, Covid tests taken, bags packed.

We had 5 fresh-air filled weeks in France. The kids roamed, bounced, spoke French. We dreamed and we finally understood that moving to a foreign country, when only one of you – me – can converse in reasonable French, is tiring and it was just not the right time. If this is your dream then do it when your kids are young and they’ll be fine. Beware of the seduction of pretty, stone houses, they hide a wealth of renovation inside! We were incredibly privileged to have even been able to try this adventure so certainly don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. It’s been a rubbish year beyond all measure for the entire world and we have been lucky to have had work and a roof over our heads. Let’s face it, in a normal world there’s no way we would have made such a jump without going over and checking out the school first, we simply ran out of time; no thanks to Brexit.

Right now, we are safely isolating at my sister’s lovely home on the edge of Bodmin Moor. We can watch the birds in her garden, look out across fields and heal. The last few years have taken their toll on us mentally, but we are lucky to have been able to try. We are hopeful for a new future and eternally thankful that our children are the best, bravest and most adventurous kids we could wish for. ‘C’est la vie’.

My tiny terraced garden

Suddenly finding myself working from home, on the recent BBC Chelsea Flower Show archive programmes, had its benefits – I had no time to sit and stare but I did occasionally have time to garden, and it helped pull me through such a strange time; a time of worry, stress; a time where our three children were suddenly our only friends and we were their teachers; a time of uncertainty and fear.

So the gift of a world-crushing pandemic was not just precious time with my children, it gave me stolen moments to work on my own tiny space.

We moved to our house-on-the- hill in Bristol just a week before the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019, just one year ago. The terraced red-brick house sits on Clifton Wood’s famous slope of coloured homes. In fact our garden at the rear looks up to those very homes: blue, pink and yellow. When I say ‘up’ I mean that our garden is on a 45 degree south-facing slope, ending at a 3m plus high, red-stone wall which divides us from our lofty, colourful neighbours.

Easter egg hunt 2020

The previous owner had installed diagonal paths criss-crossing the hillside to reach the top terrace, which looks out to the sky, with a triangle glimpse of the leafy green trees of Ashton Court just outside Bristol. This space is an absolute sun trap!

Fermob chairs on the top terrace inspired by a filming trip to Piet Oudolf’s Hummelo garden

The top half of the garden we have lovingly nicknamed our Greek hillside, nostalgic for our Grecian holidays. I have planted it with Lavender’s, rock roses, tiny but prolific Erigeron karvinskianus and thymes to fill gaps between the paving. I used Crocosmia on the steepest parts to hold back the ground which has worked well.

A small olive tree has travelled with us from home to home and is now part of the hillside, along with my favourite ox-eye daisies. We kept an established Convulvulus Cneorum and a purple-flowering Hebe, as well as a scented Artemisia and these have given us almost year-round flowers.

The lower section gets a bit more shade through the day and a little more moisture so I have used inspiration from Chelsea Flower Show to create my own bit of Ishihara-style, with Japanese maples, ferns, Hakonechloa, alchemilla mollis and box balls.

The paths have been made from recycled materials – bricks left at the house, pieces of rock and stone found in the garden and gathered from a local garden that was removing a rockery. My final task is to top the paths with sand-coloured gravel and then sit back and enjoy watching it all grow.

It’s been a labour of love, of mental wellbeing and of satisfaction in creating a space that all our family can enjoy. It’s small, it’s steep but we are lucky to have a space such as this in the city and the best thing is how it inspired our neighbours to get out there and garden their own spaces too – spreading the joy of gardening!

Bones of Winter ❄️

You’ll often hear garden designers talking about the ‘bones’ of a garden and maybe wonder why finding tasty fossils in the soil might be so all important. Today has begun blisteringly cold and frosty and I’m on a train to London for the RHS Greening Great Britain and Chelsea Flower Show launch. It’s only 0830 and my walk through crispy Bristol was at 7am but it was absolutely worth it. A curly moon hung daintily above the harbour and the outlines of buildings and boats made me think of the bones.

SS Great Britain

In Winter everything is stripped back, it’s skeletal form clearly seen, like ships masts against a dawn sky. The bones of a garden are the architectural elements, the ones that remain when the flesh has withered. Think of city skylines; structures and hard landscaping are more clearly seen against low light, at dawn or dusk, when our eyes aren’t distracted by the details, the add-ons, the hustle and bustle.

St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

Trees and churches take on similar forms. We can use this to shape our gardens; framing pretty vistas, hiding eyesores or providing a strong focal point.

When we consider the bones think in black and white; what shapes are we forming, where do our lines lead us? It’s basic artwork, beautifully executed.

After a wet winter so far, today has awoken the frost spirits and the land is transformed. What stands out – the bones. Mainly it’s the trees, their branches stripped bare, their structural beauty revealed. They always remind me of science lessons, the bronchioles in our lungs with their finger-like structures ever-decreasing in size.

Trees are the lungs of the world and every garden should have at least one tree. Planting bare root trees in winter gives us the opportunity to see the structure so when choosing your spot consider its silhouette and where you’ll best take advantage of its lovely bones.

That first day

There’s always a day in January when you wake to an ice blue sky and the sun rises sharp and intense over a misty horizon. Today is that day; January 19th 2020.

It brings with it a sense of hope, renewal and sheer joy to be approaching Spring at last. I’m the first to admit I hate Winter, especially British Winter, with its short, grey days; too much time spent indoors overindulging and wishing time away till the first daffodil appears.

In my funny little garden – a south facing 45 degree slope which sadly gets no light on the lower half in the winter as it’s shaded by the house – the first shoots are emerging and so am I. If I’m organised I can get washing steaming on the line by 9.30 am when the warming sun bathes the top half of the garden for about 6 hours before giving us glorious ruby sunsets over the Ashton Court woodlands in the distance. This mundane task allows me to view the garden from a different angle, straight down its slopes, as opposed to gazing out longingly from the lounge all through December and early January.

For a first-year garden we’ve made a good start on sorting its ‘bones’. Cutting back the immense beech hedge, rediscovering paths and steps and taking out unwanted or overgrown plants. My inheritance from the previous owner are a few good evergreens (a purple flowering hebe, a convulvulus cneorum and an artemisia) and lots of weedy earth to fill.

We’ve lovingly nicknamed the new garden our Greek hillside, for the memories we cherish of holidays swimming in clear, Grecian seas and devouring tasty, mainly vegetarian dishes. The careful climb to the top is far easier than the descent, especially as it’s also the best place to share a cold glass of white wine at the end of the day, so we’re gradually improving the steps and using reclaimed stone to create retaining walls. These I will smother with trailing plants and alpines, merrily letting the thuggish but gloriously pretty Erigeron karvinskianus fill in the gaps; it may well be about to become an ‘invasive’ on the UK plant crimes lineup but I will continue to love its tenacious habit regardless.

Pelargonium ‘Ashby’ still in flower

On the east side of the garden we have inherited what could be described as a thicket of honeysuckle. The previous owner had it planted as a climber on the house but I think it craved more light so it has rampaged up the slope to form a dense hedge. It does smell divine and has flowers all year but it’s due a good haircut.

The deck at the bottom of the slope, as expected, became a slimy, slippery death trap over the winter but for now, until we can save up to replace it with something in tough, ridged metal, it will have to do. In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing all the treasured friends that I’ve moved from garden to garden over the years put on fresh growth and start to make this garden mine.

Spring is coming ❤️

Wildlife garden or unkempt eyesore?

When it comes to communal gardens it seems that one person’s wildlife haven is another’s unkempt eyesore. This week the grounds of the Student properties in front of our row of terraced houses on the hillside of Clifton Wood in Bristol were cleared. But by ‘cleared’ they didn’t just prune the shrubs, tidy the ivy back, sweep up leaves; no they razed the entire area to the ground, leaving the odd solitary tree looking very lonely amongst the debris like the last building standing in a war-zone.

I give you exhibit one – this photo shows what once was – my little ‘country-lane’ which actually sits just one row back from the main road into the centre of Bristol. Ivy covered the concrete wall bases, honeysuckle twined around the black metal railings, blackberries poked through for my children to munch and the windows of the student building below were obscured by buddleias and various other small shrubs.

Crosby Row before removalAs you can see, my little girl loves riding her bike out there and since I grew up riding my bike around the country lanes of rural Cornwall, it meant a lot to be able to give them a small slice of that lifestyle, in return for uprooting them to live in the centre of a city.

Up till this week…

This week, apparently in response to some of the neighbours complaining about it looking “unkempt”, the management of the Student House had a landscaping company slash the whole lot, save one or two small trees, to the ground. But they didn’t stop there, they removed the honeysuckle I had been carefully winding around the railings and cleared the ivy back to bare concrete. I now live next to and practically in the rooms at eye level of my student neighbours. As I walk out of my front door this is the view I now have:

Crosby Row after removal

I guess I should be happy that at least they didn’t take down the glorious tree that still gives us some screening and also a lot of pleasure watching it change through the years.

Gone are the buddleias, the honeysuckle and the ivy and gone with them are the butterflies, the bees and the birds that lived there. Not just that but the noise pollution from the road has gone up instantly and I’m pretty sure air pollution levels too.

Sad beyond words.

I contacted the management company and had a very nice email explaining that some fo the neighbours had complained but also their residents. This I understand: buddleias were making cracks in the walls and it had got very dark for the downstairs rooms. But, as I have explained to them, why completely remove every trace of greenery? Why not prune, maintain, replant, weed to keep the grounds like lovely for all concerned – students, neighbours and wildlife? I’ve suggested they plant a wildlife hedge and await their response…

Before and after:




Putting the Art into the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – a preview of the Artisan Gardens.

Putting the Art into the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – a preview of the Artisan Gardens.

I have a confession to make – the Artisan gardens are my favourites. There’s something incredibly intimate about them; they demand a degree of perfection that has to be super-exact. Seen at closer quarters than the show gardens, the adoring public are seeking inspiration, so every single detail is essential, every wisp and willow. These gardens have to pack a short sharp punch.

It’s not just the gardens themselves, it’s a combination of the woodland walk down to the gardens, the jostling for front row views and, most importantly, the fact that these are gardens which could be created in an average person’s property. (Apologies for calling most readers average – I’m one too, currently renting a house with a 4m x 6m courtyard.)

You have to pick your moments at Chelsea, maybe when they are announcing People’s Choice in the Fresh or Show gardens, whizz down to see them. There are just 8 this year, down from 11 last year which surprises me; are they indeed trickier to pull off? Is it too hard to get sponsors? Or were the number of entries limited this year?

So here they are:

The Magna Carta garden

Magna Carta artisan garden Chelsea
Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden

The Magna Carta (The Great Charter), is apparently one of the most famous documents in the world. It was originally issued by King John of England and it established for the first time the principle that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law. Now that’s pretty groundbreaking history. Will ‘A Touch of France Garden Design’ pull it off? I’m expecting some beautiful planting with lots of scented old roses and a good degree of pageantry about it too.

The designers Patricia Thirion and Janet Honour gave me their personal view on the garden – “We are very thrilled to be back at Chelsea for the sixth time. With this garden the romantic medieval style of planting really appeals to us as confirmed plantaholics and we relish the prospect of creating something totally different from our previous two gardens. Our biggest concern is to remember to enjoy every moment of it!” With a Gold medal in 2013 the pressure is on.

The Evaders Garden

Chorley Council: The Evaders Garden
Chorley Council: The Evaders Garden

The Evaders garden is designed by John Everiss, whose father Stan was shot down in 1943 and rescued by French citizens. Commemorating the end of World War 2 I’m hoping this garden will convey a sense of calm at the end of the storm, relief to be going home and a little bit of nostalgia. I love a good ruin but I suspect it might actually be quite tricky to make a new structure look old; I’m hoping the plants will be haphazard, quirky and poking out of every nook and cranny to give it an imposed sense of time.

John told me, ” I’m loving the sculpture design process, starting with hiring an original RAF bomber crew outfit, modelled by my son and 3D scanned to create the image. So far the results look amazing. It’s very emotional to see my son dressed exactly as his grandfather would have looked 72 years before.”

Any concerns? ” Designers concerns are nearly always about the plants…and I’m no different!”

The Breast Cancer Haven garden

The Breast Cancer Haven garden
The Breast Cancer Haven Garden

Sarah Eberle is pushing herself to the limits this year with two Chelsea gardens, one in each of the fresh and artisan sections. Designed with willow sculptor Tom Hare, (check out his website), the garden has the vital role of nurturing; creating a protective ‘nest’ for suffers. The power gardening has to heal is very much in the media this year so I expect some extra tv coverage on this. Sarah is giving her time free of charge for this charity garden and it will be Tom’s first charity garden.

Sarah told me that she loves the simplicity of the garden and also its symbolic links to The Haven. “The garden has been designed as a space to be with others or alone if desired; a place to connect with nature and to relax in comfort.”  A small British oak tree, symbolising strength, provides height in the garden, whilst pretty woodland perennials and shrubs in earthy tones surround the ‘nest’.

Willow sculptor, Tom Hare, added: “The oak leaf  ‘nest’ sculpture is of modest scale compared to most of my previous works. The movement and direction of this weave is quite technical and really shows off the form. I am excited to see the sculpture grounded in situ and I’m delighted that this will be transported to The Haven in Wessex following the Show so Haven Visitors can enjoy it for many years to come.”

The Edo garden 

Edo no niwa – Edo Garden
Edo no niwa – Edo Garden

This one does it for me in terms of the drawing; I’m a sucker for a good image and this stands out.  With 6 gold medals stacking up, designer Kazuyuki Ishihara never fails to impress with structures, style and sublime planting. I’m hoping this garden will give us a Japanese version of the Arts and Crafts idea of home and garden being designed as a whole.

Kaz told me that his favourite part of the design … ” is the water that enters into the house from the garden to form part of the interior. We feel that this element allows the garden and the interior to be experienced as a single, conjoined space.”

Are you hooked yet? I am: this sounds like a little piece of genius and I love that they describe the water starting in the garden and coming in, rather than flowing out from the house. This could be a real trendsetter for interior designers and architects alike. Could this garden start a resurgence of Lutyens/Jekyll -style gardens?

Water features are very hard to get right and Kaz admits some concerns, “Due to the importance of the water in the house, the flow and sound of the water are our greatest concern, and we are watchful for the effects of one element upon the other.”

BREAKING NEWS the Ishihara office also informed me that, “Mr. Ishihara will change his style of garden design in the future, therefore the 2015 garden will be the last in the style of ‘awakening Japanese nostalgia’. He hopes that visitors will enjoy this last moment for this style in the “Edo Garden”.

The Old Forge

Motor Neurone Disease – The Old Forge
Motor Neurone Disease – The Old Forge

On paper this one looks very pretty and definitely has the artisan feel about it. Will the planting be right and will that large tree be in proportion to the rest of the garden? This sort of garden often goes down well at Chelsea as we can all identify with artefacts of the past. It’s perhaps easier to portray the past than the future – historical facts as opposed to our wild imaginations – but that makes it more fiddly to get right and not tarnish our memories.

Designed by 22-year-old first-timer Jodie Fedorko, with Martin Anderson (2 gold medals), Jodie gave me some insight, “My favourite part of the garden is the old forge itself and the native wildflowers that surround it; it’s central to the design and purpose of the garden.  I am most concerned about the tree in the garden, it’s a beautiful 5.5m Horse Chestnut tree and also very central in the garden’s design. Horse Chestnut trees were used to keep the flies away from the horse while they were being shod. It’s going to be a challenge fitting a tree of that size into position and being able to hide its rootball, but it is going to be worth it!”

The Walker’s Picnic garden

 Walker’s Picnic Garden
Walker’s Picnic Garden

This is going to be an interesting one; with different sized pines, reclaimed tree roots and fungi seats it has the feel of a theatre about it. I love woodland planting but it can be difficult to keep it feeling natural and not too manicured. What I really like is the sense of magic about the design: I might be tempted to sneak in a fairy or two!

Designer Graham Bodle says that his favourite part of the garden will be the woodland sculpture his auntie is making and his main concern is how he’s going to fix the reclaimed oak branches that semi-enclose the space.

A Trugmaker’s garden

Future Climate Info: A Trugmaker’s Garden
Future Climate Info: A Trugmaker’s Garden

By far the most beautifully drawn design, I’m really looking forward to seeing this garden. The artisan section is well-known for showing little snippets of history by setting a scene and they generally succeed in making you feel as though the gardener or craftsman has just strolled off for a moment.

This garden is quite a personal glimpse into how life would have been and I think sales of trugs will soar. This garden is quaint, whimsical and pretty; just what is required for a perfect artisan garden in my opinion.

First-timers at Chelsea – Serena Fremantle and Tina Vallis both have years of garden design behind them but have come together to create this garden. They gave me their thoughts: Serena – “My favourite part has been ensuring our design is cohesive and true to the story behind the traditional Sussex Trug workshops. Designing a garden that is truly Artisan is not something I do on a daily basis, so it has all been a wonderfully different experience. I have really enjoyed putting the planting scheme together with the knowledge that many of the plants are, after the show, being relocated to a fantastic children’s hospice. Like the plants, this makes me smile.”

I asked if she had any concerns – ” There is always the fear that the visitors to Chelsea won’t view the garden with the same enthusiasm and passion as I do! But I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the sun shines and I hear lots of oohs and aahs from the visitors as they go by!”

Co-designer Tina had this to add – “The backdrop to A Trugmaker’s Garden is an oak workshop constructed with old, reclaimed materials. We have worked closely with traditional Sussex trugmakers from The Truggery and The Trug Store to create an authentic working environment full of genuine tools and equipment. So for me this is my favourite element of the garden as the workshop is brimming with the beautiful traditional tools and wood shavings which really bring it alive. We are also really delighted that we will have a trugmaker joining us on the garden on press day demonstrating the art of trug making.”

Any concerns? – ” My major concern is with trying to predict the weather and how it may affect the availability and quality of our carefully chosen planting scheme. We will be regularly visiting the nurseries to check our plants between now and May but, however well prepared we are, it is going to be slightly nerve-wracking waiting to see if everything behaves and flowers at the right time.”

Welcome to Yorkshire Garden


‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ has been keeping us all in suspense but I now have exclusive details about their 2015 garden. Here’s what the designer Lee Bestall has to tell us about his garden which focuses on Yorkshire’s huge microbrewing scene. I’m hoping both Lee and the Rich brothers (with their show garden based around wine…) will be tempting us with their wares!

– What is your favourite part of the design/garden?
​ – “I think the water feature is my favourite part of the garden, its based on a traditional Yorkshire Square and the whole feature was inspired by the brewing process … new and old”​

– What are you most concerned about with the garden/design?
​ “The thing I’m most worried about is the area of wild flowers we’re using in the garden. Most aspects of the garden can be controlled, and the evergreen plants are pretty easy, but the weather can be so unpredictable you just never know. According to the MET office, we are in for an ‘average spring’ so thats always a good sign!”

An enticing snippet, more details and the design are to follow soon…


So there you are – the Artisan section: perfectly proportioned glimpses into artistry of various kinds – don’t miss them.

Thank you to all of the designers who kindly gave their personal comments.


You can read more details about each of the gardens on the RHS website.

All images taken from the RHS.

(Putting the Art into the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – a preview of the Artisan Gardens.)

Natalie Ashbee is an experienced Garden and Planting Designer and Garden Writer, living in the beautiful area of Clifton in Bristol.
Ash & Bee is an amalgamation of Natalie Ashbee Gardens and Mark Ashbee Photography. Natalie Ashbee Gardens was established in 2003 and grew from the maintenance of small gardens to the landscape and planting design of high-end new properties in Cornwall. Mark Ashbee is an experienced professional photographer specialising in interiors, gardens and lifestyle photography.

Horticulture meets Haute Couture – say it with flowers.

Ash & Bee blog

Horticulture meets Haute Couture – say it with flowers.

There’s been an explosion… of flowers into the world of fashion and homes. Spring is undoubtedly on its way when every fashion house and department store fills its borders, sorry, I mean rails with a riot of floral designs worthy of the best National Trust garden.  Ok so I’m no expert but being the wife of a fashion/interiors photographer means I spend many happy hours looking at proofs and leafing through magazines and if I’m not very much mistaken there is a pattern that emerges when it comes to fashion: I think I can safely say that fashion largely takes its cue from the changing seasons.

Take for example Liberty – the patriarch of print – whose Spring 2015 range is suitably splashed with the daintiest of blooms. Liberty has long since mastered the art of putting flowers and colours in mouthwatering combinations and I particularly love this season’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ collection. Is it coincidence or clever marketing that the RHS is also using the narcotic children’s story as a theme across its 4 main gardens this summer? Have they already set us up for the summer shopping spree?

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Alice in Wonderland fabrics at Liberty

Sir Paul Smith’s spring collection is equally blowsy with both floral and leaf prints to suit the most daring of men, although perhaps best on those who are confident enough (loud) to pull it off. Think Safari; think Surf dude.

Paul Smith potted plants shirt, Ash & Bee Blog
Potted plants by Paul Smith

Fashion may determine what we buy but nature has a cunning way of getting it so right that even the most creative of artists will always be seduced to use it. Sir Paul Smith recently thrilled us at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show press launch when he demonstrated effusively how flowers inspire his fashions. He frequently puts colours together that he has seen work brilliantly in a border or hedgerow; whether a gardener has got it just right or mother nature herself, it takes a clever eye to turn this into a winning scarf or dress.

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Beautiful brights on a Paul Smith little girls dress

Interior designers are equally renowned for their cyclical use of fabrics to suit a season; most of us are easily seduced by the latest catalogue dropping through our door with pretty new cushions to ‘update’ our home. A psychologist would probably tell us that as nesting humans we feel the need to change our view occasionally and that by adding a new fabric to suit the time of year we feel fresh and invigorated. It’s all pretty obvious really and let’s face it, totally original ideas are pretty much exhausted so all trades and crafts have to come up with a revamp of a good idea; it’s just a matter of time. If you could keep loved (but out of date) fashion or interior pieces for long enough, you’d eventually find it back in fashion but that would possibly mean investing in self-storage unless you have a wardrobe the size of Selfridges and a garage worthy of Batman’s vehicle collection. 

M & S interiors have a double whammy this spring with a ‘pretty chic’ floral range –

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Pretty chic at M & S

and a beautiful botanical range, I love the ferns on purest white china; such a delicate combination that looks equally good in a border as on a plate – maybe a shady spot with Asplenium ferns and white anemone…

Ash & Bee Blog
M & S botanical range

So with Valentine’s Day looming and an expectation of the masses to ‘say it with flowers’ I’m looking forward to seeing some interesting choices of apparel at the Flower Shows this year and especially at Chelsea where horticulture really does meet haute couture.


Ash & Bee blog
Fashion meets floral in the Chelsea Flower Show gardens