Art and the Garden as Gallery



The garden can be viewed as a gallery with and without art. We sculpt the space and individual plants, cutting and lopping, pruning and mowing to form rooms and floors, augmenting with architectural, bedding and perennial plants. Cloud pruning, exposing stems and clipping all create this open air gallery.


We work the living gallery throughout the year, and as the seasons wane the collection changes, bringing fresh appreciation for each new look.


As much as this is a joy in itself, the addition of art into the organic must not be overlooked. As a focal point or a discovery, a practical piece or flamboyant, art in the garden serves a multitude of purposes.


Stone and wood are the most common materials for the garden, but also consider colour when choosing art. In the depths of winter, when the dark months and steel grey blankets of cloud are at their most monochrome, a bright and colourful piece will lift the garden. When the year comes round and sunshine and colour return to the gallery, it will compliment the backdrop.


Practical pieces can serve as plant supports, fences, gates dividers and safety features. Growing annuals, whether vegetables or ornamentals, on beautifully designed supports means winter interest as well as productivity. A simple entrance can be transformed into a destination in itself with the installation of a gate as art. 


Placing art is as important as hanging a show, and care must be taken to choose the right size pieces to compliment the space. At the end of avenues, or art seen across a parkland setting, is the classic placing; but I also like to discover art on the journey through a garden. It feels like a treat to walk around a corner and find a hidden area that has been dedicated to earned visual pleasure. 


Whatever one's taste, and size of garden, the living gallery benefits from art. Treat it as a backdrop that is no less important than the art. The whole garden, walls and floor and structure and art, is a living gallery. 

Party for Perennial 2016



Perennial was founded 175 years ago to help gardeners and horticulturalists in need and continues its wonderful work by organising sponsered events thoughout the year. Last night's party at the Barbican was a great event, hosted by Dougal Philip the Perennial Chairman and James Alexander-Sinclair, with wonderful food, raffle and auction prizes. 


Land Designs took part in the Nuts Challenge for Perennial in September, a muddy obsticle course that indeed lived up to its billing! MM, D W-L and JR are very proud to be part of this vital charity, and will be involved in fund raising during 2017. 


TAP HERE for the Perennial website


The Barbican Conservatory


January 2017



This is the time to dream, to wonder and wander. Embrace the bareness of the garden, throw on a coat, pull on some boots and get out. Plan and prepare. I always find this time of the year is cerebral. It is about distilling my ideas for the garden and mixing them with the needs of the garden. I dig a little. Cut back a little. But until the days start to lengthen I mostly saunter around and when it gets too dark, or cold or wet, pour a drink and pour over the catalogues, imagining all those seedlings breaking the surface of the compost in a warm spring greenhouse with the sun on my face.


And for that reason I love this time of quiet contemplation. Yes, the garden is skeletal, but what an opportunity it is to stand within and see the bones before we immerse ourselves in the business of fleshing that spring involves. We can see the wood for the trees in January.


Driving the country lanes of Dorset I have been struck this season by extraordinary colour. The hedgerows, before the flail unceremoniously rips the growth back to the knuckle, are a colour palette of such variety. The fire of cornus, the purple of hawthorn, the golden brown of hazel, the silver of ash and maple. When the low winter sun is bright and the air crisp they glow, and it seems such a shame to loose last year’s growth. I feel a pang of guilt that I appreciate the neatness that follows, but this is the time of preparation for the spring and for the growth to come. The hedgerow benefits from this annual trim, producing thick and healthy growth that acts as a sanctuary, home, nursery and corridor for a multitude of wildlife. If there's enough space in a garden, try to incorporate a mixed native hedgerow. Spring will give you blossom, summer a lush verdant vista, autumn fruits and winter colour. And wildlife will thank you for it.


You can dig, turn over, transplant, sharpen, fix, straighten and tidy; all the classic January gardening advice. But take the time to appreciate the present. Sit and think, gaze and wonder. Mentally plan and prepare. You’ll be busy enough soon…

December 2016



"In the deep mid winter" the song goes and there is no doubt that from a gardener’s perspective that can be the situation, but the other side of the coin is the joy of knowing that it can’t last for ever and all the situations to make sure that spring will be its best are already in place.


I have always found the garden the perfect reason to get away from it all over Christmas. There are always jobs to get done in the garden so it is my perfect excuse not to have to go to the shops between Christmas and New Year. There is no amount of double digging and checking the fences that can’t be done at this time of year. If you don’t have the energy or inclination for big rural jobs like this and you have a smaller town garden then there is always a bit of last year's growth still to cut down and tidy away.


Potting up bulbs to give as Christmas presents is always a good plan.  Firstly it is not the same as a homemade gift like an auntie's jumper. If you don’t like it the giver will never know.  They will only last until the end of February by which time they are in the bin, the compost or ready to be planted out in the garden.  They take up almost no room and when you give them they always promise the spring to come.  The old favourites are the best.  Narcissus Paperwhite, or Hyacinth Woodstock that has a great scent as well as beetroot coloured flowers.


Last Christmas I was very pleased when my cousin gave me a sack of potatoes he had grown himself.  As we were spending Christmas with 2 other families it was perfect as a contribution to the meal.  It’s even better when you have grown them yourself.  Another great contribution is a summer pudding rather than Christmas pudding made up from fruits that you grew yourself and froze earlier in the year. 


Merry Christmas from all at Land Designs.


November 2016



There is no place I know of where the benefits of composting can’t be realised. My good friends the gardeners at Kasbah Tamadot in Morocco compost all the garden waste.


But the most useful example of composting for getting started is my dear friend Fi in Maida Vale.  Like many people living in London she always wished she had a garden and when finally she got one her first thought was ‘What on earth do I do now?’ As the years went on 'nothing' was the answer, apart from a regular foray to clear everything and make sure she could sit outside.  When the gardening bug bit her though, and with the help of friends who have done a bit of gardening over the years, she has really got going and Fi decided that there was no reason not to compost everything she could from the kitchen and the garden.  With the aid of the internet and a large garden fork she started.


She has managed to keep a good mix of peelings and fallen leaves so that all her plants are now only fed with a mulch of her perfect compost.  Fi claims not to be an expert but one of the great hints she has given me is to add well rotted farmyard manure to help get things started.


So based mine and Fi's experience these are my hot tips for excellent compost. Keep checking back for more tips thoughout the year.


1 Your compost pile needs a balanced mix of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen comes from green materials such as food scraps, manure, and grass clippings. Carbon comes from brown materials such as dead leaves, small branches and shredded newspaper. A ratio that contains equal portions by weight (not volume) of both works best.


2 Help start a new compost pile with aged manure. It is rich in nitrogen and help jump-start the microbes responsible for breaking down organic matter into compost.

3 The perfect size for a compost heap is at least a one metre cubed and should be turned regularly to keep adding air. This prevents a soggy mess and produces lovely fluffy compost.

4 Newspaper or plain white paper from the computer is excellent for composting - just remember to shred it first to speed up the process.


5 Your finished compost is usually much less than half the volume of the materials you started with and when finished it should look, feel and smell like rich, dark soil. You should not be able to recognize any of the items you put in there.

October 2016



The four P’s of gardening

While there are no absolutes in life, (just as it rains in August and there are days in January when you don’t need a coat), following these simple guides for each season will keep your garden looking better year on year.


Planting - Autumn

Herbaceous perennials, trees and scrubs generally prefer to be planted late in the year.  I often like to think that they sit there, waiting like athletes in the blocks, so they can get growing just as soon as the weather is warmer.  Plants are normally ready to get going before we are happy to venture out after winter, so getting them in now will give you a head start next year.  Also, divide your herbaceous plants, replant or move them to give you a bigger and better display.


Planning - Winter

They do say the only advice you normally get in winter is to curl up somewhere warm with catalogues and decide what vegetables and bedding to grow in the new year.  It’s true, it is the time to do this, but also to make major decisions.  With all the soft growth of summer gone you can see the bones of your garden and this is the time to decide if there is any re-organisation to do. Paper, pencil and a tape measure are always useful. You can then sketch a rough plan. It does not need to look like something a designer would produce. It just needs to contain enough information to act as an aid memoire for you to work from.


Pruning - Spring

There are plants that prefer an Autumn prune, but in the main many of these can be left to early Spring when you can see what damage winter has done. Lavender is the prime example. While I always trim away the flower stems after flowering to keep things tidy, I prefer to shape in the spring so that any die off from winter can be removed at the same time. Not all pruning is in one go though.  Leave the spring flowering shrubs until after flowering later in the spring.


Pleasure - Summer

Everybody knows that I believe a sustainable garden means looking at what grows best in the climate you live in and working with those plants. This allows for a more relaxed summer, where apart from looking after the vegetables and watering the bedding plants, you have time to enjoy your garden. I’m not saying that working in the garden is not a pleasure, but sitting and relaxing is all a part of the whole experience. Needless to say, that’s when I notice a plant that is too big for its space, or a gap in the flowering and the whole process can start again.

New cell

September 2016



When you start on the plans for a garden you just can’t know what will happen when the designer hands the space back to the owners.  Over the last few weeks I have become more than a little nostalgic for gardens I have created so I have invited myself along to visit some of the gardens I have worked on in the past just to see how time has treated them.


In 2004 when I was commissioned to design a garden for the Bailey family all I knew is that they were going to use the space to socialise.  While there was a love of gardening there was not a lot of time.  Also, as these were clearly well travelled and stylish people, I felt the garden really needed to fit in well with their life style. At the same time it was in Notting Hill behind a Victorian house and felt that the materials needed to relate to the building.


It was such a joy to see it again this year. Like any garden, there have been some planting changes but the structure is still the same.


The design for this garden has a diagonal layout as the door from the house was off to one side and this really worked here.  This allowed for 4 specific areas in the garden.  There is a patio by the house for breakfast, a lawned area and a terrace for the evenings.  My favourite area in this garden though is the tiny woodland grove under the existing Prunus in the garden.  The bench under here and the chandelier hanging from the tree gives this area a magical, almost fairy tale quality that seems miles away from anywhere let alone the heart of Notting Hill.


The guidelines that were followed here were simple and work for everybody who is planning a garden design, whether you are using a professional or doing it yourself. 


First, be honest about how you use your garden and when you will be out in the garden.  Most designers with a few years under their belt will be able to tell by looking at the garden as it is what level of gardening will be done and will be happy to suggest professionals to keep the garden well in the future.


Second understand that your designer is determined to give you the garden that is best for you. Chances are that you have already seen gardens designed by the person you are speaking to and therefore already know their design style.


Third, plant to suit the situation of the garden. The designer will know what will grow best as well as fit what you want so trust them.  Don’t be scared of asking for your favourite plants though.  They might be a chance to include them and it will inform the rest of the planting in the garden.

August 2016



Sporting prowess is everywhere.  And I was wondering if there was a way of marking this year in the garden without having to resort to multi coloured rings or giant flame shaped sculptures. 


It’s hard, but inspired by a very good question I was asked the other day about a good silver leaved shrub I got to thinking that a bronze, silver and gold border might look quite spectacular and could provide some good solid garden interest all year around.


Clearly the rules of planting any garden have to be applied, such as have I got a good mix of heights, structure and flowers. It is also viral that you have a suitable spot for the plants you are choosing. There is no point putting shade loving plants such as ferns in full sun, they just will not like it.


This border – which is only an example – would grow happily as long as it gets a reasonable amount of sun in the day.  I have planned it here to go against a 6ft high hedge but would be just as happy against a wall.  If your plot is larger than I have suggested here – 3m wide by 1.5m deep, then the planting can be repeated along the border but the trees would not need repeating in every section.


The gold part of the planting starts from the back. There is the wonderful climbing rose – Rosa graham Thomas. This has a medium size golden flower and in 2009 was voted the worlds favourite rose so a real winner. The trees I have suggested, and in a small garden I would plant one or the other, are Ulmus hollandica Aurea.  This is the most fantastic golden Elm that is disease resistant and grows into the most wonderful cone shape of golden leaves.  I have one which is still very small but will get to 4 or 5 metres in the next 10 years.  The other tree is Malus Golden Hornet, a golden crab apple that forms a nice column and holds onto its golden fruit for most of the winter.  When the low winter sun catches the fruit they glow.


The lower shrubs that provide the structure are Ballota pseudodictamnus for the silver,  Phlomis fruticosa for silver and then golden flowers with Cotinus Royal Purple creating clouds of bronze with Phormium tenax Bronze Warrior providing real drama.


Adding a touch of natural softness and a bit of height and drama, as they seed themselves around are bronze fennel and Verbascum olympicum and a good bronze leaved golden dahlia is Bishop of Oxford.


This is by no means a complete list of the plants that are available but none of these are difficult to grow and are very readily available.


Needless to say always add lots of bulbs!  Daffodils do a gold very well and there are several good golden lilies to give a bit of early summer colour.


Jobs for August


Collect seed from your favourite plants to propagate next year.  Store them in envelopes and don’t forget to label them so you can remember what you are growing.


This is the time to divide your Iris.


Take cuttings of tender perennials such as Pelargonium and Osteospermum.  It is best if they can go into a heated greenhouse or if this isn’t an option I have always found a kitchen window sill will be fine.


Prune your climbing roses once they have finished flowering.  This is always a job you have to really prepare yourself for but it is really worth doing when you see the flowers next year.

July 2016



When it comes to plants to give a vertical dimension to a garden there is nothing better than the Italian Cyprus.  It fits into so many planting schemes.  Either the classical and classy green courtyard garden or a freer and more colourful Mediterranean planting


In the town garden, a pair of Italian Cyprus on either side of a water feature or sculpture works well either with all foliage planting or beds edged with box hedging and filled with roses.

For the Mediterranean style planting then Cyprus repeated down both sides of the at 2 meter intervals can provide all the structure you need and then you can fill the beds and pots with the colourful flowering plants we think of when we think of Mediterranean gardens.


Italian Cyprus are hardy across the UK but care must be taken to make sure they don’t dry out in the first year after planting so that they can acclimatise themselves to their new home.



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