Peak bloom at Thames Barrier Park

Thames Barrier Park, LondonThames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.

Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.

Thames barriers

And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.

But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)

My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.

The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.

Thames Barrier Park

At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.

Rolling waves of yew hedging
Thames Barrier Park in July

Thames Barrier ParkIt’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.

You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.

Hydrangea
That instagram fave, the hydrangea, was in full flower when we visited

Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.

wild flower meadow wild flowers

I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…

I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

The garden of my dreams

The sprogs have both been ill, with various bits and pieces, these past few weeks, which means that my days have disappeared in a blur of antibiotics administering, snotty nose wiping, eyedrop dispensing, multiple night-time wakings soothing and generally feeling pretty knackered myself.

There’s not been much time for blogging. Or thinking. Or brushing my hair.

French country cottage gardenAlso taking up a fair bit more time than I anticipated is my garden design course. Yup, that same garden design course I was so excited about starting and which is now feeling a little bit more like a chore in my life because of the mountains upon mountains of homework that come with it. Still, I am learning lots of nice and interesting new things, so I’m not complaining too much. Even if I am suddenly plummeted back into my English Lit student days where you always, but always had an essay due in in a week’s time and consequently any other event that was going on* had a shadow hanging over it whispering to you: “You really should be writing that essay you know…”

So when I stumbled across photos of a beautiful garden when doing some research for my course, I was immediately tempted to go and visit it and have a nice day off.

Garden des JoetsThen I realised that it was in France. Hey! Even better!

A quick Google later and I’ve discovered you can get the ferry to Dunkirk and then drive for 30 minutes and be in Eecke, the home of Le jardin des Joets. Ferry timetables are being consulted, cars are being booked, the surrounding neighbourhoods examined for friendly looking B&Bs.

Meanwhile, I just had to share some of these photos with you as they are, in essence, my absolute dream garden. In these still rather cold and dreary early March days, I find it deeply cheering to look at a garden in full bloom and dream of the drowsy bee-filled summer months.

Summer flowersAll photos from a rather brilliant French website, Le jardin de Sophie. Do head over and take a look, there are lots more wonderful pictures to tempt you to book your place on a ferry too: Le jardin des joets.

*Events going on in my student days could probably be summarised with: making supper, smoking a cigarette, going out in Bristol and getting steamingly drunk.

5 ideas from Hampton Court flower show

Last Wednesday I spent a gorgeous sunny day wandering round Hampton Court flower show.

Forgotten Folly summer garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
The Forgotten folly summer garden. One of my favourites from the show

It was an English summer personified: the drowsy song of bees in the air, the sun beating down with occasional white clouds drifting across the blue skies, endless (endless!) stalls selling Pimms and rather a lot of people dressed in striped blazers and Panama hats.

I managed to spot a glimpse of Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Mary Berry, which added to the excitement of course, but I also got lots of inspiration from the gardens and stalls around the show.

I am planning to redesign and replant my own little patch of green this autumn and I came away with lots of ideas I’d love to translate back to my own space.

Here are five pieces of inspiration I took away from the show, in the hope they might also inspire you!

1. Use native planting to attract insects

Macmillan legacy garden and Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Wonderful naturalistic planting of native flowers

As far as I’m concerned, this is preaching to the converted. Who wouldn’t want lots of colourful butterflies and buzzing bees in their garden, helping pollinate all the fruit and veg?

Lots and lots of gardens featured naturalistic planting and wildflowers, but the Macmillan legacy garden, above and below, was definitely my favourite.

Macmillan legacy garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
I’m pretty sure I need a rusty metal cow in my garden too…

The plants chosen were all native to Somerset (where Douglas Macmillan grew up) and included verbena, alchemilla, ammi majus, anemones, campanula, grasses, foxgloves, geraniums, hostas, sedum and thyme. In short, loads of my very favourite plants!

2. You can still pack a punch with small borders

It’s easy to walk around a show like Hampton Court and think, “sure, this all looks lovely, but I just don’t have space in my own garden to do anything like this…”

Al Fresco summer garden | Wolves in London
Small bed + loads of plants = lovely

The Al Fresco summer garden, though, provided great inspiration for planting in small beds. The majority of the garden was hard landscaping, with a central dining table, covered by a pergola, and built in barbecue.

The area was surrounded by a number of raised beds, of fairly small dimensions, but full of gorgeous flowers, more than making their mark despite the small space they were confined in. Definitely one to provide encouragement to all those who, like me, only have a small space for planting…

3. Use your garden for what you love

Before I started my horticulture and design course last year, I had rather set ideas about what a garden should be.

Surely every garden needed a lawn, a patio, some borders and so on?

Of course, this is complete nonsense. Your garden should contain only the elements you want and will use.

No interest in a lawn but lots of time entertaining outside? Don’t bother including one, just create an amazing dining space like the Al Fresco garden above.

Allitex greenhouse at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Sigh, dribble, drool. How I want one of these beauties in my garden

Obsessed with growing tender plants? Forget everything else and just have a greenhouse then! This one from Allitex is surely the greenhouse dream and I loved the way it had been surrounded by flower beds.

Not a show garden, of course, just a display by the company, but I lusted after it nonetheless.

(Perhaps one day I will be able to afford one to replace the beast…)

4. Simplicity is key

I am something of a magpie when it comes to my garden. I want to include every single lovely plant I have ever seen somewhere within its four fences…

Allium stall at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London
Stunning. Just stunning. Love me an allium

But this display on an allium nursery’s stand reminded me of the importance of paring it back with plant choices and with colours. Less range of plants, but growing in profusion, is definitely more in design terms…

Sure, I don’t want to restrict myself to just alliums in my garden, but this was a great reminder of just how striking simplicity can be.

5. Plant up in everything you can…

…but don’t forget a cohesive style

Zinc planters at Hampton Court | Wolves in London
These amazing buckets only cost £25. But I couldn’t carry one home, with the baby in a sling, and the guy said he only sold at shows. Sob, sob. Next year…

I adored this stall which sold lots of zinc planters and buckets and milk urns and a million other wonderful things.

My garden currently has everything planted in the beds, with a few scattered pots here and there.

But planting up all sorts of unusual objects can have a wonderful effect. These zinc buckets, for example, would look fabulous planted as a herb garden.

Remember to match the planters to the style of your garden, however, to ensure you achieve cohesion of ideas. These would look great in a cottage style garden, as would terracotta pots.

A contemporary urban garden might suit aluminium or concrete pots better. Don’t be tempted to mix too many different materials together or the overall look can become a little bitty…

So, plenty of inspiration for me as I start to plan the next phase of my ever-evolving garden. And I’m booking myself a ticket to next year’s show as soon as I can!

Related articles:

  • You can see more photos of all the gardens over on the RHS website: RHS Hampton Court flower show
  • Of course, but of course, I have Pinterest boards for these sorts of things too. If you love a beautiful garden as much as I do, follow my Dream garden plans board for lots of stunning designs. And my board Plants, plants, plants started as a place to save plants we were learning about in my horticulture course and has evolved into a place to save details of every plant I come across that I love. You can see a preview of both below, just click on the photos to go to the full board…