A visit to Tom Stuart Smith’s garden

by Jane on October 17, 2018

In the hot days of summer, I was lucky enough to be one of 35 garden designers spending the day with Tom Stuart Smith. As a garden designer Tom has Chelsea Gold medals and Best in Show for his designs. The event was organised by Gillian Goodson in aid of Horatio’s Garden, which creates and cares for gardens at NHS spinal injury centres.

Tom spent the whole visit with us, which we weren’t expecting, so we found out a lot about how he created his garden and why he did what he did, as well as what he’d do if he were to start over again – very useful for all of us.  He also took us to his sister’s garden across the road at Serge Hill and let us use the natural swimming pond at the end of a hot day, much obliged!!

The first part we saw was where the farmyard used to be, surrounded by barns.  It was a stunning beginning, as parts of Tom’s Chelsea garden from 2005 have been transposed into the space.  It is sheltered by lovely feathery Etna Broom trees (Genista aetnensis):

The plants suit the hot and dry space here.  Euphorbia mellifera grows in some places to 2m and in others is cut back, mixing in with other plants:

Other sun-loving drought tolerant plants filled the space with the euphorbia, such as grasses and eryngium (with enthusiastic designers in the background):

The tanks of Corten steel have inky still water making the place relaxing and contemplative.

The house looks on to the main back garden, which is filled with the tall herbaceous plants that Tom loves, cut through with grass paths:

Looking back to the house:

Then there were beds of perennials punctuated by tall conifers:

A large wildflower meadow had just been cut, next to the back of the house.  We perched on straw bales to eat our lunch.

Not only is there a meadow, but a prairie, with no grasses, and many tightly packed flowering plants, some must have been 3m high:

And another meadow-like area behind it:

Beyond the meadow is a wood, and beyond that, a natural swimming pond, where we enjoyed a post-visit plunge.  Thank you, Tom!

Tom would like to have the garden involve more local people and staff; he is planning to move his office to a new studio here, with gardens outside that local people, charities and his staff can use, to learn about gardening and try out new ideas.  See this link to find out more.  Here is the model he built of the prospective ‘Orchard Studio’ area:

He also showed us round Serge Hill, his sister’s garden across the road – a lovely Edwardian house with a large walled flower and kitchen garden.  Both Serge Hill and Tom’s garden, the Barn, open for the NGS – though you’ll have to wait until next year.  Worth the wait!


Vibrant Australian Garden

by Jane on May 18, 2018

For any faithful followers of my blog, sorry to be away so long – I have been busy working and travelling.  I’ve just visited a great botanic garden with a fresh modern design: the ‘Australian Garden’ of the Royal Victoria Botanic Gardens, near Melbourne, Australia.  The garden manages to display plants in meaningful groups – families, or habitat, or interest – in ways that can intrigue and interest everyone, and become a great exploratory day out – as evidenced by the many families I saw there.

It’s set in a larger park of native bushland, and it’s free to enter. 

The traditional custodians of this land are the Boon Wurrung people of the Koolin Nation, and they are acknowledged as such by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The garden is split up by expanses of water, navigated by paths of varying materials – I enjoyed my mobility scooter ride round ‘Howson Hill’  and across a wooden bridge to ‘Melaleuca Spits’,  where plants growing where rivers meet the sea are showcased in a shoreline of sweeping curves:


Nearby is another small hill with a dramatic rock face descending to the water and great slices of rock protruding at intervals.

On this is the Weird and Wonderful garden, with unusual plants such as the Queensland Bottle Tree, a baobab-like tree which stores water in its trunk, a great tactic in a dry environment:

The tree above came from a front garden, after floods caused the tree to swell so much it became too big.

The gardens could not be without the most common tree species in Australia, and there is a garden of Eucalypts.  Brits may not be familiar with the pretty flowers and cones they produce:

Grass trees can be hundreds of years old:…

Lastly, the garden’s centrepiece is the Red Sand Garden, with the vibrant deep red sand of the Australian desert, dotted with planting of acacia and spinifex, and flat curving sculpture.

If you’re in the area, I recommend this garden as a way of finding out more about Australian native plants as well as an enjoyable outing.



Shrubs for a low-maintenance family garden

January 9, 2018

People often consider shrubs as slightly dull background plants, but they can be a lot more exciting than this, and very useful too. They are generally easy to care for; they give structure and substance to a garden, and they provide colour through the year.  I’ve just completed a planting plan for a family garden, […]

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Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

September 27, 2017
Thumbnail image for Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

Yeo Valley, the company that produces organic dairy products, has a gravel garden and organic cafe in the countryside south of Bristol.  It’s a beautiful, open area near Blagdon Lake. It’s only open Thursdays and Fridays from 29th April to Sept 30th – but it’s worth diarising a visit.  It’s £5 entry.  A few plants […]

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Evergreen hedging review – how to evaluate plants on sale

July 26, 2017

How do you tell whether the plants you see on sale are any good? I have just been sent a generous sample box of evergreen hedging for review from Hopes Grove Nurseries. Looking on their website, they say they are the largest specialist hedging grower in the UK, only selling direct to the end user. […]

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Canons Ashby: a Baroque garden in open country

July 13, 2017

For my birthday in May, I spent the day at my nearest stately home and gardens – a small ‘stately home’ but one with an unspoilt feel, as it is not much altered since it was built in the 1550s.  Canons Ashby used to be a twelfth century priory, and the medieval priory church still […]

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Update on the meadow, and May blossom

May 25, 2017

The meadow has changed radically from April to May. In April the bluebells overpowered everything else. Unfortunately Spanish ones, hard to eradicate – I take care they don’t spread beyond the garden as there is a danger they cross-pollinate with our native bluebells, almost unique to Britain. In May, I am reaping the benefits of […]

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Porcelain – the new wonder paving material

February 7, 2017

 You may think of exquisite Chinese pots, or bathroom tiles – smooth and slippery – when you think of porcelain. But porcelain is now a fantastic non-slip material for paving, in all kinds of finishes. It’s made of earth and ground up stone, basically quartz, kaolin, feldspar and clay, fired in a hot oven then […]

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How to get ideas for your garden

January 7, 2017

It’s nearly time for gardens to come alive again. If you have recently moved, or want a change, you may be thinking how best to use your plot when it gets warmer. Where do you start? Magazines like Gardener’s World may seem overwhelming if you are not familiar with gardening or want advice on layout, […]

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Mediterranean planting with a difference

July 27, 2016

Now is the height of the season for plants from the Mediterranean – suiting that warm but temperate climate that features mild, wet winters and hot dry summers. I aim to post this in time for you to get ideas for your garden when you go on holiday. Whether we will eventually have this climate […]

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