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Wednesday April 17 , 2024

Blue Daisy Blog

Blue Daisy blog written by Nicki Jackson & Jules Clark - for news, views, garden design, gardening and plant observations and thoughts.

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Great British Garden Revival - Episode 2

Posted by on in News & Views

Rachel de Thame - Topiary

topiaryRachel began by explaining that the topiary art form is an important part of our heritage, it was extremely fashionable in the Tudor and Elizabethan era.  In its heyday all sorts of shapes were created not only because it was the height of fashion but also because many of the plants we have in our gardens today hadn't been discovered and brought into the UK. This meant that even in the depths of winter the gardens still offered colour, interest and excitement in bucket loads!  Topiary went as far as the creative mind and individual's skill allowed from huge domes of Box, imposing archways of Yew through to rabbits, birds, chess pieces and even a teapot on the top of hedges!

In the 1800s a lot of our topiary gardens were removed to make way for the new naturalist garden movement that was sweeping the country.  Levens Hall in the Lake District is said to be one of the most extensive topiary gardens in the world, is one of the few places in the UK where the owners through the years steadfastly maintained their love of topiary.  Today it still attracts many visitors to marvel at the existing and unique living structures and forms.

Sadly topiary, having played such an important role in our histrory, is an art form that is being lost.  Purist topiarians (I believe this could well be my own word - I'm not sure whether people who do topiary are called topiarists, topiarisers or topiarians!) use hand tools and say they can become completely absorbed in creating new structures. It's a time comsuming skill and by all accounts can be completely addictive!! However, for unskilled and less confident topiary fanciers there are companies that construct welded metal wire frames which can be purchased in a particular shape. These frames can be placed over Yew or Box plants and then snipped and pruned to that shape and after a few years the wire frame will be hidden.

Creating low cost topiary plants can be achieved by taking softwood cuttings, planting them straight into a well prepared nursey bed and after a few years these can be the start of a new hobby. Whether you are creating imposing arches or spirals in containers be creative and have fun because topiary can be included in any garden regardless of style or size.

Roof Gardens - James Wong

roofgardenJames looked at roof gardens in London both past and present. Living in cities means that access to green spaces is limited but by using a roof as a garden it allows us to access all these spaces currently not doing anything.

When you talk to people about roof gardens they often think of them as a modern introduction or even a trend but in many other countries around the world - where space is literally unheard of - roof gardens are an absolute must, a way of life and a standard part of urban planning. Inner cities are known for being 6-8 degrees hotter than rural areas because bricks and concrete retain the heat from the sun, this is known as the Urban Heat Island effect. Creating spaces such as roof gardens with plants helps to cool the air, create shade, absorb water, reduce pollution and provide a haven for wildlife.

Roof gardens aren’t new to us here in the UK either, they were a modernist dream over a hundred years ago, being cited as the future model that would become common place. In the 1920s Selfridges in London created their own flamboyant pleasure garden on their rooftop to entice their customers. Soon their competitors, the other department stores, began to create their own with putting greens, ponds, ornamental and productive gardens all being included. The Kensington Roof Garden was created, a 1.5 acre rooftop oasis split in to three main themes, Tudor gardens, a woodland garden (with fully grown Oak and fruit trees in 1.5m soil!) and a Spanish garden all of which bring their own wildlife including flamingos! This garden is still in existence and is open to the public. Sadly many of these floating oases were destroyed during the blitz and were seen as too costly and ostentatious to recreate and repair in post war years.

Today a roof garden is very possible and the logistics of getting materials up there is easier with the use of a crane, for smaller items they can be carried up stairs or in the lift. A lot of thought needs to go into the logistics and planning, including discussing with a structural engineer what weight the roof can take and working with a garden designer to make the dream a reality. Consideration is required for the plants, most new beds or containers will have depth restrictions of around 45cm (18ins) for root space and the sheer creation of a garden in the sky means it is more exposed to winds. Plants that will survive in little soil and being on a manmade cliff are, for example, coastal plants and ornamental grasses. Ensuring you have the right plant in the right place means that most of your work can be done at the outset.

Lightweight containers are much better than heavy terracotta not only for weight but also because terracotta will absorb water and this evaporates quickly meaning there is more work for you to do keeping the plants well watered. Using a product like expanded clay is good too because it retains water and is light to lift, remember to finish off with a mulch like gravel which will help retain moisture and reduce weed growth. Creating a roof garden means you are ultimately responsible for creating the right conditions for plants to grow so you don’t have to work with and keep the heavy clay soil the rest of us have to when we buy a house here in the Midlands!

birminghamlibraryroofgardenIn Birmingham the new library, a very modern building, has received criticism and has been applauded equally for its futuristic architecture also has a roof garden which is open to the public (left). The community can come and simply look out over Birmingham or bring a book up to read and enjoy the green space. Volunteers take turns in caring for the plants and borders; they are growing both ornamental and productive plants some of which are used in the cafe. This whole process also helps with offsetting the building’s carbon emission. I visited in November 2013 and was struck by the vastness of the space we were in, the garden was lovely and you can imagine what it would be like in the height of the season. Looking out over Birmingham left me feeling cold though, there wasn’t one other roof garden it was simply a concrete jungle crying out for greenery.

Even if you only have a few square metres and you create a roof garden, it will change your life. It will help to bust the stresses of modern life, cool the city, absorb pollution and create an environment for wildlife to co-exist. If you want more information on creating roof gardens get in contact with us for an initial chat.

 

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