This Week’s Guest Blogger is Drew Swainston, a Professional Gardener at the National Trust’s Hanbury Hall and Gardens in Worcestershire

Create Garden Drama with Black Plants

Throw away the traditional notion that plants need to be bright and colourful. There is an often-overlooked sub-culture of plants that can add some real drama and interest to a garden. They are the black plants, those with brooding dark tones that offer rich blooms and foliage that provide a theatrical contrast to other colours.
These are statement plants that catch the eye and their rich colours warrant attention in a border. And there are options out there now to ensure you can turn to the dark side with perennials, annuals or grasses.
The plant that really started my interest in black plants was Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ and I loved how its dark leaves were such a contrast to other plants around it.


Whereas most traditional images of plants are bright and cheery summer colours, there is a level of deep intrigue that can be offered by mixing darker tones into the palette of a garden.
It is rare to get a pure black bloom in plants, but I have looked to get plants with flowers as dark as possible complimented by various shades of foliage. Such specimens include Poppy ‘Black Peony’, Cornflower ‘Black Ball’, Pansy ‘Black Moon’, Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guinness’ and Nemophila menziesii ‘Pennie Black’.
If you look around you can find darker forms of Tulip, Dahlia, Heuchera, Viola, Iris, Sweet William and bamboo among many others. There is a wide range of unique darker plants available that will add some glamour to your garden, including the option of using darker tones of reds and blues where black itself is maybe too dark for your taste.


Try mixing these statement plants in between your brighter blooms and start embracing your darker side. Darker colours go well with oranges, yellows and reds. In these combinations the brighter colours look illuminated against the murkier shades. And there is always the timeless black and white combination.
You don’t need to go all the way and create a ‘Goth Garden’ like those inspired by the brooding Victorian gothic gardens. However, maybe just consider causing a stir among your contemporaries by adding some darkness into your gardening life.


Read more about my gardening and allotment adventures at https://perennialnerd.com/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Felicity O’Rourke a Garden Designer who runs her own business

An introduction

With an BSc Honours Degree in Biochemistry at Bristol University, I joined Accenture as a Management Consultant. I went on to be awarded sponsorship by Aer Lingus to train as a Commercial Airline Pilot. I subsequently flew Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s with easyJet for many years before taking a break to have my 3 children. Whilst studying my diploma at KLC School of Design last year, I was awarded a Bronze Medal at the Moscow Flower Show for my garden ‘The Eye of Providence’. I have now completed my Diploma in Garden Design with Distinction and the coveted awards of ‘KLC Top Student 2020’ and ‘Debbie Roberts Award for Vision and Excellence’. I am now on setting up my own design practice in Wimbledon, London.

Therapeutic Gardens

Our appreciation of life and the living world has been hardwired into our own genetic makeup, giving us an innate emotional and beneficial response to nature, known as Biophilia. Whilst all gardens bring a beneficial improvement in well-being through engaging our senses, gardens for the disabled should provide a focus on how to further improve this experience on a therapeutic level.

The Attention Restoration Theory defines how a therapeutic garden can specifically improve the quality of the experience. There are essentially four main elements:

Being Away: Giving people diversionary, time away from their usual everyday life.
Fascination: This is passive interaction, entered into almost involuntarily, catching and holding one’s attention.
Extent: Providing enough opportunities to capture our fascination, regardless of the number of times the garden is visited.
Compatibility: Enabling the people to view, enter and perhaps work within the garden with ease.

Here are some practical ideas for introducing these elements within your garden:

To instil a sense of ‘Being Away’ we can use different planting palettes from different regions of the world. For example, lush architectural planting could instil a sense of being somewhere tropical, in the same way that a Mediterranean feeling can be instilled in a dry, gravel garden by using plants with aromatic foliage in silvery tones.

‘Fascination’ can be achieved by stimulating all of our senses. For example, it isn’t just the mesmerising quality of watching water, listening to its calming sound, and the feeling of it running through your hands, but it is its attraction to wildlife that enables such a broad level of fascination for us too. Ponds can be raised within a retaining wall for example, to allow those in wheelchairs to get a better view and water features can placed with reach of hands and feet to provide another element to the experience of water.

It is a not only the seasonal changes which will provide the ‘Extent’ to which our fascination is captured over the course of a year, but on a daily basis it is wildlife that offers this in detail. Using plants for pollinators can attract not only insects, but in turn, the birds that feed on them. Using log piles is a great way to provide refuge for over-wintering pollinators as well as considering planting shrubs and trees that provide berries in winter.

Fundamentally, above all, enabling easy access to the garden setting throughout the year is key to any restorative garden. This can be as straight-forward as allowing smooth, step-free access to the site, as well as perhaps having a shelter/conservatory/garden room which allows all weather access to the garden. Facilitating the growing of edibles by building raised beds or using a pergola as a frame for growing, also allows access to plants for those who struggle to reach the ground.

For further ideas and advice, do not hesitate to get in contact to see how I can help you unleash the potential of your garden plot.

http://www.felicityorourkegardendesign.com

This Week’s Guest Bloggers are the Owner, Head Gardener and Assistant Head Gardener of Hole Park Gardens

Hole park is a family owned and run estate in the Kent Weald covering two and a half thousand acres.
It has been owned by the Barham family since 1911. Essentially the estate is family run and foremost is a family home and the owners Edward and Clare Barham get involved in making the decisions about the running and development of the Gardens, unlike our nearest neighbours Great Dixter and Sissinghurst.

Edward and Clare, Quentin Stark the Head Gardener and Joe Archer the Assistant Head Gardener have meetings in a different part of the garden each week, to discuss how that area currently looks, then make a plan for future short and long term improvements to that area. This can vary from hard landscaping like paths to improve access or perhaps cut down overgrown shrubs to rejuvenate them or under plant with new and interesting plants as we are keen to increase plant diversity.

Edward Barham

After a long winter and with spring now well underway, there is an air of excitement about opening the garden for the new season . Our five gardeners, have worked hard over a long winter with the usual routine tasks of preparing the borders, pruning the roses and mulching the beds, amidst which we add a series of projects. These are, if you like, the amusement or the icing on the cake, redoing a bed, adding to a planting scheme or making some new paths. They make sure that the garden evolves and provide interest for our regular visitors who come to see what has changed.

This year the heather bed has been extended, with a tremendous stone that we found on the estate place there to represent a Kentish rockery, adjacent to which we have laid one of several new paths. We use recycled stone as the base and then rock fines above, a semi cemetaceous natural product which goes down tight once dry. It provides better access for the garden machinery and for our visitors, ever mindful of those in wheelchairs and on some occasions the weight of numbers.

As Covid eases, there is great excitement amongst visitors to be able to get out, after a long winter, and in some cases a full year, cooped up in their homes under varying levels of lockdown. Covid has taken its toll on the estate too with two death in our community and many others remaining naturally uneasy about returning to pre-Covid levels of normality. So we welcome several new members of staff on the opening garden opening team which will give a fresh look to the front gate and to the Coach House Cafe.

Last year Hole Park was amongst the most forward gardens in the country, open from the beginning of May and we even managed to get in some of our well-known events. Sadly the Wealden Times Summer Fair was cancelled but it returns in 2021, this time spread over a four day period 1-4 July. And our Napoleonic weekend is also returning 25-26 September.

Very few coach parties are schedule for the year, which has previously been a significant part of our business, so we will adapt to relying more upon individual visitors for whom advance ticketing is available through a new platform, with all its associated technical problems as we learn new skills. But we will always welcome pay on the day ‘walk-ups’, as they are known in the trade.

We very much hope that you will come and see our garden, the result of 99 years of my family’s input into them, since my great grandfather Arthur started planting in a serious way in 1922/23. He first opened to the public in 1928, as a founder member of what has evolved to become the National Garden Scheme. As we approach our garden centenary, I think we have a lot to be proud of and I hope that Arthur will look down for on high and approve that the family are still so actively involved and sharing it with so many.

The Wealden Times Fair 1-4 July marks the end of our regular opening. I might not write these words with such optimism after a hard three-month campaign of being open 24/7. But for now, we are genuinely excited about sharing Hole Park with you. I wish Easter was forecast to be a little warmer.

Quentin Stark

I’ve been Head gardener at Hole Park for twenty years, I was employed by Edwards Father David, who used it as a family garden with limited opening mainly for the NGS. Over the years I have seen many changes including the longer opening season, this year it will be longer than ever but I relish the opportunity to share this beautiful garden with our paying guests. My role has developed from maintaining a predominantly family garden to one that balances both the needs of the family and public alike. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to redevelop areas of the garden and improve the range of plants we grow to extend our season. We used to be known for our bluebells alone but now I think we are a garden for all seasons. Whether it’s from the first snowdrops in spring, through to the monochrome of the bluebells, closely followed by the riot of colour with the rhododendrons and on to the herbaceous borders in summer, exotic plantings in late summer through to autumn colour in the woodland.
My staff have changed over the years, some like Steve have been there for 20 years and then my trainees from the WRAGS scheme are only placed with us for a year, each of them brings skills and life experiences that are reflected in the gardens and each of them have left their mark. I often look round the garden and have a smile reminiscing about a day we planted up an area in the pouring rain or see a plant the owners insisted on having or a planting scheme one of the team designed. Each of these has made Hole Park Gardens what they are today and I am pleased to be able to take round a group of visitors explaining what the gardens mean to me and I hope I am able to convey the passion I have for gardening. I am proud to be Head Gardener of Hole Park.

Joe Archer is the Assistant Head Gardener who joined the team at the end of March 2020

Joe Archer

My horticultural inspiration derived from an uncle who worked as Head Gardener at the Longstock water Gardens in Hampshire. Throughout my life I was treated to private tours of his amazing water gardens and was struck by the idyllic lifestyle he led including his tied thatched cottage. This always resinated with me and it became a career ambition to become a gardener and to have a slice of this rural way of life.

The chance came to me just over a year ago in March 2020. Having lived in London my whole life I seized the opportunity to take up a position of assistant head gardener at Hole Park in the Kent countryside. My role is to support Head Gardener Quentin Stark in maintaining and developing the extensive gardens. Together with the owners we strive to keep the grounds looking at their best and in turn please the many visitors who come and enjoy the gardens.

What I love most about being a gardener is working through the seasons and the variety of tasks this brings. Working at Hole Park epitomises this, it is a garden for all seasons and with just a small gardening team we are all involved whatever the job. It is a pleasure to work in a garden with so many horticultural assets and my skills as a gardener are constantly expanding and improving.

The gardens are a hive of activity right through the year. In the lead up to opening in April the team work hard by pruning, mowing lawns, mulching and preparing beds to get the gardens ready. Visitors are treated to quintessential English woodland walks surrounded by bluebells and a garden packed full of flowering spring bulbs.

During summer the flower borders take centre stage. Many months of work pay off to achieve colourful displays. Plants propagated in the greenhouses and grown on for the herbaceous borders, rose garden and the tropical border fill what were once bare beds with foliage and flowers. The final showpiece in our display is the autumnal colour, none more impressive than our collection of Acers. Different shades of reds, yellows and oranges turn the woodland into a kaleidoscope of colour.

Autumn is also the time when staff from all departments work collectively on the Christmas tree harvest on the wider estate. There is a great sense of camaraderie and a chance to work in the surrounding countryside in the build-up to the festive season. It is hard but rewarding work and a great way to finish the year.

The joy of working in such scenic surroundings is capped off by having my own tied cottage on the estate. Where once I would struggle to work through train delays and grey surroundings, I now have a five-minute cycle whilst listening to the birds sing. I am very pleased to have found what I was looking for.

For more information regarding opening time please visit their website

http://www.holepark.com