Arne's journal

Allt-y-bela springs to life at last

The torrential rains and winds have finally relented and given way to glorious sunshine; we are well in the throes of springtime now.

The spring bulbs are emerging in succession at Allt-y-Bela and have so far created a beautiful tapestry of colour on the earthworks. On the common, the drifts of pure white snowdrops have just gone over and given way to a breathtaking carpet of narcissi lobularis, which have self sown and each year begin to claim more land.  With the sparkle of light picking up all the spring colours it is one of my favourite times of year. Day by day I watch and wait to see each new jewel emerge. 

My pots are filled with crisp white scented hyacinths and violas that are supported by some simple hazel supports.  These were created on the first day of our new four-day garden course in early March using hazel from the drove that travels along the top of the common.  The course - entitled The Making of the Garden for all Seasons - was a great success and I am already looking ahead to May when I will welcome everyone back. More details and pictures from the day will be shared in a later journal.

Photographs are by Britt and William.

Up the apples and pears to Yorkshire


The West Country wassails of 2013 (and a fortuitous combination of a cold winter and long, dry summer) must be congratulated for producing a bumper crop of apples and pears this year. The trees at Allt-y-bela are laden with both and the apple storage chest is already full in the granary with plenty more fruit yet to be harvested.

This time of year is a particular favourite of mine. As the light fades and the warm early autumnal evenings give way to darker colder ones, the first frosts biting the air, the harvesting of fruit and vegetables and the clearing of the summer borders and beds, is a reminder that the change of season always brings renewal in the garden, and should be celebrated accordingly.

What better way to celebrate this change than with a trip to a favourite nursery to immerse ourselves in apples for the annual Apple Day festivities. Initiated by Common Ground back in 1990 Apple Day is now an annual celebration of apples in all their guises, with events across the UK organised by nurseries, community orchards and gardening clubs at the end of October. The apple is hailed as a symbol of our particular climatic conditions, an ancient fruit which has sustained us through winter months for centuries, and which comes in a dazzling array of shapes, colours, flavours and textures.

We travelled to R V Roger, a specialist fruit nursery in Pickering, North Yorkshire, last weekend to enjoy a wonderful day with friends and nursery visitors, tasting and sampling a number of varieties, old and new. Ian Roger is hugely knowledgeable and so it was a rare treat to spend the day with him chatting about our favourites, new introductions, pruning techniques and a couple of design projects we are working on together.

A few apple varieties caught our eye including Malus domestica 'Gipsy King', a small dessert apple, with a distinct mottled appearance and a wonderful, rich aroma. It is not widely available but is suitable for growing as step-overs, trained or free-growing trees. However, our passion is really pears - we have them arched over the entrances to the kitchen garden at Allt-y-bela and grow varieties suitable for perry-making (in our view a far superior sparkling tipple than its earthy cousin cider!) as well as dessert and cooking pears. We noticed a few unusual varieties at the nursery including the Nashi (Asian) pear 'Koshui', a small bronze-coloured dessert pear which was crying out to be munched (we resisted) and the perry pear 'Gin', again a small fruit with a wonderful rose pink tinge to the skin and an enticing name to boot.

Needless to say that our car left the nursery rather more full (and twiggy) than when it arrived. We will have to find a bit more room in the orchard again this year.

Malus 'Cats Head'

Dahlias at Cottesbrooke Hall

I have been working with Alastair Macdonald-Buchanan and his Head Gardener Phylip Statner at Cottesbrooke Hall for around three years now. Until now, our design work has concentrated on the herbaceous borders along Statue Walk and Lime Walk but now we are happy with the mix of perennials in those areas, our attention has turned to the Pool Garden. While our long terms plans are being finalised, and as we wait for some of the young structure we have added to mature, we trialled a mixed border of dahlias and autumn flowering annuals to add life and colour in late summer, early autumn. It has not disappointed, and although there are some tweaks we need to make for next year, we are confident this could become a regular feature in this part of the garden.

Britt recently visited to take shots of the borders for our portfolio. The day's weather was mixed and she endured a downpour before finishing the shoot. However, the resulting water on the dahlias gives the portraits a real life, they glisten with a freshness that makes you want to touch their richly coloured, perfectly symmetrical petals. We are really very excited about this part of the garden at Cottesbrooke and I'm looking forward to planning the mix for next year already.

[Arne's work at Cottesbrooke Hall has been highlighted alongside that of James Alexander-Sinclair in the book The New English Garden, written by Tim Richardson with photos by Andrew Lawson. The book is published by Frances Lincoln and is now widely available.]

Cosmos 'Double Click Cranberries'Dahlia 'Famoso'Dahlia 'Rocco'Dahlia 'Aloway Candy'Dahlia 'Vassio Meggos'

Rip-tide: the beautiful Chelsea 2012 bench is for sale

I started designing the Chelsea Flower Show garden I created for Champagne Laurent-Perrier in 2012 soon after my first appearance at the show in 2000. Over a period of about 10 years I had the opportunity to observe gardens at the major flower shows, see 'trend' plants come and go, and watch the hard landscaping get bigger and bolder. I knew I wanted to create a garden in which plants formed the main structures of the design, complemented by handcrafted paths, a sculpture and a beautiful bench for sitting to enjoy the views. I look back with enormous pride at the garden we created last year - visitors loved it and even now I sometimes find myself back there, sitting on the bench and enjoying the still evening air as the sun sets over the showground. It was a wonderful week for all involved.


Alison Crowther's work first came to my attention in 2001 when she worked with one of my designers on a garden at Chelsea. Since then I have bought pieces for my own gardens and have recommended her work to a huge number of clients and friends. Her knowledge and appreciation of oak is so obvious in her work - her organic sculptures and benches are hand-carved using the naturally occurring lines and grooves in the individual pieces of wood she uses. You can see Alison at work on the piece in this short film we made about the Chelsea garden.


So it seemed natural to commission Alison to carve the bench for the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden in 2012. I wanted the garden to have a real artisan, hand-made feel - something that resonated with the 200-year-old champagne house. Rip-tide sat perfectly on the terrace of the garden, enjoyed by the hundreds of clients entertained on the garden and the many thousands of visitors we spoke to during the week. You can watch the videos we made of our time at Chelsea (including footage of Alison carving the bench) here.


Rip-tide is now for sale and if I didn't already have a beautiful bench of Alison's sitting outside my kitchen window, I would be first in line for this one! Visit her new website for more of her work and get in touch if you are interested in owning Rip-tide.

In celebration of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show always seems to present gardeners, young and old, with a little slice of horticultural magic at a time of year when inspiration is required in the face of inclement weather. This year was no exception, and the rain we experienced during April and the first half of May was swept away to reveal stunning Spring skies and warm, tropical sunshine. 


Visitors to the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden were overwhelmingly supportive and complementary of the design. Everyone seemed to love the planting - in particular the number of roses we used in the garden, and the way in which they were trained. As I stood talking to visitors about the garden, and handing out planting leaflets, I found myself explaining the technique of weaving pliable hazel canes into domes again, and again. 


I was truly touched by all the comments we received. It was such an affirmation that the design I felt would evoke memories of childhood gardens, and romantic, hazy summer days, really did achieve the reaction I had hoped for. And I have made such lovely friends - in the brilliant team at Crocus and the fabulous family firm of Champagne Laurent-Perrier.


It felt rather melancholy to be saying goodbye to the garden on Saturday. Having spent the best part of a month building and enjoying it, the garden felt like one of my own. The plants were growing - particularly the roses - and I found myself pruning and maintaining the borders as I would at home. So to celebrate its success and popularity, enjoy the short film which James Aiken has put together for us in celebration of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden.