Arne's journal

Winter at Allt-y-bela

WINTER at Allt-y-bela - my home in Monmouthshire, South Wales.

I am really excited to be able to introduce the first in a planned series of four films to be made throughout 2012. James Aiken's films are beautifully shot, using light and sound to great effect giving them instant atmosphere. I hope the series we have planned captures a little of the essence of the garden I am creating at Allt-y-bela.

I hope you enjoy them.

Allt-y-bela captured starlit by James Aiken

A visit to see the trees

Last Wednesday Rachel and I had a day return trip to Holland and Belgium.  Our first stop was the tree nursery where I have selected a beautiful, ancient pear tree for the garden I have designed for Laurent-Perrier at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012.  The tree will be positioned in the corner of the garden to anchor the space to its surroundings and add balance to the large pieces of topiary and the Chelsea Hospital plane trees.


We wanted to see the pear tree again and crucially check that it will fit on a lorry that is the right width to fit through the Bull Ring gates at the Chelsea Hospital showground.  The nursery had been concerned that it would require a 3m wide lorry.  However, much to our relief, the magnificent specimen is going to require very little pruning to reach its destination in the show garden. 


With that resolved we went on to another specialist nursery across the border in Belgium.  Here we made our final selection of topiary for the garden.  Three majestic pieces of Buxus sempervirens 'Rotundifolia' have been clipped with care over the last 100 years to reach their statuesque sizes.   To go with these we choose some pieces of smaller Buxus on legs, which will be perfect along the planting bed to the side of the path.


Having achieved our aims for the day we came home excited about how they are going to look within the garden. To help with their precise positioning and to check the balance of the garden, we are having a scale model of the garden built complete with to-scale trees and plant elements.

the ancient pear we will be bringing to Chelseaone of the topiary we have selected for Chelsea

Minneapolis revisited

We are creating a wonderful garden in Minneapolis, which is taking Stefano and I to the United States on a regular basis. We spent a very exciting week there last week choosing the specimen plants we will include in the garden.


We had hoped to use Betula nigra- the river birch - but it will be too big and overpowering for the design. We had also hoped to use Acer griseum but the climate will be slightly too cold for it and we feel it is too much of a risk. Minneapolis is in hardiness zone 4.5 andAcer griseumneeds zone 5 - if the garden experienced a hard winter, this acer would not survive. We want to create a garden with longevity so it is really important we choose plants that are going to thrive.


Our trip last week turned up two trees which we think are going to be perfect for the design - a malus (crab apple) with a beautiful white flower and an alternative acer with gorgeous bright red seeds. Neither will be too big for the planting scheme but we have found some lovely mature specimens that with some careful pruning will make beautiful shapes. They will be placed amongst criss-crossing clouds of taxus with clipped domes of euonymous to link them. The rest of the planting scheme feels very contemporary using native American prairie plants within a matrix of Briza media (quaking grass).


In addition, we found an incredible native vine which we plan to train over trellis in the garden we are creating. It has the most wonderful orange berries and will be a fantastic addition to the scheme.


It was really very exciting seeing the trees at the nursery but the visit really brought it home to me how lucky we are to have nurseries in Europe selling such a diverse choice of plants, shrubs and trees. Our temperate climate allows us to grow such a huge variety of plants - we really can be spoiled for choice. In America however, the choice is limited - by climate and availability.


Luckily my planting schemes only ever rely on a small palette of plants, repeated to create striking plant combinations.  For this design we are using lots of native American prairie plants and whilst driving through the vast expanses of wild prairie meadows, frosted with winter ice crystals, we couldn't wait to return later in the season to see perennials we use in gardens in Europe flowering here in their natural habitat.

Betulus nigra specimen at the nurseryDetail of the bark of Betulus nigraMalus Spring Snow (winter)Malus Spring Snow (spring)Acer tataricum (winter seed heads)Arne with Acer tataricum Hot Wings specimen at the nurseryAcer tataricum Hot Wings (summer seed heads)Unusual native vine with striking orange berriesUnusual native vine with striking orange berries

A visit to Peter Beales roses

We had a very inspiring day at Peter Beales Roses back in early February, where we met with the talented plantsmen Ian Limmer who is the Manager of the nursery and Michael who is a specialist grower from a long line of nurserymen.  They are using their expert knowledge to tenderly grow our roses for Chelsea. A large part of Michael's job is to look after our roses and the roses for the Peter Beales exhibit for Chelsea.  From now on he will breath, sleep and dream Chelsea roses!  

The roses are a major part of the planting scheme for the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden.  We have full trust and confidence that Ian and Michael can produce the perfect blooms and buds for our garden.  We will, however, have to hope that the weather is kind to us during the build of the garden.  We don't want rain otherwise these perfect blooms could be in trouble!   

Whilst at the nursery we saw all our roses covered in snow, looking a long way from their full glory. However, we were able to work out how we are going to arrange the roses around the hazel domes within the garden to create the effect that we want.  Some of the roses are now being trained in a gentle fan shape to enable us to tie them into the domes.  It feels really exciting and we can now envisage how they are going to look within the garden. 


Peter Beales Roses

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012

Rose hips in snowPots of roses in the snowArne with the team at Peter Beales checking the plantsSnow covered roses at Peter Beales

Setting out at Crocus

We recently had one of our monthly meetings at Crocus to discuss the construction of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show 2012 and check all of the plants, which are growing on at the Crocus nursery.  We were also able to walk through our garden for the first time as it was set out on the ground at Crocus, using wooden pegs and string.  This was enormously useful to get a feel for the scale of the garden I have designed.   We were able to walk around the area and see how it all works and decide on any adjustments which might be needed.  We made some minor changes to give a more generous feeling of space. 

The path felt too narrow, particularly when I envisaged the pleached copper beech trees linign each side of the avenue, so we have widened the path slightly.  Now hopefully the balance is just right. 

It was most exciting seeing all of the plants potted up and getting a sense of what their scale and texture will be like from those promising buds.  The plants are being beautifully cared for by Karen the nursery manager at Crocus and her team.  Some are showing new growth but many are still dormant.  Rather like pots of paint with the labels hidden, full of promise and one can only imagine the wonderful colours and texture which lies below.  It fills me with huge excitement and anticipation for May.



RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012


Arne with Mark Fane at CrocusArne and Rachel with the team at CrocusWooden posts and string used for setting out the gardenJohnny and the team setting out the garden at Crocus