Coastal retreat – a treat for a day

The weekend just gone has been a coastal extravaganza!

I teamed up with fellow trainee and friend Jamie Butterworth to help him build an expression of a coastal garden for the RHS Secret Sunday show for August. (Yeah it’s a kind of a shout out, but trust me he doesn’t need it!)

Unlike many show garden displays, we wanted ours to be interactive and encouraged it to be used and walked through. This was achieved by creating a pathway through the sandy beach at the front to the hard rock, and planting in the latter parts, leading people on a coastal journey.

We used a wide variety of materials within the project, including large boulder rocks, large stones, coarse grade pebbles and 6 tonnes of sand! This was all supplied courtesy of Stone Warehouse and the plants where from Coblands.

The process began by putting down a liner in the area in which the garden would be situated. This was inside the entrance to the Royal Horticultural Halls at Vincent Square in London, a grade one listed building, so it was important to protect it!

Untreated railway sleepers were butted end to end to create the 6×6 metre perimeter the garden would be contained in. Unopened compost bags were then laid out in different areas to help obtain variation in level; these would later be covered in sand to avoid being visible.

The larger groups of plants such as Stipa, Gaura and Kniphofia were selected and set out, with enough density to provide a natural feel but with enough gaps for the mind to imagine that the space could develop and fill out further in time.

The large boulders and large pebbles were next to be shifted into place. This required a fair bit of planning and ample use of the two tonne pallet truck! The sheer weight and shape of some of the stones required three or four of us to lift them for the very short distances required – one of those ‘do not try this at home’ moments! (No horticulturists were hurt in the process!)

When we were happy with where the main pieces in the design were, we began to fill in with sand (predominantly for the front half), pebbles, cobbles or smaller plants. We continued to step back and reassess progress as it was important not to fill in all the gaps with plants. Many plants on the original list were not used and I think one of the keys to success was holding back on this and the significance of simplicity within the design, creating a stronger impact with less rather than filling with more.

Aside from the garden, we also had a flat-packed shed to assemble (without any instructions) and were also required to cut a window in the side of one of the panels so that ice creams could be sold out of it the following day.

A hard day’s work on the Saturday was followed by the Sunday show where our display seemed to receive a lot of attention. It was great to hear so many positive comments and seeing people of all ages using the garden! In the afternoon Jamie and I gave a talk about the creation of the garden, providing some information on the plants that had been used, as well as summarising what we had hoped to achieve.

It was a great experience, and a privilege to be a part of such a success. A feeling of joy and pride mixed with a sense of relief (after the breakdown of the garden had been completed on Sunday night.) We had built a success, put it on view for people to see and cleared it all away in just under 15 hours.

Would I do it again… yes… well I’ve agreed to do another garden in September so watch this space!

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