Saturday, 23 July 2011

RHS Flower Show Tatton Park: 'Embrace' by Sharon Hockenhull

Sharon Hockenhull talks us through ‘Embrace’, her latest show garden at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show 2011.  Sharon has kindly offered some background into how the design came to be and how one mans words and another’s artistic ability helped to form it.

Embrace’ is a garden that captures the unique personality of one of the oldest Hospices in the country. Celebrating its 40th anniversary, St Ann's Hospice is world-renowned for its incredible approach to patient care and treatment.  At its core is an overwhelming sense of life; enveloping people that come in contact with positive, healing and therapeutic experiences.’

My approach to designing the garden has been very different to any that I have designed so far. Branding and the charity’s key objectives have been central to developing a brief and theme for the garden, as opposed to the everyday practicalities and needs people tend to demand from a garden space.

As an outsider with no experience of a hospice my first port of call was to understand what St Ann’s is all about. What care it provides, who it cares for and how that care translates to the individuals that go there. I was given lots of information, including annual reports, leaflets, and video stories, to sift through to help me to gain better insight and understanding. It felt like I was back in my old job as a graphic designer.  After a while I stumbled across a video on youtube called ‘Why St Ann's Hospice needs your support’, presented by the current Chief Executive Jayne Bessant. There is a gentleman featured in this short film called Kenneth Charles Weston and it was his words that set the seed for the ‘Embrace’ concept.  His words are very poignant but it is the simplicity of Kenneth’s experiences with the Hospice that stand out. He describes how he has never felt so much love and affection. In particular, from when he first started going to the hospice, carers hugged him and put their arms around him; he had never had this before.

From here the theme started to take shape in the form of a collection of words, concept words that were very important to the Hospice’s approach to care. Life, healing, hope, reflective, therapeutic, positive, secure, a great sense of life, energy, surprise and forty (this year marks their 40th anniversary) and embrace.  The title brings together all these words and evokes the idea of a physical, emotional and spiritual embrace.  The garden is aimed at patients as a place to escape. A garden in which to feel secure, to think, relax and reflect.
Embrace is overflowing and abundant with plant life. Closely hugging the curve of the tree trunk seat is a therapeutic band of richly textured specimens with an emphasis on plants possessing medicinal properties and tactile, contrasting foliage. This soft, inner green band gives way to a vibrant scheme, blue hues (reflecting St Ann's brand colour), blue/purple/pink tones, whites and splashes of rich red.

Earth surrounding the central seating is carefully sculpted up from ground level at the front of the exhibit, increasing in height towards the garden's boundaries to create an extra sense of enveloping plant life.

A unique living wall mural adds to the abundance and illustrates how life can thrive in the most unlikely of places. An additional special feature to the mural is lettering picked out using blue lobelia spelling ‘Embrace’. The lettering has been a little experiment and has been designed in conjunction with the Manchester based artist/cartographer Stephen Raw.

Stephen was recently commissioned to create a wall mural for the Hospice, which features a collection of words taken from conversations he had with the patients, the staff, the families etc.  This piece of artwork was unknown to me until after I developed the brief; when I discovered the mural I saw a link through the conceptual words to the Embrace garden.

You can see more of Sharon’s experience at Tatton on her blog here and don’t forget to check out the main site for more information.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Potatoes, Pudding and the Poundshop Cutting Garden

I love this time of year.  Everything is hectic, there aren’t enough hours in the day, despite the longer nights, and the garden just gives back in the way only a garden can.  It seems as though every plant I have is growing in a similar ilk to a GM triffid fed on a diet or raw steak and anabolic steroids and I’m harvesting flowers, vegetables, fruits and weeds on a pleasingly regular basis but slightly less so with regards to the latter.  

The chickens have benefited from the increased tendency for plants to bolt and they’ve happily munched on Spinach, Chard and Rocket that have all switched in to flower production, along with the never-ending mass of Comfrey leaves, which are always a firm favourite.  Together with my tortoise and rabbit, they’ve helped to hoover up all the weeds I pull and I now find myself actively encouraging their growth as the carotenoids in these plants, coupled with the rest of the greens they get, help to produce beautifully deep orange egg yolks.
In the vegetable garden things are going great guns and the raised beds, masses of organic matter and homemade liquid feed have all added to the increased vigour and overall health of my plants – I think.  I’m still amazed at the entire lack of blackfly and aphids though.  Has anyone else encountered this?  I think that the marestail in the liquid feed may have helped with this but the likelihood is that the hard winter had more of a bearing on their decline.   Sadly, this may also be true of Ladybirds as their presence was a massive highlight last year but is lacking right now.  

The potatoes are yet to succumb to blight and my first harvest of ‘Home Guard’ (pictured above) was fantastic.  The good people at Victoriana Nursery Gardens deserve a big thank you here as the seed potatoes they sent out were top notch and I’m really looking forward to harvesting ‘Pink Fir Apple’ and ‘International Kidney’ from them along with ‘Desiree’ and ‘Maris Peer’ which were another Pound Shop buy.  Gooseberries and Blackcurrants have also been a highlight and are waiting to be turned into pudding over the coming weekend.
The pound shop cutting garden has also been a great success and has surpassed my wildest expectations.  Not only have the plants grown, the semi-desicated roots didn’t look too promising, but they’re actually thriving and producing new flowers on a daily basis.   I’ve cut a few bunches now and they really do look great and last well.  The stars of the show right now are the Dahlias, a largely pink affair, they’ve really come to be something that I actually love and that’s not something I ever expected to say.  I just can’t wait for the Gladioli and Sweet Peas to flower now.

In other news please see the competition page for a chance to win a garden bench and £100 worth of gift vouchers and don’t forget to vote for your favourite garden images on the Ryan’s Garden Facebook page.  

Also, check out the Garden Hero blog and find inspiration in Simon's medal winning efforts at BBC Gardener's World Live.
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