This month we are featuring a very special project from Rhiannedd Brooke Garden Design.
If you have happened upon any of our recent advertisements in ProLandscaper magazine, then you may have already glimpsed the gorgeous wildflowers of October House. Installed by Langdale Landscapes, October House is a project very close to the heart of Rhiannedd Brooke. In this month’s Q&A, Rhiannedd explains how the October House project came together.
Do please tell us about Rhiannedd Brooke Garden Design…
I established my garden design business about 18 months ago and have been building up my client base in and around Sevenoaks since then. Before this, I spent 20 years working in corporate communications for various investment banking and asset management businesses but took a career break when my children were leaving primary school and decided to use the time to learn more about something that I’ve always been passionate about – gardening!
I spent a couple of years doing my RHS Level 2 diploma under the care of the amazingly knowledgeable Tessa Allen at Coolings in Knockholt and loved it so much that I then signed up for a diploma course in garden design at the English Gardening School, Chelsea Physic Garden, under the equally impressive and inspirational Rosemary Alexander.
Lockdown has been very kind to me as so many people have been spending long periods of time in their homes and gardens and realising how important that outside space is. This has really kick-started my business and I have completed nearly 20 projects over the past year and am busy with a further 6 projects at the moment.
What is your association with October House? How did the project come about?
October House is my own home and is a large part of what inspired me to take my horticultural journey.
Before moving to Sevenoaks, we lived in a townhouse in Dulwich with a 30 square foot garden. Eleven years ago, we moved to October House where we are lucky enough to enjoy over 2.5 acres of garden. As we set about renovating the space, I quickly realised that if I didn’t get more horticultural knowledge under my belt, I would end up wasting huge amounts of time and energy planting the wrong things in the wrong place.
We developed the garden gradually and I came to understand that having beautifully manicured lawns was lovely, but a huge amount of work to create what is essentially a very sterile environment. When I was planning the rear of my garden, I wanted to find a way to create a space that was not only beautiful and rich for wildlife, but that would also reduce the significant workload that is inevitable in a garden this size.
What did the October House project entail?
In the spring of 2017, we renovated our house and put in large picture windows at the rear, overlooking the back garden which contains a tennis court. Beyond the court was a rubbish area of patchy lawn with some ugly shrubs and trees so I decided to use this area to establish an orchard which would be underplanted with a wildflower meadow – the idea being that the insects attracted by the meadow would also help me out by pollinating the fruit trees. We went ahead and laid 744m² of Wildflower Turf’s Shade Tolerant turf just before Easter that year.
What challenges did you encounter and what successes are you most proud of?
What I hadn’t anticipated was that we would have a heatwave that Easter and the challenge of keeping all the new turf alive was considerable! I had to spend several hours a day trying to keep it watered by moving sprinklers around and using the hose. It was exhausting and we even had to employ someone for a week to water while we were away on a holiday that we had already booked!
However, we did manage to keep it alive and since then it has been nothing short of amazing. The sheer variety of flowers within the mix is just beautiful and creates an ever-changing scene that we enjoy on a daily basis, all summer long. We mow path through it to make it easy to navigate around the garden, but on the whole, it is pretty low maintenance.
It has taken a while to get used to having the wildflowers, and I think our topsoil is maybe slightly too rich for it in places. In the orchard area, the flowers can end up getting too leggy and tall (and we lose a lot of tennis balls!). However, in consultation with Wildflower Turf, last year we did a mid-season cut (to the ground) and cleared all the cuttings away in early May and this significantly improved the flowering and manageability of the lawn.
We have a second area of meadow which is planted over what was an old driveway where there is virtually no soil at all and I have to say that this is the best area as the plants don’t get so big here and just perform all season long without any effort whatsoever.
As a Garden Designer, what are your views on the inclusion of wildflowers and their benefits?
As a designer, I am always very keen to include an area of wildflowers where I can, the number one reason being that they are just so beautiful and provide such a long season of interest.
Additionally, as our climate is changing and getting hotter and drier, I think that areas of wildflowers help us reduce the amount of water we are using in the garden and provide both nectar to pollinators as well as shade and sanctuary to other animals such as frogs, grass snakes and small rodents who all enjoy living well-protected in amongst the flowers. The result of the latter is that I am seeing many more big birds in the sky above our garden as well as increased numbers of bees and butterflies. The improvement to the overall health of the garden is also very noticeable as the balance between pests and predators is redressed.
What advice would you offer a client considering incorporating wildflowers into their garden design?
I think putting a wildflower meadow in is not the same as simply laying standard turf. You do need a period of time to adjust and get to know your turf and how it performs, but once you have got your head around it, it provides colour, scent, wildlife, and joy in equal measures!
If you have an interesting project that you would like to see featured as part of our blog series, please do get in touch. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 01256 771 222, we’d love to hear from you!