Oudolf Field – Hauser & Wirth

I have been intrigued about the development of Hauser & Wirth Somerset, since I first heard about it on the grapevine a couple of years ago.  So it was with some excitement that I battled the traffic at Stone Henge yesterday morning, to make my first visit.  After a delicious lunch of meaty modern country fare in the buzzing restaurant, we stepped out into the hazy sunshine across a lawned farmyard to a small conference room to listen to Piet Oudolf in conversation with Tania Compton.  It was the first time I had heard Piet Oudolf speak and he was so self-effacing, amusing and charming.  He cared little about the build details, such as, whether they had to import topsoil or not, that was left to ‘others'; it was all about the planting and creating many pathways through it to create a myriad of perspectives.  After the discussion, Piet, who knew some of my party, gave us a private tour of the garden that is opening today.

Piet Oudolf Hauser Wirt-7

So to the garden or rather Oudolf Field.  Planted only a few months ago, it is not mature and you have to let your eyes go into soft focus to help get an impression of how it will look in a year or so’s time.  But seeing the plants at this stage is fascinating.  It gives you a much clearer idea of how Oudolf creates his planting; the way the soil gently undulates throughout the bed, the pattern of block planting zones vs the matrix zones.

You are able to walk up the long oblong field via various curved routes, which gently slope upward and away from the main cluster of buildings.  It is a field of Oudolf planting.   Your focus is on the planting and the way you can walk through in many ways, giving endless varying perspectives of stunning plant combinations.  The wild meadow-like feel to the planting connects with the surrounding landscape; a sort of cultivated wild.

Piet Oudolf Hauser Wirt-22

Yet there are some disconnects.  The boundary to the field, I found, interferes with the perspectives of the planting as you walk through.  Your focus is drawn to the metal farm gates, the telegraph poles in the adjacent field and the gallery farm buildings themselves cutting a freshly painted bright white fascia board line across the view.  They all serve to interfere rather than act as borrowed landscape.  It reminds you of how important it is, when designing a garden, to spend time on the boundary and the broader view and this relationship between the near and far.  And then there is the clock.   Ever so slightly reminiscent of an oversized satellite dish, draws your eye away from the planting and gives a feeling the field has just landed from Space.  Oudolf liked the idea of this giant clock, when it was put to him, looming over his planting, yet does it have rhyme or reason?

The installations and artworks inside the galleries and elsewhere on site are exciting.  I love this kind of work; the scale, the atmosphere and feelings they provoke.  One other area I found particularly arresting was the cloister garden.  Beautiful simple predominantly grass planting (Sesleria autumnalis) lorded over by an enormous metal spider.  The proportion and scale in relation to the surrounding buildings was wonderful.

Piet Oudolf Hauser Wirt-40

I am in no doubt that as the planting matures the disconnects will lessen.  It is a field,  within which there is a wonderful exhibition of Oudolf’s planting; he’s created a living 4D artwork that will be ever changing through the seasons.

It is really exciting that Hauser and Wirt and the curator have recognised horticulture and garden design as an art form from the very beginning of their journey to create a gallery in the heart of Somerset.  I hope they will invite conceptual landscape architects and garden designers to create installations of their work, elsewhere on site, in the future.

Piet Oudolf Hauser Wirt-19

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Water, water everywhere

RHS Hampton Flower Show Garden 2012

So the build has begun.  And what a wet start!  It seems water is following me around on this project.  It also means that unfortunately Leigh Lovely Legs hasn’t been able to show off his best feature yet much to my Mum’s disappointment.

It’s very different this year.  The build is three weeks long and when we arrived the show site was almost completely empty except for trackway, some rather wet looking contractors and queues of artic lorries going to rather muddy looking patches dotted along the route.

First off I thought I should introduce some of the guys making this garden happen.  We have four landscape contractors (from Neale Richards Gardens Ltd) working on this project – Leigh (Lovely Legs), David, Nick and new to the Hampton Court experience is Christian.  We also have a water consultant, Tony Harragin in charge of the water feature.

Day 1 of the build

Behind the scenes, there are several people working tirelessly.  My Mum, Dad and husband Hugo have been my sounding board and Dad has been making many posts for the garden.  My mum, cousins – Michaela and Allie are on twin duty.

Then there are two other suppliers who are working tirelessly behind the scenes.  David at Meadowgate Nurseries, who is supplying the plants and Angus and his crew at Scotscape who are supplying the green wall are doing their darndest to make sure the plants look the best they possibly can.

I have to say that the team is absolutely amazing, they are really behind the garden and it is a pleasure working with every single one of them.

This week on the build, is all about creating the main shape of the garden.  Digging out and creating the pool of water and building the bridge.  The garden is taking shape already so you really start to get a feel for what it will eventually be.   Today the massive liner from Gordon Low Products was laid by Tony and the crew.

I realise that I haven’t said much about what this show garden is about which is rather remiss of me.

A birds eye view of the garden would perhaps look more akin to a giant plaster over a gaping wound. On closer inspection, crossing a large desolate expanse of swirling whirlpools, a bridge rises out of the water filled with beautiful feathery plumes of trees and a bright explosion of exuberant planting. Stepping onto the bridge, from the darkness into the light, the planting changes from darker to lighter tones and steps appear floating, creating a heavenly feel, as you cross the bridge. Words of real patients, expressing their feelings of relief having received treatment, are inset within the paving.

Bridge over troubled water is a show garden inspired by the relief that patients feel when they have received treatment for their problem, specifically, bladder problems. The bridge is a metaphor for treating the problem.  Typically, people don’t talking about such medical conditions and often people live in discomfort not realising that there are treatments available that could radically improve their quality of life. Beyond this specific theme, it is also hoped that the design resonates with all its visitors in some way. We nearly all experience harder times and this garden reminds you how gardening and having a closer relationship with plants, can be a tonic to some and as much as a lifeline to others.

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‘Catastrophising’ is a good thing…I hope!

So what ‘glitzy projects’, a good friend of mine asked me last night, have I got on this year?  Well, having caught the ‘show bug’ last year, I’m returning to Hampton Court.  This time I’m embarking on an even bigger challenge – a show garden.

In a way, you would think it would be easier.  It’s not my first show so I know what to expect this time round.  Thanks to last year, I have some brilliant contacts and amazing partners who I know I can trust to deliver.  Despite being completely ANAL planning wise and having spent HOURS on the minutiae, pre-show nerves are still creeping into my nights.  I’m not having nightmares but I do find myself lying awake ‘catastrophising’ as another very good friend calls it.

One of my big learnings from last year was to expect the unexpected and to contingency plan.  So by ‘catastrophising’ I’m making sure that I’ve covered all the bases as much as is possible.  That’s a good thing right?  The lorry’s smashed all the pavers in transit – what do I do?…  The special trees I am sourcing from the Netherlands have turned up and the branches are all broken…the water feature isn’t working…the plants aren’t flowering on time and aren’t big enough…my Dad has cut off one of his fingers….(this has actually happened!)….aaaaahhhh!

So the dark circles forming around my eyes aren’t the result of having 9 month old twins in the house (who incidentally are dream sleepers), but are the result of ‘catastrophising’.   Hopefully, if you come along to this year’s show, you will be able to judge for yourself whether it’s all been worth it.  Fingers crossed it will be… I love all this worrying really! :)


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Its not easy finding supporters

I am involved in the new Chelsea Fringe Festival (www.chelseafringe.com) – which is all about taking gardening and garden design to a wider audience.  As well as helping with the marketing piece for the event, I am focusing on one particular project which is called the ‘Bed Parade’ (www.bedparade.com).  The idea is the garden world’s version of the ‘Elephant Parade’ or ‘Cow Parade’.   Pop-up conceptually designed garden beds (just 1m x 2m) appear on the streets of London.  Each bed is supported by a company or individual and nearly all the money (except a small budget to create the bed itself) goes to a homeless charity.  Our charity partner is St Mungo’s.  Homeless people will be involved in the creation of the beds which will be designed by leading and up-and-coming garden designers.


We’ve had a phenomenol response to the project.  People really love the idea and the councils are very behind it and keen to give us prime sites to locate the beds.  The big issue is finding supporters.  Okay so I am not a sales person and the group of us working on this project aren’t either.  We spend our days designing gardens – so what do we know?  It’s a horrible job trying to find someone to support a charitable project.  It is a matter of tapping up our own contacts and cold calling.  

So with my marketing background, I thought a way in would be to target PR agencies dealing with client’s corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Now a PR agency should always be aware of how they as well as their clients, come across and should be masters of communication.  The nightmare is when someone rings up a client and they get a bad reception from the person who answers the phone (always an easy story win for a journo to go on a mystery shopper cold calling exercise).  But a PR agency would never do that would it?  I have just got off the phone to one and the guy who eventually answered the phone, asked me to ring back in 15 minutes because he was too ‘busy dealing with a client’.  He did not know who I was from adam – I just said that I wanted to speak with someone who works on CSR PR.  I could easily have been a potential client ringing up and with that response – he would have lost me in a heartbeat.  Lucky for them, I am not a potential client so I will ring back.  Watch this space! :)

Oh and if anyone knows someone who would be interested in supporting The Bed Parade or The Chelsea Fringe Festival, please DO get in contact.  You will get an answer – promise!


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Ode to Leigh ‘Lovely Legs’ and the rest of my build team

Finally I have a moment to sit down and write something about what has being going on in the first 4 days of the build.

It is SO MUCH FUN!  I wish I could do this all the time.  Have to say the show manager Mandy and her whole team have been so supportive to everyone – its made it all so much easier.  In fact it makes for a lovely atmosphere.  None of the usual ‘event problems’ so far!  The only downside is the fact the only usable toilets are a good 500m away from our site.  So I’m averaging 10miles of walking to and from loos a day.  On my many frequent trips, I am attracting a few odd looks.  Females are definitely in the minority here this week and heavily pregnant ones even less so.

So on this first week of the build, the emphasis is on the hard landscaping and next week is all about the planting.  So far, despite the odd very prolonged and heavy rain ‘shower’ and gusty winds, massive progress has been made.  We’ve marked out the site, dug it out, put up the mirrored boundary and put in the floor sub base.  The next couple of days are all about the floor and then we’re onto the aerial structure as of tomorrow.

I love the way I am saying ‘we’.  What I should say is ‘the guys’ – this week that’s David, Leigh (Lovely Legs) and Nick from Neale Richards Ltd (our landscape contractor), Lysanne and Vicky who are the amazingly ‘hard working, perfectionist,  couldn’t live without’ volunteer helpers and last but by no means least my ‘always there for me’ brother James and parents, Pat and Peter.   And what a wonderful team they are!

I am sitting under a very anchored down gazebo on tea duty (my role is a sad state of affairs but at least I am cupboard loved for bringing cake everyday).

Yesterday I took the plunge and invested in a massive 6m x 12m marquee to cover the entire garden interior.  With typical Wimbledon rain showers upon us I can’t risk the floor not being done to schedule.  Gus from Concreations has just turned up and so its all go, go, go, on the innovative ‘micro’ concrete flooring.

So what’s it like being on the build site?  Well as I look around now I see a hive of activity.  Generators mask any bird song, the wind is whipping the multiple gazebos dotted around the site and all I can see are breeze blocks, mounds of soil, spades, wheel barrows and trees lying on their sides.   And of course, I should mention, there are lots of ‘strapping young lads’ fetching, carrying, building as well as quite a few on permanent builders tea breaks.

All the concept gardens are coming along nicely.  There are some great concepts this year – makes me feel quite inadequate and nervous.  But everyone really is very friendly.  There’s lots of water sharing, lending a helping hand and appreciation of other’s talents, going on.  We’re becoming quite a community.

Right I better go and photograph the cover going on the marquee.  It should be interesting in the wind.  More to come soon xxx

PS.  I would say that I’m very happy with progress, but I’m still having those nagging Agapanthus flowering worries… please let it be okay…will find out tomorrow morning when I visit Hardys.

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Filming with BEEB – a good way to spend the day

I spent the day at my parents house being filmed for the forthcoming BBC programme on Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.  There was something quite lovely about being back in the home I grew up in.  At the same time the setting was slightly ironic in that my parent’s garden couldn’t be more different from the garden I’m creating at Hampton Court.

Anoushka Feiler

Our piece, which tracks our journey to get ready for the show, is going out on the preview programme on Monday 4th July (I think).

I didn’t quite realise how long these things take.  I think our piece will be 4 minutes but the filming took a day and there’s more filming to come at the show when the garden’s built.  With the sun frequently disappearing behind clouds and previously unnoticed sound of aeroplanes flying overhead, it meant that it was very stop-start.  That was fine by me.  Is it bad to admit that I loved the whole experience?  I don’t think I’ll be saying that when I actually see myself on the programme.  Maybe I just won’t watch it so my bubble isn’t burst.

We had a great film crew and far from being tiring, it was very relaxing.   My dad, waiting to be filmed building the boundary, was perhaps more than a little nervous at first, which is not a side of him I’m familiar with, but that soon wore off. And maybe even the crew had a good time – my mum certainly helped with her home-made scones (yes for all who know her – home-made I promise – definitely not Waitrose – far more superior), sandwiches and tea on tap.

I’m glad too there wasn’t much mentioned on the fact I’m now heavily pregnant with twins.  It would take away from the focus on the garden.  I suppose  there is a risk that I may not make it to the show but its not something I’m thinking about as I’m sure it will be fine.  I think others are more worried about this than me.  My conversation with Caroline from the BBC went like this.  Call one.  What if you have the twins early – what happens then?  Answer – they won’t it will be fine.  Call two.  I just need to be sure, if you go into labour, who will do the garden? David our contractor, my dad and Ann-Marie Powell.   Call three.  Have you bought any baby clothes?  Answer – no not yet.

Seriously I am going to hang myself upside down if there is the slightest hint the little bubs feel the pull of gravity getting too much.  Anyway – they’re having far too much fun tap dancing, playing football, boxing each other and generally letting me know they’re happy in my bump.  Incidentally we’ve nicknamed them Fred and Ginger.

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Concept Garden Tastic at Chaumont International Garden Festival

Today Hugo and I went to Chaumont International Garden Show in France, near Tours. The garden show is entirely dedicated to concept gardens plus there are interesting art installations in the main Park.  What an incredible setting for a Garden Show.  It’s on permanently from April through to October which means that the designers have the added challenge of ensuring the show gardens look good throughout 3 seasons.

There are 24 gardens to see and it takes a good 3 or 4 hours to wander around.  Whilst they are all executed well, some are better than others as you would expect at a show (and of course its all down to personal opinion).

For me, the big take out from the day was how the different gardens make you ‘feel’ governs whether they are successful or not. Some gardens didn’t effect me at all, in fact I just felt disappointed and unsure what they were trying to convey.

Some gardens made you feel sad, empty, almost uncomfortable in their appearance, but at least that was part of the intention (I hope!).   The big theme for the show this year is Biodiversity and the Future of Gardens.   So many gardens had stark warning messages; ‘we must amend our ways now or this may be our future’.  The most effective gardens, were those that excited me in their clever execution, they looked beautiful even if, for some, they had negative messages to convey.  Not all were doom and gloom!  Here were my top 5:

  • Garden 2 – Sculptillonnage, designed by Corinne Julhiet-Detroyat and Claude Pasquer
  • Garden 11 – Handle with care, designed by Jeroen Jacobs and Maarten Jacobs
  • Garden 13 – The nature of things, designed by Soline Portmann, Aurélie Zita and Mioko Tanaka
  • Garden 15 – Between sky and earth, designed by Wang Xiangrong
  • Garden 20 – The Take Away Garden, designed by Steve Papps, Jo Chapman and Jackie Bennett

For me concept gardens need to create an emotional reaction, be it a positive or negative one, that captures the overall message so that you don’t need to read any sign outside the garden – just feel your way to the designer’s intention.  And in a way, just like art, if you don’t get the designer’s intention it doesn’t matter as long as you personally take something out of it.   All the elements need to work together to convey the message and to do this the space needs to me entertain in some way, be it through discovery, mystery,  quality of execution or just simply an overall impression.  

As the build for my concept garden looms closer, I find myself asking, can you know for sure before you build, that the ‘feel’ is going to be right? – just from an idea in your head, a drawing on paper, intricate planning and research.  And is there just a measure of lady luck on the day also involved?  

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