Poppies to remember

Last weekend I was in a pretty gloomy and soggy London for the day.  We made a quick diversion to go the Tower of London to see a really inspiring installation of ceramic poppies which is taking place at the moment.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

It’s called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ and was devised by artist Paul Cummins, with the setting created by stage designer Tom Piper.  It’s a very powerful work – in my opinion.

Marking 100 years since the the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War, starting on 5th August this year, ceramic poppies have been planted in the ground by volunteers, and the moat has gradually filled up with a sea of red.  The aim is to plant a total of 888,246 poppies by 11th November (to mark the day the war ended in 1918).  I saw images of the installation in the early stages on the internet, but it really is an amazing sight to see in person if you can get there, especially now as the moat fills up.  My photos, snapped on my phone, really don’t do it justice.

Tower of London poppies

And when you think that every poppy represents a British military fatality in the First World War, it makes it all the more poignant.

The ceramic poppies are on sale to raise money for 6 service charities and with the aim to raise millions of pounds it’s definitely a worthwhile cause.  Plus it’s not everyday you can add part of an art installation to your garden – enough to brighten any gloomy day!  Check out the Tower of London website to find out more.

Tower of London remembrance


Sculpture gardens to enjoy and inspire

I recently posted a blog about choosing art for the garden.  And there’s no better way to get inspired than to get out and visit the myriad of sculpture gardens, trails and open air exhibitions which are on all over the UK at the moment.

Wise Walk, Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes
Wise Walk, Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes

Whether you’re looking for a great venue for a day trip over summer, or whether you’re a serious culture vulture in need of a fix, there are some fabulous outdoor galleries to visit. 

Here are just a few ideas:
Located near Dorking in Surrey is The Hannah Peschar Sculpture Gallery where over 100 pieces of art are displayed in and around the woodland and water gardens.  The natural setting and bold planting shows off the work fantastically well.

CASS Sculpture Foundation
‘Alfa’ by Gerry Judah at the CASS Sculpture Foundation

Not too far away, near Chichester is the CASS Sculpture Foundation where you can admire 80 contemporary (and generally very large) works which are set amongst the woodland.  It’s an ideal place to visit on a hot sunny day!  This year’s season ends on November 3rd 2013.

Cass sculpture foundation
‘System No 19’ by Julian Wild, at the CASS Sculpture Foundation

Even in the City of London, sculpture is breaking out into the open.  The annual exhibition Sculpture in the City is in its 3rd year now and currently you can see work by well known artists such as Antony Gormley and Jake & Dinos Chapman.  The current exhibition runs until May 2014.

One of my favourite outdoor galleries is The Garden Gallery near Stockbridge in Hampshire.  It’s only a relatively small outdoor gallery but you can see artworks of all shapes and sizes around the garden, and get a very clear appreciation of the value of putting sculpture into your outdoor space – whatever the size of that space or the piece that you add.  The gallery is open by appointment all year round so you need to plan ahead

Search for Enlightenment by Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes
Search for Enlightenment by Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes

I’ve recently come across Sculpture by the Lakes gallery near Dorchester.  I haven’t had chance to visit yet, but am hoping to get there before too long, it looks really interesting.

Isis by Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes
Isis by Simon Gudgeon, sculpture by the lakes

The setting looks fabulout and the landscape and gardens appears to be as much of a draw as the artworks. Entry is by appointment specifically to limit the number of visitors and to ensure the peace and quiet can be enjoyed by everyone, so bear in mind that you need to book ahead and children under the age of 12 aren’t allowed in.

In Wiltshire you can visit Roche Court near Salisbury where you can enjoy a variety of work on display around the parkland or visit the indoor New Art Centre.  Just checking their details online it seems helicopters can land with advance notice!  Not something I have to worry about just yet.

The Broomhill Sculpture Gardens (“where art and culture meet in magical surroundings”) has one of the largest permanent collections of contemporary sculpture in the South West of England.  Located in North Devon, it can be visited 11 months of the year (closing around Christmas and New Year).

Somewhere I’m yet to visit but definitely will next time I’m anywhere near St Ives in Cornwall, is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden (now part of the Tate Gallery).  It looks like the perfect setting to see her bronze sculptures which I really admire.  Drawings, paintings and other sculpture can be seen in the museum.  The perfect place if you’re on holiday and in need of a break from the beach.

Running In Leicester until October 27 is the University of Leicester’s twelfth annual Sculpture in the Garden exhibition, A Change of Heart. Held at the Harold Martin Botanic Garden, Oadby, The exhibition will feature work by 20 artists including William Pye, and is open seven days a week.

If you are visiting the Lake District, check out Grizedale Forest, which holds around 50 permanently sited artworks created by leading international artists who over the past 30 years have made work specifically for the forest location. Grizedale Forest also hosts temporary exhibitions and events, so it’s worth checking the website before you visit.

Draped Seated Woman by Henry Moore at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Draped Seated Woman by Henry Moore at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

And in West Yorkshire is another favourite of mine, the fantastic Yorkshire Sculpture Park which has an outstanding permanent collection of work by world-renowned artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Elisabeth Frink, Eduardo Paolozzi, Anthony Caro and Andy Goldsworthy.  The park also has one of the largest open-air displays of bronzes by Henry Moore (set off beautifully by grazing sheep!), and a constantly changing programme of events and new exhibitions.

Many of these venues are open at least 6 months of the year, if not all year round, so a visit to an outdoor sculpture gallery needn’t be restricted to the summer holidays.  It’s something to enjoy at any time of the year (but always better when it’s not raining!).

Picture credits: Janet Bligh, Simon Gudgeon and Firgrove Photographic

A simple guide to choosing outdoor art for your garden

Evolution by Joe Smith
‘Evolution’ by Joe Smith works perfectly in a large Surrey garden

I’m a great fan of adding art (of whatever size or form) into the garden.  Nothing pleases me more than clients asking me to create spaces in their design for a piece of art, and/or find them pieces to add to their gardens – whether that’s a contemporary piece from a gallery (bought or commissioned), an antique bust or an old pot, a water sculpture or simply a piece of garden reclamation.


Whatever form it takes, ‘art’ is a valuable addition to any outdoor space, but or course you do need to give some careful thought to choosing your piece and finding the perfect position for it.

Think about scale and how much space you have.  A small piece to be viewed from a distance might have little impact.  But a small piece tucked in amongst planting discovered on a walk around the garden will make a lovely point of interest when it’s least expected.

Tidal Jar by Adam Buick, The Garden Gallery
Beautiful pots make wonderful garden features whether displayed amongst planting, or standing in isolation. ‘Tidal Jar’ by Adam Buick at The Garden Gallery

Is your piece to be on open view or positioned amongst planting?  If it’s the latter, make sure the surrounding plants aren’t going to completely engulf the work to the point where you can’t see it for half the year!

Statue at Hinton Ampner
Dark foliage provides the perfect backdrop for this statue at Hinton Ampner in Hampshire

A hedge can provide a fantastic backdrop to show off art, and soft planting and long grass can provide a wonderful contrast to the solid form of a sculpture positioned amongst it.  Combining different plant textures makes for an interesting planting scheme, and adding a piece of art into the mix will bring another dimension of interest.

Contemporary or traditional?  I don’t think you have to slavishly follow the style of your house and garden when it comes to choosing art.  More importantly just make sure you choose something you love and that you’re going to enjoy looking at 365 days a year.

A simple contemporary piece by Tom Stogdon, Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Of course you don’t need to be restricted to just one piece, or to keeping pieces in the same place forever. Gardens evolve throughout the year and over the years, and there’s no reason why you can’t treat your outdoor space like a gallery and ring the changes on a regular basis.  Large works of course will be less easy to move around and they may well necessitate permanent fixings so they need extra careful positioning from the start.

Great fosters Al Fresco III by Firgrove Photographic
Large scale art on display by the lake at Great Fosters Hotel. ‘The Juggernaut of Nought’ by Richard Trupp

Material choice may be an issue from a maintenance and longevity perspective – glass and stainless steel for example will need much more regular attention than stonework. And if you choose a reflective piece, think about exactly what it will be reflecting (from all angles) and where it can be sited for maximum effect.

Triton III by Brian Kneale, CASS photo Firgrove Photographic
Stainless steel sculpture ‘Triton III’ by Brian Kneale at the Cass Sculpture Foundation

Could a sculpture made from light coloured stone brighten a gloomy corner of the garden and create a much needed focal point where planting is restricted?

Arum Lily, Garden Gallery by Firgrove Photographic
‘Arum Lily’ in Portland stone by Will Spankie at The Garden Gallery, Hampshire

The wonderful thing about garden art is that it can be enjoyed all year round, and 24 hours a day if you light it well too.

These stone balls on a roof terrace are uplit at night creating dramatic shadows
These stone balls on a roof terrace are uplit at night creating dramatic shadows

In the winter when most gardens die down and there’s not a great deal to see, the subtle use of structural plants, sculpture, garden lighting and beautiful furniture can combine to create a stunning outdoor space to be viewed and enjoyed from both inside and outside the house.

Fallen Deodar by Jilly Sutton, Firgrove Photographic
‘Fallen Deodar’ by Jilly Sutton, on the Goodwood Estate

If you’d like help choosing art for your garden, let us know.  We offer a bespoke service to help clients find exactly the right pieces to enhance their outdoor spaces and really make the most of their gardens all year round.

You may also like our blog on outdoor sculpture galleries to visit.  Always a fantastic source of inspiration as well as a nice day out!

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Highlights from the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show

I love my annual pilgrimage to the Chelsea Flower Show, and even though it’s a long, tiring (and this year, cold!) day, it’s just great to spend hours and hours absorbing the work of other garden designers and seeing what our specialist nurseries have to offer.

2013 has been such a difficult year weather-wise, so I was particularly interested to see what sort of planting would be on show.  There’s no doubt there was an abundance of cow parsley and aquilegias in an awful lot of gardens, but that’s no bad thing – my own garden is full of both at the moment!

Here’s a quick round-up of what caught my eye this year.

The M&G Centenary Garden
The M&G Centenary Garden

The first garden I came across was Roger Platt’s ‘The M&G Centenary Garden’ which was designed to celebrate 100 years of the Chelsea Flower Show and meant to ‘capture the design trends and themes of shows past and present’.  As always, Roger’s planting was stunning, and I was particularly taken with the rusted steel sculpture which framed views down the garden so successfully.  Nice one Roger!

chelsea 2013

The contrast between the structure of the box balls and the softer planting, together with the smooth paving in the more modern part of the garden, was particularly nice to see.

RBC Blue Water Roof Garden
RBC Blue Water Roof Garden

The RBC Blue Water Roof Garden was designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett and reflects his ecological approach to garden and landscape design.  This garden illustrated how a roof garden can not only look great but can (should?) be designed with water management in mind.  The ‘garden springs’ (above) feed the surrounding garden wetland, and the living wall (below) is made up of reclaimed clay pipes planted with succulents.

living wall, Chelsea
Living wall

Christopher Bradley-Hole is a designer I really admire.  His gardens are always so well executed, but they don’t always appeal to the more traditional gardeners who visit Chelsea and who think gardens should be packed full of pretty flowers!

The Telegraph Garden, Chelsea
The Telegraph Garden

His designs are quite masculine, and often very geometric, and this year’s Telegraph Garden was no exception.  It was ‘inspired by three elements: the making of the English landscape, the Japanese approach to garden-making and modern abstract art’.

Brewin Dolphin Garden, Chelsea 2013I love these pebble seats which pop up quite often at Chelsea! This year they were used in The Brewin Dolphin Garden and made a lovely contrast to the decking and smooth paving.

East Village Garden

Water is always an important element at Chelsea, and I thought this curving reflective stream in the East Village Garden was very effective.

In the ‘Fresh’ section of the show, the central sculptural feature had been put to good use with this lovely Urban Bee Hotel by Amy Curtis.  Something to try at home?

Urban Bee hotel
Urban Bee Hotel

Rusted steel has been used a lot at Chelsea over recent years, but I don’t have a problem with that at all.  I think it’s a great material to use amongst planting as it works so well as a backdrop.  The SeeAbility Garden had a really nice metal sculptural screen and the paths made of slate on edge were very attractive.

SeeAbility Garden, Chelsea

Plus it was good to see some fresh block planting focusing on foliage colour and texture as a contrast to all the Cow parsley & Aquilegia elsewhere in the show!!

Tokonoma Garden
Crowds gathering around the Tokonoma Garden

My two favourite show gardens were at opposite ends of the scale to each other.  Once again, Japanese landscape designer Ishihara Kazuyuki came up trumps, this year with his exquisitely detailed Tokonoma Garden in the ‘Artisan’ area of the show.

Tokonoma Garden

It was so beautiful, with waterfalls, moss, ferns, Acers and a gorgeous Japanese tatami room complete with green roof.  It really makes you wonder how on earth they put together something so intricate in the two week build-up period to the show.

At the other end of the spectrum, was the Laurent Perrier Garden by Swedish landscape designer Ulf Nordfjell.  I admire the simplicity of his designs and thought the use of limestone, oak and copper in this garden was really stunning.

The Laurent Perrier Garden
The Laurent Perrier Garden

Can’t wait till next year!

Photos: Janet Bligh Garden Designs