Welcome to the diary of the Budding Scientists Show Garden.
The Budding Scientist Garden. Designed by Rachel Phillips. Sketch up by Christy Russell
I’m Rachel Phillips (see ‘about me’ for more info), and over the past few months I’ve been keeping scribbled notes in tatty well-used journals and taking photographs to document the journey of the Budding Scientist Show garden, which is now being built at the Spring Malvern Gardening Show.
The story began back in 2010…
After an inspirational time in August helping Mike Russell (Designs with Nature) with the planting of the Gold Medal winning garden he designed for the Shrewsbury Flower Show, I became determined that I would design and build a show garden…
A few weeks later, Mike spotted the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship, and rang to say “Go for it”! A frantic few days followed – the deadline was days away, and a ferry booking to France to International Garden Design Fesival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire loomed.
The scholarship application entailed designing a garden on the theme of ‘Atom’, along with a client brief and detailed application about why I should become the next Chris Beardshaw Scholar. The applicants who made it through to the next stage would build their gardens at the Spring malvern Gardening show, and the winner of the show would then receive mentoring support and work experience with Chris Beardshaw, along with the opportunity to help design and build a garden at Chelsea. For an eager career-changer such as myself, it sounded like a great opportunity to showcase my green talent and develop my career.
After a day sat on a windy Welsh beach for inspiration, pondering the shape and properties of atoms, asking friends questions such as “If I said Atom to you, what would you say”, my mind was bubbling over with ideas…
A long night followed at the drawing board, with a glass of wine and creative scribbling. Circles began to appear and an idea began to emerge…
After many years working with children and young people, and seeing how they become inspired by the outdoors, I thought what better to way to link the theme of the Atom to real life than a school garden for learning and discovery.
A place for young people to stop and reflect, to observe nature and to grow plants and patience… A place to see different shapes, colours and materials… A place where new and old collide… A place where the senses are stimulated by fragrance and textures.. The concept of the Budding Scientist garden was born.
Three days after finding out about the scholarship, I crossed my fingers, sent the application off to Malvern, and jumped on the ferry with Mike to spend a wonderfully inspirational few days exploring the gardens at Chamont, Villandry and Monet’s Garden. Every garden I saw made me think “ooh, I could use that plant there”, or “hmmm, I wished I thought about that when I was writing the brief”!
Life resumed it’s normal busy pace for a few weeks; working at the council managing funding for young peoples services in the day, running youth groups in the evening, and helping Mike and gaining garden design experience whenever possible. I spotted a Creative Partnerships Job opportunity, asking for a creative practitioner to work with the children of Ercall Wood Technology College for half a day a week to redesign part of their school grounds. I applied and got the post and thought what a great idea to link the gardens… If only I get through to the next stage of the scholarship!
At the beginning of December I was invited down to Malvern to meet the other scholarship candidates and present my idea to Chris Beardshaw and the Malvern team. Another few nail biting weeks ensued, until finally, on the 24th of December, I received a letter in the post telling me I was through to the next stage and would be building my garden at the Spring Malvern Show!
The site of the show garden,,,
Frantic planning and preparations began…. Evenings were spent plotting and planning. Mike agreed to help, and we decided that his landscaping team would build the garden. A time line was drawn up and a seemingly ever growing and never ending to-do-list was started.
I headed off to the seaside again to draw my garden out on the sand to see how it worked in practice… Armed with a stick, a base plan, a tape measure, a number of plants pots and my willing partner in crime Tim, we marked out the garden on a frosty January beach, much to the befuddlement of passing dog walkers.
After a freezing hour or so, the garden on the beach looked like the one on my sketch pad, minus a few plants or so!
Working out plant quantities...
The design evolved during the process; the pod was moved backwards to make more space in the centre of the garden, and the entrance moved to mirror the change.
The Chris Beardshaw applicants receive a thousand pound towards the cost of the garden, which I soon realised wouldn’t go far at all. Sponsorship letters were fired off to local and national companies, and panic began to set in as to how I was actually going to fund the build of the garden. Luckily, people were very kind, and a few companies and friends offered to help. Kinley Systems were the first to reply, and offered to donate the aluminium edging that I had specified, saving me around £700 pound.
Next Dingle Nurseries agreed to donate £100’s worth of wholesale cost plants free of charge, along with a reduced rate for me to hire the large feature plants.
Mike and I spent an afternoon mooching around the nursery looking at plants…
After an interesting talk at a garden design seminar by a company called All Turf who produce sedum and meadow turf, I approached them to see if they would be interested in donating some turf for the garden. Hazel was really helpful and interested in the design, and kindly offered to donate enough turf for the green roofed shelter and to go around the garden.
In the meantime, I was busy working with children at Ercall Wood Technology College in Telford, helping them design their school garden. The children were really excited about the prospect of their garden being linked to the show garden, and each lesson we spent some time choosing vegetables and sowing seeds. Each week little seedlings emerged (sometimes over 100 in a pot due to eager sowing!), and the young people happily showed me what had grown.
The young people applied to the Youth Opportunity Fund, and received funding to commission Pablo Productions to work with them to design and build a shelter for their school garden, which would be used at the Show. We had a great day coming up with designs for the shelter, making life size models and testing whether the designs would work. The young people voted upon a final green roofed design which could be used to attract and view wildlife in their school garden.
In the original design, I wanted the garden to have a giant test tube water feature flowing around the outside, representing the flow of energy and providing sound and movement. Many evenings were spent trying to find companies that manufactured something looking like huge test tubes. Bubble tubes were one option, but didn’t provide the sound I wanted. Plastic tubing was another option, but I couldn’t find anything that would give the look I wanted to create. Eventually, whilst mooching around a garden centre with Mike, we
happened upon some conical and spherical pots which reminded us of the Van der Graaf generators that you find in schools (the things that make your hair stand on end!!).
I wanted the garden to be encased by metal arches, giving it a spherical atom-like affect, so we approached Jack Taylor, who had made gates for Mike the previous year for the Shrewsbury Flower Show. Jack agreed to help, and we decided to recycle the gates and use them in the Budding Scientist Garden.
Early in February, on a very cold and windy day, we went to a seminar at Malvern and got some tips about the site and the build, and checked the levels of the ground.
There was a difference of about 15 cm in the level of the site, so we decided to build the garden on a platform, which would be edged with the wild turf. The platform meant that we could start with build preparations before the show, meaning less time on site at Malvern and less travel time and expense. Ruth and Tony at Womerton Farm agreed to help by letting us work in their barn. The team got together for a planning session in early April to mark out the area of the garden, and work out how much timber we needed.
In early April we were ready to start the build…
In the meantime, I was busy compiling lists of everyone who had helped, doing planting lists, planning a visit from the school kids to the show ground and worrying about the mounting costs. My fab friend Arron was busy designing a flyer for the show. Lanyon Bowdler kindly agreed to pay for the flyer printing costs and to lend us their big van to collect plants.
The water features were underway, with some precariously precise drilling through ceramic required…
Adrian was busy cutting up oak for the planters, kindly donated by Shropshire Building Supplies…
Meanwhile Tim, Al and my dad were busy making bug boxes and blackboards,
…and my mum and Tim’s mum were busy growing Alliums and vegetables.
On the 18th of April, we piled into Mike’s Mums camper van, followed by Chris and Adrian in the Van, and headed down to Malvern. Arriving on site, a patch of grass that was soon to be our garden greeted us. After working out which was I wanted to orientate the garden, we were ready to start.
Within an hour, the van was unloaded and the stage was down.
Chris and Adrian got busy making the base secure and level, putting in extra supports where needed to make it stable and to hold the weight of the learning pod and the metal arches and gates.
The following day, Adrian helped install the oak planters, and the aluminium edging (kindly donated by Kinley Systems) was ready to go down.
This was soon followed by the paving (donated by Bradstones, sponsors of the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship)…
Meanwhile, Mike and I were busy cutting up the rather annoying plastic backing of the carpet stones that were being used to go around the edge of the stone circle, and form the entrance to the garden…
The decking entrance looked great against the aluminium edging. I decided that marbles would look good in the decking, continuing the spherical atom theme, and brightening up the entrance.
Tim was in charge of building the water features on a blazing hot afternoon in the Malvern sun. This involved copper pipe, lots of silicone, a couple of cracked pots and a few rather choice words… After a good hour or two of chuntering, we had a working water feature.
By the end of the first week, we were able to step back and survey the scene. The team had worked really hard to make my design come to life, and the garden was beginning to look like how I envisaged it in my mind.
A busy week followed… The sedum and wildflower turf arrived on Wednesday (very kindly donated by All Turf Ltd, a family run company in Cheshire who supply wild flower and sedum turf, and was rolled out and watered. It looked a little bit sad to begin with after being rolled up, but soon sprang into place and with a bit of sunshine (and plenty of Malvern rain) the flowers began to bust into bloom and it started looking lovely, lush and wild compared to the tired turf around it which had taken a battering during the build.
Pablo Productions delivered and installed the lovely slanted green roof learning pod, which later proved to be a big hit. One of our favourite comment was “I like the open shed”! We like it too… The Sedum turf looked fab on the roof and was the first bit of green in the garden.
The very same day, the kids from Ercall Wood arrived with boxes of veg, microscopes and magnifying glasses, all ready to go into the garden. We spent the morning making bug boxes (thanks to Tim and Al for sawing up logs, and Mom and Dad for spending many hours sawing bamboo…). The look of concentration on the young people’s faces was fab.
The show ground also arranged for a press photographer, who snapped us with the bug boxes…
The following day, Mike and I picked up the van from Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors (thank you to Amanda and Rachel!), and headed over to Welshpool to pick up plants. Another day was spent up at the farm shovelling bracken compost into bags and loading the van with the many fruit, veg and herbs that Ruth had been nurturing carefully ready for the show. After loading the car with tents, plants and pot noodles (camping diet, oh dear, improvement needed!), we headed back down to the Three Counties Show ground to fill the garden with plants.
On Saturday morning, after a 5am start, I arrived in Malvern to find a wet and windy show ground awaiting me, along with Dave the delivery driver, and a lorry full of plants from Dingle Nurseries.
Willing friends braved the elements to snip leaves, deadhead flowers, make tea, line the planters with plastic, shovel compost, make butties (thanks Mom!), and finally begin planting. The garden was transformed…
Hugh (of Lusty Garden Furniture fame) arrived with a beautiful oak mushroom shaped table, which we all fell in love with and argued over who would buy it, with Hugh himself deciding that actually he didn’t really want to sell it he liked it so much… But any interested punters should let us know as I’m sure he could be persuaded!
Jack Taylor arrived on Sunday with the stunning twisted metal arches that would span the garden, meeting in the centre in an atomic circular sphere. The arches proved one of the biggest talking points of the garden (along with the Primula vialii, and the ladybird bird feeders!). To be continued…