X ‘Crys­tal Cloud’

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Chelsea 2016 -

Pale lilac com­pact cat­mint and a new colour. Cot­tage Gar­den Plants, started off grow­ing plants in a small ter­raced gar­den in Cam­ber­ley in 1988 us­ing plants from rel­a­tives’ gar­dens. Her sis­ter-in-law Anne had col­lected plants from the best nurs­eries in the south of Eng­land and that is partly why Hardy’s ended up with such a great range. A move to a walled gar­den on the Laver­stoke es­tate fol­lowed; just a stone’s throw from their present-day site, a 13-acre nurs­ery at Freefolk, near Whitchurch in Hamp­shire, which they bought 19 years ago.

“We al­low every­thing to grow out­side as much as pos­si­ble be­cause plant ma­te­rial should be tough and our ex­posed hill­side means that they get buf­feted by the wind, so they de­velop strong root sys­tems,” says Rosy.

One poly­tun­nel is used for prop­a­gat­ing, one for dis­play plants, and they grow many plants from seed, some self-col­lected and some ac­quired from Botanic World Seeds and Jelitto.

When Brewin Dol­phin de­cided to do its fifth con­sec­u­tive Chelsea show gar­den, Rosy’s name came up. “I got a phone call. Robert was jump­ing about full of en­thu­si­asm – then it emerged we had 36 hours to do a plan and get it back to them. But I’m prob­a­bly bet­ter with a dead­line,” says Rosy. “I knew Brewin Dol­phin like to think out of the box, so we came up with an idea that re­flected their his­tory as well as ours.”

The in­spi­ra­tion for For­ever Freefolk came from the River Test, a chalk stream within walk­ing dis­tance of the nurs­ery, and a nearby NGS gar­den called Bere Mill, which has wa­ter mead­ows that flood, as well as drier ar­eas. Brewin Dol­phin, a stock­bro­kers founded in 1762, would have han­dled bank notes on pa­per milled at Bere Mill, which be­gan mak­ing pa­per in 1712. Pa­per mak­ing in the Test Val­ley con­tin­ues to­day and nearby Over­ton Mill still makes high-se­cu­rity pa­per for more than 150 na­tional cur­ren­cies.

The river is rep­re­sented on the show gar­den by paving seamed with gleam­ing alu­minium, which should shine in sun­light. Dry gravel beds will be full of sil­ver fo­liage, and pink and pur­ple flow­ers. The bog­gier ar­eas will fea­ture a stronger pal­ette of blues, pur­ples and or­anges along with el­e­gant fo­liage. There will also be clear yel­lows, run­ning through like a thread on a tapestry. Wild ap­ples grow­ing along the Test Val­ley pro­vided wood for the rollers and cogs in the mill ma­chin­ery, so Rosy is us­ing a sym­bolic crab ap­ple, Malus ‘Win­ter Gold’, and multi-stemmed cut­leaved alders to bal­ance the hard land­scape. Al­nus gluti­nosa ‘Lacini­ata’, in­tro­duced from France in 1705, fits per­fectly with her timeline. The gleam­ing sculp­ture at the heart of the gar­den (left), de­signed by Rosy and Robert, and known as the coc­co­sphere af­ter small ma­rine an­i­mals fos­silised in the chalk, rep­re­sents the crys­talline struc­ture re­spon­si­ble for per­co­lat­ing and pu­ri­fy­ing the wa­ter. Although it’s Rosy’s first foray on to Chelsea’s Main Av­enue, she cut her teeth build­ing seven show gar­dens at the Hamp­ton Court Palace Flower Show be­tween 2000 and 2007.

“Those gar­dens taught me that the same plant ma­te­rial can look for­mal or soft and bil­lowy, de­pend­ing on the hard land­scape,” she says.

Soft and bil­lowy is def­i­nitely Rosy’s style, and I can still re­mem­ber a sea of Echi­nacea pal­l­ida, with its swoon­ing pink petals, wo­ven through rich blue sea hol­lies. And with that it’s back to re­al­ity: she’s off to the poly­tun­nels to check that her plants are at the peak of per­fec­tion.

Con­tender: Rosy Hardy, above; the walk-through ‘coc­co­sphere’ sculp­ture, be­low, is rep­re­sented by the white form on the plan, above left

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