Makeover magic

TV’s new gar­den trans­form­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

They were the talk of Chelsea 2015 with their mov­able shack on rails. Now Harry and David Rich, the gold-medal­win­ning broth­ers from Wales with heaps of charisma and in­no­va­tive de­sign ideas (as well as good looks), have teamed up with Char­lie Dim­mock for a new day­time BBC show, Gar­den Res­cue.

The broth­ers (still both just about in their 20s) didn’t watch Ground Force, which at its peak in 2000, when Dim­mock’s cal­en­dar out­sold that of the un­der­wear model Caprice, had 12 mil­lion view­ers. “We were aware of the pro­gramme but weren’t at an age when we were likely to ap­pre­ci­ate its im­pact,” says Harry Rich. “We were still young kids, dig­ging up worms and col­lect­ing snails.” Ground Force was axed in 2005. Ac­cord­ing to Mark Thomp­son, then di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the BBC, it had “reached the end of its nat­u­ral life”.

There have been shows since that have had a stab at fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar for­mat, but noth­ing has quite had the same suc­cess. “Our pro­gramme is dif­fer­ent and re­fresh­ing,” says Harry. And why is that? “Be­cause David and I are pre­sent­ing it!”

Gar­den Res­cue fol­lows the Rich broth­ers and Dim­mock as they pitch sep­a­rate de­signs to home own­ers and let them de­cide which one they like best. The three of them then cre­ate the gar­den to­gether over just two days. (Dim­mock was, says Harry, “a lit­tle bossy at times”.) “So we have to re­ally con­sider what is pos­si­ble to do in that time,” says David. “It was the hard­est work and long­est hours we’ve ever had to do.” They are work­ing with real bud­gets from home own­ers, rang­ing from £1,000 to £8,000, to res­cue unloved and un­der­used gar­dens. “One of the first ‘gar­dens’ we saw was just cracked con­crete rub­bish,’’ says David. “There wasn’t a sin­gle plant in there.” Al­though the broth­ers and Dim­mock have dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to de­sign, they agree there is not much you can do for £1,000 when you are work­ing with a gar­den in dire straits. That pre­sented the big­gest chal­lenge. “That is when you see us and Char­lie com­ing up with sim­i­lar ideas and con­cepts for the space,” says David. “When you have such a lim­ited bud­get you have to fo­cus on the nec­es­saries.” At the top end of the bud­get they were able to cre­ate “awe­some” gar­dens. A favourite is a Ja­panese-in­spired gar­den with a 10-ton boulder that they dug up from a farmer’s field. Dim­mock says it was daunt­ing show­ing her de­signs next to those of the Riches. “I felt out of my depth to say the least,” she says. “You have to re­mem­ber I am not a gar­den de­signer. I’m a gar­dener who has some ba­sic de­sign skills. They are Chelsea Flower Show gold medal win­ners.”

She says the broth­ers talked a lot about the ex­pe­ri­ence peo­ple would have in their gar­den. “The boys would take one or two ele­ments from the brief and then of­fer some­thing quite rad­i­cal. I tended to tick ev­ery box that had been re­quested,” she says. “On many oc­ca­sions the way in which Harry and David ap­proached the de­sign just hadn’t en­tered my brain.”

“The way we ap­proach it is sim­ply about ex­tend­ing the liv­ing space,” says Harry. “We also tried to in­volve peo­ple’s life­styles and fo­cus on their hob­bies to cre­ate gar­dens that work for them as in­di­vid­u­als. One lady liked macropho­tog­ra­phy and we used that as the start­ing point for our de­sign.

“Peo­ple are much more in­formed about de­sign these days,” he adds. “You can tell that from the in­te­ri­ors of their houses. But the in­te­ri­ors were not al­ways de­signed to our taste so we had to com­pro­mise.”

David says they had a lot of re­quests for “con­tem­po­rary” gar­dens and Dim­mock agrees that there seems to have been a shift in the aes­thetic peo­ple hope for. “The prob­lem is that ev­ery­one has a very dif­fer­ent idea of what ‘con­tem­po­rary’ means,” she says.

“There were a few homes where the in­te­ri­ors were the sort of con­tem­po­rary that you could mur­der some­one in and wipe it clean,” says David.

Dim­mock and the broth­ers of­fer dis­tinc­tive styles when it comes to plant­ing schemes. Though Harry is quick to say “we don’t only do nat­u­ral plant­ing schemes”, the broth­ers do tend to favour this ap­proach, whereas Dim­mock, ac­cord­ing to Harry, is “more cot­tagey”.

“They would take the mickey out of me if I used a var­ie­gated plant or a plant with re­ally bright flow­ers,” says Dim­mock. “That is just not their thing.” She says if they were work­ing on a de­sign by the Rich broth­ers, there was “ab­so­lutely no com­pro­mis­ing on the de­sign or the plant­ing scheme”, whereas she was much more open to “blend­ing ideas” as they un­der­took the process of cre­at­ing the gar­den.

A change Dim­mock has seen since the days of Ground Force is how many peo­ple want to cre­ate an area for wildlife. A lot of what the broth­ers do suits this. “We use a lot of grasses, which hold their form in win­ter and not only look gor­geous but in­sects and birds love them,” says David.

“We also like to use phlomis and echi­nacea, which have lovely dead­heads,” he adds. “The way we ap­proach plant­ing schemes is to think about the re­la­tion­ships plants have through­out the sea­son, not just in sum­mer, be­cause it is al­ways bet­ter for wildlife to leave the dead­heads.”

There are even echoes of the broth­ers’ fa­mous mov­ing shack in the TV series, al­beit on less of a grand scale than at Chelsea. “Char­lie came up with the idea for a plant­ing box on wheels which we thought was pretty cool,” says Harry. “You can wheel it against a wall for shel­ter from the weather and you could quite eas­ily plant one up with herbs to have next to a bar­be­cue area.” To make your own mo­bile planter, add ro­bust cast­ers to an ex­ist­ing con­tainer or place a large pot on a heavy-duty plant cad­die (from gar­den cen­tres). Way­fair.co.uk sells ver­sions in three sizes from £129.

“Over the series we had re­quests to in­clude fruit and veg­eta­bles in plant­ing schemes,” says Harry. “Peo­ple are keen to grow their own and any­one with kids was in­ter­ested in the idea of graz­ing soft fruits.” You’ll need ver­ti­cal up­rights and wire to sup­port rasp­ber­ries. The broth­ers rec­om­mend the ever­bear­ing va­ri­ety ‘Glen Am­ple’, which has good dis­ease re­sis­tance. They would also plant He­le­nium ‘Mo­er­heim Beauty’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ to com­ple­ment the rasp­ber­ries.

The broth­ers are also keen users of meadow turf, which has seen a rise in pop­u­lar­ity in re­cent years. Dim­mock, how­ever, is scep­ti­cal.

“I am in­trigued about how it will de­velop over time,” she says. “I was al­ways told that soil needs to be poor to make a suc­cess of a meadow be­cause oth­er­wise the more vig­or­ous plants take over. I can see the ox-eye daisy be­com­ing very dom­i­nant in ar­eas where meadow turf has been laid, rather than some of the more choice plants.”

The way the broth­ers talk about meadow turf, it is as if they have a slap-it-down ap­proach for in­stant im­pact, but they are not try­ing to ex­ert com­plete con­trol over their gar­dens. “We like the idea of let­ting plants self-seed and evolve,” says Harry. “Our phi­los­o­phy is to ex­per­i­ment and have fun.

“Yes, we like meadow turf and we have our favourite hardy peren­ni­als – aqui­le­gias, fox­gloves, helle­bores – but it’s in­ter­est­ing to let things nat­u­ralise and see where they pop up again af­ter a few years.”

Gar­den Res­cue, BBC One, 3.25pm weekdays, un­til Au­gust 5

‘The hard­est work and long­est hours we’ve ever had’

Res­cue me: Harry and David Rich (left) with Char­lie Dim­mock (right) and ‘res­cuees’ Nic and Kathryn; ‘Glen Am­ple’ rasp­ber­ries, above; He­le­nium ‘Mo­er­heim Beauty’, left; planter, in three sizes, from £129, way­fair.co.uk

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