TV’s new garden transformers
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