Creating a green and pleasant land that Capability Brown would be proud of…

Victoria Truman

Kent-based garden and landscape designer Victoria Truman offers her advice and tips for making the most of your plot

The design process for my show garden at this year’s Hampton Court event started almost a year ago. The pitch was to create the perfect garden in a special one-off category that marked the tercentenary year of the esteemed landscape gardener Capability Brown.

I was lucky enough to be one of just three designers who were awarded funding by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in order to build my garden. I was very excited about this but knew that a busy yet ultimately rewarding time lay ahead of me and my team.

I soon had the concept and title for my show: ‘Reflecting the Landscape’ which is a contemporary homage to Brown’s famous 18th century landscaping techniques and in it I used serpentine landforms which helped to create the illusion of a valley.

My design also incorporated a turfed bench which allows the visitor to sit and contemplate the surrounding countryside which is visible between and beneath the canopies of the trees I also used in my design.

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was born 300 years ago and was most famous for introducing new design concepts which favoured naturalistic landscapes over fussy, formal and patterned styles. He became a pioneer in the gardening world and is seen by many as ‘England’s greatest gardener’. The ‘Capability’ tag came about because of his love of talking about a country estate as having a great ‘capability’ for improvement.

Hampton Court

When we arrived on site at Hampton Court last week we had a totally blank canvas to transform my design drawings and mood boards, inspired by Capability’s feted 18th century work at places such as Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth, into a reality.

At first it was hard to envisage how we would do this given there were sixty tonnes of dirt piled onto the middle of our space but we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Before we knew it though the rain was lashing down and suddenly our site was flooded – English summer at its best I thought to myself…

As a result of such inclement weather the build actually started in earnest a day later than we had imagined. When the digger finally arrived onsite the landscape team, captained by Andrew Stringer, and I started to make two – and at this point – very unshapely mounds.

The next day we spent twelve hours raking and forming them into the beautifully sculpted landforms that I envisaged in my head.

The four signature trees I was including in my design were then hoisted and lifted into place which involved another two hours of turning and rejigging their positions until I was happy to allow them to be planted.

Next day was turfing day and although this started well, like all landscaping jobs we knew that we had to expect the unexpected! Good job we had strong spirit as suddenly there was no water onsite – on the very day we needed it most. While one of the huge marquees was being put up one of its meter long poles was accidentally spiked into the mains water pipe belonging to the palace. So now we had no running water and no rain to rely on as a back-up plan!

Victoria Truman

The next day I headed back up the M25 to Hampton Court and started work at 5am to ensure the turf was thoroughly watered before it died and ruined my whole show garden.

Fast forward to Sunday, the day before the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show officially opened to the press, and my team and I spent four hours titivating, combing grass and taking any dead or bitten leaves from the trees in order to be ready for the first round of judging the following day.

That was on Monday, July 4, and what a sweet, sweet day it was for me and my team! My show garden not only won a gold medal but also the best Capability Brown Garden. We were all completely thrilled and could finally celebrate all our hard work.

So if you’re visiting Hampton Court this week please do come and say hello and enjoy having a look around my RHS Gold Medal winning garden ‘Reflecting The Landscape’.

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