Monday, October 4, 2010

Southport Flower Show 2010 - How to build a Show Garden in 1 Week...

Hi everybody, sorry for being a bit late with the news but I have been incredibly busy with finishing the course and submitting my last piece of work – the soft landscape portfolio.

As you might have read in April- Momo and I won the 2010 Student Garden Design Competition for the Southport Flower Show. The price was 6000GBP which we used to build the garden at the show (19th-22rd of August 2010). The runner up was Selma Klophaus from the University of Weihenstephan (landscape architecture), Munich.

It was a great experience and I would love to give you some details on how we did it.

WEDNESDAY, 11th of August: After we both arrived we had a meeting with Lisa Taylor (Marketing Southport Flower Show) and Ian Hunt (the carpenter we asked to help us with all wood works) and visited the site- a cute 6x6m corner spot.

THURSDAY, 12th: When we arrived most of the other gardens were already nearly finished and already in the planting process- ups, pressure was up! Especially when Ian told us he would be coming on Sunday to start working on site.
Lisa told us that the garden has to be finished on Wednesday 1pm as the judges arrive around 2pm. Ok, we thought- easy!

When Keith (angel of the Southport Flower Show ;-))) ) came to first spray the plot, take of the lawn and then digg out what we wanted to be the pond we started to be very excited as this would really bet he first garden we build from scratch with our own hands!

Ian was so nice to drive us around Southport and show us garden centers where we could find sand and stones that we still needed to order.
Also we managed to rent a van to drive down to Oxfordshire to pick up the plants we had ordered in May.

FRIDAY, 13th: Bad omen... We spent the whole day on the road just to find out that the plants we ordered were not very well maintained and look absolutely awful. They either did not grow very well, or had already flowered. We were absolutely devastated as the planting was so important and finding the right plants in this short amount of time seemed to be absolutely impossible. Driving back north we made plans but our mood was not very positive.

SATURDAY, 14th: After a short night we unloaded the van to see our neighbours at the show laughing at us...especially as the Southport mail promised to show exciting flowers and plant combinations this year! OMG.

Chris Ashcroft, a local landscaper offered help and spent half a day to drive with us to some nurseries where we found some useful plants but most of what was offered was already over or did not suit our theme: coastal.

SUNDAY, 15th: At this stage I would like to mention that we love Southport! It is beautiful, the people are incredibly nice and helpful and even the weather was not too bad.
Ian and his team started building the pergola out of reclaimed wood, we mainly used euro palettes for the fence and also for the board walk. 

When Ian saw our plants he doubted the garden to look good. (Luckily he told us after everything was finished...)

So we went together to some more garden centers and finally found – expensive- but nice plants that would suit our requirements and would look absolutely awsome in the right combination. Coming back to the site the pergola was up and the ponds  filled with nice soft sand before we put the liner in. 

MONDAY, 16th: Time is running. We picked up the last plants at some nurseries but then faced the next challenge- it seamed to be impossible to buy grey/white or silver sand! All the sand we got offered was either yellow or red.

Massam supplies was the place to go to and Steve and his team tried everything to find the sand and pebbles we wanted. They ended up ordering sand from Yorkshire which got delivered the next day, one day before judging, phew.
The rest of monday we spend with emptying and filling the ponds to make the water look clean, which was not very easy but the guys from Tarleton Specimen Plants showed us a trick: you simply take a sheet of newspaper and carefully slide it over the top of the water. All the oily bits and pieces will stick to the paper!

Some last bits and pieces for Ian to change and prepare for tomorrow, including to wooden planters for  the two shrubs we bought- oh yes, he loved us ;-)...
When it started to get dark we had no light, so I drove the van to the plot to be able to see what I was planting. But wonderful Keith gave us a hand again and installed our private moon...
We worked until midnight when it rained so heavily that we walked home.

TUESDAY, 17th: By now we ran out of clothes, all wet and dirty- yak.
Arrival of pebbles and silver sand- we do not have enough! Arg.
The pond liner shows. Ian goes to the super market to buy aluminium foil and we cover up the pond liner. It will do for 3 days of the show...

We would normally suggest the use of aluminium sheets or stainless steel. The aluminium foil bounced back the light in the water and made the silver sand more shiny. Filling up the ponds and then facing the last challenge: The Door!

I always wanted to have a mirror door and Momo and I had some discussions about it. Ian had prepared a door for us and put mirror foil on one side but then ran out of foil and have a guess: no more foild available anywhere in Southport.

We then decided to spray paint the door. In the hardware store we found a bargain door for 15GBP which we bought plus a load of spray cans and Momo stared spraying the door.

The other landscapers kept coming to watch us and to offer help, which was very nice.
Momo started with the last planting. We took out the plants of their pots- normally you would plant them including the pots- but we wanted to have them more dense. It is quite amazing how many plants you can fit into one bed!

Worked again until midnight before falling into bed.

WEDNESDAY, 18th: Judgement day! We were sooo excited!
When we came to the site the water was gone low very much and we filled up the ponds again. Putting up the hammock that I prepared with a friend at home in Germany- she had sewn it out of marquee fabric to make it water proof and then I had friends from sailing who would help putting holes and strong eyelets into the corners. But would it be strong enough to hold me? It was! And also very comfortable! As it was windy and the hammock was flying in the wind I made little pebble weights to put at the corner lids.

Alright dear judges, we are ready!
Motivated by our competitors who thought we deserve a gold medal we went back from lunch to pick up Momo’s shoes just to see the judges in front of our garden. They kicked the door!!! They tried to open it- the sculpture! We should have taped it but were so speechless that we could not think quickly.

THURSDAY, 19th: The show started. David, the chief manager of the Southport Flower Show came arund to hand us our medal: Bronze. I can not describe how awful we felt, especially when seeing who of our competitors got golds...

When the judges came around to talk to us, we received the feedback:
-       The door is not functional.
-       When you stand in front of the door, you can nt see the garden. (???!)
-       The pebble package is a japanese symbol of „no entry“ – we should consider this fort he next garden we build.
-       The planting is great but does not correspond to our initial planting plan. (the one from March)

Fortunately one of the first visitors was a Supervisor from the Tate Liverpool who absolutely loved our garden and praised the harmony and balance of colours, planting and materials.
I mentioned this to the judges and gues what they said: „You should exhibit at the TATE then, shouldn’t you?“

Gavin Dermaid, one of the most famous garden designers came the next day to our garden and gave us the best advise: „Never listen to judges but stick to your ideas and your design.“
He liked what we had done and praised the garden at the Ladies Day Lunch later on.

Over all we were happy with our first garden and so were the people who visited, some liked the door, some not but on all of them I could see a change of facial expression when they came near our garden, and that was all that mattered to me! They were happy. What else do you want to achieve?!

We would like to thank the following people for their help and support:
Lisa Taylor, David Jackson, Keith, Tracy and Steve from the Ambassador Townhouse (awsome!!!), Ian Hunt and his team, Tarleton Specimen Plants, Lady Green Nursery, Chris Ashcroft, Muddy Boots, Massams Supplies.

photographs: Alex Lehne, Momo Pino, Southport Flowershow


  1. Eek! What a big bunch of numpties the judges are. Your garden is cool!

  2. Thanks Tracy! We thought so too... ;-)))

  3. Well I think your garden was Great - guess I'll never be invited to judge at Southport now ;-)


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