Article featured on www.fennelandferm.co.uk [October 2010]
Sometimes life brings along some real surprises. Being approached by the most renowned Italian cook, Antonio Carluccio, to design and landscape his garden was certainly one of those moments. It all came about through exhibiting a small back-to-back garden, ‘Be Fruitful’, at the 2009 RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park. Bizarrely [the Gods must have been looking out for me] the details of my fruit-themed garden had been passed on to BBC Breakfast, who in turn contacted me to find out if I would be up for their early morning live slot to talk about all things fruity. Obviously, and incredibly nervously, I said ‘yeah ok’. Antonio happened to be watching the morning I was featured and happened to have just bought a new property that had a garden that needed some attention.
Antonio’s fruit garden is inspired by the ‘Be fruitful’ show garden as he liked many elements of the design. The show garden set out to challenge the way we perceive growing fruit, no longer relegating it next to the compost bins but bringing it to the forefront and mixing it with ornamental perennials, grasses and roses. The design was contemporary, with clean lines, white rendered walls to reflect light and raised beds to allow for easy maintenance. You can see some pictures of it here.
Antonio’s garden embodies most of these features as well as fourteen different varieties of fruit. The brief included a number of practical requirements: a workshop; plenty of space for entertaining; an area for a barbeque and spacious raised beds. A variety of fruits, as much grass as possible and a ‘herbery’ were also on the wish list.
The layout of the garden maximises the most sunniest aspect for the main raised bed planting area; critical for ripening those fruits. A large circular lawn is central to the garden with a raised curved area of Balau decking leading into Antonio’s dining room. Following the line of the curve from the lawn is the spacious SW facing raised bed, rendered and painted white to give a very clean and modern feel.
The ornamental planting is a mixture of perennials, grasses, bulbs, small shrubs and roses to give that all-important interest through the seasons. Many of the flowering plants have been selected to attract butterflies and bees, for example various Alliums, Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet’, Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. Others have been chosen for their scent Dianthus Firestar, Lavender angustifolia and dwarf stocks; all with a colour palette of rich reds, purples, pinks and white.
The garden features three half standard specimen fruit trees, a Cox Apple, Quince Vranja and Oullins Golden Gage, planted in the main raised bed to give height to the garden and to act as a screen to neighbouring houses. More espalier/fan trained fruit trees including another apple; a peach and two double U cordon pears are being trained along stainless steel cables. Soft fruits include strawberries, blueberry bushes, rhubarb, gooseberry, raspberry, tayberry, blackberry and a grapevine… certainly enough for a fruity feast!
The raised ‘herbery’ bed includes a number of herbs Antonio is particularly partial to … Italian flat-leaf parsley Petroselinum crispum var. Neapolitanum, garden sage Salvia officinalis, rosemary and wild garlic Allium ursinum along with many more.
Selecting fruit for the best flavours and textures was probably one of THE most daunting tasks; especially as the opportunity of tasting varieties was impossible - it was the middle of winter! The strawberries I could guarantee as I inherited an unknown variety that tastes divine, it was just a matter of making sure I had enough good-sized specimens [selected from the previous year’s runners]. For the other fruit, research and cross-referencing research on tastes was the only option. Thankfully I seem to have chosen well as the feedback has been very positive – especially the savouring of the single quince!