Sheila Dearing : Garden Designer


NEC SHOW GARDEN "Forest to Fork"

View of the show garden

NEC show garden

Original design plan

Fruit trees underplanted

Diagonal pattern of raised beds



At the beginning of 2009 I won a national competition run by the NS&I; the prize was to build my design at the Gardeners' World Live Show at the NEC in June. The theme of the competition was 'Growing Gardens Today' and the brief was to build a garden with a strong productive element for 5000 that would appeal to the modern gardener with sustainability in mind.

The Design

My winning garden design was inspired by the seven layers of vegetation found in the natural ecosystem of the forest; tree canopy (apple, cherry and hazel trees); low tree layer (greengage fan, ivy covered posts, hanging baskets); shrub layer (blueberries, cranberries, rosemary, lavender); herbaceous layer (mint, artichokes, fennel); ground cover (thyme, salads, chard); vertical layer (vines, nasturtiums, beans) and rhizophere (carrots, spring onions, beetroot). I even included mushroom logs inoculated with Shiitake spores to represent the fungi found on fallen logs in the forest. Every plant (with the exception of the ivy!) had an edible element to it, be it flowers, stems, leaves, fruit, nuts, mushrooms or roots.

Living near to the sea, I wanted to bring a flavour of the coast to the Midlands. I therefore chose post and rope fences for the boundaries and also used rope as supports for the climbing beans. The gravel, decking, painted wood, glazed pots and glass all help to enhance the seaside feel.

I used FSC softwood throughout the garden to avoid the use of the more environmentally damaging materials such as concrete. I chose gravel as the ground surface; it is permeable and will allow the predicted increase in winter rainfall to penetrate to the ground rather than running off into the drains. Several of the plants can tolerate dry spells such as the Mediterranean herbs. I used a wide variety of plants to attract wildlife to the garden creating a balanced ecosystem that will regulate itself without the need for chemicals. A bird box attached to one of the posts was also included.

Design details add a modern feel to the garden. I designed and commissioned aluminium corner guards for the raised beds, wire mesh with glass mobile inserts and used crisply painted timber to link the whole garden together visually.

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Forest to Fork