Blogger: Alex Johnson, Garden Designer: DesignWild Associates

It is with heart in mouth that designers go back to gardens that they have designed. In my case, I had less to fear, having seen photos of the [RSPB Flatford Wildlife] garden taken in the two years since its completion, and heard from my design partner Catherine Heatherington who had made some visits in the interim.

During its conception, a garden lives in the imaginations of its designers vividly and constantly. In the case of the RSPB Wildlife Garden at Flatford, which was 2 years in the design stages, we knew it intimately before any digger had turned a single sod.

Sooo…how had the garden developed and matured since those heady exciting days? What plants had done well and what had foundered? And which had become thugs? And most importantly how is the wildlife faring?

Shirley [Boyle, Project Officer] kindly allowed me to go to the garden before opening time, in order to see it alone, and take photographs without annoying the public. Parking the car, I actually felt a bit sick with anticipation, but I needn’t have worried.

My first impression was of calm, and it was evident that the birds and the bees now owned the garden. The planting has matured well, and the spaces and views we designed seem to have fulfilled their promise.

I was delighted by how well the garden has been maintained, not only keeping the garden in good shape, but also guiding it towards the shared aims which we all had, to create a garden in which the public, families, and schoolchildren could come and see how natural and achievable it is to create a garden which is both beautiful and wildlife friendly.

Plants (both dead and alive – there are some wonderful log piles) will do the work of providing habitats and food for birds and insects, and they don’t have to be native plants. Some plants have “over delivered” – who would have thought that “lamb’s ears” Stachys byzantina would be so forceful, and as for that innocent looking little woodland strawberry…. There are other plants which were a bit of a risk in that they might not have thrived, such as Ceratostigma, and Hypericum citrinum, and they have blossomed, in every way.

We included hyssop for its value for bees, but even so I was thrilled by how much the bees were loving it here. A development which I thoroughly applaud is the brushwood at the base of the hornbeam hedge – brilliant cover, and habitat for lots of animals and fungi,  conferring on the young hedge many of the benefits of a mature one

It was exciting for me to see the visitor centre up and running, and the volunteers preparing for a day of questions and activities.

It felt as if the garden is in very safe hands, led by Shirley. There comes a moment with gardens, as with children, where designers/parents have to push them off into the world and hope for the best. Our baby is obviously up and away!

Alex Johnson,    August 2013 DesignWild Associates:

Editor's Note: Want to be inspired about what to do in your garden then why not visit Flatford. The second burst of the Giving Nature a Home TV advert starts on Saturday 19 October and runs until Sunday 10 November. Let us know if you see it.