The Best Of Times – Part 1

Last week I attended the annual Palmstead Conference, run by Palmstead Nurseries, at the Ashford International Hotel in Kent. I’ve been to every one of these since the inaugural conference in 2011 and as usual, this was a fun and informative event with several really good speakers, and we were very well fed and watered by the good people of Palmstead, with Nick Coslett as usual playing genial host. This year’s theme was ‘Design for Maintenance’ and, as usual, each speaker can address the theme as obliquely or as tangentially as they see fit – some speakers were a good fit whilst others linked to the theme tenuously but gave interesting talks nonetheless.

Noel Kingsbury kicked the morning off with a talk about the longevity (or not) of perennials, explaining why, from physiological reasons, some plants are more long-lived than others – with some of the plants we call perennials living for only 3-5 years, whilst others may go on for 20 or more years. A useful and informative talk from a man who knows his Alliums.

Colin Crosbie from the RHS gave useful insight into how two very different RHS borders are maintained, which underlined the labour-intensive and wasteful nature of the traditional English border relative to a well-planned modern perennial border, the latter being both far cheaper to maintain and having a far longer season of interest. Maybe he was preaching to the converted, but it was also good to remember that there are sound reasons underpinning the modern perennial garden and that less time maintaining a garden doesn’t necessarily mean a less beautiful garden, or foregoing seasonal interest.

Richard Sneesby got the tummy-rumbling spot before lunch and kept people’s interest up with a more in-depth look at Capital (initial) costs vs. Revenue (ongoing) costs, which, when more information is available, should make it much easier for us to have those hard conversations with clients, and to give sound reasoning for our design choices. I would have liked more information but i’m told this is being worked on and will be forthcoming. An interesting approach was that of working out how long it takes for the maintenance costs of a given treatment to equal its initial implementation cost, a good example being that the most high maintenance surface (lawn) takes only 1 year for the maintenance costs to equal the installation cost, whilst a well-planned border may take 8-10 years. Presumably a durable hard surface would take even longer.

Noel Farrer from the Landscape Institute gave a really interesting talk that was maybe the most tenuously linked to the theme, but I think we all let him off because of all the pretty pictures and because he was an engaging speaker – anyone that can keep you awake in the post-prandial slot is doing a good job. Having said that, I can’t remember what he actually spoke about. Sorry.

Dr Phil Askew from the London Legacy Development Corp. gave a great talk about the Olympic Park, keeping the approach fairly broad brush-stroke whilst showing us lots of pictures of the undeniably lovely park to look at. I never made it up for the games but I did go up as soon as the park opened publicly and I thought it a lovely landscape that the Design Team have every right to be proud of. The talk showed just what a monumental job it was to reclaim and renew this formerly barren, polluted wasteland, and also inspired the second, hopefully shorter part of this blog..

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