The Stockman's Retreat and WorldSkills TeamUK
The journey to RHS Hampton Court with the WorldSkills Garden began last winter when I was introduced to the team of young men who had competed to receive training in Landscape Gardening under the UK Skills programme. It is an incredible initiative that is run by the National Apprenticeship Service and deserves more recognition for the active part it is playing in providing training and experience to young men and women who are then able to forge careers and contribute to the UK.
The WorldSkills TeamUK at The Stockman's Retreat Show Garden
The WorldSkills Garden at Hampton Court Palace Show was developed to provide a realistic training exercise in the run up to October's competition and to let everyone know about the great work of these young men and the training team behind them.
As the garden in the Competition has to incorporate a variety of hard landscaping techniques to test their skills, I decided to use that as a basis of the design for the Hampton Court garden. I thought in order to really learn about the plant material and using plants in the right conditions, a range of plant habitats should be created; the resulting design was a stylised version of what could be a natural British landscape setting.
"The stone and brick building - which gave us the garden name 'The Stockman's Retreat'"
A stone and brick building - which gave us the garden name 'The Stockman's Retreat' - sits at the rear of the exhibit and allowed us to bring in the Bricklayer 'TeamUK' team. It was finished with a green roof and is surrounded by woodland trees, ferns and hostas. When we were all working together onsite I was stunned by the attention to detail the guys were prepared to go to and it was decided that they would embellish the front of the building with some alcoves and a traditional boot scrapper.
We then constructed a natural spring which initially had a pump in it to rival the large fountain in Hampton Court Palace's Long Water which wasn't quite the effect we were after! So after a bit of tweaking we were happy with a delicate trickle down into our natural pond. We then brought in the Team UK stonemasons who made the four stone spheres - some of them they made off site and a couple were worked onsite in front of the team which was just amazing to see.
Left to right: Helianthus salicifolius, Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue', Monarda 'Gardenview Scarlet'
Whilst the hard landscape works were being completed my work with the lads began in earnest on the vast amount of planting that needed to go into the scheme. We had some beautiful large trees which helped give the garden its maturity and presence - it's always fun and challenging working with big plant material and then came the wildflower turf to create the wilder areas of the garden but after this framework went in there was just no hiding from it, we had to start planting the 1000's of herbaceous plants! Now time was tight because although you are allowed 3 weeks to construct the garden the team were actually taking part in their final team selection during the first week of build so even though we made a start with marking out and getting deliveries in we couldn't really start properly until the second week.
On a garden of this scale the slower start was going to be a real challenge - so we had some very long days ahead of us. I like running so my day started with a 3 mile run to site and every day we worked for around 12-13 hours with us just managing to get back before food stopped being served! It was worth it though because the team camaraderie really builds under these circumstances and the mood onsite was always buoyant and with a clear focus on the task. The lads did really well working in a variety of weather conditions and with a site that had a lot of people working all over it.
The last day saw us still planting but with the knowledge that we would complete on time and when we stood back at the end it really looked as though the plants had been in the ground for weeks - they were already settling and looking good. The final details were put into place with daisys pushed into nooks and crevices of the fantastic stone wall which was created by the UK's top stonewallers, weeds added to the cart track and a final tweak of the plants to ensure they looked their best.
It has been a fantastic project to work on because we didn't bring in an experienced landscape contractor, we worked with skilled teams who never normally work together and it provided a real learning experience for the team that will have to do their next challenge solo and for which we wish them all the best. I shall be watching them with keen interest and admiration.
Chris Beardshaw is a garden writer, broadcaster and designer.