Posted 14th Apr 2016
In celebration of National Gardening Week (11th to 17th April), we spoke to award-winning garden designer, Richard Lucas, about designing the Peter Rabbit Garden at The World of Beatrix Potter and exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower Show
You designed the Peter Rabbit Garden at The World of Beatrix Potter, what is your favourite part of the garden?
I don’t know where to start! Being a small garden, I felt it was important to include as many special features as possible. I love the areas that replicate scenes from Beatrix Potter’s illustrations, but what I like most is the attention to detail. A favourite detail of mine are the empty snail shells that I collected and gave a few coats of varnish to before positioning them in nooks and crannies around the garden. I smile every time I see one.
What was the biggest challenge you had whilst working on the garden?
Every new design project is a challenge and the area for the attraction’s garden was no different. It was an unusual shape, had changes in level and had to accommodate adults, children, pushchairs and wheelchairs. I think the biggest challenge was fitting everything in. ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ was my biggest inspiration, but I wove in details, scenes and plants from many of the books. Visitors sit down to admire Mr McGregor’s vegetable patch unaware the oak bench they're sitting on is a replica from ‘The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit’ and that it was made by Matt Ainsworth, a specialist joiner based in Sawrey, whose great grandfather was Beatrix Potter’s shepherd at Hill Top.
The garden includes some traditional varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs from Beatrix Potter's illustrations. What were among the most unusual and where did you find them?
My first task was identifying all of the plants in Beatrix Potter’s illustrations. I produced a long list of the plants and proceeded with finding out about them. Many of the varieties are still grown today and we grow them in the attraction’s garden. However, there was an unusual variety of radish that is no longer widely available. I found out it was a variety called ‘Long Scarlet’ and it dated from 1868, so I contacted The Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic who supplied us with some seed. Now, The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction are the seed guardians for this variety and supply seed back to the Heritage Seed Library every year for preservation.
For readers starting up their own allotment for the first time, what advice would you give them to help grow and manage it successfully?
I would recommend drawing a plan to start with. I would also suggest having narrow beds that you never walk on, but just reach in from the sides. If you can build raised beds that’s even better, both options preserve the soil structure so plants grow and there’s less digging involved. I think that the layout of an allotment is really important, the easier it is to use, the more enjoyable it will be. On my allotment I'm always improving the soil, as the better the soil is the better your produce will be. I also use a straw-based organic mulch on the beds to suppress weeds. I think my best advice would be to ask your allotment neighbours their tips, as they will know what grows best in that location.
You have exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show. How did that come about?
In 2004 I had been working with Eighties pop star Kim Wilde in the Lake District and she suggested we team up and design a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show. We did, and in 2005 our ‘Cumbrian Fellside Garden’ was awarded an RHS Gold Medal, the RHS ‘Best in Category’ award and also the BBC People's Award. It was 2014 before I had another garden at Chelsea and this time it was ‘The Peter Rabbit Herb Garden’, which was sponsored by ‘The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction’ and showcased the garden I had already designed for them. This Chelsea garden also achieved an RHS Gold Medal. Taking part in the Chelsea Flower Show is a rewarding experience, but involves a huge amount of hard work. It all becomes worth it when you see the finished result.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment? Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
I find every job exciting and I'm lucky to always have a variety of projects to work on. At the moment I'm redesigning a public garden in the Isle of Man, where I'm introducing some national plant collections. I'm also currently involved in planting wild flower meadows, arboretums and designing new kitchen gardens. Having said all of that, another garden at The Chelsea Flower Show would be really exciting.