Cooper-Hayes Garden Design win RHS Gold

Chris Cooper-Hayes - Friday, June 20, 2014

Chris is thrilled to announce that he is now the proud owner of an RHS Gold Medal for our winning entry at BBC Gardener's World Live! 

The garden design was a collaboration with Tony Harding of Seasoned Garden Designs, and was inspired by the works of our war poets whose words capture so vividly the horror of war. I had particularly wanted to do a garden along this theme to commemorate the Centenary of WW1, and this category offered the perfect opportunity to bring the concept to life.

RHS Gold Medal garden design Lutterworth Leicestershire

The idea was inspired by a poem by John Williams Streets entitled 'Matthew Copse'. Streets was an officer who found himself fighting near some woodland in the Somme, and he describes how this shattered copse would once again be filled with life, love and hope.

So nature flourishes amid decay,
Defiant of the fate that laid her low;
So Man in triumph scorning Death below
Visions the springtide of a purer day:

Dreams of the day when rampant there will rise
The flowers of Truth and Freedom from the blood
Of noble youth who died: when there will bud
The flower of Love from human sacrifice.

For our garden, we imagined our soldier on his way to war and finding a shady spot on the edge of the woods with a wildflower meadow before him. A tree stump provides his final resting spot before continuing his march into battle. Here he sits and writes his final poem. The brief was very emotive, and it is with some cruel satisfaction that I can say that it made most of the ladies in the RHS office cry! Armed with this knowledge we knew Poet's Last Rest had a powerful story to tell, and so it was now down to the integrity of the planting and the execution to bring the idea to life. Here Tony came into his own, being a hugely experienced plantsman, and the quality of our plants was exceptional.

Campanula persicifolia and ferns RHS Gold medal winning garden design in Lutterworth

Central to our design was a beautiful multi-stemmed silver birch (Betula jacquemontii) surrounded by swathes of Geranium 'Rozanne' and G. 'Spessart, Tiarella 'Crow Feather', Campanula persicifolia, foxgloves, Persicaria bistorta 'Superba', Sesily libanotis (Moon Carrot - my favourite in the end) plus masses of Dryopteris filix mas and shuttlecock ferns. This lush scheme was underplanted with Vinca minor which was draped across our little woodland path, and Ajuga reptans 'Valfredda' - commonly known as 'Bugle'! Tiny punctuations of Sisyrinchium 'E.K. Balls' erupted from beneath logs like tiny grenades of purple and yellow and looked fantastic. To the front was a meadow donated by It was filled with poppies, yet none flowered until the morning of judging, when one tiny poppy emerged to represent the one fallen soldier. It couldn't have been more poignant or perfectly timed!

To add an element of theatre, an army helmet was propped against the stump, upon which was placed the soldier's notebook and pencil complete with journal entries, pencil drawings and some terrible attempts at poetry by yours truly! It helped flesh out the idea and visitors and judges alike commented on just how touching they found the scene.

Gardener's World Live Best in show  garden design Lutterworth Leicestershire

Our garden was awarded full marks and a prestigious gold medal, which alone was just amazing. To then win best in show was a totally awesome feeling, and is one of the proudest days of my life. It was the attention to detail in both the quality of the plants, and the finishing touches that impressed the judges the most, and how we had made such an emotive brief come to life in such a small space.

Congratulations to Tony. I know how much this meant to him. Thanks to Caroline Wilcox and Pete Luke for the props and Richard and Amanda Knox for lending me an officers uniform to dress up in! Thanks to my family for putting up with me spending so much devoted to this, and to my amazing fellow garden designers who are all just brilliantly talented. You made my week at GWL simply fantastic. Here's to future medals!

Centenary Poppy Meadow by Chris Cooper-Hayes Garden Design Lutterworth Leicestershire

Lilly's getting into in the garden!

Chris Cooper-Hayes - Monday, June 02, 2014

This week sees Cooper-Hayes Garden Design undertaking a lovely little project to help some friends of mine who have had a lot to deal with over the past two years create a fantastic new garden for their young family. 

Lewis North, my terrifically talented hair stylist (he has to be talented to make my hair look good!), and his wife Sonia approached me to help them turn their unloved and overgrown back garden into something ultra-low maintenance and manageable. For the past few years, Lewis and Sonia have spent countless days and weeks in and out of hospital caring for their beautiful daughter Lilly, who at the age of two, was diagnosed with Wilms’ Tumour, an aggressive cancer of the kidneys. Lilly is winning her battle with the disease and is full of beans spending every waking moment playing with her new best friend Batman the dog, but with the arrival of their new baby, the couple have had neither the time nor energy to get to grips with their garden and it has got on top of them and is no fun for them all to be out in.

They were hoping they could initially just gravel or bark over the entire 9m x 5m garden to just take all the work out of managing the garden, but employing a garden designer to undertake this project was unnecessary and they wouldn't have got anything particularly great for their budget. Having initially suggested I couldn’t really help them, I came away from visiting the garden with the seed of an idea in my head: to pull together some help and goodwill from my business, landscaping and horticultural connections to do a ‘Ground Force’ style makeover in the space of a day or two, and create a garden that I hope will far exceed their expectations.

And so my little initiative began to take shape. Lewis and Sonia were thrilled at the idea I put forward and I was pleased to find that their initial desire for something rather sterile was replaced by an enthusiasm to make their garden a proper outdoor space with colour and life. I asked Lilly what she would like in her garden to be able to have more fun in it, and she said butterflies. It was that simple, and I have to say the best answer a little girl could have given me. It makes my goal easier - to introduce some plants that will draw the wildlife in and put life back into the space. She also loves pink. I think I can connect with my girly side somehow!

So I have assembled a small team of helpers. The excellent David Greaves of David Greaves Landscaping has agreed to give all his labour for free. Tony Harding of Seasoned Garden Designs is helping with the build and planting. I can’t tell you how much their support means to me. I am giving my time freely for designing and project managing and rolling up my sleeves to do all the odd jobs needed to help Lewis, Sonia and the kids can enjoy their garden, as they put the nightmare of the past few years behind them and spend some quality time in their own home being a family.

Thanks also to Steve Chadwick of Martin & Co Lettings Agents in Hinckley, and Priscilla Morris of Loud and Clear Voice Coaching for offering to buy something special for the garden. Their generosity means I can go and find a couple of lovely specimen trees and plants to attract the wildlife that Lilly is so desperate to see!

So on June 4th and 5th it will be all hands on deck, painting fences, digging, levelling, paving and planting to see just what can be achieved with a modest materials budget, some elbow grease and lot of kindness and generosity. I hope it will be a really fun and rewarding experience for all of us. I am looking for any extra offers of help to paint fences and prepare soil and plant the garden up (or make cake!). If you think you can spare an hour or two on either day, your help will be massively appreciated!

I look forward to sharing some photos of the finished garden once it is all done.

Small trees for attracting birds

Chris Cooper-Hayes - Thursday, April 03, 2014

The results of the latest RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch showed unsurprisingly that the number of birds visiting our gardens this winter fell slightly. 

The mild weather has meant natural food sources have been more abundant, and our efforts to encourage feathered friends to our seed feeders have been less successful. I have in the past spent a fortune on bagged seed, tried desperately to thwart the attacks of squirrels on the nut feeder, and Googled countless novel ways of persuading wildlife that my garden is the one they should pick to visit. Yes, MINE birdies ARE YOU LISTENING?!! 


Trouble is, nature doesn’t necessarily pay much attention to a psychedelic green luxury designer hanging bird spa with en-suite nesting facilities, when natural food sources and habitats are at hand. Our goal therefore is to turn our gardens into the number one all-inclusive tourist destination for birds and animals, where the accommodation is terrific and the food exceptional. However as a garden designer and wildlife lover, finding the balance of attracting wildlife while addressing the aesthetic and practical needs of homeowners and families is all part of the challenge of my work, especially in smaller gardens.

One of the big draws for birds is most definitely trees, and I would encourage anyone to have at least one tree in their garden however small the space. There are some ideal trees for small gardens that have ‘triple impact’, combining blossom in spring, followed by berries or fruit, plus stunning leaf colour come autumn. In a limited space, Amelanchier lamarkii (right) is pretty hard to beat. After a great show of spring blossom, the berries are a great food source for birds, and the colour in autumn is just beautiful. Sorbus aucuparia, or our native Rowan, is also excellent for birds. Evidence shows that birds prefer red berries so try ‘Sheerwater Seedling’ for an irresistible feast. Yellow berried (Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’) and white berried (Sorbus cashmiriana) species won’t be so tempting, with the latter being the last pilfered. 

Neither of these trees will dominate your garden, and will sit happily in a mixed border, or as a stand alone specimen bringing structure, colour, dappled shade and of course, fantastic wildlife appeal. Their importance can’t be underestimated in creating a corridor of sustenance in more urban areas, and a well chosen tree will enhance any garden immensely. So for the price of a sack or two of bird seed, you could plant a tree, and know that for years and years to come you will have a constant stream of avian visitors to your garden.

So what else can you do? Having stripped the trees bare of fruit, birds can be persuaded to extend their vacation by planting flowers with attractive seedheads such globe thistles, teasles, echinacea, asters, rudbeckia, alliums and of course sunflowers, to provide a longer supply of food through the tougher months when supply is scarce. Rather than chop plants down in winter, leave them to die back naturally. Not only will the seed be preserved for the birds, you will be treated to gorgeous wintery hues of browns that will look stunning crystallised by frost.

With the addition of a water source, coupled with some fruiting shrubbery such as Cotoneaster, or the fabulous hawthorn Crataegus monogyna to add to your eco-larder, and climbers such as ivy or honeysuckle for nesting, you may find the birds flocking to take up residence permanently! In return for your hospitality, they will repay you by eating slugs, aphids and other pests that make gardening life more challenging. Sounds win-win to me!

If you have any wildlife tips to share please feel free to comment below!