Urban gardener, Cleve West: School's out

The sculptor Johnny Woodford once gave me the nickname "Reckless West". While I loved the punk era of the late Seventies/early Eighties (which fuelled an early desire to use shock tactics in gardens), my conservative dress code and pathetic constitution for drink or drugs failed to ignite the wild-child within.

The name crossed my mind at the end of April, when I planted several tomato plants outside at the allotment, a good month before any self-respecting horticulturist will advise. It wasn't so much being reckless, more desperate to make space in my greenhouse where the good weather had caused an unprecedented surge of growth. Lettuce, coriander and basil were already being harvested from containers and we needed space to start the next batch of successional salads, not to mention our beans and cucurbits. Something had to go and, as we had gone slightly overboard with our tomatoes (largely because of the success with our outdoor tomatoes last year), they seemed perfect for the job. If they were damaged by frost then there were plenty of others lined up to replace them.

Six plants also found their way to a teaching garden I've designed at RHS Wisley, and I've since learnt that more than one eyebrow was raised. I don't blame them. Bad gardening practice must surely be frowned upon in a garden that is trying to promote learning. But, if the tomatoes survive, there's an obvious educational point to be made here about climate change, so I left it to the discretion of Andrea Fowler, who has recently taken charge of the garden, as to whether they should stay.

The garden, together with Wisley's stunning new glasshouse (behind which the teaching garden sits), will open later this month as an educational tool for visiting primary schools. In comparison to the drama of the rock feature and "Root Zone" within the building, it is quietly understated. A mud wall with a sound pipe is probably the most exciting element you'll find in the garden (it's the bit I'm fond of, anyway), though I suppose the shed with an eye-shaped window might advertise the fact that it's been designed for children.

Teaching gardens are perhaps the more challenging projects. They have to address a whole list of issues that relate to education (ie, what children, teachers, steering groups and sponsors would like to see) without detracting from the most important rule of thumb from a design point of view - keep it simple. We agreed from the outset that it should be more of a garden than a theme park. Disneyfying it with bright colours, play-structures and buttons to press for information ignores the one thing that children have an infinite supply of … imagination. The only button to press in this garden will, I hope, be somewhere in the mind. The garden, therefore, is meant to give a flavour of what Wisley has to offer and provide enough inspiration for teachers to formulate a lesson-plan for any subject in the curriculum.

Choosing enough different plants to make it interesting from a teaching point of view meant that huge brush-strokes of planting were impossible, and I have been guilty of looking rather enviously over our mud wall at the bands of perennials that have been orchestrated by designer Tom Stuart-Smith.

Naturally, my palette has been influenced by colour, shape, texture and scent; whether the plant has any use (medicinal, culinary or practical); or simply, as in the case of Abelia grandiflora, because they are the first in the plant index - for the garden isn't just about horticulture. Teachers will use the space to inspire learning in any subject, from biology to art and poetry to domestic science. Needless to say, the spectre of climate change will be accentuated because the tomatoes survived my touch of recklessness. Whether this will be the norm from now on, who knows? What the children visiting the teaching garden may reap in the next 50 years is anyone's guess. Without wanting to sound too morbid, let's hope they learn from our mistakes.

Wisley's new greenhouse and teaching garden is now open. For more details, call 0845 260 9000 or visit www.rhs.org.uk/wisley

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Workshop Deputy & Production Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A rare and exciting role has arisen within thi...

Recruitment Genius: HR Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a keen...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this multi-ac...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Specialist

£21000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an e...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat