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Alice Garden, June 2015 designed by Lorraine Cavanagh.

150 Years of Alice in Wonderland.

A few weeks ago, I visited a garden with my partner Merv; the client has a raised bed in full view of the swimming pool and patio area of the house with a large old olive tree in the centre and

she was struggling to think of ideas to make such an important position look good. Previous owners of the house had left a collection of ceramic toadstools and, the current owner, in desperation, had painted them crazy colours and scattered them through the bed with varied plantings. But it looked disjointed

and spotty, had no real flow. I  suggested we group the toadstools, Merv joked like in Alice, and, from there, ideas flew.

If you were kind, you´d call it brain-storming but in reality it was more like the wacky races – maybe we all had a puff of whatever that caterpillar was smoking! People often ask where I get my ideas from – whether when designing a garden or writing an article – and it can be the most casual comment, something I read, a visual peek, really anything that lights the spark. The spark here was Alice.

My client loved the Alice in Wonderland book, she had studied it at school, she likes different and quirky and exudes uniqueness and exuberance

herself. So when I started bouncing ideas around, based on the book, she became very enthusiastic. On further research, I realised that this year is 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was first published and that sealed the project – we were to create an Alice Garden.

The team took the project to heart – who can resist such a delightful brief. They are well used to my “creative fancies”, or craziness as they call it, and this was one to really get the juices flowing! Yesterday we finished the garden and, yes, it looks delightful, beautiful with a very large dollop of total fantasy.

There are none of the characters physically present in the garden but what you do experience, and strongly, is their quintessential presence. At the entrance is the obligatory signpost to welcome you to the tea party – if you can find it!

And, tucked at its base, a rabbit hole surrounded by decorative grasses and hilly, hummocky plantings. We´ve mixed stipa tenuissima with pennisetum orientale rubrum to get flow and the feel of meadowland melding into little hummocks of pink flowering armeria maritima, the lovely little sea thrift mixed

with bellis perennis and the wandering erigeron karvanskianus for masses of little white daisy flowers studding the grassy scene.

A large black teapot pouring “tea” into a giant cup, our water feature, and here the colour scheme becomes vibrant to reflect the madness of the Tea Party. We have yellow and red anigozanthos, furry kangaroos paws each side of the tea pot with the long-flowering and showy bulbous plant ornithogalum

dubium in yellow and orange. Its black shiny fruits will reflect the striking black teapot surrounded by the tufty black grass, ophiopogon nigrens, interwoven with red and yellow gaillardia. As we wander through we reach the other-wordly jabberwocky plant, kalanchoe beharensis, wild and wacky with its huge felted leaves to conjure up the beast and the ground around is covered with sempervivum paw prints!

Lurking in the boughs of the olive tree is the Cheshire cat, painted by my daughter Grace. His “Long Tale” twitches in the breeze, “We´re All Mad Here” painted the length of it.

At the far corner of the Alice Garden there is a moody blue

area; there sits a large rock, misted blue, with a hookah pipe on

top – the presence of the caterpillar is strong! The wackily-

painted magic mushrooms are grouped here and plantings are

blue-purples, with a slightly sinister touch, hallucinogenics and

all! So we have shiny black-stemmed datura metel Blackberry

Swirl, drooping heads of dierama Blackbird, the rather sinister

bell flowers of penstemon Sour Grapes and deeply black

phormium tenax Black Adder. These dramatic colours are toned

with misty blue limonium or sea lavender, blue agapanthus Peter

Pan and hardy geranium Dusky Rose and heuchera Palace Purple

with their lovely burgundy foliage. Framing it all is a cotinus

coggygria Royal Purple with smoke-puff flowers!

“Who are you?” is painted along the blue fencing.

Turning the corner, there´s a crazy broken pot, with mini steps amongst succulent plantings – a little/large sort of world. A truly rustic doorway (designed and made by Merv) with large dangling key invites you to step into the heart of the olive tree!


The wonderful hibiscus coccineus with its marihuana type leaves and huge dusky red flowers frame the doorway and a jaunty lollipop plant, pachystachys lutea is understudded with astericus maritima, the gold coin plant! A towering angelica archangelica adds its presence to this topsy-turvy world and protects against

evil and witchcraftery!


Hanging from an overhead branch is my other daughter Maddie´s conception – a wind chime of large dangling keys and pocket watches. Never too late!

Leading you out of the garden is the Mad Hatter´s Hat – a large black-painted pot and plate complete with price tag 10/6 and woolly thyme plantings resembling cobwebs. The madness runs riot with achillea millefolium Paprika, yellow coreopsis and orange geum coccineum.

Whilst the structural features of the garden are essential to

the quirkiness, the plantings add great atmosphere and soul.

It´s a garden that will never bore because there are so many

details tucked in that you will forever be seeing it anew!

“I can´t go back to yesterday because I was a different person


It´s a garden we have all “fallen” for and I´m sure Lewis Carroll

would have approved.

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