Archive for April, 2010

Iris eyes are almost smiling

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Iris 'Jane Phillips'

A week today and we’re on site at the 2010 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There’s more than a touch of tingling excitiment as we are looking forward to getting this garden created and ready to show off to the visitors and, of course, the judges! Last minute details are being poured over from what crockery set to dress the table with to how all the plants are looking. Jonathan is commendibly overseeing everything to do with the aviary and Maggy Howarth’s stunning pebble mosaic: the aviary is being painted this weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished result!

This morning as I drove through Cambridge my heart had a somewhat large flutter when I saw some blue irises in full bloom in someone’s garden. We have Iris ‘Jane Phillips’ and Iris ‘Superstition’ in our Chelsea garden, being grown by Kelways (who are also growing paeonies and ferns for the garden). I know the ferns are looking good but a frantic e-mail on my return from Cambridge has gone to Dave at Kelways asking for photos of our irises. I’m really hoping they haven’t gone over! The picture above shows Iris ‘Jane Phillips’ at Brocket Hall. All our tulips at Jacques Amand are now in cold storage to hold them back: these will be the last plants we put in during the Saturday/Sunday before the show opens as any earlier and they will have gone over too much for the judges. Next week I’m going to see how the trees, hedging and shrubs are doing and I’m hoping that the beautiful medlars will be ready to flower in time for judging and show week.

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An eye for detail

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

This photo is of a section of the peacock’s tail, showing the wide range of pebbles which Maggy is using, including semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, for the mosaic which will form the path leading to the aviary in our garden. Thousands of pebbles and stones will be needed, so many in fact that Maggy announced today that she is running short and will have to make an excursion to Anglesey where she has a special licence to collect pebbles from a secret location which is owned by a titled gentleman there. I’m flabbergasted that with time running so short she has the time and energy to travel for five hours for the back-breaking task of hand-picking pebbles.
The lapis lazuli are mined in Afghanistan. Formerly, lapis lazuli was ground and processed to make the pigment ultramarine for tempera paint and, sometimes, oil paint. The ultramarine colour of the stone will be a perfect foil for the ultramarine paint on the aviary.
The picture below shows Maggy choosing the stone for the Peacock’s eye. She plumped for the one in her left hand.

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Painshill Park

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010


Philippa and I are at Painshill Park in Surrey for the recording of an interview for the BBC’s coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show.  The BBC need to prepare in advance pieces about each of the  show gardens for their “red button” facility and  for their website.  For this we have to pretend that the garden has been built and that we are at the Show standing in our garden.  This requires significant feats of imagination, with which we both struggle , so early in the day.  The interviews are taking place outdoors in an enchanting setting on a sunny morning.  There are frequent interruptions because of the noise of children, geese, tractors and sirens. We begin in bright sunshine under clear skies but clouds start to emerge and, for reasons of continuity, we have to stop shooting every time the sun goes in.  And so it’s stop start, stop start all morning so that before long our brains turn to mush.  But the BBC crew, who are no doubt used to this , are endlessly patient and helpful and see us through it.
But it will need some pretty nifty editing to produce anything worth watching

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The flight of the aviary

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The week after Easter, Mark Richardson and I visited Cumbria to discuss the step configuration at Kirkstone, look at some urns and containers and have the chance to see for our first time, progress on the aviary.

Nick Fecitt and his team at Kirkstone are clearly passionate about their product and work, taking the time to get all pieces of the three steps just right before cutting to shape. The warm spring weather and beautiful scenery in the Lakes added to the enjoyment of the day. After a jolly good lunch at Newby Bridge Hotel we went to Kendal to see the aviary. Tucked away in a warehouse on a trading estate next to the railway line is not the typical location you’d expect to find a key structure destined for the most prestigious horticultural show on earth! But here it was, the aviary in all it’s newly galvanised glory. This is some impressive structure and Mark and I were bowled over by the care and attention to details the guys from Cumbria have given to the building. They are now busy matching paint colour (we’re trying to get as close as possible to the aquamarine colour of the Waddesdson aviary) and finalising the ornate decorative embellishments, which will be painted in gold leaf.

Elsewhere, the slate from Kirkstone for the terrace and stone for the wall, in bags, is making it’s way down to Suffolk to Mark’s compound where the terrace will be dry constructed, each piece numbered and packed for delivery to Chelsea in just over two week’s time.

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Maggy Howarth’s Mosaic

Friday, April 16th, 2010


The mosaic which Maggy Howarth is creating for the Victorian Aviary garden is 12 square metres in size, which may not sound much but is the size of the average spare bedroom- in other words pretty damn massive when you think that it’s made entirely of pebbles. I went to Maggy’s workshop today to see how things were coming along. It’s about half finished, with the main part of the design, the Peacock, laid out in one enormous piece outside and the rest , including the border, in sections on several large tables in the workshop. I’m completely taken aback by the intricacy of the work and the quality of the craftsmanship. It’s awe-inspiring. . We checked the time table and Maggy gave a big gulp when I confirmed that the mosaic needs to be at Chelsea for May 13th, which is less than four weeks from now. Mark, her only assistant, is away installing a mosaic in Gatehead. As soon as he gets back, it will be flat out for them both until the mosaic is safely installed.

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Pineapple Chunks at Kirkstone

Thursday, April 8th, 2010


When Sally and I first visited Kirkstone in January it was so cold that Sally’s toes turned to ice and took hours to recover. What a contrast with today- the sun is so fierce that I have to wear a hat to protect my head from sunburn. I’m at Kirkstone with Philippa and Mark for what will probably be our last visit before the show. We have come to discuss the steps and we need to decide how best to lay the slate which will cover them. Nick goes through the options and recommends that we lay the slate in a “pineapple chunk” pattern, which will form a good contrast with the slate on the floor of the Aviary. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the craftsmen who would have tackled the problem in Victorian times. “Pineapple chunks” is probably not the technical term they would have used. But we get the gist and pineapple chunks it is. Nick has a full size template and lays out the slate as he would like it to be, marking the pattern with chalk. His attention to detail is impressive and after 90 minutes of discussion we leave in good spirits, warmed by the sun.

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