The mornings have started to become more crisp, the foliage is beginning to change and we are enjoying the beauty that autumn has to offer. It is a chance to slow down, pull out your favorite sweaters and catch up on some favorite reading. We reach far and deep with this weeks edition of Sunday Clippings, sharing some really interesting stories this week from around the globe. Click on the links below to enjoy. Have a wonderful Sunday..- James
The heat of the sun is on the rise here, signalling the onslaught of the Spanish summer. The days have consisted of continuing to plant the terrace up and then enjoying it out there on the warm nights. The weekends are for day trips out of Madrid to experience new friends gardens and the surrounding countryside. In between I have managed to squeeze in some good reads and I hope you find the following links as enjoyable as I have. Have a fantastic Sunday…. – James
Taunted and teased with spring blooms we are being lured to spend more and more time out of doors these days. Here are a mix of good articles and some of our favorite sites, which can always be found under the header Et Al. on the main page. Here’s to a glorious day and wonderful week, enjoy your Sunday Clippings. – James
Since speaking last, I have traded “¡Olé!” for allées and taken some time away from Spain to visit friends in the Netherlands, in a garden that has had so much influence on me. A few years ago, I spent some time here as a student and found the garden to have a large impact on my way of thinking about, experiencing, and approaching garden design. (This is where I read Sylvia Crowe’s book on garden design, which I was able to experience her ideas while walking around here.) DeWiersse has been in the same family and managed since 1678, so over the course of time, the gardens have been tweaked to a point of exquisite beauty while still remaining very much alive and loved. DeWiersse is in the eastern most part of Holland and is both a garden of 38 acres with a landscape park of 74 acres and has a moated manor house that lies at it’s heart. The garden is made up of many different areas including meadows, wild gardens, topiary, a formal rose garden, a large kitchen garden, allées and a sunken garden.
Typical of a Dutch style, parts of the more formal garden close to the house are enclosed within hedges of clipped Yew and while heading further away from the house, the style becomes more loose and fluid as it turns to wild garden and woodland, eventually blurring the lines between private garden and the existing farmland that lies beyond its boundaries. No detail is overlooked, which is what helps make DeWiersse a treasured experience but I will explain more as time goes on, giving attention to what makes these details so special.
I will leave you now with images, in the order of a stroll through the garden , of what is happening now, a visual teaser of sorts, a horticultural hors d’oeuvre to appease the appetite. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the cutting garden is calling my name….. Wishing you well….. -James
Fagus sylvatica, and all 95 meters of its serpentine tunnel. A smile is always necessary while walking through here, amazed at the incredible horticultural skills displayed, not only inviting you to look, but to engage in the marvel that it is. It is a feast not just for the eyes, but an exercise for all the senses.
In the modern age of travel, where speed and efficiency is a necessity, it is far and few between that a large public transportation hub beckons you with its beauty to stay and linger for a while. Sure, there are some beauties such as Grand Central Station that offer up visual delights in its main hall, but this place, Atocha Station, breaks all the normal rules of a train station. Rather than rushing through, governed by the need to reach your final destination, this station offers the chance to slow down and disconnect from the surrounding hustle and bustle, amidst a true urban jungle.
Atocha station is the largest operator of trains in Madrid, and due to the capital city’s central location , it is responsible for connecting some of the major cities throughout Spain. By way of high-speed trains, it is credited with getting commuters to and from places throughout the country, such as Seville, Zaragazova, and Barcelona and Valencia, the second and third largest cities respectively.
The original station was declared open during the winter of 1851 but forty years later it was destroyed by fire, rebuilt again by a man named Alberto de Palacio Elissagne. Fast forward to 1992, and the Atocha terminal saw itself undergoing a new renovation project, the installation of an indoor tropical garden that sits within the main concourse, of an expansive size of 4,0000 square meters (13, 123 sq.ft).
Overhead, glass skylights provide enough sufficient light to help over 7,000 plants tropical plants (and a fully stocked turtle pond) grow and live within this mesmerizing lush urban space. -James
When living in London, I found this small ceramic pot at a stall in Portobello Road. With 18 small holes covering the tiny pot, I was clueless as to its purpose until the woman selling explained that it was used to force crocus bulbs. Always finding a way to justify another addiction (ceramic containers this time), I purchased it, swearing to use it. During the end of autumn of last year, I purchased five dormant bulbs at the Colombia Road Flower Market for just a few pounds, choosing Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’, a large flowering early spring bulb, for my project.
The whole process from beginning to end took around 3 months, though I am sure this could be done a bit quicker when done again. All the materials I used was a container, the 5 dormant Crocus ‘Pickwick’, a small amount of moss, some free draining potting media, and a bit of gravel for the top.
Since I only had 5 bulbs (corms to be exact) and there are 18 openings, I started by lining the extra openings in the pot with a small amount of moss to prevent the potting media from spilling out. Adding soil as I went, I spaced 4 bulbs around the outside and one on top, always making sure the growing point was facing outwards or upwards. Then a small amount of gravel was placed on top to prevent soil from splashing when watered, help retain heat, and for aesthetic purposes. After completion, the pot was given a small drink of water, sat in the cold potting shed overnight and then placed outside. Thus begins the necessary first step of the process, the cold treatment.
In a few weeks’ time, green tips began emerging from the gravel topped pot and I knew that it wasn’t long before they could be moved to inside the glasshouse. The glasshouse at Gravetye, usually warmer than outside, was heated only during periods of extreme cold and had one heat lamp that was used only in the evenings. If it was a regularly heated glasshouse, the process would have been much quicker (If moving the pot from the outside cold treatment, it is best to not put it in too hot of a glasshouse immediately, or the plant will grow too quickly and leggy, resulting in a poor flower display). A few times throughout the process I gave a small amount of water to the pot, always making sure that the media was dry first to prevent overwatering, which could rot the bulbs.
When they were placed inside, the green strappy foliage with its white midribs emerged completely before the blooms. At eleven weeks into the process, the blooms themselves had fully emerged, almost dwarfing the container. When I started, I wondered if 5 bulbs was too many for this small pot, but am now eager to try again with more bulbs planted, though I am not sure as many as 18 would work due to spacing issues.
The warmer the temperature was, the more open the blooms would get, which is a reason 18 might be too many in this container, considering how multiple blooms emerge from a single bulb. With no doubt, anyone who saw them in this open state would comment on their beauty, clearly thirsty for color.
Taking the forced bulbs to my house to enjoy their color and markings only caused them to go over quicker since the radiators were on winter blast inside. Though they didn’t last too much longer, the process had the same excitement that I had as growing plants as a child. I am not even sure if it was Crocus ‘Pickwick’ either since there was more purple than striations on the petals and throat. Has anyone else forced Crocus bulbs? Any tip or story to share to make a more precise attempt next time? While winter has its fair share of beauty with the ice, snow, silhouettes, textures, seed heads and berries, the one department it can lack is color, and forcing the bulbs was one way to bring a splash of delight inside. The outside looks so pale in comparison…. – James
Perhaps one of the youngest, if not the most well-traveled nurserymen in North America, French-Canadian Philippe Lévesque operates a small-scale specialist nursery, Balmoral Gardens, northeast of Montreal, Quebec. Philippe carefully built up his nursery stock by importing and propagating plants from his North American and European forays. The stock includes herbaceous perennial and ornamental grass cultivars not yet widely distributed and uncommon in U.S., as well as untested for their full ornamental worthiness in warmer regions. Although the growing season is unmercifully short, herbaceous perennials perform beautifully in the warm days and cool nights, and combinations not achievable in warmer, milder climates can be created. In addition to his nursery, Philippe maintains a photographic library, Macrophylla Photography and his photographs are featured here.
Hello and can you introduce yourself?
Philippe Lévesque, Canadian gardener and owner of Balmoral Gardens, in New Brunswick, Canada
The arts or horticulture?
Aren’t the two intertwined? If I must choose, horticulture because I don’t have a very artistic hand and I could live without man-made things but not nature.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background…
I grew up here in Northern New Brunswick in a very ordinary place, went to Guelph University to study botany, which I hated. So I went to garden in England for two years, came back, set up my nursery which was called Macrophylla, closed it down 5 years later to go back to England, lived there for another 6 years, then moved to Australia for a year before coming back here. I have a certificate in horticulture from the RHS, but got that only recently. I am mainly self-taught in gardening as it’s a great passion that has always animated me.
Do you remember your first gardening memory?
Father rototilling the veg garden in May and then us planting peas and beans when I was 6.
What does a typical day consist of?
A day at the nursery (when I am not at clients’ homes landscaping) is spent differently every single day, depending on the season etc. but it always starts off with a walk around the gardens to see how the plants are doing and to see what’s come up in bloom, often with my camera in hand (if the light is kind enough). I usually weed as I go along too, so that can easily take an hour. Then I usually have something to plant in the ground or in pots, or plants needing dividing. I seem to spend an awful lot of time wheelbarrowing manure! Mulching and watering is mostly mum (my business partner)’s job. If it’s a hot day, we work at the potting shed in the shade pricking out seedlings or potting plants. A typical day is not without many hot drinks, chocolate and cake!
You have gardened in England and Australia (Queensland). How have your overseas experience altered your perspectives on gardening?
Different climates bring different challenges to the gardener, and it made me realize that no matter where one is, it’s not acquired without lots of work. Gardening in the tropics did make me appreciate the intensity of the temperate seasons and gardening in Britain made me appreciate the advantage of a deep blanket of snow. I don’t see the climate as much a limitation anymore (although I wouldn’t mind living in a place where I could grow quince trees!).
Your plants look incredibly healthy! What is your secret behind propagating and producing healthy beautiful plants for your clients?
We grow our plants in the ground and only pot them up as needed. It’s much easier to grow a vigorous plant in the garden than in the artifical medium of a plastic pot. Our soil here is varied and we try to put the right plant in the right soil. No point planting primulas in our sandy hilltop garden, when they relish the riverside beds and vice versa, Perovskia (Russian sage) doesn’t like our cool summer combined with cold winters, and we can only grow them well in our rocky sunny border. Basic recipe in all cases is lots of horse manure before planting and lots of water immediately afterwards. Otherwise a seaweed and woodchip mulch, nothing else. We water only when the plants are beginning to show signs of stress, but then we drench them.
What are some of the specific cold-climate challenges you face up north? I remember how devastated you were one year when the majority of your nursery stock died during the lack of snow insulation.
The worst challenge is not growing the plants at all (although that fateful winter of 2004 taught us to protect well the more tender plants like Kniphofia, Persicaria, and Euphorbia without fail with dead leaves and conifer branches, and not hope too much from woody plants as we don’t grow that many at all other than a few rare hardy roses and willows). The problem is from hasty gardeners in spring! Garden centres and people at plant fairs want their plants ready grown by May – our garden is usually under snow until at least April 20th, we can’t even access the plants till then! We only have one greenhouse where we can force only a limited number of plants into growth in the spring, so I guess we sometimes miss sales because of our lateness. Our short summers also means that we have to be very organized when we take cuttings or divide.
Can you name some of your favorite late season perennials and grasses?
Aconitum carmichaellii ‘Spätlese’ because it’s a nice pale colour in contrast to ‘Barker’s Variety’ that has the largest darkest flowers of all. I like them both because they are not so stiff like other A. carmichaelii and have healthy glossy foliage.
Aster ‘Little Carlow’ – the best aster because it is very floriferous, has nice glossy foliage that never gets ill, and is the nicest colour. Aster ‘Coombe Fishacre’ – when it flowers, it’s a lavender-pink mound and not ill either.
Helianthus ‘Dorian Roxburgh’ (hybrid between H. ‘Lemon Queen’ and H. giganteus ‘Sheila’s Sunshine’) – it’s a nice tall and elegant plant in a delicate shade of yellow. Helianthus ‘Orgyalis’ – Tall and strong and full of large flowers on burgundy stems over lovely narrow foliage, what more could I want from a sunflower?!
Kniphofia ‘Mermaiden’ – just the most amazing green colour and size! Kniphofia ‘Percy’s Pride’ – a gift from British plantsman John Grimshaw and it’s a good flowerer, even here where other Kniphofias can be shy Kniphofia ‘Lord Roberts’ – a large variety in a shade that is VERY effective, dark, a strong accent. Kniphofia ‘Rich Echoes’ – wonderful as well and flowers a little earlier.
Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Jo and Guido’s Form’ because it’s a delicious shade of pink (although I do find it a bit
weak) Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Taurus’ – the most vibrant red ever and it flowers on and on. Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Orangefield’ because it’s different from the others, and a colour that beckons the eye. Neither pink, nor orange, a special look I find endearing. I guess I should also put ‘Rosea’ even if it’s more common because it is just the best of the lot. Has been in bloom for three months now. Persicaria polystachya – it’s carefree, and just the most generous white flower in autumn. I love the combination of orange bamboo-like stems and pure white lace. Delicate but strong at the same time.
Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Stand Up Comedian’ – it’s the strongest white, never flops like other tall white forms and I like the quirky name, Sanguisorba ‘Blackthorn’ too because it’s strong but also because it has large conspicuous bottlebrushes, more showy than most late Sanguisorbas.
Vernonia gigantea ‘Purple Pillar’, just the biggest show stopper for its size and colour. ‘Mammuth’ is more manageable and just as good actually. Vernonia lettermanii – the foliage, wow!
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Waldenbuch’ – more elegant and not so stiff as ‘Karl Foerster’ Also a warmer golden yellow.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Berlin’ – golden flowers that shine, unique Miscanthus sinensis ‘Huron Sunrise’ – the most floriferous Miscanthus sinensis ‘November Sunset’ for the vibrant red/purple foliage
Molinia caerulea ssp. arundinacea ‘Cordoba’ – the most elegant of tall sorts and ‘Variegata’ – the most beautifully symmetrical plant one could wish for.
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Fred’s Red’ – a selection made by my friend, does not flop like ‘The Blues’ or the other American selections and is the most striking red colour in the autumn.
Sorghastrum nutans ‘Sioux Blue’ for the blue foliage/golden flower combination. I just love Sorghastrum anyway!
How would you describe the Philippe aesthetic?
Organic! Hewn but, I hope, genuine. Simple, clean lines are good but nothing minimalist (how so dull!). Bold accents, stone, wood, water, bright light, vibrant colours in the right place.
What specific sources of creative inspiration do you often turn to?
Nature is my first inspiration, then British and Japanese gardens, abstract paintings for colour combinations, magazines, the web. I don’t often look for inspiration, it’s always all around me, and in these days of media’s frenzy, it’s easy to be overwhelmed!
What garden, private or public, inspires you?
Just one? Impossible! So many interesting ones! Reford Gardens near here is special, beautiful and a well-kept secret.
What would be your desert island plant and piece of art be?
The plant would have to be amaranth, because it’s beautiful, edible, useful and resilient. A piece of art would be the indigo batik I bought in Indonesia to wear or to shade myself.
And what grain of wisdom can you proffer to readers interested in gardening and the natural world?
What are you looking forward to?
Next spring of course! Being independent from petrol, having my own farm, my next visit to other nurseries, my piano being delivered, and my cake coming out of the oven!
Hello my name is Stephen Crisp, and I am the Head Gardener at Winfield House in Regent’s Park, London.
The Arts or Horticulture, which do you feel most associated with?
Probably horticulture, though with an artistic acknowledgement because I see horticulture and gardening as being an art form, but I guess if I had to tick one box it would probably be horticulture.
For those that might not know you, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I have been at Winfield House since 1987, in the role of Head Gardener. Prior to that I was at Leeds Castle, as horticulturist for the Leeds Castle Foundation, establishing some new gardens there and working with Russell Page, who was the landscape consultant there in the 1980’s. Training and scholarships to Tresco Abbey and Longwood Gardens in the U.S. Also, The Royal Horticultural Society which was a two-year program back at Wisley in 1979 through 1981 and was the first formal education I had in horticulture.
Gardening usually gets into our system at an early age, do you remember your first gardening memory?
My first gardening memory was my grandparents’ garden. I grew up living next door to them and my grandfather used to grow chrysanthemums in part of the garden, those big funny lollipop things. They looked like big balls on sticks, which I was intrigued by but couldn’t understand what the attraction was. They seemed strange to me because chrysanthemums don’t naturally grow like that but he never exhibited them at flower shows though I don’t know why. That was my first conscious awareness of gardening as some sort of recreation or vocation rather than people just growing green stuff growing in an open space. The other memory that registered with me as a child was one of my Aunts, who had a tiny garden at the rear of her house, in Winchester, that she lived in. She was always very proud of it with her pocket-handkerchief lawn and a little pool made of concrete with a gnome cemented to the edge of it. There were some geraniums and roses there as well, it was very proper and somehow that always resonated with me too.
Do you remember the first piece of art or a color you were captivated by?
The color is BLUE, always blues! Art was probably William Morris as his museum collection was half a mile away from my child hood home and I spent a lot of time with my face pressed to the glass of cabinets or stroking pieces of furniture when the custodian was not looking!
Who, if anyone, would you consider your mentor?
I was asked this question recently and while there wasn’t a specific person, different people have and continue to pass within my orbit and me within theirs. In effect, they become mentors in a passive way, in an inspirational way rather than someone who every time I have a question about horticulture I think I must ask ‘so and so’. It’s more about influences and people making you aware in thinking something you haven’t thought before. There have been certain people who have been generous and pivotal in where I have ended up; probably most significant is Peter Coats. He introduced me to Winfield, as a result of doing an interview with him about a garden that I made at Leeds Castle and he put forward my name to work here (Winfield House). Rosemary Verey was always very generous, as well, and we would often meet or correspond and when I wanted to go to America, she wrote some letters of introduction for me.
Christopher Lloyd partly through looking to him for inspiration rather than entering into frequent dialogue with him because when I was a student I found him an inspirational writer. Visiting Great Dixter was a revelation for me, not so much the first few times I went there, but once Fergus came on board, there was a whole new energy that entered the place, that to me made it, and continues to make it, an inspirational place. Even though Christopher Lloyd is not there now, his spirit is still part of the mentoring process; so, I think its people rather than a person.
How did you come to be the Head Gardener at Winfield House?
It was through Peter Coats, then acting editor at House and Garden Magazine, and I met him about 3 years before I came here, in the mid 80’s. He came to write a story about a garden that I had made at Leeds Castle in partnership with Russell Page. Russell was responsible for the ground plan, the path system and the way the space was subdivided, and I did the planting design. Russell used to come along, waving his arms around, not being very specific which led me to just get on with it. Peter Coats came and wrote a story for House and Garden Magazine and we stayed in touch. Occasionally I had lunch with him and he used to live in the Albany, a complex of apartments in Piccadilly, and it was always a bit of a trial because although I would enjoy having lunch with him, the food reminded me of school dinners. These meals were served in a freezing cold dining room, because he was too mean to put the heating on, served by Briggs, his manservant. I think they disliked each other but both relied on the other for their existence, so it was a surreal experience. Peter wrote a book called ‘Gardens Around the World’ and one of the chapters was about Giverny. He didn’t have any images of the water lilies, which I did, and I lent them to him to publish in the book. Consequentially, it seemed to take our friendship onto another level.
When I was thinking about moving on from Leed’s Castle, I wrote to Peter, amongst one or two other people, saying, “If you hear of any interesting jobs, I’m in the market.” He responded that my predecessor was retiring here at Winfield and they were looking for someone and that I really ought to go and have a look and meet the then Ambassador and his wife, Carol and Charlie Price. That’s how it came about and why I think a mentor is important but so are contacts because the best jobs are not often advertised and it’s all about that network. A telephone number or an email can completely change the direction of your life, so it is important to make the right impression and get information, so Peter was responsible, ultimately, for me being at Winfield House.
How would you describe a typical at Winfield?
There is no typical day, but it normally starts out with speaking to my assistants and discussing what had been achieved the previous day and what needed to be accomplished for that day or even later in the week. It’s quite informal and I rely on them, as much as they on me, to prioritize what needs doing. I water the glasshouses or attend to things that need doing in the house by way of cut flowers. If there is an event on, we get floral decorations ready and the day spins off from there. It’s dictated by the weather, the time of year and what other priorities need my attention but no two days, two weeks, or two years seem to ever be the same. There is no typical day really, just consistently busy.
Often, sculpture is used throughout the grounds here at Winfield Place, so what approach do you take to its placement in the garden?
It’s the Ambassador and his wife’s prerogative of what sculptures appear here and, largely, where it is positioned. Normally, it would be in consultation with the artist and me. Collectively, we decide if something is appropriate and where the most appropriate position might be for it. We have things in the garden by Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor. There are other pieces here as part of the permanent collection but sculpture must be in context and also that there not be too much of it. Sculpture has to have space to be appreciated, both physically and psychologically. It’s a dialogue between those people who are acting as the patron and the artist, with me pointing out things like having to mow around them, vehicles needing to pass by, so practical considerations as well as an aesthetic point of view.
What qualities do you deem most important when looking for a gardener?
Passion, empathy, training, experience, creativity, sensitivity, generosity, and other qualities besides those listed, in varying proportions. There are good gardeners who are practical horticulturists who practice the craft with knowing how high to cut a lawn, when to cut a hedge, what action is needed to keep a plant alive, healthy and thriving and sometimes that is combined with an aesthetic appreciation and sensibility but not always and you don’t necessarily need that with everybody. If you have a team of people, it is superb if different team members bring different qualities to the collective good. If you hate cutting grass and someone else loves it, then clearly the person who loves it is a valuable team member for dealing with that aspect of the responsibility, or if someone hates planting, staking or deadheading, they will do the job but not as well as someone who enjoys those more fiddly dexterous tasks. I think you have to try and guide the individual towards the task that best suits their skill characters and a combination of those things you sometimes find in an individual. You have to identify those qualities, using them best within the operation that you’re looking after.
How does the collecting of art and objects intertwine and influence the way you garden?
I am not sure if there’s a direct connection but a reflection of ones psychology or psychiatry that you feel the desire to surround yourself with objects reflecting different periods and styles, from the 19th through to the 21st Century. I collect contemporary art, 19th century things, and many other objects between but, for me, they are touchstones with the past. It affects the way I garden because you can’t take things forward unless you learn the lessons by looking backwards. If you make a new garden, it’s important to understand what came before.
You can take inspiration for design from what has happened in the past, depending on your interpretation of it but these things, through osmosis, have an effect on the way that you see the world. Good gardening is about seeing the world through a particular lens, it’s not purely about the culture of plants, and it’s about the context within which they are growing. Beth Chatto once wrote something along the lines of ‘People that just think about gardens, who live, eat and breathe plants are boring. I am interested in meeting people that are interested in art and literature as well as horticulture…” She felt, and I have to agree with her, that it makes for a more rounded individual, who has a more rounded view of the world and I believe this to be absolutely true, being aware of all of these different things.
Over the course of the next few years, in what direction do you see horticulture heading?
Gardening with fewer resources and more in tune with the natural environment with sustainability being the keystone that is driving the design or the conception of new gardens, achieving more with less and with a lesser impact on the environment. Maybe the Sheffield School of Horticulture using pictorial or sustainable meadows, not necessarily native meadows, there is a way of creating big, bold, colorful statements without any need to raise plant materials in nurseries or under glass, which takes energy to achieve. The general public’s perception of open spaces and gardens and what’s expected from them is also changing, with us not necessarily needing to see beds full of roses, carpet bedding or even short mown grass. People are happy, comfortable and just enjoy being in green spaces. This is probably the direction that I think things will go because it all helps when you are trying to run an open space with fewer resources whether it is people, money, or even physical materials.
Who or what is inspiring you in horticulture these days?
I think people, individuals and I’m inspired by good design. If visiting a country or city, I would visit the botanical gardens but it would be the last place I would choose to see because it’s a collection of plant material, which is important, but the design is not always particularly inspiring. I could be inspired by the plantings on a municipal roundabout or a median strip down the middle of the road, if it was done creatively and originally. What’s recognized as being a traditional garden in a traditional context, the way the paving materials or lighting, or water, all used in original ways, are things I find exciting. There are some interesting things going on in the re-design of public spaces. Often gardeners think they can only draw something that is relevant to them in a traditional setting when there are so many different things that you pass through or pass by in everyday life, or in public spaces, that can still teach us lessons about the way a space or situation can be handled.
Do you have a favorite art period or artist that you tend to gravitate towards?
Increasingly, I’m drawn to contemporary art, I don’t really consider an unmade bed or a pile of bricks to be a work of art, but there are a lot of really cool contemporary artists around that do interesting work on paper or with sculpture. I like being in a broad church of art, artists and mediums. Sometimes I like something that one artist does, who does one sort of genre and then there are other works they will do that I just don’t get. It has been interesting working at Winfield with the changing art collection in the house, from one administration to another, and how working around contemporary art has changed my appreciation of and has broadened my mind to what constitutes art, a privilege but also part of ones personal development. 20 years ago the majority of the population was into figurative art forms and anything a bit ‘off the wall’ was considered nuts but there are many amazingly dynamic artists around.
Grayson Perry, to me, is one of the most amazing artists in the way that he sees the world. He makes these ceramics and tapestries that somehow encapsulate the ‘Now’, which will be important in art history because people will look at what he made at the beginning of the 21st Century and see that as being representative of these times. Brigitte Riley’s work too, she is an amazing woman in her early 80’s, still dynamic and interested in exploring art forms and new ideas that she was at the forefront of inventing back in the 1960’s. Here she is 50 years later with the same enthusiasm and energy for exploring color, the way it makes you feel, the mood it can create and the relationships with one color to another. Being around people like that energizes me. Seeing what people like Gilbert and George do, who also confront issues and events that are happening, and who then incorporate them into the work that they do. I can appreciate a Rembrandt, a Van Gogh or anything else, but you have this choice to feast on all of these different things and that is the luxury of living in a civilized culture, isn’t it really?
What organizations do you find are a great source for helping and educating people interested in pursuing horticulture?
You need to try all the nationally recognized organizations, the RHS, the National Trust, the English Heritage, and the botanical gardens. Perhaps after getting a general education in horticulture, you need to try and figure out which part of the field that you are passionate about and want to work in, whether it’s the nursery industry, maintenance, design, or retail. Once you establish which you think your niche is going to be, and then target individuals or organizations that might offer advice, mentor you or offer an employment opportunity. It’s important to not be too general and to start focusing in a direction otherwise you bounce around all these opportunities and the Internet has transformed the possibilities of gaining information in a way that never previously existed. If you are passionate, do a bit of research, find out who’s doing what, who might offer employment, and how to train to do it, that’s the reality of it.
What garden public or private inspires you?
This is cliché, but I always enjoy going back to Great Dixter and seeing what is being done there. I said to Fergus recently that coming to Dixter is like having a dose of horticultural adrenaline. Dixter works for me, but that’s more about plants and vignettes. On a bigger palette, it’s the sort of things that Kim Wilkie, Tom Stuart Smith, Piet Oudolf and Dan Pearson are doing. It’s exciting to see, to learn, to read, and to discuss what those people are doing, to learn from their experience and know what their inspiration was during that project. I try to find the opportunity to visit other gardens often, they don’t have to be grand gardens, they can be open for The National Gardens scheme, or modest private gardens and unfortunately a lot of working gardeners don’t this. Sadly, I meet colleagues and ask if they have been to any interesting gardens recently and usually they say they haven’t had the time.
It’s important to make time because it’s part of one’s continuing education to do that, to see what other people are doing, to see what they are up to, to learn the lessons both good or bad. I see a couple of gardens a month and they might not be the scale of Blenheim Palace or Sissinghurst but even a casual observation of a garden wall is an education. I make a deliberate target of trying to visit one or two spaces every month, gardens that I might already know and seeing them at different times of year. So much can be learned through constructive observation; it might be the way someone stakes something, strikes a cutting, or deals with weeds, the public, or deals with interpretation. All of these things you can learn at all different levels of horticulture. Also, going to a couple of lectures or conferences a year helps. I go to a lot of the lectures at the Garden Museum, more than one a month on average. I am signed up for Society of Garden Designers conference this autumn and though I am not a full time garden designer, it’s important to know what other people are doing, drawing lessons from them. There are things going on in London all the time so find the time, make the time, and organize the time so you can get to these functions and continue to educate yourself.
If you had to choose one plant and one piece of art to accompany you on a deserted island, what would you choose?
Odd question….. Probably the plant would be Rosa glauca because you are able to have flowers, fruit, autumn color and it never seems to be affected by pests or disease. As for a piece of art, it would be an Alexander Calder mobile because you would have the different light of the day, or the breeze to turn it and it would always be changing, moving. Always familiar but different depending on the providing conditions.
What would your idea of a dream project be?
A new garden, and in the past I would have said a private house but that almost seems too exclusive now, so to be democratic, a landscape around a public building, with either a gallery or a museum, as its focus. I would make a garden around that and have it be a reflection of the architecture; if it were a modernist building I’d take a modernist approach to the scheme, because it is important that the landscape has some reference to the building that it’s adjacent to or surrounding.
What creative outlets do you often turn to for sparking ideas?
Books and people are my creative outlets. If I’m working on a design I’ll invariably browse books, flicking through pages, with a notepad or post-it notes to back reference. Sometimes when you are trying to flesh out the details you get to this point where your brain is not coming up with any new ideas or lacking inspiration, so by browsing books I find that helps. If I have no idea then I browse books anyway, depending on the challenge. If it’s a border then I might approach certain books or if it’s a contemporary challenge, there are certain designers or books that I will gravitate towards. Sometimes it’s things; I have come up with ideas for organization of space through patterns. I remember I did a huge herb garden in the Ashdown forest, on a hillside and the inspiration for the design was from seeing an image of lavender in Provence. There were contour lines because of the landscape, the way it was striping down, and then I found a piece of fabric with a design that was doing a similar thing, and those two images became the catalyst for the approach to the design of the herb garden. The rows of planting were almost like contour lines on the hillside that had an organic feeling but that was the germ of the idea. Another time, an art deco ashtray inspired the design of an ornamental pool. If you get stuck, speak to people, and say, ‘I’m up against a brick wall here, what do you think of this?’ Critical analysis is important with what you’re doing because otherwise your vision can become a bit myopic in what is or isn’t right. That’s why or how a studio practice has great strength because when the lead designer surrounds themselves with other colleagues who they respect, they can bounce ideas off of each other resulting in a richer end product.
Any last words of wisdom that you care to share with others?
Always look , listen and learn
Thank you Stephen, it was a pleasure to interview you and have a chance to let us see into your world.
Time moves so quickly but memories can keep things vivid, and it already happened one year ago. Each day that passes my mind returns to this exciting period of my life…
After moving to London, I saw an advertisement that was ‘looking for a horticulturist for an interesting project’, a vague description for a job. Curious, I applied and was called for an interview and during our meeting the prospective employer was still very vague about the job, giving away some details but not enough. Only after I got the job did I learn that it was for the horticulturist position for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. The company, Filmscapes, regularly designs and installs gardens for television and film and we were to create the first scene for the Opening Ceremony, called ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ based on the rural countryside of England. Due to a strict confidentiality agreement, it was all to be kept a secret.
The sets we created included both hard materials and real plants, which some had been growing on at the company nursery. Early stages included making the hard set, which entailed cutting, distressing and painting artificial turf so it would look like real grass, creating crop boards of dried wheat and poppies, and covering bare apple trees with fake foliage and apples. Soon we moved on site to the stadium, and that is when the full responsibility of my job, which included care, maintenance, and IPM of all live plant material, was felt.
Although the stadium was still a construction zone, there were a number of tasks that we needed to tackle immediately.
There was a huge mountain, the Tor, which had a fiberglass shell as its base and we covered this shell completely with meadow turf from top to bottom. There was only an inch of soil with a thin capillary mat underneath to “help” hold moisture. This covering was completed a few months early so the meadow turf had time to grow and fill out creating a seamless natural look. The wildflowers, such as oxeye daisy and Lotus corniculatus, were to be established and in bloom by Opening Ceremony time.
Next installation was a wildflower verge that encircled the whole edge and sides of the stage. The plants were attached in sheets as small seedlings directly to wood planks sloped to 45 degrees; the soil was less than 1/3 of an inch underneath the wildflowers. Maintaining them required a fair amount of attention due to water runoff and the heat until the flower canopy closed and created more shade for the roots The microclimate of the stadium was terrible, as it was always hot, dry and breezeless.
There were a plethora of other plants which included vegetables, hedgerows made from tree saplings, more turf and wildflower meadow that was all to be used on stage.
We had a nursery just outside the stadium due to the necessity of duplicate plants that were involved in the scene changes. These duplicates were necessary because the nursery held the plants that wouldn’t be damaged by the rehearsals that needed to take place with the cast.
There were many challenges that I didn’t anticipate, such as limited or no access to my water sources during the constant rehearsals. Begging and pleading with stage and crew directors did nothing and I began to wonder if they understood that plants are living things and do not wait for a drink of water but would quickly turn brown and crispy. There were mishaps too such as forgetting to disengage the automatic irrigation on the Tor one evening and getting a key speaker getting soaked while practicing his speech.
The work was hard and strenuous and the days were long, including some 18 hours days. Watering took up a huge part of these days, whether it was by hand, use of sprinklers, and the automatic watering system that we used sometimes on the Tor in the evenings. Each day, as I wheeled heavy hoses across the stadium stage, I realized what an incredible opportunity this task was, not even taking a second for granted. Every day was a pleasure to see and hear how much all of the workers inside the stadium appreciated this beautiful and colorful display of blooms over the course of the time.
The last two weeks were the most difficult, with expectations and tensions running high. An unwelcome heat wave in London kept me watering sometimes 11 hours straight and I began to feel like there was never enough time or water to get it all taken care of. With the pressure building up at that point and almost at breaking point, I would take a deep breath, think of the athletes, and soldier on, thinking of how I could handle these tasks rather than think of the pressure of it being for the Olympics.
A few hours before the public was to be let in to the stadium, and then televised for the world to see, we were doing frantic last minute touches. I was able to look around, see all the plants were green and looking fantastic, and I realized I had successfully completed my job.
I also had the chance to be in the Opening Ceremony in ‘Green and Pleasant’ where I helped a colleague fell an oak tree on stage.
While in full costume that night, in a stadium of 80,000 people, I sat down on stage in the ‘orchard’ we made, with the fake apples, and as I took it all in, I proceeded to eat a real apple I had stashed in my pocket. I was exhausted, delirious, and overtired but giggled to myself that I was sitting on stage in front of the Royal Box, and a packed stadium, at the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. I couldn’t stop smiling, and a year later I still can’t and I would do it all again in a second…