I have been rushing around and hardly drawing breath for weeks it seems. Now, following the heat wave of July and into the more varied weather of August, I have come to a halt. I decided not to go away for any overnight stays, just to be at home (sorting out boxes from the move eight years ago aka ‘The Clearances’, watering the garden, again and again, and sorting out my office and accounts)… it sounds so much fun…!
But it has given me the chance to look back on the things I have done and to offer a summary and breathless whirlwind resumé of what I have seen and done… Also I realise that much of what I have enjoyed this year at shows and in gardens has been a bit of travel and holiday magic, as many of the gardens have showcased places and people abroad.
Where to begin… I am going to leave Chelsea to another blog at a later date; since there was so much that I enjoyed which was mainstream, as well as some quirky (to me) thoughts and ideas that arose. So this is a snapshot of some of the people, places and plants that caught my eye and imagination at Hampton Court.
RHS Flower Show Hampton Court
I take the same image every year at Hampton Court, as if I have never seen it before. It is of Hampton Court Palace and the fountains in the Long Water. It is such an iconic view and it makes me feel I am at home at a flower show that I have come to enjoy more and more each year. It is a relaxed sort of place, with so much on offer in the Floral Marquee and the special exhibits that are devised each year to showcase RHS projects.
This year I was intrigued by Anton Chekhov’s Garden designed by Anna Benn and Hannah Gardner. I first heard about this garden a few weeks before the show when Rosamund Bartlett, Founding Trustee of the Anton Chekhov Foundation, gave a talk about the creation of the garden at the College of Medicine’s Plant-based Medicine Symposium.
Rosamund is a cultural historian with particular expertise in Russian literature, music and art. She is also the author of a biography of Chekhov and a new translation of Anna Karenina. With Anna Benn she is co-author of Literary Russia: A Guide, 2007. At the Plant Medicine Conference and later, at the show garden, she set the scene explaining how important gardens were in Chekhov’s life and writings. Chekhov was a doctor himself, as well as a writer and humanitarian.
The garden at Hampton Court was inspired by Melikhovo, the country estate near Moscow where Chekhov lived in the 1890s and where he wrote The Seagull. He also treated patients here and gardened on the site. Herbalism, which plays a strong part in Russian medicine, was referenced in the garden by the use of many medicinal plants.
After the Show the garden moved to the Culm Valley Integrated Centre for Health in Devon, led by Dr Michael Dixon (The College of Medicine and Integrated Health) and it is due to be launched in Devon next month.
While I am staying home I thought of those regular weekend paper features on Summer Vacation Reading. So I have some reading to catch up on: Rosamund recommended that I read About Love and Other Stories, beautiful stories with lyrical descriptions of landscape and an amazing garden in The Black Monk (Oxford World’s Classics); Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, which Rosamund co-translated and which includes many letters in which he writes about plants and trees etc (Penguin Classics) and Chekhov: Scenes from a Life, Rosamund’s biography of Chekhov, structured around his relationship with place, so lots about the steppe, his Melikhovo and Yalta gardens etc (Free Press paperback). So that sums up my summer reading in my garden studio, when not physically engaged in ‘The Clearances’.
Travel is always a feature at Hampton Court Flower Show, given the official headline sponsor was Viking. So it seems only natural that another garden at the show, Rías de Galicia: A Garden at the End of the Earth designed by Rose McMonigall and sponsored by Turismo de Galicia, should have taken me on tour. I visited this region of Spain about 20 years ago when I was researching and photographing gardens for my book, Gardens of Spain and Portugal. It was an intriguing area, with deeply cut, jagged rock inlets along the coast and gardens filled with old stone walls, paved steps and planted with camellias and hydrangeas. Rose’s garden encapsulated the coastal aspects and I felt swiftly transported to that region. Although the shell is an evocative symbol for pilgrims who walk to Santiago de Compostela I had not seen them used as wall-coverings, so I learned something new about the region’s architecture.
One of the feature gardens, Battlefields to Butterflies, was particularly poignant in this year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War. It paid tribute to the 24 men of the Royal Parks and Palace gardens who died in that conflict. Designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan. it was sponsored by Historic Royal Palaces and The Royal Parks Guild. The ‘garden’ or battlefield landscape echoed the paintings and observations of war artist and military man Major Sir William Orpen, who returned to the trenches and observed the desolation of war being overtaken by nature. This particular tribute at the show is part of the wider Battlefields to Butterflies WW1 Commemorative project created by Mike Fitt OBE of the Royal Parks Guild.
On press day the recreation of a wartime trench leading into a woodland meadow was brought to life by members of The 10th Battalion Regiment Essex Living History Group, including members Andrew Warnes, James Gage and Jane Gage. A plaque, unveiled at Hampton Court Flower Show, was destined for the Brompton Cemetery to form part of the permanent memorial there to parks, gardens and grounds staff from across the UK, who died in the First World War.
Hampton Court Flower Show means plants in a big way. The Floral Marquee is always stunning and filled with thousands of flower and foliage, bulb and herbaceous temptations to suit every garden and wallet… sometimes just too suitable! But this year in the heat of the day two of Rosy and Rob Hardy’s introductions were aptly named for the summer we enjoyed (or was it endured?) and are bound to set gardens alight for years to come. Both are crocosmias in the Firestars Series developed by Paul Lewis, an amateur plant breeder and hybridiser from the Isle of Wight. Paul has been breeding new varieties of crocosmia and gladiolus in his garden and on his allotment over the past 25 years. His most notable success before this year’s introductions from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants was ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’ which received an RHS Award of Merit. The two crocosmias showcased at Hampton are called ‘Scorchio’ and ‘ Hotspot’. I think I have to make space for them in my already crowded small garden!
In the early 1990s I was fortunate to be a guest on a Channel 4 programme, Gardens Without Borders, created by Alan Mason. My trip was to Holland and, joy of joys, I visited the nursery and gardens of Piet and Anja Oudolf. Piet is now renowned far beyond the borders of his nursery and home country of Holland. So it was a delight to see him acclaimed as the RHS’s first Iconic Horticultural Hero. For Hampton Court Flower Show he created a walk-through border using many of his signature perennial plants.
My last destination on the busy press day at Hampton Court was to the Plant Heritage stand. Often everything comes back to my Suffolk connections. So it was good to see that Suffolk-based Sarah Cook, holder of the Plant Heritage Historic Collection of Iris introduced by the artist Sir Cedric Morris, received the Brickell Award recognising the work achieved by individual collection holders. Sarah was awarded Gold at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flowers Show (see my blog on Sir Cedric Morris). Sarah has been tracking down the irises Morris introduced and propagated and brought many of them back into commercial cultivation via the Suffolk nursery Howard Nurseries Ltd.
That was quite a day… it has been good to spend a little time thinking back on it and remembering all the plants, the growers, designers, horticulturists and contractors and the contributions they make to get such a successful show ‘on the road’.
And since I started ‘The Clearances’ I have unpacked about 15 boxes, moved many items on to new homes (recycle, rubbish and charity shops) beyond my walls and welcomed some objects that I have missed over the past eight years back into my life!