Friday, 29 January 2010

Watch the birdie

A somewhat cold and freezing morning on Wednesday saw Jonathan Denby, co-designer of The Victorian Aviary Garden, Mark Richardson, landscaper of the same, and me coming face to face with the awesome sight of Waddesdon Aviary in Buckinghamshire. Amazing just doesn't even begin to describe this vision of Baroque-themed splendour! The aviary was built at Waddesdon in the late Victorian times but only renovated six years ago. It's filled with exotic birds, all having stunning colours and interesting calling sounds. If it hadn't had been so cold (there was still the remains of heaps of snow at the side of the drive) I could have stayed there all day to take in the sumptuous aviary and it's surroundings.

But we were there to work. In our Chelsea garden, the centrepiece of the design is a smaller simpler version of the Waddesdon aviary. We inspected and photographed the construction and it's finer details, pondering questions about how to re-create the trelliage work and whether the intricate decorative mouldings might be available from an ironmongers somewhere in the country. Warming up with a steak sandwich in the nearby Five Arrows hotel (very posh, great steak), discussions as to where the Chelsea garden aviary will be built ensued: Cumbria, where Jonathan lives or Suffolk, where Mark is. The jury is still out.

Sleepless nights have kicked in. Worry is not essentially the cause at this stage (it soon will be), it's more just planning things in my head which, coupled with long days, equals too much brain thinking activity! Must stock up on YSL's Touche Eclat as dark circles under the eyes looking darker by the day...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Fleeing the nest

My foster charges have flown the nest. I have been looking after a nice selection of plants for a client's garden that I was due to plant up before Christmas after the landscaping was done but ice, snow and heavy frost meant they were going nowhere. The recent thaw has meant trowels can once more be plunged into frost-free, if rather soggy, soil so my charges were dutifully tucked up in their nice new garden on Thursday. I think I've managed to convince the client that I haven't planted a load of dead sticks and plant labels! There was indeed plenty of signs of life emerging from the pots of soil: thick leafy buds waiting to reach up to the light and then unfurl into splendid greenery. A wonderful moment fleetingly made me pause during the planting - my face felt the warm rays of the sun, what delight! I've always associated that cheek-warming event with February and not the cold dark days of January. Maybe spring will come earlier this year?

Preps for the Chelsea garden are gathering a pace. More discussion on stone walls (I feel like I'm becoming quite knowledgeable on the subject) and slate is now likely to be championed rather than a mix of limestone and slate. We need to visit the quarry in Cumbria, look at various walls (I will definitely be an expert by the end of that visit) and sort out one or two other things. That's a couple of weeks away but next week we are meeting at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire to see the magnificent aviary there. This is the centre-piece of our Chelsea garden and the point of inspiration for the whole design. Think opulent, lavish and a bit of kitsch thrown in for good measure. All we have to do now is create our own version of the aviary!

Plans for the Girlguiding UK Centenary garden for Hampton Court are also going well. Details of what we're up to are still top secret, though...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Pebble dash

Yesterday was spent in Cumbria, also taking in a wee bit of Yorkshire and Lancashire for good measure. Jonathan and I visited Maggy Howarth, designer and maker of the most beautiful pebble mosaics I have ever seen. She lives in a farmhouse high on the Lancashire moors with views extending to Yorkshire in one direction and other counties in the other. Her enviable location has had it's drawbacks in the prolonged snowy weather as she was completely cut off for several days; snow still covered the steep narrow lanes leading to her house and we had to leave the car at the end of road and walk along a treacherous icy track to reach her door.

All well worth the journey and with a cuppa warming our hands we discussed the Chelsea garden and how the mosaic fitted into the design before having a tour of the workshop, and then onto Maggy's studio to discuss design options. With four creative-minded people in the room, it was an interesting and somewhat lively discussion! How much colour, what pattern, shall we reflect design details of the aviary, birds and what type...? Parakeets were looked up in books (what gorgeous bright colours they are), but in the end we chose another classical bird with a long tail. Can't say more than that at this stage, but all will be revealed soon.

A dash back to Jonathan's place at Yewbarrow House, Grange-over-Sands to meet up with Alan Ward who is doing the sculptor in the aviary. Further interesting discussions here but a bit more work is needed as there seems to be three different opinions on what the options are at the moment!

Good news on the stone for the terrace wall. The pile of stones at Jonathan's hotel is perfect! His team have re-built a stone wall there using stones from a dismantled old wall and the end result is a mix of mossy weathered limestone and slate, all looking looking pretty fab. Jonathan's asking his team to come down to Chelsea to build the wall in the Victorian Aviary Garden.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Stepping up the details

I sat drinking my Chamomile tea in the lovely contemporary restaurant at Anglesey Abbey on Monday when Mark Richardson, landscaper for the Chelsea garden, looked me in the eye and said: 'So what was the step height in Victorian times and what style was the over-hang?' A quick chat with Jonathan Denby, Victorian gardens specialist extraordinaire and my co-designer, resulted in an excited phone conversation last night.

We'd already decided on curved steps up the terrace where the aviary will sit in all it's sumptuous splendour: 'Curved steps are Gertrude Jekyll's favourite design for gardens' said Jonathan reading from her book on landscape details she wrote with Christopher Hussey, Garden Ornament. Apparently there's a whole chapter on steps and it begins: 'The decorative value of steps consists primarily in the alternation of horizontal bands of light and shade - shining treads and dark risers. If this is always borne in mind, the right proportion of rise to tread will follow naturally'. It seems we have Mark's question answered.

The terrace on The Victorian Aviary Garden at Chelsea is paved with Cumbrian slate and the raised drystone wall made from limestone. Back to Monday, and Mark wanted to know if we had any 'used' i.e. weathered stones suitable for the wall. Over to Jonathan again who happens to have some dismantled drystone walling available from a garden being re-designed at one of his hotels in Cumbria. It's slate not limestone, but we could have a mixed wall in the Chelsea garden. 'Take some photos and bring some stone samples to the next meeting!' I instruct him.

I was keen to have a flavour of Cumbria in the Chelsea design to reflect the sponsor, South Lakes Hotels, and because I was so charmed by Jonathan's own garden at Yewbarrow House at Grange over Sands when I was last there in early September. The photo above shows a beautiful drystone wall in the Yewbarrow House garden and we're hoping to get the same craftsman who built this to do the terrace wall for the Chelsea garden.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I'm being foster-mum at the moment to a nice collection of plants, destined for a client's front garden. I was due to plant up a couple of weeks before Christmas but, soon after the plants were delivered, we had 10 days of heavy snow and frost here in Cambridgeshire. Then it was Christmas, ditto, then New Year, ditto. Snow still blatently lounges around the garden, although I did some green lawn the other day blinking in the midday sun. My hopes are set for planting my charges next week, I shall miss them greatly.

The excitement of doing a Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show garden is still keen and biting. The paperwork is flowing, relentlessly, not to mention the research and frantic exchanges of e-mails! Less than four months before we on site at Chelsea, how scary is that? On Thursday it's a five hour drive to Cumbria to see Jonathan and chew through my long list of things to discuss. On Friday we are meeting Maggy Howarth who is designing and producing the mosaic path, she lives just over the border in Yorkshire from Jonathan. Maggy is already putting her mind to the design and I'm really looking forward to seeing her ideas.

Long meeting yesterday with Mark Richardson of Stewart Landscapes, he's building the garden for us. We met at Anglesey Abbey, the half-way point for both of us. Sadly no time to visit the Winter Garden or see snowdrops, maybe next time. Reminds me, I still have to write up the minutes of the meeting!

Hampton Court preps are also progressing well. It's still hush-hush at the moment with the design aspects, hopefully I can reveal all in March.