Saturday, 6 June 2009


Well I do apologise to those of you I offended in my previous post by my Sapphically lovesick ramblings about Dr Nikki and my use of the word 'brill'. Now, down to the serious business.

It was fascinating to see how many people turned out for the press day of FutureGardens. All the people who are committed to trying to create interesting new outdoor space seemed to be there. It was interesting to see the way people paired off to pursue serious critiquing. Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes were doing the rounds and waved cheerily; Corinne Julius and Stephen Anderton took notes and talked like show judges, in private low tones; James Alexander-Sinclair and Therese Lang, the last pair of the day, looking over what they'd achieved as organisers. 

I personally really try hard not to see images of a garden or landscape before I go and visit it. I just hate having preconceived ideas. So as on the 10 o'clock news, I must warn you to turn away now if you don't want to know about these gardens. I think there is something big to be said for just turning up and looking. 

On the other hand, if you need persuading, or you've already been and you're interested to know what someone else thought, carry on! Blog beginners, please remember, that as ever you can click on the pics to see them bigger. 

Let me start with one I completely adored. This is Tony Heywood's. You may know Heywood's work already, or be totally new to it, but I defy you not to have an opinion. For me, I find it 100% enchanting. It's like a cross between a Hollywood filmstar's garden fountain and a strange deserted coal beach in the North East. Wizened trees he got from the National Trust and some 1970s conifers complete the picture. Bizarre and beautiful. For me, worth the journey on its own. For others, bleurgh, and where are the plants? (Apart from the ones he's spray-painted blue that is.)

Now, this one I hated. I really didn't get it. Peter Thomas designed it, who is well-regarded, so perhaps I will put this down to my personal not-getting-it. I hated the execution of it, really - I thought the blue plastic frames were too flimsy and I hated the colours of the plastic balls which I thought were too much like something bought from a shop. The idea of all these children working so hard to produce the painted butterflies which hang from the frames offended me. (Directly opposite to how I felt about the plasticine garden, in fact, where I adored the communal aspect of the work, which reminded me of Anthony Gormley's Field for the British Isles.)

I've shown you some of the most outrageous ones, as they are the ones which have stayed with me, I feel, a few days later. But there are other, quieter, more contemplative takes on the conceptual garden. This one I enjoyed, but didn't find especially exciting. However, I think a lot of people will really love it. It's called "Nest", by Jane Hudson and Erik de Maeijer.  It has a gentleness and an attention to materials that's very striking, with a wonderful woven fence and this incredible oak planking (which makes you immediately go 'how did they afford that on a £25k budget???). She is an RHS judge so knows how to put together a good scheme, and I'll be interested to revisit and see how it changes as it's one of those where the planting looks reasonably intriguing. 

And there was this, by two young graduates of Falmouth's increasingly prestigious garden design course (partly a Beardshaw production I believe, for those who care about such things), Maren Hallenga and Hugo Bugg. In many ways one of the most conservative of schemes, it bisected the whole space with this glorious log wall which had rusty steel circles making porthole views through it. Birch trees created dappled sunshine, and ponds full of old cutlery shimmered in the summer light. And, the planting of natives like stinging nettles next to gauzy astrantias really worked. They want to do a show garden at Chelsea next year (not ambitious then, are we?) so good luck to them, I think they have the kind of attention to detail and general balance of skills to do a good job. 

I was perplexed by Andy Sturgeon's entry, I have to admit, though its rusted iron plates had a sombre quality that I kept returning to - especially so close to the anniversary of D-Day. I would happily sign up to ban birches as standard default modern tree for an interim period of perhaps three years, by which time people might have thought up something else to use. Though I guess the whiteness against the red does really work. 

I wished the plates hadn't been quite so close to the back fence really; but this garden will come much more into its own over the course of the summer as this Richard Serra gesture is planted in what looks like grass, but is actually baby wheat. As the wheatgrass grows up, it will turn golden in the sun, and the rusted rectangles will sit in a miniature English field. I will still be thinking of Normandy and war, I think, but I will enjoy watching the change come about. 

And lastly I really got into this one, after a conversation with the designer, Marcus Green. And after being slobbered on by his gorgeous dog Cosmo. He made the garden after many walks in the Northamptonshire countryside with Cosmo. The idea was to try to map in the garden some of the lines of energy created by the dog running through the fields. Anyone who has ever watched a dog running through young wheat knows how exhilarating it is, for the human being and the dog, and I loved the way he'd used native grasses such as the wonderfully-named "Yorkshire Fog" to create those characteristic 'crush' lines of animal tracks. Delicate, energetic, ley-liney, it really grew on me. 

So look that's my brief report - I hope to read more from everyone else after their visits, and also to go back myself, and continue thinking about what I've seen. I have only one question about the whole exercise: I hope that lots of people find the £12.50 entrance fee good value for money, rather than extortionate, and recommend it to their friends. Here's hoping. But what do others think about that entrance fee? 

Eek totally forgot my best pic of all. It's E17's Martyn Skywalker on his home planet of Tattoin, just coming from a day's moisture farming. 'The only Alexander-Sinclair I know of is old James ASinclair," he's saying as he ponders a weird message from a 'Princess Lila" that he found in a robot left in one of his fields earlier. I just hope he's keeping an eye out for Stormtroopers...



Ryan said...

I quite enjoyed the last post to be honest. Did you get complaints?? lol

Out of interest. What exactly will happen to the massive garden fork? I would love it to be used somewhere like a community garden entrance for example.


emmat said...

Good question. Basically what I have failed to make clear is that all the giant stuff is from Ivan Hicks's permanent scheme for the site - it will stay there. only the show gardens are going at the end of the summer.

Zoë said...

Right, I now have bruises all over both shins, think I should start to slap myself upside the head instead.

For me, the glimpses you have given us just makes me want to visit even more. Apart from the gardens themselves, I wanted to see Ivan Hicks work too, is that complete and accessible?

I didn't think £12.50 was too bad, when you consider what visiting an NT property, RHS or similar would cost, but wondered would it remain the same once the butterfly dome is open on 2011?

Not sure about those fences.

emmat said...

no! don't hurt yourself!

The Ivan Hicks bit is indeed complete and accessible. The things that aren't complete are the butterfly dome and just general landscaping -for example there's some wild flowers along the drive that are entrancing, but will be a dried mass later in the summer I suspect.

I think the fences are quite problematic in many of the gardens, but apparently everyone has been very relieved as they were (and I quote) "much more bright orange to start with" !

They are expecting 200,000 visitors this summer. Westonbirt used to get 120,000 and that was less accessible from big centres of population. The family ticket is good value - £32 for everyone. There are some tropical butterflies on site already, too - in a lovely long greenhouse.

I do wonder though whether you'd need to match the ideal profile of family who are interested in conceptual gardens and butterflies to really feel you'd got VFM. Can't wait to see what Small Boy thought of it, anyway, as Deb is off this weekend

Zoë said...

I did think about going today, as the iGit and the kids are down at the beach with his Mum, but I blew the front tyres out on my car yesterday afternoon, and can't get it sorted 'til Tuesday (that will teach me to have a performance car, no ones got the tyres in stock)

Oh wish you hadn't told me about the butterflies,I now HAVE to go soon! I'll spend the whole day chasing them with my new superwizzy macro lens (slightly obsessed with it)

I still havent made it to Mottisfont this year either, thinking about that the week after next if you are interested.

WV is 'scale' - very apposite!

patientgardener said...

I will have to get my act together over the summer and try and visit. Looks like abit of a drive from the West Midlands though, I will have to see how Deb got there.

Not sure about the butterflies - went to the butterfly place in Stratford on Avon years ago (not sure if it is still there) and was completely freaked out by large enormous butterflies flying at me argh!!

Lia Leendertz said...

Well i am truly desperate to go now. Thanks for the sneaky peek! I used to love Westonbirt, but that was just up the road from me and st albans, er...isnt. But i will definitely have to go now. It looks great.

Anonymous said...

Oh, go on then, you can say brill if you want!
The gardens look fascinating and £12.50 doesn't seem to bad i think
What else can you get for that money now?

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I love the giant fork & pot, so glad they will be permanent. Maybe someday I can see them in person. The nest fence is fantastic, I can imagine that scene in a garden and how relaxing and peaceful it would be. The wheat field is also a neat idea.

Simon said...

Phew, some nice bits of sculpture but where are the flowers? Maybe the photos don't show them or maybe I'm just being old-fashioned. I understand Andy Sturgeon's is meant to be an urban garden so I suppose that's why it's bits of rusty metal and long grass, sorry, wheat. It's probably all in the "concept" is it?

Sorry about the grumpiness but it's raining here so I haven't been able to get out on the plot to rearrange my collection of old tin cans.

I think I'll be hanging on to my 12.50 to spend on something that doesn't go over my head. Some new trainers perhaps.

Ms B said...

I visited Westonbirt twice & loved it. I was really sad when I heard the garden thingy wotsit wasn't going to be there any more :( so am delighted that Futuregardens has now reared its head above the parapet. The plus side of Westonbirt was the arboretum & the nearby naked gardeners!

Martyn Cox said...

No stormtroopers, but I thought I spotted a Tuskan Raider's hairy bantha, but then realised it was only David Bellamy.

I reckon £12.50 is good value, but hope a season ticket is introduced as you're likely to want to visit a few times before it closes in October.

LittleGreenFingers said...

I have to say I wasn't remotely offended by your sapphic rambles - but then I went to an all girls boarding school for seven years so what can you expect....

Great post BTW - almost means I don't have to go (especially as this would mean £32 for me with family in tow and that can buy me half a dozen plants - ironically the same number planted in many of those gardens)

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

Coloured balls? Diarmuid did those for Chelsea a few years ago, didn't he? Only his were much bigger and I didn't care for them either.

As the pound is very low 12.50 is not as obscene an entrance fee as it used to be. For Dutch people. ;-)

From the gardens you've shown I like most and would love to see them for real. Funny that we have similar views on gardens. Have you read my take on a well known British garden I visited recently?

Anonymous said...

I have just been to Future Gardens. Loved it! (I could go on for pages, but people may need to be warned that it is still a place abuilding) How can we get it more widely known?

VP said...

I'm just catching up with all the FG stuff. I'll make my own mind up about it all when I finally make it there, but thanks so much for whetting my appetite and making me sooooo sad I couldn't get to the press day.

As for birches - I still love them and you'd need to go far to find a tree which supports more species. However, I do have a suggestion for you - I saw a tiny little garden in the centre of Fakenham last week, which was pretty non-decript except for a pair of achingly beautiful weeping pear trees. I close my eyes and I can imagine their flashing silvery leaves dancing against that rusted backdrop to great effect...

Anonymous said...

I love it! Very creative!That's actually really cool.