Monday, 8 June 2009


So as a couple of you may remember I was off to do a talk at the British Museum about the India landscape installed for the summer by Kew, to tie in with exhibitions at the Museum about Indian art. 

I was very nervous, and deservedly so because more than 30 people came. I'm in the black, with the weird microphone necklace hanging around my neck (felt a bit like a medieval instrument of torture. A bit.) We looked at the planting, which varies from Banyan to Meconopsis, and talked about great botanists associated with India, including my favourite, Wallich (of many different Wallichiana/ Wallichii fame). 

I didn't feel like it went all that well, I have to admit. Though people were complimentary afterwards. On the other hand, it was very satisfying to have actually done it. And it was the first time I'd done something like that - in such a small space. At Kew, we have acres to impress people with. My immediate thought was "Oh I wish I could do it again another day, I think I could actually make it good now." 

Well I don't have a chance to do the same garden tour again, but on Friday I am going back to the British Museum to give the lunchtime lecture. It's about Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin and Indian plants, and if anyone wants to come along I would be so delighted to see you. 

You could make sure to ask me some nice easy questions, too. Eeeeeeeekkkkkkkkkkkk.

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...


Thursday, 4 June 2009


In the future, people will undoubtedly spell future like that. I can see the way it's going already. The young people and their spelling, hey? I'm pretty surprised that they managed to resist calling Twitter 'Twytta'; but I guess that most Twitter users I know are well over twenty,so  there's no need. 

Anyway here is everyone's favourite and most radiant 'AWB' in the blogosphere's firmament, James, pictured in the process of rehearsing his opening speech for the said Futuregardens. Unlike the previous speech, of the gloriously pretty, slim, clad-in-crepe-de-chine Emilia Fox*, his contained the word 'amazing' a mere three times. 

Futuregardens was brill and I would like to go on about it at some length but I want to have a proper think about exactly what I'd like to write first. In the meantime, je vous embrasse tous. 

* I actually had to suppress a psychotic lesbian impulse to stroke her lovely hair as well. And shout "you can investigate my death anytime, Dr Nikki Alexander!" Honestly she is like an Oxford educated Barbie, only with lovely real skin like a replicant.