Water, water everywhere

RHS Hampton Flower Show Garden 2012

So the build has begun.  And what a wet start!  It seems water is following me around on this project.  It also means that unfortunately Leigh Lovely Legs hasn’t been able to show off his best feature yet much to my Mum’s disappointment.

It’s very different this year.  The build is three weeks long and when we arrived the show site was almost completely empty except for trackway, some rather wet looking contractors and queues of artic lorries going to rather muddy looking patches dotted along the route.

First off I thought I should introduce some of the guys making this garden happen.  We have four landscape contractors (from Neale Richards Gardens Ltd) working on this project – Leigh (Lovely Legs), David, Nick and new to the Hampton Court experience is Christian.  We also have a water consultant, Tony Harragin in charge of the water feature.

Day 1 of the build

Behind the scenes, there are several people working tirelessly.  My Mum, Dad and husband Hugo have been my sounding board and Dad has been making many posts for the garden.  My mum, cousins – Michaela and Allie are on twin duty.

Then there are two other suppliers who are working tirelessly behind the scenes.  David at Meadowgate Nurseries, who is supplying the plants and Angus and his crew at Scotscape who are supplying the green wall are doing their darndest to make sure the plants look the best they possibly can.

I have to say that the team is absolutely amazing, they are really behind the garden and it is a pleasure working with every single one of them.

This week on the build, is all about creating the main shape of the garden.  Digging out and creating the pool of water and building the bridge.  The garden is taking shape already so you really start to get a feel for what it will eventually be.   Today the massive liner from Gordon Low Products was laid by Tony and the crew.

I realise that I haven’t said much about what this show garden is about which is rather remiss of me.

A birds eye view of the garden would perhaps look more akin to a giant plaster over a gaping wound. On closer inspection, crossing a large desolate expanse of swirling whirlpools, a bridge rises out of the water filled with beautiful feathery plumes of trees and a bright explosion of exuberant planting. Stepping onto the bridge, from the darkness into the light, the planting changes from darker to lighter tones and steps appear floating, creating a heavenly feel, as you cross the bridge. Words of real patients, expressing their feelings of relief having received treatment, are inset within the paving.

Bridge over troubled water is a show garden inspired by the relief that patients feel when they have received treatment for their problem, specifically, bladder problems. The bridge is a metaphor for treating the problem.  Typically, people don’t talking about such medical conditions and often people live in discomfort not realising that there are treatments available that could radically improve their quality of life. Beyond this specific theme, it is also hoped that the design resonates with all its visitors in some way. We nearly all experience harder times and this garden reminds you how gardening and having a closer relationship with plants, can be a tonic to some and as much as a lifeline to others.

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‘Catastrophising’ is a good thing…I hope!

So what ‘glitzy projects’, a good friend of mine asked me last night, have I got on this year?  Well, having caught the ‘show bug’ last year, I’m returning to Hampton Court.  This time I’m embarking on an even bigger challenge – a show garden.

In a way, you would think it would be easier.  It’s not my first show so I know what to expect this time round.  Thanks to last year, I have some brilliant contacts and amazing partners who I know I can trust to deliver.  Despite being completely ANAL planning wise and having spent HOURS on the minutiae, pre-show nerves are still creeping into my nights.  I’m not having nightmares but I do find myself lying awake ‘catastrophising’ as another very good friend calls it.

One of my big learnings from last year was to expect the unexpected and to contingency plan.  So by ‘catastrophising’ I’m making sure that I’ve covered all the bases as much as is possible.  That’s a good thing right?  The lorry’s smashed all the pavers in transit – what do I do?…  The special trees I am sourcing from the Netherlands have turned up and the branches are all broken…the water feature isn’t working…the plants aren’t flowering on time and aren’t big enough…my Dad has cut off one of his fingers….(this has actually happened!)….aaaaahhhh!

So the dark circles forming around my eyes aren’t the result of having 9 month old twins in the house (who incidentally are dream sleepers), but are the result of ‘catastrophising’.   Hopefully, if you come along to this year’s show, you will be able to judge for yourself whether it’s all been worth it.  Fingers crossed it will be… I love all this worrying really! :)

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Its not easy finding supporters

I am involved in the new Chelsea Fringe Festival (www.chelseafringe.com) – which is all about taking gardening and garden design to a wider audience.  As well as helping with the marketing piece for the event, I am focusing on one particular project which is called the ‘Bed Parade’ (www.bedparade.com).  The idea is the garden world’s version of the ‘Elephant Parade’ or ‘Cow Parade’.   Pop-up conceptually designed garden beds (just 1m x 2m) appear on the streets of London.  Each bed is supported by a company or individual and nearly all the money (except a small budget to create the bed itself) goes to a homeless charity.  Our charity partner is St Mungo’s.  Homeless people will be involved in the creation of the beds which will be designed by leading and up-and-coming garden designers.

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We’ve had a phenomenol response to the project.  People really love the idea and the councils are very behind it and keen to give us prime sites to locate the beds.  The big issue is finding supporters.  Okay so I am not a sales person and the group of us working on this project aren’t either.  We spend our days designing gardens - so what do we know?  It’s a horrible job trying to find someone to support a charitable project.  It is a matter of tapping up our own contacts and cold calling.  

So with my marketing background, I thought a way in would be to target PR agencies dealing with client’s corporate social responsibility (CSR).  Now a PR agency should always be aware of how they as well as their clients, come across and should be masters of communication.  The nightmare is when someone rings up a client and they get a bad reception from the person who answers the phone (always an easy story win for a journo to go on a mystery shopper cold calling exercise).  But a PR agency would never do that would it?  I have just got off the phone to one and the guy who eventually answered the phone, asked me to ring back in 15 minutes because he was too ‘busy dealing with a client’.  He did not know who I was from adam – I just said that I wanted to speak with someone who works on CSR PR.  I could easily have been a potential client ringing up and with that response – he would have lost me in a heartbeat.  Lucky for them, I am not a potential client so I will ring back.  Watch this space! :)

Oh and if anyone knows someone who would be interested in supporting The Bed Parade or The Chelsea Fringe Festival, please DO get in contact.  You will get an answer – promise!

 

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Ode to Leigh ‘Lovely Legs’ and the rest of my build team

Finally I have a moment to sit down and write something about what has being going on in the first 4 days of the build.

It is SO MUCH FUN!  I wish I could do this all the time.  Have to say the show manager Mandy and her whole team have been so supportive to everyone – its made it all so much easier.  In fact it makes for a lovely atmosphere.  None of the usual ‘event problems’ so far!  The only downside is the fact the only usable toilets are a good 500m away from our site.  So I’m averaging 10miles of walking to and from loos a day.  On my many frequent trips, I am attracting a few odd looks.  Females are definitely in the minority here this week and heavily pregnant ones even less so.

So on this first week of the build, the emphasis is on the hard landscaping and next week is all about the planting.  So far, despite the odd very prolonged and heavy rain ‘shower’ and gusty winds, massive progress has been made.  We’ve marked out the site, dug it out, put up the mirrored boundary and put in the floor sub base.  The next couple of days are all about the floor and then we’re onto the aerial structure as of tomorrow.

I love the way I am saying ‘we’.  What I should say is ‘the guys’ – this week that’s David, Leigh (Lovely Legs) and Nick from Neale Richards Ltd (our landscape contractor), Lysanne and Vicky who are the amazingly ‘hard working, perfectionist,  couldn’t live without’ volunteer helpers and last but by no means least my ‘always there for me’ brother James and parents, Pat and Peter.   And what a wonderful team they are!

I am sitting under a very anchored down gazebo on tea duty (my role is a sad state of affairs but at least I am cupboard loved for bringing cake everyday).

Yesterday I took the plunge and invested in a massive 6m x 12m marquee to cover the entire garden interior.  With typical Wimbledon rain showers upon us I can’t risk the floor not being done to schedule.  Gus from Concreations has just turned up and so its all go, go, go, on the innovative ‘micro’ concrete flooring.

So what’s it like being on the build site?  Well as I look around now I see a hive of activity.  Generators mask any bird song, the wind is whipping the multiple gazebos dotted around the site and all I can see are breeze blocks, mounds of soil, spades, wheel barrows and trees lying on their sides.   And of course, I should mention, there are lots of ‘strapping young lads’ fetching, carrying, building as well as quite a few on permanent builders tea breaks.

All the concept gardens are coming along nicely.  There are some great concepts this year – makes me feel quite inadequate and nervous.  But everyone really is very friendly.  There’s lots of water sharing, lending a helping hand and appreciation of other’s talents, going on.  We’re becoming quite a community.

Right I better go and photograph the cover going on the marquee.  It should be interesting in the wind.  More to come soon xxx

PS.  I would say that I’m very happy with progress, but I’m still having those nagging Agapanthus flowering worries… please let it be okay…will find out tomorrow morning when I visit Hardys.

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Filming with BEEB – a good way to spend the day

I spent the day at my parents house being filmed for the forthcoming BBC programme on Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.  There was something quite lovely about being back in the home I grew up in.  At the same time the setting was slightly ironic in that my parent’s garden couldn’t be more different from the garden I’m creating at Hampton Court.

Anoushka Feiler

Our piece, which tracks our journey to get ready for the show, is going out on the preview programme on Monday 4th July (I think).

I didn’t quite realise how long these things take.  I think our piece will be 4 minutes but the filming took a day and there’s more filming to come at the show when the garden’s built.  With the sun frequently disappearing behind clouds and previously unnoticed sound of aeroplanes flying overhead, it meant that it was very stop-start.  That was fine by me.  Is it bad to admit that I loved the whole experience?  I don’t think I’ll be saying that when I actually see myself on the programme.  Maybe I just won’t watch it so my bubble isn’t burst.

We had a great film crew and far from being tiring, it was very relaxing.   My dad, waiting to be filmed building the boundary, was perhaps more than a little nervous at first, which is not a side of him I’m familiar with, but that soon wore off. And maybe even the crew had a good time – my mum certainly helped with her home-made scones (yes for all who know her – home-made I promise – definitely not Waitrose – far more superior), sandwiches and tea on tap.

I’m glad too there wasn’t much mentioned on the fact I’m now heavily pregnant with twins.  It would take away from the focus on the garden.  I suppose  there is a risk that I may not make it to the show but its not something I’m thinking about as I’m sure it will be fine.  I think others are more worried about this than me.  My conversation with Caroline from the BBC went like this.  Call one.  What if you have the twins early – what happens then?  Answer – they won’t it will be fine.  Call two.  I just need to be sure, if you go into labour, who will do the garden? David our contractor, my dad and Ann-Marie Powell.   Call three.  Have you bought any baby clothes?  Answer – no not yet.

Seriously I am going to hang myself upside down if there is the slightest hint the little bubs feel the pull of gravity getting too much.  Anyway – they’re having far too much fun tap dancing, playing football, boxing each other and generally letting me know they’re happy in my bump.  Incidentally we’ve nicknamed them Fred and Ginger.

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Concept Garden Tastic at Chaumont International Garden Festival

Today Hugo and I went to Chaumont International Garden Show in France, near Tours. The garden show is entirely dedicated to concept gardens plus there are interesting art installations in the main Park.  What an incredible setting for a Garden Show.  It’s on permanently from April through to October which means that the designers have the added challenge of ensuring the show gardens look good throughout 3 seasons.

There are 24 gardens to see and it takes a good 3 or 4 hours to wander around.  Whilst they are all executed well, some are better than others as you would expect at a show (and of course its all down to personal opinion).

For me, the big take out from the day was how the different gardens make you ‘feel’ governs whether they are successful or not. Some gardens didn’t effect me at all, in fact I just felt disappointed and unsure what they were trying to convey.

Some gardens made you feel sad, empty, almost uncomfortable in their appearance, but at least that was part of the intention (I hope!).   The big theme for the show this year is Biodiversity and the Future of Gardens.   So many gardens had stark warning messages; ‘we must amend our ways now or this may be our future’.  The most effective gardens, were those that excited me in their clever execution, they looked beautiful even if, for some, they had negative messages to convey.  Not all were doom and gloom!  Here were my top 5:

  • Garden 2 – Sculptillonnage, designed by Corinne Julhiet-Detroyat and Claude Pasquer
  • Garden 11 – Handle with care, designed by Jeroen Jacobs and Maarten Jacobs
  • Garden 13 – The nature of things, designed by Soline Portmann, Aurélie Zita and Mioko Tanaka
  • Garden 15 – Between sky and earth, designed by Wang Xiangrong
  • Garden 20 – The Take Away Garden, designed by Steve Papps, Jo Chapman and Jackie Bennett

For me concept gardens need to create an emotional reaction, be it a positive or negative one, that captures the overall message so that you don’t need to read any sign outside the garden – just feel your way to the designer’s intention.  And in a way, just like art, if you don’t get the designer’s intention it doesn’t matter as long as you personally take something out of it.   All the elements need to work together to convey the message and to do this the space needs to me entertain in some way, be it through discovery, mystery,  quality of execution or just simply an overall impression.  

As the build for my concept garden looms closer, I find myself asking, can you know for sure before you build, that the ‘feel’ is going to be right? – just from an idea in your head, a drawing on paper, intricate planning and research.  And is there just a measure of lady luck on the day also involved?  

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It’s a family and friend freecycle affair

On the structure in the centre of the garden will hang garden tools to symbolise that every good idea and to ‘think big’, needs the right tools to make it a reality. I wanted them to be painted in silver to create a sculptural effect. Acquiring the tools has been far from easy due to the sheer quantity we require. From an eco standpoint I wanted them to be mainly discarded / broken / not working tools so that it wasn’t a waste.

I set this as a mission for friends and family. They have been amazing and there’s a lot to be said about word of mouth (thanks especially to Josie and Barney and all the residents of Taggs Island for their kind contribution). But one lady has really saved the day. My mother-in-law. She’s been trawling the local junk sales in Penzance and it has to be said has acquired 80% of the tools required. Some are really unusual. She’s certainly saved my other half, Hugo, from a lot of Ebay and Freecycle searches and driving round the country to pick them up.

The next job is to paint them silver. Hugo has been painting a few every night or whenever he has a spare hour (which isn’t often). It’s a massive job and he’s been working away religiously. I feel terrible not helping but due to being pregnant I’m having to come to terms with the limits of what I can and cannot do. I think that’s been the hardest thing about this whole project and I have to say I’m dreading the build in that respect.

It has to be said though that when silver they look fantastic. They look great in our entrance way against a white wall so we may use them to create a wall sculpture after the show. There’s still many more to go silver and very little time to do it so I feel a painting party coming on the weekend of 11-12th June.

And here’s another worry I think I have combated. After waking up in the middle night in a cold sweat realising that after spending hours filling out the form for the health and safety I had just focused on the build and breakdown and not the show itself (which as the general public are involved, is even more important). With over a hundred garden tools being hung on it and another 100 plants, I decided that even though I hadn’t the budget, I would get a structural engineer to check the structure, to ensure the weight bearing capacity and forces that were being applied would be all fine. I could then pin down a specification for the star shape wire structure from which I plan to hang the upside down pots. Jason from Expositionists (the company I am hiring the gantry from) has been a complete legend in helping me with this aspect. He’s gone way beyond the call of duty – maybe he’s a bit taken with this very wacky project. If anyone ever needs staging equipment – go to him is all I can say.

Now what to do with all the materials in the garden? I want them to go to good homes, not get dumped on a skip. What’s up for grabs? Beautiful Agapanthus, Hostas and Ferns, painted garden tools, mirrors and exterior ply wood. Anyone want any of these? For the plants I’m offering them all at £3 each for those that want to put their name down. You’ll have to collect them from me in Putney or the show on Sunday 10th July evening. Same goes for the tools, mirrors and wood except you can have them for free. Feel free to email us with what you want at info@bestique.co.uk.

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