Spring newsletter 2018

Even with the most generous of spirits, it has to be said that spring has been very coy this year. With late and heavy snow, and a continuing reluctance by the sun to make an appearance, many gardeners are choosing the fireplace over the borders.

At the same time, having seasonal deadlines remains an incentive, and I was mulching in freezing fog yesterday, determined to keep up some kind of schedule. Lots of garden developments at The Priory this spring to read about.

I’ve visited some lovely gardens already this year, including the Harold Peto Gardens at Iford Manor in Wiltshire. What a treat! And another garden in the collection of the National Gardens Scheme, Lower Shalford Farm.

I'm sharing some news which is very exciting for a botanical artist - the Royal Horticultural Society has acquired a painting of mine - Dahlia 'Twynings After Eight'.  More of that below...

There will be a lovely little exhibition in Chelsea Flower Show week in London, with the beautiful English boutique, Cabbages and Roses.  Something to look forward to in full Spring.

I love this time of year, with its promise unfolding and the frantic activity to plant up and ready the garden to get an advance on summer, with all its froth and bloom.  Exciting.


Wiltshire, April 2018

An acquisition by the RHS

As I foreshadowed in the Winter newsletter, the Royal Horticultural Society has acquired one of my pieces, Dahlia 'Twynings After Eight', for their collection of botanical art, held by the RHS Lindley Library. 

The Lindley is one of the most comprehensive botanical art collections in the UK, with 30,000 original illustrations by historically renowned painters.  

The Library will display the painting and the preliminary sketches they also purchased on 18 May to coincide with the Worldwide Botanical Art event.

In a postscript to this acquisition, I had a strong response to the announcement on social media.  Via Instagram, I had a response from the National Dahlia Collection in Penzance, Cornwall, who told me that it was their horticulturalist, Mark Twyning, who had developed this cultivar.  

I had initially searched, to no avail, for the history of my subject, and was excited to be connected with the National Dahlia Collection.  I'll be staying in touch with the NDC going forward, as their work is exemplary, and they have 1700 cultivars in their nursery. 

Such is the power of social media! 

For more about this painting, click here.  And if you're a demon for detail and you'd like more information about the process of painting it, click here.


Cabbages and Roses

We are edging closer to the little pop-up exhibition which will be on during Chelsea Flower Show time at Cabbages and Roses in Chelsea, London.  

Cabbages and Roses, is a quintessentially English boutique in Chelsea.  

Christina Strutt, whose divine sense of creativity is behind the brand, has long been an inspiration of mine with her unique perspective on English fashion.  I'm a devotee.

With her sense of beauty, her dynamism, and her exquisite taste, Christina and her team have created an entire philosophy of clothing, fabrics and homewares. 

Together we are celebrating spring, the Chelsea Flower Show, and all good things happening in Chelsea in May.  Spring flowers and summer lovelies, all in the environment of the beautiful boutique on Sydney Street.  

Look out for more details of the private view during the week of May 21 in a special update due out shortly. 

Botanical Worldwide Event May 18

As I mentioned in the Winter newsletter, my painting of Callistemon rugulosus has been accepted by the Australian chapter of the Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition 2018, in May 2018.  

This project is an ambitious global collaboration between botanical artists and institutions worldwide, creating and exhibiting botanical artworks of native plants found in each of 25 participating countries. 

For the project, artists have documented wild plants in their countries to create a record of today’s botanical diversity. 

These artworks have been submitted for juried exhibitions in each participating country, on view in 2018. 

Organized by the Botanical Art Society of Australia (BASA), Australia’s exhibition will be held in Ainslie Arts Centre, Canberra.  The exhibition will be open May 18 - May 27, 2018, 10am - 4pm daily.  

BASA has now released its flyer for the event - I hope my Australian friends have the chance to see it.

Kew Gardens: Herbarium tour

Along with a group of other botanical artists, I was privileged to join a tour of the Kew Herbarium in April by Lucy Smith, one of Kew’s talented botanical illustrators.  

Lucy is an Australian artist who started at Kew 18 years ago and, somewhat to her surprise perhaps, is still there, doing a job she relishes.  

Lucy has illustrated an astonishing 260 plates of the palms of Papua New Guinea, a fest which is difficult to comprehend. The line drawings are details and carefully constructed, with many hours spent working out how to squeeze in all the relevant parts of huge trees onto a small page.

Lucy took us around the modern and Victorian wings of the Herbarium, showing us how botanists categorise and identify plants coming in from all over the world, as well as plants Kew shares with other international collections. 

Coming from Australia, where customs phytosanitary measures are stringent, I noted with interest that specimens are frozen for 72 hours before storing and transporting, to ensure no insects would be joining the trip. 

Lucy showed us the laborious process botanists go through both in the field and back in the Herbarium to lay out and adhere specimens in the most useful way for future study.  We met a team who were re-laying specimens onto conservation-standard papers, clearly painstaking work.

Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew

There are two current exhibitions on at the Shirley Sherwood botanical art gallery this summer in Kew Gardens:

  • The Florilegium: Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney 
  • Down Under II: Works from the Shirley Sherwood Collection

which are both on until 16 September 2018.

I was privileged to be amongst a group of artists to be given a tour by the renowned Beverley Allen and colleagues from the Sydney Florilegium Society.  These exhibitions are generously-hung, exciting and well worth visiting, with huge variety.  And of course some breathtaking works.

There is also an interesting segment on the Temperate House, due to reopen on May 5 after a 5 year renovation.  

On the easel this spring

Alongside continuing preparations for the RHS botanical art show next year, the easel continues to be filled with a line-up of spring and summer flowers for the Chelsea pop-up exhibition in May.  

I also have a commission for a set of Mediterranean plants, so will shortly begin the hunt for specimens.  That one won't be straightforward, as they are not particularly hardy for this climate.  Perhaps a trip will be in order! 

I have iris corms in the garden starting to develop for a commission from last year which has been waiting for the flowering period, so let's hope it's a long one this year. 

A snowy spring

It’s been a somewhat Siberian experience in Wiltshire this spring, with several days of driven powder snow in February. And again in March we had another foot of snow, though a more gentle variety. 

While we expect some winter weather, this was extraordinary, and with rural roads uncleared we sat tight in our warm house and drank hot chocolates, wishing we had found a fireguard and could light the fire. 

Venturing outside took some bravery, as temperatures were below zero, deterring even the most determined snowman-makers.  

But the scenes were beautiful, as the photos attest.  

The gardener in me hopes the temperatures will have lowered the slug population this year, at least.

Garden visits

Harold Peto Gardens at Iford Manor

The Harold Peto gardens  have been painstakingly built into a steep hillside in Wiltshire near Bradford on Avon.  They are set alongside the imposing facade of a listed Georgian and earlier house, and cascade down the hill, with Italianate features and new areas being added.  

In 1899, Harold Ainsworth Peto discovered Iford and the individuality of the garden is a result of his inspiration and eye for combining architecture and plants.

Terracing forms an important element of the design. Peto was particularly attracted by the charm of old Italian gardens, where flowers occupy a subordinate place amongst the cypresses, broad walks, statues and pools. The current owners have restored the design and planting in accordance with Harold Peto’s vision and over the years, have transformed the area of the Oriental garden.

The gardens are charming and the surrounding area is gorgeous - just the drive in to the gardens is worth looking forward to.  I anticipate returning in summer (and indeed many more times) to see everything in full bloom.

Westwood Manor

Although this is primarily a historic house, Westwood Manor is worth a mention here for the effectiveness of simple, dramatic topiary gardening with no fussy borders (having said that, I am also a fan of fussy borders!).  

It is a glorious small 15th century stone manor house which still has a family of tenants, and is a beautiful place to visit.  The house, built over three centuries, has late Gothic and Jacobean windows, decorative plasterwork and two important keyboard instruments. There is some fine period furniture, seventeenth and eighteenth century tapestries and a modern topiary garden. Exceptionally well kept.

The garden is small, with two rectangular ponds and yew topiary, laid out in perfect order and giving a strong sense of order and calm. 

It is striking, not least for the yew topiary thatched cottage, which reveals itself only from a distance.  A jewel of a place.

Lacock Abbey

Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire is another exemplary estate belonging to the National Trust, with extensive gardens, a Victorian greenhouse and botanical garden, and a beautiful 12-century origins Abbey with cloisters.  

The Abbey, located at the heart of Lacock village (also National Trust) within its own woodland grounds, is a quirky country house of various architectural styles, built upon the foundations of a former nunnery.

Their spring flower plantings en masse are a sight to see, even if the River Avon had extravagantly broken its banks on the day I visited - happily still some distance from the Abbey.  

I visit this house and garden several times a year, as it's close to home.  There is always something new to see, this time, the courtyard with its magnificent magnolias.

Lower Shalford Farm, National Garden scheme

In early spring I visited Lower Shalford Farm, a garden near Wincanton in Somerset developed over 30 years by its committed and talented owners, who were welcoming visitors on site and explaining the garden.  

This is a large open garden with extensive lawns and wooded surroundings. There is a small winterbourne stream running through with several stone bridges. It has a walled rose/parterre garden, hedged herbaceous garden and several ornamental ponds. 

I visited on a clear spring day with warm sunshine, which was a treat.  It was heavenly to wander through the bulb-filled fields planted with clusters of daffodils and carefully-chosen trees.  

I have to mention the tea, which was beautifully done, with home-made cakes set up in a renovated outbuilding.  

Sitting in the sunshine sipping Earl Grey was a pleasant way to see in the spring, and will be long remembered.  Bless the National Garden Scheme.

The Priory garden renovations 

With a late winter slowing down the soil warming this year, it was a slightly late start to the next stage of renovations.  Lots of moving of plants to their final place in March, while plants were still dormant, with major efforts required to extract the Wiltshire 'brash' or underground stone as digging proceeded.  

More like a painstaking archaeological dig at times, with trowel in hand digging sideways into the rock layers!  Needed the big guns with a crowbar at times to break up the stones. 

The herb garden is a delight, with order finally imposed and a lovely patterned appearance.  No doubt to disappear under masses of foliage and flowers in a few months, looking ragged.  But for now, delightful and full of promise.

New fruit trees are exciting, with plantings of Morello cherry, red apple ('The Beauty of Bath' - who could resist?), quince, pear, green gage and Victoria plum.  Removing dying and diseased trees has provided the space for this mini orchard.  

A new crabapple has gone in to complete a row of three alongside the parterre, Malus hupehensis,which has a cherry-like suspension of the deep red fruit.  

After its very heavy renovation cut last year to reshape it, the parterre is looking well-formed and has clearer lines.  It now needs regrowth of the box foliage up the centres of the forms in order to fully recover.  Seaweed fertiliser is my tool this year to encourage this. 

Despite deciding not to attack the overgrown potager this year, and leave it for the future, the temptation was too much.  So it's been cleared and some soft fruits are in - gooseberries, blackberries, raspberries and redcurrant.  Oh, and three varieties of asparagus, for which two years' patience will be required.  But asparagus is always worth the wait. And the first spears have already shot through the mulch. Exciting.

Let's see how we go on the vegetable planting - might have been  a bit too ambitious.  But many vegetables are so painterly that it's tempting to give it all a try.

Lawn management is now in full swing and it's greening up as the moss is removed, setting off the plantings. Mulching the borders is a daunting but necessary task, and good for core fitness besides! 

Despite having bitten off quite a lot more than we had planned last year, it's been deeply rewarding to see the benefits already.  

Unlike a house renovation, which shows the benefits of works immediately afterwards, gardens require time.  So the earlier one leaps in, the better.  At least that's my theory... and justification.

Some photos below of the spring growth as well as the less glamorous bits of the renovation task.