Summer newsletter 2018

What a summer!  With high temperatures and rain-free weeks, even the most sun-loving person was hoping for rain.  

Happily the under-gardeners at The Priory kept up the watering to the new trees and plants, as well as the borders, and we have not lost many plants.  Some loved the heat and flourished. 

The cost of the hard winter this year has become evident, with losses of tens of dahlias and salvias in the borders, leaving gaps.  But gaps are there to be filled, and that allows plans for next year to develop over the quieter months.  

Some delicious garden visits in summer this year with lovely photos.

I'm sharing some news which is very exciting for a botanical artist - I have had a plant named after me.  More of that below...

I have an exhibition coming up at the Canwood Gallery in Herefordshire and the Cabbages and Roses exhibition in London in May was a delightful experience all round.

Summer -- with its abundant fruit on the trees and produce in the vegetable garden and berries in the hedgerows -- is at the height of its glory. 

An extravagant time of year.


August  2018

Dahlia 'Venamore's Delight'

In a surprising development, I have had a plant named after me.  It's an honour for anyone, but particularly meaningful for a botanical artist. 

The National Dahlia Collection in Penzance approached me about the naming of a new cultivar following an exchange about another dahlia I had painted.  

Both this new dahlia and the one I had painted in 2017 were bred by the dahlia expert Mark Twyning. 

The new dahlia is a beautiful apricot with flushed pink twisting petals, and is of the large, decorative type.  It should hold its own in the garden.

I'll be plating tubers and painting this lovely bloom in due course.  

For more on this story, click here...


Canwood Gallery, Herefordshire

I have paintings hanging in "An Art Showcase", an exhibition arranged by Canwood Gallery in association with St Michael's Hospice, Hereford, by a groups of artists across disciplines.  

Canwood is providing the exhibition space gratis for St Michael's to benefit from the commissions from this event, running from 8 - 16 September.

Cabbages & Roses, London

The Cabbages & Roses exhibition in London in May was a delight, with beautiful weather, shoppers dropping by to see the lovely garments designed by Christina Strutt and her team, and to have a glass of champagne. 

It was the perfect coming together of those who love beauty and seek to surround themselves with it.  

Thanks Christina, Kate and the team.

Botanical Worldwide Event 

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, my painting of Callistemon rugulosus was accepted by the Australian chapter of the Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition 2018, in May 2018.  

This project was 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 documented wild plants in their countries to create a record of today’s botanical diversity. 

Organized by the Botanical Art Society of Australia (BASA), Australia’s exhibition was held in Ainslie Arts Centre, Canberra.  

BASA has produced a beautiful printed full-colour catalogue of the 109 works that were chosen to hang in their exhibition. 

The works chosen for the exhibition had to feature plant species of Australia, the definition of which is ‘any wild plant indigenous to Australia, including natural hybrids, but excluding any cultivar, man-made hybrids, and naturalized exotics’.

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

On the easel this summer

It's a time for pressing on with the existing work which has been banking up over the past few months, with not enough time at the easel to get through it all yet.  I'm planning the next level of work on the RHS botanical art exhibition, hopefully for 2019, but it's an ambitious-looking objective at this point.

Lots of sketching and drawing, and pressing specimens while they are in their growing season. 

Chelsea Flower Show 2018

What a beautiful experience was the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May.  It's always such a treat. 

Full of clever plantspeople, nurseries, artists and showmanship, Chelsea is a feast for the senses.  

I was struck again by the energy behind the exhibits, and the commitment made to perfection by the garden designers and nurseries alike, who replace and refresh plants to keep displays looking fresh and lovely.  

It's the ultimate flower show, and second to none for attention to detail. I can't wait for next year.

Garden visits

Badminton House Gardens

Every year Badminton House opens its doors to visitors for charity.  The gardens are large and varied, though along traditional English lines as one would expect of a house of this kind.  

The house itself is a glorious backdrop to the extensive gardens, which unfold around it.  The rose garden is delicious. The walled garden has been responsible for many ideas transferred to my own garden, so inspiring is it.

Belvoir Castle gardens

Belvoir Castle is the ancestral home of the Dukes of Rutland. The family have lived at Belvoir in an unbroken line for almost a thousand years. Crowning a hill in Leicestershire, its turrets and towers rise over the Vale of Belvoir like an illustration in a romantic fairytale.

The Castle hosts a garden constructed on the hill on which the castle was built.  A pretty rose garden has views back to the castle and is well stocked.  The walk through the natural gardens from the castle is lovely, and atmospheric.  

The Castle itself is large and dramatic, a wonderful setting. 

The Pig near Bath

I first visited this delightful place in 2017, and was overwhelmed by the kitchen gardens of around 2 acres. I was not disappointed on the second visit, when the garden was in full flush, with productive rows upon rows of vegetables, carefully curated and signed. 

This is an extravagantly perfect kitchen garden, whose produce is utilised in the restaurant.  It's worth a visit just to see what can be done with a productive garden, and the ideas are transformational and inspiring.  Clearly there are a team of gardeners working the plot, given its scale and perfection.  

It is a movingly beautiful place, both the early Georgian manor house and its surrounds.  It has become a place of garden pilgrimage for me, and triggered my courage to start the potager in my own garden, despite it being early days.

The Priory garden  

After the late spring moving into a parched, hot summer, gardening seemed to be focused on keeping things alive this summer.  

Happily the team of 'under-gardeners' did a terrific job in the past two months, up early and out late trying to ensure the minimum amount of water was delivered to plants in need.  The mulching task in spring was done thoroughly this year, which clearly paid dividends once the rain stopped.  

It was surprising just how much damage the harsh winter had done when much- awaited plants failed to show, including salvias 'Love and wishes', which were such a grand presence in the borders last year, and all the dahlias in the plum border, including 'Twynings After Eight', all of which failed.  They survived the previous winter without any help, but clearly the Siberian conditions (without mulching) were too much. 

The lollipop Ilex crenata in the secret garden borders are looking worse for wear, with all now showing signs of major leaf loss.  I think box may be stronger and more resilient, and will ultimately replace them with box.  Odd, given the ilex were planted to avoid the problems with box, such as blight and caterpillar, neither of which we have experienced to date. 

Anyway, onward with plans for replacements over time, and new designs for the gaps.

The parterre renovation

The parterre is core to the appeal of the house and garden, setting off the front aspect.  Over the years before we moved in, the parterre had become overgrown and was over-clipped to compensate, leaving a row of dead-looking branches down the middle of the box forms. 

25 years ago, the parterre had been planned and planted by the then owner, who had bought the house from a farming family. This owner enhanced the beauty and elegance of the house by designing quite formal gardens around it, using the high walls and building yew hedges and borders. 

He designed and planted the parterre from box cuttings (the small form of buxus, suffruticosa) which he had struck himself, 2000 of them.  It was a labour of love, and it was worth the effort for us as new owners to bring it back to the form intended. 

The yew obelisks had also become overgrown and too large for the scale of the house.  There is more work to do there, although they have been tightened up in shape.  

These are early photos of the planted out parterre and its advancement:

While there is some way to go, the parterre is now almost repaired.  The next two years will see the advancements settled and the yews cut back to size. Here are some photographs of the parterre as it was when we inherited it, with the box lines trimmed too wide and having been cut back down to height, revealing the woody stems along the top of the hedge lines.

The past two years of renovation has been a little experimental, with timid trimming leading to more confident trimming as it was clear the hedging would grow back.  In 2017 I did a very heavy trim, leaving only modest green growth, using sight lines made of string and stakes.  This hard cut took some courage.

The parterre has been very thin on green, with some areas particularly slow to grow. 

Initially inorganic fertiliser, applied each month of the growing season, was helpful, then someone mentioned seaweed.  Since the first application or seaweed fertiliser in March 2018, the hedging has leapt forward, with substantial regrowth, including rapid growth (for box) up the middle of the hedging lines.  It's been transformational.

Each trim takes 16-20 hours of bent-over or kneeling trimming with electric hedging shears.  These are light and therefore able to handled in an awkward position for hours on end.  Miniature box grows very low, and there is no prospect or trimming the two sides bent over, even for the most athletic, when one is dealing with 150 metres worth.

It has been a pleasure to work on, as is always the case when renovating someone else's masterpiece, and I'm excited that it is clearly going to be repairable, and that we are nearly there this year, only two years after starting.