Category Archives: Uncategorized

Julian Dowle, Lila and the missing Ann-Marie

Julian Dowle, Chelsea veteran, judge and winner of countless gold medals with Lila Das Guptas, BBC Chelsea star and I crept into this hut to escape the razzmatazz outside.

I wish Ann-Marie Powell had been able to join us but Gilbert Bundy prevented her appearance at Chelsea and, at a few days old, he would not have been allowed in the showground. Yet another reason that the RHS should reconsider its under-fives ban.


Kim Wilkie: heaven and picturesque hell

Teetered in from the official opening of Kim Wilkie’s new landscape ‘Orpheus’, dripping mud and rain across rolling floorboards at Boughton House, Northamptonshire. Orpheus is an elegant turf pit (above, behind Kim) representing the eponymous hero’s journey into the underworld – in landscaping terms a 21st century answer to the neighbouring eighteenth century Olympian Mount (below).

A tempest lashed around us while we inspected Kim’s elegant pit and a band of early musicians, I Fagiolini, plunged down towards Hades to play a few bars until the rain drove us all indoors.
I wonder how many times this scene has played out through the ages with seventeenth and eighteenth century guests rattling up from London for a garden party only to be rained on.

Feel that Orpheus, who sang so sweetly that he scared away the Sirens while he was being a Greek hero, should have been able to have scared away the rain. When he descended into the underworld to rescue his wife, and then bogged up the mission by breaking a promise, I wonder if it occurred to him that he would be remembered as a verdant pit – or a romping ENO operetta.

Either way the place is worth visiting. The hellish new landscape is heavenly (although I’m not convinced by the Fibonacci curve at the top of the pit pictured at the top of this page) and the surrounding old landscape is magnificent. The rest of the garden’s brimming with plant and design interest. And the house stuffed full of beautiful, ancient, unusual paintings (including an unusual one of Henry VIII and his three children); Venetian chests, gorgeous ceilings and grand/cosy four posters.

All still lived in by the man who commissioned the landscape, the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry (pictured here using the music stand as an umbrella) and his large family.

Chelsea Cough

Chelsea Cough’s been worse than ever this year. Plane trees dominate the site and chuck down pollen that sandpapers eyes and makes victims cough and choke. It’s blocked the filters on James Wong’s Canary Islands garden. Mind you, The Cough is nothing beside the other complaints brought on by Chelsea. Quilted Velvet Gardener Tony Smith’s back’s gone(that’s him lolling about in the Lolling About area in the pic). Tom Hoblyn (redwood curves against the chemical yellow pitcher plants pictured below) is so exhausted he can barely speak. Designers, builders, horticulturists and plant checkers are wandering about in a state of sleep deprivation. Paul Stone of the Eden Project’s Key garden looked as if he was about to expire. Welcome to Chelsea or, as Chelsea widows and widowers sometimes call it, The Marriage Breaker.


UCL occupation

Went to see daughter number one last night. She is one of the UCL (University College London) students occupying the Jeremy Bentham room close to where, many years ago, I used to have tutorials.
Just outside they have made a cardboard coffin. Candles and flowers surround it. A plaque reading, ‘RIP education’ explains the curious shrine.
Inside, a timeline around the wall marks interviews with the various newspapers and the BBC; marches; interventions from the authorities.
The atmosphere is calm and serious.
Tables, each with its own collection of laptops and students are marked, variously, ‘Media’ ‘Process’ ‘Welfare’ and so on.
I am invited to join the supper line: tuna, cous cous, tomatoes.

All the students I meet are polite and thoughtful. I ask who are the leaders. There are none. Yes, I say, but there must be a few key decision makers . No, it’s just consensual.

Chelsea at sea with the Cayman Islands

The clear picture shows the Cayman Islands’ gold winning exhibit of an undersea garden. The blob shows my uncategorized underwater photograph of a Cayman Reef.

This is the Cayman Islands’ second ever garden at Chelsea so the gold is not at all bad. In fact it’s a miracle they agreed to come back at all after last year when Dutch customs officials confiscated the Cayman Islands’ rare ghost orchids in transit to the UK. Remember this if you come across a bloke down a dark alley offering you, ‘Genuine ghost orchids. honest gov’.


Qui vivat atque floreat ad plurimos annos

The eagle-nosed garden god and spelling bee champion James Alexander Sinclair (pictured here swapping ears with Ann-Marie Powell) has jiggled and joggled his ASCII-to-hex chart, primped and preened his sprocket retainer bolts and come up with an even shiner website. The blog’s good, too witty, erudite, timely, apt. So maybe this is what comes of hitting the half century. Happy almost birthday for the 30th oh illustrious one.    

Chelsea Monday

Long chat with Ulf Nordfell on Monday as he tweaked and tickled his iris, stachys and pinkly scented Rosa X odorata ‘Mutabilis’ hours before his garden was awarded best in show. It’s the simplicity of his and all the other award winning gardens this year that appeals. But his inspiration is complex: English, Swedish, modernist (he talks about Hidcote in terms of its modernism) Renaissance and, more specifically Boticelli. It’s the latter’s exquisite paintings which prompted Ulf to plant against a dark background. Hence his jewelled grass. Mmmm    

Fashion rap

Professor Caroline Evans from Central St Martins brought a whole new angle to the party. She enjoys pursuing gardens – catching up with them as they change. Like the Pursuit of Happiness I suppose. She presented us with Plant-free Garden equivalents from her world. Apparently one fashion collection had no clothes – nothing.
On an equally surreal note Stephen wondered if it were possible to make a garden by wrapping the whole of the RHS Council and leaving the resulting bundle outside.