Month: June 2016

The Fine Art of Stonebalancing

IMG_1135For me, the exceptional stand at the Chelsea Flower Show was the Stonebalancing stand. It was tucked away amongst the Fresh Gardens and at first glance it looked like a display of rather nice stone sculptures. Then you realised that the stones were balanced on each other, some seemingly defying gravity. Adrian Grey positions stones on top of each other in a way that seems completely impossible and created an area of magical calm amidst the bustle of the show. The stones you can buy are pinned together (for safety as some are huge), although all were naturally balanced originally. In the centre of the stand was a ring with naturally balanced stones. Every so often Adrian changes the stones. Holding the top one in place, he appeared completely still, all his concentration focused on finding the perfect balance. It seemed remarkably easy and totally impossible. After a few seconds he stepped back, leaving a perfectly balanced sculpture, which looked both precarious and solid at the same time. I think it is the contradictions that make stonebalancing so amazing: ease and impossibility, solidity and precariousness.

I bought his book, which is full of stunning photos of impossibly balanced stones, many of them on the beaches at Lyme Regis. As the tide comes in the stones are engulfed and, eventually, unbalanced. The stone boats are particularly charming, as are the stone families making their ways along the sands; others seem to defy gravity.

When I got home I decided to have a go. Dredging up the little physics I remembered, I was confident that everything must have a balancing point. It was simply a case of finding it. I selected some stones from the garden and settled down to create works of art. It is, of course, much harder than Adrian makes it look; it requires tiny, gentle adjustments, feeling for the slightest movement in the stone. It also requires a camera to hand and an attractive background, neither of which I’d thought about. Making my two little stone animals felt like a huge achievement but also made me realise just how incredible Adrian’s sculptures are.

Visit his website, read his book, The Art of Stonebalancing, and be amazed.



The Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Geum 'Mai Tai' 2Last week I visited the Chelsea Flower Show and, as always came away inspired by the gardens, awed at the standard of plants in The Great Pavilion, weighed down by too many catalogues promising great things and clutching a large list of plants I wanted.

The M & G Exmoor Garden, designed by Cleve West has the first plot on Main Avenue and it is wonderful but, in the sweeping way of amateurs, we decided that the judges were correct in awarding the Telegraph (or Dinosaur) Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, the Best in Show. I don’t usually like slabs of rock in a garden but here the fins of the stegosaurus managed to be spectacular without overpowering the rest of the garden. As we left there were people on the garden drinking champagne and sitting round the fire. It showed that while the garden was an extraordinary piece of design, it was also a garden which could work – children would love it and it looked just as good occupied by people as pristinely empty.

A great many of the gardens included semi-naturalistic planting with an abundance of grasses and purple flowers. This is not necessarily a bad thing, although by the end of the day it had become a case of ‘Oh look! More wafty purple plants.’ The Husqvarna Garden was very formal with tightly packed purple, burgundy and magenta blooms encircled by immaculately clipped hedges. Like little meercats the lysimachia seemed to be looking for a way out and in places had even made a break for freedom.

L'Occitane  Linum campanulatum or L. flavumLast year the L’Occitane Garden had been my favourite by a long way (it is still the screen saver on my laptop). This year the garden was a little too rough. It no doubt created an accurate picture of the landscape but, apart from an enticing path lined with poppies and flax, it didn’t appeal to my wilder fantasies of going to live in Provence.

The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden was inspired by William Heath Robinson and designed by Diarmuid Gavin. It was meant to make one smile, and that’s exactly what it did. The planting was exuberant, multi-coloured and, to my mind, near perfect. It was a joy to look at and then, every fifteen minutes, there was a brief flight of fantasy. The pure white foxgloves gave a little shake and then trundled round the folly. Box balls bobbed up and down, trees twirled, window boxes rose up a storey and a pair of shears popped up to trim the topiary. The sundial performed a somersault and became a tub of flowers. It was ludicrous and yet totally wonderful, especially with the man himself vaulting the flowers!

Jekka 3Jekka McVicar had moved out of the tent onto a plot on Royal Hospital Way. It was small but suited her design perfectly. Medicinal plants of all types circled a central stone bowl of constantly flowing water. It looked good from every angle and we couldn’t work out why it hadn’t been awarded a Gold Medal. Eventually we came to the conclusion that it was probably because the rough grass round the edge looked ‘rough’, rather than the ‘manicured rough’ one often sees in show gardens. Or there may have been a perfectly valid judging point that we didn’t know about. Either way, it was lovely.

In the smaller Fresh and Artisan Gardens, The Mekong Garden Mekong Garden 3: a giant stone cube with a garden hidden inside but every time we passed there was a huge queue and I’m afraid coffee and cake or a glass of wine won against the wait.

The Great Pavilion had its usual spectacular displays and the pile of catalogues on my kitchen table is testament to the persuasiveness and charm of the growers.

Outside, many of the stalls have been influenced by the need to cover costs (perfectly understandably). When I first started working at the flower show on the Hatchards stand we were one of five or six bookshops. Now, margins have meant that only the RHS is left, and even their display has shrunk to a few shelves and a couple of tables. For a variety of reasons, people don’t buy so many gardening books now but, even so, it seems a shame. Instead, there were a lot of stands selling expensive clothes, some garden-related, some not. One good thing is that I am less tempted to buy: some labels and a set of outdoor fairy lights from Sarah Raven were pretty well my only purchases. As far as I am concerned the plants and gardens are very much the stars of Chelsea and a little less shopping does no harm.