Friday, 26 August 2011

Horti-Couture on the Western Fringe

Festival goer Kenny and his superior hat

It turns out, contrary to popular belief, that Chelsea Flower Show does not have the corner on cutting edge fashion. Sure, the stylish gentleman cutting a dash in white suit, white patent leather shoes, red snake-style belt and a flower-studded Astroturf titfer at Chelsea '11 made front cover of The Guardian's G2 section (as I recollect) but his horti-sartorial antics are just the tip of the iceberg*.

Last weekend’s trip to the western fringes of the empire, aka Green Man Festival, was delightful. I was charmed by the bicycle-powered Venus fly trap chasing a six-foot fly around site. And hats as sported by Mr Bloom of Mr Bloom’s Nursery**  fame, are the pinnacle of popularity. But it was the rather awesome creation above that got my Best in Show award. Mohican daffodils and ivy with an integral head-torch prove that horti-couture can combine style and function with insouciant effectiveness. (Thanks for the pic, Kenny!).

Like Glastonbury green fields writ large and set in spectacular Welsh mountain scenery, the festival site on the Glanusk estate also has the bonus of some really interesting trees. According to a source there are gazillions of rare oaks. I have been unable to verify this, but my friend Lumberjack spent the weekend happily collecting foliage specimens for later identification, like some sort of green man in training.

The mansion was demolished in the 1950s and the central Ty Mawr is, in fact, decidedly Bach, but the music rolls out into a landscaped garden littered with viburnums, acers, magnolias and Davidia. There is also a lengthy rill which doubles as a superior linear paddling pool, plus there are plenty of opportunities for amateur garden archaeology (“So, if the mansion was here, this is where the formal garden would have been and this has to have originally been the walled kitchen garden, maybe a herb garden here – Heligan has something similar...”etc). Hours of fun, even if the original garden is now sadly neglected.

The green man himself, hugely tall, with flowers springing from his very footsteps, epitomises earthy awesomeness. In the hollow interior, paper leaves are filled with wishes; anonymous expressions of hope for friends, for the future, for babies lost or yet to arrive. I wrote my message and fled the pathos.

On stage, welsh language acts rubbed shoulders with Noah and the Whale (who I didn’t rate), Treefight for Sunlight who were a dreamy, lying on the grass sort of act with hints of Kula Shaker and Boo Radleys (which tells you how long it is since I paid attention) and Bellowhead’s exhilarating electro-folk shenanigans. They had 25 instruments including a chap playing what looked a lot like wakka-chakka bouzouki. Marvellous.    

Festival shopping has evolved from mostly head-gear (no, not hats) and tie-dye to include Victorian bathing suits, frilly knickers and fairy wings as day-wear. But in my opinion you can't go wrong with the classics - candyfloss, glitter, loo-roll and sun cream never go out of style.

*And no, no lettuce jokes. That would be painful.

**Still waiting for the ‘Meet the Veggies’ festival set

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Burlesque Principle of Garden Design

You don't want to see everything at once...

This may appear esoteric even by my own standards but bear with me. I have a point, nay an academic principle to propound. And I have been thinking about this for a while.

Garden design is a bit like stripping*. The posh sort, of course, but getting your kit off nevertheless. In the same way that you don’t (so I am led to believe) see a lady walk on stage, drop her metaphorical towel, go ‘ta dahh!’ and walk off again, you want a garden to tease you a bit.

The concept is well known, garden rooms are ten a penny, but the comparative epiphany came when I recently visited a garden that needed a little mystery. It showed its, undeniably outstanding, best feature off immediately ...but then there was nothing much left to keep you hanging on.
Really good gardens are the ones that keep you guessing. The ones that captivate, that go on and on with surprise views, distant temptations and sudden flurries of excitement and beauty. The ones that make you go ‘wow’ not just the once but over and over again as they gradually reveal their charms.
Those burlesque girls have those big, feathery things, lacy edges and gauzy drapes for a reason. And that reason is that the delights you are anticipating are more thrilling if you wonder and yearn for a glimpse, try and peep around corners and generally have time to wonder whether she can actually walk in those shoes, where she got the lingerie from and exactly how much yoga one would need to do to look like that (or maybe that is just me).
Alluring peep-hole hedging

Gardens have curves and corners too, dense cloaking evergreens and gauzy birches and grasses, iron corsetry, fine bone-structure and graceful movement. They should lead you on beguiling and tempting and the visit should end with a sense of a journey well travelled; elegant and fragrant discoveries made. Not a sense of ‘was that it?’.
As googling ‘burlesque’ (but not as googling ‘garden design’, curiously,) will tell you, it should be ‘Flirty fun and fabulous’. Not blatant and swift.
Access all areas?

So, boys and girls, this is not so much gratuitous mental imagery and an attempt to get my blog hit rate up as a (slightly)serious point. Next time you think ‘it’s lovely but what on earth is it doing hidden around there?!’ it is the garden design difference between Dita von Teese and Rene the Dockers Delight** at work. You may not see everything, all at once, and you may spend a bit more money (plants, underwear, whatever) in the process. But the results will be worth it.

I don’t have any pictures of burlesque – that is what the internet is for – but here are some conceptual illustrations. I rest my case.

*This does not in any sense equate garden designers with strippers. Its about the garden as an entity, not the person who makes it pretty.
**And no-one wants carrying on with stokers from the coast of Kuala Lumpur in their herbaceous border, no matter what the Small Faces have to say about it.