February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

The talk was given by Melanie Aspey, a CABAHS member who has been the Rothschild archivist for 28 years. Providing photographs and documentation from the Rothschild archives, she said the Rothschilds are best known for banking, their art collections, philanthropy and wine, but many of them have also had  a keen  interest in horticulture reaching back to Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812), the founder of the dynasty, who lived in the Frankfurt Jewish Ghetto.

After the defeat of Napoleon, thanks to their support for the allies, the Rothschild family was able to lobby for the retention of the right for the Jewish Community to buy real estate outside the ghetto. Mayer Amschel’s son, Amschel, considered that building a house would be too ostentatious, but a garden would better serve their needs. Instead he established a garden which he subsequently opened to visitors and for charitable purposes. He spent vast sums on plants, some of which (and Melanie showed one of the plant sale receipts from the archives) he imported from England. Later taken over by the Nazis and bombed by the allies, the garden fell into disrepair but parts have recently been renovated.

Continue reading February 2022: Melanie Aspey on the Rothschild Legacy in Horticulture

Woolwich Garrison Church gardens

The Woolwich Garrison Church Trust has commissioned Chelsea Gold Medal winner Juliet Sargeant to create a Commonwealth and Gurkha garden on their site. They already had outline drawings, above, by local designer Don Albrecht, and are now looking for feedback about the plans.

Commonwealth Memorial Garden for St George's Garrison Church - proposed plan

The idea is to have an English Orchard and wildflower garden on one side of the church, and the Commonwealth countries and Gurkhas reflected in the planning on the other side. Chair of the Trust, Tim Barnes, says that in Gurkha villages there is always a central tree which acts as a focal point for village life – so there are plans for a circular seat around the base of one of the trees to reflect this tradition.

There are some lovely ideas, download the full document below if you are interested.

Afternoon tea at the Garrison Church, Woolwich

Members who came to this event on 5 June 2021 were treated to an interesting talk from Tim Barnes about the history of the Church, and the plans for the future, including a Commonwealth Garden designed by Chelsea gold medal winner Juliet Sargeant. We also saw the crypt and the beautiful mosaics. The award-winning gates feature three flowers of remembrance, the poppy, the forget-me-not (Germany) and the cornflower (France).

February 2021: Dr Catherine Horwood on Beth Chatto

Many of us who are avid and long-time fans of Beth Chatto’s garden and her Unusual Plants Nursery will always remember that she won 10 consecutive Gold Medals at the Chelsea flower show.  
Her legacy is a garden she created which is unlike any other in the UK and abroad: it is unique.

Dr Catherine Horwood, Beth Chatto’s authorised biographer, introduced Beth Chatto to members and guests via last Monday evening’s Zoom meeting.

The talk was about Beth Chatto’s personal life and the influences that led to the garden’s creation. We learned that she happily gardened alongside her parents and had her own garden patch of cottage garden flowers. And we know that her hobby as a flower arranger as a young woman hugely influenced her interest in plant forms, textures and colours.

Dr Horwood described Beth Chatto as ‘tough’ and ‘steely’, and she must have been extremely determined from a young age, as she trained as a teacher during WW2, instead of taking the usual route of joining the Forces.  An advantageous marriage to a fruit farmer, Andrew Chatto, with a life-long interest in plant ecology, set the stage for the purchase of land at Elmstead Market and the garden that followed.

But why did Beth Chatto design the garden the way she did?  We know she was influenced by the terrain and various soil conditions, in addition to a natural spring at the lower level. How did her design of a ‘necklace of ponds’ separated by very  narrow water channels come about?   We know she was influenced by her friend and mentor, Cedric Morris in those early days and Beth Chatto acknowledges the huge debt to her husband at the start of her book, ‘The Dry Garden’, in which she states: “Without Andrew neither my garden nor a book would have been possible”.

chattocoverfront.jpg

Anna


Dr Catherine Horwood is an English journalist, author and social historian who has written extensively on horticulture and garden design and is the authorised biographer of Beth Chatto. A keen gardener for over thirty years, Catherine has created three gardens that have been open through the National Gardens Scheme and was for many years an organiser for the NGS. Her Facebook page gives you links to her other work on women gardeners, growing houseplants and you can check out her blog on growing vegetables. Her book on Beth Chatto won European Garden Book of the Year in 2020.

The English landscape

I recently attended a lecture (on Zoom of course!) about Thomas Gainsborough and his connection to the English landscape. Many people will be familiar with his portraits, but the landscapes in the background are not always commented on so widely, unless it is the painting of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, which seems to be the subject of a huge range of interpretations (not all repeatable in a horticultural blog perhaps).

Heart of Oak - Royal Navy Anthem
Heart of Oak – Royal Navy Anthem

The 18th century was a period of great upheaval – the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720 triggering a financial panic; in 1721 the country had its first prime minister in Sir Robert Walpole; in 1739 Britain declared war on Spain; in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland to claim the British throne; in 1756 the Seven Years war between Britain and France began; there was unrest both in America and at home and throughout this period, there was a Hanoverian king. It is all too easy to forget that two of the great names associated with landscape architecture, William Kent and Lancelot Brown, were working against this background, with Brown finding little favour with the ordinary person by uprooting and moving whole villages when they stood in the way of his designs.

It is also no coincidence that Brown, Kent and their peers were creating landscapes which came to be seen as quintessentially English. Reacting against the formality of the classic gardens which were inspired by those on the continent and France in particular, they designed gardens that were intended to reflect the ‘sinuous curves’ of the English countryside. Ironically, Brown, who never travelled outside the shores of his home island, was inspired by the paintings of French artists such as Poussin.

Nicolas Poussin Landscape with Figures c1646
Nicolas Poussin Landscape with Figures c1646

In the background of Gainsborough’s paintings, this same concern with the natural is evident. Even in his most famous portraits, for example the one of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and the actress Perdita. Both show an English landscape populated by English trees, most commonly the oak.

Apparently, as Gainsborough was not a ‘plein air’ artist, in order to remind himself of the shape of the oak he would arrange stems of sprouting broccoli in front of his easel!

This tension between what is an English garden and what is from mainland Europe has influenced garden design throughout history.

With the RHS encouraging people to plant a tree in their Roots for Remembrance, a nationwide memorial initiative, it seems an appropriate time to think about the role of the oak in English landscape culture.

Vija

“Opportunities for change” in the garden

A recent article by Nigel Slater vividly describes the various incarnations his garden has gone through in the past twenty years. The first iteration was designed by Monty Don over lunch and on the back of an envelope. The second, many years later, by Dan Pearson. Not all of us are so lucky to have such well-connected friends! But each change was inspired by the need to deal with a problem, whether it was a large family of boisterous foxes or the depredations of the box moth. What Slater points to is that gardens change (obviously) and that sometimes we can be forced into making changes which are an improvement on what we had already. In the business world ‘threats’ are re-purposed into ‘opportunities for change’. I don’t think this is always easy and I have been heartbroken to lose what I regard as old friends, but spaces and areas can be opened up in the garden which give opportunities to be more creative and to introduce something which you might not have tried before.

Many years ago, on one of my visits to gardens in France, I visited Le Jardin D’Agapanthe. I have never seen a garden quite like this anywhere else in the world. It was created by a landscape architect, Alexandre Thomas and includes no lawns, borders or views – the kinds of things you would normally associate with a garden, just winding paths of sand through lavish planting. It is at once romantic and exotic. There is an interesting inclusion of small stands or tables to raise plants above ground level and add interest. For anyone who loves pots, this place is inspirational.

When I have lost something in my garden I trawl back through photographs of places I have visited and loved to find new ideas and ways of using plants and spaces. Le Jardin D’Agapanthe is one that I often return to.

Have you lost a favourite plant recently? What “opportunity” did it open up? Let us know, write to cabahshortisoc@gmail.com

Vija

CABAHS medal-winning Chelsea experiences

As a volunteer at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I was expecting to be revelling in the uncrowded gardens at Press Day today, prior to going to work in the very crowded gardens later in the week. Very sad. But as I have time on my hands, I have looked into some of CABAHS history at the Show.

On 18th May 1987, CABAHS won a Grenfell Silver Gilt medal at that year’s show, for a window box display. In those days a lot of the Affiliated Horticultural Societies entered exhibits, as the Chelsea grounds were not so pressed for space or so prohibitively expensive. Here is our winning entry (thank you to Joyce and Jane for these photos).

In 1990, CABAHS won a Bronze medal in the hanging basket category. Then in 1991, we really went to town! With the help of sponsors, the Society entered the “City or Town Courtyard Garden” category. The brief was “An interpretation of plants to consider in the lifestyle conditions for the occupants of a property situated in a City or Town, with limited space”. The space given was 14ft x 11ft (4.3m x 3.4m). So here is the Plan:

191Courtyard Design

Here are pictures of the build process. Can you imagine the huge organisation that must have gone on behind the scenes, for our small amateur group! Marshalls (which is still in business) supplied the paving and seats. Members supplied a lot of the plants and organised the collection and transport.

391Courtyard 3

And the finished result:

591Chelsea Courtyard Final

Here are some members (Win H on the left and Marjorie P) relaxing in the garden while the visitors queue around them.

991Courtyard ladies sitting

We were featured on the BBC coverage, Alan Titchmarsh looks very young! He said there were 29 show gardens that year, and marvelled at the idea that some of them cost nearly £65,000.  Those were the days. The presenter for the small gardens was Anne Gregg. She complimented our design for getting a veg bed and herbs into the space, as well as the scented geraniums display.

791Chelsea Courtyard Queue

891Chelsea Courtyard Medal

We even got a mention in Amateur Gardening magazine.

999Courtyard Magazine

CABAHS entered the Courtyard Gardens again in 1992 and won a Bronze medal, and won a Silver in 1994 for its Windowbox and Hanging basket display.

I hope you enjoy this week’s TV coverage of the last decade of Chelsea, and look forward with fingers crossed to next year’s “real” show.

Kathy A

Treasure our Front Gardens!

There are some lovely front gardens in the Westcombe area and they give pleasure to passers-by, as well as to their owners.

There are many reasons why we should value them, the most obvious being that they greatly improve the appearance of the neighbourhood. And of course they increase the resale value of our homes through their kerb appeal.

But that’s by no means all! They help nature to do her work, and thrive; for example a front garden provides nectar for bees and butterflies thereby helping to reverse their decline. They also provide a habitat for birds, and the insects on which they feed.

Less obvious is the fact that they make the air we breathe safer because plants help capture pollutants. They also cool the air in hot weather – and help insulate homes in winter. And for householders who have experienced recent heavy downpours of rain, which seem to occur more frequently, a front garden can reduce the danger of flooding by soaking up rainwater. Unfortunately there is a continuous loss of front gardens as many are being paved over to provide hardstanding for cars.

No matter how small the front garden, with a little imagination it can be both practical and beautiful. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Hedges are better for wildlife than fences or brick walls. They also filter dust from the street. Mixed hedges with flowers and berries are the best.
  • Grow climbers up the front of the house and plant shrubs at the base.
  • Fill up corners where cars cannot park
  • Use all the spare space around the edges for planting shrubs and flowers.
  • Plant a tree. There are many that are suitable even for very small spaces and many have flowers for pollinators and berries for birds.
  • Keep hardstanding to a minimum – just two tracks can be sufficient.
  • Leave pockets in gravel for plants
  • Use containers and pots to beautify areas with no soil.
  • Aim to have plants in bloom from early Spring to late Autumn.

Front gardens can support wildlife, whatever their size!

Ann H


If you enjoyed Ann’s article and are thinking of  re-designing your front garden, the RHS website has some good ideas for planning front gardens:

https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=738