I spent a couple of hours at Chelsea Physic Garden on Tuesday - it was the perfect place for a hot day in the city, relatively quiet and with many places to sit and enjoy the greenness; the café, however, leaves something to be desired in terms of organisation and service.
" Behind one like a cliff rises a palace of romance, vast, august, austere; a palace over which in a far-off age some mighty magician has thrown an enchanting spell sleep. Sleep and forgetfulness brood over the garden, and everywhere from sombre alley and moss-grown stair there rises a faint sweet fragrance of decay ...
On the left, the garden looks down upon grey-green olives shot with silver in the sunlight, and upon a vine-clad pergola which clings like a spider's web to undulating slope and dell. Deep drifts of withered leaves have gathered on the stairways, the fountain basins are overgrown with maidenhair or choked with water-weeds, the empty niches draped with velvety moss or tapestried with creepers. Descending by weed-grown stair and crumbling balustrade, one reaches a gloomy alley where a hundred fountains gush into a trough beneath a line of mouldering reliefs. At the further end of the terrace, falling in great cascades like the folds of a Naiad's robe or the flash of a silver sword, the river leaps into the garden, to four great pools of troubled water, a jeweled belt which quivers in the sunlight with a mysterious, an amazing blue. Such is the garden in the sober daylight, but what it may be in the summer nights, when the breath of the ivy comes and goes in waves of drowsy perfume, and great white moths are fluttering about the fountains, and in the ilex arbours and gloomy alcoves there are strange mutterings, and deep-drawn sighs, and whispering voices, and flashes of ghostly white, I do not dare to say."
Rose paid a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show last week and most kindly sent me some photographs for us all to enjoy. While the show is now over for another year, there are many images still available online, but this personal selection should brighten up what is - in this neck of the woods at least - a dull day.
Sarah Simblet was commissioned to produce 200 drawings for the book, and the selection on display shows something of their range, accuracy and great beauty. "Nearly 50 species have been meticulously depicted, from mature trees [see the Cedar of Lebanon above] to small seedlings, with detailed studies of botanical parts. Associated animals, insects and woodland flowers of the surrounding ecosystem have also been included, as well as insights into the forestry process and the future of our forests."
Watch the short film to see Sarah Simblet at the RBGE discussing her work, while below is an extract from her notes on the drawings which explain her working methods:
"Live plants were always held in my left hand while I drew them with my right, so that I could directly translate my experience of their texture, weight, and balance, closely analyse their structure, watch their movement and perceive their scent. Drawn lines were made in response to all sensory experience, and touch is as important as sight.
Tree and landscape drawings were begun on site in pencil, usually in freezing temperatures, which slow muscle control in the hand, so lines are only gestural and pushed from the shoulder to establish a composition. Ink was applied later in the warmth of the studio, where the pencil drawing was gradually erased. ...
Every drawing was created with dilute Japanese ink on especially thick drawing cartridge paper, so that the surface could take the pressure of reworking and remain flat. Each one was built up in numerous layers. All lines, including the appearance of brushwork, were achieved with a single, steel-dip pen using both sides of the nib..."
"Dame Mildred, the gardener, managed a procession of flowers, from the pinks and yellows of spring to what she called 'the purple time', lilacs, iris and the deep purple of pansies. As summer advanced, she had roses and lilies, mixed borders with the blue of delphiniums, anchusas and flax, pink of lupins, and poppies, phlox and sweet peas ... Then the garden colours deepened: yellows and bronzes and reds came up: scarlet of berries and, in the dingle, crocuses again, but the pale autumn crocus that a once-upon-a-time chaplain had brought the nuns froms Switzerland. Sister Elizabeth made her bonfires in the front of the house and they burned too in the enclosure, along the avenue; there was the smell of woodsmoke in the air, the dew lay late, sometimes all day on the grass; soon the November mists and gales would come; the year had slipped away again."
"... I knew I wanted to display [the jewellery] in a living setting, silver and gold appearing magically among real growing plants, arranged on moss and twigs and grass. Back in my workshop at home I built a series of oversized seed trays out of old timber, salvaged long ago for just this sort of eventuality. I headed out to the countryside to forage. Tiny nettles and holly seedlings from Suffolk; mossy rocks and ferns from Wales. Hazel branches from the woods down near Pin Mill to cut into minute logs. I planted up my seed trays and scattered grass seed over the bare patches. Now they just needed to grow, and for the plants to spread and intertwine. This was going to take a great deal of care and patience.
Meanwhile, Kathy and I put the finishing touches to the book, and by that time the jewellery was almost designing itself. I drew sketches for a bunch of keys, plant labels, some rough garden string and a smooth apple. There was a bee buzzing by and a pea ready to pick. A tiny watering can with a drip just hanging from its spout."
"Wind S.W. Brisk, sunshine warm. Warm, hazy air all day till sunset. Mezereons(i) bloom. Gooseberry and Elder put out their leaves. Apricots just show their blossom buds. Lesser Tortoiseshell Butterfly appears. Single Hepaticas in full bloom. First Violets blow, and Single Daffodils and Persian Iris(ii)."
Myerson comments, "Each moment seemed to bring a new gift ... It was as if small wonders were being conjured up by a magic spell. The garden was coming back to life one flower at a time... Yet at the same time, as a promise of all that would soon come, there was also the 'full bloom' of the Hepaticas. Their cycle of bloom was completing as other plants were just beginning. Gray was looking at the wonderful intricacy of time itself in this miniature of the natural world, forever consummated and reborn."
(i) Daphne mezereum.
(ii) The pictures are of Iris reticulata 'Harmony', not Gray's Iris persica.