Friday, 30 January 2009

which hat today madam?

Building a show garden is a multi hat experience, especially if you are not blessed with an enormous budget (which is now completely unrealistic in the new straitened times).

You have your designer hat on in the first instance, followed by a negotiators hat, a planners hat, a health and safety hat, a logistics hat etc etc. Sometimes you end up with a please-leave-me-alone-now-hat, but that is the nature of the show garden beast.

Another hat you have to adopt (unless you have the budget to employ others of course) is the graphic designer and press officer hat. This is one that I quite look forward to balancing on my bonce, and today saw a mini milestone in the tick off list for the show.

My promotional leaflets arrived.

But as a 'green' office, excessive printing and promotions material can be a contentious issue. How many do I need so I don't end up with hundreds in my compost bin, how and where are they printed, are they recycled in the first place???

Fortunately I have a wonderful (very local) printer who do a mega fast turnaround of 100% recycled board flyers in all sorts of sizes and amounts. They even print in vegetable based inks. Fantastic.

So, I manage to have a little less ruining the planet guilt when I hand out my promotional bits at the show, and I can happily don my done-my-bit hat.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

an apple a day...

The past couple of days have been varied - a proper mix of good and bad...
Meetings. Stressing at my Internet which has been playing up. Shopping.

Shopping? Oh yes, and of the nicest kind - yesterday I went shopping for trees. Not just any old tree, but for apple trees for our forthcoming show garden, the electric urban orchard.

It would not be an orchard without apple (or some kind of fruit) trees of course, and I was really looking forward to visiting one of my favourite nurseries, South Downs Nurseries, to pick out some beauties...

After wandering about with my notebook, jotting down pollination groups, nicely trained examples, cookers and eaters I finally made my decision...

So we have in our mini orchard:
2 x Howgate Wonder espaliers
2 x Egremont Russet espaliers
2 x Ambassy standard
10 x stepovers (mix of Falstaff, Greensleeves, Cox Orange)

oooh - what a lovely bunch they will be...
want to know more about apple varieties? Want to identify a tree you have in your garden? look here...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

When is local, local...?

I meant to do a post about this last week, but forgot, so here it is now for all of you who missed it on the news...

Thanet Earth is a massive, salad growing greenhouse facility covering the same area as 39 football pitches, placed, quite aptly in our Garden of England - Kent. The project cost a whopping £80m (that's a lot of lettuces) and it is hoped that the facility will produce around 15% of our UK grown salad produce. It boasts that the greenhouses generate their own power, but the report I saw was a little woolly around the edges with the actual hard facts, and the glasshouses even have their own bees...

So - is this a step in the right direction? I am torn with this one.

Why do you ask? Well on my plus side, it is UK grown, so limiting food miles, is producing jobs in a time of uncertainty and may be quite energy efficient (I would have to look into this one further though, with some good old hard maths...)

On my downside though, it is VERY large, thus taking up large swathes of land that could spell a dispersion of native species, all the crops still have to be delivered to packing plants and driven across the country (even if they are destined for the supermarket down the road), and there is little mentioned about pesticides (a little snippet about 'good insects' but no hard facts again...). I am also very dubious about putting all my eggs in one basket and if this facility will account for 15% of our UK grown produce, what happens to all the little people who were supplying the larger people? With big industry, comes big power, and sometimes lower unit costs due to economies of scale. Will the smaller joes have to decrease their unit prices to stay competitive?

So, this is a toughie. Yes better UK grown than not, but is this the answer? Is it big AND clever? And if not, there is a good bit of greenwashing going on with that name...

I think I'll stick to growing my own and sticking to the seasons thank you. I've never wanted a fresh tomato with my Christmas dinner, and I doubt I ever will. For some this is the answer, but sorry, not for me.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

bugger off credit crunch...

I am sick and tired of feeling miserable about the damn Credit Crunch that I have decided that enough is enough. I am not going to get down about it again. (hopefully)

For a designer, a 'sudden economic downturn' can spell disaster. For many, we are a non essential item, something to be explored in times of plenty, and dumped when the belts are heaved in. But I have tended to take (and indeed cling to) another view, so it was with interest I read Stephen Bayley's article in last Sunday's Observer review supplement.

Firstly I liked the phrase he used for our 'sudden economic downturn' - 'straitened times'. How much nicer is that? Instead of the pessimism of the CC phrase which grates on the ear, this implies that we were on a wiggly path to nowhere (which is somewhat true), and we are now entering a time of being more efficient and with a brighter future. I like it.

And I was glad when I read the rest of the article as it solidified my yearnings - there is hope for design, it just needs to be more relevant than ever. But not in a fashion sense. In a true-to-the- rest-of-the-world-as-well-as-yourself-and-your-client sense.

As Mr Bayley so eloquently puts it:

' The great thing about our new constraints is that both mediocrity and excess are now intolerable. Quality in architecture and design will, however, make everyone better off.'

Companies are realising that the times of bling, glitz and luxury are to be replaced with a more honest, pared down and humble life. To not do so would spell disaster as we are all becoming repulsed with visual showerings of cash which nobody has any more.

So take heart all you designers out there. Ensure you are producing excellently conceived, relevant design and not excessive crap and you will stand a much better chance of being ok. Designers will always be needed as long as we are relevant to our times.

PS - if you want a bit of a related chuckle, look also at this article. Sir Terence Conran looks as though he has said something rude to Kirsty Allsopp (who has got a good blush on) and Phillipe Starck is reeling in shock...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

it's not easy being green...heroes part 2

One thing I try not to do is get too preachy about the whole green thing. Yes, it is incredibly important, and I want to do as much as I can to help our poor little planet as I can. This involves letting people know the options available to them and the consequences of their actions, which is a difficult thing to do without getting on the soapbox, both in my personal and professional capacities.

But, occasionally, someone comes along who is so enchanting and mesmerising in their enthusiasm for a subject you cannot help but be drawn into their thought bubbles. And they never sound preachy.
And one such person is my next hero - Dick Strawbridge...

The man with the moustache and infectious humour has finally returned to our screens, with a follow on from his first two series of 'It's not easy being green'.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dick Strawbridge, he is a wonderful character who is so animated, sheer words do not do him justice. He is the sort of person who could make you interested in anything - the perfect presenter and teacher.

The previous series of 'It's not easy being green' followed the Strawbridge family and their conversion of New House farm, somewhere in the depths of Cornwall to an eco wonder, covering such subjects as compost loos, pv panels, wind turbines etc. As these things take time to sort out (and pay for - many bits of kit are not cheap), we now have the wonders of another series.

I love it. I have the first book (great - go and buy it now and digest the lot), and could watch hours of the programme without ever getting bored. In fact, you watch the programme, are entertained by the wonderful Mr Strawbridge, and learn something without even realising you are learning it. He is excitable and knowledgeable, and it's not often you watch an educational programme sniggering into your dinner. The last time I did, someone in Time Team fell into a trench.

All hail Dick Strawbridge - if we could clone him and put one in each school in the land, we would have the brightest young eco things on this planet. But I don't agree with cloning, so we'll all just have to watch him on the goggle box instead...

more showtime...

After giving away a (very small) teaser back in October of what else we are due to be doing this year, I am pleased to say that I can now do a proper announcement...

We are to be staging a small show garden at the Malvern Spring Show, which is also to be part of the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship scheme. This means we have to build the garden, then I have to subject myself, the judges,and the rest of the world to a rant about why I should be taken under Mr Beardshaw's wing for the following year. I'm good at ranting, but not so good at the 'big yourself up' gig. Should be interesting...

All gardens entering for the scheme had to based on the theme 'dance', which I was not too enthralled with, but hey, it made my brain work to get it into something I like. Therefore a very abstract view of the theme has been taken for the garden.

So, here is the grand unveiling of our garden, called 'dancing with the trees'...

"‘dancing with the trees’ is a multi faceted garden which interprets the art of dance as a series of movements with and to the music of the trees – both of the inhabitant’s body and of the planting within. The garden also celebrates the connection between man and the earth – both physical by enforced touch and restriction, and work, as the garden is set out as a traditional ‘model’ coppice with flowering crab apple standards.

A path of recycled glass chips winds into the garden, which has the visual appearance of a small section of an infant sweet chestnut coppice. Standards of flowering crab apple rise above the sweet chestnut feathered maidens, with opulent woodland planting of greens, whites and reds below. A boundary of spaced chestnut poles surrounds three sides of the garden, with infills of living willow rods, which move with the wind and create ‘white noise’ against the solid chestnut. The scene is serene, shaded, yet alive with movement and the music of foliage.

But the path is not easy. It narrows, is restricted by planting, willow balls and ‘fallen’ chestnut from the boundary fence. The visitor is forced to move as the garden dictates – to step over items, around items, to support themselves with the trees. The restrictions of the garden enforces an ever changing ‘dance’ onto the visitors who move within it. Spacial awareness is increased, perspective altered and touch enforced on the dancers.

The path winds full circle from the front of the garden and back again, creating a visual and spiritual performance within the theatre of the trees for those watching from the front edge. But even the spectators are enforced upon by the garden.

Five ‘sentinel’ chestnut poles are placed as the central focal point of the garden, each one engraved vertically with a line and title from an excerpt of the poem ‘Among School Children’ by William Butler Yeats:

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Spectators are forced to move their heads sideways to read the poem, thus creating a subtle, massed ‘dance’, mirroring the moving, floating planting of Tiarella, Astilbe and Aquilegia within. The planting, spectators and inhabitants move with the music of the willow and the trees, blurring the ideas of the imposed dance and the dancers, both within and outside of the garden.

‘dancing with the trees’ is designed to be a challenging garden to inhabit, yet restful to view. The awareness of the body and the dance of the garden are heightened with occupancy (both for inhabitants and spectators), yet the ‘music’ of the willow and the dance of the trees themselves always remains, as per the poem. Are the inhabitants the dancers, or the trees? It is a garden of youthful discovery, as the dancers interact directly with the planting, akin to our youth of climbing trees and dancing through woods. ‘dancing with the trees’ is a natural performance theatre, where man and nature interact"

So - there you go. Rather conceptual is suppose, but I can be deep and meaningful sometimes. I'm quite excited about the garden, even though my mind is currently split into a million bits with other stuff. Would love to know what you all think... (except no comments please about my apparent love for neon colours in my drawings - this is purely the web, and not me - my sketches are very tasteful thank you)

Oh - one more thing - we are currently seeking a main sponsor for the garden, so if there is anyone interested out there...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

my name's jack the pumpkin king...

As my last post was a little bleak, here is a bit of the funnies.

So - for all you people still battling with a larder full of pumpkins, I have a business proposal for you. You may have to export to Nigeria, and with a weak pound, this will be a struggle, but check out this bit of news for a tip on a new business venture.

They will have to pass UK safety tests, which may also be a struggle, but see how you go.

Just don't tell everyone I tipped you off, OK?

goodbye, or a good buy...

New year, new beginnings. New ends.

It was with a strange feeling that I visited our local Woolworth's a few days before it closed. Like vultures picking over a roadkill carcass, we all milled around the already bare bones of the store, searching for the ultimate 'bargain'.

Some were elated at the prizes they had found - cheap Cd's, whole boxes of pick-and-mix sweets, shower curtains with goldfish on.

I however, was very sad. Yes, I got some bargains (a book, a set of mechanical pencils and a good luck card), but I could not help but think of all the times I had visited Woolies in the past.

The time I bought a valentines card for my first boyfriend, the time I bought enough garlic to ward off Dracula when it was reduced to 10p a pack. The time I bought my mother a standard red rose for mothers day...

These times are now gone. A new time is beginning for all, not just the skeletons of abandoned Woolworth's stores. Let's all try and make it a happy, productive and sustainable time.