Garden Art: Flowerpot Men

Flowerpot men in the kitchen garden at RHS Rosemoor

If you’ve got a pile of spare plant pots, why not follow RHS Garden Rosemoor’s example and turn them into flowerpot men? I’m not convinced they’re lifelike enough to scare the birds away from the crops in their kitchen garden, but they made me smile.

The Arbor Gate, Tomball, Texas

I’ve met many horticulture people I love, admire or both, but few I admire more than Beverly Welch who, together with her husband, Max, owns The Arbor Gate. No matter how many times I visit, I’m always taken by her hospitality, kindness and composure even on one of the busiest days in her calendar.

My sweetheart lectures there, so I don’t claim to be impartial. I’m a fan. It’s my favourite plant centre outside the UK and I suspect there aren’t many better ones in the world. I love wandering around, admiring the plants and marvelling at the garden art while trying to avoid being taken off guard by the Texan sun.

He’s actually lecturing at The Arbor Gate as I write, while I’m back in England, feeling nostalgic and making up for not being there by sharing a much overdue gallery of pictures from my visits over the last few years.

Colourful bank of petunias and annuals

Petunias and other bedding plants help give visitors a cheery welcome

One the plant front, visitors can expect to find roses, perennials, annuals, succulents, trees, shrubs, vines and a big collection of herbs.

Continue reading

Parliament Of Owls In A Woodland Garden

Eight stone owls with etched details and yellow eyes

If the idea of gardening merely prompts memories of garden chores such as leaf-blowing, mowing, edging, dead-heading, thank your lucky stars you don’t have to engage in large scale owl-shifting.

Hearing Sherra Owen (whose garden these owls inhabit) on MPB radio reminded me that I had not yet shared my picture of her stone owl log. It is unfair of me not to say once again what a wonderful woodland garden she has, but she’s such a lovely person, I feel sure she won’t mind. Even her wooden fence thrills me, to say nothing of her trilliums, hellebores and other woodland ephemerals.

Apparently one of the things about encouraging owls to roost on fallen timber is that the wood decays and the owls fall… or rather they would, if the lady in question did not move them to a freshly fallen log. Continue reading

Fun At The Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival 2018

Welcome sign with scarecrows and bunting

The Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival draws in quite a crowd and it only takes one visit to find out why. In this post I’ll be sharing pictures of my favourite scarecrows from Kettlewell’s 2018 event.

Smiling scarecrow with straw hair and hat

Kettlewell villagers organised their first scarecrow festival in 1994 and it has continued as an annual fundraising event ever since, becoming more expansive as each year passes. You don’t have to be particularly perceptive to see how it has helped today’s isolated community make links, attract newcomers and prosper. There’s something here for everyone (unless you are totally creeped out by scarecrows) from the traditional, straw haired gentleman above…

Small, squat figure with coiled hair buns

…to this more modern little cutie. It’s an educational event too – for example, till now, I’d somehow navigated this earth without noticing Makka Pakka and it took the people of Kettlewell to put me straight. I had high hopes for the character from my first encounter.

Attracted by its open demeanour and assuming from its Princess Leia + hairstyle that it was one of those benevolent small aliens that often accompany heroes and heroines in space franchises, I clicked on the first link Google suggested. I wasn’t blown away by Makka Pakka’s song and can’t recommend you follow my example if you’re older than three (if you’re younger, congrats for getting this far – you may be my youngest ever reader).

The 2018 scarecrow festival included many ingenious recreations of heroes, heroines and role models for kids and the young at heart. [I was shocked to note that the WordPress spellcheck autocorrected strongwoman to strongman when I was adding a description to the picture below (there it goes again – just try it!). That’s a big oops, even by the spellcheck’s standards – you really do have to keep a keen eye on it, especially if you write a lot of plant names or, like me, look down at the keyboard while typing.]

2018’s Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival had two themed trails, ‘Movies’ for adults and ‘Magical Stories’ for kids, with much overlap between them. I’m not sure which category Doctor Who was from – I thought that was all true, just hushed up so’s we don’t start to panic. You may, like me, have to look twice to spot the Jodie Whittaker scarecrow – after all, she hasn’t had much screen time yet.

Dog with straw hair, snorkel and colander hat in a rocket launcher

There were derring-do animals too, including Daredevil Dan, awaiting being fired from a cylinder with an expression that suggested he may not have attempted this feat before.

Some of the best dressed scarecrows I’ve seen featured in this year’s show. Where did they get Paul Newman’s poncho, I wonder? I’d be more than happy to wear the strongwoman’s dress (scroll back up for a reminder), if it would fit and if someone invited me to the right kind of party. Even if it isn’t your colour, you’d have to give it kudos for looking so good after a few days outside in the wind and rain.

I loved the hearty way these choristers are singing and the floriferous cottage gardens acting as a backdrop.

The villagers hold scarecrow-making training courses to help newcomers and novices get up to scratch, and it shows. These scarecrows were built to last well beyond the 9 days of the festival, making me wonder where they are all stored during the year – now that would make a picture!

Scarecrow clowns  are cheery enough in the daytime, but must add frission to walking around Kettlewell in the dark while the event is in full swing. Midnight Scarecrows sounds like a classic horror film and being easily spooked out, I’m not going to Google that one!

Minion scarecrow by a traffic sign

I saw several Minions, but none so photogenic as this one, monitoring compliance to the 20 mph speed limit while wondering how much longer the rose hips need to ripen before it can nip down the post to make rose hip syrup (no doubt the kind of activity we’d see in Midnight Scarecrows of Kettlewell).

There were many topical references – political commentary and wry social observations with a humorous twist. The celebration of the 70th anniversary of the NHS shows a patient labelled ‘Nil By Mouth’, but closer inspection shows he’s getting local ale by intravenous drip.

I’ll always be a Magic Roundabout girl at heart, so my award would probably go to Florence, Brian the snail and the other Magic Roundabout scarecrows. The village itself seemed simply lovely, with lots of flower-filled gardens and patios.

Hanging basket of annuals in a patio garden

And the face in the hole photo boards were as high quality as the rest of the event: one of several ways to make sure kids feel fully involved.

Characters with holes in the faces for children to pose behind

If you check out the Kettlewell village website and the Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival website you’ll find this quote, attributed to Professor Moorman (I’m guessing this is F. W. Moorman, Leeds University’s first Professor of English Language, but stand to be corrected):

“But the special glory of Kettlewell is not that of colour, but of line… Kettlewell is the converging point of many contour lines, and to the eye which delights in the flow and ripple of sky line there is a beauty in Kettlewell which is all its own.”

The Professor made a great point, but if he were around today, he might rethink his comment, or at least concede that colour has been lifting its game over the last 25 years by playing a trump card for two weeks each August.

The Scarecrow Festival is all the nicer for being in a scenic, village of traditional stone-built homes with a long heritage. The village church still has the font from the original Norman church, dating back to around 1120, and the tower of the Georgian one that followed it. There’s an Arts and Crafts layer too: I was intrigued to see William Morris’s name in one of the beautiful stained glass windows and later discovered I missed finding a Thompson mouse, and the beaver of one of his protégés, Colin Almack. All in all, well worth a visit!

Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival is scheduled to reopen for 9 days, starting the second week in August 2019. Check the website for details. Visitors will find ample, cheap, day-long parking, well over 100 scarecrows, fresh country-baked food in the tea rooms and village hall, and ‘three splendid hostelries’. Drivers will benefit from studying how to enter and leave the village – we drove over a narrow, never-again road on the way to our next stop, The Forbidden Corner. 

Crafts Style Wrought Iron Tree Gate

House gate with ginkgo shaped leaf pattern

Our landscape architect friend, Rick Griffin, says that the best way to add personality to a house is by doing something a bit special at the entrance. I like visiting Shrewsbury – I’ve written about it before – but of all the wonderful places there, the one I’d most like to receive an invite to is this private house. I know nothing at all about the people who live there, but by looking at their gate (plus a few peeks over their garden wall) I’ve formed an impression about them.  Continue reading

Naturalistic Bottle Trees by Stephanie Dwyer

Tree-shaped wire frames covered in blue bottles

Bottle tree installation at the Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange, Texas

Many bottle trees you’ll see – assuming you see bottle trees at all – are stiff. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but Southern folklore metal artist, Stephanie Dwyer, sets hers apart by making them sinuous and twisty, like real trees.

Bottle tree with colourful bottles with shacks

Bottle tree at Shack Up Inn, bent over as if by the wind

Her iconic bottle tree, part of a series inspired by Hurricane Katrina, channels lone trees all over the world, carved into art forms by the wind on some exposed ridge. It seems to grow out of the turf at the Sack Up Inn, and to nod with respect and resilience to its shadow.   Continue reading

Back to Back Sculpture by Simon Jago

These two souls are my contribution to this week’s photo challenge. What could be more local than a relationship?

The artist, Simon Jago, is also a professional set designer with a mastery of the most essential tool in a sculptor’s toolbox – space. The sculpture seems to tell a slightly different story from every angle. It would have been interesting to walk all around it, but the setting didn’t invite that. Luckily the artist is showing the opposite view on his website.

The wall that divides these two figures is slender but sturdy – part physical, part metaphorical. He has placed a steadying foot on the blue floor/plinth that is structurally linked to hers. Their body language mirrors each other: the barrier of his left side reflects the barrier of her right; each downcast head obliquely angled in counterpoise to the other.

Back to back sculpture: both

It’s funny how tempting it is to judge, even faced with a sculpture. There’s a lesson in that. Who is to blame? What should they do? Is there even a problem? As the artist asks, why do they look so alone?  Continue reading