Chelsea Flower Show
Possibly the most nerve-wracking job of all was the first Chelsea Flower Show garden that we did with Clifton Nurseries for Lord Rothschild, building and planting a bit of the Waddesdon dairy rock garden. This was followed closely by our second Chelsea garden, designed for The Daily Telegraph in 1994. Max Hastings, the Telegraph’s editor, approached us in his jovial way at the end of the 1993 Flower Show when we were going home exhausted to face moving house in August, with two tiny boys and another on the way. Our new house, Hanham Court, appeared then as a kind of Gormenghast: medieval, monumental, grey, cold, filthy, and nothing worked. Five days after we moved in the third boy was born and a couple of days later Julian went to see Max at Canary Wharf having thought up an idea for the garden and found the key element, a veteran mulberry tree. The idea of inventing a town garden in an imagined cathedral city came instantly, an amalgamation of the new house – a tumble-down monastic settlement on the ‘shed-land’ eastern edge of Bristol – and Julian’s teenage home, a small Georgian town house in Wells, Somerset, which has a long, thin, walled back garden with an ancient mulberry tree. All we needed then was a mature mulberry tree, massive topiary and some walls speckled with medieval fragments or made of real gothic ruins. Max perhaps did not see the essential difficulties and luckily he liked the idea. The vision was very ‘Barchester’ and drawn from real nineteenth-century natural historians, deans and canons, such as Canon Ellacombe, who wrote a gardening classic In a Gloucestershire Garden. Ellacombe presided over the tiny chapel of ease, as it then was, at Hanham Court, our new house, as it was within his parish, that of Bitton in Gloucestershire to the west of Bath on the Roman Via Julia. He had the most wonderful life: he was a cleric who wrote a gardening column for some fifty years and he catalogued all the wild flowers that he found within the parish boundaries. Educated clergymen of this period were some of the pioneers in natural science, sometimes creating delightful museums filled with collections of fossils and minerals, bones, stuffed birds, eggs, shells and jam jars of wild flowers, such as the one in Wells that bewitched the bored teenage Julian. Wells is Julian’s loadstone of proper life from this Museum to the Swan Hotel and the worn-down Chapter House steps that he and Candida campaigned successfully to prevent from being ‘restored’. All this he wanted to encapsulate in a Chelsea garden, his vision of a way of life still visibly connected with the world of Chaucer.