Friday, 27 January 2012

A Golden Crocus and a Golden Cypress

This week I have been working at home a lot, trying to catch up with paperwork: a backlog of orders for seeds and summer bulbs, this blog, and plant lists and picture collections for talks. Boring, but it has to be done.
I am, however, very excited to have been asked to speak at The International Specialist Nursery Days at Bingerden in the Netherlands this June - it's an event I have wanted to attend for years, and now I have my chance! I really hope that I will meet some of my readers from continental Europe there.
There are plenty of other events before that, so in order to avoid panic I have remained chained to my laptop for most of the week, while there is nothing requiring urgent attention in the garden.

Snowdrops, Vinca minor, Sarcococca confusa and Helleborus niger,
 a semi-permanent planting in a Geranium Pot

Helleborus niger and snowdrops
in a Marigold Pot
Old friends
I was at Whichford on Monday, however, and happy to see that the snowdrops (ordinary Galanthus nivalis) and Helleborus niger in the pots I planted a year ago are doing well. You can see that I have pulled out the weeds and top-dressed the pots with some fresh compost and a little slow-release fertiliser.

Crikey! I have just looked at the post I wrote about planting these pots and it is dated 14th February. Let's hope these early flowerers know what they are doing.

Rinkeni rakli
Last week saw our first iris open, and this year's earliest crocus flower is 'Gypsy Girl', just beginning to open this week. She is a gorgeous, golden yellow with strong, clear, rich reddish-brown stripes on the outside of her petals.

Crocus 'Gypsy Girl', first crocus to flower
at Whichford Pottery this year

So it would seem that spring is ready to pounce on us innocent gardeners and roll us about like a big invisible Tigger landing on Winnie the Pooh. Brace yourselves.

Keeping my promise
I did say a couple of weeks ago that I would show you more about Jim's Golden Cypress. He likes to tackle improbable projects and this one caused a real stir. The first Golden Cypress was made for an Impressionist-themed show garden in Japan, and is part of a series of sculptures.
The Golden Cypress at home at Whichford Pottery

Here's Jim talking about the inspiration for this work: "When I was four I suffered from a serious illness and for two months lay in a bed looking at van Gogh's painting of Wheat field with Cypresses, with all their writhing energies. When I was finally well enough to go outside to play I made a house for myself inside a venerable golden cypress tree. It remained my hideout all my childhood."

Aliens expected for tea?
Before we had heard this explanation all we saw at the pottery was Jim obsessively making flame-shaped sketches and clay maquettes, rather like an eccentric English version of Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Jim Keeling dwarfed by his own sculpture

We are used to odd behaviour at the pottery, but when he started work on a version 3.15 metres tall some of us thought he really had cracked this time. Bear in mind that the picture on the left was taken UPSTAIRS in the pottery. The kilns are downstairs.

Riv and Joe loading one of the kilns,
note the tight fit!

Well he just cut it into pieces, of course he did. It takes a special kind of confidence to spend days and days sculpting something huge and complex, only to saw it into segments and shove it in an oven.

Gold-standard teamwork

After emerging from the kiln the pieces were all then sprayed with a yellow ground by Chris and hand-gilded with 23.5 carat extra-thick gold leaf by Hilary and Lynda. You can imagine what an enormous surface area an object like this has!

All hands were then required to move the heavy pieces outside on a trolley and through the courtyard garden to the packing area. Placing the bottom segment on the sculpture's metal base was only possible with Dave's fork-lift skills and John and Brian's combination of teamwork, lateral thinking and brute strength.
Tricky business. From left to right, Dave, John, Brian and Jim.
Diving in. We were tempted to leave him there.
Jim is very lucky to have a team with so many practical and flexible skills between them. We tend to co-operate with him partly because we know he's quite clever really, but mainly because it can be funny...

On tenterhooks
More teamwork had the pieces fitted together. I watched with my heart in my mouth and my camera in my hand, ready to record the disastrous breakage - which never occurred. Once again he had pulled off a ridiculously improbable feat.
Go west, young man. Chris, Joe, Brian and Riv
help Jim to assemble the sculpture

After successful assembly, Jim sealed gaps and Hilary and Lynda carefully patched up any gilding which had been dislodged by all the manhandling.
Hilary and Lynda add the finishing touches

The first cypress to be made was sent to Japan, the second was sent up to Chelsea on a trailer to burn brightly on the Hillier stand (see my post about Chelsea 2011). Heaven knows what the motorists on the M40 made of it!
Cypress off to Chelsea
The Chelsea one has returned to Warwickshire and can still be seen at the pottery, it really is a fascinating focal point, looking different every day as the light changes.

Ta-dah! Jim with the Golden Cypress
on the Hillier stand, Chelsea Flower Show 2011


  1. All the way through this post I was thinking "gosh that looks just like the Golden Cypress on Hillliers Chelsea stand" and now I know why. Interesting to read the background behind it.

  2. Glad to have cleared that up for you!