In 1998 when I was working for Hillier Landscapes as an Assistant designer, I was awarded the Tudor Rose medal at Hampton Court Flower show. I was given the award for a new category (the RHS are always experimenting, finding new ways to engage its audience) entitled “Explain your trade” that was was open to florists and designers. Here is my story of how it came to pass.
Sarah Eberle, my boss had been sponsored by Fisher Price toy manufacturers to build a show garden. As her assistant, I was involved in helping her throughout the project; a fascinating journey that I shall always be grateful for. When you see the flower shows on TV or in person, you cannot begin to imagine how many hours have gone into their creation. The design ideas are often simple, but there is layer upon layer of detailing that has been thought out, researched, sourced and finally installed; making the finished product breath taking.
I was new to the company and was delighted to be given the job of creating a display for the ‘Explain your trade’ category. Limited resources were available to me but actually, that helped keep things simple. I managed to persuade Sarah to have four of her gardens professionally photographed. Since my art history days, photography has always had a strong draw for me. I think it is because I love how a camera captures just a still single moment, a moment that can be a seminal point in time.
I have always loved black and white photos, not just because they are so stylish but they seem to change how you look at the image. For a garden, by stripping away the colour, you can reveal its actual structure, the very bones from which the garden is hung. I asked the photographer to print the pictures in black and white as a way of explaining what the designer had done. Disappointingly, when I finished combining each case study garden’s photographs with their plan drawings, the overall impression was rather flat and boring. I needed a little magic to bring it to life.
A little magic arrived in the form of the wonderful Hugo Skucek who ran his floristry business in the potting shed of Ampfield House, where Hiller Garden centre and landscapes was based. Almost every lunch hour, I would find myself drawn to his amazing workshop to see what creations he was working on. Everything he made was amazing, the result of awe-inspiring imagination and often a rather large budget! Hesitatingly, I asked him to make any suggestions on how I could lift the display. He came up with the idea of creating two matching lollipop topiary shapes filled with nothing but typically garden foliage. It was a very cost effective solution because I could find most of the foliage from the mature gardens of Ampfield House itself, and of course, what I had at the wholesale department of Hillier Garden Centre. Hugo insisted on using just one flower; it had to be a rose but this was to be a green rose.
Rosa Viridiflora is a strange looking thing. In bud, it is a fresh green, on opening, it becomes tinged with red and when it has fully open, it is almost burgundy. The floral display was to echo the ‘no colour’ policy of the rest of the display. The day came and all eyes were on the big show gardens. There was some impressive gardens that year, but Sarah always pushed the boundaries by using unfamiliar materials and that year was no different. She used a new epoxy resin mixed with blue crushed glass for all the paths; it was the talking point of the whole show.
When I arrived at my marquee where the exhibits were being put up, I was shocked. There were the most elaborate 3D models that would have taken weeks to make, exquisite floral extravaganzas hanging from the roof, and beautiful hand drawn artist impressions of gardens. I quickly put up my pictures, placed the floral displays either side of the stand and went back to help on the show
Finally, the results were out; everyone was delighted that Sarah had won best in show. Amidst the flying Champagne corks and flowing tears, I was tapped on the shoulder and told to go back to my marquee to hear the results. I was stunned to receive the award. I know it is a cliché to say that there were better displays; but honestly, there were. When I was presented with the award, the judge explained that this was not an ordinary award. The Tudor Rose Award is given to the best exhibits in the Floral Marquee and Show Garden Category. He praised my courage saying that I had a taken a big risk and that it had paid off. The ‘no colour’ theme worked, showing off the true structure within the garden and explaining what the designer had actually done. Winning an award like this at this point of my career was fantastic. It gave me confidence in my new career choice and encouraged me to trust my instincts and of course, to take risks. A lesson I remember every day.