Thursday, 30 June 2011

'Capability' Brown and the Landscapes of middle England

'Capability' Brown and the Landscapes of middle England – An exhibition at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, 25th June – 2nd October 2011

As an employee of Compton Verney I’d be less than sharp if I were to write an unflattering review about any aspect of the organisation or its work; especially if it were to cover either of the latest exhibitions – that mentioned above, or ‘Stanley Spencer and the English Garden’. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t attempt a review of an exhibition at all, on this occasion however

Laura Ellen Bacon

Laura Ellen Bacon by GaryWebb
Laura Ellen Bacon, a photo by GaryWebb on Flickr.

Artist in residence at Compton Verney, Laura Ellen Bacon, begins the first garden den/feature in the grounds. See to find out information on the residency and other art work.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


An article for a newsletter, about gardening, children and me.

Gardening for me is a career that has constantly evolved. Many forms have the work taken, and thankfully, obviously some would say, the plants have always taken centre stage. Whilst I’ve found many different ways to interact with my profession; the design of gardens, botany, or the history of gardening - the one thing that it all comes down to is the growing and cultivation of plants.

My first real memory of caring for a plant was in my early teens, when I somehow got hold of a spare snap dragon plant just a few centimetres tall. It must have been a spare bedding plant from the garden one spring time, but I took it and decided to grow it on my bedroom window sill in a pot, and experiment. I carefully watered it as the weeks went by, and was at the time amazed by the speed at which it grew! Before long it needed support, so a stick I acquired to prop it up, to which I gently tied the plant with string. That snap dragon, to me grew far larger than anyone else’s could have done, all because of my foresight to take it indoors to grow, or so I thought at the time.

Naturally, that plant produced the tallest, and most colourful snap dragon flowers anyone could have seen, and all due to my talented green fingers. I even remember a tinge of guilt having kept it all to myself, not that I could have blogged about it in those days! Of course, the plant eventually passed its season by, hurried along slightly by the odd missed watering. In addition to this I remember a key turn off for me was mildew striking, although I didn’t know what it was at the time.

I’d seen gardening in action many years before this of course, my grandad having been a gardener amongst other trades. All I can remember of his first garden was his mint patch, the scent being unbelievably strong, I remember too that it was vigorous and trying to escape its lot. I remember his next garden, little front and rear gardens at his retirement bungalow; it was always so neatly trimmed and flowered beautifully. I remember he wasn’t exactly a spring chicken, but I knew that somehow he was very active tending his garden, and he loved it.

My work over many years has seen me in gardens visited by the public for all sorts of reasons, my current place of work being Compton Verney, in south Warwickshire. At all of ‘my’ gardens, the latest being no exception, children, education and the gardens have been a regular feature of my work. Not to directly deliver classes, but to nurture the environment to allow their experience of plants and nature. Education or the discovery of plants, to me links daily life now, with that of my childhood, and children. I watch and help my children to discover the natural environment, from simple wild flowers in the grass, to mammoth trees in gardens. I secretly hope they too can discover my fascination for plants, and that some day they too will feel the same pride and sense of discovery that I felt when I grew and nurtured my first plant.

If I can encourage caring for plants, nature and the environment to my children, and maybe others, through my love and connection with plants, then I’ll feel I’ll have passed on a gift that’ll last a lifetime. I’ll have helped to instil a general caring and thoughtful attitude, which I hope will transfer to other areas of their lives. The cultivation of plants offers so many benefits to so many people, children, amongst others being not only the keenest to learn, but the group who can gain the most.

Gary Webb
Twitter: @garywebb1

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Willow Workshop

A drop-in workshop.

For those of us who admire art work and garden sculpture, especially those using willow, there's a great series of events coming to Compton Verney. This weekend, the 18th and 19th June, sees the first of those events, where artist Laura Ellen Bacon begins her residency which will run through to October 16th.

On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can see Laura demonstrate how to construct sculptural forms and spaces, using willow, alder and other materials. Included in the collections and grounds admission price, children and adults will have the chance to try the art of weaving, under the guidance of expert Laura, and Compton Verney staff. More information on the event can be found by clicking Compton Verney.

Information on the longer running residency, taken from the Compton Verney website:

Residency 18 June - 16 October 2011

"My woven work today is often concerned with the making of 'spaces'; of capturing the delight of crafting a small area to dwell, even just for a moment."

Compton Verney's 'Capability' Brown landscape is the setting and inspiration for Laura Ellen Bacon's work. These hand-made, den like sculptural forms can be traced to her childhood enthusiasm for building personal spaces in the garden, woods and fields. During her residency she will be weaving two unique works using coppiced and natural materials from the parkland with willow. The first one will be completed in 1 July and the second on 2 October. Throughout her residency she will also be running drop-in workshops in the grounds which are fun for children and adults like.

Residency funded by Arts Council England.

To give you a flavour of Laura's work, take a look at the stunning images on her website: Laura Ellen Bacon

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Rosa Mundi at Compton Verney

Into the first week of June & one of my favourite Roses finally bursts into flower following many weeks of anticipation. I've inherited the management of these beauties that were planted, amongst many other plants around two years ago in the Ice House Coppice at Compton Verney. I've admired their blooms for some time, having first met them in around ten years ago.

The coppice area where the Roses are growing at Compton is now a woodland area of around two acres, with a recently renovated pathway for visitors to the mansion gallery. For over 300 years, the area has been under ornamental cultivation, & early maps show the area as a densely planted wilderness. Today this part of the grounds offers a shaded walk with mature Oaks, Yew & Boxwood dominating. A sprinkling of smaller trees add to the understory along with regenerated Elderberry, Portugal Laurel & a variety of wild flowers.

The Roses have been planted as part of a wider renovation of the area, the plan being for them to knit together with other plant varieties to form clumps of 'wilderness' like planting. Although still guarded from rabbit grazing, the Roses have spilled out nicely over their guards, & with the minimum of effort; add a slpash of colour to the green scene that dominates.

As often as possible, I take the opportunity to walk through the coppice, and at the moment, the Roses in question are sprinkled with flowers and buds aplenty. I've sourced some information on these lovely Roses, listed below in points. I hope the information is helpful, & I'd thoroughly recommend these beautiful Roses for sure!

Rosa gallica 'Versicolor,' Rosa Mundi, Rosa gallica 'Variegata'.
  • Rosa Mundi is a striped/variegated sport of the Apothecary's Rose (R. gallica 'Officinalis'.)
  • Gallica class of Rose.
  • Late 16th Century/early 17thC.
  • Semi-double flowers.
  • Height 1metre +, spread up to 90cm.
  • Grows strongly, even on poor soil.
  • Can revert back. 
  • Can be pruned to 1m in Spring to keep from growing tall & becoming untidy, alternatively needs support.
  • Can also be pruned after flowering in late summer, cutting back long shoots by a third and cutting back sideshoots by two-thirds 
  • Upright growth habit, can sucker from base.
  • Can be prone to mildew.
Rosa Mundi, further reading on the name origin of the name of Rosa Mundi: Miss Darcy's Library

Roses (Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix,)
Old Roses, (Graham Murphy,)
The Rose Expert (Dr.D.G.Hessayon.)
BBC Plantfinder