Saturday 11 May 2013

First day on site for Hillier @The_RHS Chelsea Flower Show The Arrival of the Treebeard and the Ents

A cool grey morning and a few spots of rain. My first thoughts are for the plane trees at showground. At least they will not be shedding that confounded choking dust that instils a feeling of impending pneumonia on arrival.  Sad news as I am driving to the station: Olympian Andrew “Bart” Simpson has been killed in a sailing accident in San Francisco bay. I first met Andrew in Cascais when I went out to Portugal; to meet The British Sailing Team at the beginning of the Skandia Sail for Gold Chelsea project just before the Beijing Olympics. He was such a nice guy and a great sailor and a wonderful host during my stay in Cascais and again in Weymouth. Have followed his progress ever since. Tragic.
My thoughts heading for London on the train turn to the big trees arriving later today.  I know the guys are on site: Nigel tweeted about covering the site with black polythene: the first job before we mark out the plan an start construction.  The BBC are due to film the arrival of the trees. My concern: I hope they fit. Rick and I have picked some monumental multi-stemmed birches. I normally go for more variety, this year I’m going for repetition.   I they work they’ll look phenomenal; if they are too tall for the Pavilion..............I’m not sure. 

We also picked one very big Cedrus deodara ‘Aurea’. It’s very wide and I’ve planned to use it near to the embankment end of the exhibit. Will it be too heavy and yellow with my crystal fountains?
Maybe I should explain: at the centre of each of the Aqua Corona pools by fibreglass moulding specialists Sui Generis are sculptures in glass an copper by Mehrdad Tafreshi of Quist. These are just being made and they are in my imagination and Mehrdad’s; are they the same?  I see them as fallen or inverted chandeliers in pink crystal: something between Doctor Who and Phantom of the Opera. I wonder how he sees them?
In my imagination they demand silver foliage, sapphire ceanothus and soft pink rhododendrons. But is that too safe? This is supposed to be risky after all!
By the time I arrive on site around 11a.m Steve and Luke are with Brian laying out the paving for the pathway. The plan is already marked out: the building looks like a big space. I hope that I’ve left enough room for the planting. The lorry with the trees is in the Pavilion – a very big artic. With very big trees. Help! There is a cameraman and sound man from the BBC waiting to capture the moment.
The sheets are soon off the lorry. Two of the multi-stemmed birches are the first to come off; they are enormous. It’s certainly nerve racking watching Neil lift the rootball with Ben adjusting the straps as necessary an directing from the lorry. Nigel is on the top of the load lifting and pushing the head of the tree to release it from those that lie beneath. We gradually get the tree to the ground and then it takes all of us to “walk” it upright. It reaches to within a few centimetres of the roof of the Great Pavilion; it’s close! We’ve made some makeshift ramps with sand and timber to help the forklift to make the move across the monument plinth. Neil and Nigel are confident; I’m optimistic but can’t help envisaging one of these Ents crashing down and taking the Monument with it. 
Gradually all the trees are coaxed into position. I try to balance the colour and form through the picture. I know if I get this stage right its easier as we work down though the layers.  It’s really important not to have any voids in the upper canopy, or areas where the foliage is just too heavy.  I have to say that our trees have a lot more foliage than most in the showground.

By the end of the day the trees are in position and watered, the path is progressing well. We discuss the levels of the pools and adjust the position of the building. Good progress. 

The boys have set up their camp on site complete with fridge, kettle, mugs and chairs. It has a homely feeling and seems strangely familiar. Have we ever left or is this a continuation of last year. As I head out of the Pavilion I take in the comforting chaos of the outside gardens and the embryo trade stands. Everyone has that focused confusion that I recognise as the key to evolution of this extraordinary place. The dread of Chelsea on the horizon has evaporated; it feels good to be back home on Planet Chelsea!

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