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Just a few experiences we had in the past, 2009.
Fen magic, team work, blood sweat and tears turn to Gold Medal and Best in Show at RSH Chelsea.
Our first experience, at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, was way back in 2004 with our Gateway Garden, then in 2005 the Wild Life Trust Lush Garden, plus our designer Fen Jane, designed a show stand which we built in 2006. We are, probably, not the norm; we are a Landscaping Company with our own Design Department.
But, the travels of an old fen shed started for us early in 2008, at Welney Wild Life Trust, on their Fen Tigers Tale open day.
Shall we say, the last original fen tiger was Ernie James, who earned his living Plover catching, Eel catching, Punt Gunning etc on the Ouse Washes.
Ernie James in 1975 at the Lamb & Flag, with the then Landlord Roy Stubbs.
This picture shows the local paper man and mole catcher, but also shows a Punt Gun on the wall at the back.
Prior to Sir Peter Scott starting the WWT at Welney.
Picture of a Teal, drawn by Sir Peter Scott, in 1947, for my autograph book.
My path was to cross with Sir Peter again in the 60’s, when he opened the Welney Wild Life Trust. The locals had no option but to abandon their wildfowling guns for binoculars, then again when we were landscaping Oundle puplick and had to move the controversial, naked statue, reputedly of Sir Peter, a story went out in the paper that we had moved it. I got castigated by an archivist, who said it was an Italian Count.
Journey of Fen Tigers shed in early 2008.
Ernie James Original shed
I am not saying my designers copied Ernie James’ garden or shed at Plover Cottage on the banks of the Old Bedford, but subconsciously there may have been a connection. My brief to them was, I wanted three designs to choose from. One was contemporary, one was a wild life garden, and the other was an old fashion fen garden.
I suppose I knew which garden I wanted to go for, even before the designs came back to me, perhaps I was biased, as the Fens have held a magic for me from the day I arrived in 1959. I think we tapped in to that Fen magic and captured a moment that time had forgotten with the Fen Alchemist garden.
We ran a prototype of the Fen Alchemist garden at the Sandringham Flower show in 2008, as the Fen Ben Garden, I popped up the night before the judging with Ekaterena, my Russian daughter in law, as we walked up to the garden I was about to tell the bloke holding things up in the garden to hop it, but what he said slowed me up a bit, his words were, ‘I say this is wonderful, complete chaos, just like my garden at Highgrove’, Ooops!
My daughter in law’s comments was it was typical of and reminded her of Belarusian datchery.
I suppose the garden was designed by us, funded by us and built buy us, with no outside help, this, in conjunction with great team work and no single person could take the whole credit, plus life time relationships played a part.
I will just list a few of the people that were prominent, but you could say every one of our staff played their part.
Most credit must go to my late wife, Sue, who worked tirelessly from the recession in the late 80’s to the late 90’s, holding the business together, setting the scene to move into a substantial company capable of achieving results.
Even after Sue was no longer with us, the fact we raised money for the Macmillan trust by building a section of the garden at WWT Fen Tigers Day, Sue was looking over my shoulder, it gave us great confidence in the potential of the garden on that little outing.
Raising money for The Macmillan Trust at WWT Fen Tigers day.
Our Principal in house Designer, Steve, who originally got us on the Chelsea ladder, plus his excellent concept design, especially the angle of the fence.
Plus, our designer Fen Jane, who’s brain wave to develop the Fen Ben to the Fenland Alchemist, adding the forge and the mystery and alchemy of plants, plus Janes tenacity, taking full charge of the last three days of build in conjunction with our principal landscaper, Sean Taylor, as it was sods law that Steve Hall, who had been studying at Writtle day release for the last 5 years was having his finals the Chelsea week.
My old boss, Bill Gragg, farmer, ex Fenman, known as Old Craggy, I thought at first he had sent me to Siberia when I worked for him in the 50s and he banished me to the Fens, but his love of the Fens has made him drive up to stay the odd night every 2 or 3 months, which he still does in his nineties.
In fact, he and I spent a whole week, when he was in his mid 80s, searching every old farm yard on Romney Marsh to source the Fen Alchemist fencing.
On the very last day we hit gold, bingo we found it at Ivychurch.
In fact, Mr Conway, ex RSH Chelsea gold medallist, said to me ‘as soon as the fence went up this garden is gold’.
Pictured on the right, my old boss, a few months ago on his last trip to the Fens.
My financial controller, Paula Heany, donated the bike from her own fen garden shed. Paula’s old fen tiger gardener had just died, leaving his tools and bike, plus the old mac and bits and bobs for the shed. She also gave us woad seeds harvested from hear own fenland garden.
Just look at the trip of an old fen shed on its journey from start to finish.
Fen Tiger shed first outing at WWT Fen Tigers Day
Sandringham 2008, Best in Show Gold Medal and Peoples Award.
The first garden to win all 3 awards in the history of the show.
Chris Beardshaw judging Sandringham 2008.
Alan Titchmarsh, RHS Chelsea 2009.
Helena Bonham-Carter and her Mum, RHS Chelsea 2009. Gold Medal and Best in Show.
Below are some images of whats left of the Fen Tiger shed, just a heap of panels and broken posts.