Maria?

No, you have to know I can’t sing to save my life.

(In fact, I was told at fourteen, while singing the school song rather too lustily and out of tune, not ever to sing again!)

And neither is the sugary ‘Sound of Music’ exactly my cup of tea!

And neither is this!

Or at least it wasn’t.

It is a kind of monstrous vase made of pieces of stone, glued together with cement – really I think the Prince of Wales could call it a carbuncle. Except that he wouldn’t, because it was made in Victorian times and he likes the past. I am a historian by training and I don’t necessarily, unless it works.

I do wonder what they could have been thinking of when they decided to make this. It doesn’t strike me as an exceedingly obvious idea.

However, the arcane and abstruse often attracts. If only as a challenge. And this struck me as some kind of brooding and lurking monster which had to be turned into a star. At the end of a long path, it had the makings of a  focal point. But, it needed a top-knot, some kind of fillip.

Clients these days are more than ever attracted by reducing the budget and quite understandably so. These are tough times. And I happened to spot a useful Phormium tenax, some kind of nameless bronze one with reddish stripes nearby, which was surplus to requirements.

Now I know Phormiums are really boring. Well, they are not, but how they are used,  and excessively, is!  Plants have to be the right choice, both style – wise and to suit the cultural conditions. And the conditions here were the rub. The vase is heavily overhung by a beech. So although it looks light enough now, in summer the canopy is dense and low slung. And the ‘vase’ for all its monstrousness actually can contain very little soil. I wonder if they realized that by the time they finished it – dooh!

I have grown Phormiums on islands in streams, in the teeth of coastal gales, on the clay swamps of modern housing estates and you guessed it on top of a pile of rocks! They are tough cookies. Here, it is in its second season. You can see that we cut the leaves by half when we moved it to ease its ‘rite of passage.’ This Spring it will have a generous feed and those outer ugly cropped leaves removed.

But the key thing is not only that it has established – we knew it would – but that it looks the biz.

The bland backdrop of a really special form of Vinca major with starry deep purple flowers is the ideal foil for the vertical drama of the flax plant. And of itself, it has sufficient spunk and sass to carry the day. It and the rock are a team.

The summer sun setting low and to the west behind it, backlights it. So as the client takes his dame for the summer evening stroll with G and T around the estate, they saunter towards this kind of back lit firework!

This talk of focal points reminds me that next month, as part of the Garden Designers Round Table, we will all be blogging simultaneously and internationally on focal points. We will alert you nearer the time. But expect something sparky!

Robert

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