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Off Topic: Dickens in Brooklyn / Orchids in Liverpool

  • Subject: [cg] Off Topic: Dickens in Brooklyn / Orchids in Liverpool
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Wed, 28 Apr 2004 11:09:26 EDT


Yesterday morning I received a news brief from the Manhattan Borough President's office  which included this item,

Manhattan Borough President C. VIRGINIA FIELDS
and Council Member HELEN DIANE FOSTER
withCouncil Members:MARIA BAEZ,
and the
 Invite you to a Public Hearing 
Tuesday, April 27th, 2004
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
The Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse (at 165th Street) 
*****If you have any questions or would like to sign up to testify, please call (212) 669-2029.**

Suddenly a strong wind blew into the apartment, blowing one of my late wife's gardening magazines off the coffee table and onto the floor - mimicking how Allegra would sometimes throw a magazine at me when she was being "emphatic." As the topic was one that "fired her up," there was no doubt that I would have to call up the Borough President's office and get on the speaker's list. For the most part, the people testifying were the usual policy wonks, program directors and "interested parties" in the health/poverty game. Cleaned up and in a suit, I gave the attached little talk which I think blew into the hearing room like the gardening magazine blew at me. Everyone seemed to become conscious of the Elephant in the Room,  namely the Dickensian plight of many of our citizens a good hundred and fifty years after the author penned, "Hard Times."

I took the subway home, went into a jazz bar and drank a couple of brandies - then to bed.  

This morning, while drinking coffee, this lovely  piece of English gardening journalism blew into my computer, which was a gift that I wanted to share with you because it was so charming in comparison to yesterday's experience.

Adam Honigman
Clinton Community Garden

The flower of northern pride

Apr 28 2004

Orchids are on permanent show again at Tatton Park in their own brand new glasshouse. Peter Elson reports on this stately home tradition and digs the dirt on Liverpool's much-lamented lost orchids.

THEY are a rich and varied crew. All colours and sizes. Some are quite dowdy and discreet; others have to be wily to survive in their vivid, tropical jungle homeland.

As their boss explains: "They have to wave and shout out 'Hey guys, I'm over here, come and have some fun!'."

What they love is high humidity and heat. Stepping into their glassy home from the familiar cockle-chilling Cheshire breeze gives the body circuits a kick that could resuscitate a comatose whale.

However, it's floral, not fishy matters that concern us. The orchids are back at Tatton Park, as part of the larger kitchen garden restoration project.

Tatton's head gardener, Sam Youd, is an orchid fan, but like all experts never chooses the gaudy examples as his favourite. Reaching out for a rather underwhelming Polystacha, he lifts the small, yellowed-bloomed plant and inhales deeply. Thrusting it under my nose for me to do likewise. The aroma is absolutely beguiling.

Once famous for its orchids, Tatton Park was in the upper echelon of British stately homes that had the resources to create such a collection. Having been brought to perfection under glass, the best examples were then displayed in the house, adding to its impact.

The Egerton family, who built and lived at Tatton Park until 1958, had one of the most famous books on these alluring flowering plants, The Orchids of Mexico and Guatemala, written by James Bateman.

At present there's only one glasshouse (completed a few months ago) devoted to orchids. Yet this alone cost £100,000 with the cost divided between the National Trust (Tatton's owners), Cheshire County Council (Tatton's managers) and Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sam says "Nobody would have ever thought that we would see orchids back at Tatton Park. I would love to do more but . . ."

HE DARE not mention the sordid topic of coinage, but of course out of small tubers, great orchid collections grow.

"I've wanted to restore the orchid house and collection here ever since I arrived 20 years ago, but in gardening you've got to have patient genes.

"The orchid collection cost nothing thanks to donations. The North of England Orchid Society and others have been fantastically generous. We're aiming at having a general collection and have about 400-500 examples so far, but we're open to other donations.

"Orchids have always been seen as exotic. Just look at this Phragmipedium with its long flowing whiskers. It's much crossed hybrid, hence its horrible name. Or this Brassada, which looks like a starburst.

"Growing them was very elitist as they needed properly-equipped greenhouses. A house like Tatton Park employed a specific orchid grower. There's a lot of myth and magic about orchids." Indeed. Orchids create an ambience. In Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep the story opens with his private eye Philip Marlowe visiting a geriatric colonel who sits in his conservatory hemmed in by lush orchids, like an old grey spider trapped in a bottle. He ekes out his existence sharing the orchids' tropical conditions.

Besides naturally growing wild species, Dutch specialists have developed numerous hybrid strains. This has made orchids more robust and available as house plants.

Sam, 57, has worked at Tatton Park for 22 years and prior to that at Liverpool Council's Parks

and Gardens. Born and brought up in Huyton, his father was a keen amateur gardener, although he trained as a tailor and worked the wine and spirits trade.

"I helped him garden and when I was eight years old decided that I was going to be a gardener and nothing would dissuade me. My job is my hobby. It's a vocation.

"All my family went to sea (mainly with Cunard Line). My grandmother's best parlour was full of exotic presents brought back for her and my attention was caught by the Oriental things.

"While I was working at Calderstones Park as technical adviser I was especially taken with the little Japanese garden in the Olde English Garden. That started my great interest in Far Eastern horticulture.

"I looked out of my office window one day and saw these guys digging away and wanted to do that again. Simultaneously, the Militant political situation in Liverpool City Council was brewing up. Also, I thought I'd like my children (we have seven) to be brought up in the countryside, so I decided to get out.

JOB came up as a propagator at Tatton Park (coincidentally, I'd always wanted to work here). I thought I'd do three years here and then look for a head gardener's position. My boss who was dying of a brain tumour asked me to consider taking over and so I stayed."

His work has taken him all over the world ( "If I had to live anywhere else I'd choose China".) His office somewhat resembles the paper equivalent of a compost heap. There are letters, prints, magazines, plant and soil samples and even two Japanese rakes covering every surface. The filing system is probably based on carbon dating the various items. It's not exactly untidy; rather illustrating someone who is totally immersed in their work.

His office is in the old stables complex. Once it was home to Tatton's bachelor gardeners. Before World War I, Tatton Park employed 70 gardeners; now it has 13. "But we do have five tractors," says Sam.

His home is in the attractive head gardener's house at the far end of the stable yard. From his bedroom's bay window he can survey his flourishing horticultural kingdom.

In gardening, the next project is always looming. The foundations of the former pineapple house are being readied for its £500,000 recreation. Building will start in 2006 and the first pineapples could be ripening in 2010.

"Growing pineapples is a nightmare," says Sam as a mischievous glint comes into his eyes, "but we say yes, so eat your heart out, Mr Del Monte."

Bitter row that threatened two centuries of love and devotion

THERE is another great North West orchid collection, apart from Tatton Park. Once world-renowned, it was dubbed the Kew Gardens of the North.

Liverpool's justly famous orchid collection, begun by William Roscoe and other leading 18th century botanic experts, was threatened with destruction in the 1980s after a bitter row between the city's gardeners and the then Labour Militant council.

As the dispute spiralled, the council demolished the glasshouses at Harthill and Calderstones Botanic Garden, in October, 1984, only 21 years after it was built as a world-class centre. Luckily, the orchids were spirited away to Greenhill Nurseries beforehand.

They remain, in albeit more benign council care, behind closed glass doors. Sam Youd, Tatton Park's head gardener, despairs that they are still hidden from public gaze, although the danger to life and leaf has passed.

"The orchids were hugely popular when displayed at Harthill during the 1970s. The glass houses were crowded with people at weekends," he recalls of his time working for Liverpool's Parks and Gardens.

"Most important is that exotic specimens could be easily imported through the port, so orchids are a key part of the city's heritage. We had an advantage nowhere else did. They were brought home as souvenirs and were built up into the most important collection in the world. Men like Roscoe had the means to deliver orchids to their doorsteps.

"Tatton and Chester Zoological Gardens built up collections partly because of their proximity to Liverpool. The Liverpool and Manchester merchants with their big conservatories were also keen collectors."

Sam adds: "The destruction of Liverpool's botanic collections after dedicated care by generations of gardeners breaks my heart. My great wish is that anyone with any brains will get Capital of Culture money and will begin retrieving our reputation by displaying the orchids - and they will attract visitors."

Liverpool city council is considering the best way of getting the collection back on permanent display. A spokesman said Calderstones Park has been identified as the best location and the council is looking for ways to fund the move. Part of the collection will be on display at Southport Spring Flower Show this weekend.

William Morris inspires main display

TATTON Park once again hosts the Royal Horticultural Society's Northern Flower Show in July.

The principal show garden, created by Butler Landscapes, will be inspired by the great 19th century designer William Morris. There will be more than 40 show gardens and back-to-back gardens, floral marquees displaying award-winning blooms, expert advice and instruction in floral arrangements and floristry. Among the community entrants are displays from Congleton, Preston and St Helens. Extensive ranges of plants, arts, crafts.

Local produce and garden implements will also be on sale. The Tatton Brasserie will serve lunches and teas.

The show opens with a RHS members only day on Wednesday July 21. The public days are from July 22 - 25.

The ticket hotline is 0870 906 3811. Members: July 21: £20; July 22-25: £14; Public July 22-25: £19 on day (£17 if booked in advance). Children 5-15: £5; under fives free.

* FOUNDED in 1804, the RHS is Britain's largest gardening charity dedicated to promoting excellence in horticulture and gardening.

Membership costs £33 a year, plus £7 enrolment fee.

Further enquiries, tel: 0845 130 4646; website: www.rhs.org.uk/

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