Ivan Hicks's work at Butterfly World and Future Gardens
It's terribly important, don't you think, that a committed and determined journalist should always be ahead of the game. The knack is to be on the spot almost before the balloon goes up so that when all the other hacks are all breathlessly trying to catch up, you can swan along, miles ahead of the opposition and file your story - which will be a scoop - to a grateful and loving editor who showers you with bonus fees, hugs, kisses and, if you're very, very good, a couple of Mars bars.
With such sharp-elbowed competitiveness in mind, I thought I'd avoid the rush and make my first visit to Future Gardens and Butterfly World, yesterday. Naturally, there wasn't a journalist in sight anywhere in the vast acreage, so my fellow visitor and I had the whole place to ourselves. The site has just closed for the winter, so although I wasn't the first garden writer to visit, it's a reasonably safe bet that I will have been the last. Hurrah!
Metal bull rushes in Nature's Artistry, Autumn's Edge.
There has been comment, in the trade press, about disappointing visitor numbers to Future Gardens and Butterfly World, and about payment problems for some of the designers. That's a shame because the concept is impressive and much has been done towards making the place a big attraction.
By the time I finally got there, this year's Future Gardens were run down and, to an extent, in disarray. But it's good to see designs with their curlers in, with cucumber slices over their eyes and mud packs over their visages. They are to be disbanded, we were told, but no doubt everyone involved learnt a lot from this year's experience.
It was raining, too, meaning that to take pictures, keep the camera dry and not fall flat on my face in the mud required a combination of co-ordination and concentration, neither of which I have.
A glasswing or clearwing butterfly - I think
it's Greta oto in the family Ithomiinae, from South and Central America.
Some of the features that remained were still lovely. The whippy steel bull rushes by, I think, Fiona Heron waved in the breeze realistically and their starkness, along with the white ground, put me straight into a cold, sleety afternoon in my local Fenland landscape. Andy Sturgeon's monolithic thingies made me wonder where the apes were and I felt positively uplifted in Bruno Marmiroli's H Garden. White wooden trees are a delight against the orange walls.
But these gardens hammered home repeatedly this point: however hard you try not to give them their way, plants are the kings. Always will be. And where the plants don't rule, a garden's design is lessened. Without plants it cannot, no it cannot be a garden. Interesting installation, possibly; an exterior interior, maybe. But garden it isn't. (Rude comments on this heresy welcomed!)
Ivan Hicks has been - is - the Big Design Honcho, in this monster project and I really enjoyed seeing his series of giant drainage pipe moon entrances, looking warm, tempting and terracottary, despite the rain. I love the way weeds have blended with pretties, in the walls and barriers.
The future's orange! The H Garden.
Indeed, I loved massive spread of dead 'wild flowers' all over Butterfly world. Among the brown, the sere and the yellow, startling pink cosmos daisies are still blooming in little clusters. Cornflowers, Phacelia tanacetifolia and other arable weeds are still hanging on, making tiny star-bursts of colour - just enough to prevent it all from looking like the Somme on a bad day.
I hope this project succeeds. The huge geodesic butterfly dome will house masses of the beautiful insects, when completed. Meanwhile, we had to make do with a polytunnel in which the summer's last, lethargic beauties are still listlessly fluttering. The big, blue morphos and startlingly eyed owl butterflies are impressive, but for ephemeral beauty, I was most taken with the glasswing or clearwing butterflies from the Americas.
Sad things: The frogs seem to have got ranavirus. Two dead ones in my minipond this week. Also, the sparrowhawk has eaten another robin.
Happy things: Wendy, reported on here, is now wired and watered. I can warm her, moisten her and gently coax her into propagation mode. But long before the services were connected, I managed to root a dozen or so pelargonium cuttings with neither bottom heat nor irrigation. What a fecund beauty she is turning out to be already, bless her!
I'm listening to Louis Prima singing Just a Gigolo and I ain't got no body.
This day in 1981, I was working as a part time consultant in animal nutrition, visiting clients in Oxfordshire. I spent the night with friends at an extremely posh address in Holland Park.
This week's film was Sunset Boulevard. The 1950 classic with Gloria Swanson and William Holden in crackling form and a wonderful script, and direction, by Billy Wilder. The claustrophobic, decaying mansion was perfect. Miss Havisham redivivus ain't in it!
Picture: Greta oto feeding on Tithonia.