Friday, 29 June 2012


This time last week my husband Paul and I were enjoying a wonderfully cultural break in the city of Amsterdam. After a short flight from our local airport (Schiphol is about the only airport, other than Aberdeen, that you can fligh directly to from Durham Tees Valley!) we arrived in glorious sunshine and checked in to our hotel in a lovely leafy street in the Museum District.

 It was still only about 9 o' clock  and we were ready for a day of walking and exploring all of the streets and canals of this beautiful 17th Century city.
Some of the multitude of picturesque canals
If there are canals then there have to be bridges to cross them and some of the designs for these are quintissentially Dutch.
Some of the plethera of bridges including the historic Magere Brug
Wandering the historic streets you soon get used to the fact that they drive on the "wrong" side of the road but I don't think we would EVER be able to anticipate when and where you would find a cohort of bikes heading straight for you. These were not mad youths out to scare the tourists but business men, mothers with there children in wooden boxes strapped to the front and old ladies, obviously fitter than myself, returning home with their shopping. It was blatently obvious that Health and Safety is not what it is in our somewhat "nanny" state as there was no sign of seat belts for the kids or bike helmets, even for scooters and mopeds.
The ubiquitous bike found tied to every railing
Day 2 meant we now had a feel for the place and we set off, via the floating flower market, to visit a recently opened exhibition of Impressionist paintings at the Amsterdam Hermitage.

The floating flower market ....

...with its amazing collection of bulbs, plants and cut flowers.
 A few years back we had visited the Hermitage in St Petersburg where we were amazed at the extent that Russian merchants, as well as nobility and the imperial family, collected the "new" French paintings from the second half of the 19th century. Business men likeSergey Shchukin and  Ivan Morozov were not patrons of these new artists but obsessive collectors who seemed to foresee the future. After the Russian Revolution their collections were nationalised and eventually divided between the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

The Smoker by Paul Cezanne 1891
What we loved most about this exhibition "Sensation & Inspiration" was the way it has put this collection of Impressionist paintings from St Petersburg in their artistic context. It includes paintings by their predecessors, contempories and successors. It starts by taking you to the Paris of the Salons i.e. the great, official exhibitions where impressionist canvases were refused entry. Classical paintings were carefully staged scenes of a historic, biblical or mythological events (compared with landscapes and city scenes depicting everyday life such as boating trips, Paris cafes and informal portraits). Their colourful "impressions" were seen as shocking and radical.

Predecessors and Contempories

Sale of a Slave Girl in Rome by Jean-Leon Gerome

Lion Hunt in Morocco by French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix 1854

Landscape with a Ploughman, 1860-65, by artist Theodore Rousseau
of the Barbizon School (who were considered forerunners
of the Impressionists as the painted in the open air).


Woman in Garden by Claude Renoir 1873

Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary
by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1878

Post- Impressionists

Woman with Fruit by Paul Gaugin 1893
Even though Vincent van Gogh was born in Holland and not France the total lack of reference to him surprised us because he did do much of his work in France and the Hermitage collection includes some of his best work. We later discovered that when the Van Gogh Museum closes for refurbishment a new wing will be opened in the Hermitage dedicated to his contribution to the Impressionist Movement.

Just around the corner from the Hermitage we visited the botanic gardens where we had lunch in a lovely outdoor court yard. They were first established in 1638 as a medical herb garden but in the 17th and 18th century they included exotic ornamental plants and spices brought back by ships of the Dutch East India Company.
We have been to bigger, and probably better, but this little gem had a butterfly house, a palm house, that is over 100 years old, and a lovely collection of my favourite carnivorous plants.
Butterflies  and the historic Palm House
My all time favourite carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia)
Well it is getting very near tea time and so I will save "Day 3" and the Van Gogh Museum for a later post. It will be worth calling back to take a peak.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Chelsea Flower Show

I can't believe after all the cold and damp of the Jubilee celebrations that just over a week ago my son Matthew, daughter-in-law Lynsey and I were basking in glorious sunshine at the Chelsea Flower Show. We had looked forward to this since getting the tickets as a Christmas present and we weren't disappointed.

Brewin Dolphin Show Garden
Equipped with our map of the site we planned our route and the first show garden we came to, the Dolphin Brewin garden, just happened to have won Best in Show. It was beautiful as it combined the formal structures of yew topiary and beech hedges with lots of herbaceous planting.
Dolphin Brewin Garden
The next garden didn't seem at all out of place in the sweltering heat of Chelsea.It was Trailfinders Australian Garden.
This one was designed by Jason Hodges and was much more about features such as a plunge pool, barbecue and pizza oven (all the things essential in an aussie backyard) rather than the planting.
Trailfinders Australian Garden
The next garden, which featured a Victorian greenhouse set in an English country garden, more than made up for the lack of flowers with its' amazing show of blooms.

Country Greenhouses Garden

We went on to visit, Fresh Gardens, a new for 2012. These smaller gardens had no brief and so no constraint and consequently some quirky new ideas emerged including the QR Code Garden which was very appropriate as it was also the first year that smart technology had been used at the RHS.I had already noticed the QR codes earlier and enjoyed using my QR reader app on my phone to try and get more details of some of the plants I had really liked.

By now it was time for refreshments and so Lynsey and I enjoyed a cool glass of Pimms.

After our refreshments we headed for the remaining  large show gardens.

Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden
This lovely garden, designed by the television gardener Joe Swift, had four bold cedar wood structures that framed  the foliage but the stunning part was the colour palette of burgundy and rusty brown. For this alone it deserved its Gold Award.

The World Vision Garden, The Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary
Garden and TheArthritis UK Garden.
The Telegraph Garden
The RBC Blue Water Garden
Our last stop before lunch was Diarmuid Gavin's giant pyramid shaped terraced garden. It won the award for "most creative show garden" which I'm sure you will have seen on the BBC when it had Chelsea pensioners forming a guard of honour on each of the seven levels.
Westland Magical Garden
After a sit down and a bite to eat we looked forward to exploring the Artisan Gardens, mainly because they were set in the tranquil wooded Ranelagh Gardens which provided welcome shade. We were in for some lovely surprises as designers such as Kaffe Fassett and Orla Kiely had some amazing sheds and summer houses.

Kaffe Fassett's summerhouse

Orla Kiely's shed
The garden I most wanted to see in the whole show was the Satoyama Life Japanese garden. It was designed to reflect the symbiosis between our lives and nature and reflect the simple life of the Satoyama region of Japan It was tranquil and absolutely gorgeous and definitely deserved to win Best Artisan Garden.It made me want to go back and visit Japan again.
Satoyama Life Garden
There were lots of other stunning artisan gardens but none compare with this little gem.

All that remained for our tired little feet to do was get us to the Grand Pavilion to soak up the atmosphere and select a few to special plants to drool over. i was delighted when the first display I saw on entering was Hewitt-Cooper's carnivorous plant display. I had become fascinated by these after visiting Charles Darwin's house in Kent and I went on to feature these in both fabric and wallpaper designs for my Final Major Project at college.

Hewitt-Cooper Carnivorous Plants
I will leave you with some delightful bulbs that caught my eye.
Tulip, Fritillaria and Alliums