When an advertising lawyer with a top drawer London contacts book and a stylish Spaniard got together in 1960 they created one of the decade’s most successful brands. Casa Pupo, born in a corner shop in Pimlico, near the studios of an up-and-coming photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, grew into a worldwide chain with shops from Paris to Sydney.
I am so lucky to have been invited to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show on several occasions over the years, latterly as a guest of Giles and Melanie Feilding who own Anthony Steuart. Their company supplies Casa Fina with the classic tin waste bins, cache pots and match box holders that are so popular both with those seeking accessories for their interiors and for gifts.
I’m not a keen gardener because, working full time, I don’t have enough time to do a proper job. I can cut the grass and spend an hour or so weeding which gives me great satisfaction and pleasure but I don’t ever get to the rewarding stage of learning about plants or really getting on top of the difficult areas in the garden. Luckily you can get away with this in a cottage garden as it shouldn’t look too manicured.
Chelsea is like a ‘sweetie shop’ – the colours and scents keep you looking from one side to the other, not wanting to miss a colour combination or specimen plant. It is one of the eagerly awaited events of London’s social calendar but most people don’t go for the Pimm’s they really want to see the gardens.
This year, Jackie and I were eagerly anticipating our day out (extra special as a Chelsea occurs in my birthday week). With the sun shining as we drove to London our expectations were high. We joined the snake of people walking down to the Chelsea Hospital site from Sloane Square tube station and found ourselves in a scrum leading up to the entrance. We looked at the artisan gardens first admiring Kazuyuki Ishihara’s beautiful combination of acers, bonsai conifers, moss and rock pools and admired the tranquil and pretty Commonwealth War Graves Commission Centenary garden which used vintage sculptures set amongst drifts of alliums.
The big show gardens were crowded but patience is rewarded with a better view and my favourites were Chris Beardshaw’s Morgan Stanley Garden; the RHS ‘people’s choice’; a woodland setting evoking a typical British garden and The Silk Road garden, a landscape of vivid pink rhododendrons and peonies.
The buying opportunities are many and varied and before long I’d picked out a Victorian glasshouse, a garden statue – Leaf Spirit by Simon Gudgeon and a garden room that was comfortable enough to move in to. Sadly no money changed hands and they remain on my wish list until I see even more gorgeous things to covet next time.
The centrepiece of the show is the Great Pavillion. Here we tasted tea on the Wedgwood stand – delicious Camellia and Yellow Tonquin and were interested in their new contemporary blue jasper cachepots. However as they started at £55 for a 4″ pot we didn’t think that we could stock them in Casa Fina. My favourite flowers in the Pavillion have to be roses and peonies but I also marvelled at the 50 year old bonsai trees – utter perfection!
The trade stands were a bit of a busman’s holiday in part but we may have found a new supplier so every day out is an opportunity to develop the business. By 5 o’clock we were nearing exhaustion with the heat, crowds and walking so we headed off home armed with bundles of planting lists, phones full of colourful images and heads swimming with inspiration for that perfect retirement garden.
A few weeks ago I was delighted to visit the Burleigh factory in Stoke-on-Trent. It was a fascinating visit which demonstrated the traditions and skills of over 150 years of producing English handmade and decorated pottery. Being a longtime fan of the novels of Arnold Bennett it was extra special because the Middleport pottery is as near as you can get to stepping back in time.
I have a list of places that I want to visit and this spring I crossed another off the list – The Wallace Collection. The only problem was that I enjoyed the visit so much that I’ll have to go again! In case you haven’t been, the Wallace Collection is probably the finest art collection assembled by one family (over five generations). A condition of the bequest was that no object should ever leave the collection, even for loan exhibitions and it is now a national museum containing over 5,000 objects.
In 2012 I was reading a trade magazine which talked about Retail Independents Day. Mary Portas was quoted in support of this idea. It aimed to increase awareness of the independent businesses that are vital to the economy and which bring an individuality to each town and city in the country. Salisbury Independents group was subsequently formed and this year we sponsored the visit of Mary Portas to the Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival. Continue reading “Mary Portas”