West Dean, a play in two acts

‘Ah ha, a piece of bindweed!’ That is what a lady said during the morning tour of West Dean gardens. Exactly where, and if it did exist I do not know, as I was too busy engrossed in all the garden theatre in the walled kitchen garden.  I say if too because these gardens are emmactulate. Lines are lines and swiggles are swiggles. There are no half measures. 

The morning tour consisted of two acts. Sarah Wain, chief guide and host led a supporting cast of various lead fruit and vegetable plants and a dedicated supporting crew of volunteers. Lets not forget Jim Buckland now shall we! Then there is the props department. Glasshouses, terracotta pots, canes. They were all cleaned to perfection.

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The iron curtain lifted to reveal an orchard setting in a walled garden. The ensemble sung in full part harmony. The baseline of fruit trees with fritillaries and cowslips providing undertones amongst the crescendo of Dandelions. (Dandelions you say.. well yes not the greatest meadow mix choice but alas are a salad crop and are good for bees. If only we could make the seeds infertile!)

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The set opens up, the stage evolves. The walls clothed with trained fruit trees in all shapes and sizes. Trained artists some would say. I had to consult the programme for their names. The typography was fab.

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Back on stage the Terracotta forcers protect the kale from the spears of asparagus. Line upon line of salad greens ready to attack. Their glasshouse forcefields protecting their skin from the harshest of weather attacks. No kidding this was one mean vegetable army machine, well fed, strong and obedient. Their barracks immaculately kept clean. No signs of attacks of Botrytis and co or King Herod who would slaughter the babies with a case of damping off with their heads. Two galvanised watering cans joust, a few tulip petals are ruffled and lost. The mousetrap. Yes, perhaps that’s to stop wandering hands, not mice!

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A few lines of the salad front line succumbed to the kitchen knife. The auricula primula audience were so shocked they barely blinked. Their eyes big and bold. Their seating plan was perfect everyone could get brilliant views including the violas outside.

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Meanwhile in the salad supply shed, the Nasturtiums where preparing to produce a peppery kick to the mouth of those who slaughtered the salad. Talking of ammunition and back ups, the store was full and organised in case of casualties. Henceforth, the battle between the salad, vegetable, and fruit versus the pests, disease and weather continues.

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Act two takes us to an immuculate house and grounds in the clouds* It is home to Sarah and Jim. It’s their private patch and none less of exciting than the last. The staging was just as perfect as act one but this time more tranquil. Fluid plantings hug an eternal path surrounding a mini meadow mound. Topiasied trees and hedera stopped at a perfect point up the tree like a bed sock embracing a leg.

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Look up through the yew. There is a secret passage to the heavens with a wooden floor. Around the back, Clematis nepaliensis adds its own mural to the house with its eyelash pom-pom seed heads fading from green to white.Pots tiered, clean and crisp. Some in rows. The box balls acting as the punctuation in the writing.

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The face in the wall above the pool starts to talk. Rocky it says. ‘Cake is ready to be served in the restaurant. You must leave now!’  So I left. Passed the stars dressing room and scoffed away. What another fab experience. Thank you.


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