Wildflower Sculpture Exhibition

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7-11 November, Rosser Road, Hastings
By Gill Duncan

“Welcome to the 6th Biennial Wildflower Sculpture Exhibition at ‘Round Pond’”, the home of Mike and Julie Russell on Rosser Road, “just a bit south of Hastings”.  Greeted like friends, we pass through the entrance and are immediately wowed by the scale of this Mediterranean-styled garden.

A gentle breeze, a perfect evening. “Which way?” We decide to go clockwise behind small groups of friends chatting, meandering in and out of delightful mass planting enhanced with artistic whimsy.  One moment the focus is close on a ceramic doggy face with bird perched on top, the next looking down an avenue of carefully tendered hedging into the distance. A pianist plays and sings easy listening, good enough to actually listen to. There is art in the trees, the borders of flower and shrubbery, art rising out of the lawns, we are surrounded by art.

“I like these bird thingys”, someone says and the catalogue is consulted only to find the artist is standing nearby. The Artists are all standing nearby. This is another wonderful thing about the opportunity to visit this garden. Mike confirms it later; he calls it a “Collaboration of great friends up and down the country” and many of them have supported the venture from the beginning. They engage with us, there is no ‘degrees of separation’.

Happy children noises stream by, the family Jack Russells come to meet and greet. Around every gentle curve there is something else to exclaim over and share: the Rill water feature is closely festooned with fresh flowers that seem to float on its length, the espaliered pear that would have been covered in white blossom to complement the avenue of japanese cherry trees. These are underplanted with a perennial border of delights from our childhoods.

It’s the sharing that is particularly noticeable. People murmur then gasp, gesticulate, gather and discuss as we pass into a planted folly of large grey-green rounds set into a gravelly base. Above, three flocks of silver birds fly over catching the changing light. This impressive linking of art and nature flanks a tower of yew, a low hedge around its base graced by classic Grecian nymphs. In the corner is a steel silhouette of a dear friend and artist passed away that another artist has dedicated; Will Jameson – whose large angel stands over the whole garden – “forever in our hearts”.

Walking on the perimeter are mature trees. They embrace this garden oasis with open arms, are pruned high and generously set back, and allow for vistas away to golden hills and spring green orchards. Anyone thinking to set their home in surrounds could learn from the intelligent planting of this garden; its ‘bones’ are seriously well done and reference climate, soil and maintainance. Smart and planned lovingly.

A bower of roses, softly romantic, is passed before we transition through impressive dark hedges. Here’s a brand new garden with fabulously topiary-ed laurels three to five metres high!

Such wonderful structure in green, backdrops the work of around eighty artists throughout: A tall polished silver punga fern, three pink flamingos beside the wonderful round pond fountain, a stunning stag and copper fish a-leaping. People in full conversation pause to stroke an arch of Corten steel and peer at a shy wooden tree-spirit cosied in the under plantings. The Artist shares that his “Twinkling the Truth of Plain Talk” is a conversation rising out of the ground: among the wildflowers it is a simple structure with a hopeful message. A dark and ambitious solar-powered piece excites the engineering savvy.

This year there is an emphasis on how to use succulents with Julie wanting to add “something extra” using floral design features such as the 10-year Birthday Cake and the floating flowers in the swimming  and rill pools. There has been an army of volunteers. Lizzie Russell, bright and eloquent, addresses us making us laugh as she warmly outlines this hosting over ten years as a “manic art backdrop to our lives” but also a many-faceted series of events that people can get involved with to give back to Cranford Hospice.

This particular evening has also been decorated with an auction of three art pieces; the Drama Workshop youngsters dressed in Madhatter, Alice in Wonderland costumes, including the Queen of Hearts and a bunch of cards playing petanque, interacting and staunchly staying in character, and a talented singing three-some from Hastings Boys, two of whom were in the recent Prima Volta production during the HB Arts Festival. Other entertainments are planned for the full run of the Exhibition.

This is an opportunity for appreciators of Art, whether it’s a love of the natural or the man-made, to see a beautiful coming-together of artistic vision and expertise. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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