Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Rose Garden - Groundworks Days 2&3

The last two days in  The Rose Garden have been concentrated on two areas. The raised Rose Bed had to be constructed, and we needed to transfer a good amount of soil and earth from the plant bed under the railings into the Rose Bed.

First we had to identify the bricks for the Rose Bed.

We knew that there would be some stocks of bricks on the Spode site that we'd be able to use. Our first find were some old Victorian heritage bricks which had been salvaged during some recent development works to Spode's Fascia.
The front of the building had become unsafe, in danger of collapsing onto the street, and these bricks had been the leftovers from the rebuilding process. It was interesting that these bricks were probably well over 150 years old.

Brick Selection No.1

Our next find were left over from a previous BCB show, and were the opposite of these old bricks. The Michelmersh Charnwood Brick was a handmade brick made especially for the renovation of St.Pancras Station in 2006, and had had a starring role in the trade section of the last British Ceramics Biennial.

The Charnwoods were ‘thrown’ sideways to give a frog on both sides. This helps laying the bricks, particularly given the relatively thin 5mm joints that were used. In addition, a double frog can provide extra key for the mortar. Other than where the new facade abuts the existing building, the use of hydraulic lime mortar has removed the need for movement joints in the facade.
 So the use of the two distinct bricks gave our rose bed a distinctive hooped look, and conceptually, really played in to the old and the new, a theme central to the whole project.

Two days, 12 bags of sand 2 bags of concrete and 30 barrow loads of transferred clay-bound soil later, and the raised bed was pretty much finished. It was important to get this stage done, so that we can fill it with some high grade top soil ready for the planting. The planting needs plenty of time to bed in before the BCB opens on 27th September.

A really great aspect to working in this way is the engagement with the public, and as the Rose Garden lies adjacent to a busy pedestrian-way bit, as well as a car park, and the local council offices, there are no end of interested observers, asking for information on the project. This is a ready-made audience that most artworks could only dream of.

As we left for the day, we were happy that the project is well on track ready for workday 4.

The Rose Garden - Finding the Rose


In the end we found it. After much searching and contact with over a dozen of the country's leading Rose Breeders, we found ourself just up the road, in a field behind Knutsford Service Station.


This is how we found our Rose labelled at Gareth Fryer's Roses. We met Gareth, a third generation Rose Breeder whose family had been breeding roses in the area for over 100 years, in his multi-coloured rose field. We told him our three main characteristics - "old" type, pure white and fragrant - he thought for a second and said he knew of the one that might fit the bill.

We turned round to look in to the field, and one rose literally stood a foot higher than any of the others - tall and strikingly white. T647.

We went for a closer look  and were sold immediately. It is a really sturdy plant, with a significant deep green trunk and really impressive thorns. The bloom was exactly what we'd been searching for, a china/porcelain white, and full and blousy. And big - almost 13cm in diameter.

Gareth told us that he had bred a rose for Spode once before - in the 1970's, when the factory was known as Copelands. It was called "Spode Rose". That rose had long since become uncommercial, but the coincidence was interesting to us, and the whole scenario felt right to us.

From here, the process is going to be interesting. We have found the Rose. We want to call it the "Spode China Rose", and as Gareth "held the naming rights" to the previous one, there will be no problem, but as a matter of courtesy we want to approach Portmeirion, the parent company of Spode, to let them know about our project and naming plans.

There will be a further reason to talk to Portmeirion, as we are no going to have to find  a series of funding initiatives, as we not only have to cover the costs of the naming process, but we need to bring the rose to the commercial sector, and find it a market to ensure its longevity. In the harsh world of Rose Breeding, commercial success is everything. We also need to start thinking about raising the money needed for the full renovation of The Rose Garden for 2015. That's going to mean some partnership working, with companies like Spode, and political bodies like the City Council and Funding bodies such as the Arts Council. We'll be looking at Crowdfunding options, and advanced Rose sales and many other options.

Spode China Rose 

The Rose Garden - In Search of a Rose

The central part of our thinking for The Rose Garden project - the part which talks of the future - is the search for a brand new rose to re-populate The Rose Garden. It was always in our plan to find a suitable rose breeder in an attempt to cultivate a bespoke rose. 

We were clear in what we wanted.

    An "old" type rose, as white as possible and with a rich fragrance.

From a list of 20 of the country's top rose breeders, and after approaching each by email, we chose two breeders from the half a dozen replies we got. Warner's Roses and Gareth Fryer Roses. Both were local, within 30 miles of the Spode site, and both were really well repected, award winning Rose Breeders with a proven history of growing beautiful healthy roses and successfully introducing them to market.

Some preliminary research told us that developing a rose from scratch, though ideal, would be out of the question. It is an 8 year process to get a rose from seed to shop, and that is if everything goes well - as we found out on a trip to Warner's roses, there are no guarantees. 

Warner's Roses are a small - very small, as in 1 man and a part-timehandyman help - operation in Newport, Shropshire. Chris Warner, the business owner, has been breeding roses since the mid-1980's after becoming disillusioned with the state school system in his job as a secondary school P.E. teacher. Since then, the business has grown to the point where Chris is the proud owner of several international gold medal-winning roses, including the 2015 Rose of the Year - For Your Eyes Only. Chris gave us a small insight into the precarious world of rose breeding, telling us that even though his rose has the distinction of that award, it is no
guarantee of success. Rose lovers are particular about what they consider to be a rose's essential characteristics. Generally people are looking for "doubles" or "very full" roses, meaning between 20-100 petals per flower. For Your Eyes Only is an Arabian, "desert rose". It only has a single layer of 5 petals - desert roses are always like this as there is less water available. This means that although it has achieved critical success, it probably won't be a winner with the public.

Our trip to Warner's was full of fascinating facts - and Chris was a really generous tourer of his operation. We learnt amongst many things over the course of an hour that
  • Of the seeds Warners sow, 60%-70% root successfully, compared to 10% for the vast majority of rose breeders. Chris told us that this was mainly down to the system of germonation, which he shares with David Austin - individiual sowing, and heating the individual seed plugs from underneath.
  • The most common disease for the rose used to be Blackspot, but in the last 15 years, through the commercialisation, powdery mildew has migrated from New Zealand, through the USA to Europe. Warner's Roses unique focus is the production of disease-free plants, and this means a brutal attitude throughout the testing stage. Even if a plant seems disease free for 5 years, it may still fall susceptible to blackspot or mildew. Whenever disease is found, Warner's discontinues the plant.
  • Other Rose pests are Red Spider, White Fly, all caterpillars, and the most devastating of all - the
    Thrip (left) 
     tiny, slender insects with fringed wings.  Other common names for thrips include thunderfliesthunderbugsstorm fliesthunderblights, "' storm bugs "' and corn lice.
  • Chris keeps his collected pollen in the fridge.
  • He carries out 3-4,000 crosses a year, which compares with David Austin's 25,000
  • Rose Breeding is mainly about trial and error. For instance, if you cross two highly scented plants, there is no guarantee of getting a scented offspring.
In truth, there was so much information from our 2 hour trip to Warner's Roses, that it was hard to process it all. Chris told us that he's still learning new things 30 years after reading his first rose-breeding book. His passion for the process was evident, and I really wanted us to find our perfect rose amongst his many offerings. 

Unfortunately, there just wasn't one close enough to our vision, though several came close.

Here's a selection of images from a wonderful couple of hours.

Warner's Tallest Rose

The Rose Garden - Groundworks Day 1

Day one of the manual works for The Rose Garden began last week. Really this was a day to work out possibilities, and to make a start. We know that as with any project or new body of work, making a start, or the first mark is crucial. It gets the creative juices running, and new ideas start bursting out.

The Plan

The first task was to identify our "wedge-shaped" area, within which we would apply our transformations. We had previously asked the caretaker at Spode to avoid all management and tending of the space, as we wanted to create the maximum visual effect for the viewer to see the distinct area we had chosen for the transformation.

We decided that the wide edge of the wedge would be at the front edge, at the railings, where the public walk past, tapering to a point almost 30 yards away on Spode's outer wall.

Once the area had been defined, we set about identifying what needed to be kept and what should be discarded, and then clearing, weeding, pruning, cutting, scraping and cleaning.

There is a large earthed area running the length of the railed wall of the garden which no doubt used to be full of roses, but today is home to the thistle - lots of thistles and really healthy, sharp thistles at that.

Over by the Spode building, a few large shrubs had to be negotiated, but only the bits that fell within the demarcated zone. One of these shrubs is a rose bush, though it has seen better days. It was slowly being strangled by an enthusiastic deadly nightshade. We gently stripped that away from the rose. and we'll gently prune it at a later date, before fully cutting it back this autumn ready for the next couple of years.

The main focus of the space is the central circular plantbed, which we will build up before presenting our proposal for 2015 - a beautiful bespoke ceramic replica rose in the form of our new Spode China Rose. More details of this part of the project to come. For now, it was a question of clearing and weeding in readiness for the building works of next week.

By the end of Day 1 we felt we'd really got somewhere - we could start to see how the final work might look.
After i

After ii