Most of my talks range from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours in length and can be altered depending on your timing requirements. “The Inexhaustible Mr. Paxton” is a long talk which cannot be altered and which requires 1 1/2 hours to complete (a “comfort break” can be accommodated!) “Flower Power” talks last approximately 25 – 30 minutes and can be combined in any order and amount to suit your needs. I can also offer two complete “Study days” for a more in-depth look at the subject of garden history, and details can be found at the bottom of this page.
Currently in preparation:
Palaces of Glass
What do sheets of mica and a neglected bottle on a vicarage windowsill have in common? Was Paxton’s “Crystal Palace” really 1851 feet long? Where could you find pineapples growing inside another pineapple? Who was John Claudius Loudon and why is Monty Don so excited about a glass tube? All these questions, and more, will be answered when you come with me for a look around some of history’s most spectacular palaces of glass!
Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots
When William Nicholson wanted to paint a portrait of the famous gardener and plantswoman Gertrude Jekyll, she was far too busy in her garden to pose for him during the day. To keep himself occupied while waiting for her, he decided to paint her gardening boots. Fortunately, other famous gardeners have not been so busy. Come and meet seven gardeners whose careers cover the last 250 years of gardening in England while they sit for their portrait.
Food of the Gods – the Utterly Divine History of Chocolate
Greetings to you, lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, which entitles you to a guided tour of Wonka’s famous chocolate factory, conducted by Mr. Willy Wonka himself. You will learn all about the history of chocolate from its discovery in the forests of central Mexico to the birth of the modern chocolate bar. Your tour will include tickets to a rehearsal of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti, a ride in the Great Glass Elevator to a chocolate processing plant, breakfast with a Spanish Marquesa and possibly – if you have been very good indeed – some free samples to take home with you.
Portrait of a Victorian Garden – James Bateman and the story of Biddulph Grange
Created at a time when new horticultural treasures were pouring into England from newly explored countries and when technology was making its presence increasingly felt in the garden, Biddulph Grange is a unique – and some would say completely bizarre – creation. A walk around Biddulph takes you on a tour of the Victorian world as seen through the eyes of its enigmatic creator James Bateman and reflects not only the period but Bateman’s ideas, beliefs and outlook on life. Prepare to be surprised….
Tools of the Trade
Have you ever stood looking into your cluttered shed wondering where all the bits and pieces came from? This talk won’t help you find the trowel or untangle the hose from a deckchair but it will introduce you to the history of the lawnmower, the wheelbarrow, your secateurs, that wretched hosepipe and many of the other bits and pieces that we need to keep our gardens looking cared for and tidy.
The Tale of the Tulip
In the middle of the 14th century, a beautiful and exotic visitor from the east set foot on European soil for the very first time. With an extensive wardrobe of colourful veils of glistening silk shielding her dark and mysterious eyes from the gaze of the curious, the captivating visitor swept all before her and made people her willing slaves. Her beauty became the stuff of legend and she could bring prestige and riches to anyone who courted her favour. But within 150 years she would fall from grace within the course of a single week. The Tale of the Tulip follows the spectacular rise and disastrous fall from grace of this beloved garden flower.
A Nice Cup of Tea
Much has been written about plants that changed the world – cotton, sugar, tobacco – but little about Great Britain’s “national drink” – tea. We get through nearly 35 million cups of it a day but do you know where tea came from? Have you suffered on your knees through the Japanese Tea Ceremony? What was the Temperance Movement? Who invented the Tea Bag? And why should you never add the milk first?
Pour yourself A Nice Cup of Tea!
Say it with Poison!
Down in the garden, something deadly lurks… Several people who stood between the gardener and a large inheritance have died horribly. Could it be that they have all been poisoned with the plants and flowers that grow there? Many have been used throughout history as part of the murderer’s stock-in-trade, both in fiction and real life, so should you be on your guard against “herbaceous murder” as the gardener welcomes you in for what might be your very last garden tour? Make sure your life insurance is up to date against murder most floral – it’s time to Say It With Poison!
The Devil’s Garden
From the Forbidden Fruit of Eden to the screams of the fabled mandrake, from ghosts in a plate of beans to something very nasty hiding in a pot of basil, this unusual talk takes you on a garden tour with a difference. Beware – these plants can seriously damage your health, your marriage, your sanity or your pocket (and if you are very unlucky, all four!).
The Capable Mr. Brown
We all know his name, but what do we know about Brown’s family life, the people he worked for and what else was happening in England at the time? Where did the new style of landscape gardening he is famous for come from? Did he invent it, or was he simply the right man in the right place at the right time? This talk takes a look at the life and career of Lancelot “Capability” Brown – a man who changed the face of England for ever. Born into poverty and obscurity, he became renowned across the world as the father of the English landscape garden movement. But who was he?
The Inexhaustible Mr. Paxton
Plantsman, Head Gardener to the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, architect, designer of the “Crystal Palace”, inventor, MP, publisher, journalist, railway magnate and the first man to produce a flower from the Giant Amazonian Waterlily in Europe, this talk looks at the rags-to-riches tale of the 19th century’s most extraordinary (and seemingly inexhaustible!) man, Joseph Paxton.
Dig for Victory!
This talk looks at the period when England’s gardens took on the might of Hitler’s armies. Gardens great and small, public and private saw clematis give way to cabbage and roses replaced by rhubarb. We look at the role of the “forgotten army” – the Land Girls – who helped to put food on the tables of the nation, plus advice and propaganda given to gardeners in print and over the airwaves, the unexpected problems of putting an Anderson Shelter in your back garden and why Enid Blyton’s rabbit was called “Stew”.
The Art of the Folly
Starting with a look at what a folly actually is (and what it ) The Art of the Folly looks at weird, wonderful and (generally) unexplained garden buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many have entertaining stories behind their creation – find out how to out-do the Bishop of Salisbury, what happens when you put an advert in the paper for a hermit and how to produce a 50 foot pineapple.
Four half-hour talks which can be combined to suit your timing needs. Beloved by artists as well as gardeners, flowers are everywhere in art. But are they just flowers or do they carry hidden meanings? Is there a deeper significance – spiritual, cultural or aesthetic – than we realise? Put on your deerstalker and prepare to exercise your little grey cells as we tour a virtual art gallery looking for the clues that artists have left for us between the petals of roses, lilies, tulips and sunflowers.
The Painted Garden
A tour through some of the major art galleries of the world and a journey through the history of gardening. From Egyptian tomb paintings to London Underground posters via an unseemly scramble for very expensive tulip bulbs and the landscapes of Capability Brown, all the major trends and fashions in the history of gardening are explored through the medium of paintings.
The Ancient Garden
looks back at gardens of two important civilizations: ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire, Design, layout, horticultural techniques and the plants to be found there are discussed, using paintings from tombs and palaces, evidence from archaeological sites and modern resources. We follow the rise and fall of each empire and their gardens, and discuss how your garden, kitchen and laundry were changed by plants that arrived with the Roman legions.