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A Magical Stumpery to Honour Chelsea Flower Show
26 May 2023

London has celebrated the most wonderful annual Chelsea flower show this week. Chelsea and Belgravia burst into bloom, with the streets and shop fronts adorned with magnificent displays.

Once again, a distinct atmosphere resounds as horticulturists finest craft their splendid masterpieces alongside the garden designers who magically weave nature's transience.

We were honoured that Mat Reese, head garden designer at Malverleys estate, dressed the front of the Jamb Showroom on Pimlico road this year. Mat is renowned for creating the unique English Flower Garden at Malverleys that includes a famous stumpery. Alongside Aaron Bertelsen, they created a monumental Stumpery of ancient Oaks sourced from Wiltshire’s woodlands, adorned with ferns (Shuttlecock Ferns, Hard Fern and Lady Fern) a variety of moss, foxgloves, Alpine Strawberry and some Wood sorrel, reminiscent of the Victorian era.

After studying at Kew Gardens, Mat’s greatest period of learning and inspiration derived from legendary gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter alongside Fergus Garrett, formerly head gardener. Lloyd’s influence on the horticultural society cannot be underestimated and in 1979 he received the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest award of the Royal Horticultural Society, for his contribution to the world of gardening.

The stumps are biproducts from managing woodland, hedges and ditches, and harvested with consideration to the woodland ecology. Most are old oak trees that died decades ago and have rotted back to the hardwood, revealing these wonderful shapes. The stumps then become perfect abstract sculptures and add an element of drama to the composition.

Popular in Victorian Britain, the first stumpery was built in 1856 at Biddulph Grange and it became a synonymous way in which to showcase ferns, providing a rich habitat for wildlife.

To weave something of our Jamb into the Stumpary, we placed a 18th Century monumental scale iconic capital at the front of the shop for Mat to create around.

We then wanted the eye to travel into our showroom where we have placed a splendid sundial, in the form of the mythological personification of time Chronos, in the entrance of the shop.

There is a humanity of poise kneeling and bearing an elegantly wrought sundial and gnomon signed ‘B. Martin’ this figurative and highly metaphorical piece was commissioned for Flaxley Abbey, a former Cistercian Monastery, by Sir Thomas Crawley-Boevey (1709-69), from the workshop of John Cheere at the height of his output (1709-87) (brother of Sir Henry Cheere) after a design by renowned lead statuarist John Van Nost (d. 1729)

A symbol of taste and status for the country house garden of the early 18th century, hundreds of garden statues, based on designs by Nost, and produced by John Cheere have been recorded, and ‘sun-supporters’ are extant in Pine Lodge Gardens, Cornwall, Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire and Dallam Tower in Cumbria: the Flaxley Abbey piece is a robust statement of intent from the second baronet, Thomas and bears elegant and characterful witness to drastic cultural, social and technological changes.

The result of this realistic and human form are copious metaphorical meanings: time’s weight upon the straining shoulders of Chronos, or perhaps the subordination of nature and time by the Crawley-Boevey family, who lived at Flaxley until 1960 when the sundial was sold and removed from the premises (Flaxley Abbey, Gloucestershire: Catalogue of the Valuable Contents, Bruton, Knowles & Co., 29 March - 5 April 1960, lot 1009) before being returned to Flaxley Abbey by Frederick Baden Watkins.

Time’s weight upon the straining shoulders of Chronos.

Time’s weight upon the straining shoulders of Chronos.

It has been the most vibrant and busy week in the showroom, with so many passersby enjoying the stumpery that has drawn great attention. One lady was particularly enamoured and, instead of taking a photo and passing it on, was outside for some time. When we enquired what she was doing- she answered, “I’m just making a fairy garden” “What for?” we asked?” Just for me “, she replied.