Tag Archives: Abbie’s column

Decoding the jargon

Setting the standard for garden rooms – Sissinghurst

A newsletter from a gardening organisation arrived a few days before Christmas and I duly read it, coming across the following statement (warning: do not let your eyes glaze and brain disconnect before the end). “Outstanding gardens manage to respond to the genius loci using borrowed landscape, natural landform and native plants – often mixed with exotics – to create stunning indigenous compositions of form, line, texture and colour.”

Borrowing the jargon, shall we unpack that statement? Though I prefer to use the term decode because it is somewhat like a secret code.

Outstanding gardens manage to – that bit is fine.

respond to the genius loci – had to get out the dictionary for this. Loci is, more or less, a place or locality. Google then helped me track down the term genius loci which apparently dates back to early Roman times and means the protective spirit of a place. Latterly the term seems to have been adopted by the landscape architecture fraternity although it might be easier to understand if they simply referred to the well known words of English poet and writer, Alexander Pope who took an interest in garden design. He put it rather more simply when he wrote in 1731 (a mere 280 years ago), “Consult the genius of the place…” which has come to be interpreted as the principle that design should always be relevant to the location and natural environment. This of course assumes that your particular location has some genius loci attached to it but it is a little hard to see how much genius loci you can lay claim to if your lot in life is a small, flat, urban section with a house, be it large or small, plonked fair and square in the middle. Some of us are blessed with quite a bit more genius loci than others.

using borrowed landscape – that is the view of the neighbours’ properties, assuming you have neigbours with views worth borrowing.

natural landform – silly me. I thought that was part of the genius loci.

and native plants – I can’t quite work out whether this is using the already existing native plants in your own genius locus extending to your neighbours’ genius loci which would be a little limiting because it then tends to apply only to those whose patch is on the boundary of a national park, scenic reserve or at least a patch of native bush. Alternatively it may be that native plants are mandatory and pre-eminent in outstanding gardens. While advocating strongly for the use of native plants in tandem with exotics, I think this statement takes the position of native plants considerably further than is common in this country.

… – often mixed with exotics – yes, we are allowed to embellish with introduced plants (exotics are the vast majority of what we grow in this country. Even our lawn grasses are heavily dominated by exotics, as are all our fruit trees and vegetables). I don’t know what the word often is in there for because you would be hard pressed to find any environment in this country, be it natural or contrived, which does not have introduced plants in it. Even our national parks are invaded by weeds.

to create stunning – stunning… hmm. There is a very emotive word. Quality can be measured and evaluated. Emotional response is a matter of individual opinion.

stunning, indigenous compositions of form, line, texture and colour. I will let the compositions of form, line, texture and colour go, though I can think of clearer ways of defining good gardening as a combination of excellent design and skill with plants. But, indigenous compositions? Puh-lease. Indigenous – occurring naturally or native to the land. Gardening, by definition, is not indigenous. It is an imposition on the landscape, occasionally a natural landscape but more often a landscape already heavily altered by man.

So what I think the original statement says is: outstanding gardens make the most of their natural environment, using a variety of plants and really good design. At least, I hope that is what it says. There is no author named so I can’t check.

The classic garden door frame and passage at Hidcote – best in a garden with plenty of space, perhaps

Just a little further on in the same piece, there is the sweeping statement: “Gardens should be a series of outdoor rooms and should have walls, exits/ entries or passages between the rooms. Rooms should be well defined so the viewer is not distracted by what is going on in the next room although they might be tantalized at some point.”

What happened to open plan living, I ask??? Are we to be forever locked in to that format of the early twentieth century evident in the great English gardens of Sissinghurst and Hidcote? Do not get me wrong. We were very impressed by Hidcote when we visited, but perish the thought that all New Zealand gardens must follow the formula if they want to be seen as very good gardens. There are other styles of garden design. A woodland garden will never be a series of rooms with tight structure. A flowing landscape garden in the manner of Capability Brown relies on open spaces, not rooms. Must a tiny town section redefine itself as an area of poky little rooms surrounded by high walls? All those walls blocking out distraction can be damned oppressive, not to mention expensive if done in permanent landscape materials like brick, plastered concrete block or stone. Or high maintenance if done in clipped tall hedging with the added problem that all those hedge plant roots reaching out into the flower borders. It is also very difficult to accommodate large trees in those rooms, let alone worrying about the place of the genius loci in such a heavily contrived design.

Must the defined spaces of garden rooms, seen here at Great Dixter, become mandatory in good New Zealand gardens?

I could not disagree more. Garden rooms are but one device, one way of achieving a desirable end point. The underpinning principle is surely that a good garden should never be revealed in its entirety at first glance. There should be surprises to be discovered, changes of mood and variations in light and shade. The design should entice you to explore further. Using different types of plants in different ways is not only practical in that you have varying growing conditions but it also punctuates the changes.

If you stand back and look at your garden and decide that it is rambling, then it is likely that you lack that sense of design and flow as well as changes of mood. If you have repeated the same plants (oft claimed as a device to give continuity but actually more often, simply dull), then you exacerbate the sense of rambling lack of form.

Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat (not that I have ever wanted to subject a poor moggy to that exercise), there are more ways to design a garden than depending on tightly defined and enclosed garden rooms. After all, a mark of a good garden is surely a degree of originality?

The pitfalls and perils of garden water features

It may be a natural stream in our park but it is hardly an easy care water feature

It may be a natural stream in our park but it is hardly an easy care water feature

Water is an important inclusion in any garden, or so the common wisdom says. We laughed when Joe Swift on BBC Gardener’s World commented that he hated water features because they were rarely maintained. Water is difficult to manage well.

A natural stream might seem the best option for the lucky ones and on a fine day, the mountain brook that bounces its way through Ngamamaku Garden is indeed a source of envy for many of us. The trouble is that with our torrential downpours, natural streams can quickly become raging torrents which take out all your plantings. Tony has long since given up using treasures in his stream-side plantings. They disappear in the flood torrents. We have the upper reaches of the Waiau Stream running through our park and again, it is charming and a great asset. Because we control the flood waters by some simple but time honoured techniques (a weir and a flood channel), we don’t get the scouring but it takes constant management to prevent it all silting up and regular, heavy work to keep the water weeds under control – particularly oxygen weed and Cape Pond Weed.

Ponds – are ponds easier? Possibly the larger your pond, the more self maintaining it becomes though you generally need fish (commonly goldfish) to keep the mosquito larvae at bay. By definition here, a lake is sufficiently large to allow water skiing, or at least canoeing. If it is not of that dimension, it is a pond. Maybe a large pond, but a pond. By the time your pond has shrunk below about a metre square or round, it can’t really be called a pond any longer. A puddle, perhaps, or a basin? If you have a natural pond fed by a spring, it may stay fresher and relatively stable through the seasons. Home made ponds can be difficult. Firstly they are prone to developing leaks and that is a terminal condition unless you remedy the problem – which is never easy to do. Shallow ponds are problematic because the water heats up and that encourages algae growth. If it is too deep (somewhere about 40cm), you have to fence it. Basically a pond, by definition, is a static body of water which will therefore go stagnant. And homemade ponds are often lined in polythene which is really hard to manage so it is not visible in any way at any time – folds of polythene just look really tacky.

The formal pond that depends on pristine water quality shrieks out money. I have seen a couple and essentially they are the same as running a swimming pool – dependent on a full filtration system and frequent vacuuming. I have a few ethical issues with their sustainability and personally that swimming pool look does not strike me as aesthetically pleasing. It is all a bit too Beverley Hills. If you are going to have something that looks akin to a swimming pool, it may as well combine function with form and be a swimming pool. I also particularly dislike the hum of the pump as a background sound in the garden. To do it properly, you need a silent pump. The same goes for any water feature which relies on moving water to a part of your property where it does not naturally occur. Circulating the water does at least solve the problem of it becoming stagnant but it is a fraught activity, more often prone to lapses in taste and poor management. Fountains? A matter of taste. Repro classical fountains don’t do it for me. I have seen enough of the real thing in European gardens, which is where they belong – usually in the gardens of royalty or at least wealthy nobility. The increasing democratisation of the classic fountain hasn’t done much for its aesthetics. They are just a little “Look at me! Look at me!” in the average New Zealand garden. Leave them for Versailles.

The overseas fashion for rills or narrow canals has been slower to catch on here. I think the origins for these lie in Islamic gardens – the requirement to wash before frequent prayers. In recent years, English garden designers rediscovered them and you see the ribbon of lawn bisected with the water channel, often only 20cm wide. Hmmm. The words drainage channel and lacking in purpose spring to mind so we will say no more on the topic.

Mark has a mantra that design features in a garden need a logic to them, they need to make sense in the context. So creating a naturalistic waterfall cascading down from a dry hillside is a contradiction in itself. The fountain in the formal garden is not pretending to be natural – it is all about the imposition of human will and design on nature. The waterfall is trying to simulate a natural event so it needs to be as close to seamless as possible, not, as more often happens, a feature plonked in to “add interest” with little regard to logical context. Being able to hear the pump thrumming away as it circulates the water makes it even worse.

None of the above is to deny that it is possible to do water features well and when they are done well, they are a welcome addition to the garden, whether it be a reflecting pool, the sound of a babbling brook or cascading water, a formal design feature or a modest goldfish pond. The mistake is to think that they are mandatory and once in place, that they need no attention. And I own up to the fact that we have a formal goldfish pond which is severely afflicted by algal bloom at the moment.

The simplest type of water feature - in this case a stone millwheel with a bung in the base so it can be drained and refilled easily

The simplest type of water feature - in this case a stone millwheel with a bung in the base so it can be drained and refilled easily

A word on safety: we have all had it drummed in to us that children can drown in as little as 7.5cm of water, which means they can drown in a puddle, really. We were told by an inspector some years ago that the reason so many little ones drown in swimming pools is because they are attracted by the blue colour that is the norm and that once in, they instinctively try to reach the bottom to stand up. Vertical sides also make it near impossible to get out. These aspects do not generally apply to garden water features but if the safety aspects worry you, it may be better to dispense with the feature altogether rather than try and net it over.

If you absolutely must have water and your garden is small, a large container with some sort of plug or bung system to enable drainage is probably the most easy-care solution. You can then replace the water when the mosquito larvae start swimming around or it all turns green and yukky. If you plan anything more ambitious, think carefully before you start and be prepared to maintain it.

How ironical is it that one of the very best examples of gardening we have seen internationally is Beth Chatto’s dry garden in the UK? The dry, gravel garden at Hyde Hall nearby is also shaping up brilliantly. Mind you, both are in very arid, stony areas. Similar plants would rot out in our higher rainfall and humid conditions. But generally it is better to garden with the conditions and not to feel that one simply must introduce a water feature to counteract the dry areas.

Ficus antiarus, rare plants and why only one plant in our garden is clearly named

The curious fruit of Ficus antiarus

The curious fruit of Ficus antiarus

I admit to a wry smile when I read friend and colleague Glyn Church writing of the pileostegia (climbing evergreen hydrangea) He made a comment that if you are keen to buy one, alas he has stopped growing them because nobody seemed to know about them – which means nobody bought them. We were struck by them growing up huge brick walls at Hidcote in Gloucestershire and had volunteers running all over the place to find a gardener to identify the plant.

We have our equivalent of the pileostegia. It is Ficus antiarus and it is the most asked about plant in our garden. We used to propagate a few but we realised that while everybody wanted to know what it was, nobody wanted to buy it. I was a bit stunned when somebody turned up last month asking for one. She was out of luck.

Ficus antiarus is a bit of a joke here. Probably close to half our garden visitors would ask what it was. We got to the point where somebody would produce a fruit, a digi camera with a photo or start to say: “What is the tree with the strange bulbous growths…” and we would chime in quickly. “Ficus antiarus,” we would say. “An obscure fig collected by Felix, Mark’s father, in New Guinea in 1957. That was back in the days when you could still bring new plants in to the country. No, the fruit do not grow any larger than that. They turn bright red-orange as they age and presumably the birds don’t like them much because they never strip it. Yes they do appear to be edible. I have tried them and they have a vaguely figgy taste but they are not very exciting to eat. Just a curiosity, really.”

Maybe I did get a bit carried away with the sign
Maybe I did get a bit carried away with the sign

This year, as I was getting some signage for carparking and toilets updated, I admitted defeat and had a sign made for Ficus antiarus. I say admitted defeat because we have resolutely held out against putting name plates on plants here, despite frequent plaintive comments about nothing being named. But as Festival neared its end, Mark commented that the one sign on Ficus antiarus had probably saved us several hours of repeating ourselves. He was very taken, however, by the dry comment from one garden visitor about the sign: “The size is a bit of a giveaway.” I didn’t think it was that large, but certainly you can’t miss it.

We have been intractable on refusing to name the plants in our garden. Public gardens are different. They have a strong educative function and are impersonal spaces. But this is our home, our personal space, even though we open the garden to visitors and we don’t want to see a whole lot of signage in our garden every time we step outdoors. The Ficus antiarus sign is only justified because it is a bit of joke. Besides, we have good memories and are very good at identifying plants by description and location, even though some visitors’ descriptions leave a lot to be desired. “What is the pink rhododendron flowering behind the house?” is a little vague when in fact the visitor is referring to one plant in the five acre park which lies beyond our home. And I admit it can be a challenge when they can’t even get the plant fanily right. “The big red rhododendron” has, upon occasion, turned out to be a telopea or waratah.

We have been to gardens where all plants are labelled. One in particular had every plant named with a section of venetian blind on which was written the name of the plant, the year of acquisition and nursery who supplied it. It was absolutely fascinating and we progressed from plant to plant, analysing the data so closely that we didn’t actually look at the garden context. It was a bit like going round a museum. It would be even worse in our garden where we don’t go in for mass plantings but pride ourselves instead on growing the widest possible range of interesting plants and where many of the garden plants are unnamed seedlings from breeding programmes. I have been to other gardens where owners have used the nasty plastic display labels sold for plant retailers – the aesthetics worry me. So we have no intention of naming all the different plants in ours.

My other observation about Glyn’s pileostegia and our ficus is to suggest to readers that when you see an interesting plant or one that you have been looking for, buy it on the spot, no matter your circumstances. There is no guarantee that you will find it offered again. The range of plants being grown in this country continues to contract, certainly in the woody trees and shrubs area. The phone calls I take on our business line during the day tend to be of two types. The first is people trying to find cheap griselinia hedging (just how many kilometres of griselinia hedging are being planted these days?) and the other group are people trying to find a particular plant.

Most times I have to reply that I don’t know of anyone producing it any more. The heady days of the late 80s and the 90s (now widely referred to as The Maggie Barry Era) when gardening was the rage and nurseries flourished, have long gone. There are few, very few, specialist nurseries still operating. In fact a fair swag of general nurseries have gone to the wall in the last decade and it is so rare for a new nursery to start that you should be able to hear a collective cry of encouragement ring around the industry when it happens. The result is that you will see a continued contraction in the range of plants being offered on the New Zealand market.

Do not be like the woman who talked to Mark about Davidia involucrata during our recent festival. That is the spectacular dove or handkerchief tree and we had a few plants for sale. She really wanted one but she wasn’t quite ready for it yet. Mark shrugged his shoulders and thought, “She’ll be lucky”. The chances of her finding a davidia when she is ready are not great at all.

The Moorish Gardens of Andalucian Spain

Moorish gardens of Southern Spain - the Alhambra &

Moorish gardens of Southern Spain - the Alhambra &

I didn’t really know what to expect of gardens in the south of Spain, although Glyn Church had told me that the Alhambra and Generalife in Granada was simply amazing. What really caught me unawares was the depth of history. Our country is still so much of the New World that gardens of a mere fifty or sixty years in age are often described as heritage or historic. Indeed I have heard people claiming that their garden is “mature” after about 15 years.

Traditional courtyard garden - this one in Toledo

Traditional courtyard garden - this one in Toledo

Andalucian gardens in the south of Spain had Roman ruins, overlaid with the Moorish exotica and wealth, reworked by the Christian kings – marching down the centuries, layer upon layer. It was the Moorish influence which was completely new to me and that, apparently, is unique to the area. The Moors were the Arabic Moslems who crossed the seas and controlled large tracts of southern Europe for many centuries before they were defeated and expelled in the late 1400s. The Spanish gardens are known for the use of small intimate spaces rather than the huge water gardens of Islamic Persia and India. Ah ha! The origin, I suspect, of garden rooms in the modern, western garden.

All the Moorish gardens are restorations. While the palaces survived, the gardens certainly didn’t though I guess a certain amount of archaeological evidence remained, along with sufficient pictorial record to enable a reasonable level of accuracy in reconstruction.

The exotic chorisia in the palace gardens at Seville

The exotic chorisia in the palace gardens at Seville

There has been no effort to maintain the original plantings and indeed these gardens don’t have a whole lot of plant interest. In Spain’s hot, dry climate (even in autumn, it was consistently 35 degrees), only a limited range of plants can be grown. There is a heavy emphasis on buxus, cypresses, citrus, roses, grandiflora magnolias and annuals for colour. The only plants to stop me in my tracks were a colourful bramble (which would likely be a noxious weed here) and the sight of chorisias in full flower in the palace gardens of Seville. Chorisias are South American (so a later introduction) and in flower rather look like trees full of exotic orchids. I have seen one flowering in Auckland though I don’t think our summers are hot enough to allow our plant at home to reach its potential.

The Moorish gardens were all about creating formal, but intimate spaces cooled by water and shade where the nobility could take refuge from the heat. So the emphasis is on structure and hard landscaping to give the form. In a climate where it is too harsh to grow lawn grasses, paths and terraces are usually paved, often with pleasingly subtle mosaics and interesting detail. What impressed me about these fine gardens were the gracious proportions and the flow from one area to another.

Shadows add another dimension in a country of unrelenting sunshine

Shadows add another dimension in a country of unrelenting sunshine

At the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos in Cordoba (that is the palace of the Christian monarchs), the majority of the gardens were much more recent but the Moorish flavour remains, just as it does in the breathtaking nearby mosque cum cathedral. In a climate where sunshine hours exceed 3000 per year, the purpose of using vertical accents (mostly cypresses) to create a picture in shadows made sense. I have seen the technique copied without much success. I think it worked in Cordoba because they have so much bright sun that the shadows are really deep and welcome, because there were wide avenues left open to frame the shadows and because even on a cloudy day, there was enough strength in the design for it to work without any shadows at all.

These gardens have nothing to do with the peasantry. It was all for the nobility, usually royalty with deep pockets. In such a dry climate, the use of water for aesthetic purposes is in itself a statement of power. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Alhambra and Generalife, an entire complex of palaces, forts, towers, gardens, water features and even a village, all enclosed by fortified walls. Now one of Spain’s premier attractions, gardens and palaces have undergone major restoration. Interestingly, the palaces were modelled on similar principles to the gardens. They were not huge and the rooms were comparatively intimate, user-friendly even. Small interior courtyards and gardens were a frequent inclusion, usually with a water feature – a small fountain or pool with rill. It was the open rooms and galleries that really took my fancy. These had open sides, defined by Moorish arches, and an overhead roof – presumably to keep the sun out but to encourage as much air movement as possible. What wouldn’t I give for a Moorish garden room? The Alhambra was set on a promontory with views across to the neighbouring medieval village (the Albaycin) and surrounding hills and both gardens and palaces made use of the device of framing views, of drawing the eye outwards from these intimate and delightful small enclosures.

Coping with unexpected rain - a French visitor improvises at the Alhambra

Coping with unexpected rain - a French visitor improvises at the Alhambra

It rained on the day we visited. While clearly a most unusual event (few of the visitors were prepared for rain), we felt grateful because it cooled the air temperature on what could have been an oppressively hot seven hour visit and it bestowed a misty romanticism on the vistas which took my breath away.

What can we learn from the Moorish gardens of Andalusia? First and foremost, the sheer folly of trying to emulate garden styles rooted in a completely different climate and time and on a scale we can only dream about. It is one thing to extract ideas such as the garden room and the creation of gardens as a series of intimate spaces – a technique which has had a profound influence on western gardening. It is quite another thing to try and transfer the whole genre to a modern, New Zealand setting where it is alien. Leave them in the south of Spain – Moorish arches are more likely to look naff and tacky set against a backdrop of our wooden or summit brick bungalows. Similarly, the transplanting of the idea of the rill or narrow canal to a different garden concept rarely works. These tended to have a practical role in Islamic life (washing before frequent prayers) and were part of the engineering feat of moving water around a site long before electric pumps.

Garden rooms and galleries to die for - this one at the Alhambra and Generalife

Garden rooms and galleries to die for - this one at the Alhambra and Generalife

To transpose the rill or narrow canal in isolation is to ignore the wider context. Turning your back on the lushness and range of plants we can grow here in favour of a few cliched varieties is boring. But we can learn from the old masters when it comes to understanding the importance of getting the proportions right – especially in formal gardens – of making sure that garden rooms are not claustrophobic but that they combine intimacy with an invitation to explore further, of being bold when it comes to allowing sufficient width for paths and avenues, and of valuing the quality of materials when it comes to hard landscaping. Above all, the Andalucian gardens combined form and function, underpinned by aesthetics and logic. That alone is a lesson worth learning.

My unlikely global study of outdoor furniture made from polyester resin ends in the face of corporate takeover

The raffia or rattan look

The raffia or rattan look

I admit my fascination with polyester resin garden furniture may place me in a small minority. My global study, superficial as it is, may make it an even smaller club. I hasten to add that this curiosity is entirely academic, or is that esoteric? I have never owned a piece of polyester resin furniture in my life and indeed have actively shunned it on aesthetic grounds but this does not stop it being a source of great amusement.

Polyester resin furniture is that cheap, plastic type which hit our stores well over a decade ago. Being low priced and functional, it pretty much took the bottom end of the market by storm as New Zealanders embraced the concept of al fresco living. In those early days, it came in three colours – white, dark green, and for those with slightly higher social aspirations, sophisticated sage green. That was it. I didn’t think about it much until we did a trip to Vietnam about eight years ago. In place of their traditional bamboo and cane furniture, there were the same polyester resin chairs and tables but not in our aforementioned colours. No, the Vietnamese ones came only in French blue and burgundy. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was a global phenomenon and somewhere, maybe, there was a little man in an office who decided which country was to get what colours. Without wishing to overstate my desultory interest, I started to take more notice. On the Sunshine Coast of Australia, polyester resin furniture was all white and cream. On the Greek islands, it seemed to come in old gold and white. Each country visited over recent years appeared to have only two, sometimes three different colours but all in the same design. So it was both a revelation and a terrible disappointment when I pursued this entirely random study in Spain and Portugal recently.

Marbelette or marbeline

Marbelette or marbeline

The revelation was the emerging sophistication. First there was the ubiquitous resin chair (in Cordoba, for those of a pedantic disposition) which came with inset mock marble seat backs. I was entranced, though I felt they should have been Italian in origin. A marbleine finish, a friend suggested, though I thought perhaps marblette. Undeniably naff, but then so is most polyester resin furniture. Is poly resin in a swirly marble design worse than the plain, unadorned poly resin?

Then there were the poly resin chairs of a cut out design which attempted to look like the white aluminium furniture forever branded with the name Enderslea which was in itself an attempt to reproduce the expensive, antique wrought or cast iron furniture we associate with the French provincial look.

I burst out laughing when I came across the poly resin furniture in a Portugese restaurant which emulated the woven raffia look. By this stage my travelling companion, who had started out somewhat incredulous at my fascination, was entering into the spirit of the quest and arranging the furniture for my photographs. Indeed, we even found some more upmarket poly resin chairs in a roadside bar in Seville. These were in a stylish and sophisticated charcoal and a square design. These, I thought, I could actually live with in my own garden but only if necessary.

The global corporate takeover

The global corporate takeover

But sadly, dear Reader, it dawned on me that my sociological study of this global phenomenon was showing too much variation for me to keep with my theory of the little man in an office determining distribution and colour. Not only that, but the true horror of globalisation and corporate sponsorship will see the end of regional diversity sooner rather later. Yes, folks, corporates like Coca Cola and Amstel have seen the possibilities of this ubiquitous furniture as cheap advertising billboards. National differences in colour are set to disappear in the face of the corporate red of Coca Cola or the Amstel colours.

Scientist daughter mentioned in passing that the production of poly resin is highly likely to be extremely unfriendly to the environment, that it is an amalgam of some real nasties and the cheaper the product is sold, the more likely it is to be produced in a country with poor environmental controls over its industry. You could argue that you shun poly resin furniture on green principles but then I always worry about how many little Indonesian orang-utan babies have been made homeless orphans by the continued harvest of Asian hardwoods so I am not sure that the bulk of outdoor wooden furniture is any more environmentally friendly. It is so very difficult to buy ethical and sustainable outdoor furniture these days, don’t you think?

The Enderslea look

The Enderslea look

The final word on this furniture came in a little garden we visited in Cornwall. The modest little afternoon tea set-up had camouflaged poly resin furniture. The tables (are they sometimes octagonal?) had pieces of hand-painted ply on top while the legs were encircled in bamboo stakes cut to size and tied together with jute. As I recall the chairs were draped in fabric and cushions. It seemed such a lot of effort to go to in order to mask the humble origins beneath but maybe she regretted the impulse which had seen her buy this cheap and practical outdoor furniture.

Almost acceptable styling
Almost acceptable styling