Patricia Thirion & Janet Honour
Garden designers Patricia Thirion and Janet Honour find inspiration for their gardens in all sorts of places.
Their previous entries for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show have included designs based on the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, the garden of the fashion designer Christian Dior, and the work of the charity WaterAid in Africa and India.
For this year’s show, the Bushey-based gardeners have looked back into history 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.
Patricia’s husband had read in the newspaper that it was going to be the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.
“I started thinking what a lovely idea that would be for a garden,“ says Patricia, who is originally from France.
She mentioned her idea to her business partner Janet – the pair runs the design company A Touch of France together – and their imaginations immediately took off.
The garden celebrates the signing of the Magna Carta, which was sealed under oath by King John at Runnymede in Surrey in 1215. It was the first legal document imposed upon an English sovereign by a group of his subjects.
Patricia and Janet did lots of research and drew on the knowledge of the history of garden design that they’d acquired on the course at Capel Manor College in Enfield where they met to create a formal layout that is evocative of gardens of the Medieval period.
There is a wattle arch over a turf bench, which provides support for climbing plants such as old roses and honeysuckle. Wattle obelisks, raised beds, and a fountain – other typical Medieval garden features – add to the setting, with heraldic pennants and other artefacts such as a chess set, to symbolise the power of the barons and the king, shields and a parchment chest dotted about.
The garden’s symmetry also symbolises the new law and order of the time.
The flowers and plants have all been very carefully chosen to reflect that period as well, with a yew tree, fruit trees and raised beds with roses, hops, sweet peas, sage and other herbs, all in a tapestry of pinks and blues and lavender with a few dots of marigold.
A slice of a yew tree, which will be inscribed with wording from the Magna Carta, is featured towards the front of the garden in a meadow-planted bed that has been designed to evoke the meadow at Runnymede. This is symbolic of the ancient Ankerwycke yew, said to be about 2,000 years old, which grows close to the site where the Magna Carta is believed to have been sealed.
“The piece of yew is so beautiful,“ says Patricia, “it’s scalloped on the edges, it’s like a piece of art. We wanted to have a piece of yew to be reminiscent of the tree at Runnymede and we talked to the National Trust who told us there was a yew tree on the site which fell in a storm a couple of years ago and that we could have a piece of the trunk.
“They don’t know for sure but they think it might be a descendant of that ancient tree.“
Patricia and Janet visited the meadow at Runnymede early on in the project to gain further inspiration.
“It’s amazing, even though there’s nothing really there,“ says Patricia. “You visualise what happened 800 years ago and it’s incredible, it’s so atmospheric. I think it’s good that they haven’t put anything on the meadow except the monument.“
Fittingly, the garden will be moved to Runnymede after the Chelsea Flower Show, where it will be a permanent feature at the Runnymede-on-Thames spa hotel, which sits on the banks of the River Thames.
“That will be fantastic,“ says Patricia. “Our bed in our garden symbolises the meadow at Runnymede and the National Trust has given us a list of the plants that grow in it so we can recreate it – so there will be things like red clover, buttercups, ox-eye daisies, common sorrel, and goat’s beard.
“It’s going to be very, very pretty,“ says Patricia, “a very romantic-looking garden.“