I am awash in English salt glazed garden pots, hand made at Errington Reay & Co in England. The pleasure is all mine; I am delighted with them. Rob has been interested in this pottery for a few years. This past fall, a shopping trip to England made for an opportunity to purchase them. They are beautifully varied in shape, texture and color. They have a very English look about them. What do I mean by this? To my mind, English garden pots are as much about utility and serviceabillty as they are about aesthetics. These pots are thick and heavy; I am sure they will withstand the perils faced by any object left outdoors. No matter the shape, they all have plenty of space for plants. They are sensibly roomy.
Some pots are shaped like crocks, others like mixing bowls. The shapes are simple enough to invite any number of uses. They are all asking to be put to use. There is a quiet beauty to this. Each pot is hand made; this is evident. All of the pots have a salt glaze finish.
Salt glazed pots date back to the 18th century in England. Doulton-Lambeth, which later became known as Royal Doulton, manufactured lots of salt glazed pots and sanitary ware. In the 1830′s and 1840′s, salt glazed sewer pipes helped provide better sanitary conditions in urban areas. At the hottest moment of the firing, common salt is thrown into the kiln. The sodium in the salt reacts with the silica in the clay, to form a glossy coating of sodium silicate. This results in a a subtle texture that resembles that of an orange peel.
Some salt glaze is colorless, or quite purplish in color given the presence of manganese in the glaze. We have had French salt glazed pots on occasion from the Poterie at Noron. These pots are various shades of brown given the iron oxide in the glaze. No two pots are exactly ther same. Rob thinks they have the look of freshly baked bread.
Clean air regulations passed in England in the 1870′s prohibited the production of salt glazed clay in urban areas. Royal Doulton quit producing pots with this glaze as a result. Errington Reay and Co is the only pottery in England currently licensed to produce salt glazed pots. Pictured above, their rhubarb forcers. Placed over an emerging rhubard plant, they limit that plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll-this is known as photosynthesis. Once the rhubarb has produced shoots above ground, the lid of the forcer is removed. The plant grows towards the light, in limited light. This results in more tender rhubarb. They can also be used to blanch asparagus; so called white asparagus is green asparagus grown in the absence of chlorophyll.
Errington Reay & Co was founded by Robert Errington and William Reay at Bardon Mill-the site of a water powered woolen mill established in the late 17th century. “Since Victorian times, when it earned its nationwide reputation for high quality sanitary ware, drainage pipes and ornamental pottery for domestic use, Errington Reay has remained a traditional family run pottery. We still only practice traditional ways of hand throwing, hand moulding and casting.” This is just part of what is written on the tag that comes with every pot. We are very pleased indeed to offer them.
What a relief that this last container load of garden ornament from England is finally in my possession. Though importing garden ornament from Europe really belongs on that “do not try this at home” list, it is incredibly exciting to cut off that lock, and unload the truck. It has been seven months since Rob shopped in England-for him, the unloading is old home week. I am always surprised by what I see, in spite of the fact that he sends me lots of pictures. There is no substitute for the real thing.
Some purchases might make you wonder. Who imports fence poles from England? Someone whose romance with the garden is long standing and on going-that would be Rob. These are no ordinary fence poles. They are whittled from sweet chestnut with a draw knife, and designed to anchor rolls of sweet chestnut pale fencing. Castanea sativa was introduced to Britain by the Romans; it is a very important tree in the English landscape. An introduction to a segment of British gardening life is what came off the container-not a pallet of poles.
An exposure to the tools and ornament of a garden culture other than my own is a gift from an unlikely source-modern technology. I am sure there was a time when garden ornament never travelled far from where it was made. The ocean between my garden, and a British garden, does not seem as large as it once was, given shipping containers, giant boats, and trucks-not to mention the communications systems that keep them all functioning towards a specific end. My local decomposed granite is so different than that granite available in California, but should you want our granite, it is possible for you to have it.
These large simple wood panels are known as sheep’s hurdles. They are traditionally used to make a temporary pen for sheep taken to market. What would I do with them? One panel would make a suberb support for a lax growing rose; a pair might beautifully signal the entrance to a vegetable or cutting garden. They would make a great companion to any number of vining plants.
Six inch diameter chestnut poles are processed for fencing on a woodland site by a pale-maker. The poles are stripped of their bark, and then they are riven by hand on the radial axis, to produce those fairly regular triangular shaped slats know as pales. Once bound together with galvanized wire, the result is a rustic but entirely serviceable fencing. The Chestnut Fencing Manufacturer’s Society puts the lifespan of this fencing at 20 years or better. All of the above is courtesy of Chris Howkins’ book “Sweet Chestnut: History, Landscape, People”.
And lest I forget-this container had boxes and boxes of Nutscene jute garden twine. Just to open the boxes is an experience; that organic and pungent smell of jute filled the garage. We have just about all the fixings for a great spring now. Like every other gardener we are impatiently waiting on some spring weather to go with.
In my last essay, I spoke to the importance of determining what you need from your landscape. This informs a new landscape, a landscape project, or a landscape renovation. This client has been a client a good many years. The boxwood parterre planted in the center of a bluestone terrace began life as plants just 15 inches tall. A central fountain pool featured a small sculpture. The landscape has changed a lot over the past 20 years. Some years ago, the stone walls and planters at the far end of the terrace were installed based on a visit my client made to South America. The fountain sculpture was replaced some years later by a very fine 19th century American cast iron fountain. There were changes afoot. All during this time, the boxwood was growing.
At a certain point, this boxwood parterre had grown so large that the roses began to struggle. As I have said before, a landscape never comes to maturity and stands pat. Equality, stasis in the garden-not likely. The strength of every element ebbs and flows-given the moment and circumstance. That fluid community that loosely describes a landscape involves a great number of relationships that are always changing. This part thrives and grows, at the expense of some other part. A giant tree can pass away, leaving an entire garden community below wringing its hands.
This beautiful 19th century American cast iron fountain was perfect for this landscape, but much overscaled, and much too important for the existing pool. My client has a great eye, and thinks things through thoroughly. Her strength vis a vis the landscape is an ability to plan for the future-one great move at a time. Last summer, she let me know that the boxwood parterres, grown way out of bounds, had greatly diminished her available terrace space. She was ready to make a change. Elements in a landscape have a lifespan.
I think I am a good designer, but I would be telling you a tale if I were to say I designed on my own. My clients say things, point out this or that-they enable me to design in a meaningful way. They look at and live with that garden every day. A designer whose pet look is evident in every project-in my mind, a failure. Great design is about the results of a relationship, a conversation. My client knew better than I that the boxwood parterre had peaked-what would I suggest?
It was agreed that a larger fountain pool would better do justice to her lovely fountain. I did manage to persuade her that a properly porportioned surround for her beautiful American fountain should be steel, and finished with degraded paint. The fountain, and pool surround-we could suggest visually that both elements came together. Some of the details of that surround we engineered in wood, and sent out to a skilled machinist to make. The steel pool surround weighs just about one ton.
The boxwood parterre so long a fixture of this landscape is gone. The terrace has that spacious feeling back again. The fountain pool was poured 18 inches below grade; that portion of the pool, and the concrete pedestal for the fountain will be coated with black pool paint. This will make the water surface reflective. There is a plan for water lilies in the pool. One the pots are put out and planted, and the furniture in place, the renovation will be complete.
The last detail-the dark frame you see in the above picture. A large terrace, or even a driveway, can benefit visually from a change in materials that breaks up the space in an interesting way. A detail like this also serves to separate the brand new stone surface next to the fountain pool from the original stone. This deters the eye from making comparisons. In this regard I need not have worried; Albaugh Masonry did a superb job of making what was new look very much like the original. After I fill this frame with dirt, I am thinking of planting a very low growing plant that would tolerate foot traffic-perhaps Isotoma Fluvialis. Other choices could be just as good looking. This moment in a project is such fun.