Chelsea Flower Show Gardeners are normally in a bit of a spin around now, complaining that temperatures are either too hot/cold/wet/dry to ensure the perfect show garden. Handbag designer Susannah Hunter’s garden will bloom beautifully whatever the weather, because most of the flowers are hand crafted from leather.
You may remember Susannah’s handbags when we wrote about them here, they are gloriously floral. The jump from handbags to gardens was made at Chelsea Flower Show last year, when Susannah was looking at what her show neighbour Jo Swift was doing (she has a stand selling her handbags there each year) and thought she could create something pretty special using her leather flowers.
To cut a long story short, she hooked up with garden designer Catherine MacDonald and created The Massachusetts Garden, featuring both leather and real flowers and plants (keen Chelsea fans will know that after the Plasticine garden fiasco, ALL gardens now have to have some real plants). Susannah was inspired by Massachusetts gardener and poet Emily Dickinson and after researching and visiting her beautifully restored house this year. The garden uses 11 leather floral panels covered in flowers and plants in keeping with the ones Emily used in her original planting schemes back in the 1800s, all sewn in Susannah’s Lambs Conduit Street workshop. I visited last week to see how things were going, as there are only two weeks to go until the garden gets built.
Over 15,000 leather petals and leaves have been cut out by Susannah’s staff, above is Stav roula plotting a rose and the top image is of Valentina placing iris. Susannah draws the flowers to a plan and they are positioned- with a lot of discussion- and then hand sewn by the machinists. It’s tricky and very time consuming work, the skill is in building the flowers into a painterly version of reality. I want to snip the foxgloves -below left- and put them into a vase.
Above are hollyhocks, foxgloves and ferns, all stitched carefully onto the long leather panels which will hang along the perimeter of the garden.
The hydrangeas, above, are my absolute favourites. They need a subtle change of colour and an eye for their real-life construction to make them this good.
Hollyhocks and wisteria….
Roses and iris…
This is Sara and Stavroula, two of Susannah’s skilled craftswomen. I love that Susannah’s handbags and now the Chelsea Garden work is all done in London, a tiny space of artisan industriousness right in the centre of town.
If you are going to Chelsea Flower Show, look out for The Massachusetts Garden garden, it’ll be the only one not worrying about the weather.
***Update**** The garden eventually won a silver gilt medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. Well done team!
below is the video taken of the garden….I want to go to Massachusetts now….