16 August 2012
Fine ceramic artist Paul Cummins has made more than 12000 individual flower heads for a series of 6 unique art installations at some of the UK’s most beautiful historic houses and socially significant public sites. The project is an Unlimited commission and is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
The English Flower Gardens are currently bursting into bloom at Blenheim Palace, The Althorp Estate, Castle Howard, The Secret Gardens of Sandwich and the Houses of Parliament.
The flowers that feature in The English Flower Garden have been created for the six historic locations, each having a direct relation to the site, however none are indigenous to the UK. The artist has chosen them as a metaphor for contemporary Britain and today’s society which embraces multi-cultural diversity.
Every flower head is individually hand-formed or thrown on a potter’s wheel and then Majolica glazed to create their distinctive aesthetic. Mounted on galvanised steel metal rods that vary in height from 50cm to 70cm they catch the breeze in a manner evocative of gardens and meadows.
The appearance is almost surreal, with bright flowers of different sizes and scales. Some of the installations take the form of large sculptures as tall as 8 feet high by 6 feet wide with multiple flower heads forming eye-catching twisting structures; at Althorp gardeners will recognise the reference to cultivating frames for sweet peas; at Blenheim the 200 rod mounted Delphinium spears comprise 35,000 individually made sepals.
Sweet peas were chosen for the Althorp Estate where 5000 ceramic sweet peas are on display on 5 metal sculptures of various shapes and sizes. The sweet pea has a close connection with the Spencer family. Although introduced to the UK in 1600 by the Sicilian monk, Father Francis Cupani, the modern sweet pea can be traced back to the Earl of Spencer’s gardens circa 1901, where it was bred and named Countess Spencer. It carries 4-5 blooms on each stem. Punnett and William Bateson used the sweet pea to form their ideas that fundamentally influenced the development of genetics.
In the heart of London, outside the Houses of Parliament in New Palace Yard, Paul is installing 200 tulips and 800 roses in a combination of 12 statues and flowers on rods. These flowers represent power and wealth: the red and white roses reference the floral motif that appears in the Houses of Parliament and the tulip has historical associations with wealth. Roses also form the centrepieces for Castle Howard where the white rose was the symbol of the House of York during the War of the Roses and at The Secret Gardens of Sandwich the connection is with the roses that were rediscovered when the garden was restored. Delphiniums were chosen to feature at Blenheim Palace because they are a favourite of The 11th Duke of Marlborough.
"This is an enormous project," says Paul Cummins. "I have been working on its development with the different venues for nearly two years. Now all my time is committed to making the flowers in time for the installations over the coming summer months. It’s amazing to have recognition for my work on such a grand scale. I really hope that in the future some of these installations will find permanent sites and be enjoyed throughout the seasons as a legacy from the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. It’s surprising how many creative people are dyslexic, so I feel that this work is a great way to demonstrate that dyslexia does not have to hold anyone back in terms of their career or ambition."
The English Flower Garden has been commissioned by the Unlimited programme, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and is showing at the following locations.
11 May – 01 Sept 2012
The Secret Gardens of Sandwich
Knightrider Street, Sandwich, CT13 9EW
01 July – 31 Aug 2012
Castle Howard, York, YO60 7DA
04 Jun – 26 Aug 2012
Houses of Parliament
Cromwell Green, London, SW1A 0AA
01 Jun – 17 Sep 2012
Woodstock, Oxford, OX20 1PP
01 Jul – 31 Aug 2012
Althorp, Northampton, NN7 4HQ
31 Aug – 09 Sep 2012
Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX