06 September 2012 By Billy Hawkins
We were so fortunate yesterday evening to have sunny, warm weather in which to soak up the beauty of The Walled Garden at Cowdray, the setting for our 2012 lecture.
Last year, by comparison, it was perishing! Horticulturalists, Alitex suppliers, architects, clients and friends past and present enjoyed the early evening sunshine with a cold glass of wine whilst we wandered around the late summer blooms. The Alitex greenhouse looked on top form, the colour blending into the surrounding stone and blue skies. It really was a perfect start to what proved to be an enjoyable evening of meeting new and old friends.
David Howard, our keynote speaker entitled his lecture “What I do in my spare time”, which, it became apparent, he does not have! Since leaving the employment of HRH Prince of Wales at Highgrove, looking for new challenges and adventures, he has been kept very busy indeed. After ten and a half years at Highgrove David was fortunate enough to immediately land a “no-budget”, dream of a job, eight miles down the road. With an unlimited budget and wide remit, David created a walled garden, raised borders and also added in an Alitex greenhouse. David had to create a manageable garden for his client which seemed to involve lots of heavy machinery and liberal use of his family’s collective skills! Lots of chopping and felling later, left large empty spaces which had to be replaced with new saplings and thoughtfully considered herbaceous gardens. Each amendment led to another change and with no budget in place and the client’s deep pockets for a job well done, oak gates were commissioned from HRH’s personal carpenter, new stone walls were built; the result being the garden looked beautiful.
From the sublime of the deep pocketed client, David began work on Avebury Manor in conjunction with the BBC. The cost was to be met by the BBC and the National Trust – and David, as it transpired, as he ended up donating his shed and driving around the countryside in an effort to make the project a good one.
Once again, David was able to recommend an Alitex greenhouse as he spotted a perfect wall with holes indicating a building had stood there before and should stand there again. David stressed (without being pushed!) how amazing it is that he can present difficult and awkward spaces to Alitex and somehow on each occasion Alitex have risen to the challenge and designed a custom-fit greenhouse which was both functional and aesthetically sympathetic to the garden and surrounding buildings. David was pleased with the end result at Avesbury Manor, he commented that he enjoyed the approach the National Trust had taken, recreating old and untouchable elements in the house in new materials. Whilst not authentic, the visitor could touch, sit, feel and relax amongst the beds and chairs.
David has also managed to fit in the tenancy of a farm, the management of 90 heads of traditional cattle and various trips across the pond to the USA and to Japan to present his views on horticulture. David wanted to convey – contrary to the newspapers at the time – that he did not “retire”, from Highgrove, he simply wanted to try something else, and his lecture illustrates how far away from the notion of retirement his life actually is.
A good evening had by all.