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Purple Cabernet 'Plasticine' Grape

Posted by Jean Vernon on 17 May 2009 at 02:37 PM


 The rumour mill surrounding the world famous Chelsea Flower Show has been working overtime this last few weeks. Plasticine flowers at the world's greatest flower show? Well it is true. It's the handy work of Top Gear Presenter James May and his team of community modellers and despite its bizarre appearance in the midst of horticulture wonder it has to be viewed in the manner in which it has been created. It's no grand design or botanical wonder but it is a piece of art.

"The thinking behind this garden is not entirely gardening because I'm not really a gardener," says James May. "It's to celebrate Plasticine and to explore its full expressive breadth, it's been around for 112 years and it was invented as an artist's material. We thought flowers were a good thing to make from plasticine, it lends itself to that and if we do a garden it will be an artwork inspired by nature." It's had a mixed reaction, but it has been the talking point of the show. "We didn't set out to enrage people, but apparently some people don't really approve. This is a community public art installation and about 2000 people made it. As it is inspired by gardens, the world's greatest gardening show seemed the right place to show it. We are not trying to pass it off as a real garden but the plants are botanically quite accurate. I don't want anyone to look at it and think that's a terrible piece of gardening I want them to look at it and say that's a great piece of Plasticine modelling."

Rumour has it that they have been asked to include some real plants, but James admits he has no intention of doing so. "There are no real plants there but there are real plants next door on both sides, so anyone walking past will be aware of the difference."


He's openly admitted he's not a gardener and has been checking out the show for last minute ideas. "I had a walk around seeking inspiration as I realised my planting scheme was very poor and untidy and I'd used too many colours. The things I like are the modern gardens I think they are marvellous, I really like Luciano's garden which I think is tipped for a medal. It's absolutely fabulous, there's all sorts of lovely big flowers. I don't know anything about flowers but I think they are very nice."

The garden is an ecletic mix of magic roundabout meets childhood playground and yet there's something reassuringly naive about it and Jame's approach to this very grown up show. "I don't know the names of all of them, but there are tulips, buttercups and daisies, grapes, roses. When we worked out just how much stuff you need to fill what actually now looks like quite a small space we realised we couldn't do it ourselves with just art students so we arranged a community flower making school at the Ideal Home Exhibition, where everyone could come in and make a flower, most were pretty good. We got something like 1300 flowers, then we got artists, professional model makers, a sculptor helping too. There is a mole in there, and you can't see it, but there could be figurine in there, it could be a fairy gnome, it could be as it was based on me."


He's not too bothered about the weather today. "We don't mind it raining, we are probably the only ones here praying that the sun doesn't come out, because if it gets too hot it all starts to droop. It perfectly waterproof, the only thing about rain is that the big flower heads can fill up with water and snap off so we put little drain holes in them. People are talking about it which is nice."

"Despite being a complete amateur and with admittedly a lot of help I have exhibited at Chelsea. I don't care about any flack from Hampster and Clarkson, they haven't got a garden at Chelsea I can't imagine the RHS allowing a Top Gear challenge to do  at Chelsea Flower Show, not if they have an ounce of sense"

So how does he feel about the medals? Does he think his creation merits an RHS award? "When we started I honestly wasn't interested in a medal, I told the team, we are doing this to celebrate Plasticine,community spirit and art, but ..... since I've been here and seen how seriously everyone's taking it, I want a medal. I think I'll win best Plasticine garden. Unfortunately though, we've also got earth on the stand, I didn't know you weren't allowed to do that, it's perfect plasticine earth. Bees have been visiting it, they are utterly convinced so it can't be that bad, but if Oz Clarke comes and starts trying to make wine out of these grapes, that's what worries me, I don't think Oz Clarke should be let anywhere near it, he's so clumsy." But when pushed to identify the variety of grape on the stand, he's a bit stumped. "It's a purple grape," he says, not good enough I decalre, "OK, It's a Purple Cabernet Plasticine grape."


Come back Oz all is forgiven. 


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