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Stunning winter sculpture exhibition at RHS Rosemoor

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: January 09, 2014

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NOW that winter is upon us in all its fury, RHS Garden Rosemoor is displaying its bare bones to the onslaught and as the foliage turns and falls, the garden appears in quite a different aspect. Structural elements of the garden are more evident, trees and shrubbery more dramatically bare.

We find ourselves seeking the more sheltered hidden corners out of the wind which have now become more desirable places, wide and distant vistas are now revealed where none were evident in the lush height of summer.

The garden is a wholly different experience, perhaps a more contemplative internal experience. Many of the sculptures have a mythic and legendary theme.

Throughout the garden unique, individual creations in steel, glass, stoneware, copper and bronze seem to loom at you out of the gloom of the winter's day.

The viewer is confronted with these dramatic material statements and often challenged by their enigmatic qualities.

The low winter sun, or the pale quality of the light before the snow falls, has the effect of dramatically highlighting the pieces. The larger ones can take on an almost elemental prehistoric quality while the more intimate creations draw the viewer in and seem to collude with one in a much more personal dialogue.

On rising ground just by the visitor centre a primeval horse fashioned in white steel by Ian Marlow ARBS strains to free itself from the bounds of the earth, where ancient hands may have carved him.

Bronze swallows circle the leave-less Acers on the restaurant terrace, as if caught unawares by the dreadful change in the weather. A fantastic winged horse has gone to ground while a Raven shouts into the wind, both petrified on the wall in stoneware plaques.

Dark lacquered steel roosters and hens, the creations of George Hider, comb the bare grass borders as if in search of vital sustenance while crazed-looking copper crows survey the winter scene from atop of garden tools which have been transmogrified into something truly fantastic by the imagination of Michael Kusz.

Devotees of the cartoonist Oliver Postgate might detect hints of Noggin The Nog in these weird avian creations, which was obviously a seminal influence on the young Michael's creative processes.

Steal into The Queen Mother's Rose garden, where the final valiant flowering can be seen and catch Michael's armoured copper bats suspended in a silent confab like 12 ancient Arthurian knights at their aerial round table.

Back on the top border a small flock of Indian Runner Ducks have been put to flight by a steel armoured Dragon lumbering menacingly towards its darker purpose.

Venture further towards the Winter Garden, an area of Rosemoor specially designed to reflect the best that horticulture has to offer at this bleak time of the year. Rest here for a moment on one of Maggie Curtis's magical dandelion seats. From here you can contemplate Icarus, wrought in fine minute copper feathers, launching from among the white birches to commence his eternal doomed quest towards the sun.

At the heart of the formal garden a great prehistoric Sky Bird, ingeniously formed from scrap metal, ploughs through the winter sky, spurning the vagaries of the inclement day. An ancient Celtic cross of steel and iron broods over the foliage garden reminding the visitor of their mortality and their brief tenure in this physical world.

Leaving the formal garden and setting one's teeth against the wind, the hardy visitor is rewarded and perhaps warmed by a fleeting glimpse of Karen Edwards' Helios, sheltering under the massive bare oak like a memory of lost summers in the stream garden field.

Down by the ice bound lake the Children of Lir, mystically transformed into a flight of white steel swans, guide the wandering saint, wrought from cast iron and miraculously arriving by land and sea.

Through the tunnel, whose approach is guarded by Ama Menec's enigmatic Nile goddess and baleful Cycladic head, our intrepid visitor emerges into the frost bound sylvan landscape of Lady Anne's old garden.

Late in the day in the heart of the old garden our visitor might be cheered by the prospect of the returning sun. On rising ground on a south facing hillside in a shelter built of beaten copper, a Beech Spirit, himself wreathed in copper coloured leaves, catches the last sunlight of the fast dying day.

Reflecting the golden light back to us, the spirit declares that we have crossed the winter solstice and that, despite the bleak prospect that confronts us today, the sun will return bringing warmth and renewed life to the garden.

As the early winter dusk settles over the garden and the night promises to be a bitter one, head back to the comfort of Rosemoor's cheerful Garden Kitchen Restaurant and enjoy a warm drink or a glass of mulled wine.

While the garden is left to the gathering gloom and early frost that settles on the queer sculpted plants and creatures; the heron hunkers down on his perch over the icy waters of the waterfall, stone adders and frogs creep towards their poor shelter, the copper bats nesting in the rose garden snuggle imperceptibly closer for warmth and the steel cat and mouse, in the model garden, give up their interminable chase and crawl into the undergrowth to await the cold dawn of another short winter day.

The Winter Sculpture Exhibition runs every day from now until February 23, 10am to 5pm. Normal garden admission applies. Details: www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor/what-s-on or phone 0845 2658072.

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